IX. Our Dinner with Andre
They went back to the front office and had some more coffee. To Lilah’s surprise, Zinnia Rose was not a tea drinker: for a cleric, she had a pretty strong wizard vibe. She liked hers black, hot and thick. The others were all solidly in the coffee end of the spectrum: Rob liked his with just a little cream, Annelise preferred it cooled off and nearly white, and George, unsupervised, would probably have taken the top off the samovar and bathed in it.
“So there’s a ritual for this too?” asked Lilah.
“There better be,” said Zinnia. “Spells aren’t doing it, are they?”
She grinned up at George, who shook his head, looked at Lilah and shrugged. “If you’re going to be part of the team,” said Lilah, “we’re going to have to integrate our many disparate talents in some sort of constructive way. Right, champ?” she finished, glancing at Rob.
“I’m not sure what my talents actually are,” said Rob.
“We’re gonna find that out,” said Lilah. “Right now, it’s about putting Miss Zinnia Rose through her paces. Okay, what’s needed?”
“Do we have wine?” asked Zinnia.
“Yeah, Marius has a rack of bottles on the shelf there.”
“You got salt?”
“I’m sure I can lay my hands on some—Annelise? George?”
“I got plenty,” said George.
“And something gold,” said Zinnia, “and heck, my necklace will do. It’ll be my contribution as part of the team.”
“No, no,” said Rob, “this is pure.” He tossed a gold coin on the floor.
“Pure?” Zinnia picked it up and squinted at it, then bit it. “Pre-classical Silontian. Purer than pure. Okay, get your salt, grab a bottle of decent red and some glasses, let’s go find an empty room. You have some empty rooms?”
“I’m sure we’re going to find out together,” said Lilah.
Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting on the floor of the room beyond Rob’s room. This time they sat in more or less a circle, the five of them. Zinnia placed the gold piece on the floor and scattered salt on and around it. “Affects the air above it,” she said. Then she sat down and Lilah handed her a glass of wine. “To departed friends,” she said.
“Dang right,” said Lilah. They all drank.
They all looked at Zinnia Rose. She looked about to say something pithy, but instead she began to intone. She was singing, in a certain sense, in something below a bass, in slow unrecognizable words: eesho ogo eezho zeezho zahn... Within thirty seconds, the other four found that they were all intoning. After a minute, Zinnia stopped and so did the others a second later. They had a drink, then intoned again for a minute, and then they had a drink and intoned some more.
This time they took all the time they needed, which was a lot more than a minute. They didn’t exactly see colored ribbons in 4-space, but at some point they were sure they weren’t looking at the normal world. They were drunkenly veering up alleys and down highways and over oceans and between stars, following one person forward for half a minute, then another backward for fifteen seconds, then five more in ten ticks of that imaginary clock that could make sense of it all. All of this was at more than full speed and in more than three dimensions. None of it seemed the least bit real. After a lot more of it all, empires and oceans and echoing plains, they were walking backward through a field in the twilight. They outside of Whistler Hall, a little down slope from the castle itself, under a half moon in summer.
Down the hill came a young man. He seemed both angry and confused. He had a lovely goatee, his black hair was quite tousled, and he held a black wand in his hand, but he had an odd sheen about him, as if he wasn’t quite touching the material world around him, even the air.
“He is a ghost,” said Annelise.
“Andre,” said Lilah.
The young man looked up and around. He raised his wand. “In av tun ho,” he said, the four-word detect magic spell. It didn’t seem to have much information for him.
“Sta va hel nis na eu,” Zinnia shouted at the young man, who suddenly seemed to see them around him. They weren’t touching the ground very firmly either.
Nothing at all seemed to happen.
“What should we do?” asked Lilah. Rob, Annelise and George had wands out.
“Get him!” Zinnia urged. “He may evaporate at any moment!”
George and Rob, wands in hand, tackled the young man. Then they were being pulled backwards out of that hillside field, dragging the young man with them. It was all very physical, considering that none of them was well in contact with the physical world. They could hear spells around them—sta va hel nis na eu again, for one—all in Zinnia’s strong high voice. Then they all landed and fell backwards onto a dark flat place in the fog.
“What the—?” was the gist of what Rob, George and Annelise all said.
“We’re on the bleeping roof,” said Lilah. “Hey, you ain’t going anywhere, my friend,” she added, grabbing Andre by the upper arm and gripping.
