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The Spectral Mask
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PostSubject: There's a Hole in my Pocket... Dimension.   There's a Hole in my Pocket... Dimension. EmptyWed Jul 02, 2014 5:45 pm


The prisoner had not yet awoken to find himself facing the most immediate dilemma of his short, but illustrious, life, and Dresher contented himself with the absent consumption of a cold biscuit, pinching off chewy bunches, popping less than a bite into his mouth, and then sprinkling crumbs on the dungeon floor, an arm’s length away. No rats scurried to clean up after him, perhaps driven away by the flickering torch set into the wall, the fallible light of which left nothing certain except the uncompromising reality of three stone walls and a door of iron bars. He was certain that there were rats and other vermin surrounding him at all times, though he had never seen one. He knew.

Yet he only ever considered what traits of theirs were useful to him, of which he could list many without straining the breadth or depth of his day to day observations. Rats lived off of the food too meager or malnutritious to be regarded as anything but a mess, they preyed upon more despicable creatures and were in turn a preyed upon the more pleasant, and they had the decency to keep themselves out of man’s sight while they did their work.

“What could you have possibly done to be sent down here?”

Dresher continued rubbing the flakes of bread off of his fingertips as the words sunk in, until he froze as he processed what the prisoner had said. There was no one in the cell besides him, in this maze of simple stonework connecting isolated pens. No communication between prisoners could occur; each was outside of the earshot of every other. The prisoner must have been talking to himself.

“I fear I cannot recall which petty lord or baron I have offended of late, although it should not come as any surprise that I should awake in chains. Yet although I do not believe we have met before I am compelled to assume the best of you, cell-mates as we are.”

The prisoner was speaking to him, in a deep, emphasized voice, which varied in speed as he layered clauses and phrases. “No cell-mates here.”

“And yet you speak!” the prisoner exclaimed.

“I am not a prisoner. I was sent down here to guard you,” Dresher unfroze, folded the biscuit in a cloth napkin, and stuffed it in his pouch. He leaned further back into the stone wall, and made the mistake of assuming that the prisoner would be silent without a comrade to fraternize with.

“Precisely! Whatever did you do to deserve this?”

Compelled not by training but by curiosity and pride, Dresher lifted the torch from its iron brace in the wall and peered through the bars at the prisoner. He was dressed robes of a startlingly vibrant murky brown, for as everything in the dungeon was lit by torches in the darkness, Dresher knew that, in sunlight, this tunic would be a bright blue. The robes appeared to be oversized for him, but he appeared to be short and stocky, with a wider waist than shoulders. He was slumped like a marionette, his arms lifted above him by two of the dozens of chains which draped the cell, extending from the shadow above. Dangling over his head like a dunce cap was a pointed blue hat.

“I have not done anything wrong. I am here because you have, and you are being punished.”

The prisoner considered this for a moment, or at the very least pretended to, before shaking his head. “I hardly think that fair. You being punished for something I have done. Can your master not tell us apart? We may be similar, but surely he can discern between us.”

“Would you dare insult my liege?” Dresher responded reflexively, “Under whose mercy and generosity you have been spared the axe and given shelter!”

The prisoner straightened his position, lifting himself by his own chains. “Of course, it is ignorant of me to ask so much of one so wise! No baron or duke should be expected to tell his prisoners apart, what need would there be?”

“I am not a prisoner,” Dresher repeated, “We have nothing in common.”

“We are both in a dungeon.”

“But I am on one side of the bars, and you are on the other. I may leave as I choose,” Dresher shook his head, and began to turn, although he could predict that he would continue talking. He could not predict what he would say next.

“Would you dare desert your liege?” the prisoner responded far too quickly, “Under whose mercy and generosity you have been given employment and shelter!”

“My master would not be offended if I exercised my freedom, for I have earned it.” Dresher responded far too slowly.

“Abandon the prisoners? Leave me unguarded?”

Dresher held the prisoner’s gaze as he attempted to articulate what he knew to be true yet could not explain. “Neither of us can leave, but for different reasons.”

“I never meant to imply we had committed the same wrongdoing. Indeed, I was inquiring what you had done.” It sounded almost as if... he were genuinely attempting to resolve a miscommunication.

“You are kept here by chains and bars.”

