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At night, the salt flats were completely quiet. The sizzling of the ground soon ceased after the sun set, and tonight it was no different. It was a familiarity to Sikes, and a trivial one at that. He preferred the night in some ways. It allowed him to do his work in relative silence, free of outside distraction. And it always came with deep satisfaction.

But he would not be free of distractions tonight. There was business to be done, planning and administration - much of which he felt was unnecessary. But Henri could be trusted to do things correctly, and he was never wrong before. And Sikes consoled himself with the fact that, once this was finished, there would be ample time for pleasure.

The full moon beamed down, lighting the salt expanses in a dull glow. Sikes stood at the edge of the facility, looking out at the emptiness. The wind ruffled at his overcoat, exposing the inner red lining to the elements. He pulled at his gloves nonchalantly. There was nothing more to do but wait at this point; he had everything prepared, laid out in great detail, choreographed with exact precision. Sikes glanced over at the side of the facility, where the Eloi unit clung to the wall with spindly fingers. Its boxy, mechanical head rotated back and forth. It seemed equally bored, Sikes thought.

Finally, he saw Henri emerge from the facility and walk toward him. He too had donned gloves and an overcoat, and the royal shade of purple inside fluttered in the wind. "Well?" Sikes asked.

"We're ready," Henri said, and nodded.

"Everything in there how I left it?" Sikes continued.

Henri paused. "You know that's not really my field."

"I was just wondering."

"Are you anxious about this? That's not like you."

Sikes frowned. "About what's about to go down? Nah. I'm perfectly ready for that." He looked out over the salt flats. "I just need to be sure that my end is in order."

"As far as I know," Henri said. A motorized droid rolled outside, with a hookah affixed to its back. "Here," Henri gestured, and grabbed one of the two hoses. "Thought you might want a bit before we go and raise hell out there."

Sikes nodded, and took the other pipe. He drew a breath in, and blew out a fluorescent smoke. "And what about N? Is he ready to go?"

"I sent him to your airship. Gave him a maintenance check too, just to be sure. All the tracking systems are working perfectly. Cerebral cortex hasn't caused too much trouble at all."

"Good." 

The two stood there awhile, looking out at the salts and the sky.

"And where will you be headed?" Sikes asked Henri.

"Queen's River. I thought it would be terribly ironic to pay them a visit." Henri smirked. "I'm sure you understand. 'Home sweet home' never really applied to us."

"Of course." Sikes did not need to ask anything more. All the other locations were accounted for. Now they only had to go out and do the blasted thing.

"We'd better head out and get this started up," Henri said. He started to walk back, but then turned to Sikes again. "One more thing, though. You said that you already know who you're looking for?"

"That's true, yes."

"How can you be so sure already?"

Sikes smiled for the first time. "I have a plan quite firmly in place," he said, "and she's exactly what I've been looking for."

Henri considered this, and then nodded. "We'll talk after, then," he said, and turned away. "Good luck."

"Until then, dear brother," Sikes said, and watched Henri walk back inside.

Sikes took one last breath from the hookah and sent it through the doors. He walked over to the Eloi unit and flicked a switch on its head. It immediately snapped to attention and a red light started blinking on its head.

"June 13, 4:23 am Syrakousai Time," Sikes narrated, "about two hours before the Cleansing now. I'm just about to head out. Everything is in place. All that's needed now is to fly to Red Rose and pick up the...unwtting volunteer. Then Project Lailah can begin in earnest."

Sikes paused for a moment, considering his words carefully. He smiled as the perfect sentence came to him.

"I am really looking forward to this."

He flicked the switch on the Eloi unit, and the light powered off. "Lab 8," Sikes said, and it scampered off out of sight. Sikes reached into the pocket of his overcoat and pulled out a finely crafted pistol. He loaded it, and with a satisfying snap, the gun locked into place. Slipping it back into his pocket, Sikes walked inside, ready to savor the approaching dawn.

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