A week later, I left. They'd found her easily enough, but they had to watch her for a few days to get a sense of her movements, so that they could exchange me somewhere safe. No one wanted to send me into the middle of a battlefield, after all. Well, all right, maybe a few of the more aggressively xenophobic ones did. Most didn't. The plan was straightforward: locate Ulixa's ship and teleport me in. There were a few complications with directing me at a moving target like that, but nothing that the kadabra couldn't handle. Working together as the Consensus, they have the brainpower to solve pretty much anything. It's just a question of how much time they need to sink into the project to come up with an answer. You've probably guessed from the fact that I said the plan was straightforward that it didn't go according to plan, and you'd be right, it didn't. At the time, though, everything seemed fine. I remember I was nervous, of course – I was going to be reduced to energy, moved halfway across the ocean, and then reconstituted; this is the sort of thing that makes you nervous – but I don't think I really expected anything to go wrong. Certainly not in the way that it did, anyway. Early that morning, or whatever the equivalent of morning was in the burrows, where the light levels were constant and the kadabra slept according to no schedule I could detect, I sat up in my room and went over everything one more time. “She's in the Reefs,” I said, for what felt like the thousandth time. “So she's going slowly. We think. I mean, it's hard to say for sure, but there's a lot of jagged rocks and coral and stuff there, so she should be moving pretty slowly.” (In my mind's eye, I saw the lurid, slightly blurry reproductions in my school textbooks: endless spikes of stone slicing the water at dizzying angles, a lone vessel navigating between two perilously close spires of coral.) “It's where the corsola breed, isn't it?” asked Maxie, as he had done dozens of times before. “Yeah. Near Old Town. There were islands there, before the making over, and – I don't know why coral chooses a place, exactly, but it did, and you know what corsola are like.” (He didn't, actually. They were a much more peripheral sort of pokémon in his day.) “They see coral, they go live there, they generate even more coral, more corsola come, et cetera.” Corsola, printed Edie with a sound like windchimes, and then she stopped and shook her head furiously, a jumble of letters forming at the tip of her beak. I knew what she meant: the words had got stuck, as they often did. It's hard for her to print directly. If she has a computer to work through, she finds it much easier to transcribe her logs. “It's OK,” I said, stroking her back. “Take your time, sweetie.” She wriggled away from me crossly, then thought better of it and relaxed under my fingers. “And us,” said Zinnia, not listening. “What about us, again?” I shrugged helplessly. This was a large part of why I was so nervous: I genuinely didn't know what was going to happen to the ghosts once the kadabra sent me on my way. Would they travel with me? Were they going to have to catch up with me on foot? If so, how in all blood were they going to find me again? It wasn't like either of them knew the ocean, not like Archie. And even if they did – the Reefs are huge, and ships aren't that big, especially ships that can navigate between the rocks there. Just because they managed to find their way there didn't mean they'd be able to find me. I could lose them, maybe forever, and there was no way to know if I would, no way to even begin to look for them again if I did. We didn't want to say goodbye – it was too final, too awful – but if this was the last time we'd see each other, we couldn't let it go unmarked. So we sat there, endlessly going over the plan, because as long as we did that we were together and talking. “I don't know,” I said in the end. “It depends.” “On what?” On whether or not they were hallucinations that would come with me wherever I went; on whether or not they occupied physical space in a way that the exchange could grab hold of; on how solid a memory is; on how corporeal the dead are. “I don't know,” I said again, and moved on, like always, to other pointless details. “The ship's an LV-class. Old model. You know the silhouette?” They did. I'd drawn it for them, several times, and made them memorise it. They didn't need to know vessels like a modern sailor, but I needed to know they could recognise Ulixa's ship when they saw it. “Yeah, yeah, there's that angle at the front and the engines are set in like that,” she said. She couldn't stop pacing, and kept tugging at the edges of her cloak so that it swished like the flicking tail of a pyroar ill at ease. “God. I don't like this.” “It was your idea.” “I was thinking of Berenice.” “She doesn't have a ship,” I said. “And I think she's done me enough