Kate had known that this job would be more difficult than usual. Even ignoring all the myths about the Bridge, spending months in a building that had been abandoned for almost two decades was enough to give even the most stoic of agents a few second thoughts. And, well, Kate knew enough people who’d seen one of those Bridge myths first-hand that she was unwilling to discount the possibility that others may be true.
But Kate was prepared. She was ready for the dust, the strange noises, the isolation. She knew what to expect, and she had the skills to adapt to anything unexpected.
In even her wildest daydreams, however, it had never occurred to her that she might find a well-kept, fully-staffed watchtower.
Kate’s first hint that something was off was the Watchtower light, shining in the distance. None of the other watchtowers she’d passed on the way were lit up. There was no one around to keep them lit, after all, and it seemed unlikely that even specialized lightbulbs like those would last for that many years.
Still. This might not be anything to worry about. Kate wasn’t an expert in lightbulbs. And, well, there wasn’t a more likely explanation. The light could be a trap, created by some eldritch creature intent on her death… but it could also just be a very powerful, well-made light.
When Kate pulled up in front of Watchtower 10, she spent a moment just looking at it. It looked more well-maintained than she would have expected. Sure, the paint was crumbling, and the architectural style in general left something to be desired. But the windows were free of cobwebs, and there were flowers in planters by the door.
Most concerningly, there were lights in some of the windows.
Kate took a deep breath and got out of the car. She walked up to the front door of the watchtower.
There was a doorbell. After a moment of debate, she rang it. She waited. Ten seconds, twenty, thirty.
Finally, someone opened the door. He was a tall man, probably early thirties, who seemed to be carrying some sort of gardening implement. He was also, most notably, translucent.
“Hello?” he said, clearly as startled as she was. “I mean… welcome to Watchtower 10. How can we assist you?”
Kate was a highly trained agent, and so she pushed down the fight or flight response that arose upon seeing a ghost. Sure, she hadn’t met one before, but she had no reason to believe that this would be a problem.
Kate smiled and said, “Hi, I’m here to use the archives.”
He stared at her for a moment without before replying. “I'll bring you to my supervisor,” the man said, clearly having decided this was too much to deal with on his own. “He’ll be able to sort you out.”
He motioned for her to step inside, and she did. She let him close the door behind her. He didn’t lock it, which was at least one thing she had going for her.
“So, uh, what’s your name?” the man asked her.
“I’m Kate. Kate Burnham,” she said. “What’s yours?”
“I’m Bertie Renard. Well, Bertrand, technically, but only Etta calls me that.”
Kate made mental note of the mention of another person. Etta was a feminine name, and Bertie had used ‘he’ to refer to his supervisor; probably not the same person, then. Three against one was doable, if it came down to it, but she hoped it was only three.
Kate glanced around as they walked. The building looked old, but clean. She wondered why a ghost would bother dusting. If he was indeed a ghost, and not something pretending to be a ghost.
Bertie brought her to an office, where Kate was yet again surprised. Bertie’s supervisor, it turned out, seemed to be a perfectly normal human.
“Roger. Good. This is Kate. She says she’s here to use the archives,” Bertie explained.
Roger stared at her. After a moment, he said, “Right. Okay. Bertie, why don’t you go see how Etta’s doing while I talk to Kate here.”
Bertie left, shooting Kate one last curious glance as he did.
“Come into my office,” Roger said, motioning her in.
Kate did as she was told. She’d come this far without complaint; one more door between her and freedom wasn’t much more of a risk.
Once they were in the room, he fixed her with a firm glare.
“Now, what the hell are you doing in my watchtower?”
“Like I told Bertie, I’m here to use the archives,” Kate said.
“The Bridge has been closed for years.”
“I know. I was pretty surprised to find out that this watchtower was still in use. There was no reason to believe the archives had been removed, though. Figured I’d have to do some dusting, but the information would still be here.”
“What are you looking for?”
There was no point in lying, so Kate told the truth. “I work for the government. I’m looking for information on a radical group that was responsible for several attacks on the Bridge back in its heyday.”
“Let’s just say that some of its members are back to their old tricks,” Kate said.
Roger sighed. “Let’s say I believe you. How do I know that you’re not going to tell anyone about us?”
“Why would I? As you’ve probably noticed, the government doesn’t really care what happens on the Bridge as long as no one on the mainland finds out about any weirdness. If ghosts are real, finding out that they’re hiding in the middle of the ocean with no intent to ever let anyone know that they exist is pretty much the best scenario.”
Roger still didn’t seem satisfied, but he said, “Alright, I’ll make you a deal. You can stay here and use the archives, and in return you won’t tell anyone about us.”
“Sounds fair,” Kate said. “So, should I bring my stuff inside now?”
“Fine. I assume you brought food for yourself? You can leave it in the kitchen. Bedrooms are upstairs, take an empty one.”
Kate turned to leave, but Roger spoke up one more time. “Oh, and I’d appreciate you not telling the others exactly what you’re researching. The attacks are… well, they might bring up old memories best left alone.”
Kate was curious about that, but she decided not to pursue it. Firsthand witness accounts might be interesting, if that was what Roger was getting at, but they wouldn’t have the names and specific details she needed. She nodded.
With that, Roger turned back to whatever he’d been reading before she’d arrived, making it clear that he expected her to show herself out.
Kate went to unload the van. She’d packed it with a few months’ worth of supplies. She could go back to the mainland if she really had to, of course, but her agency wouldn’t look kindly on her wasting time like that.
Once she’d dropped her food off in the kitchen, she brought her other bags upstairs. She grabbed an empty room and dropped her stuff on the floor next to the bed. It was dusty, but not overwhelmingly so. She’d guess it had been months, not years, since the last time the room had been dusted.
On the whole, it was much better than she’d expected her living quarters to be. After more than a decade of abandonment, she had been entirely prepared for the watchtower to be completely unlivable. She’d been prepared to live in the van if necessary.
Sure, she was going to be living with a man who clearly hated her, a ghost, and an unknown third member, but this was far from the worse thing that could have happened.
When Kate went back downstairs, she met the third member of the crew.
“There you are! Bertie said someone came new was here, but I wasn’t sure whether to believe him. It’s been so long since we had a guest.”
The woman, who Kate assumed was likely Etta, was another ghost. Like Bertie, she was translucent, and she seemed to be walking on the ground more out of habit than by any particular gravitational pull.
“And you must be Etta,” Kate replied, “unless there’s a fourth member of the crew that nobody’s mentioned yet.”
“Well, there is Bob. But yeah, in terms of human crew members, it’s just us three.”
“Oh, right, you’d know him as Subject Ten.”
Kate had read about the Watchtower experiments as background for her job. She’d been under the impression, however, that all of the research subjects had died years ago.
Etta noticed Kate’s expression. “Are you okay? You look really pale. And I’m a ghost, so I should know.”