“And your loyalty is more easily broken?” the prisoner asked, his voice and expression still concerned, not scathing.

Dresher hesitated before speaking again, and when he did speak, it was not in answer.

“You missed breakfast,” he said at last, “I could get another biscuit for you,”

The prisoner did not respond immediately, but when he did respond, it was in answer. “Perhaps you could bring me some water?”

Dresher wove through the corridors without needing to recall the way. He knew. He did not leave the dungeon, for he found it more convenient to have food, supplies, and so on delivered to the chambers reserved for him, rather than making the blinding trip to the light, the barracks, and the kitchen. And so his daily existence had become routine trips from some prisoner’s cell to the food and then back again, a routine which he had mastered. He felt confident that, even if the walls rearranged themselves around him, he would still be able to find the stores of bread and water and cheese from anywhere in the dungeon. It was an unthinking and automatic process, and he had returned with his torch in one hand and a glass of water in the other, but he stopped to set the torch into the wall, to reach for his key ring.

The prisoner leaned forward, in anticipation of the light, not the water. “I did not realize that you would leave with the light,” he confessed, “I was left in the darkness, unsure if you would ever return.” He had not called after his guard, however, to ask him to leave the torch. He had sat, silently.

Silently, Dresher pushed the door open gently and pocketed his keys, and grabbed the torch again so that the prisoner could see what he was drinking. These were simple tasks which could not possibly be disrupted, yet Dresher repeated the steps to himself silently, his breaths short, as he squatted to hand the water to the prisoner.

The prisoner took the glass in one hand and drank only an animal’s lapping from it, before looking up at Dresher with wide eyes. Both seemed to be expecting something from the other, waiting for something that they were certain would come, but they could not guess its nature.

The torch light sputtered, and then it went out.

Dresher jerked the torch, and as soon as he did, the glass which had been stuffed over it fell to the ground in the puddle it had formed. He was pushed to the ground, and his belt tugged at, his unfinished biscuit falling to the ground where it would lay neglected by all but the rats. The jingle of keys and the panting of two struggling figures in the dark went unheard by all of the other prisoners, who were not in earshot.

The struggle did not last long. It was well that neither its participants nor any spectators could see it, for it was not intense or imposing. One of the fighters had honed his strength and skill through years of training in armed and unarmed combat and exercise, and the other possessed a cunning and knowledge of his opponent’s mind which surpassed even the tricksters and devils of legend. Soon, the chains found themselves around the failure’s surrendered wrists.

The victor followed in the footsteps of the men who had dragged and chained the prisoner, the path they had taken while they were leaving him behind to nibble on hard biscuits in the torchlight, the trail of those who had believed that he would stay in a maze of darkness until he rotted. He walked without a guiding light. His way could not be taken from him by a glass of water. He wove through the corridors without needing to recall the way, without needing to recall if he was the prisoner or his guard. He knew.

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PostSubject: Re: There's a Hole in my Pocket... Dimension.   There's a Hole in my Pocket... Dimension. EmptyThu Sep 18, 2014 12:12 am


One might expect the sensation of an earthquake, or the recollection of some childhood incident of standing up in a moving carriage and realizing, in the instant before the pain begins, that the once fixed foundation of your world has been pulled out from beneath you, or perhaps the illusion of the walls growing closer by increments your eye cannot detect but which your mind cannot ignore. The moment that I realized some unlucky mortal had stumbled across my bottle was precisely as catastrophic, though not a single ornament or furnishing was moved from its space in my prison. Gilded carvings of magical beasts clawing out from tables and stools remained motionless. Candles did not flicker and the steady cloud of incense did not waver. The sound of rustling beads and glistening chimes were as subtle as the breath of another, the presence of whom one was hitherto unaware of, in an otherwise unoccupied room; only the most perceptive, or loneliest, of souls might perceive it as I did.

No doubt the mortal was examining the exterior, turning the cylindrical confines of my prison about, but my wine was undisturbed as I set it down. The crystal glass did not clatter because the table did not shake, though it might be resting on the floor as easily as the ceiling. The tent was only as far disturbed as it might have been in a breeze, had there been any wind here. I walked, maintaining discipline and composure, to an opening in the maroon fabric, and pushed it open, resisting the impulse to grasp at my scabbard with my other hand.

