It was 5 a.m. in Washington D.C, and Curtis West was on his second cup of coffee when his phone rang. He almost didn’t pick up, given that the ID didn’t show a name, only a string of numbers. If he had been on his first cup of coffee, he probably wouldn’t have thought anything about it, but somewhere in the second cup he’d found enough functionality that the string of numbers set off the proper synapses to mean something.
Docesznic’s numeric identification tag from the Meta-Inception Project, back in the days when no one had expected it to work. Back in the days when the survival rate had still been a flat zero. Back before it had been relabeled “The Capacitor Project” after its single success.
There weren’t a lot of people who had known that number to begin with - and the number of people who still
remembered it would be even less - especially given Colonel Damson’s death a couple months back. After a moment, West startled himself out of woolgathering and picked up the phone, wondering if this was going to be some sort of trap. There had been meetings about that sort of thing, protocols for what to do if contacted by outside parties with threats. Of course, there were meetings about everything...
...And none of this was getting anywhere. “Hello?”
A woman’s voice, familiar. Easily identifiable.
Except... it wasn’t, was it? West frowned, experimentally picking up the remnant half-cup of coffee. “...Which one are you?”
Truthfully, he felt odd even having to ask the question. There were some things that shouldn’t need to be thought about, and separate dimensions...
...Ah, if only he could get over
there and compare notes, maybe some of their people had something that might serve to confirm some of the mystery parameters...
A pause, no doubt in which they both
realized it would have been easy to lie about that.
“The one who would feel bad about lying to you.”
Well, that was an easy identifier if it was true
, wasn’t it? But if it wasn’t
true, then she could have just been lying about that...
He wondered if he should ask him for some sort of confirmation, but the difficulty with an alternate dimension was that he couldn’t be certain that there was anything only one
of them would have known.
There was a short sigh on the other end of the line, implying that she’d followed the entire non-conversation. She would, though, wouldn’t she? She probably knew the military’s security procedures better than he did.
“Don’t worry about it, Dr. West. I’m not intending to ask you for anything classified. The ultra-secure line is for my benefit, not yours.”
“Ah... what were you intending to ask me?”
It certainly sounded as if there was something. If it was about Akhilleus...
“I wanted to know if you still had Dr. Buendía’s number. From... back then.”
From back.. eight years ago? No, it was almost nine now, wasn’t it? It would be nine in August since the project had started. “Gabe Buendía?”
A pause, as he blinked furiously, wondering what he’d done wrong with the coffee. “‘Therapists only come in two varieties - those who are purely there for CYA purposes and will pass along anything that comes across their desk, and those who are there to be obstructions and do everything they can to keep people who need to be doing other things from getting them done - yet he somehow manages to be both’ Dr. Buendía?”
West took a pull from his coffee, because if he’d somehow stumbled into an alternate dimension where Teja Docesznic was asking for that number, he wanted to be awake for it.
“...That’s the one, yes.”
There was a hint of something in her voice, but he couldn’t quite tell if it was amusement or guilt. Propping the phone to his ear with his shoulder, he went to go pour himself a third cup.
“Thought you hated the guy.”
“Oh, I did. He was determined to make me talk about any potential issues I might be running into, when the issues I was running into were better solved with a physics text and a better understanding of electromagnetism. I didn’t need a counselor.”
A stalling answer, while he juggled the phone, nearly dropping it in his endeavor to get the coffee into the cup. “...But you want his number now.”
There was a silence, the sort that went on enough to let him know that her not answering was deliberate. West frowned, concerned. This was not good. His life’s work... “...You okay, Teja?”
She’d been... she’d had a lot to contend with since she’d called him up a year and a half ago. Since he’d run those tests for her about her generation rates.
Since they’d found out she probably wouldn’t last the decade - her own capacity unable to keep up with the amount of charge she was creating. That was why he needed to get in touch with that other dimension, to get hold of their notes
- he couldn’t let his project end. Not like that.
“I intend to be.”
Something twitched, maybe a smile. That determination reminded him of the young woman she’d been when he’d first met her, the one who’d refused to give in, no matter what he and his team put her through. “I’ll... get you that number.”