“I’m fine. I just—I didn’t realize that there was still a creature living in the watchtower.”
“Don’t worry, Bob’s a sweetheart. The creatures get a lot of bad PR, but that doesn’t mean they’re all bloodthirsty monsters.”
“Oh no, I never asked you your name! I’m sorry, I got so caught up in talking about Bob that I forgot to ask.”
“No problem, I got distracted too. I’m Kate.”
“Well, Kate, it’s nice to meet you. I have the feeling that this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Kate smiled back at Etta. “You know, I think you’re right.”
As soon as Kate had the chance, she slipped away to go find Roger. He was still reading in his office.
“You still have a research subject?” Kate burst out.
Roger looked up. “Oh, right, that.”
“That’s a pretty big deal. Those things killed most of their researchers!”
“I’d forgotten that there were going to be safety concerns, with a normal human around. I’m not used to that.”
“You’re not a ghost,” Kate pointed out.
“No, I’m alive. Just very difficult to kill.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Now, can we go back to the fact that you have an actual, living monster in your basement?”
Roger made a face at that. “I’m not entirely sure that it’s living, actually. It might be a ghost.”
“What? How do you not know whether or not the monster in your basement is dead?”
“I’m not a scientist. The creature’s weird, but the creatures were weird to begin with. It might have always been like this. It’s not like I knew it before,” Roger said. “Anyways, it’s totally understandable if this makes you rethink staying here. Trust me, as long as you’re still not going to tell anyone about us, I’m more than happy to see you leave.”
“No way. Not until I’ve gotten what I came here for,” Kate said firmly.
“Fine. Have Etta introduce you to Bob; she has a way with him. If she likes you, then he probably will.”
Later that evening, Kate radioed in to headquarters. “Siren, this is Kraken.”
“This is Siren. Report.”
“I have arrived at the site. The archives are below sea level. I checked, and the transmitter doesn’t work down there, so I’ll be out of contact when I’m working.”
“I’ll have you initiate contact from now on, then. Make sure to do it weekly at minimum.”
“I will. Are there any other instructions?”
“Not right now. Siren out.”
This was going to be fine. All Kate had to do was find the information she needed, keep headquarters from finding out that she wasn’t alone, and stay on good terms with the watchtower’s caretakers. All while living with a bloodthirsty sea monster. She could do this.
On Kate's first morning at the watchtower, she found the team gathered in the kitchen. It wasn’t strictly accurate to call the event team breakfast, since the ghosts weren’t eating. Still, it was hard to describe what was clearly the crew’s morning ritual in any other way. Etta and Bertie sat at the bar, chatting; Roger stood nearby, eating a bowl of oatmeal and occasionally interjecting. They grew quiet for a moment when she entered, then resumed their conversation. Kate couldn’t help but remember that she was an intruder in what was clearly their home.
To drive that point in, Roger glared at her. She smiled pleasantly and grabbed a granola bar.
“So, what are we doing today?” Etta asked.
“I had some improvements I wanted to make to the hydrangeas’ watering system,” Bertie announced.
“Alright. Etta, do you want to show our guest around the archives this morning?” Roger asked. “I’ve got some paperwork to do.”
“I can show her to the archives, but showing her around them implies I have some understanding of the organizational system, which I don’t.”
“If you’d rather not, I’m sure I can find some maintenance work for you to do.”
Etta held up her hands. “No, no, I’m definitely happy to give Kate the grand tour.”
“I thought so.”
“I’m ready to go when you are,” Kate offered, throwing out her granola bar wrapper.
“Then away we go,” Etta said. She lead Kate to the door to the Submares and showed her how to unlock it.
“There’s more security lower down—you’ll see that when you meet Bob—but it’s not like we need that much security for the archives. Nobody’s going to try to do corporate espionage or whatever, all the way out here. Not that we’ll ever convince Roger of that.”
“Oh?” Kate prompted.
“He’s kind of paranoid about security. He cares about making sure we do a good job running the watchtower, but he also doesn’t want us to draw attention to ourselves,” Etta explained. “Not like it matters; we’ve been here a few years, and you’re the first visitor we’ve had.”
“Had the watchtower been abandoned for a while when you got here?”
“Oh, no, there was only a short gap between the old crew leaving and us taking over.”
“…right.” Kate wondered about the discrepancy. It would have been somewhere around seventeen years since the old crew left, if she had her history right. Seventeen years was a lot longer than a short gap plus a few years.
She let it go, though. Etta didn’t seem to be intentionally lying. Maybe over a decade was just a few years, to a ghost.
“Well, here we are,” Etta said.
The archives were huge. Kate had known that before coming here. Almost all Bridge paperwork below a certain security clearance level was stored in Watchtower 10. Still, there was a difference between knowing that intellectually and actually encountering the labyrinth of filing cabinets firsthand.
“So, how are the files sorted? Chronologically, geographically?” Kate asked.
“They… aren’t, really,” Etta said.
Etta shrugged. “Well, it used to be alphabetical by subject back in the eighties. But whoever was in charge of classifying things by subject was downright awful at it—the labels tend to be things like “theater, neutral to slightly malicious” or “echoes, possibly hallucinatory”. Once the old archivist died or was fired or went missing or whatever, nobody could figure out the system, so they just kind of… arbitrarily put things in whatever filing cabinet had enough room? The rooms in the front filled up first, so more recent stuff is usually further back.” Seeing Kate’s expression, Etta nodded. “Yeah, it’s pretty awful.”
“How the hell do you ever find anything?”
“Honestly? We don’t. Well, I think Roger comes down occasionally? Other than that, though, we don’t really touch it. We dust it once in a while, but that’s about it,” Etta said. “You know, if you wanted to give up, that would be totally reasonable. Actually finding something specific in this mess is going to be almost impossible.”
“No, I’m going to do this. There’s so much information down here; it’s ridiculous that we can’t use it.”
“You’re clearly a woman on a mission,” Etta said. “I’ll leave you to it. If you need help with anything unrelated to organization, I’ll be upstairs.”
With that, Etta went upstairs, leaving Kate surrounded by file cabinets.
It was time to start her mission. Kate took a deep breath and got to work.
Kate didn’t see anyone when she briefly emerged for lunch, but dinner was a different story. Apparently, team dinners were a thing.
Kate was surprised yet again when she realized that the ghosts could enjoy food. They weren’t eating it, as far as she could tell, but they were definitely getting something out of touching it. The way they shifted to touch different foods made her wonder if they were somehow draining energy from the food, which went translucent when a ghost was actively touching it.
Despite the fact that half the table’s inhabitants were dead, it was a fairly normal dinner. Etta told a story about a ship that disappeared without a trace. Bertie delivered an impromptu lecture on the impact of pH levels on hydrangea coloration. Roger hadn’t warmed up to Kate, but he was spending less time actively glaring at her. On the whole, it was nice. They were treating Kate like a guest, not an intruder.
After dinner, Etta asked Kate, “So, are you ready to meet Bob?”
