Jack is recommended for a position.

27 min read

Chapter Seven: Ripples

1995

By the time New Years rolled around, Curtis woke up expecting a brand new slew of disasters. Between the inevitable rough patch that follows any change in management and Jack’s refusal to do anything, nearly every section of the North Pole had already faced some catastrophic failure he had to deal with. Alone. Every time. So when Curtis arrived at the stuffed animal production line to find a hurricane of stuffing and fake fur crashing in through a broken windowpane, he wasn’t surprised Jack was nowhere to be found. And, like every other time before, the situation was too much of an emergency for him to walk away from it and drag Jack back by his ear.

A tiny headache started blossoming behind his eyes.

“Hey, hey!” he yelled, running into the middle of the chaos, waving his arms in an attempt to be attention-grabbing, but amidst the crowd of hopping elves and airborne materials, it wasn’t as effective as he’d hoped. The tiny headache unfurled a little more.

“Everyone, please stop!” he tried again, raising his voice as far as he could manage without cracking it, “Stop! We need to remain calm!”

No one was listening to him if they could even hear him. Clearly, this whole “commanding a room’s attention” thing was much harder than Bernard ever made it out to be. The mini toynado just made everything worse.

Switching to a different tactic, he snagged the arm of the closest elf, an adorable freckle-faced girl in windswept pigtails.

“I need you to go get the maintenance elves!” he shouted, pointing in the general direction of their offices.

“What?!” she shouted back, scrunching her eyes up against the wind.

“Maintenance elves!” he repeated, right before he and everyone around him dived for the floor. A blast of icy, wintry magic shot over their heads, hitting the broken window with a shower of snow, leaving a delicately patterned ice-pane patching the hole.

The elves’ voices murmured their way from panicked shouts to a buzz of questions as everyone started picking themselves up from the floor. Those that could, anyway. Curtis was one of the unfortunates who landed underneath someone, namely the freckle-faced elf and had to wait for them to sort themselves out first.

“What the heck was that?”

“Ow!”

“Hey!”

“You’re pulling my hair!”

“There is no need to thank me,” Jack’s voice rang out, better practiced at the volume aspect of the whole attention-grabbing thing. Still, very few quietened down to listen. “My work here is done,” he said, making an overly-dramatic display of brushing ice specks off his hands before concluding, “I bid you all, adieu.”

Oh no. He wasn’t going to make it out of here so easily.

“Jack!” Curtis yelled, yanking himself out of the dogpile despite the complaints of those around him. “Jack, come back here!”

Jack had already made it a fair way through the (still-standing) crowd, given the advantages his height gave him in parting a path for himself. A couple of the elves, upon hearing Curtis’ shout, attempted to stop him. Most tried waving him down, but a few tried to grab onto a handful of the iconic red coat. Both were deftly ignored, Jack, needing little more than a light tug to relinquish his coat. By the time Curtis extricated himself and reached the edge of the stuffed-animal production line, Jack was long-gone.

“Ginger snaps,” Curtis muttered under his breath, earning a couple of judgmental glares. He noticed them. His cheeks warmed. Looking around, he also noticed that both his scramble across the felled crowd and his position as Head Elf had drawn the attention of (what felt like) the entire workshop. Right when he didn’t want it.

His immediate response, like it always was in front of focused crowds, was to panic. Or at the very least leave the situation as quickly as possible.

Don’t panic, he told himself, You just need to do something right now. That’s not panicking.

Okay, then.

“Nothing here to see, folks,” he announced, drawing on his assumptions of how Bernard would handle the situation, “please resume your work. Everything is under control.”

Now, the elves weren’t stupid. They could see the fraying edges of someone’s composure as well as anyone else. Even when Bernard was the one providing the unspoken “There is a problem, but don’t worry about it, it’s being addressed,” it took a moment for the crowd to accept it and move on. And while they knew Curtis, (which did help,) nobody was particularly impressed with what little they had seen so far. Just look at all the issues that had popped up since Bernard left.

However, he was still the boss and the purpose of having a boss was so they didn’t have to deal with things like broken windowpane fallout and uncooperative Santas and instead could go about their lives unimpeded. So they dispersed, waiting a minute or two longer than they would have for Bernard. Curtis decided not to be bothered by this right now.

A sizable group had already congregated to ooh, aah, and otherwise fawn over the details in the ice-pane. If he was honest with himself, Curtis had to admit it was a beautiful piece of artistry. That would melt. And then they’d be right back where they started. No matter how intricately decorated it was unless Jack wanted to keep making trips down to this corner of the workshop every few hours to re-freeze it, they were going to need a permanent solution.

