By Ken Troop A tale of Dreamscape

Place: Hiveling Hive, in the Dreamscape - Local Time: Evening, January 31st, 2012

Septimus was having a bad day. Nothing was more demonstrative of the unpleasantness of the day's endeavors than the bug carcass he was currently ensconced in. It was squirmy, slimy, and smelled liked decaying meat soaked with rotten eggs. Add to that the constant bumping and grinding being performed by thousands of actual squashbugs pressing up around him… Septimus could think of many more acceptable situations than this one. Any situation, in fact, would qualify.

It was all Sextus's fault.

Place: Akasha Corporation - Local Time: Morning, January 31st, 2012

They were in the "dream dome". Septimus was always annoyed facing Sextus in the dream dome. His incessant chanting of "Two oneironauts enter. One oneironaut leaves." grew quickly tiring. Septimus was unfamiliar with the reference himself. All he knew was that he had lost to Sextus the last three times in the dome, and one more loss would be…trouble.

Sextus knew it as well. "Going to get cupped today, little seven. Poor unlucky seven. Cuppity, cuppity, cupped." Shaking his head in mock shame.

First, Septimus hated being called "seven". He had a name, and Sextus should use it. Second, Septimus knew the threat of being "cupped" was not just idle bravado on Sextus's part. The Committee on Under-Utilization of Potential Performance was increasingly active recently. The Akasha Corporation took the concept of performance management very seriously, and Project Janus even more so. Just a month ago the Committee had a delivered a devastating review to Octavus, and no one had seen him since. Well, Septimus had…no, he had no time to think about that now.

He was not going to get "cupped." He just had to beat Sextus.

Were it not for the pressure of the situation, Septimus would have enjoyed the spectacle of the dream dome. It was one of Project Janus's first critical successes. An artificial miniature dreamscape where the oneironauts could train and unleash their full powers. Of course the various Janus scientists were still in great, and occasionally violent, debate about the nature of the dream dome. Some said they had succeeded in creating their own artificial dreamscape writ small; others felt all they had done was succeed in opening a portal to a tiny part of the dreamscape – either way, for the oneironauts it didn't matter. An oneironaut could control the dream dome just like the dreamscape.

As such, it was an essential part of the ongoing oneironaut training. Both singular training and pursuits…more competitive. Competition was another essential part of oneironaut training. It was even reflected in their names…when Septimus was chosen to become an oneironaut, he was Oneironaut Nonus…it was an accepted part of the oneironaut program that one was constantly striving to beat (or, if you were extremely subtle, eliminate) your highers while constantly making sure that your lowers were kept in their place. Luckily, Septimus hadn't had to worry overly much about his lowers – Octavus's disappearance and poor Nonus's complete ineptitude made them a non-factor – but Sextus was proving a most resilient higher.

But Septimus knew he was a better oneironaut than Sextus. He had great facility in the dreamscape, a natural affinity for it, plus he worked far harder than Sextus did. It was only Sextus's greater experience that kept him ahead in their recent challenges. But that was going to change in this battle. It had to.

Luckily, the challenge today was one of Septimus's favorite – Fanciful Entity Actualization Speed Trials. FEASTs. Or as a layperson might describe it -- creature creation. As part of his oneironaut training, Septimus was aware that different groups had different philosophies of exactly what was occurring when someone with the power to manipulate the dreamscape made creatures to fight for them. Some, like those barbaric Hellbred, actually believed that the dreamscape creatures existed independently of the dreamer, that all they did was summon the creature from another part of the dreamscape. Although blatantly untrue, Septimus had to admit, at least to himself, that it didn't really matter about why or how creature creation worked. The rush, the thrill of taking the raw material of dreamstuff and using it to invest energy and sentience in patterns of sinew and bone…it was the greatest feeling that Septimus had ever known. And it was also something he was very, very good at.

