Yes, it's time for me to jump into serial fiction again! I started this one in April, and since I wanted it to be a serious story, I waited until I had it almost all written and the ending pretty much figured out before I brought it to The Penny Dreadful. Research also delayed it a bit because, although I find the subject fascinating, quantum physics put me to sleep. The genre is overall science fiction with elements of fantasy and steampunk coming in as it goes. I hope you enjoy, and please comment even if you don't!
Fourth Dimension, 21st Century Station
University of Inabsolutism
Professor Thurston Homily looked at the pile of papers his teaching assistant had just plopped on his desk and sighed.
"Authenticity can be wearing," he said to the TA Debtra, who stood on the other side of his desk.
"You're not kidding!" She flexed her fingers to restore circulation to the bits that had been strangled by the sharp edges of the stack. "Why not go to CD's or memory sticks? They'd be so much easier to carry!"
"Too easy to lose, and I prefer to write my comments instead of type them. Formatting is a bear."
She ran her thumb along the edge of the stack and created a small breeze. "There's got to be a hundred pages in here at least!" The breeze continued and grew into a mini-whirlwind, ruffling her hair and short skirt as well as the professor's thinning hair and tie. He dashed around the desk and grabbed the wide-eyed Debtra by the shoulders, gently guiding her backwards and out of the way of the Pathway that opened where she'd been standing. She'd worked hard on her Manifestation, and it would be a pity for her to have to spend the next week reconstructing it. Plus, he needed her help grading.
"Thanks, Prof," she said and turned to face him, still standing close. He shoved her aside just as two men materialized, one wearing a long trench coat, and the other a dark suit.
"You're welcome, my dear. Now let's try to keep my reputation clean, shall we?" He hoped the remark took the sting out of his action. He filed away the interesting physiological responses his manifestation had exhibited when her breasts brushed against his chest.
"Professor Thurston Homily?" asked the one in the coat. Wrinkles lined his face, like he'd gotten too much sun as a young man. Thurston liked that – manifesting with flawed physical characteristics showed that the man had character. Unlike the other one, who could have been trying to portray a politician somewhere between the ages of twenty-five and "old enough to know better, really."
"At your service, gentlemen. This is my graduate student Debtra."
"I'm Detective Ross Gurney," the man with the wrinkles said. "This is my partner, Detective Vann Troxley."
"And what brings you to our little corner of the Fourth? It was quite rude of you to enter without knocking."
Gurney looked around and blinked. "Oh, this isn't the Pathway Reception Point?"
"Not in my office, no. Perhaps you should speak with your tech staff."
Gurney nodded to Troxley, who took out an object that looked like a cell phone and punched in a complicated sequence, his perfect, not-too-thick eyebrows without any stray hairs drawing together. "Dammit, Ross, I canNOT get used to these three-letter per button things. Why do we have to be that authentic? It's a pain in the ass!"
Thurston and Debtra exchanged a little smile.
"Is this an official visit, Detectives?" Thurston thought back through any potential transgressions, but he couldn't come up with any recent ones, at least none important enough to bring him to the attention of the Minders.
"We're here to consult with you about a case." Gurney brought a sheaf of papers out of his pocket.
Thurston sighed -- more papers. "I'm no longer consulting with Absolute Truth Investigations, Co."
"We know. That's why we're coming to you. Absolute Truth and the government had a falling out a few years ago. They're no longer honoring the contract."
Thurston's eyebrows crawled toward his hair line. "I wasn't aware of that. I wonder if the University has also parted ways with them."
"We're not sure, Sir, but I've examined the contract and found a loophole that allows us to approach you for your help. We would only take you away for a few days." Gurney lowered his voice. "Forsyth recommended you very highly."
That got Thurston's attention. Forsyth knew his secret.
"We need your help," Gurney continued, "because someone has escaped from a Monument."
"Oh, really?" Thurston looked at the papers strewn about his office so he could hide his smile. "It's better than grading. Debtra, are you ready for The Plunge? This may be the project you need for your thesis."
Gurney cleared his throat. "This is of a rather delicate nature, Professor." He lowered his voice. "It's about the Minders."
The mention of the Universe's jailers made Thurston's nails itch, and he ran his thumbnail under the crescents of his fingernails to stop it. His antipathy toward what he considered a cruel method of imprisonment bordered on allergic. He'd been involved in protests back in the day, er, century, when they'd first started the method.
"Well," he said, "Debtra has a bachelor's degree in Humanity, and she's working on her doctorate in Twentieth-Century Ethics, so she should fit right in. What's going on?"
Thurston and Gurney exchanged a look, and Gurney shrugged.
"They said to bring him. They didn't say anything about bringing or leaving anyone," Gurney said, "so she can come."
"Where are we going?" asked Debtra. She scrambled about to find the student essays that had been scattered by the whirlwind. For a moment, the three males looked at her, admiring her rear end or cleavage depending on where they stood. Thurston cleared his throat.
"To the Third, I assume," he said. "That's where the Minders have their charges."
She looked up, her eyes wide, and stood, crumpled papers clutched to her chest.
Lucky papers, thought Thurston.
"You were serious when you asked about The Plunge?" She stood and dropped the papers in a sloppy pile on the desk. "Am I ready?"
"That's what I was asking you, my dear. What year, gentlemen?"
"It's turn of the millennium, 1999," Troxley said. "It's not too complicated down there yet."
"Right, then." Thurston looked at his student. "Remember the process?"
Debtra nodded, still wide-eyed. "Will I go as a baby?"
Thurston stifled his laugh. "No, my dear, as yourself. Investigations get their own Pathway, which does not require the usual rigmarole." He remembered his own duties. "Is there anyone you need to tell? The first time is always risky."
She shook her head with a sad smile. "No one, professor."
He shouldn't be happy to hear that, he thought, but he was. "We'll follow you, gentlemen."
Oh, I almost forgot the chocolate Hopefully this will make up for the delay in the Steampunk appearance:
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