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Annelise warmed to the task. It took her ten minutes to pick out the obvious and only candidate, and in an hour, they met their candidate. This time Marius actually went and got him.

He was fairly tall, with skin even darker than Lilah’s. He dressed as a well-off sea captain; he looked about 35. He took off his hat, shook hands with Lilah and said, in the wizards’ common tongue, “I’m George Gervais. Nice to meet you. Are you the time tech?”

“No, no,” said Lilah. “I’m the boss lady.” She smiled at Marius, then turned to Annelise. “This is Annelise Azaine, she’s our expert on time mechanics, but she doesn’t feel up to the kind of tinkering we might need. This over here is Rob Ashtree, he’s just a time detective, aren’t you, champ?”

“Pretty much,” said Rob, shaking George’s hand.

They sat down: George and Lilah in wooden chairs, Annelise and Rob on the ottoman and Marius in the comfy chair, which he shared with the cat.

“And this is Theodora,” said Marius.

“Nice to meet you, Theodora,” said George. “She your familiar?”

“More or less,” said Marius.

“So, Mr. Gervais. I can call you George?” Lilah asked.

“Yes, of course,” said George.

“So, where are you from and what have you been up to? And all that.”

“And all that,” repeated George. “I’m from Visgor, you know Visgor?”

“Is it, um, tertiary?”

“No, it must be quaternary though. You’re from Padva, right? Lilah Bay?”

“Do not tell me you know all about me.”

“I don’t. I don’t, but you were chasing bad people across histories before that was even a thing. You’re sort of known among technician types. You know, can you have a history that contains a contradiction? If you take out a time traveler in a given history, are they doomed in all histories or can they still have indefinite life? Can you cut across histories? It’s interesting to know.”

“And somehow my name comes up? All right, George, me is not what I want to ask about. This interview is about you. What have you been up to?”

“Sorry, sorry. I was a mariner on Visgor, but apparently I was good at magic, because before I knew it I had all these spells down. And because I pretty near grew up on a wooden ship, I got to tinkering with stuff and from wind crystals to pipes that don’t run out, it wasn’t very far to making gadgets that let you time travel. Or see where you’re time traveling to. You all know about stuff like that. But yeah. Eventually I went to the Institute.”

“Yeah,” said Annelise. “The one on Groria.”

“It was open to mariners,” said George.

“It was open,” said Lilah, “to people who were especially good at time mechanics. You call yourself a time technician? What’s that mean?”

“Mostly,” said George, “people call on me to fix up items, you know, portals and port-keys and the odd jump engine or time booth. Portals can be pretty bad, they can create all kinds of problems, you can move someone’s portal into a volcano, you can redirect people to another portal, all sorts of things, and they break in the most interesting ways too.”

“Who do you work for?” asked Lilah.

“Councils I trust, people I trust, I can pick and choose.”

“For instance?”

“Elves. Amazons of the star lanes, not so much the ones who ride horses in the hills, they don’t time travel. Who else? Eamond of Loring is a big hero of mine. Gahan of Efling, he had a lot of trouble with the mechanical stuff. Jump engines. They break too, and that can leave you literally nowhere.”

“Not a lot of people can afford them,” said Marius.

“They take some special stuff, and it tends to be fragile. I don’t believe in them myself.”

“So,” said Lilah, “suppose you wanted to find someone and their time trace came out of a universe no one could find anymore.”

“What? Wait, is this something that happened? Okay. I’d have to build a trace scanner, it wouldn’t be perfect but it’d find you something. You’re looking for someone? You know a scan like that might just as easily find you that person in a history that was totally unrelated to what you wanted. Bob Number 3 might have murdered some guy and Bob Number 5 is the one who shows up on the scan.”

“We’d take Bob Number 5 right now, just so we could ask him some questions,” said Lilah. “You can do this?”

“I’m not going to promise anything,” said George. “But I bet I could make something happen. This is looking for a missing person?”

“More a missing universe,” said Rob. “But there’s a person involved, yes.”

Lilah looked at Marius. “Did you, you know, check his references or anything?”

“Oh, the Elves swear by him,” said Marius. “Just as they swore Rob was on the up and up.”

“Well, would you like a job?” Lilah asked George. “We’re detectives. We’re supposed to be solving crimes and bringing people to justice.”

“Out of a space like this? Sure. I’ll sign on. Is there pay?”

“Expenses,” said Marius. “And equipment, all you’ll ever need.”

“I like equipment,” said George, smiling with all his teeth. He ran his hand over his short stubbly black hair, then put his captain’s hat back on. “And who am I working for? Lilah Bay, but—?”

“The Violet Council,” said Lilah. “You’re going to be our Chief Technical Officer. And you get to start right after breakfast. I imagine you drink coffee.”