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Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 29, 2175

Paige agreed to let the two of them reenter the pocket dimensions, searching for Annora’s killer. Her only condition was that they start with pocket four, so they could check on Étude, and her parents. They were wanting to do that anyway, so it all worked out. Leona had to warn them that, though they were doing their best to recreate the conditions that led Leona to pocket three, there were no guarantees. In The Langoliers, the only reason the survivors survived was because they were all asleep when their plane flew through a time rift, as was Leona when she fell through hers. That was an unlikely requirement, but not outside the realm of possibility. What had happened to her could also have been nothing more than a fluke, and they were just wasting their time. Even so, it was worth try, so just before midnight, they squeezed into what was once the entrance to pocket four, and waiting for launch, knowing it might not work.
It worked. They suddenly found themselves on the lawn of pocket four. While solar cycles were generally considered irrelevant when flying on an interstellar ship, they were arbitrarily programmed into Annora’s worlds, in order to better simulate people’s circadian rhythms. And since everything in the world of salmon and choosers revolved around Kansas, it was also based on the central time zone, meaning it should have been nighttime. But like before, the sun was up, prompting people to start filing out of the housing units, looking for answers. The others were hesitant to approach. Even though they all recognized Leona and Serif, they must have been worried their arrival came with bad news. Of course, Saga and Camden had no such fears. They came right up, with six-year-old Étude in tow.
“We’ve guessed that Annora is dead,” Saga said, spot on.
“She is.”
“How did it happen?” Camden asked.
“Murder. We’re going around to the other dimensions, trying to find out who.”
Camden nodded. “The entrances were sealed off, but if you’ve found a way through, I would like to join you. I have quite a bit of experience with these kinds of things.”
“We would love that. Unfortunately, it’s not possible. We only have one emergency teleporter to get up back to the ship proper, and only we can travel to other pockets.”
He stood up straighter, not in disbelief, but deep in thought for a workaround to their problem. There wasn’t one, though.”
“At least take Étude with you,” Saga requested. “If there’s a killer somewhere, and you know they’re not on the ship itself, then that’s the safest place for her.”
“We both need to go back,” Serif said. “If one of us takes Étude, the other will have to stay behind.”
“That’s not the problem,” Leona said. “The teleporter could probably handle the mass of two smallish adults and one child. The problem is Hokusai has been trying to figure out how to reopen the entrances for years now.” She looked up and gestured towards the microworld in general. “Obviously she hasn’t yet. We don’t know when you would be able to see Étude again.”
“But she’ll be safe,” Camden argued.
Leona shook her head. “I can’t take another child from her parents,” Leona said, recalling the events surrounding Brooke’s life.
“But she’ll be safe,” Saga echoed Camden.
“If the killer’s here,” Serif assured them, “we’ll find them. We’ll take them back to the ship, and you’ll be safe. If they’re not, then you have nothing to worry about.”
“And what if there’s more than one killer, or there’s a secret army amongst this group?” Camden suggested. “What if not one of these people can be trusted, and they all just managed to lie their way onto this ship. If you’ll remember, they started out by taking our people hostage.”
“That was the leadership. Each and every one of these passengers has been vetted.”
“Lotta good that did,” Camden retorted. “Somebody here got past your research. At least one person is a killer.”
I conducted that research,” Saga turned the argument. “And I used every resource on Durus to do it. There’s no way we could have known this would happen.”
“And why not?” Camden oppugned. “Didn’t you ask any seers whether something like this would happen?”
“I did,” Saga said. “But the future is always changing. No one told me this would happen, or I wouldn’t have let it.” Now she turned the argument back, “please. I wanna raise my daughter, but not if it means watching her die.”
All this time, Étude remained speechless, and unmoved. As with every child Leona had met after all this began, she was precocious and jaded. Xearea, Brooke, Dar’cy, and now Étude; they all had to grow up too fast, and had complicated family situations. What struck her about this family was their openness. She probably would have sheltered her own daughter from this conversation, but it looked like these two were keeping nothing from Étude. Though she never spoke, she did have other ways of expressing her opinion, in particular her disapproval of a decision, which reportedly happened often. She didn’t seem bothered by this argument, though, and appeared on board with whatever they chose.
“I’ll tell you what,” Leona began. “Camden, there’s no reason you can’t help us with the investigation while we’re in this pocket. Your skills, and my Serif’s love of mystery novels combined means there’s no way we leave here without being certain the murderer is either not here now, or won’t be after the teleporter is next activated. Once we’re done talking with everyone, we’ll revisit the question of what to do with Étude. I don’t think we can reach a reasonable consensus until then. Deal?”
Camden and Saga conferred telepathically. “Agreed.”
