She sat on the couch, with her legs and feet drawn up, and her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Mathias, next to her, sat so he faced her, while Tomiroc wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t sit down, paced the floor.
Over her knees she watched the seal pointed gray cat walk back and forth. She said in a tired, quiet voice, “Tomi, come sit.”
She was totally surprised at the way he was acting over the discovery of Nonna having gone missing. And she wondered why she wasn’t acting more upset. She reasoned that the best hunter in the clan could take care of herself better than ordinary folks. But internally, she knew this wasn’t really true. They weren’t up against ordinary thugs, if what they learned at Gillian’s was true.
Tomiroc stopped his pacing and faced the vidwall. The screen snapped on, and it flickered through multiple images till the same news woman’s face shown on the wall. She was saying something about space travel and singularities. Kaniko focused on the wall and listened. “As incredible as it seems, the man, Dominic Marshall, claims to have come from the past. He says that he and many others came forward in time through a blackhole. He claims that this technology is the same tech that he used to travel to Sirius prime. He did not go into detail of its operation or theory, only that it takes a special AI to crunch the quantum math. Mr. Marshall did say, that even the quantum AI isn’t perfect and said that it miscalculated the first jump, resulting in a time dilation that lengthened their absence.” The news woman paused and looked out of the screen at her audience. “He said that the trip was only supposed to take four years, not ten. The station concedes now that after investigating this story, they believe it is possible that Mr. Marshall is telling the truth. Our investigations have found that all the Evolved believe this to be true.” She turned to her left and the screen expanded to include a blue medical syntec. “Dr. Heeray, can you tell us what you know about this?”
“Certainly. More than two hundred years ago, a time machine was constructed, and my creators used it to travel to this future.”
The news woman furrowed one eyebrow. “This future?”
The syntec smiled at her and asked, “Don’t you think it is possible that there are more than one possible timeline?”
“I never gave the notion any thought. But go on, please. How did they choose this time frame?”
“There was a malfunction that interrupted the planned thousand year jump. Only a handful made it here. The rest were lost. It is said, they were marooned in to living out their lives during the recovery, only having jumped a hundred years.”
“So Doctor, how does a time traveling machine help a person travel to a distant star like Sirius Prime?”
“You know that I am a medical Syntec, not a scientist, right?”
“Yes, but being an Evolved…”
The blue skinned AI cut her off and said, “You’re human, so you should know everything all other humans know?”
“Ah, no, of course not.”
“Then why would you think the Evolved are any different?”
She blanched at the question and looked at her guest in dismay. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
He placed his slender blue hand on hers and said, “It’s quite alright.”
She dropped her eyes from the syntec and asked, “Do you know what purpose they made the trip to Sirius Prime?”
The medical syntec smiled. “I don’t know, why do you humans do anything, Ms. Machoy?”
The woman answered, “Because we’re a curious race.”
“Yes, and maybe for the adventure.”
“But that is not all of it is, is it?”
The blue AI smiled and asked, “You’re referring to the rumor that they were tracing a message?” The woman news lady nodded. “It is true that that star was chosen based on three messages received over a four hundred period. But that is as much as I know about it.”
Ms. Machoy asked, “Do you have any opinion or insight on the visitors, you’d like to share?”
“No, but I hope to get to meet them someday.”
“Thank you, Dr. Heeray for taking the time to speak to us today.” The screen narrow and zoomed in her face. She looked directly out at her audience. “Tomorrow we will return to Heaven’s Gate to hopefully speak to our new quests and asked them about their home planet.”
The image switched to local advertisement. Tomiroc turned from looking at it, and the wall went back to being just a wall. He stood looking at his to mates without saying a word. Kaniko padded the cushion next to her, and after a moment’s hesitation, he stepped up and sat down next to her. She could see that he was thinking deeply, so she asked, “What’s?”
“I don’t know.” Kaniko could hear the worry in his voice and see the frustration in his brow.
She reached for his paw and stroked his velvety fur. “Everything will work out. We’ll find Nonna and whatever comes, we’ll deal with it, together. You, me and Mathias.”
Tomiroc looked up at the wolf behind her and their eyes met. He didn’t seem worried like himself. Tomiroc envied that about the wolf who now was an intimate part of his life. A brief thought nagged at him. How was he going to explain this to his mother?
The vidwall turned on and made a ringing sound. The words, San Francisco Police, Investigations. All three jumped a little at the sudden break in the quiet.
Kaniko said to the wall, “Answer call.”
