I. Lilah’s New Job
They were standing in a hallway. It was a narrow, stuffy hallway, surely in the middle of the eleventh floor of a thirty-story building. It ran on ahead of them, two doors on each side and then, twenty meters away, a corner where it bent left out of sight. In the other direction it did the same thing, including that it bent left. Lilah took this in with one raised eyebrow. She looked at her companion, a man of just under her height, pale of skin and middle-aged, in some sort of nondescript business suit, including something like a cravat. She didn’t recognize the culture it came from or she would have called it a necktie. She opened her mouth, but, unsmiling, he raised an eyebrow at her. He stepped backward one step and put his hand on a doorknob.
They stood looking at each other. She closed her mouth. He put the key in his hand into the doorknob and unlocked the door. They went in, and he shut and locked it behind them.
They were in a small room with no windows. It was lined with shelves everywhere that wasn’t the door out or one of two other doors. In the middle was a square table with a chair on each side. It was half covered with books and notes and writing instruments. There was one more chair, a dowdy old thing that looked very comfortable; it was filled to the brim with a shaggy grey cat. The cat gave them a dim look and then went back to sleep, not having moved any muscle other than its eyelids. They stood looking around, and presently their eyes met.
“You may ask,” he said.
“Who are you?” asked Lilah Bay.
“My name is Marius,” he said. “Martin Marius.” He smiled.
“That’s it? That’s who you are?”
“You may ask as many questions as you like,” he said. He stepped over to the cat, who looked up at him just before he plunged his fingers into its thick fur and petted it. “I’m not counting.”
“And you’ll answer them all?”
“I think so. Do you want something? Food? Drink?”
“Oh. Food. Dang, I could eat a big ol’ dish of—! Anything?”
“Well,” said Marius, “in this particular plane, you would more or less want something along the lines of eggs and bacon. Do you drink coffee?”
“Coffee? Do I drink coffee?” She laughed. “Martin, Marius, what should I call you?”
“You’ll figure something out,” he said, picking up a gadget that sat in a sort of metal cradle on the table. He put it to his face so that one end was by his mouth and the other by his ear. “Yes, two bacon and eggs, yes, certainly, fried potatoes would be excellent. Do you do fried onions and mushrooms? Excellent. And toast? Jam, yes? Excellent. And coffee. With cream.” He smiled at Lilah. “We have sugar here if you need it,” he said, setting the gadget back in its cradle.
“You didn’t tell them where they were bringing this feast,” said Lilah.
“They know,” he said. “So?”
“So what happened to me? I feel like I got the crap beat out of me. Where the hell was I? Where you found me?”
“That,” he said, “that was someplace across the universe from where you had been before, but now you are in an entirely different and much safer universe. Not a very large one, but a very safe one.” He paused, then added, “I can tell you anything you want to know about this place, I’m just not certain how much you would actually care to know.”
She looked at him for some seconds and then asked, “Why did you bring me here?”
“To offer you a job,” he said.
“Lilah Bay,” he said, “you had a job. Do you remember it?” She looked confused, and then something changed. She remembered her job, some of it at least. The outward sign of this was her eyebrow, her left eyebrow, arching. “Anyway,” he said, “there is a need, and with a need comes an opportunity, and with an opportunity comes a need.” He laughed a little nervously. “And simply, you are the best candidate. Because this job is like your last job, only more so.”
“How is that?”
“How much do you remember?”
“I’m working on that,” she replied. “Okay, the cat?” She looked at the cat. It opened its eyes slightly and gave her a look of love and total knowledge. “Your familiar?”
“Yes,” he said. “She is called Theodora. Do you not have a familiar?”
“I did,” said Lilah, rummaging in her mind. “I had a blue jay. Boy, that was a long time ago.”
“In a spell battle,” she said, suddenly seeing it. She winced.
There was a triple knock at the door. Marius went over to it, waited a beat, then opened it. There was no one in the hall, just a tray on a trolley. He pulled it in, shut the door, rolled the trolley to the table and began moving plates, cups and samovar onto the table. Lilah watched him, then joined in. In moments they were finished, and they stood looking at the feast. It looked great to her. It smelled great.
“Many hands make short work,” he said.
“Whose hands made all this?” she asked. “Do I want to know?”
