It was a cool, moonless night.
Cigarette held loosely between his lips, he fumbled in his pockets until he found the lighter. With a deft flick, the flame came to life—and promptly burned out again, battered by the wind. Patiently, he cupped it with his hands, coaxing forth another guttering flame, and finally lit his cigarette.
Smoke curled from the tip and he breathed, feeling something clenched tight inside him loosen.
"Thought you'd quit," came a familiar voice.
Ray Stantz shrugged. "I thought I did, too."
Winston Zeddemore said, "Got a spare?" He chose a cigarette from Ray's proferred pack, without any apparent haste.
"I thought you'd quit."
Winston looked at him. "I did," he said, simply. "Old times' sake. Share your light?" He lit his cigarette from Ray's. They were silent for a few long moments, wreathed in faint smoke, and the memories of dozens of conversations like this, up on the roof where it was cool and quiet, just the place for a smoke break.
"I never thought he'd be the first," Winston said, at last, feeling the beginnings of that ache in his knees that had started two years back, from a lifetime of running and rolling and fighting. It always ached, these days, whenever it got cold. "Never thought it'd end that way for him, either."
"Seems like just yesterday, he moved back into the firehouse," Ray agreed. The thought was still a sharp wind in winter; a glass knife slipping home between his ribs. All the things he had left to do was weight on his shoulders and he was drowning, if he let himself think of it. All the papers left to sort through, notes scribbled in Egon's messy handwriting—that, at least, never changed—experiments left untouched; they'd been working on dealing with the packs' nasty tendency to overheat after discharging a flurry of boson darts…
His breath caught.
Winston said, "Never gets any easier, does it?" His voice was bleak.
"No," Ray replied. "It doesn't." It hadn't, since the day Egon had gone to the hospital for that infection, and come out months later on a wheelchair, struggling to learn to walk again.
Silence again. Winston was comfortable with it, as he nursed his cigarette and his aches. Even the one that had gaped inside of him, when he learned of Egon's death. Many of their conversations were composed of long silences.
"I still can't believe it," Ray said, finally. "I keep expecting him to walk through the door and to tell me that I haven't checked the calculations for the flux moderator coil." He looked over at Winston, searchingly. The cigarette burned away between his fingers. "You know what I mean?"
Winston nodded. "You and me both, Ray. You and me both."
"I can't decide—" Ray's voice choked up for a moment, and then steadied. "I can't decide if I'd like to carry that PKE meter around for a bit. To see him again. Or if I wouldn't. It wouldn't be the same, would it?"
"You went to the seminary, didn't you?"
"A long time ago," Ray said.
"I think," Winston said, measuring his words carefully, "That Egon's good people. And the great kingdom in the sky, out there, probably has room for a mad scientist with his heart in the right place. And one of the best buddies any man could ask for." It had to, he thought. Wasn't justice in the world, otherwise.
Ray took a long draw on his cigarette. "Yeah," he said. "When you put it that way…" he shrugged. "I never told you why I left, did I?"
"I'll tell you someday."
"And I'll tell you why I left the force," Winston said, "Maybe over a beer at Tipton's."
"Deal." Ray took a deep breath, and admitted, "I can't really believe in it any more. Not since I left the seminary. Not in the great kingdom in the sky. But I'd want to believe." For Egon, but that remained unsaid. He would've normally been on fire with excitement at the thought of a supernatural encounter, but if it was Egon's ghost…
Maybe his enthusiasm had reached its limits with the passing years. "I keep thinking it'll be just like him to linger," Ray added. "To come back to the lab, and fix up those experiments he'd left behind. Check up on his fungus collection." It was also where they'd found him, when he'd passed away. Back when they'd been professors at Columbia, he remembered that Egon had once dashed out in the middle of a class to check on a simulation he'd left running.
Winston nodded in understanding. He said, "If there was anyone with unfinished business, it'd be him."
"He would, wouldn't he?" Ray murmured. "It's not going to be the same again."
"I know," Winston said. "Would we even want it to?"
Something had gone out of their team when Egon died; something that had just barely survived the passage of the years—grey in their hair, aches, and all the trappings of age. It was as though they'd just formed the Ghostbusters a few days before, and he'd walked through the door only yesterday because he'd read the advertisement in the Times and badly needed a job.
Few places wanted a former copper, and he wasn't big on working security. Being a PI was for Chandler and hardboiled novels at the second-hand bookshop.
Harder to pretend, these days. They'd defied death enough times, but weren't invulnerable to time and disease. They hadn't thought about it, until Egon's relapse. Until he'd seen Egon relearning to walk in the hospital.
Dying…it just wasn't the sort of thing you thought about. A grotesque at the corner of your eye—something you could just barely see until the death of someone you cared about thrust it centre-stage.
Ray shook his head. "It wouldn't feel right."
"No," Winston agreed, "It wouldn't. Ray—if you need me over at the firehouse for the next few days or so…"
"Thanks, Zed, but I'll be fine." Ray's smile was tired, strained, even. "Don't worry about me."
They stood, looking down on the street and the passing cars, until the cigarettes had burned down to the filters, and the last of the smoke was gone; until there was nothing left, but themselves and the night.
"Whoa there, Spengler, what are you doing—" Peter Venkman was quick enough to dodge before he was flattened by all six feet two of lanky physicist.
Egon rapped out, "Can't talk now, Venkman—class—" and dashed down the corridor before Peter could point out he was going the entirely wrong way if he was heading off to teach classes. He hefted the journals in his hand. He'd just made a trip to the university library to pick up some journals—the dean had come down on him again over his publishing record, and he figured he'd flip through the journals until he found something sloppy and then dash out a quick article about why the other person sucked.
Flawless publishing strategy, minimum effort, Peter thought to himself but he found himself following Egon down the corridor, trying to figure out exactly what Egon'd gotten himself into this time.
He heard the sound of the printer at work even as he approached the door that to the single parapsychology laboratory—a small one, given that parapsychology didn't have that big a budget, and Ray and Egon were constantly burning through it, anyway.
He remembered the last time Egon had tried to test his theory of psychokinetic energy scaling—which had resulted in complete failure on his part, and the entire department, all five of them, getting shifted into storage closets for the next five months until the damage to the lab could be repaired.
And then their budget had been further slashed. Dean Yeager hadn't taken that stunt well, though privately, Peter felt as though he was beginning to repair relations. And Egon was a machine—he'd written five papers in the past three months, three of which had appeared in reputable academic journals, and the other two were still going through the review process. Ray'd written only two, but they'd both made the SPR, meaning their grant was probably safe.
Probably. Assuming Egon hadn't just run off to blow things up again.
Peter shouldered through the door. Egon was printing something—sheets and sheets of paper snaked out of the printer and tumbled onto the floor. "You know," Peter said, "For a few moments there, Egon, you had me worried. I was thinking—a hundred and fifty-odd students would be a pretty tight fit in the lab, wouldn't they?"