It wasn’t a dare. Kate knew that. Etta didn’t see Bob as a threat. Hell, she was even smiling, like this was going to be fun. But she could feel the weight of Roger’s gaze on her, clearly waiting to see if she would turn Etta down.
“Alright, sounds good,” Kate agreed, tone casual. Like she was agreeing to go to the store, not meet a deadly predator.
Etta led Kate down the stairs. She had Kate turn around while she bypassed the various restrictions on Bob’s enclosure. Kate agreed without complaint; she had no interest in being able to visit the monster on her own.
While she waited, Kate thought calm, confident thoughts. She had gone through way worse ordeals than this. Etta clearly thought that Bob was harmless. And even if Bob was the type of creature who could sense fear, that was fine, since Kate wasn’t afraid at all. This was going to be completely fine.
“Alright, we’re in. So, I’m going to go in first and tell him about you, then you can come out and greet him.”
Kate nodded and said, “I’m ready.”
Etta disappeared through the doorway. Kate could hear her talking to the creature. There was a staticky noise in response.
Hearing Subject Ten firsthand was… interesting. He was louder than she would have expected, even from this distance. She wondered how large he must be, to have such an impressive voice.
There was no time for any more stray thoughts after that. It was time to go in and meet Bob.
Kate walked through the doorway.
“Say hi, Bob,” Etta said.
It hurt to look at him, a bit. He seemed perpetually out of focus, somehow. She couldn’t quite make out his shape—it was dark, in the tank, and she had trouble spotting the edges of his outline. She suddenly understood how Roger could be unsure whether or not Bob was a ghost. He may have been translucent; it was hard to be sure. Kate had never seen anything remotely like him.
He made a staticky sound again as Kate steeled herself and approached the tank.
“Hi, Bob. It’s nice to meet you,” Kate said.
She stayed beside Etta as Etta told Bob the same story she’d told the team at dinner, the one about the ship. The longer she spent with Bob, the calmer Kate felt. She wasn’t sure if it was due to some supernatural ability of Bob’s, pure relief at surviving the encounter, or Etta’s soothing tone of voice. Somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to worry about it.
Kate was having a bad day. She couldn’t help but feel discouraged about the way her time at the watchtower was going. The archives were even worse than Etta had hinted. Kate had concluded after the first day that the only way she was going to find anything was to comb through all of them, room by room, which was easier said than done. She’d been working on it for almost a week, and she’d made much less progress than she’d originally hoped.
Her new roommates didn’t help matters. Roger still hated her. He’d settled for ignoring her for the most part, which wasn’t much better than the constant glares. Bertie was nice enough, she supposed. A bit too into plants, but she could deal with that. And Etta… well, Etta was complicated.
Kate had liked Etta, at first. She was the friendliest of the bunch, and she’d made an effort to get to know Kate. Her tendency to sass Roger didn’t hurt, either.
But, well, Kate kept thinking back to that night with Bob. After she left the Submares and went up to her room, the fear had come flooding back. She’d been only a few yards away from a monster that had almost definitely killed people before, and she’d felt perfectly fine.
Kate prided herself on knowing her own mind. As an experienced agent who sometimes dealt with supernatural matters, she had to. That had all flown out the window in the presence of Bob. Even if she gave Bob the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the calmness was just a natural effect and not an attempt to lure her to her death, she was still decidedly not okay with it. Being on edge kept her alive in dangerous situations, and Bob took that away from her.
That wasn’t Etta’s fault. Kate knew that. Either way, though, she couldn’t help but be uncomfortable around Etta. She was just so enthusiastic about her friendship with a terrifying monster; it was hard to trust somebody like that.
So when Etta asked her if she wanted to watch a movie with the team later, Kate didn’t think twice before turning her down. She wasn’t friends with the team, not really. She had a job to do.
Which left her here. In the archives, continuing to spend hours upon hours sifting through the nonsensically sorted papers, desperately hoping to find something that would bring her closer to her goal.
She wondered what the team was doing. They had probably started their movie night. She couldn’t imagine ever liking her coworkers well enough to want to spend all her free time with them. There was Bollard, of course, but she was family, not just a coworker.
The team had probably just invited her to the movie night to be polite. She didn’t know them nearly well enough for them to actually want her there.
She kept working on her filing.
A while later, she was interrupted by a knock on the doorframe as Bertie entered the room. Kate looked up, wondering what he was doing there.
“We just finished our first movie. Do you want to join us for the second one?” Bertie offered.
“We’re happy to have you, really. It’s not just Etta. I know you and I haven’t really talked much, but you seem nice, and we should get to know each other some more.”
“I—alright,” Kate decided. “So, what are we watching?”
“Oh, we haven’t decided yet. We figured it would be more fun if you picked.”
“Thanks. Really,” Kate said.
It turned out that the team’s movie collection was entirely in the form of VHS tapes. It was an eclectic assortment; she wondered whether they’d inherited them from the watchtower’s previous inhabitants, since it seemed unlikely that they all belonged to Roger, and she was doubtful that the ghosts had been able to bring movie collections with them when they died. Although maybe the ghosts had been living in the watchtower when they were alive; she wasn’t sure how that worked, after all.
Those were questions for another time, though. For now, she had a movie to select, and a team to watch it with.
“Kate! There you are. Do you want to see something cool?”
“Sure,” Kate agreed, making note of where she was before standing up to join Etta. “What’s happening?”
“Oh, this is one of those things that you have to see for yourself. C’mon, it’s in the kitchen.”
Etta was clearly in a rush to show Kate whatever it was, making no concessions for the fact that Kate was a human who couldn’t just float up the stairs. Kate was faintly concerned about what Etta’s idea of an exciting surprise was. Hopefully it wasn’t another pet monster; Kate was getting used to Bob’s existence, but that didn’t mean she was ready to live with two eldritch abominations.
Much to Kate’s relief, the surprise seemed to be some sort of device that Bertie was fiddling with.
“Behold, our masterpiece! A homemade chocolate fountain!” Etta said, grandly gesturing towards the fountain.
“You two built this? Does it work?”
“It wasn’t hard to build. It’s not like it’s a particularly complicated machine,” Bertie said.
“As for whether it works… Bertrand, I think it’s time to put our creation to the test.”
“Kate, can you plug it in? Outlets are a bit tricky for us. And I’ll get the chocolate,” Bertie said.
Kate plugged it in to the wall. Bertie added the chocolate. Etta turned it on.
It worked beautifully. Kate had to admit, she hadn’t expected that.
Etta whooped and starting dancing around the room. Bertie was beaming.
“Oh my god, we did it!” Etta said.
“We have to go get Roger. He needs to see this,” Bertie said.
“He does! You get him, though, he’ll react way better if it’s you doing it,” Etta said.
If ghosts had blood, Bertie would have been blushing. Still, he ducked out of the room to go find Roger.
