The Long Death (Part IV)

Professor Gilbert gave Michael a sceptical look as he went over the notes the boy had written on the tablet. He scrolled down a bit more, frowned at the dense, spidery text, then shook his head. “You’re going to need more than this to convince me, Mr Cohen.”

Michael looked frustrated, as if his explanation of how he interpreted the facts should be enough to convince anyone of the indisputable correctness of his conclusions. “It should be self-evident that…”

Gilbert held up his hand. “If it was self-evident, I wouldn’t be disagreeing with you, would I?” They were in one of the laboratories of the Hawking, the glittering state-of-the-art science vessel that was ferrying them at almost relativistic speed across the void. The habitable areas of the ship were divided into many compartments, all rotating independently in a complex dance so as to maintain the illusion of near-Earthlike gravity. Like all space vessels, the conditions aboard were cramped, but it was as comfortable as it could be, and each of the professors had their own workspace in order to prepare for what they’d find once they got to Tethys. Michael, as a student, wasn’t so fortunate, and he seemed to have spent most of the last two weeks going from scientist to scientist, presenting his contrary and often controversial opinions, in order to secure the support he needed. Despite the endorsement of Professor Heston, most of the team considered Michael little more than a hindrance, and the crew of the ship – who knew that an extra body on board meant more hardship for everyone else – appeared to actively loathe him. The boy’s general attitude didn’t do much to help things. Gilbert considered himself foremost of those objecting to Michael’s presence on the mission, and in a show of rare tact, the brilliant but socially inept student had avoided him for most of the trip so far. Only now, when his theories ran directly counter to Gilbert’s own, did Michael dare to bother him.

“Professor,” Michael continued, “you can’t deny the correlations. The symbols recorded by the crew of Little Orphan Annie that appeared on the object’s protrusions are quite clearly of terrestrial origin. I’ve cross-referenced their morphology with every recorded language, and they bear certain key similarities to many of the most ancient forms of writing known to archaeology. If you’d just peruse my notes again, you’d see that…”

Gilbert slapped the tablet against the boy’s chest, and none too gently. The idea of going into space made him sick to his stomach already, and he was self-medicating with a dozen different treatments to stop himself from hurling himself out of the airlock and swimming desperately back to Earth, and this upstart student – whom he knew had had the audacity to suggest that he, the world’s foremost theoretical exobiologist should be excluded from this mission – getting in his face did nothing to improve his mood. Michael flinched and clutched the tablet against himself. “I read it, Michael. And you ought to know that I and my colleagues already reached the same conclusions. There are similarities. But that could mean any number of things. There could have been contact between the Builders and early human civilisations. In fact, I find it hard to imagine there wouldn’t be. Why build a satellite in orbit of Tethys and not explore further into the solar system? They must have been aware that Earth was teeming with life. Your observations don’t prove that human beings built this object, and there are far more counter-arguments to the absurd notion.”

“But…”

And, it really could just be a coincidence. Convergent evolution is always a possibility. If the Builders came from a similar world to ours, who’s to say they might not write the same way?”

Michael got that look on his face that he got when he couldn’t understand why anyone would even think such a thing. It wasn’t outrage, or anger: just a kind of panicked confusion. “As a biologist, you must know that something as specific as written language is the most parochial of parochials. You can’t possibly assign the same rules to aeons of incremental evolutionary change to cultural artefacts that arose within mere millennia. Even human societies separated by oceans or mountain ranges developed wildly different methods of communicating with one another. Compare the East-Asian language group with that used by…”

“Enough, Michael.” Gilbert was already pushing the boy towards the hatch that led back into the corridor. “We’re happy to have you with us on this mission, and your perspective is clearly very valuable, but I’m the expert here, not you.”