“I’m not sure I know,” said Marius. “Does it bother you? Shall we eat?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” said Lilah. They sat down and for a minute she was all about coffee and bacon and toast and eggs and hash browns. Presently she remembered herself. She took a breath and sat back from the breakfast. She raised the cup to her lips. Marius met her eyes: his were a pale blue with a kinship to a pale green, while hers were the color of rich soil or dark roast. He smiled, which seemed to be something he did in many situations. She said, “What do you know about me?”
“What do you know about yourself?”
“I know I don’t like to play games.”
Marius set his coffee down and raised his hands a little in surrender. “I only ask,” he said, “because it will help me tell you what I know of you to know what you remember of your life.”
She stared at him, then said, “Am I dead?” He didn’t know what to say. She went on, “Is that what happened? Is this some sort of afterlife? Because I’m sure this isn’t paradise, but with coffee this good, and onion rings? Really? It sure isn’t much like hell.”
“You are not dead,” said Marius. “And you would know about Hell, because as I understand it, you’ve spent some time there.”
She appraised him for another long minute, then raised her eyebrows. “It’s coming back to me.”
“All in one thing?”
“In pieces,” she said. She finished her cup, and he refilled it from the samovar. “I was trying to find things out,” she said. “That was my job. I was an investigator. What was I investigating?” She spread some sort of berry jam on her right triangle of toast. “More than one thing,” she mused. “There was something funny about it. All these twists and turns and—!” She took a bite of her toast. Her eyes lit up. She put it down, had a sip of coffee, and met his eyes. “Time,” she said.
“And magic.” Marius smiled. Lilah sat back, took up her toast, had a bite. She said, “Folks get in all kinds of trouble.” She laughed. She took a drink of coffee, but when she set the cup down, she wasn’t smiling. “All kinds,” she repeated. “I can’t remember exactly what kinds. I was supposed to stop people from, you know, doing things—!” She gave Marius an accusing look. “You just sit there and listen, don’t you?”
“I’m very sorry,” he said. “It’s my nature. I shall try to help. Do you remember the people you worked with? Back on—was it Padva?”
“Padva,” said Lilah, trying it out. “Padva.” She took up her cup, but just gazed into it. She raised her eyes to his again. “Yeah,” she said. “I do remember some of those people.”
“Do you know what happened to them?” he asked.
“Not all of them,” she said, gloomily.
“Some of them?”
“Some of them.”
“Well,” said Marius, sipping coffee and looking away, “I know some of that, not much. Just tidbits, really. But,” he said, meeting her eyes, “it wasn’t a nice story. They weren’t nice tidbits.”
“And do you know why those things happened to those people? Why—?” She ran out of words and took a breath. “What were we investigating?”
“I don’t really know.”
“You don’t really know?”
“All right,” he said, “I don’t know. Something to do with time. Well, as it happens, you were part of a group. A squad. A cell? No, not a cell. A, um, service. I’m searching for the right word.”
“A team,” said Lilah. “I think I was sort of the junior member.”
“You were sort of the strongest member. Of the team. Obviously, because others are gone, gone in unfortunate ways, but you are here.”
“Miss Bay,” said Marius, “you are barely here because you could not be quite squashed. Now you may think I know more than I actually know, and I actually know very little, but I do know that your team had enemies and that they were very capable of squashing most of the people they were ever likely to meet. But they met you.”
“Mister Marius,” said Lilah Bay, “I am not that formidable. I am not.” Marius just raised his eyebrows, put his hands out to the side in a small gesture of surrender, and smiled. “I am not!” said Lilah. “I’m just—!”
“Just a small town wizard,” said Marius. “Just an ordinary magical detective from a minor little planet. Called Padva. You know it’s called the Tertiary World, don’t you? Do you know why?”
“It’s of the third class?” Marius just laughed and shook his head. “Look,” Lilah said, “why don’t you tell me about this job? This job you’re offering me? Is this an interview or something?”
“No,” said Marius, “it’s not an interview. More of a job offer.”
Lilah looked at him. Then she took a piece of bacon and said, “I’d need to know more about the job before I took you up on that, or not.” She ate the bacon, holding his eyes.
“Then you might consider it your first job to remember what your last job was.”
Lilah struggled to think about the past. The bacon and eggs, here in the present, weren’t helping much. She and Marius ate in silence for some time. Presently, her hunger abated and the bacon gone, Lilah pushed her plate back and fixed brown eyes on Marius.
“Can I go for a walk?” she asked.
“I don’t see why not,” said Marius.
“You have to go with me?”
“Well,” he said, “you don’t know your way around as yet, do you? You don’t want to get lost, even in a safe world like this, do you?”