The little freckle-faced girl from before had joined the back of the group. She noticed him walking over and gave out a little gasp, sending the rest of them scattering back to their positions. Another thing Curtis didn’t let bother him right now. At least the path was cleared. He gave the pane a quick once over to assess if it was as sturdy as it was ornate before heading off to find the on-duty maintenance elves himself.


Hollow Tree Inn

Apartment #206

“What movie are we watching again?” Bernard asked, pulling the popcorn bowl into his lap.

Black Christmas,” Myrna said, dropping the battered VHS tape next to him and retrieving the popcorn bowl to place back on the coffee table. “That’s supposed to be for all of us.”

“All?” he asked, stuffing a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “Who else is coming?”

The answer revealed itself when Juniper flounced down beside him in a nearby armchair. She kept her eyes glued to the still dark TV screen. Bernard looked to Myrna for an explanation, but she only shot him a warning glare that said: “Play nice or else.”

Fine. Worked for him. For once he wasn’t the one with an attitude problem. Juniper had been giving him the silent treatment for the past week or so, and he still wasn’t sure why. He held out the popcorn bowl for her. She took a handful, still glaring at the screen.

With both Bernard and Juniper contently munching away on their own handfuls of popcorn, Myrna pushed the VHS into the VCR with a heavy cha-chunk.

The movie itself wasn’t what he expected. He already knew it was going to be a slasher movie walking in, but the attention it paid to the characters and atmosphere was downright impressive compared to the usual shlock Myrna subjected him to. He’d still never watch it without her prompting, but it was nice to see some glimmers of quality.

The shared viewing experience turned out to be the highlight of the evening. He and Myrna would sporadically toss jokes at the screen, each building off the other’s comments for as long as they could. Every once in awhile Myrna would lob a comment or two in Juniper’s direction, but she’d bunt them back with little more than an “Mmm.” Bernard thought he caught a few moments where she deliberated saying something, only to notice his noticing and decide against it. However, the sulking cold shoulder in the armchair did little to dampen the fun.

Then the phone rang.

“I got it!” Bernard yelled, leaping off the couch with much protest from the springs. “You don’t need to pause it,” he added. He heard the movie stop mid-scream regardless.

“Hello, Apartment 206, who is-,”

“Myrna?” the panicky voice interrupted.

His stomach sank. It was Douglas, Myrna’s secretary, calling in what sounded like another emergency. She’d been called in so many times since that first event on Christmas Eve. It worried both his Head Elf and big brother instincts. She’d been piling on more overtime now at what should have been the slowest point of the year than at any Christmas rush he could remember. He didn’t like the conclusions his paranoia kept coming to and it was getting harder and harder to dismiss them as “not his problem anymore.”

“No, this is her brother,” he answered, “I can go get her for you. Another system failure?”

A pause. “I’m not sure you’re cleared for that anymore… sir.”

His stomach complained again. “I understand,” he said, trying to ignore it, “I’ll go get her now. One moment.”

“Thank you. And sorry. About the…” He heard Douglas trail off as he set the receiver down gently on the phone’s side table.

“Myrna,” he said, craning his neck around the living area’s entryway, “it’s for you.”

“Who is it?”

“Douglas.”

“What did he want?”

“Said he couldn’t tell me.”

“Jesus Christ,” she muttered, untangling herself from her blanket. “I swear to God if it’s another fucking…”

Bernard decided to stay where he was standing in hopes of overhearing scraps of the conversation. He couldn’t make out any of the details, but the tone was clear enough. Something else, yet again, had gone wrong and they needed Myrna to fix it.

The moment she hung up the phone, she raised her hand to quell his inevitable questions.

“Don’t,” she said, not looking up.

“Myrna-,”

Don’t.”

He let the topic drop.

“I’m gonna need to go in,” she said, speaking loudly enough for Juniper to hear from down the hall. “No idea how long I’ll be. You can keep watching if both of you want to.” She emphasized the last few words to indicate that she, in fact, expected them to patch whatever problems they still had and have a jolly good time without her mediating. “I’ll see you later!”

“Myrna wait.”

“Bernard, I have to go.”

“Please, just tell me something, which system it was, if something exploded, anything.” At Myrna’s hesitation, he continued, “Look, I know the protocols and the security risk, but if anyone in the North Pole could be trusted with sensitive information, who would you pick?”

