After the rocket case, Claudia makes a plan.
She doesn’t tell anyone what she’s up to: Pete would fuss, Artie would absolutely forbid it, Myka would want to do it herself, and Steve doesn’t have the background to really weigh in on it. Leena would probably back her up on it – this is more the sort of thing she usually does – but she never asks what Claudia’s plan is, and fortunately, in the week it takes her to get everything figured out, Mrs. Frederic never shows up to glare her out of it.
(It isn’t really talking someone out of something if all she ever has to do is raise an eyebrow.)
And so, one day when Artie’s busy corralling Pete and Myka on a case and Steve’s across the Warehouse doing inventory, Claudia sneaks HG’s magic 8-ball off Artie’s desk and heads for the on-floor work space she’s carved out for herself. Half the planning was picking a project that wouldn’t potentially zap HG’s hologram field, which left out her Tesla-based experiments; she’s settled on making a GPS hacker. Never know when you might need one, after all.
She works for a while without cracking open the 8-ball, just in case, then opens it; HG, once she’s appeared, looks more than a little confused. “Claudia? What are you doing?”
“You need to talk,” Claudia says. “If you’re anything like me, what you need is not something you got while you were bronzed and it’s not something you’re going to get stewing in a magic 8-ball. I won’t make you talk about Christina, or any of the stuff that happened afterward – only if you want to. But you need to talk to somebody, about something.”
“In that case, what would you suggest?”
“I don’t know. Artifact chases from the olden days, something you missed out on over the last century that you wish you hadn’t, take your pick. I know how it feels to have someone gone.”
“You got him back,” HG points out, not nearly as venomous as Claudia might have expected.
“Yeah, but that took me twelve years and I sure as hell didn’t think it was possible when I was a kid. So. Go for it.” She goes back to working on the GPS hacker; it’s a long few minutes before HG says anything, but Claudia was half expecting that. If someone had made her the same offer as a kid, she probably wouldn’t have known what to do with it either.
“Very well,” HG finally says. “I would have quite liked to see the moon landing unfold. Of course, one wonders if I would have lived long enough to see it in the natural course of things.”
“Artie says they faked it.”
“Why would they do that? The technology’s clearly there to reach it.”
Claudia shrugs. “He also says they faked the moon landing on the moon, but he hasn’t told me how exactly that worked. Take it with a grain of salt if you want. Still, people went back a few times.”
“Indeed they did. Why in the world did they give it up?”
“You got me. Probably because the kind of people who thought you had no business building a rocket ended up with oversight of the space program or something. Anyway, it probably was a pretty cool thing to see.” It was way before Claudia’s time, and seeing the footage is nothing like watching something live.
HG smiles a little. “Rather like the World’s Fairs, in that respect. Those did always have a way of lifting one’s spirits.”
“I bet. ‘Let’s stop posturing at each other on battlefields long enough to posture at each other with our technological advances! Escalator rides only a penny!’”
“That was Coney Island, actually. We ended up there on a case once; before we left, Woolly insisted on trying it out.”
Claudia laughs. “From what you said about the rocket shenanigans, I can totally see that.”
“Given the nature of the job, he was... very easily amused, sometimes.” HG smiles again, but it’s definitely sadder, this time – but before Claudia can change the subject, she does so herself. “What are you working on?”
“GPS hacker. I think I can do a good enough ‘pre-recorded’ voice to convince the average Joe their satellite connection is still doing the talking, if we ever need to end a car chase quickly.”
“GP... oh, right, the thing that gives directions. One hopes the person you might find yourself chasing doesn’t prefer to rely on paper maps.”
Claudia snorts. “I think that’s basically you, these days, and – well, at the moment you’re a little hard to chase. People take the easiest option they can get their hands on. That so happens to mean I have more and more ways to get them to do my bidding.”
She realizes, just this side of too late, that was probably not the best choice of words when talking to someone who tried in all seriousness to destroy the world not that long ago. “Um. Sorry about that.”
“It’s not a problem, darling. However, I do hope you never truly reach that point.” HG does that thing where she reaches for her locket, except it’s not there; as far as Claudia knows, HG’s personal effects got put back in the Escher Vault or something. “It requires staying in some very dark places for a very long time.”
“I bet it does.” Claudia sighs. “I hope I never end up there either. One round of wacky institutional hijinks was more than enough. Anyway. New topic?”
“Okay... favorite Artifact. That you didn’t invent.”
“Hmm.” HG’s quiet for a long time, but that’s all right; Claudia knows it’s a big question (she’s already racking her brain for her own answer). “We picked up a trinket from the American Revolution, once. I believe it belonged to John Adams. Allowed one to effect great political change at the cost of constant feelings of inadequacy.”
Claudia snorts. “I can totally see him producing something like that.”
“Dammit, I knew you were gonna turn that question around on me. Um. The Farnsworth gack was pretty cool – not the Farnsworths themselves, this was some 3-D projection equipment. Would’ve been a lot smoother if part of it hadn’t been shanghaied for a movie festival, but the concept was neat. Otherwise, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar definitely has a place in my heart.”
“Are you only saying that because you got to play the thing?” HG says – and the smile on her face is the most genuine one Claudia thinks she’s ever seen.
That makes this little endeavor a success, even if she never gets a chance to do it again.