She glared at him with a slight smile. Finally she said, “I’m lost anyway.” She laughed a little, and so did he. “Anyway,” she said, “you want to promise me you’re not just following me around to keep me in custody or something? Like, I’m supposed to be offered a job but I’m actually being held incommunicado or something. Like you’re my minder.”
Marius laughed ruefully. “No, Lilah Bay,” he said, “I am not your minder. You are not in custody. I am very sorry if it seems so. This place is safe, it’s safer than most places, but its geometry is interesting, and it’s not entirely of our making, it’s got its own inner nature, you might say, as almost all universes have, even small ones like this, perhaps especially small ones.”
“So, still, you want to walk with me,” said Lilah. “You don’t want to let me out of your sight just yet. Right?”
“Well,” said Marius uncomfortably, “you would understand that I actually have reason not to wish to, as you say, let you out of my sight. But it’s not that I’m trying to imprison you. Gods, no. So what if we say this? I shall let you go wherever you wish, but I will advise you to let me accompany you, because you understand that wandering on your own in a place where you have never before wandered might be dangerous. You understand this?”
“I understand this.”
“So, do you wish to wander alone? Or do you take my advice and let me accompany you?”
“Marius,” she said. She laughed. “You’re funny.” She stood up. He stood too. She noticed again that she was a couple of centimeters taller than him. “Okay,” she said, “I take your advice. For now.”
“But you would like to have time alone?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”
“Come, then,” said Marius. “There is a rooftop. You would be in slight danger of falling off, but you are neither careless, nor, I think, suicidal.”
She gave him another long gaze, not quite smiling. “No, not suicidal,” she said.
Marius gave his cat familiar a few scritches around the mane and then a few smoothing strokes. “We’re going out, Theodora,” he said. “We will be right back. You’re in charge while we’re gone.” He looked up at Lilah. “You may pet her. She would like that.”
“Okay,” said Lilah, petting the cat. Then she followed Marius out into the hall, and then Marius led Lilah up past one of the left turns, then another thirty meters or so, past another four doors on the right and three on the left, and then they turned right and there was a small, empty lobby. This had several doors, but only one of them did not look as though a mop closet lay behind it. Marius opened this door and held it for Lilah. It was a stairway. It went up some number of flights, and down some number of flights.
“You guys do have pentons, right?” asked Lilah, looking up and down the stairs. “I mean, you got magic, right? And you use stairs?”
“You want me to wave my wand and whisk you to the roof?” asked Marius.
“Is it dangerous or something?”
“It’s only two flights up,” he said, with a little laugh.
“Now you think I’m spoiled, don’t you?” She laughed and started up the stairs, and he had to hurry to keep up. Up eight steps, then a landing, then up eight more the other direction, then a landing and a door. Lilah paused before the next set of steps. “Should I ask?”
“Oh, it’s mostly empty offices,” said Marius, but he seemed less than anxious to show her the other side of the door. “Shall we?”
“Okay, sure,” said Lilah. She set off again, eight steps up, then a landing, then eight more the other direction, then a landing and a door, but this one was different. For one thing, it had a bar instead of a knob. She stopped before it, and Marius went to it, took the wide bar and pushed the door open. A breeze blew in out of the night, cool and moist. Lilah took a big breath, then stepped through and onto the roof.
She couldn’t see much at first. The top of the stairs was housed in a small structure on the roof, and there were dim floodlights on the corners on either side. The air was thick with fog, and the lights only showed a few meters of rooftop. She stepped forward out of the pale of the light, and the world opened up a little more. Without the floodlights, Lilah found she wasn’t seeing the fog anymore but seeing through the fog. She took ten steps, and found herself at a low wall.
She leaned out and looked down. The wall was the outer wall of a tall building. She could dimly and fitfully see a few lights on another building across a gulf of wet air. Beyond that, on either side, she could make out the expanse of a city. Above, the cloud cover blotted out any stars, but suddenly through a gap a crescent moon appeared. She drew a breath.
She looked around. Marius was not near her. Where was he? Probably back by the stair door. Or not.
Lilah took a few steps to the left along the wall, as if sliding into a hiding place. Now she could imagine she was invisible. Heck, she could imagine she didn’t exist, she was a disembodied spirit. She could float back into her memories and find—?