"Venkman," Egon said, which was probably about as much acknowledgement as he was going to get. Peter was used to it. "I'd left the simulation running, and I figured it'd take about—aha!" He scooped up one of the pages that had just left the printer, and frowned. "No, that's not right, this is…"
Peter made his way into the lab. Setting down his journals on the very top of the clutter on a nearby table, he picked up some of the papers. Sheets and sheets of graphs he couldn't read off-hand, with a bunch of equations and—he stared more closely at the sheet with its weird, spiky, angular markings.
"Egon, what is this? Hieroglyphs?"
"No," Egon muttered. "Cuneiform." He snatched up a pencil and started scribbling in the margins of the sheet of paper he'd taken. "If I run the numbers but include a boundary condition, maybe one of de Fabien's theorems…"
Peter blinked. He said, "Egon. You mean you've run out on a class, of about a hundred and fifty college students, to go and check up on your printouts of old Sumerian writing?"
Egon adjusted his glasses from where they'd begun to slide down the bridge of his nose. "Hardly," he said, affronted. "This is Akkadian cuneiform—if I'm right about Maitland's theory of dimensional conservation, then—"
"Right," Peter said, "Thank you Egon, you've run out on a class for old Akkadian writing?"
"They're adults," Egon said shortly, "They can handle themselves for fifteen minutes. I just need to take a quick look at the results."
Peter shook his head sorrowfully. "Egon," he said, "They're college students. You've just unleashed the forces of chaos. Total anarchy. It'll be Lord of the Flies all over again."
Egon folded the printout and stuffed it into his pocket. "Then I'd best bring the British Navy to them. Keep an eye on the computer, will you, Venkman? I don't want it cutting it—I've set the simulation to run for a while more."
Peter lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling.
It was hard not to think, to not feel the memories swarming him, even when he closed his eyes. Especially when he closed his eyes.
He'd been the one to introduce Egon and Ray. They'd stuck it out through grad school together, he and Egon, and they'd known each other the longest.
It was hard, so hard, but his mind kept circling back to that single thought, that Egon was dead. "I always told you," he said aloud, to no one in particular. He didn't know if he really expected Egon to be listening, and figured that Egon had better things to do when dead than to stick around listening to Peter talk. "The Japanese have got a word for this, you know? Karoshi. Death from overwork. I always told you that your experiments were going to kill you some day, Spengler."
He'd picked up a smattering of Japanese from Ilyssa, as it were. A facility with languages, as it turned out, was something she shared with Egon. Egon knew eleven languages, dead and alive, and was conversant in four of them.
In a way, Peter thought, Egon had almost single-handedly dragged him through grad school, which was probably an achievement to dwarf all his other achievements. He'd never seen the point in the almost-fanatic degree to which Egon had devoted himself to his studies, preferring to cut loose and live. Hakuna matata, he called it, when he found himself explaining it to Egon.
He'd learned that phrase from a stoned grad student—Georgina, studying literature—and Egon had promptly said, "Swahili, but you're looking for 'hamna shida' if you're from the north of Tanzania, and 'hamna tabu' if you're from the south."
"Or keine Sorge," Peter shot back—he'd taken German classes because they made for an easy elective, and everyone seemed to expect psychology majors to speak the language of Freud.
"A little more Angst," Egon retorted, in fluent German, "Would hardly be amiss, Venkman."
"That's what you're here for, Spengler," Peter said, in the same language. He spoke it more than passably well, and was somewhat disappointed to see he hadn't surprised Egon. One of these days, he told himself. Egon wasn't immune to being shocked or surprised, no matter how unfazeable he seemed.
They made an unlikely pair, the infamously lazy psychology student and the golden boy of the physics department, but, Peter thought, in such ways were beautiful friendships born. He could laugh at himself for that thought, now. All these years later.
Too many relationships that hadn't worked out—he thought he'd end up with Dana in the end, there was a certain chemistry there, but they'd divorced after ten long years—and all he had to show for it were a couple of friendships that had lasted.
And now, one of them—one of his oldest friends—was gone.
How did someone move past that sense of loss? He carefully peeled back the numbness and took a look at that shattering space left behind—Egon-shaped—and felt it engulf him, scrape him hollow within.
Egon was eleven languages, the stark sounds of German rendered musical in his quiet, clear voice, the chirping of a PKE meter, the harsh char and smoke of lab accidents, spicy food, and a thousand Twinkies sacrificed to the cause of science. He was journals stacked almost to chest-height in their shared apartment back in grad school; clutter that Peter did not approve of, a mould experiment in the refrigerator, and a hundred and one interests that Peter just didn't see how he had the time to pursue.
The ceiling had a crack winding through the white plaster. Peter closed his eyes.
He walked through the empty hallways of Columbia University.
It was too silent; he'd never been any good at throwing in sound. His body remembered, even if he did not; he was barely conscious of turning the corner. He hesitated before the door; for a moment, it flickered—VENKMAN BURN IN HELL, it read, letters scrawled. Some disgruntled student had left it there after a class, and he'd been too amused to bother removing it—and then the words vanished again. This was a Columbia years before he'd become a professor there. The Columbia of his grad studies days.
Peter set his hand against the door. 'TOBIAS H. WEISSMAN', the scratched and battered nameplate read. The 'E' had dropped out, he remembered, two years from now. Professor Tobias Weissman had been his graduate advisor, and as far as Peter had been concerned, a thoroughly good sort. He wondered if Tobias was still teaching at Columbia—he certainly hadn't been fired, like the three of them had—and thought that he should've kept in contact more than he had.
The door was slightly ajar. He frowned—this was somewhere between a memory and a dream, then, for all he'd built his memory palace from this memory of the Columbia of his graduate days—and then pushed lightly on the door. It opened noiselessly. He hadn't knocked, then. That was how he'd met Egon.
"…cannot believe this," a man was saying. A stubborn, prominent jaw, and eyebrows like thick slashes, thin hair receding from his forehead. He glared at Tobias, and the lanky student standing by Tobias's desk. Peter glanced at the student, and felt, for a moment, that disorienting sense of grief slice through him again. This was a younger Egon; hair already sticking up the way it always did, wire-rimmed glasses cracked and taped up from some experiment gone out of control—Peter couldn't seem to remember which one it had been—but otherwise neat in a grey wool sweater vest and a white shirt, sleeves somewhat haphazardly rolled back. "This is outrageous, Weissman, you take my best student and teach him—and teach him what?"