Kate wondered what was up with Bertie and Roger. They didn’t seem to actually be dating, but she was pretty sure they were both interested in each other.
It didn’t take long before Bertie returned, Roger in tow.
“Look at our chocolate fountain!” Bertie said.
“You two made this?” Roger asked. He sounded impressed.
“It was mostly Bertie. He’s the one with the mechanical skills, I’m just the one with the ideas,” Etta said.
Roger turned toward Bertie, smiling slightly. Bertie looked even more flustered.
“I’m not entirely sure that we need a chocolate fountain, but this clearly works very well.”
“Thanks. It was actually fairly easy to make, if you know the general concept of how these things usually work.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Roger said.
The ghosts couldn’t actually eat, but that didn’t stop them—well, mostly Etta—from dipping various foods into the fountain.
“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Kate said, “how does the whole food thing work for you two?”
“Well, we can’t eat food, obviously. We don’t actually have taste buds. But when we’re in physical contact with items, we can smell them,” Bertie said. “Well, maybe smelling isn’t the right word, since that implies things like breathing. But it’s closer to smelling than tasting.”
“Definitely closer to smelling. It’s not like our fingers act as tongues or anything, since that would make Bertie’s gardening super gross,” Etta said.
“From what I’ve seen, I think it has something to do with the way that you two are in a different—dimension isn’t the right word, but I haven’t read enough science fiction to know what the right word would be. When you touch something, you make it translucent, so that its physical state matches yours, which means that you can touch it and I can’t. It makes sense that you can smell it, in that state.”
“Huh,” Kate said. “That’s not what I expected.”
“What did you think we were doing?” Etta asked.
“I thought you might be draining nutrients from the food somehow?”
“Oh man, that would be so weird if we could,” Etta said. “Like, we don’t actually need any nutrients, but what if we were finger vampires.”
“Finger vampires?” Bertie said. “I don’t think that’s exactly where Kate was going with that.”
“No, I get that, but finger vampires is definitely the most fun way to think of it. Like, no fangs or anything. You just touch something and boom, you’ve sucked the life out of it.”
“That would also make you vampires that preyed exclusively on inanimate objects,” Kate said.
“No, but: finger vampires. Don’t ruin it by applying logic to it,” Etta said.
Etta curled two of her fingers so that they faintly resembled fangs and stabbed them into a marshmallow.
“Look at what you’ve done,” Roger said to Kate. “She’s not going to let this go.”
“Damn right I’m not,” Etta said. She switched to a truly awful Romanian accent. “I vant to suck your food!”
“We’re going to be hearing that all week,” Roger said.
Somehow, Kate couldn’t say she particularly minded.
Kate was usually the last one to arrive at team breakfast. She wasn’t a late riser, by most people’s standards, but Roger woke up even earlier than her. She still wasn’t sure whether the ghosts slept, but either way, Kate had grown used to being the last one to the kitchen in the mornings.
She was surprised, then, to see that only Roger and Bertie were in the kitchen. They didn’t notice her come in, too focused on each other. Roger was trying to add dried cranberries to his oatmeal, while Bertie was trying to steal them from him. The package occasionally went translucent when Bertie had the upper hand in their struggle, although that wasn’t often. Bertie didn’t seem particularly interested in actually getting the cranberries; it seemed like more of an excuse to get close to Roger.
Kate made her footsteps heavier as she entered the kitchen, not wanting to sneak up on them. Bertie jumped back, leaving a more platonic space between him and Roger. Roger glared at her, but it was hard to tell if it was a reaction to being interrupted or just habit.
“Where’s Etta?” Kate asked.
“I haven’t seen her yet. She’s probably still asleep,” Bertie said.
Well, that answered the question of whether ghosts could sleep, at least.
“Should I go wake her up?” Kate asked.
“You can try,” Roger said dubiously. “She’s a pretty heavy sleeper.”
“I’ll give it a go,” Kate decided.
Etta’s room was a couple doors down from Kate’s. Kate knocked and then called, “Etta! Wake up!”
There was no reply. Kate knocked again, harder this time. “It’s morning, Etta!” Still nothing.
Kate pressed her ear to the door. She couldn’t hear any grumbles or yawns that would indicate that Etta had even heard her.
Kate tried a few more times, hoping persistence would pay off. Eventually, she gave up.
Kate went back down to the kitchen. Bertie was talking about hydrangeas. Roger was eating oatmeal.
For once, Roger looked relieved to see Kate, since that gave him an excuse to change the subject. “She still asleep?”
“Yeah. I don’t even think she heard me,” Kate said. “Is that normal, for her?”
“It happens,” Roger said. “She’ll wake up eventually.”
Kate glanced at Bertie, looking for cues on how worried she should be. Bertie looked concerned but not panicked.
If the others thought this was normal, it probably was. They knew Etta much better than Kate did, after all.
Still, when Kate went up for lunch, she hung around in the kitchen instead of bringing her sandwich back down to the archives. She didn’t hear anyone. Finally, when she was done eating, she decided to do a little investigating.
The door to Etta’s room was still closed, but that didn’t mean anything. The team kept their doors closed when they weren’t in their rooms, making it impossible to tell whether their rooms were actually occupied at any given moment.
Kate checked the broadcast booth first, since Etta seemed to spend a lot of time there. It was empty. Etta wasn’t in the game room, either.
It occurred to Kate that she didn’t actually know where Etta spent her days. She couldn’t spend all of her time in the broadcast room, presumably, but Kate wasn’t actually sure what else Etta did when there wasn’t a specific maintenance task Roger had assigned to her. Roger had his office, and Bertie had his greenhouse… maybe Etta did just stay in the broadcast room, after all.
Kate decided to go find Bertie and ask if he’d seen Etta yet. She was technically closer to Roger’s office than to the greenhouse, but Roger would probably just glare at her if she asked him if Etta was okay.
Bertie looked up when she came in. His face fell a little when he saw it was her, although he quickly covered it up. She wondered whether he’d been hoping for Roger or Etta. “Kate! Hi!”
“Hey, Bertie. I was wondering if you’ve seen Etta yet?”
“No, I think she’s still asleep,” Bertie said.
“It’s pretty late.”
“I know. She does this sometimes, when she’s having a bad day. She’ll get up eventually.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Not really. She’s just… well, we all have bad days sometimes. It’s not always easy… well, you know. We all handle it differently. I freak out and then marathon romcoms, Roger gets really grumpy then spends hours staring out at the ocean, and Etta stays in bed then spends time with Bob. I think being around him calms her.”
“Bob did seem to have that effect, when I met him,” Kate said.
“Yeah. I’m glad she has him,” Bertie said. “I never know how to help her, when she gets like this.”
“I think that just knowing that you’re there for her is a lot of help,” Kate said.
“I hope you’re right,” Bertie said.
“I know I am.”
Bertie smiled at little at that.
Kate went back down to the archives.
