Her laptop took a few seconds to warm up and accept the electricity she was piping in. It turned on without too much of a problem.
“So, what’s this in aid of?” Red asked, looking over her shoulder.
“I just want to check the date,” she replied. “All this dust, this stuff being left alone, it’s just so weird.”
“Mmm-hmm.” She logged in — apparently, her password wasn’t something that had lapsed from her muscle memory just yet — “I don’t know about you, but I was expecting rather less magical shenanigans here. Isn’t there supposed to be no magic, here?”
Red made a vague hand gesture that contained a multitude of nuances. “Well, in my experience, STAR or its alternate-universe equivalents tend to sit on what little magic filters into Materia.”
“So they’re the most likely culprits?”
“This doesn’t really seem like them,” he replied. “They’re aware of you, so it would make sense if they investigated your last-known location. Does this look like ‘investigated’ to you?”
“Not really. Too much dust.”
“Exactly. And why would they come here, not move your kit, and then go to the trouble to hide all your stuff magically. And for what?”
“To really creep me out when I turn up again?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but this is so delicate and vague. They could have had a bunch of STAR agents around to arrest you immediately, if they wanted. They’re STAR, they could have hung around for a decade, hiding in the bushes and waiting for you if they really wanted. But here’s just whatever you left here, hidden for some reason. I can’t even tell whether this effect was made by a person or not.”
The computer finished logging in. It was exactly as she remembered it, and it was December in the year she’d left.
“It’s a bit weird,” she said, “normally in the stories, time goes faster in the Narnia — er, in the fantasy magical land.”
“I think it’d be more accurate to say that you could have turned up again whenever you wanted, not that time passes any faster. The timelines of various Realms that aren’t connected by Causeways don’t progress with regards to each other, they’re just separate things you can enter and leave at any point.”
She squinted at him. “Right. Weird time things? Weird time things.”
“Do you want me to draw a diagram? I think I see some whiteboards over there.”
“Oh,” she said cheerily, fixing him with her best death glare, “if you’re a bad enough teacher that you need props?”
“Hey, hey. Do you see any other teachers around here? I bet you didn’t give any of your other teachers this much lip.”
“You taught me magic stuff, and that was very nice of you. Actually, come to think of that—” she gestured, shaped her thoughts just so, and a little ball of light materialised above her palm — “why can I still do this? Because you said STAR had all the magic here, and…”
“Same reason I can still do magical things,” he replied. “It’s not actually not present here, just less present. I also bring my own paradigm with me, so I can operate off of that.”
“Right, but for me, I’m from here.”
“Yeah, but your paradigm has changed. You’ve seen other Realms, you know the impossible is possible. And your metaphor has probably soaked up a bunch of background magic from the Library et al.”
“Will that run out?”
“Not really. It’s more like a way of thinking has seeped into you.”
“Stop using the word ‘seeped’ like that.”
He snorted in response and paced around the table, absent-mindedly sketching red glowing lines in the air and peering through them at her computer and other items.
Some kind of further diagnostics, she thought, and turned her attention to her computer. She opened her web browser, rolled her eyes at the pop-out declaring that an update was available, and tried to open her university email. First, she was logged out, and it took her a moment of thought before she recalled her password and typed it in.
Incorrect user ID or password, said the page.
“Huh,” she said, retyping the password, slower this time, more carefully.
Incorrect user ID or password.
She frowned, and tried a different password.
Incorrect user ID or password.
“Is my memory really that bad?” she muttered to herself, clicking on the ‘forgot password?’ link.
She was prompted to enter a recovery email, typed in her email address, and was politely told by the website that it wasn’t a valid address — no account had that listed as a recovery email. That was weird, and steadily getting weirder. Nervously, she opened her personal email. She couldn’t log into that, either, and attempting to recover her password instead told her that her account didn’t exist.
“What the hell…”
Red looked up from whatever magic air writing he was doing. “Hm?”
“None of my email accounts seem to exist anymore!”
“What’s an email?”
She glared up at him, then relented when she saw his genuine confusion. “Wait, you don’t know what email is? Haven’t you been to this part of Materia before?”
“I think you’re misconstruing why I’ve been here. It wasn’t to learn trivia.”
“Email is… it means ‘electronic mail’, and is… er. You do know what a computer is, right?”
“Yeah,” Red replied, “it’s someone whose job is doing maths.”
This time, she glared at him. “Ha-ha. Well, email is mail across the internet between computers. Do you not know what any of that is?”
Red seemed to think for a moment. “Oh, so like if you sent a message by Connective. I think I remember now. Sometimes concepts don’t immediately translate.”
“Look, however your magical translation or whatever works isn’t important—”
“Like most good translators, it’s mostly telepathic. Sufficiently good translation is basically mind reading, anyway.”
“— As I was saying, why don’t my email accounts exist anymore?”
Red moved his hands, his crystal fingers somehow catching on the spiderweb of runes he’d been drawing in the air, making the whole circular thing rotate slightly as he peered through it at her.
“I think,” he said, “you’ve kinda dropped off the connection grid. It’s not just your stuff, I think it might be you, too.”
“So I’m invisible?”
“At a first approximation, maybe?”
She looked at her hands. They were, unsurprisingly, still there. “So what’s happening? My stuff is still there, but my accounts aren’t? Are those not my stuff?”
Red’s weird magical air-writing continued to spin as he let go of it. The glyphs twitched and crawled as they spun around, shifting from one to another almost too quick to follow. “I think they’re more conceptual stuff, from how you’ve described it. So, physical objects you owned just don’t register for people, but these have entirely disappeared, maybe.”
“So, like, the internet servers have forgotten me?”
“Think of it like, er, like you wrote a book. All the information in that book won’t be accessible right now, but the physical book would exist.”
“Everything I’ve written has been wiped?”
Her publication history flashed before her eyes. It was shorter and less impressive than she was really comfortable with.
“Um, well,” Red reassured urgently, “I don’t think the information no longer exists, so if we repair whatever has been happening to your, er, connectivity? I’d have to look at something you’ve written to be sure, but this doesn’t bear the hallmarks of a complete erasure. More like an elision.”
The brief internal screaming of a half-completed thesis outline ceased, and Alice took a steadying breath. “Okay. So. What do we do now?”
“I guess we try to find out what’s going on, and then fix it?” Red said, shrugging. He snapped his fingers, and the lines he’d been drawing in the air vanished in a puff of crimson sparks. “Which is a bit facile, but I think I’ve got a few ideas of where—”
He paused, frowning. Distantly, quietly, Alice heard the creak of the library door.