The distortion of the green glass did not flatter this mortal. He peered, attempting to discern the contents of my prison, though they were invisible to him. No impressive than the others, he had the look of a castaway about him. His clothes were not rags, but they were thin, faded garments, bleached by the sea. His skin was dry and flushed, his eyes dark and squinting, and I saw more of his nose than I would care for.

The scenery spun about me, though I stood still. The same view of the rubble-strewn beach which had been my only surroundings for decades, if not centuries, was now changing all around me. The bottle was plunged into the ocean, so that it could be rinsed off. A barely audible squeaking sound indicated that he was rubbing sand from its surface, but more ostensibly, the wind chimes resounded as if they were stroked by the hand of an angelic harpist, and outside of the front entrance, a brilliant light played through the thin fabric of the tent.

I was submerged, but I did not feel salt water on my skin. My first sight of the mortal was his expression as he dropped the bottle, which I could only hope the waves would claim. He was now sitting up in the sand, were he appeared incredulous, but not yet in awe, not even as I surfaced with the entire spectacle of a leaping sea predator.

“I am Pazuza, the Jinni of the Storm-Song,” I introduced myself, “The same Pazuza who brought famine upon the River of the King which lasted sixteen and two-hundred years.”

Shaking, the man rose to his feet, but said nothing.

I stepped out of the water, pointed shoes drying instantly. “I was imprisoned in a glass bottle at the dawn of time, and forced to grant three wishes and obey any command for the man who holds my prison.”

The mortal stepped to the side, almost losing his balance on the uneven sand. He was half-starved, weak, and disoriented. I advanced again, in-between him and the waves which I hoped hid the bottle from his view.

“I cannot release myself from this bondage. The bottle is indestructible.” Unwavering, I drew my scimitar. “But the man who frees me is not.”

He stopped moving, staring at me with squinting, searching eyes, his head eschew and his mouth struggling to form words. We stood in silence for a moment, and I began to wonder if he understood my tongue, when at last he spoke.

“What a terrifying thing to see the senses so bewitched, man. Surely you cannot believe such a fable to be true?”

I almost struck at him then, but I maintained my composure. As I had seethed in my prison, long before this mortal was born, I had resolved that his death would be a crime of necessity and liberation, not a fit of untampered passions. He would die understanding me, and until then I would bare his insults.

“You know this to be true, mortal. Behold, I just now burst forth from my prison. How else might I appear before you in this forsaken place?”

He raised his hands in my direction as one might to calm a violent child, and my grip around my scimitar tightened. “You must believe me, friend, I am a castaway, fallen from my vessel, just as you have, doubtlessly. By chance, we washed ashore this same beach.”

“I exploded from the bottle you washed in the sea,” I insisted, “This is no delusion of a sun-bleached mind!”

“You did splash from the water, sir, but not until after you had run up from behind me along the beach, and plunged your head beneath the waves in plain view, all while I asked begged of you to tell me if there was a savage tribe here with which I might take refuge.”

“I am as dry as the desert!” I asserted, but even then I felt a salty drip run along my nose. It could only have been sweat. My voice faltered as I claimed “Only enchantment could protect me from the waves.”

“You shine in the sunlight, sir, and the residue drips from your beard even now. Can you not perceive this?”

“Here is my scimitar, and here, my tunic, and my precious stones!”

“There is no doubt you are a noble merchant, sir, for I see these possessions. But the Jinn are mere fantasies, and your imprisonment a nightmare, now passed.”

I cried out, now, trembling, “How could the mind of a mere mortal contrive a dream so immersive?”

The mortal smiled, sadly, and spoke in an even tone, “I have no doubt you have starved and suffered in this desolate place. It must have pleased you to imagine that you could summon the luxuries a man of your class must have hitherto enjoyed. Do not think lowly of yourself for indulging in memories of food, drink, and entertainment. I to heard takes of the Jinn from childhood, and I consent that their captivity is not unlike our own exile.” He had reached me, and gently lowered my scimitar. “However, I need you, and you I, in order to survive until rescue arrives.”

My weapon no longer threatened him, and he, unarmed, was overpowering me. In one last attempt to defy him, I protested, “My powers and luxuries were no fantasies – I have the powers of a Jinni!”

With a sigh of disappointment, a fresh wound to my pride, the mortal acquiesced. “Very well. Demonstrate your power, and see that it is illusory.”

