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V. George’s Box

1.

Marius was sitting in the comfy chair in the front office, reading a book, the cat in his lap. He half jumped when the door opened, and the cat had to jump down and then claim his chair for herself.

“Productive trip? Or should I ask? Lilah, should I absent myself for the duration? It occurs to me you may prefer to have the place to yourself. Yourselves.”

Lilah gave Marius a look that might have been exasperation. Annelise went through to use the bathroom; Rob plopped down on the ottoman, which was still there. Lilah said, “I don’t know. I don’t know if it was productive. You turn over a card and it’s not the one you’re looking for: was that productive? You don’t have to look there again and you know the card is out there somewhere.”

“Except that maybe it isn’t, in this case,” said Rob.

“And as for you absenting yourself or whatever: I mean, I get it, but all you have to do is not push us one way or another, it’s still useful to have you around.”

“Ah,” laughed Marius, “for instance, I could resist worrying out loud about your detective habits such as investigating the luggage of someone who’s disappeared.”

“Oh, you should worry, that’s fine,” said Lilah. “That’s about legal stuff. Or ethical or something. But, yeah. We still want you around. Right, champ?”

“Yeah, uh, yes,” said Rob.

Annelise came back in, wiping her hands on her pants. “Hey, Mr. Marius,” she said.

“Okay,” said Lilah, sitting in one of the wooden chairs. “So here’s the deal. We found Lucy’s trace, she went to the Institute, the one in the capital city, way back before she was born, maybe a hundred years before. Annelise here borrowed some stuff from the Institute, where, by the way, no one seemed to know anything about time travel. We did find the guy who’d been to Llanduvar with Lucy, he was not especially helpful. His name was Salagon, and he claimed to be all concerned about time paradoxes, like someone was going to bust him for telling us who won the Olvar World Cup.”

“He actually thought it would be a problem talking to you?” asked Marius.

“Yeah. That’s what he said. So Annelise puts together this thing with a crystal and some wires and stuff, and that works pretty well, right, Annelise? Except it broke when we got here.”

“Really?”

“The crystal broke in three pieces,” said Annelise.

“I’m hardly surprised. The city is a bit unusual in its—well, I can’t really describe it.”

“No, I know what you mean,” said Lilah. “It’s got a feel to it, this little universe. I’m not surprised it breaks stuff. So what we need is a better way to find Lucy traces, because we are fresh out, we followed her here and we have no idea where she went from here. So Annelise.”

“Yes?” Annelise replied.

“Can you make another one, and will it work for what we need?”

“I can make another one, if Mr. Marius can get me a decent crystal.”

“Of course,” said Marius, “of course, things like that are easy.”

“But I’m not sure if it’ll be much better than what we had,” said Annelise, “and you’ll notice that wasn’t really that practical even when we were following a trace we knew was there. I mean, what do we want now? Find another Lucy? Follow Lucy from here? Well, if it’s find another one, we need something I don’t know how to make, so we could find traces in nearby histories and so on. If it’s follow from when she left here, well, that may be a problem, because the last one broke when it was mapping a crossing that ended in this universe, I wouldn’t expect the next one to do much different when it’s mapping a crossing that starts in this universe. Would you?”

“You’re the expert,” said Lilah.

“Lilah. I’m theory of time mechanics technical. I’m not wiring up a new invention technical.”

Lilah gave her another second or two of the blank look. “So how are we going to find Miss Lucy?” she asked. “What’s the solution to this conundrum?”

“Do we need to hire a technician?” asked Marius. “Because, as Ms. Bay knows, Mr. Marius is always eager to hire another member of the team.”

Lilah gave him the look, then turned it back on Annelise after a glance at Rob just to make sure he didn’t feel left out. “Do we?” she asked.

Annelise half frowned. “Sure,” she said. “Yes. That would be great.” She frowned, then smiled at Marius. “I guess there’s a process?”

“There is,” said Marius. He pulled a handful of glass cubes out of his pocket. He took a look at them, then spread them out on the breakfast table, along with five more he fished out. “Will any of these do?”

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