Myrna’s gaze darted down the hall where Juniper still sat, no doubt stewing in her own positive energies. With a sigh, she said, “It involves the FPG. That’s all I’ll say. See you later.”

And with that, she whisked herself away, leaving Bernard to process what he heard. As he started down the mental spiral of conspiracies this new detail fueled, a door slam shook him out of his headspace.

He returned to find the living area cleaned and abandoned. The TV was off, the blankets neatly folded, the VHS placed back on the shelf, and neither the bowl of popcorn nor Juniper anywhere in sight.


Vermont, USA

Lookout Tower D

A forest perimeter guard was one of the easiest positions a Scout Elf could fill. It required no human interaction, had minimal day-to-day duties, and every single outpost was located smack dab in the middle of some of the most beautiful natural locations known to elf or man. Landing an FPG assignment fresh out of basic Scout Elf training would inevitably be followed by rumors of friends in high places circulating for months after deployment. At least, that was Harriet’s experience. Her rumors had been especially jealous, given she was one of those rare recruits who landed the job as her first assignment. She could see why. The job was great.

She just wished someone had mentioned that the trade-off for this dream job involved spending most of your time trapped in a magically expanded lookout tower with only a bunch of board games and the least graceful winner she had ever met in her life.

Ephriam had landed the job through the more expected route of serving elsewhere in the Scout Elves for long enough that the higher-ups decided that you deserved a break. And in everything other than playing board games, he was a great elf to work with. They just spent a lot of time playing board games.

He pulled an exaggerated grimace as her piece finally landed on yet another of his properties. “Ooh, and that one’s got a hotel, too… “

“Okay,” she said, her irritation worn down to boredom at this point, “I don’t remember what that means.”

“It means it’s got a super high rent.”

“Okay.”

And,” he said, presenting one of his neatly stacked piles of cards, “I own all the orange properties.”

She half-heartedly waved an imaginary flag.

“Which means the rent’s doubled,” he continued.

Chewing on her cheek, Harriet considered spouting, “Look, I get it. You got me good. Can we get on with it, please?” She ended up just pushing around her few remaining bills.

“And after a quick calculation here,” he said, scribbling a bit on some scrap paper, “that’ll be $1,900.”

She didn’t look up from her idle bill pushing. “I have $150.”

Another exaggerated wince, with the added flair of sucking in air through his teeth. “Ooh, too bad. Guess I won again, huh?”

“Yep, guess you did,” she said, groaning to her feet and stretching out her stiff limbs. “I’m gonna do a walk ’round now.”

“Already?” Ephriam said, glancing up at the wall clock as he started packing up their board game. “Huh. I hadn’t realized that much time had passed.”

“Yup,” said Harriet, pulling her overcoat from the downsized wardrobe.

“Want me to set up another game while you’re gone?”

“Only if it’s Mousetrap,” she said, yanking her hat down snugly over her ears.

Ephriam groaned. “Again? You always want to play Mousetrap.”

Harriett had already elected to ignore the comment, along with the long-overdue conversation it promised about proper sportsmanship and how this was the only one she had fun playing as it was the only one she had a shot at winning when the walls flickered far too close together for comfort.

Every time she blinked, the room around her shrank or expanded, as if the tower was flirting with the idea of restoring its non-magical dimensions. She could only stand a second or two before she had to squeeze her eyes shut against the motion sickness.

The floor felt about as steady as the walls, so she preemptively crouched into a ball, squatting with her chin on her knees and her arms protecting her head. She still ended up losing her balance and let herself roll onto her side.

“Stay down!” Ephriam shouted. So she did. There was a reason he’d been assigned her superior. Right now it was his job to figure out what the hell was going on and her job was to do what he said.

The walls moaned in protest as the floor continued to lurch and buckle beneath her. Right when she started to consider that this just might be her reality now, everything stopped. She didn’t trust it. Her eyes remained shut and she made no move to get up.

She felt a light tap on her shoulder. “It’s safe to open your eyes,” Ephriam said.

So she did, slowly, one eye at a time. The room had snapped back into its magically forced dimensions, but the place was a mess. It seems she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stay upright through… whatever that was. The only thing remotely tidy was the comms array, which was both mundanely and magically bolted into place. It would take hours to set everything right. Especially all that goddamn monopoly money.

Ephriam looked just as shaken, but otherwise unharmed. He looked her over, asking “Anything hurt?”