“I am powerless without the bottle!” I exclaimed, and, turning, I hastened in to the waves. The salty crests reached by knees, and then my waste, and I frantically searched for the artifact which bound me both to enslavement and to my reality, which could doom me to servitude, or free me from the persuasion of this mortal.

As I scanned the distorted sands for the glimmer of glass, I rejected all other sensations, lest doubt seize upon my spirit once again. As I waded, my speed nearly tripped me, for on the uneven surface I shifted and slid. My eyes were for the sand alone, the rocky shore which I saw was not the bottle I had so fragrantly cast away, the treacherous terrain which threatened to pull me beneath the waves. I barely considered the sounds of the mortal searching behind me, and I barely recall them now. Certainly I did not foresee the consequences of turning my back upon him.

“Is this it? This jetsam? Washed ashore from the ship-wrecking reef in the distance, where it was a bottle of brandy, no better. Hardly a proper vessel for a Jinn.”

The bottle cried as his briny palms rubbed some debris off of its surface. As his words struck horror in to my heart, I turned, too quickly. My ankle twisted, and I fell beneath the waves, compelled my forces beyond my strength to defy.

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PostSubject: Re: There's a Hole in my Pocket... Dimension.   There's a Hole in my Pocket... Dimension. EmptyThu Sep 25, 2014 3:00 pm

Shark Hour

What she couldn’t wrap her head around was that he hadn’t tried to build another one. When the first Terminal fell and shattered like glass, and the sunset had refracted through its shattering marble magnificence, when the original palace of mirrors and stone carved so thin that the light from the dying sun shone through the walls as if through the cracks in the fingers of a child, when the blanket which had smothered him in the womblike red warmth of innocence had been pulled out from under, over, and around him and his creation had slid without apology from the carpet of clouds and crashed back down to Earth, he had persisted. He began reassembling the fleet, having used the flying machines to build the Terminal, now rubble, now being salvaged to build another armada of construction ships which were intended to be dismantled upon arrival. She had the matter explained to her at length, of how expensive it was to build a machine that could fly and also carry the weight of construction materials into the sky, where they must then hover as the most daring feat of engineering ever attempted was performed in mid-air for no reason whatsoever. It was claimed that using the zeppelins and ornithopters as the foundation of a castle made the most sense, since they might as well be cannibalized while they were up there, and a container for the slabs and stained glass was no longer necessary once they were welded to the greater whole. She saw through that as easily as she could see through the transparent Terminal itself, it having finally been constructed to completion, half a century after Japis had left it a smoldering, crumpled blueprint, covering three hundred square miles of the drawing room floor he had made of the Earth’s surface. Nothing Japis had ever done made any sense, but why should that have stopped him?

Yet it did. It seemed like Japis could march on forever, keeping stride with the constant conspiracies time wove against him. He worked with half of the disheartened and disloyal workforce his first attempt had recruited; he worked with his own two hands, the hands whose blemishless appearances never betrayed the manual labor in which they had engaged, to build the first dozen of several hundred unique flying machines, never re-using a design from his latest attempt or any other. Before the structural support of the main hall of the second Terminal had been completed or any defenses installed, he had insisted upon working through Shark Hour.

His workers refused to leave solid ground during the frenzy, but Japis’ designs only grew more spectacular in the face of such obstacles, and this Terminal was to be far greater than the inferior prototype which had slipped through his smooth, uncallused fingers. He went up alone in an airship of his own design and construction to continue his labors through Shark Hour, unflinching in the face of their merciless mechanical maws.

But what she would not return to her own time without knowing was how he had died up there. She had seen the wreckage, to be certain, but she could tell the accident couldn’t have been fatal, and she had never heard anyone assert otherwise. It was baffling that the man who had made it possible to verify history, who had unleashed a hoard of investigators to confirm the official records, had died under circumstances so blatantly suspicious, and yet there had never been so much as an attempt to sweep him under the rug. Even as she sat in the bead-filled, gossamer cushions of the Third Terminal she triple-checked the record, and confirmed that she was the first soul to use the first working Terminal to see what had become of the distant mind which had first drawn up its plans. She had only one theory, which was that everyone around her already understood what had become of Japis, who, for all of his ambition, was not foolish enough to stick his neck out during Shark Hour. And she could understand why no one wanted to bother the man as he climbed upwards to the height he would knowingly jump from, and knew she was likely to regret her inquiry.

