Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 28, 2174

The entire crew of The Warren was still in the ship proper when Annora Ubiña died, which acted to seal off all access to her pocket dimensions. Étude and Saga were expected to be have been in pocket four, which was where they lived, along with Camden Voss, and a group of passengers who posed the least amount of threat to them. Serif had gone into pocket three to explore, but everyone else was capable of still doing their jobs. They were heavy one of the passengers, though. A man named Thando Kovar requested special permission to work dirty jobs on the vessel, saying that he felt uncomfortable being taken back to Earth for free. They agreed to this, but at the moment, he was prime suspect for Annora’s murder, which they confirmed as such after Paige used her cybernetic upgrades to perform a brief autopsy. He was happy to remain locked in one of the cabins, realizing he was the only one they could not fully trust. Unfortunately, the culprit could be anyone. According to as much information as Paige could gather, it was fully possible that Annora was fatally wounded, but remained alive long enough for the killer to escape through one of the pocket entrances before they were closed. There would be no way for them to know, or so they thought.
Hokusai and Leona worked tirelessly for the rest of the day, trying to get back into the pockets, but they were impenetrable. No, it was more like they didn’t exist at all. They could be 99 percent sure that they were still open, and the residents inside were living fairly normal lives. Except for maybe the one that held the murderer. That one could be bad. And it could also be the one Serif was in, or the one where Camden, Saga, and their daughter were in. They absolutely needed to get in, but it was looking impossible. With a defeatist attitude, and a familiar feeling of fatigue that she long ago learned was an occupational hazard, Leona slumped at the once-entrance to pocket three, and fell asleep. Dimensional mechanics being what they were, she was not really closer to Serif than she would be on any other part of the ship, but it was as good as she was going to get. She dreamt of the future, several days from now, when the ship would land. Only then might they find a way to reopen the pocket dimensions, with the help of some salmon or choosing one.
Not long after midnight central hit, she was being woken up by a stranger. She struggled to open her eyes, blinded by the sunlight. She was lying on a beautiful green lawn, but could see buildings in the middle distance. “Are we there already?” she asked.
“No. You’re in pocket three. Have you been here this whole time?”
Wobbly Leona struggled to stand up. “No, I was in the ship. The pockets were sealed off. Hokusai must have figured out how to reopen them.”
“I don’t think that’s what happened,” the man said. “We’ve been stuck here for a year. And still are.”
“No, that’s impossible. I was out there. There’s no way to get in. We tried the whole day.”
“Just a day?” He tilted his lizard brain. “You’re that jumper. The one who only lives one day per year.”
“Yes. I’m sure the rest of the crew kept working on it since I left. Wait, you said this is pocket three?”
“I was at the entrance when I jumped. Is Serif here?”
At first, he didn’t seem to know who that was, but then remembered. “Oh yeah, the crew rep who was here. Well, she disappeared a year ago. Just like you. There are two of you, I didn’t know that.”
“Where exactly was she when she disappeared?” Leona asked.
“Leona!” she heard Serif’s voice call out to her from the direction of one of the housing units. She was already running towards her.
“Yeah, this isn’t a huge place,” the man said. “It doesn’t take long to find anyone.”
“Serif, you’re here!” Leona said happily.
“I am, what happened?”
“There was—” Leona hesitated, and looked over the man who had found her. This was not for his ears.
“Right...I’m gonna go fix the daytime simulator. I only found you because I came out to investigate why the sun turned on in the middle of the night.”
“What happened?” Serif repeated herself once the man was out of earshot.
“Annora’s dead. Murdered. The suspect is either our custodian, or someone in one of these pockets.”
“Oh my God. I guess that would explain how we got trapped.”
“Yes, but if I can get in, you can get out,” Leona said.
“What about the others?”
“It only works during our timejumps, and only when we’re close to the entrance. So we’ll camp out here for the day, and before midnight, we’ll go to the exit, and wait for it to happen again. We can’t save the others. They won’t fit, and I don’t know if that would work anyway.”
“Leona, you misunderstand. The exit isn’t blocked, or locked. It’s gone. It likely vanished at the same moment Annora died. There’s nowhere to go.” She pointed behind Leona. “You’re looking at a Mario Bros. wrap around. Walk in one direction for long enough, and you end up on the exact opposite side of the dimension. There is no escape.”
