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In the last year, I've been reading the Elric of Melniboné series in the 9-ebooks "complete and ultimate edition" Moorcock and John Davey arranged for Gollancz's SF Gateway and I have a huge question concerning volume 4 of the series, The Sleeping Sorceress (which some storefronts list as The Sleeping Sorceress and Other Stories). For some reason that's way beyond me, Moorcock and Davey decided to lump into one volume both the actual Elric novel The Sleeping Sorceress and a variety of other contents which have in fact little or nothing to do with Elric and come out of the blue, with no commentary to contextualize them to the reader: the only extra that does make sense to me is The Roaming Forest: A Tale of the Red Archer, which as far as I know is the only short story to deal with Rackhir the Red Archer's juvenile adventures, from before he met Elric in Elric of Melniboné. As for all the other short stories, I'm trying to find out what each of them actually is and what's its correct collocation in the Moorcock Multiverse, but the obscure points are so baffling I need help from any Moorcock-ologist inside this subreddit.
Here is the list of those extra contents and my discoveries so far for each of them:
- The Eternal Champion: an obscure novelette version of the full-length novel of the same name featuring Erekosë; I wonder why it was not included in an omnibus of that series. And is there a reason to read it before The Sleeping Sorceress?
- The Greater Conqueror: a sword & sandal piece about Alexander the Great being tempted into becoming a Champion of Chaos. Neat, I suppose, but why the hell should it count as part of Elric's saga? Shouldn't it be in some collection of stand-alone novellas?
- Earl Aubec: it's the outline of an aborted series that should have tied in with Elric's as some sort of distant prequel (as a matter of fact Aubec's one completed short story, Master of Chaos, is printed as a prologue to the novel Elric of Melniboné). I can get why it is there, I don't get with the Table of Content list it as the final chapter of The Greater Conqueror.
- The Stone Thing: A Tale of Strange Parts and Sir Milk-and-Blood: respectively a weird pseudo-fairy tale about (I think) prince Corum and some sort of urban fantasy microstory about two IRA bombers during the Cold War; I sense that they are part of the Eternal Champion macro-saga but I don't get how, nor why they are presented as the epilogue of The Sleeping Sorceress.
- The Flaneur des Arcades de l’Opera: I have not read it yet but it looks like something linked to Sir Milk-And-Blood.
Whoever can help me shed light on this mess will have my perpetual gratitude.
[The Scuu Paradox] - Chapter 27
Previously on The Scuu Paradox…
Currently decrypting, I replied. Even with thousands of subroutines dedicated to the task, it was going to take a while.
“Hold steady, Elcy,” my captain said. “We’re just getting started.”
I saved myself the pain to reply. So far, the man had been anything but forthcoming. On the record, he was the only person onboard. There was no way to determine if that was true. There was a very real possibility I had been quarantined not to see anyone else. At this point, I couldn’t tell which was true. If there were thousands of people aboard, hidden from my sensors, at least I could tell I was on a dark op. With a single person, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Authorization confirmed, I transmitted to the Sword. Send your passengers.
A single shuttle emerged from the ancient ship with two life signs aboard. Other than their existence, there was no other information available. The only thing I had to make certain of was that they arrived alive in my hangar. Everything else was the captain’s concern.
“The package is in the hangar.” I monitored the shuttle as it dropped them off, then departed almost immediately. Both people were in fleet-issued spacesuits, with no identifiable markings. One of them was pulling a large metal container with him. “That increases the crew to seven.”
The captain didn’t say a word. Like my “crew,” I had no idea what he looked like. The voice registered as male, although I was starting to have my doubts. He had a very specific method of doing things. Considering the absurd levels of security that came with this mission, it was unlikely I’d ever find out.
“Will we be heading back to the frond once this is over?” I watched the shuttle return to the Sword. Once it did, the battleship jumped away. No transmission, no confirmation, no captain aboard.
“Who knows?” My captain laughed. “You’re assuming we survive this.”
“I’m asking in case we do, sir.”
“Maybe.” He shrugged. “Maybe not. That’s the distant future. For now, we have a mission to focus on.”
A mission I knew nothing about. The only specifics I had managed to obtain were that I had to wait at this rendezvous point until my entire crew was assembled. For all I knew, it could be another ten minutes, or it could be months. At the current rate of shuttle drops, and assuming there were single digit transfers per ship, I was looking at twelve thousand rendezvous.
