Jan. 1st, 2009

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Annabelle's fingers traced absently over the names engraved on her back-up pistol. Edward Smithson, John Newfield, Marie Lee, James Smithson. Mentor, Father, Mother, and a man she'd never known except through stories. 'Memories captured in steel', as Edward had once described it. Annabelle had carried it for 16 years, but not for much longer. For reasons she couldn't quite explain, she didn't want to take it with her on what was likely to be her last adventure.

"I'd like to see my safety deposit box."

Annabelle couldn't recall if she had ever told the anyone in Æon about her account here. In any case, it was far too late to tell them now. Annabelle carefully placed the unloaded pistol and a letter into the safety deposit box. Like a man on a deserted island casting a message in a bottle into the unforgiving sea, she would never know if it would reach its intended recipients.
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Annabelle doesn't recognize the halls she's walking, but she can't quite shake the feeling that she ought too.   In a fit of inspiration, she decides to let her feet guide her.  Her footsteps resound on the tile floor as she walks down empty halls.  Somewhere, a clock chimes the midnight hour of December 31, 2008.  She turns a corner and freezes when she sees Whitley Styles.
Am I dreaming? Does it matter?

He doesn't look much older than he did when Annabelle last saw him, for all that more than half a century has passed. "Hello Whitley," Annabelle says with a sad smile.  He looks, she thinks with a faint sense of amusement, like he's seen a ghost.

"Annabelle?" he asks, with a faint tremor in his voice. "How...." he shakes his head, "I must be dreaming."

"I suppose that would mean I'm dreaming too, then," Annabelle replies, suddenly uneasy when faced with her old friend.  She remembers what Michael told her about the others' response to her betrayal and death.  She takes a deep breath, and says, "I'm sorry about the things that happened because of what I did Whitley, but I'm not sorry that I saved Michael."

Whitley Styles looks lost in memory for a moment, as if every year of his long life is weighing on him. "You know what's happened, then?" he asks quietly, "How?"

"Where I am now, time and space get a little....odd.  I've met and spoken with someone who lived through the aftermath."  There really is no explaining Milliways to someone who hasn't been there. She looks at Whitley, hoping that he'll understand, "I couldn't let him die, even knowing what I know now..."

Whit nods, he doesn't seem angry, so much as sorrowful. "There's no telling, now, how events would have unfolded without him.  For better or for worse, Michael has shaped the world in unimaginable ways."  He pauses for a moment, as if wanting to confirm something already suspected. "and you were in love with him," he says, quietly.

"I still am," Annabelle whispers. "It hasn't been nearly as long for me as it has for you.  I last saw you five months ago..."  Whit just stares at her in shock for a moment, mouth agape. "I told you that time and space are strange where I am now."

"There are more things in heaven and earth," Whit says with something that is almost a laugh as he drags his hand across his face.

"Beyond either, really.  I don't know that there's any explaining it until you've been there."

Neither of them can think of anything to say for a long few moments.  "This doesn't feel like a dream," Whit finally remarks.

"No, it doesn't.  If this is real...." Annabelle's voice is suddenly deadly earnest, "There are things you need to know Whitley, terribly important things.  Do you remember Max's Considerations for Moderation?"

"Of course," he replies, unsure what Annabelle is driving at.

"The war he was talking about....it wasn't World War Two."

He leans forward, "What war, then? he asks, suddenly feeling a terrible  sense of foreboding.

"A war that hasn't happened...yet."

"WHAT?"

"I've talked to someone who's from farther down the time stream, Whitley.    If events aren't stopped there will be a war between Novas and baselines!" Annabelle exclaims as her voice cracks. "I don't think I need to tell you what the death toll will be if that happens."

Whitley Styles goes terribly still for a long moment. 
Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. This can't be real. If it is, can you afford to fail again? You've seen the writing on the wall.
"I think," he says after the long pause," that I had better take notes."

*************************************************************
It takes quite a while for Annabelle to tell Whitley Styles everything that she can remember about the future.  Annabelle can't shake the feeling that she's running out of time. "Whitley, did they ever clear out a bank  account of mine in Switzerland?"

"You had a bank account in Switzerland? I don't think so, why?"

"I know that you believe me right now, but I have the feeling that, whatever this is, we're running out of time.  When this is over, you'll question the veracity of everything I've told you." She smiles wryly, "You always were the sensible one.  Go and look in a certain safety deposit box, 2342A, at the main bank in Geneva.  Hopefully, that will be proof enough that I'm not a figment of your, or someone else's, imagination."  On impulse, Annabelle leans over and hugs a rather surprised Whitley Styles "...I miss you all so much."  

After a moment, Whitley returns her embrace. "We miss you too Annabelle."  Whitley Styles is not cruel enough to mention that  Michael might not be among that number.

Annabelle says, sniffling a bit, "I am not crying, damn it."

"Of course you aren't," Whitley Styles replies, with mock solemnity. He's a bit teary himself.

"Prat."

"On occassion."

"Be careful Whitley.  You know the kinds of things that Proteus has done."

"I will.  I was experienced in espionage before any of Thetis's operatives were even born."

"You had better not end up dead any time soon, or we're going to have WORDS, Whitley Styles."

**************************************************************
After that, everything fades, and Annabelle finds herself sitting in a chair in her room at the End of the Universe.

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