“But I require the support of you, my colleagues, in order to ensure I am assigned the most important areas to research when we arrive at the object. Without your endorsement, I won’t be able to…”

He finally succeeded in muscling Michael out of the tiny lab – it wasn’t too hard, since the boy was such a slight, pale thing, but the reduced gravity made any kind of physical activity feel a little strange – and activated the panel to one side. “Goodbye, Michael,” he smiled as the hatch slid shut with dull thud. He turned away and breathed a small sigh of relief. The whole journey had been taxing so far. Space travel had been one of his most primal fears since he was a small child. Growing up in Britain, still a relatively green and pleasant land when he was young, he’d wanted nothing more than the kind of gentle, pastoral life that seemed to him the God-given right of all academics. He had idolised Tolkien, not just for his books, long-since eclipsed by the endless and eviscerating movie franchise, but for the life of quiet contemplation he had lived as a professor of Anglo-Saxon amongst Oxford’s fabled dreaming spires. He had dreamed of that life, of the quiet home, of sitting in a garden, smoking a pipe, reading a proper, paper book. But that dream belonged to a world that was now gone. Oxford was the same post-capitalist ruin as every other city on the planet, its suburbs gutted and transformed to crime-ridden shanty towns, its centre choked with traffic and smog. Parks were given over first to arable farming, and eventually to desolation when it became impractical to irrigate the new fields. The once glorious medieval city centre had been torn down to make way for one of the new highways that connected the few prosperous cities that remained. History was a luxury humanity could no longer afford. The same story was repeated almost everywhere. There was no space for everyone, no food to keep them alive, barely even enough air to breathe. Billions and billions of people, all crowded onto one little world, clawing over one another for the little joy that remained. Gilbert had been lucky: his family was well-off, and by the time things had gotten really bad, he’d had a tenured position in a fine university in America. He was insulated from it all. But how long could that last? For him, the most horrifying thing had been the thought of having to leave that bubble, of having to face the horror of reality. Going into space, being ejected brusquely from the comforting bosom of home, was the most literal manifestation of that he could imagine.

He steadied himself on the miniature desk as he crossed the room and eased himself into the narrow chair behind it. The gravity was only a fraction less than he was used to, but he noticed it. He noticed it every second he was on this horrible, cramped, shiny spaceship. Carefully, he placed his hands on the smooth white surface in front of him and breathed deeply. He had to keep himself occupied, but he’d written everything he could based on the data they had. Already a few hundred papers had been submitted by the scientists on board – they’d been chosen for this mission precisely because of their enthusiasm for the topic – but now all they had to do for an entire month was prepare themselves, make plans, decide what they’d do with the scant weeks they had of direct study. Complex, intersecting itineraries were being drawn up in other labs and offices. There were only two pods on board, and only so much fuel that could be used to run them. There were too few spacesuits, only so much air that could be risked if something went awry on a spacewalk. Not everyone was going to get as many chances as they wanted to study the object up close, so negotiations were happening. Gilbert wanted no part of them – the thought of going on an EVO, as he was told it was called, filled him with abject terror – so he didn’t put his name in the hat. He’d rely on information gleaned from the Hawking’s instruments and what he could find out from others more brave, or foolish, than he. That was why Michael had been sticking his nose into everyone’s business; as he’d said, he needed one of the professors to endorse his views and think him a valuable addition to whatever research they were planning, or he wouldn’t even get near a telescope.

“I can’t believe you aren’t more excited about this,” Jashith had said, the night before he’d left for Kenya where the space elevator would take them into orbit.

Gilbert had shaken his head. “How could I be excited? We had this lecture from the instructor. It was like a sermon. You know what spaceship crews call it when they get stranded in space with no hope of getting home?”

“Don’t think about it.”

“How can I not think about it? Just the idea…” He rolled over and pulled Jashith closer to him. “Who would ever want to go into space?”

“Lots of people!” Jashith pulled himself away and propped his head up on his arm. He got that smile on his face that meant he was amused and concerned at the same time. “It’s romantic. The courageous astronaut,  braving the vacuum to win knowledge from the stars.”

“I’m not an astronaut.”

“You will be tomorrow,” Jashith smiled, one of his long, walnut-brown fingers tapping him on the end of the nose. “A fearless space traveller, like Neil Armstrong.”

“This isn’t the 20th Century. No one goes into space because they want to.”

“Except you. No one’s making you go.”

And it was true. Gilbert had never felt more alone than he was on board the Hawking, a million miles from Jashith, holed up with a mismatched gaggle of people. The crew were a hardened, surly bunch; Russian mostly, and extremely businesslike. They seemed to resent putting their lives on the line for a scientific mission like this. Gilbert supposed that made sense. Spaceship crews were trained to expect returns on their investments. You expended oxygen, food, fuel, you risked your life, and the hope was that you’d bring back information about the location of complex carbohydrates or water. Just jetting into space for the hell of it, to satisfy idle academic curiosity, must seem terribly frivolous by their standards.

