Above all, they told Bee, don't lose the keycard, and she nodded solemnly and put it in a safe place where nobody would be likely to run across it by accident or where it might be dislodged by accident. It was always one of her fears that whenever something bad happened, whether it was something trivially unfortunately or something truly catastrophic, that she would be blamed, and she made an oath to herself that in this one case, she would not be the one responsible for losing the precious keycard that she had been given.

That was all before the business of rapelling down the Tower of Ice and fighting against the twin Gorgons of Gliese 420423 happened, to say nothing of the voyaging through a baker's dozen alternate realities with the aid of a talking stick insect as her guide. Rationally, she knew that she could make a pretty good case that her current situation involved a different universe from the one where had made her promise to guard and protect the keycard, probably with different laws concerning responsibility and due diligence, and it would be an undue burden to expect this to be binding somewhere where a learned scientist could make a pretty good case that time hadn't gotten around to the point where she had made that commitment yet. The thing of it was, despite any variation in the construction of cosmoses, she still felt as if it applied to her in a moral sense, and to her that was the only important factor.

This is all to explain the wave of nausea Bee felt when she reached in to her bra and felt the keycard unaccountably missing. It might have happened at any point during the ordeal with the bat-winged fungus beasts from the Kuiper belt, which involved a lot of vigorous activity, or it might have been a casualty of her simulated seduction of the Sardar of the Local Supercluster. There had been a lot of drinking then. At the time it didn't seem as though the precious cargo had been in any danger, so completely had she grown accustomed to carrying it around, and she certainly didn't intend to put it at risk, but the simple fact of the matter is that it was now disappeared, and it would take a string of a dozen miraculous interventions to retrace her steps to find out when it first went missing, assuming someone hadn't gone off with it by now. This was especially distressing to her because she had the sense that this next obstacle she faced, a sheer alloy wall miles high and perhaps hundreds of miles long situated in the wastes of a nameless planet, might have some cause for her to use the item.

An astoundingly stern voice sounded in her head, not registering on any of the panels in her helmet. "Do you have it?" There was no visible form she might take to be the questioner, so the naturally assumed that the query was coming telepathically from the wall itself.

Bee bowed her head slightly. "You have to be more specific, please."

"You know very well what it is that we require." A slot about three inches wide appeared at waist level in the wall right in front of her. "Insert your passkey."

Bee bit her lip. "I would if I could but I can't. That is, I don't have it with me. And I'm not likely to be able to get to it, either." She braced for the reaction to this.

Nothing happened for a good five minutes at least. After the first two, Bee was ready to turn around and go back to the dematerialization chamber, but she wasn't sure where to tell it to take her next. Maybe if she stuck around and took her punishment, the owner of the imposing voice would give her a clue what would be the next step.



"What is your hometown? Surely you do still possess that information."

"Of course, I'm from Natick."

"What was your the model of the first car you owned?"

Bee had to think for a moment before answering. "A Scion?"

"Are you asking or telling?"

"It was a Scion"

A hairline crack appeared in the face of the metal wall, from the ground up as far as she could see, and as it grew wider an awful grinding sensation came up through her boot heels. One of the moons of this nameless planet was nearly centered in the gap from where she was standing. Finally, when it had grown a couple meters wide, the quaking of the ground ceased. The voice in her head she heard this time was cool and detached, not threatening, and it said, "Proceed."

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