A couple of hours later, she heard footsteps on the stairs, then the strange staticky noises that meant Bob was feeling chatty. Normally, hearing them would put her on edge, but today she couldn’t help but feel relieved. If Bob could help Etta, then Kate was glad Etta was spending time with him.
Etta was there for dinner that night. She was more subdued than usual, and she looked tired, but she was there. Kate could see the relief on the others’ faces, and she knew it was echoed on her own.
The others usually didn’t come down to the archives. They had their own jobs to do, and they never used the archives themselves.
While Bertie and Etta had each come down a few times, usually to fetch her to do something with them, she’d never seen Roger down there.
“What’s up?” Kate asked.
“We’re doing a team movie marathon.”
“It’s only two o’clock,” Kate said, confused.
“It’s been a rough day. Etta and Bertie could use a distraction.”
Kate knew she shouldn’t join them. It was the middle of the work day. Even if Roger somehow didn’t care that his employees weren’t doing their jobs, she had her own job to think about. Her boss wouldn’t take kindly to her delaying the operation to watch movies.
On the other hand, she could get up earlier for the next few days to make up the time she’d lose. And, well, being there for Etta and Bertie was important.
“Alright,” Kate said. Roger looked surprised, like he’d expected to have a hard time convincing her.
They headed upstairs.
“You get Bertie, I’ll get Etta,” Roger said. “Bertie should be in the greenhouse.”
Kate nodded, wondering why they weren’t already gathered for the movie marathon.
“Hey, Bertie,” Kate said, entering the greenhouse.
He looked up, startled. “Oh, uh, hi Kate.”
“It’s movie marathon time,” Kate said.
“What?” Bertie said. He clearly had not known that there was going to be a movie marathon.
Kate realized that Roger must have decided that the team needed a movie marathon on his own. It was hard to imagine him doing that, but then she remembered how insistent he was on taking care of the team. This was probably just another way he did that.
It kind of made Kate like Roger more.
“We’re going to have a movie marathon. Roger’s getting Etta, I’m getting you.”
“He thinks I’m freaking out, doesn’t he? I got too upset earlier, and now he’s trying to distract me because he thinks I can’t deal with my emotions on my own.”
“No, hey, I think he just thought that the whole team needed a break,” Kate said, wondering what had happened earlier. Everything had seemed normal at breakfast, so it must have been after that.
“Look, it’s better if I just stay here. That way I can’t say anything stupid or mess up the movie for everyone else.”
“You’re not going to mess it up. Look, even if you don’t want to go, can you at least come for Etta’s sake? She’s been pretty down lately, and if Roger thinks this will cheer her up a bit it’s worth a shot.”
“I—you’re right. I’m being selfish. She’d be upset if I didn’t come, and that would just make things worse.”
Bertie still didn’t seem particularly happy to be going to the movie marathon, but at least he’d agreed to come. That was good enough for now.
They beat Etta and Roger to the break room.
“You want to pick something out?” Kate asked.
“I think it would be better if someone else picked.”
“Alright,” Kate agreed easily.
Finally, Etta and Roger came down. Etta looked even less happy to be there than Bertie. Kate started to wonder whether forcing everyone to have a movie marathon was actually going to make things better.
“Who wants to pick the first movie?” Roger asked.
There were no volunteers.
“Alright, then we’re watching Star Wars.”
“Sounds good,” Kate said.
Roger put the movie in as the others settled in their usual seats.
They didn’t talk during the movie, but Kate kept an eye on everyone’s body language. Bertie looked a lot less tense by the end of the first movie. Etta was leaning on Bertie, looking more comfortable than she had for most of the past few days. Roger was also clearly keeping an eye on the pair, growing more relaxed as they did.
After the second movie, the team paused for dinner.
The general mood seemed better. Etta and Bertie were laughing over something. Roger was watching them with a smile.
This had been a good idea.
“Siren, this is Kraken. Come in, Siren.”
“I’m here. Report.”
“I’m continuing to make progress on the archives. I haven’t found anything of note this week.”
“If you’ve found everything there is to find, then it’s time for you to come home.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’m confident that there’s still more information to be found. The archives are too disorganized for there to be any real pattern as to where I’m going to find information.”
“If you’re sure, then I’ll take your word for it. If you don’t find anything by our next check-in, however, I won’t hesitate to recall you. I don’t want you wasting time on a wild goose chase.”
“Understood. I’ll report in again at the same time next week.”
“Make sure you do.”
Over the past few weeks, Kate had settled into a routine. Breakfast with the crew. Day spent combing through the archives, taking notes on anything that seemed like it might be relevant to the mission. Dinner with the crew. Evenings spent with the crew, movie nights or game nights or whatever else Etta came up with to entertain them.
It was nice. The team wasn’t very professional, but she had fun being around them. Kate was growing to like having things to do every evening. She’d always been too tired after work to do much more than go home, eat dinner, and go to bed.
Kate went down to breakfast, looking forward to seeing Etta and Bertie.
“There’s going to be a storm later today,” Etta said.
“Can you help me move my hydrangeas inside? They need to be protected from the storm.”
“Sure. Roger, you helping?”
“As much as I’d love to throw out my back, I’m afraid not. I’ll leave it up to those of you with spectral weight lifting abilities.”
“The hydrangeas aren’t even that heavy!” Etta protested.
Kate had seen the hydrangeas before and had to side with Roger on that one. Those things were huge.
“Anything I can do to help with storm prep?” Kate offered.
Roger actually considered it for a moment. “Not really. Etta and Bertie are much better suited to most jobs, and the rest require enough training that it’s not worth it.”
“You could have her check the big light with Bertie! I hate doing that.”
“You might not require a stable floor to walk on, but Kate does.”
“Ohhhh, right, that is a thing.”
Roger rolled his eyes at her.
“Well, let me know if you think of anything,” Kate said.
Kate spent the rest of the day in the archives, as usual. For some reason, though, she kept getting distracted. The rest of the team were working together to prepare for the storm, and she was down here, going through yet another filing cabinet.
Kate was doing her job. It was important. She didn’t actually work with the team. They just lived in the same place as her, that was all.
She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what they were doing nonetheless.
After dinner that evening, the team scattered. Kate figured they were going to continue working on storm prep. Since the others were busy, Kate went back down to the archives to do more searching. It felt weird, being down in the archives after dinner. She hadn’t done that since her first week here.
This was good, though. She’d become too distracted by the team. She needed to focus on getting her job done.
She was taking notes on an incident that had happened at Aqualand twenty-five years ago when Etta came down.
“Are you going to be done down here soon? I had a great idea for a new card game to try out tonight.”
“I thought you guys were still busy with storm prep?” Kate asked.
“Oh, nah, we finished that earlier.”
“I just figured, since you all scattered after dinner,” Kate trailed off.
“Bertie and I were just doing last minute double checks on Bob and the hydrangeas. And Roger probably went off to stare gloomily at the rain and brood.”