favours. I can't ask her to bust me out of Jonah's Respite a third time.” “I know!” Zinnia thrust her cloak behind her and ran her hand distractedly through her hair. “OK. OK. So tell me again where we're going?” I'm not going to write out every iteration of the conversation, dear reader, but you get the picture. It went on a long time, and all we did was make ourselves even more anxious. Worse, we knew we were doing it, and that left us all even more on edge. But the wait, though it felt like forever, did eventually end. Hs.picha came to collect me, as they always did, and with Edie at my heels and the ghosts at my side I went back down through the tunnels to the Consensus. Except that that day was different: that day, when they opened the door and let me in, it was to the sight of an unbroken sea of golden fur and pointed faces. Almost the entire settlement must have been there; I tried to count, to match the minds I knew to faces, but I soon gave up. Old kadabra with tattooed brows, young ones with the newer markings on their forearms, even a cadre of alakazam who sat cross-legged and closed-eyed on thin air near the god-idol of the giant fish skull, a respectful distance separating them from the kadabra on all sides. “Oh, 'sflukes,” I muttered, clenching my jaw far harder than was comfortable. “It's happening. It's actually happening.” ―Avice. ―are you ready? “Yes,” I said, trying hard not to think 'no' so as not to confuse them. “I am.” ―they are worried. ―this is not familiar to them. ―hush. now. ―all shall be well. ―and all shall be well. ―and all manner of thing shall be well. As consolations go, it left something to be desired. You'd think psychic-types would understand emotions pretty well, but there's that species barrier again. Kadabra struggle with human feelings, and for my part I don't pretend to understand theirs. “Um, thanks,” I said. “So – sorry, this is kind of the first time I've done this.” I took a moment to breathe, tried to calm myself. They'll come with you or they won't. And if they do, great, and if not, you'll figure something out. “I'm not sure what I should say.” ―if we are entirely honest, neither do we. ―we do not say goodbye like this very often. ―if one of our own leaves, they are only a buoy away. ―but you will be gone-for-good. I could feel their unease, rolling back and forth through the cavern like water sloshing in a moving barrel. We'd broken a lot of new ground, the Consensus and me, for both our species. None of us had much of an idea how we were supposed to do any of this. “Mm,” I said. “Yeah. So. Uh. I should thank you, again, for everything you've done. Saving my life, and helping me. You didn't have to do that. And ordinarily you wouldn't. I'm aware of what it means, and I'm grateful.” A psychic susurrus of approval: that's the sort of utterance they like. You should take care to let them know that you know what they're trying to say. ―we accept your gratitude in good faith. ―we wish you luck. ―we hope you succeed. “Th―” I said, but the kadabra already seemed to think the conversation was over, and before I'd got even halfway through the word everything dissolved into vibrations― ―and stopped. I couldn't see anything. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't. It took me a few moments to realise that this was because I didn't have any. In actual fact, I didn't have anything at all; I was an emptiness somewhere in a void, a non-space of no colour or substance or feeling at all. I tried to scream, but it doesn't work so well without lungs. And then, very suddenly, something began to exist. Quickly now, said the something, without sound. We have six and a half milliseconds to talk before you rematerialise. It took shape before me: taller than a human but human-shaped, if you were generous with your definition of 'human'; it had two legs that tapered away without feet, two arms that tore open into paired tentacles and reformed again at a moment's notice, a face with no mouth, no nose, only bare suggestions of eyes. Its chest had a mouth full of light, or I thought it was a mouth, because the light flickered like a tongue when it spoke. We are seizing control of the warp, it said. You will not be arriving at Ulixa's vessel, but a more advantageous location of our own choosing. Listen carefully to what we say next, because you may find it hard to recall our words precisely upon rematerialisation. You will fall over. You will vomit. You must get up again as quickly as you can and move to your left. The door will be open and the guards temporarily away. There will be a window of one thousand and twenty-eight seconds during which no one will be watching. Within that time, you must make it as far as the ninth junction. After that, it will take a further six hundred and ten seconds for the alarm to be raised and countermeasures put into action. By then, you must be past the door