"Teplitz," Tobias said, calmly, and then memory clicked—the enraged man was Professor Harold R. Teplitz, Egon's graduate advisor from the physics department—"Mr Spengler has simply come to me requesting for an opportunity to do parapsychological research, and I saw no reason—"
"You wouldn't, would you?" Teplitz shot back scathingly. He glanced at Egon, "You'd take one of my best students and teach him complete humbuggery and pseudoscience instead. What is this about, Weissman? Department rankings? Student averages?"
"If you would just listen to yourself, Teplitz," Tobias replied, though Peter saw the crease furrowing his eyebrows which meant he was starting to get pretty vexed, "You'd see exactly how much sense you're making! It is admirable that Mr Spengler wishes to expand his horizons, and it just so happens that I do need a research assistant and have no objections to teaching a bright young man—"
"Teaching him what?" Teplitz demanded. "I'm damn well concerned, Weissman, when Mr Spengler goes to your research lab, and comes back to mine spouting nonsense theories about the Kushner-Lita field interfering with the observed neutrinos in our set-up and how that could be used to explain astral projection!" He leaned forward, jabbing a finger at Tobias. "No student of mine," he snarled, "No graduate student coming through my laboratory with a graduate degree in physics from this institution comes out spouting this sort of…fakery! Hokum! Pseudoscience! It's disreputable and it damages the good scientific standing of this institution."
Teplitz, Peter thought, in retrospect, was probably the sort of guy who slept secure in the knowledge there was a hierarchy to the sciences, in which physics was at the top and things like psychology and economics went right to the bottom, if they even counted at all.
"Professor Teplitz," Egon spoke up for the first time, and Peter remembered being struck by the way Egon spoke, even though he'd been that awkward and ill-fitting grad student; he didn't lack for confidence, even if the way he stood was somewhat closed off. "I have no objections to separating the way I conduct parapsychological research and the way I conduct scientific research under your supervision."
Teplitz's shoulders set; his posture tightened. "Fine," he said, a few moments later. His voice had turned a few more degrees colder. "Take him," he said to Tobias. And then, to Egon, "You could have been one of the best graduate students I ever had. Most of the other professors think you have what it takes to win the next Nobel. I hope your little obsession with pseudoscience does not burn you in the long run."
He turned, and stalked out of the office—eyes narrowing as he saw Peter standing in the doorway. He said nothing, merely shouldered past Peter. Tobias and Egon had seen him now though; Peter smiled. "Well," he said, breaking the silence that had descended on the office, "That guy sure has a chip on his shoulder against psychology, doesn't he?"
Tobias pinched the bridge of his nose, a weary gesture strangely familiar, that Peter realised—only now—that he and Egon had somehow ended up adopting from their shared mentor. "My esteemed colleague Teplitz," he said wryly, "Does not believe in any science other than physics."
"Not entirely the case," Egon said. Peter could not read his expression; his voice was steady. "Professor Teplitz concedes that chemistry is occasionally necessary to the physical sciences—biology, on the other hand, is little more than dignified stamp-collecting."
Peter's lips twitched. "Sounds like my kind of guy," he quipped.
Tobias laughed. "Well then," he said, "Shall I drop him a note proposing an exchange of graduate students? Come in, then, and stop standing in the doorway."
Peter entered the office, gave Egon a friendly nod. "Only if you want the great Professor Teplitz to start frothing at the mouth and to go into shock," he retorted. "It'd end up like fire and water. Or matter and anti-matter. So, you're Spengler? Venkman. Is your advisor always this much of an asshole?"
"Peter," Tobias said, warning. "Mr Spengler, this is Mr Peter Venkman, my graduate student, and as you can see, a bit of a handful at times. Peter, this is Mr Egon Spengler—as you've probably heard from the fuss Teplitz was making, he's a graduate student from the physics department looking to do some research work under me for some experience."
Egon nodded to him; his expression was still shuttered. Peter wondered what it would take to make him laugh, concluded that he always liked a challenge.
"So, I guess I'll be seeing plenty of him around, then?"
Tobias shrugged. "Why not? Get to know each other, learn how things are done in different disciplines…psychology can't afford to be insular, Peter, and parapsychology least of all." He looked meaningfully at Egon and added, with a straight face, "I think you'll find it highly educational."
He was right, and he was wrong.
"Don't the ancient Egyptians have some—some name for it?" Peter managed. Between exhaustion and alcohol, he was well on his way to getting hammered, even though he thought he'd built up his immunity to debauchery a long time ago in his college days. "The Book of the Dead—no, the Papyrus of—"
"Why're you asking me?" Winston grunted. He stared at his beer, and didn't touch it.
Dr Ilyssa Selwyn said, "You're the one who said you camped out in the ancient Egypt exhibit when getting your doctorate."
"In ancient Egyptian history," Winston muttered, "Not Egyptology. You want Ray or Egon for that."
"Egon doesn't really do hieroglyphs," Ray pointed out, nursing his own beer. "That's me. But Winston's got some practice with hieroglyphs as primary sources, and all that. Egon was…always more for cuneiform."
"Akkadian cuneiform," Peter drawled, "Which, as Egon would've had you know, is not the same as Sumerian cuneiform."
"It's the same writing system," Ray said, "Adapted for a different language. We brushed up on our Sumerian cuneiform after we had to deal with Shandor and his Gozer cults." He and Ilyssa traded glances. For all she'd remained working on Gozerian mythology, there was now something terribly personal about it for her: Ivo Shandor, her ancestor, had tried to use her blood to perform a ritual that would give himself the power of an ancient Sumerian god of destruction.
Had tried. They'd stopped him, all five of them—including the new recruit Egon and Ray had insisted they needed, if they were going to field-test some of their new inventions. Just like old times, Peter thought, except now there were three of them, and the new guy was having trouble running his own franchise in Chicago, or so he'd heard.
In the corner, the Rookie—they still didn't know his name, still hadn't asked after all this while, and it didn't seem right to ask after Egon was gone—looked as though he wanted to say something, but changed his mind.
Janine would've known, Winston thought. But neither of the Tullys could make it for tonight's gathering. He wondered how Janine was taking it; he knew she'd carried a torch for Egon for some time.
"The Book of Coming Forth by Day," he conceded, with a nod to Ray, "Or the Book of the Dead. The Papyrus of Ani is a slightly different text, compiled for a dead guy by the name of Ani."
"So what, there'd be a Papyrus of Egon?" Peter regretted the remark almost the moment he'd said it, but it was too late.
In the awkward silence that ensued, Ray said, "Yeah, I guess…why not? The Book of the Dead was to ensure the dead person found their way through the underworld—the Duat—and into the afterlife. So there's many, many different copies of the Book of the Dead, usually meant for a particular person." But there was something hard in his eyes, now.
"Should've given him one in Akkadian cuneiform," Peter said. "All the slashes. It'd be right down his alley."
"That'd be missing the point," Ilyssa said, coolly. Her eyes flicked to the storm in Ray's and she spoke lightly to head it off. "There are probably as many funerary rituals as cultures. And in the case of the Book, many of the funerary spells seem to be tied to language."
