An examination of Gertrude Robinson and her assistants. Audio recording by the Archivist.
As they are walking, John asks Martin what Annabelle wanted to help them with. Martin asks him not to look inside his head, he doesn’t want to actually keep secrets from John but he thinks he should be able to at least. He finds it weird that John can just Know everything he thinks and feels, especially when John is not the most emotionally open person.
John protests this description so Martin asks him to describe his current emotional state. John concedes the point after expressing that he’s “Very sad.” about everything that’s going on. He agrees not to Know anything about Martin unless he’s in physical danger.
With that out of the way, Martin tells him that Annabelle didn’t say what she wanted to help them with, just that she asked where they were going, but she already seemed to have a good idea about the answer. Martin doesn’t think she was influencing his mind but it’s hard to know for sure. John still can’t see where Annabelle is and he is frustrated with his powers, he feels like he has the power to drink the whole ocean but he has to do it through a straw. Martin worries about him and the way he is doing statements now.
It will be a while before they will reach the next domain so they take a break at Martin’s behest. He bemoans their fate and figures that Gertrude would have been better suited to dealing with these hellscapes but John disagrees. Martin asks if he Knows this and John pauses for a moment before he begins to speak of Gertrude Robinson.
In her own way, Gertrude was close to many people, but she still reeked of The Lonely. When she first joined the Archives, she replaced previous head archivist Angus Stacey after he was killed by a creature of masks and smiles that Gertrude thought of as The Grinning Wheel. She used fire to kill it and it was one of the first things to fall at her hands. She knew some of the truth when she first took the position, enough to be dangerous and to be cautious. This kept her alive those first few years.
Angus Stacey had been a disappointment to Jonah Magnus, then wearing the body of Director Richard Mendelson. Angus had been too keen to learn, and had grand plans to revise Smirke’s list of Fourteen. Ultimately, he burned through his resources, his luck, and all but one of his assistants: Fiona Law.
Fiona possessed both curiosity and cowardice, and a single trait which allowed her to survive encounters which had killed those far braver. When pushed to the very limits of her terror, she would faint, and most things that lurk in the dark get no real delight from killing you if you’re not awake enough to know what is happening.
Through this, Fiona had survived Angus Stacey’s tenure and when he died, she had the chance to walk away. Yet her burning curiosity had not been sated and she chose to remain.
Alongside Fiona, Gertrude added two new assistants: Eric Delano and Emma Harvey. Emma in particular was Gertrude’s confidant, she trusted her and she was the only member of the Institute who knew of the bond between Gertrude and Agnes Montague.
Like Fiona, Emma was plagued by curiosity but unlike her, Emma recognised the danger in such an inclination and after a few years she had settled on a question: Why wasn’t Fiona dead yet?
She began experimenting, volunteering herself and Fiona to investigate statements with a possibility for danger. She would intentionally expose Fiona to danger while observing from a safe distance, taking notes before retrieving the often-unconscious assistant. Emma watched her stumbled through a maze of whispering grubs. She timed the intervals at which Fiona emerged from a hungry fog, and recorded her barely escaping the Sandman who came to take her eyes.
Fiona never suspected a thing and Gertrude was preoccupied with her own work, trusting Emma to arrange things as she pleased. This went on for decades until they encountered a coffin that could not be escaped by fainting.
When Emma came to tell Gertrude what had happened, she found the first of the cobwebs in her hair, the ones she would wash from it every morning for the rest of her life. Gertrude mourned the first of many losses, and did not suspect the truth.
Emma never touched Eric as she was not eager to cross Mary Keay, and Fiona was eventually replaced by Michael Shelley, who was far too young for the job. He was innocent and naive, and Emma decided to test him in a different way. She wanted to see how long she could keep him in the dark about the truth, and the answer turned out to be his entire life.
This time Gertrude had some idea about what was going on but she was also preoccupied with her own escalating conflicts and recognised the potential in a truly ignorant assistant. Eventually, Eric disappeared and Gertrude scoured the dark corners of London for him. She never found him and she took Mary at her word when she said she hadn’t seen him.
Emma knew what had happened, but had no interest in sharing, and Eric was eventually replaced by Sarah Carpenter. She was not as young as Michael but there was a fire to Sarah that reignited Emma's curiosity. She would find out exactly what it would take to break this brave new assistant. Gertrude now paid little attention to her assistants as the genuine encounters grew in frequency and the season of rituals drew close.
Emma began to test Sarah, sending her into a cave of deepest darkness, asking her to chart the stars with a strange book of astronomy, even convincing her to stay inside a house haunted by a hungry door. But throughout, Sarah remained unbroken and Gertrude could not see what was happening. The Spider smoothed things over and fed her a steady string of plans to foil and rituals to derail.
While Gertrude and Michael were away on their trip to Sannikov Land, Emma received a statement about a man who "burned on the inside". She and Sarah investigated and found him standing in a smoking ruin. He was bald and dressed in dreary office clothes, seemingly unfit and unremarkable save for his surroundings. Emma lingered behind her companion and as Sarah approached the man, he split open like a blooming flower bud to reveal a terrifying heat inside. Emma ran and before Sarah could think to scream, the man enveloped her, closing tight until she was nothing but ash.
After sacrificing Michael to stop the Spiral's ritual, Gertrude returned to Emma's lies and finally started to suspect the truth. Emma's actions inspired an ice-cold rage in her and so she went to Agnes Montague, the one person she was certain she could trust on the matter.
They only ever met once in their lives and neither of them smiled. Their discussion was brief and tinged with melancholy as Agnes confirmed what Gertrude already knew. It was easy enough to convince Jonah, now in the body of Elias Bouchard, to allow her to burn out the infection that was Emma Harvey.
And even as her apartment burned around her, Emma never suspected Gertrude. When the flames took her, all she willed was not to give it the satisfaction of being afraid.
John is flustered and apologetic as he had not intended to do a statement. For his part, Martin couldn’t interrupt or not listen.
John thinks that Gertrude would have been lost in the apocalypse without a reason. She needed the purpose of her mission and without it, she would maybe have dedicated herself to a doomed quest or, more likely, resigned herself to ruling her domain.
Martin doesn’t know what he means by her domain and John explains that they all have one in the new world. It’s the place that feeds them and they have been travelling toward Jon’s. Martin asks about his own domain but quickly changes his mind and asks John not to tell him or Know about it. He does not want to know.
He coyly asks about the fact that Gertrude would not have been able to go on without a reason and John admits that, yes, Martin is his reason.
Before they press on, Martin also brings up the fact that Fiona was released when Angus died. John confirms that his death would similarly have freed his assistants, but he hadn’t known this before. Martin asks whether he would have told them, whether it would have changed what happened, but John does not know the answer.