Kate remembered Bertie mentioning something like that. “Does he do that every time there’s a storm?”
“He likes a good mope, our Roger. I sent Bertie to go dig him out, so we’ll see how that goes.”
“I’d been meaning to ask you,” Kate said as they headed upstairs, “What’s their deal? Roger and Bertie, I mean?”
“Their deal?” Etta asked.
“Are they, like, dating?” Kate clarified.
“Oh, that.” Etta paused, figuring out how to explain it. “Well, Bertie’s in love with Roger, but he’s afraid to do anything about it. I think he was in a relationship, before, and he’s not really over it. And Roger, well, that’s a big question mark. Bertie’s his favorite, that’s for sure. Beyond that, who knows. And, of course, he’s our boss, and we’re all stuck together long-term, so… it’s complicated.”
“Sounds like,” Kate said. She remembered another thing she’d been curious about. “Why’s Roger your boss? I mean, it’s not like any of you have official jobs here, right?”
“Well, yeah. There’s no, like, paperwork to back up his position. But he’s been working on the Bridge pretty much since it was built,” Etta said. “When he first got here, we were kind of floundering. Being out here… you need things to fill the time. It’s nice to have a normal job, with a normal boss. And it’s good for him, too, I think. He’s been doing this for ages, so it’s almost second nature for him.”
“Is there a reason that he’s still here? I mean, I assume you two can’t leave, since you’re ghosts. But if he didn’t stay here because he already knew you, then why?”
“That’s his story to tell, not mine,” Etta said. “This is one of those things that he’s fairly private about.”
“Oh, sorry if I overstepped,” Kate said.
“All good,” Etta said. “Oh, speaking of Roger, it looks like Bertie managed to extract him after all.”
“Do I even want to ask why you were speaking of me?” Roger asked.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t been revealing all of our deep dark secrets,” Etta replied.
Roger looked unconvinced.
“If this place has any deep dark secrets, Kate’s the most likely to find them out of all of us,” Bertie put in. “Since none of us worked here before, but they’re probably written down somewhere in the archives.”
“I think you’re vastly overestimating the usefulness of the archives,” Kate said. “It’s pretty much all paperwork. Receipts and incident reports and timesheets.”
“Sounds awful,” Etta said. “Thank god you never had us organize the archives, Roger.”
“Even I’m not that cruel,” Roger said.
“So, what’s this new card game you were telling us about?” Bertie asked.
“I’m glad you asked. So basically, it’s kind of like a combination between War and Dominos…”
“So, how does being a ghost work?”
Kate had been wondering for a while, but she’d waited until she was close enough to Etta to ask.
Etta looked surprised at the question. “I mean, you must have noticed the basics by now. We’re translucent and insubstantial, although we can touch and manipulate objects if we concentrate. We can’t eat, but if we touch food we can get some portion of the flavor. We can sleep, but we don’t have to. Uh… that’s about it?”
“But how did you become a ghost? I mean, I assume you died, but not everyone who dies becomes a ghost, right?”
Kate realized she’d made a mistake almost as soon as she finished talking. Even though Etta was translucent, she’d clearly gone pale and looked distressed.
“I don’t--- I don’t know. I don’t really remember much about my past. There was—I remember my mom, and the hotel. And then—my aunt, later on, I think? That’s less clear. I don’t remember—I mean, I must have died? I don’t know how though. I just—I died, I guess, and then I was alone. I wasn’t aware of what was happening around me. It—it took me a while to be aware of my surroundings, and even longer to be able to interact with them. And by that time, well, everyone had left the Watchtower. I was alone, except for Bob. But then Bertie came, and Roger a bit after that.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—well, I’m sorry.” Kate reached out to pat Etta’s shoulder before realizing that she wouldn’t be able to. Etta’s face crumpled.
It was cold in the room suddenly.
“Do you want me to go get Bertie? Or would it be better if I stayed?”
“If—if you could get Bertie, that would be good.” Etta’s voice sounded so small. Kate hated being the one who did that to Etta.
Kate rushed off. She found Bertie with Roger in the kitchen. Bertie was leaning in to tell Roger a joke as Roger stirred something in a pot. Roger had that genuine smile on his face that was only ever caused by Bertie.
The moment was broken by Kate rushing into the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” Roger asked, serious again.
“Etta’s upset; she wanted me to get Bertie.” Kate tried to figure out how to explain what had happened in a way that wouldn’t cause Bertie to think about his death, too. “I, uh, asked her about her past and it brought up things.”
Bertie hurried off. Kate watched as he left, wondering whether she should go after him. She hated the idea of upsetting Etta and then abandoning her. But what she wanted didn’t matter; the important thing was what Etta wanted, and it was pretty clear that having Kate around would only make things worse.
“What were you thinking?” Roger asked. She’d never seen him truly angry before, she realized, but he was now.
“I just wanted to get to know Etta better. I didn’t realize—”
“How didn’t you realize? She’s a ghost who’s trapped in an abandoned watchtower. What about that made it seem like a good idea? Even if she was somehow the only person on the Bridge who didn’t come here to run away from their past, she’s spent over a decade living in a watchtower and never seeing anyone she used to know. Either you’re reminding her how much she’s lost, or you’re re-opening old wounds. Which one of those options seems like a good idea?”
“Look, I made a mistake. I fully admit that. But you’re just going to have to trust that I have no intention of hurting Etta and Bertie.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Well, if you can’t trust me, then you should at least be able to trust them. If Etta and Bertie like me, you’re just going to have to accept that there’s a reason for that.”
“I’m not here to make friends with anyone who wants to just waltz in here and act like you actually care about them. You’re going to be gone whenever you’re done with your research, and I’m going to be here to pick up the pieces.”
Kate didn’t have a response for that. He was right. She was more than halfway through the archives, and it was seeming more likely each week that headquarters might call her back even earlier than that.
“You’re right,” Kate finally admitted. “I don’t want to hurt them when I leave, but you’re right.”
“I know,” Roger said. He didn’t look happy about it. He just looked very tired.
Roger turned his attention back to whatever he was cooking, clearly signaling that the conversation was over.
Kate wanted to go back to Etta, but Roger was right. She’d only make things worse.
Etta and Bertie didn’t show up for dinner that night. Kate brought hers down to the archives, eating as she worked.
She should have been happy that her mission would be ending soon. Instead, she just felt miserable.
She tried to apologize the next morning, but Etta just brushed it off. Etta seemed determined that things go back to normal, and the rest of them went along with it. She didn’t seem mad at Kate, but Kate knew that she should have been.
“Kraken to Siren.”
“I’m here. Report.”
“I’m about three quarters of the way through. Since our last conversation, I’ve found a few incident reports that are likely related.”
“Good. We’re going to need you back here in two weeks. How much more can you get done by then?”
“I won’t be finished, but I’ll be close. I think I could completely get through the archives with three weeks.”