"You're talking about Seligman's hypothesis, aren't you?" Ray asked, speaking to Ilyssa. She nodded, and he went on. "Egon never agreed with Seligman, though I think he's being a bit unfair to Seligman—Seligman doesn't argue for a strong relativism in occult practice, but Egon has—had a point about universalisation being possible—"
"Hello, Ray," Peter said, "Think you could pretend that the rest of us don't know about Seligman for a moment here?"
"Seligman's hypothesis," Ray said. "Right. You know of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?"
Peter nodded, slowly. "Your language determines your concepts."
"Exactly," Ray said. A little more life had come into him; his gestures were clearer and sharper. By drawing him out into discussions of the occult, Ilyssa had brought him back to familiar ground, had pushed back the pain of loss, even for a few moments. "Georg Seligman wrote in the same period of time as Sapir and Whorf and all the others. He thought that it went further than that—that occult concepts were strongly determined—and restricted—by the culture you belonged to, the language you spoke. And these occult concepts are the ones you use in spells, or rituals. Because of that, he thought translation of spells would render them non-functional. You just can't shift a particular way of looking at and thinking about the world into another language. Something's always going to be left out."
"So let me get this," Winston spoke up, "You're saying that this guy thought spells and things like that couldn't be translated, and Egon thought it was all shit?"
"Well," Ray said, "Yes. We'd always meant to test it—Egon and I had some thoughts about how one might disprove Seligman's hypothesis, but we just never had the time to run those tests." He smiled, tightly, and drank his beer. "There—there's just never enough time," he muttered.
Peter shifted his elbow so he wasn't about to tip over Ilyssa's martini and said, "But that's Egon for you—he always had a gift for making enemies. Wasn't afraid to run up against someone else's theories."
"He didn't pick fights," Ray countered.
"Not fights," Peter corrected, "Enemies. He'd never do it consciously, but he always seemed to be able to get them hopping mad."
"Unlike you, Venkman?" Ilyssa wanted to know.
He gave her a tight smile. "Touché. But remember Teplitz?"
Ray groaned. "All right, Peter, you have a point, there."
"Who's Teplitz?" Ilyssa asked, as Winston nodded, recognising the name.
"Egon's grad advisor," Ray explained. "Egon got him really angry when he chose to work as Weissman's research assistant—that'd be Tobias Weissman, one of the best people around still teaching parapsychology. He's actually still teaching at Columbia; he had tenure and managed to hang on to his job when the university fired the lot of us. Pretty old but still doing well."
"Ray," Peter said, pointedly.
"Anyway, Teplitz thought Egon was throwing away a bright future in physics, and they spent the rest of Egon's grad years clashing. He got Egon mad enough to start shouting back at him, at some points."
"Have to say," Winston said, in the pause that followed, "I haven't seen Egon that mad too many times. Takes quite a bit of doing to get him to start shouting. But there was Peck."
Peter made a face. He murmured. "Thank goodness we're rid of him."
"So it didn't turn out well. That's the thing with doing grad school for science," Ray said. "Your advisor makes or breaks your career. Everyone knew Egon was brilliant—by the time I came in, they were talking about how he was going on to win the next Nobel or something. But he was feuding so often with Teplitz, they knew many doors wouldn't be open to him once he graduated. The way I heard it, Teplitz was all but ready to cut him loose, especially when he wanted to throw in parapsychology into his thesis. He failed Egon—Egon went to the academic board and fought the decision, and graduated after all."
They were silent, for a while. Ray neglected to mention that he and Peter both had supported Egon's going to the board over Teplitz's decision. But the bridge had been well and truly burned between Egon and his advisor, by then. He wondered—Egon had never really spoken about Teplitz. They'd spoken previously, he knew, years after the Ghostbusters had become established, but…
"Can't blame him," Winston said, at last. "Sometimes, you got to do what you got to do. There's only so much shit you can take from someone else." He thought of the events that had led to him getting fired, and right after he'd climbed all the way to detective sergeant too. He'd known then, as he had now. Sometimes, the only way to stop someone else from pushing you around was to stick up for yourself. "I'd have bought the man a beer, if I'd known. I only knew he wasn't on good terms with Teplitz. I didn't know it'd gone this deep."
"Believe me," Peter said, darkly, "You have no idea."
Eventually, it was Ray who said, "Then again, I suppose he could've used the Negative Confessions."
"The Negative what?"
"Confessions," Winston said. "This I remember. They're on the Papyrus of Ani, all forty-two of them. Things like, uh, oh, 'Hail, Khemiu, who comest forth from Kaui, I have not transgressed the law.'"
"Well," Peter said, "That's one we all fail with flying colours." He remembered the times they'd gotten arrested for some legal violation or other, including for digging under a street and violating a judicial restraining order. It'd been rescinded, though. He remembered, in the same breath, the grin of mischief on Egon's face as they fired up their proton packs for the first time in a long while; the soft hum like a breath of fresh air. "And what happens if you fail them? Amie gets to munch on your heart?"
"Ammit the Devourer," Winston corrected, "And no, it wouldn't work that way. It looks like they wrote this so they could say they didn't do it. And because they wrote it down, it'd wipe their records clean. Never mind if they really broke the law or something. But Egon'd have loved this one. 'Hail, Nekhenu, who comest forth from Heqat, I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.'"
"Yeah," Ray said, quietly. "He would, wouldn't he?"
In the ensuing silence, the Rookie spoke up, for the first time. "To Egon," he said, holding out his glass.
Winston took it up. "To Egon," he said, "The best buddy anyone could ask for."
"To Egon," Ray said, his voice steady, "One of the best and most brilliant scientists the field has ever seen."
"To Egon Spengler," Peter said, simply and they all drank to the memory of a friend gone too soon.
As he drank, Winston thought about the ancient Egyptians, and the way they thought about the soul. When he'd first walked into this job, he'd thought that ghosts were just pieces of people, mostly with unfinished business, trapped here because they couldn't move on.
He did think that there were demons—but that was an entirely different story.
The truth, or at least, what looked like the truth, as he later learned, shaking off the screaming jolts of electricity hurled at him by an ancient Sumerian god of destruction, was considerably more complicated. He went home that night—not to the firehouse, but back home, where he assiduously scraped the sticky clinging marshmellow off his uniform and boots (Egon had taken the packs back to the firehouse in Ecto-1) and breathed the fragrant, familiar smells of home: his mother's chilli-and-beans stew over the kitchen stove, streaks of flour and spice-scents, slapping of dough against a board.
He lay back on his bed after a long shower, window open to catch the evening breeze; sound of children laughing and screaming with delight in the neighbourhood, of traffic…Coming home, Winston thought, and simply enjoyed the fact the world hadn't ended.