She found things. She found her mother. She found her favorite stuffed bear. She found the shards of her childhood, her ruin of a teenage, her heartbreak, her disgust. She found a school, and another school, a boss and another boss. She found bodies, and puzzles, and days and nights and early mornings, but all in a jumble. She found colleagues: she could remember them, she could almost remember their names: the older, balding, blond guy, the punky young lady, the slow but clever guy who let on as if he were a doofus. More faces: tough, reliable, a little crazy, a little in their heads, a little stupid like everyone was, unable to see their own forest for their own trees.
A body: a woman dead, of an overdose, an overdose of something magical. A man killed in a fight, but a strange fight, an unholy contest. A child slain before she was six. Now who would do that? Someone who knew what the child would become. The child would become a rich businesswoman, a rival politician: and there was Lilah’s first break, her first bust, back on Padva. Lilah and the balding blond guy, Garik, taking down the aristocratic fellow who had taken down his main rival before she was even on the scene. He had murdered the adult by murdering the child before she became the adult. But the joke was on him: they had him down and his ring off and a new ring on, one that kept him from using his power, and then he was off to the new magical cell that Lilah’s boss had thought of.
Her boss. Another aristocratic guy. And there he was, another body. Lilah and Garik found him in his office, dead, unmarked except for a little blood at his nostrils and ears.
Lilah and Garik. They looked at each other. They knew they had to do something. Lilah was darned if she remembered what.
And then there was one more face, no, two. There was a child, his skin not as dark as hers, his smile wider and more infectious than hers, growing before her eyes. Leonard. Was he coming over tonight? What would she make him? Was it his birthday? She almost laughed, but she almost cried.
And then there was the other face. This face was a man, not a child, and this was the face that Leonard also looked like, and seeing him in her mind’s eye, even when she couldn’t quite find his name: Lilah did not want to laugh or cry. Rather the tendency was to feel around for a weapon.
Lilah stood at the wall for some minutes, but she had lost the thread. She turned and found she could see dimly where the stair door was. She headed for it, and before she was out of the shadow of the fog, she could see Marius standing there.
She wandered over toward him, and when she was closer, she still didn’t think he saw her. She stood there looking at him, not really watching him, not really thinking about him. She didn’t know what to think about him. She knew so little. But she was almost sure Marius was not one of them. She was almost sure he was almost as reliable as old Garik. And as soon as she thought that, she thought how fragile Marius was, as fragile as old Garik.
She was remembering. More and more was coming back. It wasn’t half, it probably wasn’t ten percent of what had happened. But she was remembering. She was remembering what happened to Garik.
And she was wondering what had happened to her and how close she had come to what had happened to Garik.
She hastened back to Marius, who saw her dark figure condense out of the fog and smiled his rueful smile, a little startled.
“So, this job. Is it the same kind of job as the one I did on Padva?” she asked.
“You could say that,” Marius replied. “But I don’t know what you remember of your job on Padva, or your job after you left Padva, your second job.” Lilah’s dark, mobile face hardened. Marius said, “You don’t remember—?”
“My second job,” she said. “What’s this about my second job? I have a hard enough time remembering the first job.”
“Well, what do you remember?”
“Marius. What do you know about my job? My first job or my second job? You know something, I need to know what it is.”
“I know very little,” said Marius. “But I would have to know something, or you wouldn’t be here.” He held her gaze, or she held his, for some moments, while he hoped she took him at his word. Then he turned back to the foggy world and said, “You aren’t a household name, by any stretch, but in certain circles you are well-known.”
“As a what?”
“As a cop, actually,” he said. “As a wizard cop.” He sighed. “You will have more questions.”
“Maybe we should go back inside.”
“Trust me,” said Marius, “or don’t trust me, if you like, but this is as secure as anywhere. More, perhaps, because of certain properties of the fog.”
“Marius,” said Lilah, “what is this place exactly? I really want you to tell me.”
“This building, this city, this universe?”
“All of the above.”
Marius looked around, then moved away from the door. He crossed to the far end of the roof, some distance from where Lilah had stood, with the assurance of one who had walked that way often and didn’t have to think about obstacles. She followed him. They came to the parapet and stood leaning against it facing out, side by side.
“This world is this city,” said Marius. “It’s curious, my inclination is to tell you as little as possible, but that’s just instinct. I have no secrets from you, at least not about this place. It’s just—it’s just the sort of place that wants not to be talked about.” He looked at her. “You know what I mean?”
She thought a moment, looking out, perpendicular to him looking at her. “Yeah,” she said, “actually, I do.”