to the back exit. Listen carefully to these directions and memorise them: forward three junctions. Down two levels at L4. Continue straight ahead four junctions. Turn left. Continue straight ahead one junction. Turn right. Continue straight ahead one junction. Up one level at N7. Continue straight ahead seven junctions and on into C1. Continue past blast door and take C1b to the exit. Have you memorised these instructions? I was still trying to scream. Something had gone wrong, I knew it; they'd taken me apart atom by atom but they hadn't managed to put me back together, and now I was trapped here in this nightmare nothing where even I myself was nothing, had nothing, could not scream or breathe or die― “―anks,” I finished, and collapsed onto the concrete, where I was promptly and copiously sick. I feel like I lay there for hours, but it could only have been a few seconds. After all, as I was told, there was only a brief window during which no one was watching. Do you recognise the description, dear reader? You must do. The mouth, the tentacles. I have a heavily stylised version of them tattooed on my wrist. Tooth. The young god, who fell from heaven soon after the making over, whose home is nowhere, whose hunger is without end. Tooth, monstrous and mighty. Who had, all this time, been watching over me just as the priest promised on my tenth birthday, when he gave me the god-mark and consecrated my skin. Here are the two things I know about Tooth: one, it doesn't actually have any teeth, and two, it has an interest in undoing its own godhood. I think. Why else would it want to raise the land? Without the ocean, it won't be a god any more, just like Tide isn't. Maybe it's tired. It's been a long time, after all. We call it young, but it's nearly as old as the ghosts. Older, maybe. I mean, it must have come from somewhere, before it became a god here. I don't know. I've only met it twice. Once in that awful in-between no-place, while I was being teleported, and once in the cloud of death, at the bottom of the ocean. It gave me a few more answers that second time, but not many. And that first time – I barely even recognised it, what with my panic at not existing, and when I came to my senses I couldn't really remember, just like it had warned me. I had a vague idea that someone or something had spoken to me, but mostly I just felt ill. “Ava!” I heard someone saying. “Oh thank god, you're here. Uh – Ava?” “Yes,” I said, levering myself up with a speed that made all my reconstituted muscles shriek in protest. “Oof. Drown 'em. I'm here.” I was standing on concrete, between metal walls. It could have been any corridor in any settlement, but it definitely wasn't any kind of ship I'd heard of, let alone Ulixa's. At that exact moment, though, I didn't care, because the corridor contained Edie, Maxie and Zinnia. “Oh thank the hallows,” I said, moving to hug them but finding myself unable to decide which one to go for and then realising that it was impossible anyway. “You're here.” “Yes. I'm not sure how, but right now I don't feel inclined to question it.” Maxie glanced up and down the passage. “Especially since I have no idea where 'here' is, and suspect that it probably isn't where we were meant to be going.” “Yeah, I figured they probably don't use concrete in shipbuilding,” said Zinnia. “Any idea where this is?” “No,” I said, crouching to see if Edie was all right. She was, of course. Incorporeality has its benefits. “But I know this door is open.” I straightened up and turned to my left, where a steel-framed door opened onto a dimly-lit catwalk. “And … wait. What? How – oh, drown 'em.” I had been about to ask how I knew that, but something else distracted me: this catwalk went out over the water at the bottom of a gigantic cavern, suspended on cables that went up and up and disappeared into the dark, and at the other end of it was the Museum of the Forgotten. “This is the drydock,” I said, half to myself. “And … and the guards aren't here, and no one will be watching for one thousand and twenty-eight seconds. Less, now.” “What was that?” asked Maxie. “How did you – where are you going?” “Edie, follow those cables and find the machine controlling them. I want the Museum back in the water, now.” o7, she said, her little pictographic salute, and whizzed off, wings strobing against the dark. I walked quickly and confidently to the end of the walkway, twisted the catch – they'd oiled it, I noted; it turned much smoother now – and went inside, through the airlock and down the passage to the junction where I turned left for the bridge. I stopped there for a moment, face to face with darkened consoles and unlit electrical screens. I seemed to see myself from without, a silhouette picked out in the glare of the arc lights on the gantries outside. It felt like a metaphor, but I couldn't place it. It felt cold and empty, like the bunker