“Nik ol tro sek anf nis ra kun,” said Zinnia. “Now you definitely aren’t going anywhere before you talk to us.”
“What?” Andre finally asked, staring at Lilah. “You’re—you! You’re—!”
“Yeah, I’m me, well-spotted,” she said. She let her grip slide down to his wrist. “My name is Lilah Bay, and this here is Zinnia Rose, and that’s George, and these are my associates Annelise and Rob. And you’re Andre. Right?”
“That’s right,” he said as if he weren’t completely sure.
“Okay, let’s get him down to the office and order up some curry or something.”
In the event, it was more in the line of fish and chips. Andre, in custody, seemed docile. They ate in relative silence: Rob and Annelise conversed a little, George and Zinnia conversed a little, George and Annelise conversed a little, but Lilah said nothing and Andre just listened.
Up close, Andre seemed fleshly enough. He ate, he drank wine and water, he breathed, he sweated some. He had beautiful hair and a lovely little trim beard, but he had follicles: the shaved part of his face was starting to grow out. Saying absolutely nothing, he watched the others talk, and Lilah Bay watched him.
“So that spell,” Annelise said as they were all mopping up the last drops of malt vinegar with the last of their pommes frites. “That six-worder. It was preventing something, wasn’t it?”
“Yep, good eye there,” said Zinnia. She smiled at Andre. “It was preventing something.”
“But it wasn’t preventing him from doing anything, was it? It wasn’t a combat spell.”
“You wouldn’t say so.” Zinnia looked around and then said, with an expression they all had worn at one point or another, of explaining what a spell does to someone who maybe should have been able to guess, “It’s a stay the same spell. It’s a spell that prevents something from happening to someone or something.”
“And what was the something,” asked Lilah, “and who was the someone or something?”
George said, “It’s because he’s not supposed to be here.”
“Where’s he supposed to be?”
“Nowhere,” said Zinnia. “This Andre shouldn’t exist, he has no real past. He’s like a ghost. Aren’t you?”
“Honestly,” said Andre, “all I know is, I was there and now I’m here. I haven’t the slightest idea how I got from there to here.” In spite of his exotic looks, he had a purely Olvar accent, just like Lucy and Henry. “How did I get here?”
“Well, we brought you here. There’s no mystery about that. The mystery is, how did you get there? Where were you born, how did you come to be—?” Zinnia waved her last fry at him.
“This is so strange,” said Andre, sagging back. “I just don’t get who you are.”
“He’s fading,” Zinnia hissed. She muttered, “Sta va hel nis na eu.”
Lilah jumped up. She grabbed Andre, who was rising from his seat. He looked exactly like someone without a brain. She wound up taking him in a hug. He dropped his wand and it broke into fragments on the floor, as if it had been frozen hard and hit with a hammer.
“You’re good,” she said, hugging him. “You’re okay.” He returned the hug after a moment. She eased him back into his chair. “More wine, maybe?”
“This is a complex case,” said Zinnia, holding the phone out to Lilah. “He needs strong coffee first, then wine.”
“Anything else he needs?”
“I’ll let you know if I think of them,” said Zinnia.
“Where am I exactly?” asked Andre. “Who are you? The Alliance?”
“No, no,” said Rob, “we, ah, work for the Violet Council. We’re investigating some events having to do with Lucy, with, uh, Lady Whistler.”
“Don’t call her that,” said Andre. He sighed. He looked very real as he said, “I think you’re right about the wine thing. And I will need the coffee first.”
“Lucy,” said Andre, holding a teacup full of espresso, “she was my teacher, and I fell in love with her.”
“So you hung around her party and tried to make her run off with you,” said Rob.
Andre looked at Rob strangely, then said, “No, that’s not what happened. I was there.”
Andre clouded. “But it wasn’t there. It wasn’t Whistler.” He shook his head. “I’m confused. But I thought it was—?” They all looked at him. He said, “Endweith.”
They all looked at each other, all five of them, and then they looked at him.
“So let’s start at the beginning,” said Lilah. “Where did you grow up?”
“I was born in Olaren, the capital city. My parents came from away, before my sister and I were born. We were from Groria originally, but things were getting hot there, there was this war, all I know about it is that the strongest people I had ever known didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Well,” said George, “are we talking about the wars of Antor and so on?”
“I guess so,” said Andre.
“Take it from me,” said Rob, “you were better off in Olvar.”
“So what led you into Lucy’s life?” asked Lilah.