“No. Not that I can feel, anyway.”

“Wait a bit for the adrenaline to wear off before you say for sure.”

She nodded. “What the hell was that?”

He swallowed before answering. “Dunno,” he said, “but whatever it was, we need to report it to HQ.”

She was about to ask whether he wanted to radio it in or should she when yet another unbelievable thing interrupted her train of thought.

The tiny red light on the radio flickered into her peripheral vision. It signaled that someone was trying to contact them from another radio set. The only radios that could communicate with this one were Lorraine’s back at HQ or one of the outposts along the perimeter they’d use on their walk ’rounds. No one else had any way to contact them. The whole reason they were stationed here was to keep it that way.

“Hello? Hello? Is this thing even working? Anyone there? Hello?”

That wasn’t Lorraine. And while she and Ephriam had played their fair share of pranks on each other, he wasn’t good enough to radio in from an outpost while standing right next to her. Someone, somehow, had gotten past the magical barrier surrounding this place right after their tower had flipped the fuck out.

“What do we do?” she hissed, just in case whoever that was could hear her.

Ephriam shrugged.

“Should we answer it?”

Another shrug.

“Maybe he’ll go away if nobody answers.”

“No,” said Ephriam, “we should keep him where he is so we don’t have to find him again.”

Made sense. She gestured to herself, then to him, then pointed to the radio with a questioning look.

“I’ll answer him. You call this in on the backup one. Take your walkie talkie to stay updated,” he whispered. Harriett nodded once before slipping out the door as silently as she could.


North Pole

Scout Elf HQ

Everyone at HQ was becoming inoculated to activity and flurry happening around them. This wasn’t the first time a surge of problems hit, but whatever was going on, it never seemed to affect more than one or two areas at once. This time the magical glitches hit the Forest Perimeter Guards. Lorraine, the home contact for Lookout Tower D, sat unnaturally still at her terminal, waiting for her agents to call in with something. The part of her brain not working hard at keeping her calm was vaguely aware of Myrna running back and forth behind her, dealing with her colleagues’ issues. She knew it was only a matter of time before she would need her help.

Her unnerving diligence paid off. Immediately after the panicked call from Harriet, she flagged her superior down.

“Breech reported at Lookout Tower D,” she said as Myrna made her way over.

“Goddammit. Who’s posted there?”

“Agents Ephriam and Harriet, sir,” Lorraine said, rolling away from her desk to allow Myrna access to her terminal, “Agent Ephriam is currently keeping the leak distracted at the radioed outpost they called in on. Agent Harriet used the emergency line to call it in.”

“Just one?”

“As far as we know, sir.”

“Hostile?”

“No, sir, just as confused as we are. Says he was hiking when he just showed up outside the outpost.”

“Good,” said Myrna, backing away, “Have Agent Ephriam tell the leak a Ranger will head over as soon as they can, but it may take a while as they’re dealing with a different emergency at the moment. Contact the closest Dependency Clause old enough to pass as a Ranger, debrief them, and send them as an adult front ASAP.”

“Yes, sir,” said Lorraine, immediately spilling into a D.C. search. She had just opened the relevant browser when she and everyone else’s terminal were stopped dead by a pop-up.

This is Mother Nature,” it read. “Stand down. I am handling the situation. I will debrief Santa immediately after. Thank you for your efforts.

It rendered everything unusable. Neither random mouse clicks nor the usual keyboard shortcuts could get rid of it.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Myrna growled.

“Sir?”

“You want to know something, Agent? Elf to elf? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really really tired of these huge magical clusterfucks showing up to wreck shit and ruin my day, only to fuck off without having the decency to let any of us fix them before they go.”

Lorraine took a little too long to reply. “Yes, sir.”

It was then the message decided to blip away on its own. Myrna took her time staring at the now normal screen before turning to address everyone.

“Guess we’re back to normal now. I’m going home. Anyone else not currently assigned for duty can also go back to their lives. Alert me when the next thing cocks up.”

And with that, she teleported away as the rest of the HQ resumed as much as they could of their interrupted routines.


Vermont, USA

On the edge of the Maple Guardian’s forest

Mother Nature

“Hey, man,” the hiker said, slightly out of breath from having to jog with a backpack on to keep up with me, “I gotta say thanks for helping me out.”

“Of course,” I answered with a smile, “it’s what we’re here for.”

“Well, yeah… But still. Thanks, man. For choosing this job I guess.” He said this with the half-quirked grin humans had started adopting to indicate they were joking. I mimicked the expression.

