I reached the Complex without incident. Almost instantly upon entering, my stomach started hurting. I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. Making my way to my desk, I saw that not many people were still there. Considering how late it was, this was not surprising. I did bump into Harold on the way through the cubes. He had a jacket draped over one arm and a briefcase in his other hand. He seemed disconcerted to see me, but composed himself quickly and greeted me casually.
“Hey Andrew,” he said. “Putting in a little OT?”
“Well, you know how it goes,” I said.
“I hear you. So how’s the fish thing going?”
“It’s going,” I said noncommittally. “Progress is being made.”
Harold chuckled. “Sounds like something you’d say to Carver.” He leaned closer to me. “The department’s getting a little antsy, actually,” he said softly. “Nobody knows what’s going on with you and the fish, but there’s some ugly talk.”
“Oh,” I said.
Harold pulled back again and narrowed his eyes a little. Then he relaxed and chuckled again. “Okay, play it your way. You always did hold them close to the vest. See you later.”
“Alright, have a good one,” I said. With that, we parted.
When I got to my desk, I sat down and opened the file drawer, which was filled with tools, parts, and equipment of staggering variety. I pulled out the devices and components that I felt I would need and got to work.
When I am building a gadget, I enter into an alternative consciousness. It may sound corny, but it really is like that. I lose all track of time. My nanobots and I become one, and we thwart physics and causality seemingly at will. Of course, it’s not always easy. In the case of highly specialized devices like the one I was making now, the work can be quite complicated and draining.
My stomach pain made the already difficult task harder. By the time I had finished, I wasn’t able to sit up straight, so intense was the pain. But that did not diminish the sense of accomplishment and pride I always felt upon completing one of my projects.
As I came back to myself, I noticed Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude sitting in one of my guest chairs, waiting for me. This made me seriously displeased.
“You promised,” I said icily.
“Yes we did,” said Matilda. “But Sara had a bad feeling, which was difficult to disregard.”
“So we talked about it,” continued Sara, “and we decided that promise or no promise, we couldn’t sit by and let you walk into unknown peril with the fate of the God of Toast in the balance. So here we are.”
“And about the promise,” added Heather, “to make it up to you, when this is all over, we promise to do penance for our transgression.” She smiled a half smile. “That’s a promise we’ll keep.”
I can never stay angry at the beloved quartet for long. And they did have a point. I’d been on enough missions to know when it smelled like showdown, and it did now. “Alright,” I said, wincing at another twinge in my stomach. “Truth is, I’m glad you’re here. I’m in bad shape.”
“You are in pain,” said Matilda, concerned. “Let me.” She placed her hands on me. After a few seconds, I could move freely again, but the pain was far from gone.
Just then, there was a tap on my cubical wall. We turned to see Carver standing in the entrance.
“I thought you had a dinner engagement,” I said.
“Over and done with,” Carver replied. “Do you know what time it is?”
I didn’t. I checked the clock on my desk, which told me it was after midnight.
“I’m paged whenever there’s unexpected activity in the office,” Carver continued. “I surmised that it would be you, so I thought I’d come by and see if you needed any help.” He surveyed my desk, which was littered with tools and components. “Been doing what you do, I see.”
“Yes,” I said, holding up the device I had made. It was the size and shape of a flip-open cell phone. This was because I had housed the device in a cell phone shell. “This is going to answer the question once and for all.”
“What is it?” asked Heather.
“It’s an atmospheric fish generation detector,” I said, with no small pride.