“Doctor Lucy,” said Andre. He sighed. “Of course I went to the Institute in Olaren. My kid sister did after me. Our folks never got back to where they had been before, apparently, they were sort of barely making ends meet, but they got us to the Institute. My sister’s still—!” He stopped. His eyes filled with tears.
“What?” asked Lilah after a moment wondering what was going on. “Is your sister—did your sister, did something happen to your sister or something?” He didn’t respond. “Did Lucy and Henry have something to do with what happened to your sister?”
“Nothing happened to my sister,” he said, tears running down both cheeks.
Lilah wanted to shake him, but she wasn’t sure he wouldn’t fall apart like he was made of cookie dough. George said, “So what happened then?”
“I don’t know,” said Andre.
Lilah looked at Zinnia Rose. “What’s the deal here?” she asked. “Why’s he got a problem all of a sudden? Is he really here? Is he fading or something?” She looked at Andre, but he was still just as there as ever. The tears got to his beard line and disappeared. His eyes still glistened, but no new tears came. “What??” Goddesses, she wanted to shake him.
“It’s okay,” said Annelise, leaning to put her hands on Andre’s hands, which were loosely wrapped around his cup. “It’s okay, take your time. Just tell the story.”
“I, uh,” he said. She took her hands back and he took a drink of his espresso. He met Lilah’s eyes. “The problem is,” he said, and tears sprang out again. He put his cup down on the table and buried his face in his hands.
“The problem is, you don’t remember what happened exactly,” said Zinnia Rose, leaning back, gazing at him over her glass of red wine.
“No,” he said. “Not exactly.”
“Just tell us approximately, then.”
“Well, I, uh,” he said. Annelise gave him a napkin and he wiped his face with it. “I, uh,” he said, “I wanted to be an alchemist, of course. Everyone wanted to be an alchemist.” He laughed.
“I bet your parents wanted you to be an alchemist,” said Annelise. “I can see why. It’s a good solid job, not too risky, chance for some gold, mobility even.”
“You’re an alchemist,” he said. She nodded. He almost smiled. “Your parents must have—?”
Everyone looked at Annelise, whose eyes were glittering dangerously. “Let’s not go that direction,” said Lilah. “You didn’t really want to be an alchemist.”
“I was in general magic.” He sighed. He took a sip. His tears receded. “It’s a good program,” he said. “They only let in eight people per year. Eight in general, six in alchemy, in the advanced program.”
“But she was in alchemy,” said Lilah.
“My parents really wanted me to take at least a few classes. They always hoped I’d change my mind. I was, I was into some causes by then, some radical causes. I was thinking about how to, you know, challenge the powers, take on the system.” He laughed ruefully.
“You can’t take on the system.”
“Oh, it’s bad,” he said. “It’s bad, Lilah Bay. I thought it was bad, the system, the, um, thing about power and who’s in control and all that, but it’s worse, it’s much worse than I thought.”
Lilah sighed. “Well, tell me something I didn’t already know. I know. Just—!” She shook her head and sighed again. “Just tell me about how you met Lucy.”
Andre said, “I had to take this class. I didn’t want to. But I would have to if I ever wanted into the school of alchemy, and my parents were very, you know, they kept on it, they were insistent, they never made a big deal of it so I could rebel and argue and all that, they just kept it up, so I would always find it easier to just take the classes and, you know—!” He glanced at Annelise, who had calmed somewhat. “Or maybe you don’t, I’m so sorry, I never—!”
“It’s fine,” said Annelise.
“So I took the class. It was the one after Intro, it was Lab Procedures. And she was the teacher.” And Andre put his head down again, behind the cup he held out in front of him in both hands, and wept a little while the others waited. Then he raised his head and challenged Lilah with a look. And then he downed his second half of a cup of espresso, put it down on the table and said, “Wine, please.”
“She was so beautiful,” said Andre. “She was so smart and so clever and so, I don’t know, cool. Everyone thought she was great. I of course promptly fell in love with her.”
“And she fell in love with you?” asked Lilah.
Andre almost burst into tears, but bewilderment seemed to keep his eyes dry. He croaked out, “I don’t know. I actually, don’t, know.”
“Okay. Just start from the beginning. When you first met Lucy of Endweith. You took this class.”
“I took the class,” said Andre. “I was seventeen, I turned eighteen that year. Classes ran for a full year, well, ten months, at the Institute in Olaren.”