He went down to chilli-and-bean stew and flatbread; ate and answered her questions as best as he could. "Best as I can figure, it was some old Sumerian god," he said, and she crossed herself.
Wondered if he should see a priest.
It was one of those nights.
He sat in his old room—nothing left, except the bed, and where the walls were long peeling—and smoked two, three cigarettes, one after each other, more than he usually did, until the shaking in his hands stopped—until his heart stopped hammering in his chest; until the soft scent of smoke had his taut muscles relaxing—and he'd drifted off.
"Oh. Winston." Egon glanced up at him from where he was stowing the melted-marshmallow-slathered packs in the back of Ecto-1. "Did you see where Tully went? I wanted to get a sample of his brain tissue."
Just as well he'd politely escorted Tully off to the waiting police officers to get sorted, Winston thought, but he didn't say that. "No," he said, "Maybe he wandered off."
Egon frowned absently. "That's not good."
"Why?" Winston asked, making a face as he finally shed his pack, strings of gooey, semi-melted marshmallow snapping. He switched it off, and stowed it next to the other packs Egon was handling. "This had better not turn out to be haunted marshmallow."
"They aren't. I took a few cursory PKE readings," Egon informed him. "Nothing detailed, and I'd like to study this further when we have some time, but the residuals are high but not dangerous."
Winston frowned. "Because that thing was an old Sumerian god?"
"Exactly," Egon confirmed. "With Gozer's departure from this plane, the residuals should be dispersing normally." His fingers twitched, as though he longed to confirm it right here and now. "With about, oh, 0.794 probability."
"And the other being?"
Egon sucked in a breath between his teeth. "Well," he said, finally, "The residual psychokinetic energy in the area could be drawing in and empowering some of the other psychokinetic entities in the area, since it flows towards areas of high concentration. Or it could be refusing to disperse on its own and to coalesce. Honestly, no one's ever survived such a large-scale incident, so any of our findings will be novel." There was an eager gleam in his eyes as he strapped the last of the packs in and stowed the slide-away rack safely in the back of Ecto-1.
"So you're saying," Winston said, slowly, ignoring the slight sense of unease, "That shit like this never went down anywhere, and we might be facing a bunch of juiced-up nasties a few weeks from now."
Egon looked as though he'd wanted to say something else, but then said, "Yes. It's something like that."
Winston grunted. "Then they'd better pick sometime when I don't have a day off. I don't get paid enough for overtime."
In Ancient Egypt, they believed that five parts comprised the human soul: the ren, the ba, the ka, the sheut and the ib.
He'd studied it for the Egyptology class, read it with the dogged meticulousness that had set him apart from the others since his first day on the force.
The ib was the heart ("luminous, not this crude matter," Peter had said, one day, and Egon had just given him a flat stare, and Winston had smiled—some things never changed), a drop of blood from the child's mother. From her heart to the child's, Winston thought, imagining that single drop of blood, passed on from generation to generation.
Few torches were so valuable, so utterly vital.
Emotion, intention, thought—all of these originated from the heart, and it was the heart that was measured against the weight of law, the single feather, at the moment of judgement.
Of all things he wanted right now, Winston thought, a smoke was at the top of his list. Right after that came a good long shower and warm food. Exhaustion had its way of claiming you, and he was aching everywhere.
Instead, they were getting besieged by reporters, as if the press had nothing better to do, and the National Guard had forgotten about keeping them off in the chaos from the rampaging Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and his heart was still racing at a hundred and thirty beats a minute or something like that—he swore he could feel every single one of them.
Peter was enjoying the attention, soaking it in, as he always did.
Ray was explaining, rather enthusiastically, to a bunch of reporters exactly what had gone on behind the incident that had led to the National Guard being deployed and a gigantic figure of marshmallow stampeding through the streets of New York.
His eyes met Egon's; Egon's mouth twitched in a wry almost-smile, hapless, as if to say, well what can you do? The crowd fell away; it was just the two of them here, tall, thin, awkward Egon, and himself, backs against the shitstorm to come.
Damnfool politicians, he thought, as he saw the Mayor himself picking his way across the damaged square to Peter. For all he knew, they'd gotten draw into some re-election campaign. But better Peter than him; he hated that sort of politicking.
Never could stand it, since he'd had his fill of it on the force.
Egon tossed him something; gleaming in the last light. He caught it reflexively.
"Wha—" Keys. The keys to Ecto-1. He realised, abruptly, he couldn't even remember handing them over to anyone. "You lifted them," he accused, surprised. Egon was the last person he'd expect, he thought, to have those sorts of skills. Peter, now. Anytime he played a round of cards with Venkman, he'd watch Venkman's hands very, very carefully.
Egon didn't even bother looking shamefaced. "I suggest we get out of here," he said.
Winston slipped into the front, Egon riding shotgun. He turned the keys in the ignition, heard the engine start up. No sputtering—he'd fixed that, his second day on the job. Ray'd given her all the attention he could, but with his time split between bench-testing the proton packs and then trying to get the business together and running, Ecto-1 had been in severe need to care, even when Winston had come along.
Care that he could provide, Winston thought. He'd grown up in a workshop, in a way. Repairing things, tinkering with them, this sort of thing came easily even if things like the packs were way out of his league.
The look on Ray's face as Ecto-1 pulled out of the street was priceless. Peter hadn't even begun to notice. "He's going to get us for it, you know," Winston murmured, but he couldn't see himself caring.
"I know," Egon said.
"Worth it, though."
Sometimes, very rarely, he thought, Egon had those moments of perception, where he had this way of knowing what you were thinking. He'd only seen it happen with Peter, and then with Ray.
Never with himself, until that day, riding home exhausted in a refurbished 1959 Cadillac.
Egon said, quietly, "If you leave the packs with me, I can cover for you, back at the firehouse."
Ecto-1 screeched past the light—he'd forgotten to brake, but in the excitement, there were no cops around to yell at him for running the light. Fine, Winston thought, he'd yell at himself later. "You sure?" he asked, instead.
Egon shrugged. "I can manage," he said. "And there are some things I'd like to do, at any rate, with the marshmallow samples." He added, "Before the residuals disperse too much. And you look like you could do with some time off."
He could. Too many thoughts swirling around in his head: being around the other three wouldn't help right now, either. He didn't know how to talk to Egon about this, and Ray was just going to be enthusiastic about their experience, if a little down from the role he had played in causing a gigantic marshmallow man to destroy part of New York.
And Peter…he chewed on his lip. Peter had this way of tearing you up, and that wasn't what he needed right now.
Dead gods, he thought, and wondered if he should cross himself.
"So," he said, just so he could stop thinking, "Where'd you learn a lift from?" He hadn't felt it, although granted, he'd been distracted.