A woman’s face materialized in 3D on the wall. She introduced herself, “I’m Inspector Giatauno. I have located Nonna Koibito’s vehicle. Do you wish to come and retrieve it?” The woman held an impassive expression as she waited for a response.
Kaniko asked, “Did you not find Nonna or Mr. Polonius?”
“No, Ma’am. The vehicle was found parked in a parking lot, locked. No signs of a struggle or anything to indicate foul play.”
Tomiroc stood up and walked a couple of steps towards the vidwall. “So are you saying you’re done? You’re not looking into that she has been out of contact with anyone for more than two days?”
The woman’s face took on an irritated look. “We were asked to locate a vehicle. We did that. Here is the location. I can have a patrol vehicle pick you up if you wish. Any other investigations will need probable cause to go any further. Do you have probable cause to believe Ms. Koibito or Mr. Polonius have been victimized?”
Tomiroc started, “Yeah…” Kaniko grabbed his paw and pulled him around to face her.
Through her wetwire link to him. “Don’t say a word.” To the investigator on the vidwall, Kaniko calmly replied. “Yes, please send a patrol vehicle to take us to her back-ranger. No, at this time, we don’t have proof of probable cause and thank you for contacting us to let us know about the vehicle.”
The woman eyed Tomiroc for a minute longer, then smiled at Kaniko. “Expect the vehicle to be there in ten minutes. Here is my VS address, if you decide you need further assistance.” A string of numbers was displayed for a moment before the wall went turned off again.
Tomiroc asked, “Hey, why did you stop me?”
With a raised whiskered brow. “You didn’t see her tectat?”
The male cat turned and glanced at the wall for a moment, remembering what the woman police investigator looked like. He nodded his head as he turned back to his companions. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean she works for the Neo-technics, does it?”
“I don’t know, Tomi. Something about her was off.”
Mathias, who had been sitting quietly by, offered. “She was not telling us everything.” Both Kaniko and Tomiroc turned to regard the wolf. He continued, “She had an edge of unease in her voice. She seemed very stiff. I bet, if I could have scented her, I would know if she was being truthful.”
Kaniko voiced, “I wonder if Governor Leakey has considered that her own law forces may be compromised?”
Tomiroc chuffed. “Till a minute ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.”
Kaniko postulated, “It would make a takeover easier if the Neo-technics had people on the inside.”
Tomiroc said, “I’m ready to go home, now.” And flopped back down on the couch.
Kaniko laid a paw on his thigh. “You know we can’t.”
“I know, I know. But how did we get so involved in all this? I mean life in the forest was simple.”
She smiled gently at him. “You volunteered to come help Mathias and me, remember?”
Mathias said, “I’m sorry brother for getting you involved in my problems.”
Tomiroc jerked up his head and looked at the wolf sharply. “Wait, no. It’s not your fault. This is so much bigger that just finding your past. You couldn’t have known it would lead us to this point.”
Kaniko interrupted them, “The police vehicle is here.”
Together they left the room and road in the patrol car into South San Fran, close to the Bay. The officer had verified their identifications, introduced himself as Sergeant Pendergraph, and explained that the back-ranger was found parked under a tree in the backlot of an old lodge.
Kaniko questioned, “Were you the officer that located the vehicle?”
Pendergraph answered, “No, ma’am. I was the first office on the scene. Lieutenant Giatauno found the vehicles navguide signature via the citynet. I’m just a street grunt, to do the fetching and getting, if you know what I mean.”
Something in the beat cop’s voice put Kaniko at ease. She asked, “Did you look around?”
He looked up in the mirror at her and answered, “Do you mean, did I asked the lodge attendant about the vehicle?”
He smiled gently. It was truly a kind honest smile. “The clerk wasn’t to forthcoming, other than to say that no one checked in with that vehicle. He did say, he had planned on getting it hauled off the next day.”
Kaniko looked at her two lovers and asked them through the privacy of their wetwires, “What do you two think?”
Mathias stated, “He has no deception about him. He is quite calm. He’s a family man.”
Tomiroc laughed, “What you smell his kids or something?”
Mathias answered simply, “Yes. Two little girls.”
Tomiroc blinked hard at Mathias. “How do you know they are girls, much less two?”
Mathias grinned big at Tomiroc. “There is a picture of them on his instrument cluster.”
Kaniko giggled despite the circumstances of their trip.
Mathias corrected, “Wolf.”
Tomiroc suggested, “More like a coyote or fox.”