Why had he agreed to this anyway? Why couldn’t he be content with waiting back on Earth and studying the data later, like almost everyone else? Because he was a fool. And a romantic. Part of him had been seduced by the idea of being some kind of hero scientist and, more to the point, by the wealth and fame it would secure him. All positions were tenuous, even his, and with the population growing and the Earth’s resources dwindling, he needed to take every opportunity he could to keep his comfortable life secure. So, for himself, and for Jashith, he agreed to take this risk.

But how far would he go? How much would be required of him?

*

They watched the other ship approach. It had started out as a dim speck of radiation moving slowly closer, and then grew and grew until it was unmistakable. A glowing mote of heat and light in a dark, cold universe. Radio contact was made, and Gia smiled inwardly when she heard the gravelly voice of Captain Vysotsky speaking to them in broken English. Hoshi-Wójcik had obviously assigned the most experienced crew it had to the Hawking. Unlike their own patched-together vessel, this science ship was as advanced as they came. It was normally used for missions to the terrestrial planets and skirting the edge of the Sun’s corona, collecting magnetically-charged particles from the solar wind in its blackened Bussard scoops. There was a general air of jubilation on board the Annie as the crew gathered ’round the screens. Gia and Peters sat near the back of the group in the dining room. In the last month, they’d found everyone else growing increasingly distant. Everyone resented having to wait here, it seemed, and they somehow blamed the two of them for that. Technically they were the ones that had found it, but it was just by chance. And then they’d been the ones to take the spacewalk that somehow woke it up. There was something else too. They’d shared this strange experience, heard the alien song, and now…now they’d been changed somehow. Levitt had abandoned any attempt to keep them apart as their respective shift patterns dictated – it was as if he understood that they now shared some strange connection.

Gia had mixed feelings as the sleek shape of the Hawking got gradually larger on the main screen. She wanted to go home. Wanted it more than anything. But the mission was far from over. There were still eighteen long months to go: more moons of Saturn to explore, more claims to stake amongst the rings of the gas giant, but she couldn’t imagine how she’d bear the boredom now, knowing what was behind them. Peters may think they’d be on course to riches beyond their wildest dreams, but somehow Gia thought the scientists would be the ones who’d end up taking the credit. She would just be a footnote in history. And, she was certain, no one would ever let her back onto Pi again.

“I know how you feel,” Peters said in a low voice. He looked tense, with his arms folded across his chest.

“They don’t understand,” she replied, “they just want to get home.”

“Who could go home after this?”

Gia shook her head. The last month had been utterly interminable, staring at the floating object just a handful of kilometres across from them. It still lit up occasionally; strange spectral light flickering across its surface. They kept a close eye on it, but Levitt wouldn’t agree to any more spacewalks. The scientists would handle all that, he kept telling them. No need for us to take any more risks. But Gia didn’t stop dreaming about what she’d seen and heard down there and she thought there was some connection to that and the activity from Pi. She couldn’t get unrestricted access to the data – Ostenfeld seemed to be jealously guarding his knowledge now that he too would be robbed of the chance for glory when more-qualified experts showed up – but she was convinced the radiation spiked when she was having the dreams. It was like some connection had been made. Was that so outlandish? After all, it had configured itself to the shape of her hand. It must be aware of her, somehow.

“Come in, Little Orphan Annie,” came a voice over the link between the two ships. It was the heavily accented English of Vysotsky again, “we are matching your orbit, over.”

“Understood, Hawking,” Levitt said with a satisfied smile, “awaiting your instructions, over.”

There was a long pause, and Gia felt the tension in the room rising. Vysotsky’s voice came again. “Captain Levitt – you are alone?”

“No, we’re all here.” He was frowning slightly, and now the unease in the room was palpable. Somehow, everyone sensed something bad was about to happen.

“Maybe we speak in private, perhaps. Captain to captain.”

“All right,” Levitt said slowly, “I’ll patch the signal through to the control room.” He nodded at Lieutenant Kovač, the stern-faced Croatian woman who served as his second in command then left the dining room briskly. Gia and Peters exchanged a glance and, without speaking, trailed after him. No one moved to stop them.

In the control room, Levitt didn’t seem to object to their presence either. They were separate from the rest of the crew now. It didn’t feel right that they shouldn’t be party to any change in the situation, not with what they’d done. “Okay, Vysotsky,” Levitt said as he settled himself down in the middle seat, “we’re in private. Go ahead.” Gia and Peters didn’t sit down, just stood near the back of the small room, waiting.