“And as it happens, this world turns out to be an excellent place for an office. There is plenty of room—it’s a theoretically infinite city, you see. Theoretically infinitely many buildings. Infinitely many, each of them finite, I think, but quite large, we are on the fiftieth floor or something, well, our office is.”
She looked at him. He was smiling at the fog. “We?” she repeated.
“Sorry,” Marius replied. “This job. Right now, it would be just me, this is my office, but I am recruiting. And you are my first recruit, or you can be.”
“Marius. Who is supporting this work? Who got you this office?”
“Well,” he said, “one knows of some things. One knows, for instance, that somehow, out of someone’s feverish dream, this little universe was created and exists: well, I say little, but it’s infinite in extent, that’s widely assumed anyway. But, ah,” and he laughed, “I realize now that you meant, who decided I should do this?”
“Or was it your idea? You decided to hire a beat up former famous wizard cop.”
“To police time travelers.”
“Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?”
“It’s what you’ve been doing,” he said. “Didn’t you realize that?”
After some moments, Lilah said, “No, actually. No. I didn’t realize that.” They stared out over the foggy city. “So, to answer my question,” she said.
“So,” said Marius, “various agencies have come to realize that someone needs to do it, and that their reach is not long enough to do it themselves.” Lilah gave just the slightest snort or sigh. Marius looked at her and said, “Really, we are talking about some serious misbehavior. This is not people making money on investments. This is about murder, robbery, kidnaping, seduction—no, let us call it rape, it really is—!”
“Wait. What is? You have a case in mind?”
“Let’s go back down to the office,” said Marius.
“Ah, the friendly confines,” said Marius as he shut the office door behind them.
“I thought the roof was like really safe,” said Lilah, coming into the middle of the room, then moving to the shelves of the side wall and leaning her butt against them.
“Safe can mean so many different things,” said Marius. “It’s certainly true that the rooftop in the fog is about as remote from any danger as one can get. It’s certainly hard to be detected up there. Yet in some ways having a ceiling and four walls and a floor and a door that locks and absolutely no windows does make one feel very secure indeed.”
“So you think we’re safer here to talk serious stuff about old cases,” said Lilah. “Just tell me one thing. How many other tenants are there in this building?”
“Miss Bay, would you like something to drink? To drive out the cold night air? I ask because I would very much like one myself.”
“All right, I’ll go for it. Just tell me the answer to my question.”
Marius went over to a little cabinet among the bookshelves. “There are not many other tenants,” he said, opening the cabinet and doing something Lilah couldn’t see. “One does not go to any effort to meet one’s neighbors. In any case, this floor has no one else that I am aware of.” He turned, and he was holding two sizeable glasses, each half full of an amber liquor. “If someone else is about, they are motivated to keep us unaware of them, as we are motivated to keep them unaware of us.” He handed a glass to Lilah.
“How does one go about getting a spot in this place, anyway?” she asked, doing her best imitation of Marius as she took the drink from him. “If one wants to? Does one, um, contact an agency or look up a listing?”
“One learns the rules of the city, and one plays by those rules,” said Marius with a small laugh. “And then one squats in an empty place and here one is.”
Lilah took a sip. “Hey,” she said, “I don’t know much about it, but this is the good stuff.”
“Thank you,” said Marius. “A sort of, I think it’s called cognac, it’s a brandy made from grapes. It’s the real thing, it’s not spelled up.”
“It doesn’t taste spelled up,” said Lilah. “So you just waltzed in and took over the office? How did one get one’s hands on a key?”
“It was under the mat,” said Marius. “You wanted to know other things besides the real estate business of the city.”
“City have a name?”
“We just call it the city.”
“Not so much. In any case—!”
“Okay. Case,” said Lilah. “That case. The case of the kidnaping that was a rape or something.”
Marius immediately became 20% graver. He went to the table, turned a chair toward Lilah and sat down. He took a drink, then set the glass on the table and bent forward, his elbows on his knees. Leaning against the bookshelf, Lilah watched him, her lips pursed.
“People,” said Marius, “well, most people are decent, and the ones who are not, usually they’re poor or weak and can do little harm. But give a man, or a woman for that matter, or a lizard-bug-creature—give it spells and its scope for indecent behavior naturally grows. And give that man or woman or lizard-bug-creature time travel and—it grows exponentially, you might say, with each magical grade higher.”
“Time travel,” said Lilah.