Kaniko squeezed their thighs to gain their attention. “Do you both agree he is honest?”
Both said in her head, “Yes.”
She looked up front into the rearview mirror to see the police office eying her. She asked, “Then you think the clerk knows more?”
He nodded and answered, “I didn’t pursue any further questions beyond ensuring that your friend was not checked into a room and sleeping off a two-day drunk.”
They turned off a multi-laned road and followed it around a long right-hand curve. The lodge’s parking lot came into view and at the back corner, under a tree was the back-ranger. Officer Pendergraph, parked next to Nonna’s car. They climbed out and walked around to examine the back-ranger. Like Sergeant Pendergraph had said, it was locked and untouched.
Kaniko went to the driver’s door and pressed her thumb to the glass. The ranger said, “Welcome, Kaniko Walsh-Gamble.” The door locks clicked open. She turned to thank the officer to find him standing behind her. He held a filmtab out to her.
“If you could please acknowledge that you have receipt of the vehicle and that you have no other services.” She looked from his pleasant human face to the filmtab he held out to her.
Kaniko scanned the document and understood it was a simple release of responsibility for the back-ranger. She applied her thumbprint to the lower right corner.
Officer Pendergraph smiled and said, “Now that that business is done, I wanted to mention that there is a train cargo depot just to the right on the next street.” He tipped his hat and got in his own vehicle and left.
“What did he mean by that?” Asked Mathias. “Are we going on a train?”
“No, babe. We’re not going on a train.”
Tomiroc turned from looking down the street at his two lovers. “He just told us where to look for Nonna.”
Kaniko nodded and said, “I think you’re right and I bet the lodge clerk knows more than Officer Pendergraph was allowed to ask.”
They got in the back-ranger, and Kaniko looked over the controls to find the enable switch. Tomiroc noticed her hesitation and asked, “Do you know how to drive?”
“I’ve watched Nonna, and I’ve driven around a little in father’s wood-rambler.” She found the switch that would turn on the vehicle. She flipped it and waited for the system to do its self-diagnostics. The ready light came on, and she pulled the drive control into the forward drive position. Kaniko pushed on one of the two levers on the floor, and the ranger lurched forward. She figured out how much and how soft to push the peddle to make the car move forward more smoothly. The steering handle was straightforward for her. They approached the check-in office of the lodge. “I want to ask the right questions of the clerk.”
“Agreed. Then we should check out the train depot.” Tomiroc confirmed.
She pulled up under the portcullis and stopped the back-ranger and put it into park. They all got out and went inside. No one was at the counter, but they could hear a vid playing in the back room. It sounded like another news break about the visitors from space. A man’s voice said, “Be with you in just a moment.”
Tomiroc scanned the reception room and found a small eye camera mounted in a corner where two walls and the ceiling met. He gave it a toothy grin and was rewards with a surprised and slightly fearful sound from the hidden clerk.
Mathias chuckled, and Kaniko whispered, “Quit scaring the locals.”
They all heard the approach of the human man. He walked quickly in little steps and looked nervous. “Good afternoon. Do you three need rooms?”
Kaniko gestured out the door at the back-ranger. “We have some questions.”
The man looked out the front window, and his face took on recognition. He turned to them, “I already told the policewoman everything I knew.”
“Officer Pendergraph isn’t a woman.” Stated Tomiroc.
“No not him, the investigator. She asked a lot of questions.”
Mathias said, “What sort of questions? Tell us the truth, because I will know otherwise.”
The man looked at Mathias and looked like he was about to pee himself. “She, she asked if I had seen anyone, like the occupants of the car.”
Kaniko prompted, “And did you?”
“I, I saw a woman in a long hooded trench coat and a tall older man with her walk to the rail depot.”
Kaniko asked, “Did the investigator asked anything else?”
He looked from Kaniko to Mathias to Tomiroc and back to her. “She asked if anyone else had come by.”
“I said no.” He volunteered, “She asked when I saw them and if they came back.”
Tomiroc asked, “Did they come back by?”
“No. Loaded trucks go in, and empty ones leave most of the time lately.”
Mathias asked, “Do you know anything else you should tell us?”
“No. And I don’t want any trouble.”
Mathias turned to his companions. “He’s telling the truth as far as I can tell.”
Kaniko reached into her coat pocket and fished out some single credit tokens and toss them on the countertop. “Thanks for your help.”
They exited, leaving the clerk standing, staring at the tokens. They got back into the back-ranger and turned down the street towards the maglev rail depot.