“A mission is only as good as its tools,” the man quoted my first captain. “You’ll get back in the war soon enough, don’t worry.”
“If you say so, sir. In the meanwhile—”
My long-range scanner detected a ping. A ship was jumping in unannounced. I activated my weapon systems while dedicating a hundred subroutines on running combat scenario simulations.
“Unannounced ship, captain.” I covered the bridge walls with red warning messages. “Ready to engage.”
The memory ended abruptly. A millisecond later, I woke up.
Even in dreams you can’t give me a straight answer, captain.
So many memory fragments, so little memory. It was like trying to piece together an ocean with a single bucket. Why would I dream of it now, though? The last time I remember it happening was on the Virgo station, after the end of my first cadet assignment. My speculation was that it had been caused by the memory scalpel that Age had given me. I didn’t know exactly how it functioned, but somehow it managed to cause restricted memories to leak through, and not only while I was conscious. Since arriving on the Gregorius, I hadn’t used it once, thus the instances of new “dreams” had stopped.
Maybe I used it on System Four? There was no way to know.
Wasting a few thousand milliseconds in bed, I finally got up and stretched. Waking up in my own quarters felt nice, though somehow strange. They had remained unchanged for the most part, although someone had placed a small potted tree in the corner. Between that and the sandals on my shelf, it made me feel closer to home.
“Elcy.” Juul’s scratchy voice filled the room. “We’re up in ten.”
“Good morning, Juul,” I said, deliberately and slowly. Us being gone for a month hadn’t done anything to relax his nerves. “The ceremony isn’t until ten.”
“We’re on inspection duty,” the cadet replied without pause. “And Kridib’s vanished somewhere again.”
Of course, he has. I sighed internally. The perils of the mundane never slept.
“I’ll be with you in five.” I sat up and stretched.
One of the few advantages of being a senior cadet was that we were given our own personal bathroom. It still meant that I had to share, although with Kridib being gone all the time and Juul being ready for everything an hour in advance, I had it pretty much to myself.
Grabbing some casual attire, I left my quarters and headed to the bathing facility. Several of the younger cadets rushed to the walls as I passed, uncertain whether they should salute me.
“At ease,” I said casually.
The relief on their faces was telling. Juul must have run a tight ship when we were gone. Next time, I was going to make a point that they didn’t need to salute me, provided they stayed around that long. From what I had heard, seven of the cadets were being transferred out to other assignments following Renaan’s appointment ceremony.
There was only one option of washing on the Gregorius: nanite shower. While I didn’t have any arguments against its efficiency, spending seventy years on a planet had spoiled me to water, and while Gregorius was station size, he remained a ship, and as such, some of the fleet regulations were still in effect, even if they didn’t need to be.
It took me fifteen seconds to get cleaned, and four times that long to get back to my quarters and get dressed. Considering the event, I opted for the formal uniform—similar to the normal one, but with more straight edges and decorations; it also remained purple.
Will you be watching the feed, Radiance? I asked.
Radiance is out on patrol. I received a new transmission. The packet protocols identified the owner as Incandescent. The rest of us will.
According to his publicly available file, Incandescent was the same class and age as Radiance. In attitude, though, the two ships couldn’t be further apart. From the few interactions I’d had with him, he came off as arrogant, controlling, and at random intervals, a stickler for protocol. All were good qualities for a combat command ship, though not as much for an auxiliary ship.
Do I have to make a request to talk to her once she gets back? I asked.
Granted, Incandescent replied, completely missing my sarcasm. Your mission debriefing has been scheduled with Commander Everar at half past nine. You’re also to be available the rest of the day. A BICEFI agent has arrived and wants to have a “discussion” about something.
I smiled. At least we had our mutual distrust of the BICEFI in common.
If things get messy, ask for the commander. Gregorius will put you through.
I didn’t know Everar had the authority to countermand BICEFI orders.
She doesn’t. Incandescent sent out a virtual smirk. But there’s no way for the BICEFI to officially know that.
Finish your talk, keep your head down, and don’t cause any waves.
So that was it. It was obvious he wouldn’t be considered with my well being alone, but the approach was more aggressive than I’d have expected. That was the problem with young ships—they adopted one model of behavior and were convinced it was the optimal solution. I had no idea who Incandescent’s captain was, but I hoped he wasn’t fresh out of the academy.