“Yes. And there was this wizard, his name was Naro, I don’t know his first name. I don’t know where he was from. But Naro made himself into a very great wizard indeed. He was a member of any number of Great Councils, he amassed great wealth, he built himself a stronghold in a small universe he discovered, it’s all the rage these days, having one’s own private cosmos. One can see the advantages. But Naro, who was something like four centuries old, but of course he only looked thirty, he had a particular, um, predilection.”
“Sexual, I’m gonna guess.”
“Indeed. And again, many people have predilections, but most choose never to act on them and most of the rest lack the wherewithal, the circumstances. But Naro lacked nothing, you see. And his predilection, shockingly, was that he preferred his lovers to be girls of sixteen or so.”
“And he’s four hundred.”
“But looks thirty. Well, it hardly matters. It’s rather horrible. So he had lovers among the wizards, but they were his size and could put him in his place, and that only increased the attraction of teenagers. But what sixteen-year-old would give him the time of day, as they say? It wasn’t enough for him to pay them or something. They had to actually be in love with him, at least as he thought of it.”
“So he mind-controlled them,” Lilah filled in. “He coerced them.”
“Worse than that,” said Marius, “though I’m sure Naro thought it was not so bad. Rationalization is an interesting phenomenon. He found a girl he liked, in some far off cosmos, and he went back in time some number of years to when she was, say, three, and he kidnaped her. And brought her back to his little domain. And there, the girl would be raised by Naro’s original wife, who must have been got the same way, but he kept her on as a servant, and her he did mind control, you see. So the kidnaped girls get raised to think their purpose was to serve him. And when they came to be old enough for his tastes, he ‘married’ them and, um, used them as he wished. And when he tired of a girl, which typically happened when she became pregnant with his child, he would simply drop her off in some other cosmos, in some farm town, where, I suppose, he imagined the young woman and her child would get on well enough, though in fact many of them found their way to very unfortunate ends thanks to his carelessness and his lust.”
“How many?” asked Lilah. “How many victims were there?”
“Several dozen, I believe, over the course of perhaps fifty years. But eventually his first wife, whom he had mind controlled, came uncontrolled. She awakened to what he was doing and she slit his throat in his sleep and burned his body in the steel forger’s furnace. The last few little girls wound up, somehow, being raised by Wife Number One, as if they were her daughters, and they did well enough as it turned out. That didn’t make right all the things Naro had done, of course.”
“Well, wow,” said Lilah. “But what’s the point of this story? How do you know all this? And anyway, he got his, right?”
“Yes. Well, Naro was a member of many Great Councils, as I said, but those are just social clubs compared to some of the things one sees lately. One of these councils was called—it doesn’t matter what it was called, but Naro was on the Special Committee, and I gather they had a meeting and he didn’t appear. And another, and then several members of the Council decided to send their secretary to investigate. I emphasize that the secretary was not remotely important or grand enough to be a Member of the Council, but he was the one who was sent to go see what had become of Naro, and he had the coordinates of Naro’s dominion. So he went and he found Wife Number One in charge of the place, servants, last few girls and so on. And she was not coy about her actions, rather the opposite, she seemed proud of herself. So the secretary returns to the Council, and opinions were rather divided on the subject of what to do.”
“They thought they should kill Wife Number One in retribution,” guessed Lilah.
“Some of them. Not a majority. But some felt that this raised questions of legality. As you know, many worlds, like your Padva, which was rather a leader in this respect, found it necessary to establish magical constabularies just to keep the peace a little. Well, it was clear to the Council that Naro had done evil, but Naro always kidnaped from lawless worlds, magically speaking, so it seemed rather insufficient to wish everyone had the good fortune to be born somewhere civilized, like Padva.” Lilah snorted. “Relatively speaking,” Marius added. “And in Naro’s own cosmos, well, he was the convening authority, until Wife Number One woke from her mind control. If he had done a better job of keeping his spell on her, he would never have faced justice.”
“So it’s a matter of jurisdiction.”