“It was quadmesters at Valantoniu,” said Annelise. “We only took two classes at a time.”
“We had semester classes,” said Zinnia. “Or so I’m told.”
“So anyway,” said Lilah, “your history with Lady Lucy.”
“I took three years of alchemy classes with her. She was this amazing sort of natural technical alchemist, if you know what I mean. She lectured without notes, she wasn’t dramatic but you couldn’t look away, I couldn’t look away. The third year, we had a one-to-one lab relationship, we worked together every day in the lab by ourselves, or in her conference room by ourselves, or we’d walk in the woods looking for ingredients. I, um, really fell for her. She was thirty-five, I was twenty. We talked about everything. She was unfulfilled, she felt she should be doing something important and she wasn’t. And we agreed on everything about politics, about culture. Finally I just couldn’t help myself. I asked her to abandon her post and come with me and make a difference.”
“By blowing up major banks,” said Rob.
“So did you have a sexual relationship with her?” asked Lilah. “Wasn’t she married to Henry at that time? At, um—that would be at Endweith, or some other place? It’s fine, I just need to know.”
“No, I did not. Yes, she was,” said Andre.
“And you asked her to leave with you?”
“I swear this. She was in love with me as I was with her. Yes, she was married to Henry. Yes, she was 35 and I was not quite 21. I am telling you, she would have gone with me, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave him.”
“So,” said Rob, “you hang about her dinner parties at Whistler because she chose to stay at Endweith.”
“I don’t know, you see. I remember all this happening at the Institute in Olaren, or at Endweith, but here you find me at, you say, Whistler Hall.”
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “How did you get there anyway?”
“I don’t know,” said Andre.
“Well, you have all the memories you’re supposed to have, except how you ended up at Whistler. Do you have any other memories?”
Andre clouded up again. After a few moments, he said, “I remember when I last saw her. It was in their garden at Endweith. Henry was out, at a conference, and she, she invited me over for dinner.” The others made noises of sympathy. “But it was because it would be the last time. We hardly touched, well, we kissed, she said ‘I love you,’ but it was clear she was declining my offer and I would be forced to leave alone.”
“And you left,” said Rob.
Andre took a long drink, then refilled his glass. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I had a dream or something that I met her when we were both 21, and she went with me, and we fought the powers that be across the Universe.”
“You dreamt that everything worked out,” said Zinnia.
“No, no,” he said, sitting back as if fading a little. “it really was, she really did run away with me.”
“When you were 21, and she was 21,” said Lilah.
“Interesting,” said George to Annelise.
“Yeah,” said Andre, straining his mind to think about it.
“And you didn’t time travel?” asked Annelise.
“I don’t know how to time travel,” said Andre.
“You didn’t know how to time travel?”
“I don’t. I don’t have the spell, I don’t have an item, I don’t time travel.”
“Then how the hell—?” asked Lilah. “The other one time traveled, surely, that’s how he got to the bank at Adari.”
“The bank,” said Andre. “Adari.” But he had no more to say on that and finished by raising his eyebrows.
“You were there, for sure? At Adari?” He nodded, but uncertainly. “How did you get here, from there, and from there? You’re how old?”
“Twenty-two,” said Andre. He looked puzzled, and added, “I think.”
“And which thing happened to you? You fell in love with 35-year-old Lucy and she turned you down, so you ran away with 21-year-old Lucy. And ended up at Whistler, where none of the aforementioned Lucys lived, at a dinner party hosted by Lady Lucy, age 97 or something. How did that all happen?”
“She lives to be over a hundred,” said Andre. “Two hundred, I think. She has great great great grandchildren. She and Henry.” He wiped his eyes.
“So how could this happen?” Lilah looked at Zinnia, holding a pale green gem.
“You were right,” said Zinnia. “He is a sort of ghost.”
“His time trace was blurry,” said Annelise.
“He wasn’t entirely there,” said Zinnia. They looked at him, and he looked back at them. “But he’s entirely here, because of my spell, and also because of the way the city is.”
“Well, we’ll have to find him a room,” said Lilah. “But what is he!”
Annelise and Rob no doubt discussed that question with Andre himself, in the room where they would let Andre crash until they were tired of him. On the roof, Lilah and George and Zinnia Rose were covering the same material.
“It’s not like I know,” Zinnia was saying, “but he’s some sort of amalgam. It’s as if he’s a mix of different Andres in different worlds.”
