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4.

The dessert was a nice, unassuming chocolate cake. The coffee made it seem pretty classy. The five of them talked and talked, and had a bit more wine, and then Lucy excused herself, saying, “I feel good that my problem is in good hands.” Marius showed her to her room, and came back only to excuse himself.

Lilah, Annelise and Rob looked around at each other.

“More wine?” asked Lilah. “We should talk.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” said Rob, getting up. He started clearing the table onto the trolley, and the two women joined in. Lilah pushed the trolley out in the hall and came back as Rob was spelling away the table. “Um, by the way,” he asked, “what should we be calling you?”

“You should be calling me Lilah. I thought we’d been through that.” She dropped into the chair Lucy had been in. Annelise seated herself on the left side of the magically called sofa, and Rob, having refilled their wine glasses, sat on the right side. “All right, what do we think?”

Rob and Annelise looked at each other. After some seconds, Rob said, “If I may?”

“Dang it,” said Lilah, “would I be asking? Tell me what you think.”

“Well,” said Rob, “why is this a criminal case? I mean, I take it she thinks there was a crime. Or Mr. Marius thinks so.”

“So we’re just starting out,” said Lilah. “We don’t have a jurisdiction and we don’t have a code of law. We’re just here to see how things can happen. Marius told me this whole story about a guy who was found to be kidnaping little girls and raising them to be his concubines, and then dumping them on far-off worlds when they got with child. And everyone could tell that was supposed to be wrong, but because he was a wizard and he had his own little universe and he time traveled and stuff, there was no authority to prosecute him. So that’s why they invented us. Now that guy got killed, his first wife stabbed him in his sleep, but when it all came out, it occurred to someone, it occurred to a bunch of people, that something had to be done or there would be—well, it’s not that there would be no justice in the universe, or whatever, but there would be much bigger and more horrible injustices. And you just use your imagination and you can think up a lot of other kinds of injustice that could get cooked up.”

“Like,” said Rob, “if someone destroyed a whole universe just to kill Lucy’s husband.”

“Or Lucy,” said Annelise.

“Or Lucy did it to kill her own husband,” said Lilah, “except that it would be kind of odd for her to go to the trouble of telling people.”

“That kind of thing could happen all the time,” said Annelise. “And it’s clearly very vile. I mean, we’re talking about murder on a mass scale here.”

“Is it murder if they never existed?” asked Rob.

“But they did exist.”

“Did they? Okay,” said Rob, “I give, you’re right. I don’t want to be the guy arguing the other side on this.” He looked at Lilah. “So what do you think?”

“I don’t think anything. What do you think?”

“I’m calling it murder,” said Annelise. “I think someone was out to get someone. Only question is, who? Because it really could be just about anyone. How many people are in a world?”

“Hey,” said Rob, “I passed through there, right? I guess I get that it’s in its own little universe, but how can it have just shut down?”

“It didn’t,” said Lilah. “Remember? This other guy was from earlier in its history, he could go home, it’s just that the future didn’t have her and Henry living in lovely Endewith Castle or whatever. The future wasn’t what it was supposed to be. They always say that but this time it was true. Ha. This time.

“So this is time travel weirdness,” said Annelise. “It’s still murder. And it’s still kinda vague as to who was the actual target.”

“It would take quite the psychopath,” said Rob, “to be that ticked off at an entire universe.”

“I wouldn’t put it past some people,” said Annelise.

“Okay, so,” said Lilah, “lots of questions. Where do we go to find answers?”

“Olvar, past history,” said Annelise. “That guy. Maybe it was him all along.”

“Do we take Lucy?” asked Rob.

“No,” said Lilah. “Yes, to past Olvar. No, we don’t take Lucy. We take off after we get some sleep and have some coffee and some of that fine bacon and eggs they make around here. We head for Past Olvar and come back and have second breakfast with Lucy and tell her what we found.”

“And ask her all the new questions we thought of,” said Annelise.

“I think you’re going to be good at this,” said Lilah.

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