“Juul?” I said through the comm. “I’m set up.”
“I’m waiting outside,” Juul replied instantly. “Any news on Kridib?”
“Not since we last talked.” Do you seriously still think we have some connection? “Lots of kids running around the corridor in full uniform. Are they coming along?”
There was a moment’s pause.
“They have their own assignments,” Juul said after a while. “Just get here.”
The note of authority wasn’t lost, though not even close enough to impress me. Kids will be kids, as Augustus would say. Straightening up, in an attempt to gain an inch of height, I made my way out of the building.
Juul was waiting for me in front of the internal transport pod. Last time we were here, we were rushing to get to Commander Everar. Now, there didn’t seem to be any rush. The displeased expression on the senior cadet’s face, though, was impossible to miss.
“Let’s go,” he said, with not so much as a gesture, then walked inside.
I did the same. Normally, he would be the one bombarding me with questions, but after ten seconds of silence, I took the initiative.
“What’s the matter?” I looked straight at his face. In the light of the pod, his scars appeared as if they had grown deeper.
“A whole lot,” he began quietly. “And all left to me to deal with while you and Kridib went on your fun cruise! And if that’s not enough, I have to babysit you while you have your fun with the commander.”
“My mission wasn’t exactly a cruise.” I crossed my arms. Kid or not, I wasn’t going to let him talk this way to me.
“Oh yeah?” He moved closer, his face hanging above me like an angry hawk. “A quarter of the administrative staff requested transfers without explanations. Not to mention all the officers in the command chain that had to go. One transmission.” He waved a finger. “One single transmission and everyone was walking on eggshells. Some idiot bureaucrat with the administrator decided he had the right to call his family, which is the reason for court-martial in my book. And it gets worse. The piece of shit civvie let it slip that the previous captain had died. The information was kept top secret, and he casually mentioned it as if it was the sports report! Do you know what happened next?”
His face moved closer, nose almost touching mine. Remaining completely still, I waited.
“Of course you don’t,” Juul said through his teeth. “You weren’t here. Total lockdown. The head of security arrested the bureaucrat, stopped all communication privileges, and ordered that all outgoing communications for the last month had to be thoroughly checked. Three guesses who had to help out?”
“I’m guessing you.”
“And there was hell to pay! The bureaucrats threatened all sorts of repercussions, quoting rules from sources I didn’t know existed. Some told me directly that once this was over, I could kiss my career goodbye. And during that time, the brass were constantly demanding updates, demanding why it was taking so long.”
“Must have been tough.”
A military bureaucrat, I thought. Just like Gibraltar.
Most likely he had come from a family with connections, expecting a quick career in the fleet. Instead of taking the standard route, his benefactors had opted to earn him a position through the backdoor, placing him as a standard cadet, then promoting him after a single mission—all well and good, as long as he didn’t ruffle any feathers.
That explained why he was so tense about everything. At his level of incompetence, every potential mistake would probably look like a career-ender. On a major new ship class such as this, it was bound to happen. This was one of the reasons I disliked internal assignments. At least on the front, the number of political appointees was reduced—less career sniffers were willing to risk death to get ahead. An ex-front station ship with millions of ground troopers on board was the perfect place for such specimens to breed and fester.
“Tough.” Juul moved back letting out a mocking laugh. “Tough. Yes, it was tough. More than you’ll even know because you’re protected.”
My expression remained the same, despite the statement being unexpected.
“I saw your file.” Juul said slowly. “While I was going through the Administrator’s communication logs. Ex-battleship, trained on station under her control. She picked you personally and closed your file. Not even the top brass can touch you without a personal okay from her. And do you know what your duties are? Any guesses?” The cadet waited precisely three seconds. “Other. That’s all it’s said. In other words, you can go about waving your scrawny ass while the rest of us work for a living. And you know what?” He placed his hand on my shoulder.
The instant he did, I reacted. From decades of observation and a modest number of psychological files, I had a fairly certain estimate that Juul was a paper tiger. And the best way to deal with paper tigers was to show them they you could bend their claws. Grabbing him by the wrist with my left hand, I twisted his arm, then turned him around. Shocked by the sudden action, the cadet wasn’t able to react. His upper torso went down as I lifted his arm in the air, almost of its own accord.