Egon blinked owlishly. "A lift? Oh. The lab technician stopped letting me have access to the lab once I accidentally caused a fire in the graduate labs. So I lifted the keys from him."
Winston let out a low whistle. "I got to hand it to you, man," he said, shaking his head. "That takes dedication."
Egon said, "Residential assistants take a dim view of students who cause accidents in communal pantries."
"You don't say," Winston said, half-amused, in spite of himself.
At least, he thought, Egon had left off about Tully for now. He'd have to remember to recruit Ray or Peter into heading Egon off, at least until he'd stopped insisting on getting some of Tully's brain.
Sometimes, Winston thought, he wasn't getting paid enough for this shit.
The sheut is the shadow; that which cannot be grasped, and yet contains something undeniably essential about the person.
And when it was gone—when even shadow was no more—then there was truly nothing left. Emptiness itself. All gone.
Egon, he thought, cast a long shadow.
Going through the floor of the firehouse converted into a lab had been difficult. Once, Winston thought, walking with his hands in his jacket pockets, they'd meant for this to be a recreational area, but over the years, that had slowly gone away, and Egon and Ray had taken over separate spaces for their personal experiments, and then…
He breathed, deeply. It seemed strange, he thought, the way all the decisions you'd spent more than two decades of your life making could suddenly rush in on you, all at once, and threaten to drown you.
Egon'd been working on a book. He'd said as much. He walked, past the detritus; experiments abandoned, never to be touched again, the fungus collection growing under the window sill, carefully shaded, the bits and pieces of circuitry and parts abandoned…
There was supposed to be an order here, a pattern to the madness.
Winston knew all about patterns. Maybe, if he'd had Ray and Egon's training, he could've seen it. Not that he suspected he would have, even so. Egon seemed to operate on a far different level from the rest of his peers.
He passed the cane leaning against the lab table. He didn't touch it. Egon had taken to re-learning to walk with determination, he thought. And more than that: with the same sort of stern dispproval with which he regarded sloppy methodology and funding capers—and lab safety rules. Just about anything that got between him and the science he'd wanted to do.
Peter had wanted to get Egon one of those mysterious sword-canes, as some sort of inside joke. Winston had talked him out of it. He was doing a lot of that these days, as Peter made all sorts of half-joking suggestions about what they were going to do now, and Ray seemed increasingly on-edge.
"One day," he said aloud, "They're going to go for each other's throats, and I don't know what I'm going to do, man. I wish I knew what you'd do."
No answer. He hadn't expected one, not even here, where it looked as though Egon had just left his things behind to head over to the washroom, or to get something he needed—a book parcel, perhaps, from the mail—and would walk right in through the door any moment.
Exactly like a shadow, Winston thought, everything in here, every corner and crevice was stained by Egon's presence. He wondered if it would ever come clean.
He knew Egon had a part-time job, these days, as an adjunct at Columbia—and shook his head ruefully. They were coming full-circle, or so Peter had said when they'd heard the news. And they weren't as young as they once were. They'd had enough of a nest egg set aside that they could afford to pick and choose their own jobs. Gone were the days when they needed to work five or six jobs in a single day, and besides, when some big bad spook or other wasn't trying to burst through the other side and end the world, things were surprisingly peaceful. Inconclusive, even.
His knees and back thanked him for that.
The manuscript lay abandoned on the table. Egon had talked about writing a book for ages—not just a book, as he'd once said, irritably. The book, Egon had said, and Winston had taken note of that hungry gleam in his eyes as he'd said it, then. There had been encyclopedias, guides, and compendiums, and Egon's new book was to put them all to shame. "The only book," Egon had said, then, leaning forward just a little, "Written by a researcher with field experience, and structured according to a rigorous scientific classificatory framework."
Peter had replied, "You don't think that's biting off a bit more than you can chew, Egon?"
"I wrote it to Columbia," Egon had said, then. "I've gotten the grant."
Winston looked at it, the stack of typed and printed pages, carefully marked in red ink, three large binder clips securing them all. Egon had scribbled comments in the margins, mentioning an additional classification here, or that he thought he should make reference to de Fabre's previous thought on concentration gradients for PKE in the previous section. He leafed through them, even thought briefly of completing it. It didn't seem right. He didn't have the know-how, nor the familiarity with the theoretical aspects; not the way Ray and Egon had.
And yet Egon had taken copious notes, all of them well-marked and annotated. Had he known? That he would not manage to finish his master work? He thought about it and shook his head. It was just Egon being meticulous again.
As an adjunct, Egon could've probably gotten a graduate student to work on the index. But as Winston leafed through the manuscript, he noticed that Egon had elected to work on it himself.
He'd lost friends, good people before, back then when he'd been on the beat. But, Winston thought, as he closed the manuscript, very gently, and set about to tidying the table, he hadn't known them for as long. And he hadn't faced down things, some of them unspeakable horrors, one of them a very old Sumerian god, with them.
In the end, he thought, keenly feeling in every moment the space left, the emptiness, there was no one else he'd rather have at his back whether they were facing some nameless old god summoned by cultists or just a routine Class Three, or even the end of the world itself.
He closed his eyes, for a moment.
The midday sun was bright—too bright—and there were almost no shadows at all.
The ren was the name, as powerful and as immortal as all words were. The ren was sustained by the spoken exhale of breath, and the mind's voice. In being read, in being preserved through the written word, the ren lived on.
"I saw the obituary in the Times," Tobias Weissman confirmed. Far older now, still with a full head of hair, but it had gone entirely white. He'd endured the passage of the years far better than the rest of them had. Than Egon had. "Peter, I cannot tell you how sorry I am. He was one of the best students I'd ever had."
"C'mon, Prof," Peter said, "You got to give me some credit here."
"Didn't I?" Tobias asked, with a raised eyebrow.
Peter looked away. "Yes," he admitted. "I bet Columbia's regretting letting us go now," he added, with just a trace of vicious glee.
"I was away on sabbatical when they made that decision," Tobias said, "Or I might have spoken to the board." He added, "For all the good it would do." His word carried weight, but the deck had, at that point in time, been thoroughly stacked against them.
"They'd never have accepted it," Peter replied. "Not knowing that you'd trained Egon and me, and that you'd worked with Ray."
"Yes," Tobias said. "Yes, of course. Still. At least five of his papers are on my introductory course reading lists, as required material, you know. And there was this very good graduate-level paper he'd produced with Ray—speaking of which, how is he?"
Peter said, "Doing fine."
Tobias had always been perceptive, he thought. Very much so; he had a way of looking and cutting right through the cluster to know what you were getting at, what you were actually thinking. Few people did that anymore, these days.
"Really?" Mildly reproachful.
"Yes," Peter said, tightly. "As well as can be expected." He sighed, "Look, Prof. We're all getting along as well as can be expected. That wasn't why I came, anyway."
