The VTOL’s final approach to Heathrow Base was hampered by strong winds and dull British rain. Taxiing from the Column to the gate Davey felt his heart rate rising; pumping trepidation into every corner of his body.
Goddard, Geek and Davey stepped off the VTOL and walked through the gantry to the arrival lounge, where Gemma, Davey’s wife, threw her arms around him and kissed his mouth. He found it difficult to return the embrace, but he managed it.
He saw Louise standing a little closer to the door, leaning over slightly to look down the gantry, looking for her man.
‘Where’s Archer?’ she said.
Goddard stepped forward, as they had agreed it was to be his responsibility to report back to her. He placed his arm around her shoulder and led her off to a quieter corner of the lounge.
Gemma whispered to Davey as she pulled back from him, growing concern reshaping her eyes, ‘What’s happened?’
He took a deep breath. ‘There was an accident. An avalanche. He…’
From across the room, where she had been told the same thing, Louise let out a painful cry. Davey looked to Geek, and the brains of the Axiom Few cast his eyes to the worn carpet in shame.
Davey broke carefully free from Gemma and stepped towards Louise.
‘Louise, we need to talk…’
Goddard, still holding her, turned his head and shot Davey a hard stare. ‘Not yet. Not now.’
‘Do you think we should have attempted Geek’s idea to remove that thing from the ground?’
‘No. The sphere is a kilometre wide. We don’t have the technology for that sort of thing. And until we do, Ascension remains at risk.’
Archer moved the Sat Phone over to his other ear and looked out across the dark ice shelf. Behind him the Halley Research Station stood on low stilts to mitigate the build-up of snow. The low building had become his new home, courtesy of the Space Foundation, the British Antarctic Survey and the British taxpayer.
After reaching an agreement with the rest of the Axiom Few, he had joined the next Royal Air Force plane to the Falkland Islands. He stayed for two nights at Mount Pleasant Air Force Base before transferring via Port Stanley on the next Dash 7 down to the Brunt Ice Shelf, deep in the Antarctic.
Above him now, the shifting green and red curtains of the Aurora Australis began to dance slowly in the sky, as the magnetism of the south pole twisted the solar wind around the Earth’s axis.
Davey’s distant voice crackled on the line. ‘Do you regret going down there? It’s been two years now.’
'It’s given me time to think. I’ve learned that the definition of love, is only the fear of loss. I love Louise because I could never have imagined being without her. I still feel that loss. I have dreams about her. Now I'm beginning to wonder about the nature of those dreams. Are they Membranes bumping together, giving us glimpses of other branches of the multiverse? What if we could find a way of looking into those other universes? Perhaps Geek could figure that one out. Invent a pair of goggles or something? Wouldn't that be an invention to conjure with?’
‘I’ll mention it to him.’
They were silent together on the crackling line. Even their lack of speech in this shared moment was being bounced across the equator between them. Eventually Archer spoke.
‘Does she suspect anything?’
‘No, she still thinks you’re… Your Dad’s been really helpful actually.’
‘And how are you two getting on?’ said Archer.
‘We’re making slow progress, she still misses you. You know she would have said Yes if you’d had the chance to propose.’
‘And what about Gemma?’
‘Still getting over the divorce. So I hear. She struggled with it. I’ve not seen her for about five months. She hates me.’
'What Brenda showed me proves that the multiverse is a cold, dark, uninviting place. Worse than this barren ice-shelf. I have to say I want no part of it. What she made us do…'
‘Archer, did you call me to tell me you’re going to top yourself?’
‘No, I just called for a chat. To make sure you’re ok.’
‘Listen I need to go. I’m meeting her tonight. I have to get ready.’
‘No, not Gemma.’
‘Well, you take care. Look after her.’
‘I will. Call me anytime. If you need anything.’
Archer closed the call, retracted the antennae, and stood up. There was a voice behind him.
‘You decided not to tell him,’ said Goddard.
Archer shook his head. ‘I couldn’t.’
Goddard placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Probably a good thing. He wouldn’t know what to do with the information anyway. Davey and Louise need the opportunity to make this work without any further intervention. Shall we go and see how the others are getting on? Maybe we can get a better understanding of what it is we’ve found down here.’
They walked a short distance to the elevator. Yellow painted metal, hazard lights. Darkness below. They rode down the fifty storeys to the discovery, stepped out onto the makeshift ice-platform and looked down into the deep trench.
Discovered only a month before, and excavated by the British Antarctic Survey in secret collaboration with the Space Foundation, was a seven kilometre hollow filled with cryogenic capsules that lined the trench into the distance.
Archer traced his hand over the curved glass of the nearest capsule and wiped away a dusting of snow that had settled over a small computer readout that stated:
DAVID HALLAM, SPECIMEN #2176
‘There’s exactly ten thousand of them,’ said Goddard. ‘A quarter of them are Davey, and the rest of them Louise.’
Archer cast his eye along the repeating lines of the capsules that ranged away from where they stood. Finally he found the words that would help them understand. ‘When Brenda was interrogating me, I asked her how she could be sure that the child Davey and Louise produce would be the exact child that would develop the code she required. She said that the biological probabilities were not my concern. It’s obvious what we’ve found here, Dad.’
‘Brenda’s playing the numbers game. If Davey and Louise don’t manage what Brenda is asking, then this cryogenic farm is her contingency plan.’