“You’re quite welcome, sir,” I said.

This forest’s mess had been the most pleasant to deal with. Oddly enough, given the choice between dealing with a forest of prematurely awoken animals from hibernation, an almost forest fire, repairing cloaking magic, and escorting an affable lost human back to his hiking trail, I would pick the lost human. Huh. Maybe they were onto something with their idea of company speeding up time. I wonder what Father Time’s opinion of the phrase is.

“Man, this whole situation has been pretty fuckin’ weird,” he paused, glancing over at me tentatively before adding, “pardon my language.”

“It’s quite alright,” I said. I’m not about to begrudge him one of humanity’s greatest assets. Especially when he has more right to be freaked out than he knows. I’m surprised he took this whole thing so well. Going off what he’d told me, this forest’s protective border glitched out by rapidly ballooning and shrinking. From his perspective, he’d been hiking along one step, and the next he was off-trail, in the middle of a forest, outside the Forest Perimeter Guard outpost I had found him in. I’m pretty sure the border happened to balloon when he was passing by it and pulled him inside when it snapped back to its normal size. I had expected him to be bristly, cranky, or at the very least scared. Instead, he’d been nothing but chipper (if a little puzzled) for the entire walk.

I really should mingle with humanity more often. Maybe I could try out that rock star idea. That might be fun.

After we’d walked for what felt like an appropriate amount of time, I had the trail he’d been whisked away from appear before us. I left with his reassurance he knew where he was now and a light admonishment from me to pay attention and stay on the trail from now on. Returning his cheery parting wave, I waited until he’d turned away for good before disappearing.

That was the last forest I had to wrap up loose ends for. The Scout Elves had dealt with a fair amount of the fallout, but the Forest Guardians had my assurance that I, personally, would handle this string of mishaps myself. That seemed to quell any thoughts of cutting ties with the North Pole. For now. There was only one thing left I needed to do. But I had to find him first.


North Pole

Jack was in the last place I’d expect to find Santa and precisely where I expected to find him. Or, at least, a place I expected to find him. He’d squirreled himself away under one of the curving staircases leading up to the workshop, using snowbanks to cover any gaps the elves could see in from, while a pile of snow in the middle of his little den served as an armchair. He’d curled up around a steaming mug of what I assumed to be hot chocolate, as once he noticed I was there, he started so violently the liquid splattered into small brown pockets in the surrounding snow. I suspect he did not recognize me at first glance.

Jack busied himself by swiping at the hot chocolate that had spilled down his front. “Mother Nature. A little warning would be nice,” he grumbled, not bothering to look up.

I had no patience left for his usual nonsense. “We need to talk.”

“Let me guess… there’s been an unprecedented demand for my Frostmas displays.”

“Your what?”

“Oh, right,” he said, smacking his forehead with exaggerated realization, “I haven’t done that this time. That was in the old timeline.”

“Jack, we don’t have time for this.”

“Come to think of it, I haven’t done anything I wasn’t supposed to since becoming Santa,” he said looking up and cupping his face in his hand in a fake show of surprise. “It’s almost as if you just don’t like me.”

“It’s what you haven’t done that’s the problem, Jack.”

That finally shut him up. He froze in place, his playacting adopting a twinge of annoyance.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I couldn’t win,” he said through a gritted smile, “Fine. Out with it.”

“It’s about the Forest Guardian agreement.”

“Agreement? What agreement? I don’t have any agreement with the Forest Guardians.”

“No, but the North Pole does.”

He snorted, “What on earth for?”

I sighed. “The forests provide wood for toys and the North Pole provides added protections to specific forests. I received a complaint recently from the Ash Forest Guardian,” Jack visibly rolled his eyes at this, “that proper procedures had not been followed during the most recent shipment. Namely, in the lack of paperwork.”

“What a shock. Aske has an issue with people not sticking to rules. Look, why is any of this my problem? One of the elves probably forgot to send it or something.”

“It would require your signature. You are now, among other things, the figurehead of the North Pole. Everything that happens involving it is now your responsibility. You wanted to be Santa? This is part of being Santa.”

Jack cleared his throat, “Yes, well…”

“The missing paperwork isn’t an issue in and of itself,” I said, not wanting to wait through half thought-out excuses. “The Guardians know they’re dealing with a revolving door of humans in this position. I wasn’t called in in-person until magical glitches started affecting all the forests the North Pole is currently responsible for protecting.”