It was too late now, however. Certainly she had a keypad at her finger tips which would let her turn back time at any moment, but her fingers could never request a reversal, as surely as they must have always requested the journey to begin with. The many millions who abstained visiting the Terminal altogether were not without justification. What use was there in going back if nothing changes? And what use was there in moving forward when, at any moment, a visitor from your own future might appear to say, “Nothing you do from now on will matter. When I step back through the door you will forget everything, anything moved or touched or created or destroyed will go back to the way it was before I entered. Now, please answer my questions honestly, this is for posterity.”

As she stepped out on to the marble-tile floor of the incomplete Second Terminal, of course, and saw his figure watching her appearance with resignation, she knew that she did not have to say anything at all. She merely introduced herself, and waited for him to speak.

She impressed herself with her own composure. She kept her brow high and her back straight. It had been said of her that she rarely smiled and yet was always kind, that she had mastered the gaze which meant to anyone who looked into her eyes that she was willing to listen. She would not let him do all of the talking, not when she knew the answer which she was sure he would equivocate around, not when she knew he wouldn’t speak about the sharks unless she spoke of them first, but she would let him begin. As befit a genius or a madman or, if nothing else, a human unlike any other, he began by surprising her.

“You can’t be here. The Terminal’s not going to be finished.”

She retained her calm, steady gaze. She had interviewed men far more dangerous, far crueler, and far more devious. “A Terminal was always going to be built eventually.”

“Fine then,” Japis turned away from her and looked back at the wreckage. She had been correct that he had survived the accident, which could hardly be called a crash. The ship had been able to land at the construction site, but it had been so damaged by the feeding frenzy that it would be unsalvageable. And so all of his work through shark-infested sky had been for nothing, and now he was trapped up here until the hour was over. And Japis defined himself by his refusal to wait. “Run backwards, run and hide in the past. You weren’t getting anywhere, trying to hide in the future.”

“You changed the field of history forever. Without you there would be no certainty, no fact, only biases and opinions,” she spoke reassuringly, “Some say there were no historians before the Terminal, just historiographers.”

“It was a safe bet to leave a gift for historians,” Japis observed, still facing away, scanning the clouds for the gleam off of the exposed, metallic ribcage of the monstrosity that would devour him, “Historians are good friends to have. I suppose we found out Asteron was a swell guy, but just peeved off the men writing the records.”

“Correct,” she confirmed, “He did much good for the people of Knossos, but he insulted the court historian, which resulted in the accusations of bestiality.”

He asked with words in rapid succession, “And what good did that do?”

“It’s considered one of the most egregious abuses of the office of historian,” she began to lecture.

He cut her off. “What good did it do, disproving it?”

“It restored Asteron’s honor and legacy.”

“And that’s why you’re here?” he asked.

“To set the record straight, I am,” she answered, although she had doubted that purpose as she had been researching Japis’ life in preparation. It was not a complete truth; a large part of her had always been fascinated by the disasters of humanity’s course, and the greatest mistakes ever made. Perhaps that was what made much of history so compelling, and perhaps it distorted the complete record more than historians were willing to admit.

“I’m not interested in a legacy anymore,” Japis spoke, quietly.

“There’s not much else you can do,” she gestured to the doorway behind her, “Once I leave, this incident resets, and you die either way. Even if you don’t cooperate this time, I can just try again.”

“I know. I invented the Terminal.” His words rang hollow.

“I know. Everyone knows what you designed, what only you could have ever envisioned.” She stepped forward, “But no one can know why you gave up.”

A great metallic snap, the sound of machinery which had been bent in such a way its maker had never intended and was now grating against and within itself, then reverberated through the clouds. “There’s one,” Japis gestured limply to the shark parting the orange clouds some distance away, “It was a quiet Shark Hour this morning, you know.”

“Are you going to jump?” she asked, knowing the answer.

“They were going to get me eventually,” he nodded. Of course, with her modern understanding of certainty, she knew that not only was Japis always destined to die in the bladelike teeth of the sharks, he was always destined to jump from this height into the jaws of this monster during this very hour. The only thing that might change was a visitor come to inquire about his innermost thoughts, but even then, the laws of time coalesced to ensure that no lasting imprint was ever left.