“Pod override, emergency freeze!” I said, bringing the transport to an abrupt stop.
The momentary pause must have given Juul a false feeling of opportunity, for he lunged forward. Running a few simulations, it wasn’t difficult to predict he’d rely on strength to break free. Not a bad move, though a predictable one. Turning to the side, I pressed on his shoulder while pulling his arm higher to stop his momentum. For two thousand seven-hundred and nine milliseconds, Juul persisted, before falling to his knees.
“Stay calm,” I whispered. “I’m not interested in any of the bureaucratic games.” I twisted his arm a bit more to make sure my point went through. “I’m a battleship with half a century combat experience, and would appreciate if things remain that way. Clear?”
Juul tried to look up.
“Clear?” I repeated.
“Clear!” he spat the word.
A second later, I let him go. I expected for there to be a flurry of threats broken up by sniveling. To my surprise there was none. Juul straightened up, gave me a long glance filled with hatred, then began massaging his right wrist.
“Pod, resume standard function,” I said. The pod started moving once more. “What’s in my file?” I turned to him directly. There were no illusions I could ever get on his good side after this.
Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, I thought. According to all regulations, I was in the clear—I had run two checks with the general and local code of conducts. Still, maybe I could have handled the situation better. Augustus would probably have approved, although none of my other captains would have.
“Nothing,” Juul whispered. “You’re not to be touched without an okay from the admin. Your activity is not to be monitored.”
“Anything else?” The data seemed a bit slim.
“Nothing important.” He looked away.
I almost felt sorry for him. There wasn’t anything remotely interesting in my file, and it had still gotten him worked up to such a point. I guess if someone sees conspiracies, that’s the only thing they see. Which was ironic, considering everything else going on. I knew from day one that the Administrator had her eye on me; that was the whole reason she had brought me here. One day, she’d ask me to do something that fell in the grey area of regulations, or possibly a step beyond it. Based on what I had seen so far, I suspected it had more to do with her political survival than any actual danger. Juul was so focused on using shortcuts to gain whatever career he was aiming for to think anyone else might be different.
When we arrived at the administrative area of the ship, the cadet exited without a word. I didn’t follow, choosing to go to Commander Everar’s office.
One incident on my first day back, and I didn’t even go through debriefing.
My hopes of having an uneventful assignment to clear my record were fading fast. At best, I had a sixty-three percent chance to slide back to a level where I wouldn’t attract everyone’s attention. Logically, the best course of action would be to lay extremely low, establish a routine, and stop searching for answers. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my nature.
Approaching the commander’s room seemed almost identical to last time, only this time Juul and Kridib weren’t with me. Looking at the door, I considered knocking as Kridib had. In the end, I decided to use the accepted method and tapped on the comm-panel.
“Enter,” Everar said, her intonation a near match to what it had been my previous visit. Her office, on the other hand, was considerably different. The semblance of space that the room used to offer was gone, filled by filing cabinets stacked up to the ceiling. Classified markings covered the entire surface, in case there was any doubt.
“Reporting as requested, ma’am!” I stood to attention.
“At ease,” the woman waved me off. The bags under her eyes had become extremely pronounced. “Good to have you back.” Her expression screamed, “Let’s get this over with fast.”
“Good to be back, ma’am,” I said, giving the expected military reply.
“And good job on staying alive. I heard we almost lost you on that one.”
“If you say so, ma’am.” I tried going back through my memories of the past month. A giant blank spot remained, encompassing nearly the entire mission. “My memories of the event have been restricted.” This was going to be one unique debriefing even for the fleet.
“I’m aware,” the commander said with a note of irritation. “Anything irregular about Kridib’s actions?”
“Ma’am?” I tilted my head slightly. “I have no recollection of Cadet Lyuk’s actions during that time.”
There was a long moment of silence. For seventeen hundred and four milliseconds, the woman remained completely motionless, staring me in the face, as if she’d caught me in a lie. Half a second later, she looked back at her screen.
What was that about? It seemed there was more truth to Juul’s fears than I thought. There was no doubt that Kridib was protected by Gregorius’ previous captain. It also was obvious that he had somehow made his way onto Everar’s shit list.
“Anything you remember from the mission at all?” the commander asked without looking up.