Septimus took a deep breath and took the time to look around. The dream dome was set up in its customary fashion – a cavernous arena with bright pillars of flame ringing the space. Sometimes for anticipated matches there were hundreds of rows of coliseum seating for Janus spectators, but in the absence of such interest no one had bothered to make the seats. And, as always, in the center of the arena floating high above the floor was the twinned-head of Janus, slowly rotating, its eyes seemingly watching and understanding the various spectacles below. Septimus had been indoctrinated in the Janus mythology, but he didn't care much about it…he was far more impressed with the actual effect…the Janus simulacrum seemed almost alive, in a state of constant watching…but this was no pattern that Septimus, or any other oneironaut to his knowledge, had been exposed to.

Septimus and Sextus were in position, on opposite side of the competition circle. The flames on all sides dimmed to darkness and then burst back into bright, coruscating flame. And there in the center of the circle were a pair of spellbound scissors. The object of FEAST was to re-create the image as quickly as possible; once the first competitor was done, the second image would flash, and each participant raced to finish all the figures before the other.

The beginning forms were, by this time, done by rote memorization. Spellbound Scissors, Knight of Strife and Joy, Mirrorman, each creature had been created thousands of times by both Sextus and Septimus, and there was little difference to distinguish between the two of them. But as they got to some of the more advanced and newer forms, Septimus's better talent began to show. He finished his Unspeakable Brothers a second before Sextus, and he was finishing his Drakesnail just as Sextus began his. He could feel Sextus's increased panic, know the sweat that must be pouring down his face even without looking up to confirm. Septimus was going to do it, he was going to win…he could already imagine taking Sextus's title, Quintus was rumored to be having a rough time of it as well, and Quartus was old, wasn't he…the final image flashed in the circle. A Pearlthorn Dragon Knight.

Septimus faltered. Suddenly short of breath, he found it hard to concentrate…he looked at the dragon knight, wondering if there was any sign of…he then noticed Sextus had finished his drakesnail and was already begun on his dragon knight. Septimus tried to will his nausea to disappear so he could begin the image, but he barely got through forming the entity's structure before he turned to the side and vomited the small breakfast he had had that morning.

Sextus's triumphant shout punctuated the end of the contest. "C! U! P! C! U! P! An oneironaut must be tough, little seven! An oneironaut must be brave, little seven! Was that dwagon so very scawy? Maybe next time, Septimus. How many chances to fail do they give the lower oneironauts nowadays?" His mocking grin etched itself in

Septimus's mind as Sextus disappeared out of the dream dome. This was not good. Very much not good. Perhaps he could…

A new figure materialized within the dream dome. Oh no. This was shaping up to be a very bad day. Mr. Anderson, committee chair of the C.U.U.P.P., was standing before him. Was Septimus actually going to get "cupped" today? He hoped it wouldn't hurt. Mr. Anderson, impeccably dressed in his customary dark suit attire, smiled broadly at Septimus.

"Oneironaut Septimus! We have many matters to discuss. Let's begin, shall we?"

Place: Hiveling Hive, in the Dreamscape - Local Time: Evening, January 31st, 2012

As he had already remarked to himself, more than once, Septimus was having a bad day. No, a bad day was a completely inadequate descriptor for what had happened to him today. From losing to Sextus, to being lectured at by Mr. Anderson, to having one of the most bewildering conversations of his life with Sir Glorious, to, finally, being given this mission to find, kill, separate the skin from, and then cloak said skin in order to impersonate one of these hiveling squashbugs.

Yes, all Septimus had to do was infiltrate a hive of potentially millions of squashbugs, find out what they're up to, and then, somehow, destroy them.

Bad wasn't cutting it. Septimus hoped, actually, that this was the worst day of his life. Because if it got worse than this, Septimus thought that death sounded attractive. A squashbug next to Septimus started extending many feelie-type tentacles to run themselves over Septimus's fake squashbug body.

Septimus realized there was more vomiting in his very near future.