"And why did you come?"
"This." Peter pulled the heavy canvas messenger bag off his shoulder, and set it down on the table. It hit lacquer with a satisfying, if muffled thump! He left it there, arms folded across his chest, waiting for Tobias to take a look at it. Tobias opened the bag, and carefully took out its contents—and then gasped in astonishment.
"His book, yes," Peter said. "The manuscript, anyway. We looked through it. He was in the process of putting it together, but it still needs to much more work done on it. He took very detailed notes, though. And Ray, Winston and me, we all got together and we thought about it. And we decided it'd be a shame if that book never saw the light of day. He spent the last few years working on it, y'know?"
"Peter," Tobias said, slowly. "I can see that." He held, he thought, a labour of love in his hands, slowly and dilligently compiled, in painstaking detail. Egon Spengler and Raymond Stantz—they'd truly begun to make their names in the field. Perhaps Peter could've, if only he could be properly bothered to apply himself.
There was the glimmer of intelligence he'd seen, from the first day he'd agreed to take the student under his wing and mentored him.
"Egon knew he wouldn't be able to finish this," Peter said, too-calmly. His hands were hidden by the table, as he sat back down in the battered swivel-chair where so many students had sat during office hours. "Or at least I think he did. He wasn't just compiling notes and annotating them. He was leaving far too much detail—so someone else would be able to finish his work."
"And so you and Ray and Winston decided to come to me."
"Peter, I'm deeply honoured—but you must see that you or Ray are capable of finishing Egon's book just as much as I am. I am," Tobias added, "After all, an old man." A thin smile, but not by any means cold. Wry, perhaps. "Perhaps I do not have very many years left in me." He looked down at the manuscript in his hands, all the same.
Peter sensed that wavering moment of indecision. He was always good at doing that; particularly when it came to Egon. "I can't," he admitted. "Maybe if I'd paid more attention to the physics, or the way Egon outlined his own system. For the same reason, Winston can't." He'd introduced them, sometime after they'd been battling all the lawsuits in the aftermath of the Gozer incident. "Ray…could, but he doesn't feel ready to."
He had one trump card left. He played it. "And Egon requested you do it." He pulled the crumpled post-it note from his pocket, slid it across the table. He already knew what it said.
Ray, Winston, Peter:
If I can't finish this, speak to Professor Tobias H. Weissman at Columbia. I've left sufficient notes behind for him to finish my task. And Ray—I would be deeply honoured if, instead, you chose to finish this book on my behalf,
He didn't want to read it again. To consider the implications of the messy, rushed handwriting, the trembling hand. What had Egon been thinking, when he'd scribbled those words? Whenever he'd actually penned them—and it'd probably been some time in the past, judging from where they'd found it—stuck to a page, and then buried in the middle of all of his notes.
Tobias read it, frowning, dark eyes behind rimless spectacles. When he was done, he sighed, and said, "And Ray feels he is unprepared or otherwise unable to assume the task of finishing this book?"
"Yes," Peter said, and guessing the direction of his former advisor's thoughts, said, "Prof. Give him some time. There's so much to do in here, he thought he'd drown in it, or it'd crush him or something like that. You know how Egon's like."
Tobias' smile was sad. "Yes. I do."
"He probably wouldn't mind sharing the task with you, once he's had the chance to get some distance," Peter said. "But anyway, won't you consider doing it? You and Ray were both Egon's choices." He managed a smile. "At least Egon knew I'd run away screaming if he pushed something like that on me."
"Your ability to evade responsibility," Tobias murmured, "has never failed to surprise me, Peter."
"I'm good at surprises," Peter said, grinning boyishly. "Come on now, Prof. Will you do it?"
Tobias held the manuscript in his hands, tightly. Thought about the feel of a book's cover whether raw paper sat. He could almost see it take shape before his eyes; Egon's notes had been thorough, Peter was right. A compendium to put all other work in the field of parapsychology to shame. Egon had written papers and gotten published in journals—many of them. He'd written work considered seminal in the field, and all of them paled in the face of this raw book.
Could he do it? Would he do it?
He thought about writing a book to change the face of the field forever; on the cover, a brilliant name, infinitely bright: Egon Spengler.
Even stars die, Tobias Weismann knew. Egon would've explained it far better than he did.
"I'll do it," he said.
The ka, Winston wrote, and then hesitated over the page, his mind temporarily blanking before the words he needed slipped back into conscious memory and he continued, is the fragment of divine breath, blown into a person at birth.
Breath animates; it moves flesh and bone and muscle as the wind makes the leaves of a tree dance.
The absence of the ka, its departure, is just as inexplicable as the sense that something so deeply vital has been irretrievably lost.
Ray hadn't been prepared to walk into their shared lab to find Egon collapsed on the floor. All he'd expected was that they were going to catch up on working some upgrades to the boson darts capacity of the packs.
There was something about the induction coil, Egon had said he'd thought of a solution to stop the pack from overheating and cutting out after the first or second flurry of darts…
And then he saw Egon; slipped off his chair, and lying on the ground, still and unmoving, and Ray's breath caught in his throat, suddenly too painful.
"Egon?" he'd called out, worried, before he dashed over to his friend's side. There was no response, and in all honesty, Ray hadn't expected one. There was a dark feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he felt fear mingle with anxiety and—
"C'mon, Egon," he whispered, rolling Egon over. No response. No breath, against the back of his hand, either. He set about to performing CPR, wished he'd remembered if he was doing this right. He'd taken classes all those years ago, and it'd never seemed that important in time.
Egon's body—body, he thought, and there was no denying it—was limp, rigor mortis hadn't yet set in. Ray found himself noticing the stupidest of things: the grey in his hair—time crept up upon them when they hadn't quite been expecting it—the calluses on Egon's hands, he hadn't been in his jumpsuit either, it was supposed to be a quiet day, running some experiments, no job planned…
He sat back on his haunches, reached in his pocket for his cell phone, and called the ambulance.
He couldn't remember, afterwards, who had called the others. The paramedics came and whisked Egon away in an ambulance, but there was something dull and muted about the siren, as though they were simply running by proceedure.
It was too late, something in Ray said, and it was all because he'd come back too late, when if he'd just been back an hour or so earlier, a call to the hospital might have saved Egon's life.
Might have, could have, should have.
He didn't want to think about those, knew that blame was easy to come by, and yet that frozen lump in his chest wouldn't stop him from doing so. He'd made detours he shouldn't have, and he'd planned to meet with Egon in the late afternoon, but still—
"Ray," she said. "I heard."
A voice, moving through the aching nothing that had opened up in him, stirring him, like the wind rustling the leaves in the hospital courtyard.
"Janine," he acknowledged, forcing away the bleak thoughts. "Good to see you again. Peter keeps scaring away the temps."