“All right,” Leona said. “I’m with you, Agent Voss. Saga, you’ll go with Serif. Each pair should question each individual. Then we’ll compare notes; look for inconsistencies, and such.
After being told what had happened, the rest of the residents were in full agreement that they should get to turn the sun back off, and get the rest of the night’s sleep before answering any questions. Camden told his fellow investigators that the were better off interviewing them now. It’s harder to tell a lie when you’re tired, and didn’t expect to have to. He gave them a few other pointers, most of which were designed to exploit their subject’s weakness. Though every person was different, there were a few universal weaknesses. Everybody needed to eat, everybody needed to sleep, and everybody hated repeating themselves. He instructed them to ask the same question multiple times, under the guise of just trying to get a clear picture of what they remembered from that night, to see if their story changed. He also did warn them that it had now been two years since the murder. While the fact that the incident had resulted in the pockets being sealed off—which made the day a memorable one—worked in their favor, the time that passed since then increasingly muddied memories. The last pocket’s alibis will be the least reliable.
The three inexperienced and untrained interrogators came out of the interviews feeling good about what they had learned, which was nothing. There seemed to be no indication that anyone here had killed Annora, or felt any ill will towards anyone here. Camden, on the other hand, was not convinced, and appeared more stressed out than ever. While the resident technician was working on turning the midnight sun off, and getting back on schedule, the five of them huddled on the edge of the pocket world, to discuss their observations.
“It’s worse than I thought,” Camden said, mostly to Saga.
“I’ve not found that,” Saga said.
“No, you wouldn’t. It was subtle, but it was there. People are fine with the pocket being sealed off. They’re happy here, they have everything they need, and they’ve no interest in going anywhere else. Few of them had planned on leaving at all throughout the whole trip. Those that had are still cool with what’s happened, and are just happy no one else can come here.”
“Okay, that sounds good,” Serif said.
“It sounds good; it’s not good. There are some paramounts here, the combination of which puts this place in danger.”
“I don’t remember anything like that,” Saga disputed. “We ran predictive combination models.”
“Yes, but you didn’t calculate children. Two have been born since we got here, and one got on board last minute. The latter can diagnose time powers.”
“Yeah, I remember him,” Saga said, “so what?”
“Well, he diagnosed the other two,” Camden replied. “One has the potential to expand the pocket’s scope. It could be infinitely large, once she’s old enough to learn how to use her power. The other goes hand in hand with that. He can create scions.” He looked at them like they were supposed to know what that meant in this context.
“He can have children?” Leona put forth. “So can a lot of people.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Camden continued. “He can take any two individuals—of any sex—and artificial generate offspring from them. And he can accelerate that offspring’s development. So as the girl is expanding the universe, the boy is adding people to it.”
“That sounds strange,” Serif agreed. “But bad? I dunno.”
“It could have serious repercussions for our universe,” Leona explained. “It could be kind of a this town ain’t big enough for the two of us thing. One could consume the other, likely the one that’s expanding the fastest, so goodbye us. They could both make each other pop. Or they could form a culture bent on our destruction, and ultimately cross back over to make war with us. We can’t just, like, let a whole new universe be created.”
“We also can’t stop them,” Serif pointed out.
“Maybe not,” Saga said, “but you can make good on your word, and get my daughter out of here.”
“Saga...” Leona started, having been dreading saying no to this request again, but believing strongly that she needed to.
“You said we would revisit the issue,” Saga reminded her. “That’s what we’re doing, and I think recent events have made the right choice quite clear.”
Leona was about to argue the point, but Serif stopped her. “We’ll do it.”
“Serif,” Leona scolded.
“We’re doing it,” Serif said to Leona. “Our job is to protect the Last Savior. This is how we do that.”
“We don’t know they have plans to make a new universe. They’re just babies.”
“That’s true,” Camden acknowledged, “but the whispers suggest it’s going to come to that. These people are trying to leave Durus, not go to Earth. They can build paradise here, and maybe a Savior would be a nice feature to have around in that paradise. We need to get her out now.”
“Very well,” Leona finally capitulated. “Well, if we’re gonna go, we should go now.”
“Great, I have her bag right here.”
“We’ll give you some time to say goodbye,” Serif told Étude’s parents.
“Are you sure about this?” Leona asked Serif once they had stepped off to the side.
“You said we could take a child with us.”
“I’m never a hundred percent sure of anything.”
“If it doesn’t work, I’ll stay.”
“Serif...”
“But it’ll work,” she said with confidence.
It didn’t work.
The three ladies held hands, trying to emergency teleport back to the cockpit of The Warren together. It felt like they were in a mosh pit, being pushed and shoved in a chaotic crowd of strangers. The teleporter wanted to take them away, but wasn’t able to, yet it kept trying. Serif gave her love one last look, then let go. Before Leona could do anything about it, she and Étude were gone.

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