"We do what we must because we can."
He doesn't speak for days afterward; doesn't really do anything. He eats as little as he can get away with without endangering his health too much, he sits in front of the computer instead of sleeping. The empty screen holds a horrific sort of interest to him, like a bloodless sort of carnage, and he just watches it in silence.
Step on a vine, count to nine; the words echo in his head, loud and louder, and he's trying to put it off, he's stepping on as many as he can and make it look accidental, but all too soon, he's in front of the bed anyway.
"Mother?" he asks, and winces, his voice is so much weaker than it should be, he's strong, cool and collected, and he most definitely isn't afraid of what she might say.
"Timmy?" she murmurs, "Timmy, is that you?" and he wants to cry, because he can cope on his own, god knows he can, he was hardly very close to his father anyway, but the hope in her voice… what did he ever do to deserve having his heart ripped out, stamped upon until it loses any resemblance of what it looked like before?
"No, mother; it's me, Arty. Father is on a business trip, remember?"
He doesn't know why he says it, why he doesn't just tell her the truth, but he can't bring himself to tell her, not yet, she'll hate him. So he doesn't tell her, and he lets her have that hope for a little while longer.
He never tells her the whole truth.
She'd hate him.
He couldn't bear that.
So he says they've found his body, after all these years, and he very carefully doesn't mention the bullet in his brain, doesn't mention that his body was found over fifty miles from the Bay of Kola, doesn't mention that the time of death was over three years past that expected. And he puts his arms around her, awkwardly, it's been years since he last had any sort of physical contact with… just about anyone, really, and as her tears soak into his jacket, he takes consolation in the fact that she probably won't even remember, tomorrow.
He goes up the stairs slowly, tray in hand, dreading what he might find at their head.
"Timmy?" she says, and part of him is ecstatic, the other guiltier than ever. "Timmy, please, come here."
He starts to correct her, but breaks off; he can't crush her hope, not again. So he puts the tray down on the table, goes to her bedside. "I'm here, Angeline," he says, he'll play along, just for a little while, what harm can there be?
He expects the "Oh, Timmy, I missed you so." He doesn't expect the kiss, though, and he freezes, his mind racing, what has he gotten himself into? He can hardly just pull away, not now.
The tongue in his mouth is alien and vaguely terrifying, a gag reflex he wasn't aware he had notes that Angeline has quite a lengthy tongue and it would be appreciated if she didn't try to reach his tonsils with it, thanks, and the bit of his brain that isn't still frozen is jealous of his father, in a way which is, quite frankly, horrifying, because he doesn't have an Oedipus Complex, he's pretty sure he'd know it if he did, but there's still the irrational desire for his mother to care about him like she does about Artemis Sr.
It's times like these he wishes that the fairies he'd been so obsessed with after his father's disappearance weren't simply delusions, his mind's attempt to cope with the stress of it all; having to take control of the family's estate, having to take care of a mother who had broken completely. Having by proxy killed a creature which had done nothing except have the unfortunate luck to have been bought with money they didn't have. (His rational side reminds him that it couldn't have re-propagated the species as it was; cloning, even if biologically possible in theory, requires an embryo, which they don't have.)
He isn't sure why he does; what, exactly, he thinks they could really do. But they might have been able to do something, restore his mother's sanity, save his father's life, something, (Hah, says logic, and how would you manage to get them to agree to that? With a gun leveled at the creature's head?) even just exist, because then he wouldn't be constantly doubting himself.
He meets himself at a lecture in Cambridge, in the form of a girl with ringlet blonde curls and rimless glasses, and is startled by the fact that he's never once heard of her while she's so obviously expert on him. "Minerva Paradiso," she says, and holds out a hand to be kissed, "and you must be Otto Thonus."
All he can manage to do is stare.
"I appreciated the word-play, by the way, it was quite more opaque than your usual pseudonyms; autochthonous isn't a word which lends itself easily to that sort of thing, and your rather," — a pause — "creative interpretation brought a smile to my face."
"She's destroying you."
"Whom do you mean?" he asks, but he knows full well.
Minerva runs a finger over the spine of one of the books on the shelf, old and leather-bound. "What's this?"
"A book, Minerva. That is why it is on my bookshelf."
"God, Artemis, did I hit a nerve?"
The question is not dignified with a response, and Minerva takes down the volume.
"Artemis, I'm serious. What is this?"
"I don't know, Minerva. I received it in a package from an 'anonymous benefactor' so signed. I don't know what language it's in, or how to read it if I did. Why?"
She's flipping through the pages, far more quickly than she probably ought to, considering its age. "I recognise this script. Do you know of the tablet found last month in Al-Matariyyah? The one the egyptologists can't read?"
"I have heard of it, yes."
"I think this is the same language."
"Carry me always, carry me well.
"I am thy teacher of herb and spell.
"I am thy-"
"It rhymes?" Minerva is decidedly not buying it, with an raised eyebrow saying even more than her tone, and that in itself is an impressive achievement.
"Apparently. Even more of a sign that this is only some elaborate practical joke. The language is logographic and with the same sentence structure as English; the former horribly impractical, and the latter is far too strong a coincidence. And it rhymes?"
"-and then we've got to think on the possibility that whoever it is might have ties to organised crime, or worse, Interpol;"—it's said in the tones generally reserved for terms like 'Nazi concentration camps' and 'The Eye of Argon'—"...you aren't even paying attention to me, are you?"
She snaps her fingers just in front of his face, and he twitches in a way that, if she were prone to exaggeration, she would have called jumping a foot in the air.
"Yes?" he asks, in the absent-minded way she knows means he's thinking about his parents. It's been a year since he died, now, to the day.
She sighs, more affectionately than annoyed. "Oh, never mind."
"What is that?"
She points to a jumble of numbers in the middle of the page.
He frowns, looks at them for a moment, and then, "Minerva, will you please get the telephone? I want to try something."
The click of the speaker hanging up resounds in the silence.
They stare at each other.
At the phone.
At each other.
Artemis is the first to speak.
"You did what?" The girl's voice is mechanically distorted; she was always insistent on that.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god..."
"You looked down."
"Did you get it?"
"Good. Hurry up; the system will override in three minutes."
"I'm going as fast as I can! Why don't you do it next time, if you're so worried about speed?"
"Minerva, you know full well why—"
"Don't give me that bullshit, Artemis! I can hack a security system just as well as you can."
"Fine. Next time, you can do the hacking. Now, please, get down here."
Things happen, and people die, for no discernible reason. The real world doesn't have a plot. But that doesn't stop some of its inhabitants from trying to act as though it does.
A ding at the computer; a new email coming though. The house isn't so silent as it once was, even with the empty attic room, and the sound of a child's laughter wafts up from the ground floor.
("Beau, stop that!")
He opens the attached file, and prints out a copy as he reads.