Babbling, to keep the horror at bay.
She'd carried a torch for Egon once, Ray knew. He'd seen it, in the way she spoke to him. She'd seen something in him, even then, that interested her, fascinated her. Given time, something might've even come from it. He'd seen Egon pocket her penny, worry at it as he thought over some supernatural problem or other.
That doorway and all its attendant possibilities closed when Janine met Louis Tully, and later married him.
Egon, still. All breath had departed. All life, Ray thought. No wonder most metaphors for the body in early thought had spoken of spirit, the insubstantial that, like the wind, had the power to move the bodily, the physical.
He realised distantly that his hands kept clenching and unclenching in the pockets of his pants. "I found him. He'd fallen off his chair, ended up on the floor. We were supposed to meet to work on upgrading the proton packs, solve that persistent heating problem with the boson darts. Can't have it cutting out everytime you try to fire a bunch of them. Stopped for a hotdog and a slushie." The sharp thrill of cold on a warm day.
Different cold, now.
He was rambling, wasn't he?
"Anyway, I tried CPR. And then I called the ambulance. They said there was nothing I could've done; he was dead by the time they got here."
Except that there was something he could have done, he thought, and that made it all the worse. Breathe in. Breathe out. Force the trembling that came to stop.
Janine, on the other hand, had gone terribly still. Grey even in her short-cropped hair, the copper dimmed with age. "I…see." Her eyes glittered with tears; she turned away, strong enough, even then, to hold off the inevitable tears. In that moment, when their eyes met, before she turned away, he understood.
He understood that she'd never stopped, that part of her would always be drawn to Egon. She'd left, because sometimes, that was all you could do, and she wasn't going to spend most of her life waiting for him to notice her. She was strong enough to do that.
Ray buried his head in his hands.
He felt his shoulders shake, finally let himself cry.
"He'll be missed," Janine said, her voice cracked and shaking.
"Yes," Ray whispered. "I know."
Peter walked into the hospital courtyard, two hours late, jacket rumpled, and his tie half-knotted. "So, tell Doctor Venkman, what's up with Egon? I just saw the missed call and—"
Ray punched him, hard, in the nose.
The ba is unique, almost untranslateable, undying. It is and is-not the soul that frees itself from the tomb on the beating of triumphant wings. Incidentally, the akh is the ghost, restored to life in the ritual reunion of ba and ka, capable of both beneficience and harm.
One last bust, Ray had promised himself. One last bust and this would end. Nevermind that each field trip brought something exhilaratingly new; it was decades later and they were still breaking new ground in parapsychology. Everyone, it seemed, had read one of Egon's papers or one of his. And with the promise of Egon's new comprehensive book on the horizon…
Pain brought him back out of his thoughts, flaring along his spine.
His back hurt. Getting slammed to the floor repeatedly by a recalcitrant, agitated Class Seven was not how he'd planned to spend his last bust before retirement. Normally, said a quiet voice in his head, Egon would've checked just to make sure it was a normal Class Five.
He ignored that voice. He wasn't Egon, and though the Rookie'd come back to help, he and Winston weren't Egon either.
His pack made a strange whirring and whining sound, growing hot against his back. His legs had gone completely numb as a starbust of pain flared behind his eyes and in his back. He managed, somehow, to roll over, trying to shed his pack.
He could hear the crackle of proton streams in the distance; someone shouting, maybe it was Winston or Peter, or even Hoss—he never said anything, Ray thought, lying on his back and remembering.
"Reel 'em in, Hoss!"
The grunt as his proton stream bucked and weaved wildly was all the new guy offered in response, as he tried to wrangle the free-floating spectre into a trap. Finally, Egon took pity on him and threw out a trap—
"Don't look into the trap!"
"I looked at the trap, Ray!"
The proton pack slid free, and he pushed it some distance from him. Not enough. Had to see what was wrong, Ray thought, dizzily. Egon had said—
For no reason, Ray remembered that the pack had been on the workbench, when he'd found it, neatly closed up. He'd assumed Egon hadn't had the time to work on it, before—
The bypass, a familiar voice seemed to whisper in his ear. Use it, Ray, before the pack overheats.
He somehow managed to get himself up on his elbows, and searched the pack. He flipped the switches first, forcing the pack to vent the extra heat. And then his fingers found the trigger switch. He hesitated only for a moment—he didn't know what it would do, he and Egon had only spoken of it.
He trusted Egon. He thumbed the trigger.
The pack hummed to life, all indicators glowing a bright green. Ray fumbled for the particle thrower and managed to unholster it from the pack, right as the Class Seven howled, disentangled itself from the ceiling and swooped down at him.
Half-stunned, moving as though in a daze, Ray switched on the thrower, unleashing a crackling stream of energy directly at the Class Seven. That hardly fazed it, but then he flipped the next switch, sending a discrete flurry of boson darts straight at the entity.
The combination of boson darts and proton stream had somehow managed to hurt it. The Class Seven gave a howl/scream of protest, and Ray realised he'd dropped his thrower and covered his ears only after he'd done it. The sound seemed to echo, cutting through his best efforts to protect himself.
The streams cut off the moment his thrower hit the ground. Lucky, he thought. They'd never thought to build safety into the throwers, even after all those years. It'd just been one of those things on their list but had never seemed important enough.
Many things seemed that way. A slushie; the sharp thrill of cold on a sweltering afternoon. You just never realised, until the day you walked in to see a friend's body on the floor.
Another proton stream intercepted the angry, weakened Class Seven and, somehow, managed to contain it. Straining at the sides.
"Ray!" A familiar voice. He never thought he'd hear it again. A distant figure; he couldn't seem to focus on him. Maybe he'd hit himself harder than he'd known. Hard to focus through the constant pain. Flooring slippery beneath him.
"I need your help, Ray."
He managed, fumbling, to get the trap out. At least they'd gone wireless at long last; the trap slid home under the Class Seven with the benefit of long practice, and Ray triggered it remotely. He didn't even think to look away; watched the struggling figure disintegrate and slip into the trap before the cone of light snapped off and the trap doors snapped shut.
In the light, the face that looked at him was indistinct, fogged by pain. And yet—as he flopped back down onto the ground and hoped nothing else was going to find him this evening, Ray whispered, "Egon?"
There was no response. A moment later, he blinked, and realised there was nothing there.
He fumbled for the PKE meter, and scanned through its history. It showed no sign other than the readings of the Class Seven. Or, something in his mind whispered, perhaps the Class Seven's readings drowned him out.
He didn't know what the answer was. Yet as the others found him ("Ray? Ray, you alright man?" "Ray, we're gonna need to get you out of here or the very nice Pecker will start having a shit-fit if we bleed on the floor of the very nice museum…") Ray was smiling, for the first time, however painful it felt to breathe.