Place: Akasha Corporation - Local Time: Morning, January 31st, 2012

"And how is Septimus today?" asked Mr. Anderson, executive vice-president of human affairs at the Akasha corporation, committee chairman of the C.U.U.P.P. (known to the Project Janus researchers and oneironauts as the "cup" team), and all-around unwelcome presence to Septimus, especially now – Septimus was still in shock over his stunning defeat at the hands of Sextus during their FEAST trial in the dreamdome. And Septimus had recently seen first-hand the potential price an oneironaut pays when failure becomes a habit…said witnessing, he reflected bitterly, putting him in this position in the first place.

One would think, given all these fairly major concerns, that something as minor as Mr. Anderson's choice of verbal structure would go barely noticed – and yet that's what Septimus found himself most annoyed by. Why does he constantly refer to people in the third-person when they're standing right in front of him? Who does that? And why is he smiling even though he's about to chew me out…or worse? I'm an oneironaut, damnit, not some jumped-up graduate researcher…

"Ahh, yes, I can understand your silence given this recent series of setbacks." Mr. Anderson's overly-pleasant tone immediately stopped Septimus's musings. "The Akasha Corporation has not achieved its success by tolerating failure, Septimus. Indeed, I created the Committee on the Under-Utilization of Potential Performance precisely because the lifeblood of this company, of our future, Septimus, is predicated on our continued success in harvesting the fullest potential from our employees."

"Failure, in and of itself, is not a problem, Septimus. Such is to be expected when the daring and talented engage in competition with others of their ilk. But continued failure? Consistent failure? That is no longer an indication of the whims of chance but rather the determination of the weak, Septimus. The weak. Are you weak, Septimus?"

A barely squeaked out, "No, sir," before Mr. Anderson resumed. "Septimus, Septimus, Septimus…what are we to do with you?" It was only then that Septimus realized they were all alone, in one of the many secluded labs in the researchers' area. But there were no researchers around, strange given that it was not yet the middle of the day. Perhaps they were all on an early lunch?

"Sir, please, I… I had Sextus, today, sir, I had him! It was just… just…"

"Yes, Septimus?" And Septimus realized just how stuck he was. If he didn't share what he knew, Octavus's fate might be his own…but if he shared what he had seen, there would be no "maybe" about it.

"I'm sorry, sir. Truly. I will do better, next time, I promise…I…"

"Septimus. Have you ever seen a diamond being made? No? Imagine a lump of coal. So ugly, this coal. So unassuming. Who would ever believe that a worthless malformed piece of coal could be valuable? But take that piece of coal, Septimus, and subject it to pressure. Unimaginable pressure. And heat, heat so hot your skin would flay and melt off your bones…the highest pressure, the highest heat. And what is left of that coal, Septimus? A beautiful, a perfect, a glorious diamond. Diamond from coal, Septimus…is it not wonderful? Is it not inspiring? And all it takes is pressure and heat."

"So, Septimus, are you a diamond? We are about to find out. You will go…" Septimus was barely understanding what Mr. Anderson was talking about, and so was glad of the sudden interruption of the door to the lab bursting open, and Tiffany Watkins running through. Septimus acknowledged he would be glad to see Tiffany Watkins regardless…talented, brilliant, and beautiful, she was highly sought after by many oneironauts. But the senior researcher had spurned all advances made, focusing entirely on her work, a secret project (no shortage of those within Janus) that Septimus knew nothing about.

"Project Sleeper is going down! I've been trying to find you everywhere, sir! We need you now!" Tiffany was obviously panicked and out of breath. Project Sleeper? Septimus had never heard of it. He looked at Mr. Anderson, and for the first time ever, Septimus saw a look of displeasure cross Mr. Anderson's face. Septimus had seen Mr. Anderson deliver devastating reviews, but he always had the same genial and pleasant demeanor, never raising his voice. But now Mr. Anderson was visibly angry. He turned to Septimus.

"Go see Glorious for your mission details. Now." Mr. Anderson turned back to Tiffany and led her forcefully out of the room, leaving a very confused but nonetheless relieved Septimus. Diamonds? Project Sleeper? All Septimus knew was that he had not been subjected to the same fate as Octavus. Not yet, at least. Septimus set off to find Sir Glorious.

