Time: 06:38 PM
One thing we learn: everything changes and nothing remains the same. Nonetheless, because some things repeat themselves, even if differently to the time before, there was a party at the Academy last night to celebrate the safe return of the Cube.
It was one of the grand affairs the Academy does so well. My father in his dress suit, presiding over the Ball, made a speech welcoming the Cube back to its home. There were white roses on the tables and Aiko's glittering sculptures of ice and chrome in the corners of the room. The cream of Perplex City society was there, from Walter Cove-Houghton to Michiko Clark, Helix Hesh to Aurora Belle. Someone told me Joya and Alejo were due to turn up at some point, although I never saw them. Even Camryn Scott and Nathan Earlywine were there, studiously ignoring each other at opposite ends of the room.
Scarlett was there, with a group of her friends from college. They hung tightly together in a pack, making sure Scarlett was never alone. I waved at her from across the room. She waved back and smiled. I suppose that's a sort of progress.
Fleming Heath was there too, accompanied by a beautiful woman I didn't recognise until she introduced herself.
"I'm Sylvia," she said, "do you remember me? Sylvia Salk?"
All at once, her face resolved into familiarity. Of course. Sylvia Salk. She looks different now; not so thin or so pale.
"Oh!" I said, "yes! Are you and Fleming...?"
She shook her head, brown curls bouncing. "No, just friends. It's good to talk to someone who understands."
I nodded. I looked over at Fleming; he was deep in conversation with one of Anna's colleagues from the Languages department.
Sylvia looked at me, squeezed my arm.
"Probably best not to. He's not ready to talk to you yet."
I walked through the party, noticing the reactions to me as I went. Some people smiled. Some came over, pumped my hand up and down and told me I was a hero. Some frowned and turned away. Some whispered to the person standing next to them, pointed and pursed their lips.
I ended up, as I so often do, at the bar. I swirled my martini in the glass, watching the happy couples on the dance floor. Among the crowd, Patrick and Garnet were dancing slowly, Patrick's head on Garnet's shoulder. I was surprised; they're not usually so public about their relationship, worried that someone would think it unprofessional for a member of the CRT to be involved with my father's aide. Still, the Cube's back home now. The CRT has become Special Projects again. Everything's different. I tipped my head back, swallowed the rest of my drink, and turned round to the bar intending to order another when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I looked up.
"Hey," said Kurt.
"So, how are you enjoying the party?"
"Hmm. Not much, really."
Kurt nodded. Then reached down and took my hand.
"Come on then. I've got something to show you."
And, without anyone really noticing, we left.
I didn't realise where we were going until I saw the unmistakable silhouette of the Academy Museum, its round cupola black against the stars. Kurt led me to a side door, stopped and fiddled with his key.
"Wait, what are you...? We're going to get into trouble."
"Nah," he said. "I've got clearance. Just for tonight. Anyway," he grinned, "I pointed out that if I really wanted to get in they wouldn't be able to stop me."
"Always logical, Kurt."
"You know me, Violet."
We walked through the silent, empty museum, our footfalls loud on the marble floor. All this, I thought, has happened before. But it's better this time. We walked past the prehistoric displays, past the Anjsbourgian hangings, through the Hausam gallery until we reached, yes. I hadn't seen the Cube room for a while.
The Cube was there, back on its plinth, in the quiet room with the slight background hum. A thousand extra-sensitive bespoke security systems were watching every atom dance around it and within it. And that sense of peace that I always get, if I look for it, in the room with this object. This piece of my own history, now. The two of us intertwined.
We stood together for a long time, just looking at it.
At last, Kurt said: "What do you think? Did we do the right thing?"
I smiled, examined my fingernails and said: "Well, it wasn't all bad, right? You extended your technical skills, I got to travel and Scarlett... discovered squid."
"Yeah, I know."
"There's no way to know," I said at last. "We can't go and have a look at the parallel universe in which we did something different, and compare the two results, can we? Unless..." I grinned "you could invent something like that? In your copious free time?"
Kurt smiled and said nothing. I wondered what he was thinking.
After a while, I said:
"Do you forgive me?"
He frowned. "Forgive you for what?"
"For getting you involved in all this. For making your life hell. For making you notorious. For everything that's gone wrong for you over the past three years. For," I dropped my voice, "for Miranda?"
"Yes," he said, simply. "There's really nothing to forgive."
I didn't think that could be true. I didn't say so.
Kurt put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me, just for a moment, before letting his arm drop to his side.
I paused. Looked at the Cube. Thought a great number of thoughts which I find difficult to enumerate even now.
Kurt nodded and smiled. I never know if he's really understood. I think he does, though.
We walked back together through the quiet halls and out into the museum courtyard. I hugged him, wished him good night. We parted at the steps of the museum and each went home alone.