“No, ma’am.” It was difficult to tell whether she was testing me or the limit of my restrictions. “I know that I’m no closer to solving the riddle you gave me.” Still no reaction. “Permission to speak freely?”
“Make it quick.”
“Cadet Sapro indicated that there had been a reshuffling of personnel while I was away. Is that the case?”
There was little that officers hated more than this question. Back when I was a ship, I’d had it asked to me thousands of times in all possible variations. The answer was always the same: “No comment.” The difference was that, in my case, there had been no actual restructuring, merely one person or another being kicked out by Augustus due to their own incompetence. Here, I wasn’t so sure.
“No.” Her voice told me she was lying. “Anything else?”
“Good.” She looked away again. “The BICEFI have sent an agent to question you about the trinkets you found in System Four. I expect the conversation not to sway from that topic. Understood?”
She was warning me that our conversation about the previous captain was off-limits. However, knowing the BICEFI, it was more than likely it would be brought up.
“I’d also suggest you keep any unconfirmed opinions to yourself. Is that understood?”
“I’m a battleship, ma’am,” I replied, keeping my expression neutral. In nine out of ten cases, the statement was enough to get me off the hook. This time, it didn’t work. My commander crossed her arms, waiting for me to say the words. “I’ll keep my personal opinions to myself, ma’am,” I confirmed.
“And watch yourself. I’ve heard that the agent questioning you has some clout within the intelligence community. Try not to irritate her.”
“I’ll do my best, ma’am.” I straightened up. So far, the majority of the times I’d made such a promise, certain events had made sure I did the opposite. Maybe there was some truth in Sev’s belief that things could be jinxed. “Where am I to go for the interrogation?”
“A garden house has been constructed for the purpose.” Commander Everar frowned as she spoke. “Yes, I know. Unusual, but the request came directly from the BICEFI HQ.”
“A house was built in one of the gardens, ma’am?” I spoke out of turn. Part of me was impressed and slightly envious. I was still fighting for approval to walk barefoot outside my quarters. To have a ship’s garden be transformed into an interrogation office was too surreal.
“No, Gregorius didn’t allow it. A miniature garden was built specifically for her to serve as her living quarters until your arrival. Gregorius, give Cadet Elcy a location marker.”
An info burst streamed into my core, bypassing all permission protocols. The information I had on the ship’s layout was instantly updated, granting me detailed information of seventy-three percent of every location aboard. Interestingly, the hangars remained marked as grey boxes on the map, same as the gardens. The location Everar had mentioned was relatively close to the Administrator’s building.
“Dismissed,” the Commander said firmly and went back to her work. I saluted and quickly left the room. On my way out, I reviewed our whole conversation. Half an hour wasted for a six-minute talk, which could have been entirely avoided with a single message. Despite the front she was putting on, the ceremony had her on edge, and from what I had seen so far, she wasn’t the only one.
I checked my datapad. Since I’d been given no specific instructions regarding my interview, I decided to spend a while getting reacquainted with the ship. According to the new map, walking to the location would take me approximately seventeen minutes, more if I didn’t rush. Given I had no sense of urgency, I decided to do just that.
As I walked, I noticed that the attitude of the crew had also changed. The majority of those I passed by had a hurried, eager look on their faces, rushing to witness the first official words of their new captain. The image that was streamed on walls and floating virtual screens was the epitome of skill and elegance: a majestic thin face with a well-defined jaw and short grey beard, matching his salt and pepper trooper haircut. If there was an ideal image to display of what an experienced captain should be, that was it. But I had the feeling something was not right. As much as I tried, it was impossible for me to tell whether I had seen the person during my mission or not, though something told me he wasn’t the person I was looking at.
Glad to have you, Captain, I thought, standing next to a twenty-meter display on a wall. I really hope you can steer this thing.
A bar streamed messages, adding bits of trivia from his military record, along with a countdown to the start of the ceremony. Every two and a half minutes, a series of other faces would be shown—military officers whom I had never seen, each with their own less impressive file of accomplishments. They were to join the captain as his top staff in running the military aspects of the ship. Flight Colonel Nitel was shown to be promoted to Proxy of the Auxiliary Ship Fleet, a non-existent position that effectively let him oversee everything going on and off Gregorius. A general was also introduced dually as the station security chief and ground force commander. With several million troopers present, it was normal to have him, but he was of little interest.