Place: Hiveling Hive, in the Dreamscape - Local Time: Evening, January 31st, 2012

Earlier that day, Sir Glorious, after taking turns being crazy and then utterly cryptic, had finally gotten down to the point of the mission. These hivelings were terrorizing numerous parts of the dreamscape. They were potentially the biggest threat to the dreamscape that had ever been encountered. All this, and the dreamscape was still fragile and vulnerable due to the recent bloodcut crusade against Baxar and his stitched. There was no one left to defend the dreamscape. No one except the Janus.

Septimus's mission was to infiltrate one of the hives and uncover whatever info was to be had, and then pass that info on to Janus executives. It was a great mission, one that Septimus would normally have craved, except for three small flaws. The mission was a punishment. The mission was disgusting. The mission was very likely going to see him killed.

Other than that, it was an oneironaut's dream.

Septimus looked around to see what the other squashbugs were doing. There were several long lines of squashbugs, all of the lines progressing towards some central hub that Septimus couldn't quite make out. Getting closer, he realized there was a body in the hub…some kind of humanoid figure, looking long since dead and decayed. Then he realized that every squashbug that came to the body was bending down to…eat it. They each took a little nibble and then ambled away.

Septimus could not understand the point of the bizarre ritual, until he looked over to the side and saw a few of the squashbugs who had already partaken of the corpse meal, slowly starting to wriggle and pulse, their skin oddly distorting and ripping…and in place of the former squashbugs were healthy, whole simulacrum of the dead humanoid, some type of fox-looking creature. The fox-looking creatures were immediately set upon by surrounding squashbugs, killed, and then the process started all over again as squashbugs began forming lines in order to nibble at the new and fresh corpses. Septimus was so entranced and disgusted by the whole scene that he failed to notice his rapid progress through his own line.

Septimus felt the sudden silence as he realized that he was now standing in front of the torn apart remains of some former dream entity. He further realized that he was now expected to eat some of those remains. It's just a dream. Just a dream. It's not like I'd really be eating decayed flesh. Not really. Just a dream… Septimus convulsed and vomited so hard that his squashbug disguise ripped apart. Even with his dreamscape powers adding to the illusion, there was no mistaking that Septimus was an intruder in the hive.

The squashbugs angrily turned towards Septimus and extended their feelies again. Not in a good way. Uh oh.

Place: Residence of Sir Glorious, Dreamscape - Local Time: Noon, January 31st, 2012

"Um, Glorious? Glorious, sir? Sir Glorious?" Septimus walked through the dreamscape, arriving at the 'Wing of Glory.' Built in the very early days of Project Janus, the wing was home to Sir Glorious and other early entities of Glorious's army. If the dreamdome was the first critical success of Project Janus, then Sir Glorious was the team's first successful "fanciful entity." A born leader, Glorious had led many early Janus campaigns to complete victory. That was before some… erratic behavior had set in.

Septimus came upon Glorious in the middle of a large lab. Broken glass beakers and shorn rusty pipes littered the countertops. A huge center sink table had been ripped from its foundations and lay on its side, its exposed piping and concrete base a gaping wound. In the middle of the space cleared by its absence, Glorious stood amidst a small group of Knights and Scissors, waving his hands back and forth.

The Knights of Strife and Joy seemed to obey Glorious's every hand motion as they banged into one another over and over. Some knights came up behind other knights and heaved forward, knocking them to the ground. The scissors clacked away at each other, the noise of clashing blades rising over the din of clanking knights. The motion of the scissors back-and-forth also seemed to respond to the movements of Glorious's hand. Glorious was conducting the entire chaotic scene.

He was also quite mad. Raving insane, actually. Septimus remembered the first time he had seen him, how inspiring Sir Glorious was. Well over six feet tall, resplendent in his shining metal armor and bright blue cape, his two faces enclosed in metallic masks (Septimus assumed they were masks, at least), Sir Glorious was the perfect picture of a war leader. His booming voice would carry over the Janus legions, getting them ready for whatever battle was in front of them, whether hellbred monstrosities or bloodcut interferers. Looking at the deranged Glorious now, his armor scuffed and dull, his cape faded, his hand motions jerky and spastic, Septimus felt only shame.