“We don’t have that extra week. We need you back with the information in two, even if that means you can’t get through everything. Copy?”
It was late. Kate didn’t have to check a clock to know that. She’d been tossing and turning for hours.
She finally gave up and went downstairs. If she wasn’t going to fall asleep, she might as well get some work done.
When she got to the first floor, she heard the TV going. She walked over to the break room, curious.
It turned out to be Etta, watching some old movie that Kate had never seen.
Etta looked up when Kate came in and paused the movie.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Etta asked, sympathetic.
“Nope,” Kate admitted, sitting down next to Etta. “You too?”
“Didn’t bother trying,” Etta replied. “Not like I actually need to.”
“So you and Bertie really don’t need to sleep at all?”
“Yeah. It’s nice; maybe the way taking a nap is nice for normal people? But it’s definitely not required.”
“Do you want to talk about what’s keeping you up?”
Kate shook her head.
Etta turned the movie back on.
After a bit, Kate interrupted the movie to say, “There’s just been a lot on my mind lately.”
Etta motioned for Kate to go on, muting the movie.
“I just—I’m almost done with my research.”
“Oh,” Etta said, face falling.
“That’s good, right?” Etta said, clearly lying.
“Right,” Kate said. She knew she didn’t sound convinced.
“Are you looking forward to seeing anyone back home?”
“It’ll be good to see my cousin again.”
“Oh? Are you two close?”
“We used to be, when we were kids. Things have been more complicated lately, but we still see each other pretty often.”
“I never had cousins, as far as I know. No siblings either. It always seemed like it would be nice.”
“It has been,” Kate agreed. “Definitely made family events a lot more fun.”
“Tell me about them,” Etta asked.
“Okay, so when we were young, we used to go to this campsite...”
Kate woke up the next morning on the couch, having fallen asleep there. Etta was next to her, reading a book.
“Morning,” Etta said.
“Morning,” Kate replied. She got up, rubbing the stiffness out of her neck from sleeping sitting up. “I’m going to go get ready.”
“See you at breakfast,” Etta said, turning back to her book.
Kate passed Roger as he was coming downstairs. He gave her a suspicious look.
“Are you really leaving?” Bertie asked her a few days later.
“Yeah. I’m almost done with this job, and I have another coming up.”
“So that’s it?” Bertie asked. “You’re just going to finish your research and go?”
“That’s the nature of the job,” Kate said.
“Do you want to leave?”
Kate shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s part of my job, and my job’s important to me.”
“You could stay,” Bertie blurted out.
Kate stared at him.
“Well, you could. You seem happy here, happier than you were when you first came. And you don’t seem particularly excited to leave. The others aren’t going to offer, but they want you to stay too. But they both think… well, Roger doesn’t trust you, and Etta doesn’t think you care enough about her to stay. She wants you to, she just doesn’t think you actually do. But I thought, well, what if you wanted to stay and just hadn’t been asked.”
Kate sighed. “The idea of staying is nice. I really like you all—well, Roger less so, but even he seems like he might not be too bad if he didn’t hate me. But I have responsibilities. There are people back home who are counting on me to do my job.”
“Okay,” Bertie said. “If that’s really important to you, I get that.”
Kate was doing the right thing. She just wished it wasn’t so hard.
Kate was done packing. All she had to do was say goodbye and leave.
Even Roger came to see her off. He seemed disappointed in her for proving him right.
“Well. This is it, I guess,” Kate said.
“Goodbye,” Bertie said. “Good luck with your job.”
“Thanks.” Kate would have hugged him if he wasn’t a ghost.
“I’m glad I met you,” Etta said. She blinked back tears.
“I’m glad I met you, too. All of you, really—I’m glad I came here,” Kate said. If she was blinking an awful lot, it was just because there was something in her eye.
“Remember, you promised not to tell anyone about us,” Roger said.
“I did. I won’t, I promise,” Kate said.
Kate left the watchtower for the last time. The team waved her off as she drove away.
She had hours of driving to go. If she pulled over to cry once or twice, no one had to know.
Kate stopped at the agency to drop off her findings before going home.
“Kate! Right on time. Are those the files? Great!”
With that, her boss left, taking the box filled with Kate’s findings with her. It wasn’t exactly a warm welcome, but she’d never had that kind of relationship with her boss. Not like how Etta and Bertie were with Roger. Which was understandable, of course; strong relationships between managers and their subordinates didn’t work in the real world.
Kate stopped by Bollard’s station, but it was empty. Kate pulled up her e-mail. Sure enough, Bollard had e-mailed her a bit over a week ago, letting her know that she’d be gone on a mission for the next month.
That happened sometimes. It wasn’t a big deal; Kate would see Bollard eventually.
Since Bollard wasn’t there, Kate left. She nodded to a few people in the hallway, but didn’t stop to talk to anyone. They weren’t really chatty people, for the most part.
Kate stopped at her favorite grocery store on the ride home. It wasn’t the closest one to her house, but it had much better produce than the closer one did.
She’d missed fresh fruit and vegetables, out on the Bridge. Roger’s contact only dropped off food every couple of months, and she herself hadn’t bothered packing many perishables.
She was going to make fajitas, she decided. With chicken and bell peppers and onions and sour cream. And she was going to have a peach for dessert.
After selecting a week’s worth of groceries, she paid and went home.
Her apartment looked exactly like it had when she’d left it. She’d always found that comforting, but this time she couldn’t help but notice how empty it looked.
She’d just been away for too long, that was all.
She put away her groceries, then began the process of unpacking from the trip. Her apartment was quiet in a way that she’d never really paid attention to before. It made her uneasy. She turned on the TV for background noise.
When she was done with that, she made her fajitas. They were just as good as she’d expected. She’d missed fresh food. She’d missed her kitchen, with the pots she’d bought in college and the electric stove that was easy to clean. It was nice to be back. Less nice than usual, somehow, but still nice.
She left the TV on in the background until she went to bed.
In the back of her mind, Kate had allowed doubt to creep in. She’d left behind Watchtower 10, left behind three people that she’d delighted in spending every evening with, in favor of her job. If she’d been misremembering how important it was to her, it would have meant that she was making a grave mistake.
It didn’t help that, after debriefing, she was given a few days off. It was standard practice for extended missions. Normally, she used it to relax. Catch up on TV, cook and freeze some food for when work got crazy, tinker with whatever her current project was.
She couldn’t help but wish she could have taken the time off on the Bridge. She’d spent so much of her time on the Bridge down in the archives, away from the others. Spending a few days with them without having to worry about her responsibilities sounded like heaven.
Kate tried to get those thoughts out of her mind. She had a job here. She had a life. She couldn’t just throw it all away to go live in the middle of nowhere with two ghosts and a man who hated her.
No matter how appealing that sounded.
Kate had always loved her job. She was good at it, and the work she was doing mattered.
