Nathan had even remembered to send Lori the sleek, motorized camera and reflecting telescope.
Everything was just right. The Glathrielians were set on a new course with a fine subtlety, the Ambrezans were going absolutely bananas but they’d ensured that nobody would starve or die when all their high-tech stuff just stopped, and Gus, who had not chosen to revert to form during his week’s trial-and little wonder-was settling in with Terry and little Nathan, a touch Brazil had loved. And finally, they’d gone down to the exit gate and set the positions and the probability adjustments so that they would have real identities when they materialized back on Earth in their base forms. Brazil had already stayed too long as the Egyptian David Solomon, so he’d specified that a new identity be created consistent with his base form and relative to Mavra, who, not wanting to become a jungle goddess again, was getting an extensive identity makeover. It was so automatic, he just did it without thinking, issuing the bare minimum commands needed to accomplish the goal.
“Well,” said Nathan Brazil, “that’s about it. We’re actually in pretty fair shape, although it’s interesting that the Kraang’s interference has put us on a whole new historical track. Endless possibilities this time. Should be kind of fun. No resets necessary, I guess. Not this time. Just go back, pick up living, see how it all comes out. You ready?”
Mavra Chang sighed. “I still haven’t seen much to like on that little dirt ball, but I’m open to persuasion. All right, Nathan. I think I like you better as a human, anyway; you’re a lot less like some pontificating god. I almost wish sometime you’d make a mistake. Not a big mistake, mind, but some mistake. Just enough to take a little of the wind out of those sails.”
Nathan Brazil chuckled. “Let’s go home, Mavra.”
“Computer: open Well transfer type forty-one to native mode. Reset Watchers to prior human form but create new identities this timeline and insert subjects … now!”
Just one little detail …
While Nathan had remade his old, now mortal body into the image of Terry, he’d forgotten that he was still inside the real Terry’s body. The Well had simply taken this rather than the old form as the default, since all shapes, forms, races, and creatures were all the same to it, and Brazil’s own instructions for insertion had been to revert them to their “prior human form.” And so Nathan Brazil had rematerialized back on Earth not as his eternal old self but rather as a dead ringer for Terry Sanchez, stretch marks and all. And he’d be stuck as a she, and looking precisely that way, until they had to travel back to the Well World once more and could get inside.
Although startled, Mavra was more than pleased to see her wish granted so quickly. It wasn’t necessarily permanent, of course; all Brazil had to do was go back into the Well and change things. That, however, was easier said than done; once in Watcher mode, travel to the Well World was at the convenience not of the Watchers but of the Well. It had taken thousands of years for it to need either of them the last time. Who could know how long it might take again? In the meantime, although she was sorry Nathan couldn’t experience the more negative side of being female in ancient times as she had, Brazil would sure as hell have a very different life for quite a while, and into a future that was not as certain as before.
It almost made Brazil bearable this time. Mavra thought they might stay together for a while, maybe a very long while, this time, now that Nathan would have a taste of her side of life. In the meantime, Brazil was already struggling to adapt, but given enough time, she would get used to it. She’d already played the role to perfection, after all. And, she’d noted, there was a bright side. When they came through again at last, nobody would be looking for a big-breasted brown woman whose documents said she was Danielle Brazza of West Palm Beach, Florida, USA, just as Mavra Chang was now from a city called San Francisco that she’d never really heard of in a country she’d yet to visit. Next time should be a piece of cake.
And she had a very, very long time to practice …
A Dead World
in the Constellation Andromeda
The Kraang had realized the trap the moment he’d stepped into it, but by then it was too late.
He went out regularly and just stared at the Well Gate, which opened and closed with monotonous regularity whenever he approached, as if inviting him to come on in.
It wasn’t awful here; the internal planetary computer was rusty, but it still worked, at least on the limited basis that the Kraang needed for his requirements.
But it was a dead, silent world, offering only regrets and memories. Somehow I’ll do it! the Kraang swore. I will survive here as long as I must! As long as the universe survives, I will be here, building my hatred, plotting my revenge! One day, one day, I will find the way out! One day, someone will come, or something will occur, to liberate me again! Then, my old nemesis, then we will see who is the better!
But only the darkness, and the memories, and the aching loneliness heard his cries or felt his rage.
He was God! Absolute ruler!
God of loneliness!
God of the dark.