“Yeah, I agree,” said George. “Which brings you to the question of how that happened. It’s safe to say none of us has ever heard of meeting a guy who doesn’t have a single actual history but has like 40% of this history and 30% of that one and whatever.”
“I only see two histories here,” said Lilah.
“I see three,” said George.
“At least,” said Zinnia. “One, he meets her when she’s 35 and she turns him down. In the second, she meets him when they’re both 21 and she goes off with him. And then there’s this third one where he visits her at, what was it, Whistle Castle—!”
“Whistler Hall,” said Lilah. “That one’s the one we actually got. That one’s the, what you said, amalgam. Is there another one?”
“I think he was at Whistler Hall at some point,” said George. “I think he checked out the future she’d have without him. I mean, wouldn’t you? I kind of get the guy. I’ve been his age. I mean, before he became an, ah, amalgam.”
“So, still, what does that mean? Where’s he from and what is he?”
“He’s from Whistler,” said Zinnia. “That’s where we got him. There’s got to be a reason why he’s there, rather than somewhere else, because if he is some sort of ghost amalgam, he has to be formed from other Andres from other universes, and something had to have happened to them to leave just him, you know, you don’t get orange juice without pretty much wrecking the orange.”
“And it took at least three oranges in this case,” said George.
“But there’s a lot more we don’t know, of course, and in case you wondered, yes, this professor of the craft would very much like the opportunity to figure some crap out.” She rummaged in her voluminous bag. “I’m going to talk to ghosts, I’d best act the priestess,” she said, pulling out a twine necklace with woodland nuts and a pouch of herbs on it. She put it on. “For instance, what happened to this fellow’s various selves? Were they all squashed at the identical moment in their chronologies? If you and I travel into the past separately, and you buy a tomato and I buy a cucumber, and we both come back to the present, which of us gets here first? Can we ever be in the same kitchen again? Wasn’t there another question?”
“Yes,” said Lilah. “The original question. Why can’t Lucy of Endweith find Endweith?”
“And,” said George, “the first time you met Andre, he and Lucy were blowing up a bank. And those two had no past and only one stop in the future. They certainly didn’t just suddenly exist. They came from somewhere.”
“You don’t get to be like Andre,” said Lilah, “without having an interesting family history.”
“And that interesting history is hidden, and so’s the future, because all you could detect of that Andre and that Lucy together was those two stops, the Adari bank and the party under the Wall of Time. So how and why do you hide a history?”
“Did they hide it,” asked Lilah, “or did they destroy it? And if they destroyed it, whoever they are, did they murder the billions of people who will never have existed, or whatever? Can you get snuffed if you never got born? I want to know.”
“I do too,” said Zinnia.
“You’re hired,” said Lilah, “in case I forgot to say so before. How about this? You have tenure.” She looked at George. “Thanks for the tip, Georgie.”
“Is that what you’re going to call me?” he replied.
“Let’s go see what the other folks are up to.”
She led George and Zinnia back toward the stair door. They could see the dim floodlights through the mist, and then they could see Rob, Annelise and Andre standing just outside the door, sharing a pipe.
“Funny,” said George. “Talking about all the stuff we don’t know made me sort of feel like we’ve solved this situation. It’s like a midterm back at the Institute. We have one page of questions left, and once we figure out answers for those, we’ll be done. What are they gonna do, flunk us?”
“Whereas, said Zinnia, “the questions on that last page are killers.”
“No, but,” said Lilah, “it feels like we’ve drawn a big circle and all our problems are inside that circle. Somehow it’s contained. You know? I think we got this one. I really do. Just got to shade in the picture.”
The air had been still, but just now there was a cool downdraft and a gust of rain. A piece of parchment blew straight down out of the sky and bounced off Lilah’s head. She instinctively stuck out her hands and caught it. It was folded in quarters, then given another fancy corner-fold and wax sealed.
Lilah looked at the seal: a horned snake. She looked up into the sky as if to offer to return the letter. Then she looked at the seal again.
The horned snake was hardly a diagnostic trait: she knew at least a dozen people who used that as their symbol, some because it represented various letters or sounds in various worlds; in the language of the Northern Centaurs, the symbol just meant “wow” or “LOL.”
But it would be wrong to say that Lilah Bay did not have a prime suspect in mind, which is why, as she followed George and Zinnia, rejoining the others, she was saying to herself, “Elio. How you remind me of a horsefly.”