This was not good news, but then Leona reached for the gadget on her wrist. “My emergency teleporter. That might take us back to the bridge. Do you still have yours?”
“No,” Serif said. “I didn’t think I would need it here.”
“Well, they can take the mass of two standard adults. So that’s what we’ll do. Here, take my hand.”
Serif stepped back like she had seen a spider. “No, we can’t go.”
“I assure you, we can try.”
Serif balked. “If someone’s been murdered, someone is a murderer. Possibly more than one. That person—or those people—could be walking around free right now, ready to do it again. We have to stay here until we determine who it is.” She was unwavering.
“Serif, we’re not detectives. What’re we gonna do, interrogate people?”
“Damn right,” she replied. “We’re the only ones who can go to the other pockets. We have to exhaust all our options here before we do that.”
“The investigation could take six years.”
“A regrettable side effect,” Serif said of this dismissively.
Leona scoffed.
“Better six years than never. Will you be able to sleep at night, knowing we let a killer keep on killing, somewhere here. And what happens when we arrive on Earth? Will we let all the passengers go, thereby also letting said killer do what they want with a whole planet of victims?”
“Well, it’s nearly impossible to get away with murder on Earth these days.”
“You think that’s my point?” she cried. She calmed herself down without prompting. “We have one day to interview every one of the twenty-four people here. I say we get it done by eleven o’clock, try your emergency teleporter, and report back to the crew. Before midnight, we get to the next pocket entrance, and do it all over again. Then we do it as many times as it takes to solve this mystery.”
“Serif, I don’t care about these people. I only care about our people. We get back to the ship, grab a few extra teleporter bands, and go retrieve Étude and her family. That’s the best I can do.”
Serif was shaking her head. “That’s not good enough. There are children here.”
“Oh, don’t guilt trip me.”
“We have to help them,” Serif said, still steadfast. “It’s what we do, when we can. Right now, we can.”
The sun turned back off, and stars appeared, simulating the nighttime. Leona sighed. “If these people are half as tired as I am, they could do with some more sleep anyway. Did they give you a guestroom, or something?”
“They did. There are a few extra beds in each pocket. We’ll start talking to people in the morning.” She used airquotes for the final word.
Once morning came, Serif called everyone to the main common area, and explained the situation. There were a few gripes about privacy and this being a waste of time, but most of them were okay with being interrogated if it meant figuring out who was responsible for this. Overall, they were a fairly accommodating group, though they did express dissatisfaction with this means of investigation. It was rather difficult to explain that there was no other way. Only two people on the ship could travel to the pockets, and only at certain times, on certain days. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but as Serif was saying, it was the best they could do.
No one seemed particularly suspicious, and they couldn’t find any clear motive for any one of them to have committed this crime. Everyone could be accounted for during the time range for Annora’s death. The fact that all their suspects were being quarantined was a pretty nice feature for this situation. The killer likely believed that they got away with it, especially since so much time will have passed before anyone can show up to ask them about it. They will never see Leona and Serif coming, and will have hopefully let their guard down by the time they do. Yes, they could kill again by then; or worse, Leona and Serif could show up to the last pocket they investigate to find everybody massacred. So that wasn’t a great prospect. Perhaps when they went back to the ship, the rest of the crew would have some idea of how they could better handle this.
With an hour to spare before midnight, they entered into a tight embrace, and activated Leona’s teleporter. It worked. They were both back on the ship, much to Brooke’s surprise. “You two are late. Serif, I thought you were in one of the pockets.”
“I was,” Serif answered. “She was too. There’s a way for us to get in them. But only us, and we’re gonna need a few extra transporters.”
“Ouch,” Brooke said apologetically. “No can dosville, baby doll. Hokusai tore them apart, trying to get into the pockets. Apparently, they got real forked up. I don’t think they work anymore.”
“Dammit,” Leona said. “We were gonna use them to get Saga, Étude, and Camden out.”
“And to extradite whoever killed Annora, when we find them,” Serif added.
“Wait, you’re going back in to, what, investigate?”
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Leona said with betrayal.
“You got a better idea?”
“Eh, you do you, sister.” She turned back to her controls. “My only job is to run this ship. If you wanna go back in, you best have a talk with the captain.”
“A talk about what?” Paige asked, demonstrating her almost irritating knack for showing up in doorways, acting as if she hadn’t heard the whole conversation with her enhanced ears.
Serif sighed. “About the safety of our passengers.”

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