“Hold up. Why did they call you and not me? Not that I’m complaining, but as you said this is my problem. Doesn’t this count as interfering with another Legendary Figure?”

“This was already my business. I’ve acted as the mediator between the Guardians and the North Pole since the initial agreements were drawn up. Now,” I said, taking a step towards him, “either you cooperate with me,” another step, “or I tell the Forest Guardians I’ve decided to stop mediating,” I was now standing directly next to him, towering over his still seated figure, “and precisely where you are at all times so they can take up their complaints directly with you.”

His eyes had gradually narrowed over the course of my spiel, sliding from wide with concern to a hardened glower. “You know what? Fine,” he said, throwing his hands up, “what do you want?”

“Tell me why you didn’t sign the paperwork.”

“Didn’t know I had to.”

“Your staff didn’t tell you?”

“Oh, maybe they did. I don’t know. I try not to listen. So much nagging.” He gestured around him, “why do you think I’m here and not in my office?”

That explained a lot. Made sense, given his tendencies. “Why did the Forest Perimeter Guards experience magic failures?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t know it happened until you told me,” he said, starting to take a drink before the empty mug reminded him he’d thrown its contents out already. He let out a pained sigh.

“I see,” I said, already putting the final pieces of a plan together. It might overstep my bounds a bit, but if it worked…

“If that’s everything,” he said, standing and wiggling his mug in my face, “I’m in dire need of a refill.”

He tried to step past me, but I hooked his collar, yanking him back down into his makeshift chair. He made a small affronted noise at the back of his throat. “Hey!” he said, rather breathily.

“We’re not done here yet.”

He rubbed the sore spot where his collar had cut into his windpipe in response.

I materialized Curtis from whatever errand he’d been running to next. Understandably, he was a bit discombobulated and nearly ran headfirst into the wall. He stopped himself in time, fortunately, and scanned said wall in confusion.

“What in the-?”

“I apologize for popping you in like this,” I said, to which he spun around to face us, “but expediency was needed. Are you alright?”

It took him a moment to process what had happened, but the moment everything clicked together he regained his composure with impressive speed.

“I’m fine, ma’am. Just a bit startled.” He glanced over at his sulking boss, “I see you’ve managed to find where he’s been hiding.”

“He’s actually part of why I summoned you. I have a request.”

Curtis nodded, “What do you need?” I could see Jack mocking him soundlessly out of the corner of my eye.

“Could I have Jack shadow you for a few months?”

“What?!” Jack screeched.

“For the whole year if necessary,” I continued. “I’d leave it up to your discretion when he’d be ready to start on his own.”

“So have him follow me while I do my job?”

“Yes.”

“Is he supposed to help out?”

“If you deem it necessary. I’ll leave the details to you.”

“Um, excuse me! I didn’t agree to any of this!” Jack cut in. “And I refuse to! You never said anything about doing anything!”

Having had quite enough of Jack for several mortal lifetimes, I turned to glare at him. He shriveled up when the often forgotten part of myself slipped through. The part responsible for diseases, predators, parasites, and natural disasters. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but it seemed to do the trick. He got the point. His cheeks burnt an angry blue as he pretzeled himself like a toddler seconds away from a tantrum they know they won’t win. “Fine,” he grumbled after he’d stewed long enough to protect his pride.

“You’ll do it?”

“Yes, fine, whatever.”

“Perfect!” I said, pulling myself together and stowing my dangers away once again. Turning back to Curtis, I saw he’d backed up against the wall, twisting away as if to protect himself. “I’m sorry about that,” I said, trying to placate the situation, “It’s been a stressful day.”

Curtis relaxed once it was clear I was back to my more social self. “I-it’s fine. Understandable.”

“So would you be willing to let him shadow you?” I asked, gesturing down at the fuming ice ball.

“Certainly, ma’am. It’d be a big help, actually.”

“That’s good to hear,” I said, returning my attention back to Jack, “you start tomorrow. Curtis will decide the time. That was all I needed, gentlemen. I thank you both.”

And with that, I sent Curtis back to whatever path he’d been running on and Jack to his office. I let my posture slump as I let out a long breath. That was quite enough fiddling with the universe for one day. I just hoped it would be enough in the long run.


A/N: I’m not dead! Sorry for the break, took a few months to outline the upcoming chapters by figuring out the point of all of them. Took a while. I make no promises, but I’ll try to have a faster upload schedule from here on out. Thank you so much for reading!

Author’s Note

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