“This…will be difficult to explain,” Vysotsky said carefully.

“Just say what you need to say,” Levitt told him. There was a tightness in his jaw. Gia thought he knew what was coming.

“The additional supplies you asked us to bring…”

That’s when she understood. Levitt had known since the moment Vysotsky had asked to speak to him without the crew being able to overhear. This was space. There was only one kind of bad news out here. “So,” Levitt said softly, “that’s it then?”

“There was a change of plans. We were asked to bring an additional member of the science team. The decision was made by the company.”

“They thought an extra scientist on this mission was worth the lives of everyone on this ship?”

“This business…hard decisions are made every day…”

“Seventeen men and women will die because of this one. They’ll die the Long Death, Sergei.”

“I know, my friend. You think I am happy about this? Knowing what I must say to you? I went over this in my head. Over and over. They tell me this before we fly, tell me the extra supplies have been sacrificed, but by then it was all too late. So I bring these ебанатик halfway across space, knowing that you will be condemned to death for them. They do not know. Do not blame them. Blame this world. Blame men in suits who think only about their money.”

Levitt didn’t reply to that, instead he just sat there for a long time, then switched off the radio feed. Then he sat back in the bucket seat and stared blankly into space. “I didn’t think it’d end this way,” he said quietly.

“We have to try to make a run for it,” Peters said.

“Run?”

“Turn the ship around towards Earth, hit the engines and see how far we can get. It’s our only chance now.”

Levitt shook his head sadly. “It’d never work. The slingshots, remember? Our course is precisely calculated. We don’t have the supplies to get back home that way. This is space. The straight road doesn’t work.”

Gia felt numb inside. She was trying to process this information, trying to figure out what it meant. “We were going to wait a month anyway,” she heard herself say, “we’d have missed the slingshots whatever happened. They knew this would happen all along.”

“Let’s not get into conspiracy theories,” Levitt warned her.

“In case you didn’t notice, Captain,” Peters growled, “the Hoshi-Wójcik Corporation just sold us out. A man in a fucking office somewhere just killed us with a stroke of his stylus, to let some extra egghead take a ride to space to see the interesting artefact with his own squinty eyes. As conspiracies go, it doesn’t get much more fucked up than that one.”

“The Long Death,” Levitt said, putting a hand to his head, “I’ve spent half my life in space…fearing this…wondering whether it might be me one day…wondering what I’d…what I’d…” he trailed off. He looked like he wanted to curl up in his bunk and pretend none of this existed. Gia felt the same.

Peters put a hand on the captain’s shoulder. “We all knew the risks. The hardest part comes now though. You have to tell the rest of the crew.”

“The crew…God Almighty…” He started scrabbling about in the control room. “There are regulations. A speech. The corporation gives captains things to say.”

“Fuck the corporation. They’re the ones who killed us. Tell them that. Tell them why they’re going to die the Long Death.”

Levitt looked at him. Something passed between them, and the captain visibly deflated. He didn’t look like someone who was in command any more, but Peters stood tall. Gia remembered the words of Hawkins, their instructor back on Earth. He’d told them space would change them. He was right. Their walk in the void, and now the prospect of the Long Death, had turned everything on its head.

Everyone could tell something was wrong as they walked back into the dining room. Peters was almost propping Levitt up as he stood in front of everyone and delivered the bleak news. And he told them why it was happening too. He told them everything Vysotsky had told him. Then he slumped down in a chair and seemed to collapse in on himself like a neutron star. Before he had been The Captain – officious, a little silly, but experienced and in control, someone who knew his business – but now he was just a grey, haggard little man, and he had no authority left, not over a ship and a crew condemned to the Long Death.

The reaction to the revelation was stunned silence. No one could take it in. No one knew what to do. Everyone thought they were prepared for this, but they weren’t. You never could be. This fate, no matter how many times it was explained to you, was simply outside of human experience. No one was meant to die this way.

“This is crazy!” It was Kuar who spoke up, surging to his feet. “There’s a perfectly good ship right over there! The most advanced ship in the fleet! Why should we have to die when there’s a vessel to take us safely home within reach?”