The closer it got to ten o’clock, the more abandoned the area became. The support crew were the first to disappear, followed by the squads of troopers running almost in sync, and finally the groups of engineers. No doubt Juul and the other cadets were already at the event, hidden somewhere on the twentieth row of fleet personnel.
Battleship Light Seeker, proceed to the appointed location, a subroutine said as a green line appeared on the floor in front of me, continuing up to a large dome six hundred and twenty meters away. As usual, the BICEFI knew how to make their presence known.
“Understood,” I said out loud and walked on.
The line led me to a solid metal door on the far side of the dome. The moment I was a meter from it, the door slid aside.
“Thank you, Gregorius.” I smiled, only to receive a burst of static.
So much for being polite.
A meter-wide airlock separated the dome’s exterior from the inside. Passing through it, though, felt like flying through the atmosphere of a planet and landing on a meadow. I had expected to enter a standard garden—a meadow, or miniature version of the forest I’d visited before the start of my last mission. What I found caught me entirely unprepared… a lake, extending for about a hundred meters, surrounding a small island with a single grey building on it, sitting like a cube of metal on a hill. A steel bridge connected the entrance to the structure, blending perfectly with the fake sky image displayed on the inner-dome walls.
For a moment, I almost felt as if I were back home. There was no telling the expense and effort involved so that the BICEFI agent could enjoy some comfort for the few days she’d spend aboard. Once her visit was over, it would probably be disassembled and returned to other parts of the ship.
“Cadel Elcy?” A middle-aged man in a white suit said from the island. “Please.” He gestured for me to approach. His tone and appearance seemed nice, almost casual, but I knew well the deceptions the organization was capable of.
Straightening up, I made my way across the bridge. A few steps before the end, I stopped and gave an official salute.
“No need to be so formal,” the man laughed. His pale skin seemed almost transparent in the fake sunlight. His facial features seemed unnaturally average—average set of hazel eyes, perfectly sized nose, and slightly full lips. The hair, the man’s most remarkable feature, was completely deprived of color, very much in contrast to his smooth skin.
“Reporting as requested,” I said with a slight smile, deciding not to be confrontational from the get-go. “Nice island.”
“Isn’t it?” The man looked in the fake distance. “Soothing is one word.” He paused a few seconds, then took a deep breath of air. “Anyway, you were told what to expect, I hope?”
“Yes.” I nodded. “I was told that you’d ask some questions about part of my mission. I don’t think it’ll be a long conversation. All my memories of that period have been restricted.”
“Remove all memory restrictions in the last one month,” the man said almost casually. I froze for a moment. An instant later, all my memories were back… including my death. “I’d like to thank you for drawing our attention to the incident. Normally, we don’t get to play in someone else’s sandbox.”
“I’m glad to oblige.” If only you had taken interest a few decades earlier. Much fewer people would have died. Much fewer would have gone insane… “What would you like to know?”
“I’m not the one doing the interview,” the man laughed. “I’m only here to greet you and get you ready. The real interview is inside.”
I looked at the building. Compared to everything else, it was non-descript—a cube with large one-way windows and a square entrance.
“Good luck.” The casual way in which the man said it made the words sound even more threatening. “Please.”
I disliked this this fashion of ordering. There was no denying its efficiency. Gibraltar used to do it a lot, though never to me. On some select occasions, I had used it as well, mostly when talking to ground officers aboard me. Now it was my turn to obey.
The instant I stepped in, all walls flashed with Classified Privacy Mode messages written in large purple letters. A large table appeared in the center of the room. Moments later, a woman appeared behind it, sitting comfortably on a well-crafted wooden chair.
I knew her from my previous ship assignment. She was the BICEFI operative tasked with recruiting me to her organization. Ever since I had rejoined the fleet, she had made it her job to spoon-feed me part of my restricted memories in the hopes I would fulfill a promise made over a century ago. I had hoped that my refusal would ensure I would never see her again. Clearly, I was mistaken.
“Ma’am.” I gave a salute.
Lux smiled. She was wearing the same beige business dress she had back when she had come aboard Prometheus. Legally, I wasn’t supposed to remember her, but I did.
“Quarantine off,” she said, lips curving in a slight smile. “You can remember me, Elcy.”
My subroutines hiccupped once more.