"What is it with you and that bitch?"
"Taking the collar off? Do you remember Valerus, what she did to him?"
"I remember very well."
"Well, you act like you're buds. She's using you!"
"She could have left."
"And? That just means she has a reason for staying here you don't know about."
"You sound like Stella."
"Who would have ever expected that?" Maia admitted.
They sat in silence. Howie keened and floated between them, his colors changing. They were starting to get a sense of his moods- teal or anything pastel generally denoted him being in a good mood. The darker hues corresponded to darker moods, unsurprisingly.
Joon had the crystal in his hand. Howie was fond of it, would often coo and if Joon wasn't mistaken he often thought the crystal was responding. It would grow warm to the touch or lights would flicker within. Of course, Hillier considered the crystal hers, which could be a problem. Lord only knew what she would do with it.
They had two other crystals as well, the staff from Elysium having brought them through. Most of Elysium was back, which wasn't saying much considering the Faction had murdered most of the staff there. The connection to Elysium had been broken when Hillier's people had left, but the few survivors had come back via Poseidon, where there were still Gate controls. Most of Ops here on Earth had been destroyed by Hillier's people. Hillier was one of the few versed in Gatecraft who could make anything of the controls that were left.
Joon wanted a cigarette. Howie wasn't fond of smokes however. Hillier, on the other hand, found them delightful.
"How surprising that humans would adopt a habit that kills them," she had laughed.
"What?" demanded Maia.
"Forget it," he said.
"Why didn't you leave?" Stella asked.
"You're... keeping one of them? Have you lost your mind?" Hillier replied.
"I inherited it when I took over," said Stella. "What do you want me to do? Release it?"
"When I took Valerus I learned a lot, and I even told Joon I understood some things better. But this..."
"What would I even do with it?" Stella insisted.
Hillier was quiet.
"Throw it back, like a motherfucking fish? I wouldn't even know where to throw it."
Hillier smirked. "I hope you're paid well."
"I'm paid very well. Not enough though."
"So you have a Chaos tadpole, and you wonder why there are Incursions."
"What do you know?"
"I know that you're holding something... a catastrophe waiting to happen."
"My people worship these things. Some of them. If they knew this they never would have departed. Or they would come back and kill every last one of you."
"A pretty good argument for me not ever letting you leave," Stella mused.
"True," Hillier laughed.
"Joon was sent to close the Gate. If he could. Valerus knew how. Obviously when he died that became difficult. Could you have... done it?" asked Stella.
"Are you asking me if I know enough of Leo to have that knowledge? I... think so. Not entirely sure. We absorb memories... but we don't become the person. Not initially, anyway."
"Mm," said Stella. She poured a drink. Offered one to Hillier.
"I'm not sure I'm ready to drink with you yet."
Stella set it down.
"What about your other problem? Time travel."
Stella drank. "Working on that."
"I don't know," said Stella.
"It really could only be Joon or Mallory."
"Why say that?"
"Well, there's a chance it's someone else, but honestly..."
"Well, you have been stewing in Leo's juices, eh?"
Hillier took the drink.
"So," Stella said, "the Gate is open. We have no controls., Ymir and Poseidon do. You're one of the few people who can work it. Anything I may be missing?"
"You have a monster lode of crystals. No one to manage them. If it were my people that would be an armed camp and no one else would get there."
"We're not your people."
"Sadly for you."
"Are we going to work together or are you going to destroy me the first chance you get?"
"I didn't leave. That should answer the question."
"I want to go."
"I know," Maia replied. She stroked one of Howie's tentacles.
"Are you going to...?"
"Yes. I'll go too. I assumed you would try to dissuade me."
"I know better."
"We do make a good team."
"Hillier will want to go."
"I know." Sigh.
"I'm not entirely sure why she stayed," Joon mused. "the only thing I can think of is... she knows something. From Leo's mind."
"Or she fancies you."
They made a face at each other.
"She did mention Stella's other project."