“They’re out here the same as we are,” Peters said, “under the same sentence if things go wrong. They only have enough food and air to sustain their crew and passengers too. If we crowd onto the Hawking, we’ll die just the same, and so will all of them.”

“Then let’s just take the ship from them! Why should we die so they can live?”

“Take it? How?”

“A pod,” Rajesh suggested. “Fly it over, storm the Hawking, blast all those scientists out of the airlock. That ship has enough supplies for two more months of sustained flight. We jet straight back to Earth.”

“And then what? You think they’d just let us land and go back to our lives, after murdering all those people?”

“Prison is better than the Long Death,” Kim said.

Kuar nodded, and a few others voiced their agreement too. “Besides,” he said, “they’ll have murdered us if we just sit here and take this. Why should they get away with it but not us? The Corporation would understand. It’s them or us. What’s the legal situation here? Surely this is just self defence?”

“You’re being naive,” Gia said, stepping forward. “Hoshi-Wójcik sold us down the river. The second we land, having stolen one of their ships, they won’t hesitate to do the job for real. There’s no way out of this. We’re already dead.”

“Right,” Kuar said, fixing her with a dark stare, “we were dead the moment you found that thing out there.”

“Don’t blame Gia for this,” Peters told him, “it could have been any one of us that made the discovery. What does it matter now?”

“All we have is the Long Death,” Kuar said, spreading his hands, “we have to entertain ourselves somehow. Why not a trial? Why not vengeance?”

“Enough!” Peters roared. “Is this how you want to die? Tearing each other apart? Placing blame? Exacting revenge, like barbarians? We have eighteen months of supplies left. We don’t just have to stay here. We can go where we want. We can carry on exploring.”

“Who put you in charge anyway, Peters?” Kuar asked.

“No one’s in charge now,” he replied, “all bets are off. So decide what you want to do. But this is still a Hoshi-Wójcik ship. We’re still bound by the laws of society. We’re still human.”

Kuar turned his back on Peters and walked out of the dining room, and a few others trailed after him. “You haven’t been human since you came back from that thing,” he said over his shoulder.

“What now?” Gia asked Peters.

“I don’t know.”

Levitt hadn’t moved from his seat. Some of the others were like him, staring into space, not knowing what to do, how to react. Gia still felt numb. She knew what she was supposed to feel, but she also knew how grief felt, and she thought that’s what was happening. Those first few hours after receiving a piece of terrible news. She remembered when she found out her mother had died; she’d known it was coming, she’d been sick for months, but it hadn’t made it any easier. She’d expected to crumble, to burst into tears, to feel some kind of soul-wrenching pain. Instead it was just nothing. Just emptiness. She felt that way now.

“You should get some rest,” Peters suggested, “think about what you want to send to your fiancée.”

“Right.” Clarissa. She’d never see Clarissa again. She didn’t know what to do with that thought. “Rest. Sleep. That’s what I need.”

“That’s what we all need. Tomorrow…we’ll all have to decide what to do.”

She lay in her bunk, trying to make her thoughts fit some kind of pattern, trying to make it all conform to a recognisable shape, but everything was jumbled up. All her hopes, her dreams, the money she thought she was going to make, the life she thought they’d have when she got home. Clarissa would still get the money, unless this was somehow covered up, and that was something to be grateful for. It was always something they’d thought about, a possibility they’d try to prepare themselves for. But there was another, treacherous thought in her head. A thought that said: you’re stuck here now. Stuck in space, and Pi is out there. No one can compel you to leave it behind. No one can take this from you now. She closed her eyes, thinking about that, and drifted straight into the familiar dreams.

*

Professor Hoshi (no relation, as she was at pains to point out) was the nominal leader of their team. She was a physicist, a Nobel Prize winner, an elder statesman of her field and undoubtedly one of the world’s finest minds, but at that moment she was baffled. In the control room of the Hawking, a round room panelled in white and silver, she and some of the other scientists had gathered to watch the drama play out on the screen. Captain Vysotsky was there with his senior staff and, if anything, he looked even surlier than usual. Michael had been passing when the alert went off, and was now hovering near the back of the group.

“When did it start?” Hoshi asked Vysotsky.

“Maybe three, four minutes ago?” He didn’t look particularly interested, which Michael thought was quite strange. On the big screen, the strange object orbiting Tethys was lit up like a Christmas tree. Lights played across it, moving in a complicated pattern that Michael was struggling to keep up with. He committed the flashes to memory as he watched, making a mental note to try to decipher it later if he could.