She couldn’t just give it up for a group of people she’d only known for a few months. Even if she did, she knew that she’d regret it. Without a job to fill the time, living out on the Watchtower would grow old fast. Maybe if she was a working member of the crew, she’d be fine, but she hadn’t gotten the feeling that they actually needed help maintaining the Watchtower.
The fantasy of living on the Watchtower was always going to be better than the reality of it. She’d had a good few months; no reason to tarnish that memory by taking things too far.
Over the next few weeks, Kate convinced a company specializing in heavy-duty waterproof equipment to turn over old purchase records and did some initial surveillance on a town that had experienced an unusual number of drownings in the past few years.
It was exactly the type of work she enjoyed; the type where she could see how her efforts were helping the agency protect people. She’d always loved how each assignment was different from the last and how her superiors trusted her enough to allow her considerable independence on her jobs.
She still left the TV on in her apartment at night, and tried to pretend the actors’ voices covered up the silence.
“There’s something different about you.”
Bollard had been back for a couple of days, and Kate had jumped at the chance to catch up with her.
Kate didn’t like to admit it, but the last few weeks had been lonely. She’d settled back into the same routine as before the watchtower mission, but it hadn’t felt the same. The time she’d spent at the watchtower had changed the way she looked at her life.
“I’m the same old Kate as ever,” Kate said.
“You don’t sound happy about that,” Bollard observed. “That’s new.”
Kate shrugged. “I’m fine. I guess I’m just… not happy that my whole life is my job.”
“That’s fair,” Bollard said. “I can’t relate, but that’s fair. So, what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, probably.”
“You could download a dating app. That’s an easy way to meet people.”
“I don’t know if I actually want to meet anyone.”
“Did you already meet someone?”
“You don’t sound convinced. I think something must have happened that triggered this newfound dissatisfaction. Are you sure you didn’t meet someone?”
Kate hesitated, then shook her head.
Noticing her hesitation, Bollard said, “you did!”
“Okay, I kind of did. But not like that. Well, kind of like that, but I’m not just pining,” Kate said. “It’s not even that I want to date, necessarily. I just—I think I’m lonely. I think I’ve been lonely for a long while, and I got used to it. But then I got a taste of what not being lonely for once felt like, and now it’s hard to go back to my old life.”
“Okay, the way I see it, you have three options,” Bollard said. “One, you continue with your life as it has been, making no changes and continuing to be miserable. We’ll call that the sad option. Two, you continue with your life, still working for the agency, but you also make more of an effort to meet people. Get a hobby, do online dating, get a dog. We’ll call this the mature adult option, but definitely better than the sad option. Three, you quit your job and make radical life changes. That one’s the drastic option. Crazy, but it might be the most fun.”
“I can’t quit my job.”
“If that’s your first and only objection to the third plan, then you definitely should.”
“Not, ‘I don’t want to quit my job.’ Not ‘I love my job and just want something else.’ Just that you can’t quit it.”
“I—huh, you may have a point there,” Kate admitted. “But that doesn’t change anything. I’m doing important work for the agency.”
“Someone else could be doing that work.” Seeing Kate’s expression, Bollard continued, “I know, you’re a well-respected agent with an excellent track record. I’m not discounting any of that. But if your job isn’t making you happy, if you’re miserable because it’s holding you back from doing something else, then your performance is going to start suffering. And miserable you on a bad day can definitely be matched by happy someone else on a good day.”
“But I can just try to be happy here,” Kate said halfheartedly. Deep down, she wanted Bollard to convince her she didn’t have to stay.
“Be honest with me: would quitting your job let you do something, see someone, go somewhere, whatever it is that makes you happy? Is there something you have in mind for after you quit?”
“Yeah,” Kate admitted. “There is.”
“Then you have to quit.”
“The agency isn’t going to like that.”
“The agency’s going to have to deal with it. They can’t force you to stay. And besides, they know that unwilling agents aren’t good agents.”
“Thanks,” Kate said.
“No problem. What are cousins for, right?” Bollard asked. “And for what it’s worth—I’m sorry that you’ve been lonely.”
“It’s fine,” Kate said. “Trust me, it’s nothing to do with you. If anything, living near you is going to be one of the things I’ll miss.”
“I spend so much travelling, it’s not like living near each other always translates to seeing each other that often. I’m sure I’ll be able to stop by wherever you end up often enough.”
Kate imagined Bollard coming to visit Watchtower 10. “We’ll figure something out.”
“Good. I’m not letting go of you that easy,” Bollard said. “Now that we’ve got the feelings stuff out of the way, do you want to hear what Percy did last week?”
“Oh god, what did he do this time?”
It took a few weeks to make all the necessary arrangements. Finally, though, Kate’s replacement was trained, and she found a subleaser for her apartment.
Kate traded in her car for another van, now that the agency wasn’t providing her with one. She packed up her stuff and picked up provisions to last another few months. In a burst of inspiration, she stopped by a garage sale and was able to pick up a few VHS tapes that the watchtower didn’t have. It wasn’t a huge gift, but she figured having something new to watch after almost two decades couldn’t hurt.
And then she was off.
The drive gave her plenty of time to think. She couldn’t help but worry that they wouldn’t want her back; that her initial betrayal had ruined things for good. After all, she’d spent about three months there, and it had been almost that long since she’d left. It would be perfectly reasonable if they didn’t want her to live with them.
But, well, Kate had to try. The possibility that she’d be allowed to come back was worth giving up her old life for.
Finally, Kate arrived.
Last time, she’d seen that the Big Light was one and assumed that she would be in danger. This time, seeing the Big Light felt like coming home.
Kate got out of the van and walked up to the front door. She rang the doorbell.
This time, Etta answered it.
Kate couldn’t help but stare at her for a moment, unable to form words.
“Kate? What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to come back. For good. If you guys will have me.”
Etta still looked a little stunned, but a smile spread across her face. Kate wanted to see that smile for the rest of her life.
“You’re staying?” Etta checked.
“I’m staying.” Kate said.
If they had been able to touch, Kate might have kissed Etta. She would have definitely hugged her, at least.
As it was, they were left smiling at each other like fools until Bertie and Roger interrupted them.
“Kate’s back?” Bertie asked.
“I’m back. For good, if that’s okay with all of you,” Kate said. The last part was more addressed to Roger than anything.
“See, I told you she’d be back,” Bertie said to Roger.
Roger laughed. “You did. Well, in this case I can’t say I mind being proven wrong.”
For once, Roger actually seemed happy to see her.
“Does this mean that you’re going to stop glaring at her?” Etta asked.
“Now that she doesn’t have one foot out the door at all times, I think we’ll get along fine.”
“I am sorry about that,” Kate said. “Really. It took me a while to figure out that my job wasn’t the most important part of my life anymore.”
“You figured it out in the end,” Bertie said. “That’s the important part.”
“As long as you don’t change your mind, we’re good,” Roger agreed.
“Don’t worry,” Kate said. “You guys are stuck with me for good.”