"An oneironaut! How pursuitish! Trivial, I meant! No, exciting! Wait, now I have it…fish taste yummy!" Glorious's voice was still booming, still made Septimus want to charge up a hill to meet some unseen enemy…but in content he was more confusing than anything Mr. Anderson had had to say.

"Wait! Drat, I mistook my exclamation for the joke! Here – What's the difference between a dream lord and a fish? Fish taste yummy!" With this, one of the scissors stopped its dueling and clacked its blades in Glorious's direction. "What's that, Cutty? Oh, is that how it goes? My apologies, oneirolord. Cutty reminds me the joke goes as hollows – ‘What's the difference between a dream lord and a fish? The fish tastes yummy when slightly cooked! Oh, too funny. Too yunny. Who are you?"

Still stunned from the spectacle, Septimus barely croaked out, "A mission, sir. Mr. Anderson told me to see you about a mission." With this, Sir Glorious brought his hands down, and all the knights and scissors ceased their cacophonous parade. "Exeunt, my dear lads and lassies, exeunt!" his voice boomed out again. And all of the assorted dream entities dissipated into thin air, although each of them seemed to make some type of gesture or sound before they left.

"They're good ones, they are. And they always enjoy fighting the old battles. That one was a reenactment of an early engagement with the fearsome Hellbred sorcerer, Darknightshadow. Or maybe it was Scarefearghost? Or, well, definitely someone who had a name that left no doubt that he needed to get smashed. And pumpkinned he got! Heh, I haven't delivered such a pumpkinning… oh, in quite some time. That's the lie, or my name is…who are you?"

For the first time, Septimus considered that perhaps Octavus's fate might not be the worst that could befall a failing oneironaut. Perhaps this was C.U.U.P.P.'s most insidious form of punishment. To be locked up in a room with Glorious made one consider many other options. Quickly. "I'm Septimus, sir. Oneironaut Septimus, Janus Legion. We've fought together, before sir… in the cut-cut project, sir."

"Septimus." Here Glorious paused. "Ahh, I have it on morally-neutral authority you don't want to see me. My sorries. Please hold. And care. Yes, please care. For when you come to the end of cares, well then, what can possibly be left?" And with this, Glorious's face went slack, almost inanimate as he turned around. Septimus had seen Glorious's other face before, just another metallic mask, except on the back of his head…but he had never seen it move or talk before today. Septimus tried to ignore how strange it was to have someone's shoes pointed in the opposite direction of their face.

Where Sir Glorious's voice was booming, this voice was much quieter…it sounded almost normal. "Septimus. Ours is a hard service, oneironaut, and never you forget. Our master demands much…one might almost say too much, yes? But that is the price to be paid. How can one guarantee the future and past otherwise? The burden is heavy, but is the prize any less?"

"No, I can see you have no idea what I'm talking about, and why should you? You are still a young man; possessed of some moderate talent; social awkwardness; decent, if narrow, intelligence, and a regrettable tendency towards collapsing under pressure. And perhaps, you saw one thing you shouldn't have…" Here, Septimus's breath caught. How could Glorious, this insane buffoon of a created entity know this? Septimus's first urge was to immediately escape, but where could he…

Glorious's second voice cut through Septimus's panic. "Relax, Septimus. Your secret is safe. With me, anyway. And I will not be here too much longer, I assure you. Your Mr. Anderson does not know, and, may I say, it would be one of your too few wise decisions to keep it that way. Besides, I have some small knowledge of the nature of the transformation, and it is entirely possible that Octavus does not suffer. Not much, at any rate. Probably."

Septimus wanted to cry. He would have vomited again, except he had nothing left from his early episode in front of Sextus. He had seen…seen too much. He had been practicing that day, some weeks ago, on his own in an abandoned part of the dreamscape cultivated by the Janus. When Septimus had first been accepted into the oneironaut program, a lucky researcher who was blessed with the talent to control the dreamscape, he had loved searching out old places, hidden places, where he could be alone and practice. He was at one of those places that day, very secluded and one of his favorites.

