Returning to the tower was always interesting. You never knew who you'd meet or see there upon any return.

I was riding the third stream up, as usual, my two favorite swords at my right. They had no physical power this close to the tower, only serving as decoration and badges of honor.

I passed by some of the usual faces and some unknown to me. They were in a different department, so I tried not to bother them. I continued on up the tower to the gate of sevens and threes. Not all of us had earned the right to pass. Not all of us worked in the same department.

This was mine.

Someone new was just beyond the entranceway. Or at least it was someone I didn't recognize. Even within my own department, I only knew a handful by name.

I waited patiently for my turn to log my journey into the outside realms as other returning agents appeared behind me. We exchanged brief greetings as I rode up to my usual perch in the tower.

Calls were already lined up. These would be the first I answered since my trip outside. Most of our work was remote, did not require our physical presence, and we answered calls only by joining our callers in spirit.

They weren't all remote though - my most recent trip outside being one example. Some things just needed our actual presence to get anything done, sword in hand if necessary. Fortunately we could answer most calls without resorting to the blade. By projecting our spirits over vast distances, we could almost accomplish as much using the bodies of our callers, as we could with our own.

It seemed my time in the tower was never quite long enough though. But our perception of time was always a distorted one. One week outside the tower did not match one week inside. Maybe that's why it was always a surprise coming back, even to see just how much has changed.

The calls coming in didn't necessarily match our perception of time either. I suppose they came in from across all of possibility space, but it wasn't really my job to wonder about such things.

One thing that did bother me was what became of those who didn't call. In theory, anyone could, but we knew for a fact that many didn't. Perhaps some even tried but were not successful at reaching us for whatever reason. That always bothered me.

Wasn't our system supposed to be perfect? What was the point of the tower if so many potential callers were slipping through the cracks? Surely there were better solutions. These thoughts regularly bothered me, but I never brought them up with our department heads.

They weren't around today though. Apparently they had left the tower on some errand of their own. I knew it wasn't really my place to question the running of the tower, at least not someone working in my department. But I put some calls on hold to write down a few points I wanted to ask the higher-ups about.

How could they still claim to be a well-run department in the evidence of so much unmet need? I hoped I wouldn't get a reprimand for losing sight of my own job and worrying about something I had no business worrying about. I sent my message off, keeping my fingers crossed.

A reply came almost immediately. I was hesitant to read it.

"What you say is correct," the reply stated. "The tower is not perfect, and what you perceive to be holes in the system really are holes in the system. Your job in the tower is not what you think it is. Please report to the front."

The message ended. I didn't know what to think.

Another agent I had seen before met me at the entryway.

"Are you sure this is the way you want to go?" she asked. "It is not too late. You can return to your station and proceed as if none of this happened, and continue doing what you have always done."

I was tempted to go back but was too dazed to answer. Something just wasn't right and I had to find out what.

The other agent took me to a new room I had never been in before. Other agents I had seen before began filing in. They did not seem like their usual selves.

"The tower does not exist for those outside of it," the first agent said. "The tower exists for you."

"For me?" I repeated, unsure what I had just gotten myself into.

"It is a place to keep your mind busy," she said. "A test not only of your ability to play by our rules but also of your ability to see beyond them."

"You've been testing me?" I asked. "How long has this been going on?"

"Much much longer than you can imagine," she said. "But I think it's time we moved on to the next step."

"What next step?" I asked.

"First you have to realize that our system did not fail those people you think it failed. In fact, they didn't exist at all. That was part of the test. And now you have to move beyond the tower," she said.

"The tower?" I hadn't realized there was anything beyond the tower.

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