“Lilah Bay, it is a serious matter of jurisdiction. Injustice knows no bounds, but justice knows lots of bounds. There are many things we cannot fix, one knows that. All those young women dumped off in worlds they did not know, all those families who got up of a morning and found their daughters gone. One could not fix such things. It was suggested, of course, but someone pointed out that for each girl Naro abducted, there were a hundred or a thousand stolen from the same neighborhoods and sold into slavery the usual way, on the other side of the island or the continent or the planet. One cannot fix all of the injustice in the universe. But what Naro did: such things should be stopped. They must be stopped. It was horrible. It was horrible.” Marius had become worked up. He stopped, took a breath and sighed. “And the fact is that with powerful magic such as time travel and transit between universes, there is simply no legal jurisdiction. But to leave such things to the individual, to the family whose daughter is stolen, that would be to abandon law for vendetta, and it clearly was not working in any case. No, what we needed was someone who could take care of things like this, jurisdiction or no. I mean, we know there can’t be, you know, a sort of Juris Codex Temporis, a legal system with Subparagraph 5 of Paragraph E of section 3.77 and so on. But it’s not as though anyone would argue that Naro was within his rights. Ugh.”
“All right,” said Lilah, after a respectful pause. “So what to do?”
“Well, a new council was created. Members of the Council found members of other Councils and Orders and Fraternities and Sects and so on, who had the same feeling about things. And it was decided that they would form this new Council and that it would hire some actual investigators to investigate crimes such as these, these things that cross universes and time streams and so on. And since you had some experience in magical crimes, you seemed an obvious choice.”
“Well, see, I don’t get that, because I hardly remember a thing, and why don’t I remember a thing? Because some bleephole tried to destroy me.”
“I considered that, and I found that you still came out as the top choice.”
“And you have cases?”
“We have cases,” said Marius, “though right now there is only one that quite merits this level of attention. And should you accept my offer, you may hire officers under you, and open the folder of this particular case we have.”
“So what is this new Council called?”
“The Violet Council,” said Marius. He held up his ring: the small gem, in this light, was pale enough to be lavender.
“Why violet? Their favorite color?”
“No,” said Marius, “it’s the name of Wife Number One. Her name’s Violet. We named it after her.”
“And you? How did you get to be a member of the Council?”
“Oh, I’m not,” said Marius. “I am not nearly high class enough for membership. No, I am their lead, um, you might say, operations secretary. And how did I become that, you ask? You see, that secretary who was sent to look for Naro—that was me.”
They talked some more, to much less effect, and then they went for another stroll on the roof, and then Marius called for some dinner, a chicken curry with some white wine. Afterward, he and Lilah stacked all the dishes, breakfast and dinner, on the trolley and rolled it out into the hall. They came back in, laughing at a quip of his. Marius went to the cognac bottle, and Lilah sat down near the table.
“You know,” she said, “for a secretary to a secret society of vigilante wizards, you’re a lot of fun.”
“For a—? All right,” said Marius, “I’ll accept that. I don’t know how I came to be a secretary of a secret society of wizards, but I am on at least my second such post, so it seems to be a career path.”
“Where are you from?”
“I am from Tympest,” he said. “It’s a sort of post-quaternary world. I suppose it’s like Padva; four or five generations ago, warlords ruled the land, and one would have been quite mighty if one was a wizard, and by that I mean specifically if one had spells of five words. Now there are tall edifices all across the cities, much like this one, but very shiny, and one reaches the seventieth floor in a matter of seconds on a magic lift, and spells of ten words are heard now and again in the heat of battle or in the heat of the daily renewal of the seals. We recently, and I mean, the most recent time I was back there in what I would have called my present, put in subways in the capital city. I think Padva had them first.”
“We’ve had them long enough that they’re dirty and full of criminals,” said Lilah. “What’s the longest spell you know?”
“I go to nine,” said Marius. “Words, that is. I have the nine word pass seal and a little time trace thing I learned. I’m no sort of spell battler. You?”
Lilah grinned. “I got you there,” she said. “I got ten words. I got the pass seals, they’re real handy, right? Ten word hold, and I got a—well, it’s a—!” She stopped. Then she laughed out loud. “I don’t know if I should say.” They grinned at each other. “It’s a group time space fold. Garik called it the Bus to Nowhere. Ha!” Suddenly her dark face darkened. Marius froze, gazing at her, his glass in midair. “Tell me, Mr Marius,” she said, “how is it I remember all my spells but I don’t remember my last job or how I wound up on that planet? How is that?”
“It’s simple,” said Marius. “You met someone with eleven word spells.” He took a drink. “They nearly killed you.”
“They killed Garik,” she said. “They killed what’s-his-name. Neal.”
“They didn’t know ten word spells.”
“No, they didn’t,” said Lilah.
“And these people, this person—being optimistic. This person, one would think, was out to get you and your team for a reason. Do you think this was a friend of justice and all that is good?”
“No,” said Lilah.
“No,” said Marius, “one would say rather the opposite. And so—?” He waved his brandy.