The favorite of others, too, apparently. He had heard them before he saw them, an overall raucous din. They were definitely Janus, although he couldn't make out any of their faces…they might have been other Janus researchers or some entities he had not yet seen…but there were many of them. And in the middle there was Octavus, being dragged along, clearly against his will. It was both scary and amusing to Septimus. Scary, in that they were in the dreamscape, and Octavus was an oneironaut, and yet he clearly wanted to escape and couldn't. Amusing, because Septimus assumed that this was all some sort of prank, perhaps the result of the devastating review Octavus had received (completely deserved, in Septimus's opinion, there was only so much drinking and gamboling one should expect to get away with without consequence) and Septimus was eager to see the result.

But there was nothing… just as quickly as they came, the whole party left. Disappeared. Perhaps to an even more secluded space. And perhaps Septimus wouldn't have thought anything of it, except that the next day Octavus was missing. Just gone, without a word. Even the Janus executives seemed concerned. Septimus was going to bring up what he had seen, but first he attended the all-hands company meeting. They were going to announce the creation of a new Janus fanciful entity, and the rumor was that it was a dragon. Very exciting stuff, and Septimus hadn't wanted to miss it. And, in fact, the Janus had succeeded in creating a dragonoid form, they announced with much pride. The Pearlthorn Dragon Knight.

It was then, those few weeks ago, that the cold horror had first slipped over Septimus. For he knew. As soon as he saw the eyes of the dragon knight, saw the eyes and the fear and pain inside them. Perhaps it was only because he knew Octavus well, they had spent many months training together; or perhaps it was because he had seen Octavus taken away just the other day; or perhaps it was Septimus's own talent which sometimes manifested itself strongly though erratically. Whatever the cause, Septimus knew – whatever Octavus had been, whatever identity he had had, was now transformed into the new Janus template of a dragon knight.

Septimus had been sick to his stomach for many days, losing a number of competitions to Sextus and others. He had wanted to talk to someone about it, but whom could he trust? What did they know? And besides, the cold, sick truth of it was that Septimus's fondest ambition was to be an oneironaut traversing and controlling the dreamscape. He didn't care the price nor the consequences, including losing one of his good friends. Perhaps Octavus had really deserved it, went Septimus's rationalization in the following weeks. And besides, maybe Septimus just had an over-active imagination…a normal characteristic for a dream lord, after all.

All it had taken was one confrontation with the dragon knight, while sparring with Sextus in the dream dome, to shatter all those comfortable lies. Septimus knew. Septimus was crumbling under that knowledge. As he lay there in the dreamscape, in Glorious's lab, he had not realized that he had collapsed. Glorious's voice brought him back.

"Tough choices, Septimus, tough choices. You think I enjoy playing patty cake, letting half of who I am degenerate into useless insanity? You think I enjoy knowing that our master has other servants, servants whom he has begun to favor over me? But it doesn't matter, Septimus. I will be gone, soon. Permanently. Oh, you will see Sir Glorious, but not this Sir Glorious. Our master has many servants, and not all of them faithful. One of them will soon order my demise, and have me re-created to an image…more of his liking. Oh no, young Septimus, life has many choices, and so few of them enjoyable, whether in the dreamscape or the myriad worlds that mirror it. But we do what we must. As our master says, ‘What is, is. What has been, and what will be, those are the only things subject to change.' You will do what I say, Septimus, in this mission and in what comes after! Listen closely."

Septimus struggled up to his feet, and listened carefully.

