Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They’re leaning on the Antares descent stage. Von is sipping a latte from a little café in Venice. Griddin is swigging real kumiss from a Mongolian bar in Gwanghui-dong. Their view flickers with the pulsations of the environment field that surrounds them.

“Did you have to stop the whole planet?” Von’s tone betrays exasperation.

“Have you seen the analyses of the place? Conflicts, paranoia-level detection systems, distrust everywhere.” Griddin grins: “Plus, conspiracy theorists querying everything, unaware they’re part of our cover and making it more difficult for us.”

“So? They’re a little edgy.”

“Phenomenal understatement. One inexplicable incident and every technotribe with an arsenal and a grudge is going to take a swing at whichever culprit they decide it would be advantageous to blame.”

“Oh, come on. That far from land, it’ll become a legend.”

“There are close ties between our target and the mythological record, some parts of which have attained religious significance. In many ways, a legendary event could be worse.”

Von sighs: “I’m not going to change your mind, am I?”

“The quantum lock is so big the suspension team is having to tap solar energetics to keep it stable. I’ve already got over eight thousand beings deployed under invisibility fields with tractor beams and temporal anomaly generators in case of resynchronisation failures; some of their air vehicles are ludicrously fragile.”

“Why now?”

“The adjacent trench-chain collision zone has already caused the plateau atop the seamount to tilt. This is the only intact Noan Archive ever found. We daren’t risk the slightest damage.”

“But, the whole planet?”

Griddin looks at Von: “The course of least harm. An event so inexplicably huge that most of the population will ignore it or create their own explanations.”

“How much trouble can our locals expect from the fraction of a percent who’re determined to find out what caused their reality to freeze for a while?”

“Nothing. I’ve instigated a complete reset. The persistent few will eventually conclude it was an alien exodus due to the simultaneous disappearances, for all that each missing person case will have sufficient circumstantial evidence to satisfy official investigations.”

“Which will make the re-infiltration exercise even more risky.”

Griddin raises his hand: “No, it won’t. Next time we’ll perform clean, targeted insertions. But only after the datasets gathered by decades of ad-hoc, opportunistic replacements are analysed. In the interim, we’ll simply observe.”

“Observe? My team-”

“Is going to get some well-deserved downtime. Now, speaking of observation, look.”

The blue of the ocean is disturbed by a colossal pentagonal antiprism rising from the depths. Vast waterfalls sparkle as it rises under the careful supervision of a four-hundred-unit gravity suppressor swarm.

Von chuckles: “From here, it looks like there should be an intergalactic jewel case floating just to the right of us.”

“And behind us, a pocket cut from a black hole for it to be tucked into.”

Von laughs: “And who would such a gift be for?”

Griddin turns pensive: “Seshat. Back when we first dropped in, she was a goddess of knowledge; one of their first. She should receive it, by way of apology for us failing to correct that male-centric cultural bias before it set hard.”

Griddin goes back to drinking fermented mares milk. Von considers a reply, then nods and returns to sipping his coffee. Before them, the stupendous ‘jewel’ exits Earth’s atmosphere, heading for rendezvous with a vessel the size of Deimos.