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The smack and suck of Thaeron hitting the viscous waves was indeed pleasing, though not as much as it would have been if Ryel did not know for certain that he would simply be waking up, presumably from an icky dream. She hoped he was waking to find himself in bed with a wife he didn’t get along with to go to a job he disliked: something about the way he conducted himself as a thief in Dream World suggested to her that he was not a thief in his waking life.

Not like her, with her waking life in Middle Earth, even though her Middle Earth was based around a nice apartment in the sixth circle of Minas Tirith. And a summer place in Dol Amroth. Not like her. Not like Glosvar, that jerk. Not like Arkmar? Hmm.

“So,” said Arkmar, shaking Ryel out of her reverie, “shall we have a look at our catch?”

Ryel looked at him. She started checking her pants pockets, her jacket pockets. “Oh Valar,” she said, “what did I do with it?” He rolled his eyes. She grinned and pulled her bag off her shoulder. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”

“Sounds acceptable,” replied Arkmar, “as long as you’re talking about that sixth piece. And not, you know, something else.”

“Oh, I want to see,” said Elena. “Do I get to see?”

“Yes, actually,” said Ryel. “You might know something useful about how to work it.” She looked around. “Hey Ali,” she called out, “we getting up out of the water soon?”

Ali grinned as he and Ferd pulled back on the wheel. With an odd squelch, the bow lifted, and then with a soft but disgusting sequence of further noises, the boat was off the Moon. “It’s not water,” said Ali, “but I get what you mean. Why don’t you three use the Captain’s Library? El has a key.”

“That sounds good,” Ryel replied. “You do a great job, you know that?”

“It’s not all he’s great at,” said Elena. “As you know well.”

“Anyway,” Arkmar put in.

The dwarf, the elf and the time technician got themselves into the captain’s library, a lovely little room with a study table, walls lined with books, and a sofa up against a row of little windows. Ryel briefly reflected that the sofa would be excellent for making out with Ali or Elena or both, then thought the same thing with Davalon in there somewhere, and why not throw in Edgardo, her half-elf healer from the Dylath suburbs? And then the face, and incomparable body, of Glosvar entered her overheating brain.

She shrugged, rather than burst out crying, and turned to pick a chair at the table. Elena was to the left of her, Arkmar to the right. Arkmar and Ryel both put their backpacks on the table. Arkmar pulled out a smaller bag, pulled its drawstrings loose, and reached in: out came the cylinder from the temple in Dylath, the L bend from under the sea, the F with the extra piece of shiny steel from Baharna, the X from the eye of the face on Ngranek, and the three-legged corner piece from the Gnomish isle. He carefully slid the five pieces in front of Ryel.

Ryel reached across into her bag and drew out a coil of the same bronze-like metal, with a bolt and gasket attachment on one end and a swiveling T piece on the other. She handed it to Arkmar, who played with the bolt and then swivelled the T. It looked even more like a doohickey than the other doohickeys: a gadget to beat all gadgets. He gave it back, and she put it among the others. She pushed the whole collection in front of Elena.

“So,” said Arkmar, “who do you give these to and where and when?”

“I’m supposed to be contacted,” said Ryel. “Whenever they think I have enough. My initial understanding was that I was to get one or two or maybe three and they’d get with me about it. But, ah, someone, someone said that they expected me to get them all.”

“So they wouldn’t get in touch till you had them all? That’s absurd.”

“Well, someone didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Ryel. “Someone is clearly kind of a moron. Still. I have a feeling that someone else might contact me now. In fact, I feel pretty sure of it.”

“So do I,” said Elena, playing with the pieces.

“How do they contact you?” asked Arkmar.

“In dream, of course,” said Ryel.

“But you’re already in dream.”

“Don’t be dim. Dream within a dream.” She looked at Elena, and did a double take.

“I wonder what it’ll do,” said the time tech. She sat back and they all gazed upon her creation: they didn’t know what it was, but it was clearly something, and it included all six pieces in the collection.