Place: Hiveling Hive, in the Dreamscape - Local Time: Evening, January 31st, 2012

Uh oh. Thousands of squashbugs advanced towards Septimus, making click-clack sounds and obviously intending him grievous harm. The full range of impositions and defeats that Septimus had suffered today caused his knees to buckle. All of his training and practice, all of his time and talent…and his destiny was to end up as food for a hive full of squashbugs. Soon there would be copies of Septimus, themselves only to face slaughter, millions of Septimuses would die tonight. Perhaps Octavus had suffered the better fate…perhaps this was Septimus's true punishment for letting his friend die…

With a snarling cry of rage Septimus brought his hands up and weaved faster than ever before. Pearlthorn Dragon Knights and Drakesnails appeared in the hive faster than Septimus's eye could follow, but he kept on weaving dream creations with a blazing speed born of fury and desperation. The dragon knights cleaved their way through the front ranks of the squashbugs and the drakesnails followed in the knights' wake, ripping and slaughtering the squashbugs who came at the flanks. Although some of the squashbugs were able to taste the flesh of Septimus's summoned creations, as the metamorphosis process was happening they were cut down by the dragon knights.

A large squashbug had managed to come on Septimus from behind and grabbed him, its tentacles wrapping around his legs and torso. All panic in Septimus had already been burned away, replaced by a rage that these insects were too stupid to understand the futility of tangling with an oneironaut. With a dream lord. Septimus turned and grabbed the large squashbug with both hands and wrenched…the squashbug exploded in his hands, its blood and remains spilling over everywhere. Septimus smiled coldly and continued to weave additional combatants into the fray.

Sometime later, after all the squashbugs were dead, Septimus took his time looking over one of his remaining dragon knights. Although he could still feel? sense? know? the resemblance between the dragon knight and Octavus, he admitted that his friend wasn't actually there. But of course he wouldn't be. This Pearlthorn Dragon Knight was just a copy, a shadow of a shadow. But somewhere Janus had to keep the original template, the source material which every oneironaut ultimately drew from to create his or her own copy.

Septimus mentally prepared the report he was going to file to Mr. Anderson about this night's success. "Upon completion of your mission, here is what you will tell your Mr. Anderson…" Glorious's voice from earlier today rang in Septimus's ears. He wondered if he would see Glorious again, and if he did, whether it would be the same Glorious. No matter. First, to finish the clean up from tonight. Then, his new mission would begin.

He was going to rescue Octavus.

Place: Akasha Corporation - Local Time: Evening, January 31st, 2012

Mr. Anderson smiled as Tiffany Watkins walked into his office. She was one of Janus's best researchers, a key inspiration in some of their most recent brilliant finds. And they had solved the Project Sleeper problem with very little difficulty, once the matter had Mr. Anderson's full attention. All good things, and yet there was the incident this morning, the reason why he had called her into his office.

"And how is Tiffany doing?" She talked about the recent exciting experiments they were working on, more new discoveries, potentially a key find in the genesis exploration project. Mr. Anderson cut her short.

"I brought you here tonight, Tiffany, to discuss your unfortunate indiscretion earlier today."

"Sir?" She sounded truly confused. Such a shame that ignorance was as damaging as intent. More so, in fact.

Mr. Anderson was to the point. "You mentioned Project Sleeper in front of Septimus today, Tiffany. Septimus has no idea what Project Sleeper is."

"Oh, sir, that? I just assumed that, being an oneironaut, he had clearance…and besides I was so focused on finding you, sir… if you hadn't shown up when you did…I apologize if I…"

Mr. Anderson realized his point had been made. He went over to offer her a reassuring pat on her shoulder.

"Tiffany. Have you ever seen a diamond being made? No? Imagine a lump of coal. So ugly, this coal. So unassuming. Who would ever believe that a worthless malformed piece of coal could be valuable? But take that piece of coal, Tiffany, and subject it to…"

He realized he could stop talking…Tiffany's heart had already stopped beating, and her eyes were glassy and still.

"I am sorry, Tiffany. But if you were so careless and indiscreet about Project Sleeper, what would that mean for our truly secret projects, hmm? Never mind, Tiffany, I accept your apology."

Mr. Anderson sighed. He disliked having to do clean up. "But what is, is," as his own boss liked to tell him. "What has been, and what will be, those are the only things subject to change." That brought a smile to Mr. Anderson's face as he began the process to dispose of the body and the much harder process to ensure that Tiffany Watkins, and any memory of her, had never been.

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