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5.

“So,” said Marius as he took Lilah and her colleagues back to the front office, “do you want to talk about your fact-finding mission, or would you rather not? It’s fine either way.”

“Okay,” said Lilah, “just so you know I’m not conceding my right to remain silent. Short story: we didn’t find her. The guy from the past who she met at Llanduvar, he turned out to be a professor at Olvar’s version of the Institute, alchemy professor. Salagon. He remembered her but he claimed he couldn’t say anything for fear of time paradoxes.”

“And you believed him as such?”

“Not even a little,” said Lilah, “but I can’t figure out how he could be covering anything up, because I thought he was kind of an idiot.” She looked at Rob and Annelise.

“Or he was just being conservative,” said Rob. “Like, holding out for the Old Ways and all that.”

“So in all this, no Lucy?” asked Marius.

“None,” said Lilah. “She left Salagon’s room at the institute, or near there, and she went to look for the old place, and she couldn’t find it, so she stumbled into that weird city place where you got me from, and then here for her interview with us. Dead end.”

“Until George produces his next amazing feat,” said Annelise.

“Are you happy with your situation, Lilah?” asked Marius.

“I think so,” she replied. “I just hope this George thing is okay.”

“I’m sure the George thing will be okay,” said Marius. “I think I’ll be off for a while. Don’t do anything outrageous. And if you need more resources, just pick up the phone.”

“Wait. You’re going somewhere?”

“Yes, Lilah. I have work to do other places. I will be back soon, probably a few days from now.”

“What do you mean by that? A few days? Just curious.”

“Just what I said. I would guess, two to six days. Till then,” and he stepped out the door. Lilah stepped into the hall after him, and he was just vanishing, smile and all.

Several hours later, the three detectives were playing cards when George came out of his room to borrow Annelise. An hour later, they came out with a single product: a black metal box, about five by three by two centimeters.

“Here you go,” said George. “My pride and joy. Can’t wait to see if it works.”

“What’s it do?” asked Lilah.

“Somebody with knowledge of Lucy has to charge the box with her image. You can do that, right?”

“Oh yeah,” said Annelise. “Rob crushed that.”

“Okay,” said George, “so once it’s charged, all you have to do is hold your rings to the box and it should catapult you to a version of her, if there is one out there.”

“And if there isn’t?” asked Rob.

“You shouldn’t go anywhere. Note I said should, shouldn’t. We can’t really test something like this. Unless you want to run a test right now.”

“I can’t think how we’d do that,” said Lilah, “without getting ourselves in as much trouble as if we just used the dang thing to find Lucy.”

“Okay,” said George. “I’ll buy that. I mean, you have to know that this is a really unreliable thing to do. I don’t think there’s any way you’ll be sucked into a black hole, but this could easily go wrong. You don’t want to lose your ring because something went wrong with the box.” He handed it to Rob. “So,” he said, looking back at Lilah, “are you interested in using this thing?”

“I dunno,” said Lilah. “How likely is it to blow up?”

“It’s not going to blow up,” said George. “But if you don’t get the energy contribution up high enough before it crests, you’ll crash and you’ll have to wait six to eight hours to recharge before you can have another go.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means get it right the first time, if you don’t mind my advising you. Hey, if it doesn’t work, you get some sleep and start fresh.”

“Sounds legit to me,” said Lilah to Annelise.

“I guess Rob’s okay with it,” said Annelise, watching Rob release a memory of Lucy into the box. “Shall we?”

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