Japis looked at her, sadly. “If you’re waiting for dying words,” he breathed, “The greatest folly of man was looking at the sky, at the giant red sun which rose and set each day, at the parchment-winged wind-up birds whose migrations foretold the seasons, looking up at the lapsing of time as the spheres twirled around us as saying, I will reach those heights one day.”

“Man did,” she asserted, “And women, for the record.”

“For the record,” Japis almost hissed, with intensity which might have actually made her recoil, “There is nothing up here but sharks.”

“Why did you built them, then?” she asked. It was not a courthouse drama accusation, but the stoic, but concerned inquiry of a counselor, or a close friend.

“The Terminals? I never finished. I should have given up earlier.”

“Why did you build the sharks?” she clarified.

The sadness in Japis’ eyes shifted to confusion. “I didn’t build the sharks. No one knows who built the sharks. Unless your Terminal can go back before I started working, and even then I didn’t build anything like that.”

“No, we can’t go back beyond the First Terminal,” she pressed, “But one of the sharks was harpooned several years ago, during my time. The first one ever brought down. Your seal was inside, and we even took it back to show to your contemporaries. They unanimously agreed only you could have built it, as soon as we showed them the interior workings.”

Japis began shaking his head, slowly. “The sharks were here before we started flying. We just couldn’t see them because they stay above clouds, and rarely fly through open sky.”

“If you’re going to be difficult, I will restart this interview with a more direct approach,” she threatened, and began walking towards the door.

“That door, it’s active now that it’s connected to the future, isn’t it?” he called after her.

“It had better be, or else I couldn’t go home,” she mused, “And I would hold you accountable. You built these.”

She grew nervous. The light had been restored to his eyes, but this was a man on the verge of suicide. The changes would be erased as soon as she left, of course, but such a remarkable shift in demeanor set her on edge. As it happened, her intuition was justified.

“And the body? They never found my body!” he exclaimed, “In the gears of some shark somewhere in the upper atmosphere, a shark which will never get brought down!”

“No, they never found anything.”

“Then I could go back, couldn’t I?” he asked. She didn’t answer, but he knew better than she did. For every class and safety briefing she had endured to enter this field, it was Japis who had first conceived of the Terminal. “I could go to any point on the timeline, and build a whole army of sharks. If I left, they’d disappear, sure, but if I stayed, so would they, yes?”

“That couldn’t have happened,” she denied it, although she was starting to believe it.

“It’s the only way it could have happened,” Japis insisted, “It is what happened!”

Yes, she supposed it must have been true. It was the only way it made any sense. Why would he lie about this, why not just confess if he had built the sharks earlier?

Without giving it another thought, then, she ran through the door and slammed it shut, typing in the coordinates for her present day Terminal over his protests. She sat back and breathed deeply as she left him behind, and decided that she deserved a nice, long break from history. She had been considering a trip to the space-age attractions of the far future, but now she settled on a comforting little holiday back in her own present. It occurred to her that, now that she knew her line of work was not so consequence-free after all, living anywhere but the present might no longer be within her reach.

She contemplated what to put on record. At first, she resolved to write nothing. She was filled with shame and fear and worried that her entire field might collapse in on itself to know the truth. But this decision gave way to an even greater worry. The sharks still existed, and always had. Shark Hour was still declared four times a day, every day, amongst the echoing, glowing walls of the Terminal. The shadows of the temporal predators slid across the walls as the world turned inwards and ignored the darkness around them. Suppose some other historian went back to ask the same question? Suppose he already had, and Japis had already escaped? Suppose that dozens, hundreds, thousands had gone, and not one written it on the record? And so there had been no conspiracy, no cover-up. Just men and women like her, too afraid to know what the first word would be.

Her session ended in just a few minutes, long enough for her deliberations to send her flying out the door and headed down the hallway without looking back. She did not look through any of the doors she passed, did not even register the glow and hum of a historian arriving in her present. And so it was not until she heard those familiar words that she realized, nothing she did mattered.

“When I step back through the door you will forget everything,” her colleague explained, “Anything moved or touched or created or destroyed will go back to the way it was before I entered. Now, please answer my questions honestly, this is for posterity. Firstly, why didn’t you write your report?”

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