“You lied to me,” I said. “Neltoq isn’t contemplating suicide. He’s contemplating metamorphosis.”

Gelb spread his fingers wide, shaking them in a mock version of jazz hands. “You got me, kid. Lock me up for fibbing.”

“Why?”

“The Project, of course,” said Gelb. “Don’t put on such naivete. It doesn’t suit you.”

“What about it?”

“Neltoq is a chief architect of the Project. It would take decades for someone else to familiarize themselves with his work, decades that we might not have.” Gelb pulled a cigar from his desk and held it under his nose, savoring the illegal odor. “And before you go trying to rat me out to Albert or Mil’Raq or the Supervisor, keep in mind that I was doing as I was told.”

I knocked the cigar out of Gelb’s hand in a gesture that surprised even me.

“Pick that up,” he said darkly. “Right now.”

I folded my arms.

“Fine.” Gelb stood up, waddled over to his cigar, and fetched it. “Have a tantrum if you like. But you can’t deny that Neltoq is an asset to the project as a juvenile Ultoq. What is he as a sessile sponge on the ocean floor?”

I didn’t say anything. Honestly, I couldn’t even think straight.

“So tell Neltoq to get off the grinyth if you want, counselor,” said Gelb. “But do so knowing that you’d be fatally undermining the Project.”

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