“What sort of readings are we getting off it?”

Vysotsky waved a hand noncommittally. “Radiation spikes all over the spectrum. Nothing unexpected.”

“Zoom the camera in. I want a closer look.” He did as he was told, and now they focused in on the object. The two pillars came into view, and the lights seemed to be concentrated there. Bright patches moved up and down them tantalisingly.

“Can you get any closer?” Gilbert asked. He almost seemed excited. Michael’s ears pricked up. He couldn’t see too well from the back, but it looked like Gilbert had noticed something. The view changed again, and now the pillars had centre stage. “There!” the professor exclaimed excitedly. “The lettering that was seen before! Do you see it?”

Everyone craned in to see. Michael shuffled forward to get a better look. No one was paying any attention to him now. “Yes, those symbols do look the ones the crew of the Little Orphan Annie recorded,” Hoshi admitted, “but they only appeared before during their spacewalk. One of them set it off herself.”

“Well they’re back,” Gilbert said, “and this may be our first chance to do some real work on this thing. If only we could understand what they meant!”

Michael edged forward. He had his custom tablet in his hand. “Uh…” No one noticed him. “Excuse me?” Vysotsky was giving him a strange look. Was he angry at him? Michael didn’t know why he would be, or care particularly. He reached forward and tapped Professor Hoshi on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said again, “can I speak?”

Hoshi turned and looked at him. “Mr Cohen? What are you doing here?” Gilbert had a look on his face like Vysotsky’s too. It was a bit odd.

“I’m helping you,” he explained.

“Helping us do what?”

“Understand those symbols.” Everyone stared at him. Gilbert laughed for some reason. Did they think he was joking? “I’m sorry, that is what you want, isn’t it? It’s just, I’ve been working on translating them. If you’d care to see how I did it, I’d be happy to show you.”

Hoshi looked at the screen, then back at him. “You can read those, Cohen?”

“Not ‘read’ exactly…my translations are incomplete. I didn’t have access to the full lexicon of course. These symbols are more like pictographs than letters, and they resemble ancient terrestrial languages only in their basic form. Obviously things have changed a lot since this device was built, but the fundamental structure is familiar enough to work with. I believe I can infer the meaning of that pattern of symbols that’s repeating though.” He pointed at the screen with his stylus.

“Go on,” Gilbert said. His voice sounded very strange. What was he so angry about? Michael was helping him.

“Well, it’s hard to capture the correct idiomatic voice of course. But that first symbol means, I believe, ‘time’. That is, it’s some sort of prefix that indicates the proceeding phrase relates to the passage of time, that is a duration of some kind. Then the second symbol means ‘action’; again, it’s a component indicating that some sort of event is occurring. The third symbol means ‘after’. Combined with the others, we might think of it as saying that something – an action of some kind – is going to occur in the future.”

“So it’s about to do something?”

Michael shook his head. “Not exactly. That next symbol that flashes up? The one with the curving lines? My research indicates that that means ‘person’. So the future action, whatever it is, is related to someone interacting with it. Then the final symbol means…well…it means ‘no’, sort of. But see how it only appears intermittently? I think the frequency with which the symbols appear modifies their meaning. It’s an ingenious method of communication, one that allows phrases to be uniquely mutable. This system of writing was obviously developed in concert with the technology to display it. It means this object is as old as the language spoken by whoever…”

“Mr Cohen,” Hoshi interrupted, “please cut to the chase. What is the thing saying?”

“Oh. Yes. Well, the main thrust of the phrase is that some action is happening in the future, and it involves, or perhaps will be instigated by, a human. But the last symbol, the intermittent one, changes the meaning to a negative, but introduces the idea of doubt, so that, what I believe it’s saying is…well…let me try to put this into the right words. In effect, it’s saying, ‘waiting for input’. It’s saying that something is about to happen, but only if someone finishes off some kind of process. It’s…it’s in standby mode…waiting. For a person.”

They all stared at the screen. Gilbert shook his head. “There’s no way you can know that. It could mean anything.”

“Please feel free to peruse my workings, professor,” Michael said, offering him the tablet. Gilbert snatched it from him. For the life of him, Michael couldn’t understand why he was so upset with him. He’d just told him everything he needed to know. Shouldn’t he be grateful?

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