“So,” said Lilah. She took a sip, stood up, walked over to the shelf and leaned against it as before. She met his eyes and said, quietly, “Would I be choosing my own team?”
“Yes,” said Marius.
“With your help?”
“Of course, but it would be your team and it would be your call as to who to bring on and when to let someone go.”
“You mean pay? Well—!” He laughed nervously.
“You can’t really pay anyone like me,” she said. “I have whatever funds I need. But I would be talking about places to set up, places to hide, resources, you know.”
“We have deep pockets,” said Marius, “and there are many places to hide where you can feel very, very secure.”
“An office here?”
“This office, if you like. It has bedrooms adjoining, you know. Enough for at least ten people. I don’t suppose you’ll want that many.”
“No, I think five’s a good number,” said Lilah. “Where are you going to be?”
“Out of your hair,” said Marius. “Well, listen. Think on it for the night. Let us have another drink, and then I will show you the best guest bed, and that can be your room if you like. In the morning, over bacon and eggs, you can tell me what you’ve decided.”
The other two doors led into a closet, and a hallway that had a number of doors off it. One was the bathroom, which Lilah used, and another was a bedroom.
The best guest bed turned out to be in a room with a simple desk, a solidly built wooden chair, a dresser that looked like it could withstand an explosion, and a double window. There was a small lamp on a tiny but solid bedside table. Out the window, Lilah could only see a few gleams of light in the blackness. She looked around the room, then went to the window and gazed out for a few moments while Marius waited in the door. She turned to face him.
“If you have everything you need,” he said, “I will leave you. The dresser has basic clothes for your needs.”
“As if by magic,” said Lilah.
“Well, it’s not one of your more complicated kinds of magic. We will provide you with a budget for clothing, if you need something more than what the dresser will make you.”
Lilah looked down at herself, and then smiled at Marius. Her jeans were worn, her boots scratched up, her sweater lived in. “You see my look,” she said. “You know I’m not gonna need that budget.”
“If I may say,” Marius replied, “the look works for you. Good night, Lilah Bay.”
She smiled as he bowed slightly and shut the door. She stood a moment, then went to the door and put her five-word lock spell over its mechanical lock: an almost impossible combination to break, even for a Great Wizard. Then she went to the bedside table and turned the light off. She went to the window and stood looking out, as more gleams came through to her adjusting eyes. After a minute, she kicked off her boots and pushed them against the bed. She pulled off her sweater, pulled off her shirt and her pants, pulled off her socks and her underwear, and stood at the window naked, dark Lilah in the dark night. After another minute, she threw herself on the bed and lay on her back thinking.
Lilah was pretty sure she had the habit of thinking back on the day’s events before she fell asleep. This night, there was a problem. She wasn’t entirely sure where the day was ending, but where had it begun? She had no idea. Her head swam with images, but she had no idea which were real and which were recent. And every time she let her mind swing through that neighborhood, those faces returned, Garik and Neal the doofusy looking guy and the punky girl and the serious woman and the black guy and the reptilian, and a panoply of enemies and obstacles, and then Leonard and the guy who had been Leonard’s father, and a thousand places, a hundred spell battles, a hundred explosions, five hundred corpses, ten score crime scenes. Most of it had not happened this morning, and some of it had never happened at all, or had happened and then had been made to un-happen.
And then there was that wand, and that figure in a hood, a glow before the darkness of its face, as if the air were mildly phosphorescent. That wand glowed, those words, those many words were spoken, that wand swung, the curve of y = sin x cosh x.
And then she was stumbling down a dark street in a dirty crowded city, and then some butthole was pulling her into an alley, and then she was laying him low, and then she was turning to face Martin Marius. And she had no idea what to think about that.
Round and round she went, veering through her memories and dreams, veering to stay clear of their entanglements, and then she was waking up and the sunlight was pouring in the double window.
She got up, got dressed in new clothes pretty much like her old clothes—dark jeans, light blue shirt, dark sweater, dark socks. She pulled on her boots, went out into the hall, used the bathroom, then went through into the front office.
Marius was there. He was leaning against the shelf, reading a thick book. The cat noticed her, gave her a short gaze and went back to sleep; Marius hadn’t noticed her. She shut the hall door with a click and Marius jumped. Lilah smiled.
“You are good,” he said, catching his breath.
She laughed, showing off her teeth. Then she flattened her smile out, waited a beat and said, “I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to take the job.”