where I sheltered from the keening wind, like a place where people no longer live. It didn't feel like home. All at once, I heard a distant rumbling and the Museum jerked and twisted as the machinery around it unfolded, arms and cables flexing and unspooling and letting the ship back down into the water. “There's no one here,” said Zinnia, coming in behind me. “Why is there no one here?” “I don't know,” I said. “Maybe the guards are changing over. Maybe they've gone for a cigarette. Whatever it is, let's make sure of it. You search aft, I'll do fore. Maxie, start the engines. We've got maybe fifteen minutes and I want to be moving as soon as we hit the water.” “Aye aye, captain,” he said, only slightly ironically, and moved to the central panel, flipping switches and inspecting the results as lights came on and screens displayed welcoming message. “Er – before you go,” he said. “The engines. Everything's been turned off; that will necessitate a manual restart.” “Where?” “Engine room. The instructions are on that enamel sign – the one by the secondary fuse box? I'll get the lights for you; the batteries are full at least.” !, said Edie, appearing suddenly at my side. “You can do it?” I asked, and she nodded furiously, clearly delighted to be home. “OK. Get the engines, then take a quick inventory down in the hold. I want to know how much they've stolen, exactly.” I paused. “And then get to the synthesis engine and make me some pills,” I added, slightly too quickly to sustain my air of competence. She emitted a tick, and was gone. I didn't hang about. Our search turned up no one but us aboard, and Edie's report showed that nothing but the most obviously useful stuff had been taken: poké balls, some pokédexes, a few old computers. Industrial machining equipment and some of the books. All the pirates' tech people had been busy with figuring out how to repair the Museum's engines; they hadn't had time yet to notice its more arcane treasures. Most importantly of all, the Aqua Suit was still there. When we arrived at the Blue Chapel, I was going to be able to get out and hunt for the key stone. I didn't know this at the time. There were bigger issues – and anyway, when I'd done my sweep and was on my way back to the bridge, I heard a distant keh-glugg and then a familiar buzzing hum, and everything else went right out of my head. Beneath my feet, the deck started vibrating; above my head, the yellow emergency lights dialled themselves up to full white daytime brightness. The Museum groaned, and mumbled, and rocked, and as it came back to life around me I didn't care that I'd lost four key stones, or that Archie was gone. None of it mattered now, because all of it could be solved, because everything was going to be OK, because I was home, home, and if the pirates wanted to take it back off me again they were going to have to try a lot harder than the last time. There'd be no surrender if they caught me now. There couldn't be. This place was in me and I was in it and I knew with a sudden fiery conviction that I would rather die than give it up again. I don't think I was exaggerating. Fortunately, I never had to put it to the test. “Down the passage,” I ordered Maxie, not knowing quite where the directions were coming from but knowing a good thing when I saw it. “Dead ahead for three junctions, then two levels down at L4.” “How do you know this?” he kept asking, as the four of us moved fluidly between consoles, trying to answer every new subsystem as they woke up and clamoured for attention. “How do you know?” I didn't answer, just kept giving him instructions and quieting the few bits of machinery I knew how to work. Four junctions on, left, one junction, right, one junction, up at N7. RECALIBRATION REQUIRED. Seven junctions and take the passage marked C1. PRESS ENTER TO CONTINUE. Alarms going now. Head for that door – the one that was sealed last time, the one that blocks off the back exit. UNSUPPORTED HARDWARE DETECTED. Straight on here. COOLANT RESERVES AT 62%. Just keep going, towards the light … And then the dark of the tunnel lifted and the ocean opened up around us like a great blue flower, and off to starboard the vast streams of trade and war traffic moved back and forth like swarms of krill, and I knew they'd be after us soon but it was too late now, in a few minutes we'd be hidden in the crowds, one ancient freighter among many, and I laughed. A few minutes later, Edie came and offered me a cup of water and some tablets. I think that sums it up about as well as anything else could. Oh look, another chapter, it's only been what, forever and a half. Sorry about the delay. So many things to be done, and unfortunately my weird story about remembering things at the bottom of the sea is somewhere near the bottom of the list in terms of immediate importance. I hope, but don't actually expect, to get the next chapter up sooner.