Introducing Inspector Flowers
by Elena Clark
forum: Introducing Inspector Flowers
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Introducing Inspector Flowers


           Except for her past, Inspector Anastasia Flowers of the Children's Department was perfectly ordinary in every way.

           She was of medium height (1 meter 65) and medium weight (she fluctuated between 60 and 65 kilos, depending on the time of year and her diet-to-exercise ratio). Her hair was medium brown. Her eyes were medium blue. She was 37, so too old to be called young, but too young to be called old. About ten years ago she had gotten married to an accountant named Michael Whistler. They had two children, Jacob and Dacey. Jacob was nine and Dacey was seven.

           A look at Inspector Flowers's official records would show that she had neither failed nor excelled in anything. She had not sought advancement in her current job, but when the promotion from Deputy Inspector to Inspector had been offered, she had accepted it. The pay raise would let her expand her garden.

           One Monday morning about a month after her promotion, her boss called her into his office.

           "Inspector Flowers, please have a seat," said Captain Samuelson.

           She sat down, looking at the two people in the room.

           Captain Samuelson was a short, very stocky man with extremely black skin, graying hair, and a strong resemblance to a bulldog. In contrast, the woman sitting in the chair on the visitor's side of the desk was tall—at least 1 meter 80-slender, very blonde, and very blue-eyed. She sat up very straight. The words "ice queen" flashed through Inspector Flowers's mind. She guessed the ice queen to be between 25 and 30 years old.

           "Inspector Anastasia Flowers, I'd like you to meet your new Deputy Inspector, Ingrid Astlund," said Captain Samuelson. "Ingrid has just joined the department, and is looking forward to working with you."

           Inspector Flowers had known she would eventually be teamed up with a Deputy Inspector, but she was not sure how she felt about having to work with the ice queen.

           "Very pleased to meet you, Ingrid," she said.

           The ice queen smiled, shook Inspector Flowers's hand, and said that she was very pleased to be working with her. Captain Samuelson told Inspector Flowers to show Ingrid around and then report for the departmental briefing in half an hour.

           Ingrid behaved with perfect politeness to Inspector Flowers during their tour, and asked a great many questions with what appeared to be unfeigned enthusiasm, but Inspector Flowers was unable to shake off the ice queen impression. Perhaps it was because of the way Ingrid held herself so erectly, or her flawless manners.

           All six people in the department gathered for the briefing. Aside from Ingrid and Inspector Flowers, there was Inspector Alice Thompson, Deputy Inspector Alan Browning, Social Worker Judith Albarn, and of course, Captain Samuelson.

           Captain Samuelson asked for reports on everyone's cases, and then informed them that there was only one new case for the day. "What do you think, Inspector Flowers?" he asked. "Can you and Ingrid handle it, or do you need to spend more time getting to know each other?"

           "We can handle it," said Inspector Flowers.

           "Good. I was hoping you'd say that, because I'd like to use the BI network for this case, and Ingrid has BI capabilities, don't you, Ingrid?"

           "Yes, Captain Samuelson, and I also have experience in BBI interactions, if that is of any use."

           "Good, I'll keep it in mind. The situation is this: yesterday evening at eighteen hundred hours Candace Andrews arrived at her daycare center, the PlayPal Center at 255 Vine Street, to discover that her four-year-old son Benjamin Andrews was missing. He was last seen by his caretaker Beth Morrows at 17:45, playing in the sandbox in the fenced-in playground. At approximately 17:45 one of the other children fell off the see-saw and cut her knee. Beth took her inside to clean and dress the cut. The first-aid room has a window that looks out onto the playground, but the blinds were drawn because of the strong sun yesterday. Having applied antiseptic and wound-sealing gel to the cut, at approximately 17:55 Beth returned to the playground along with the girl. The other three children were engaged in a game of tag. Because they were running around and shouting, she did not immediately notice that Benjamin was missing, but the girl, who wanted to show off her cut, began looking for him. By the time Candace Andrews arrived at the daycare at approximately 18:10, Beth had already begun searching the premises. Beth, Candace, and the other two employees at the daycare searched the playground, the building, and the nearby blocks on Vine Street without success. At 18:33 they called our station. Police officers activated a chip search, they re-searched the daycare and the street, and began door-to-door questioning, all without result. This morning the case was officially turned over to our department."

           "No kidnap note?" asked Inspector Flowers.

           "No note."

           "Is Candace Andrews in a position to pay out a large ransom?"

           "Do you think someone who kept her kid at the PlayPal Center would be in a position to pay out a large ransom?"

           "No. How is Candace's personal life?"

           Captain Samuelson shrugged. "She lives with her husband, Aaron Smith. Neither of them have ever been divorced. That's all we know right now. Look into it. That might be something for Ingrid to use her BI capabilities on. She can also check out the databases on kidnappers. And check all the local hospitals, see if an unidentified child has been brought in. Maybe he wandered onto the street, got hit by a car, and was taken somewhere."

           Ingrid raised her hand. "Pardon me, sir," she said, "but isn't he chipped? Wouldn't a hospital find out his identity as soon as he came in?"

           "Maybe his chip was damaged or deactivated," said Captain Samuelson. "The chip-search revealed nothing, which is why we think there must be something suspicious going on here."

           Ingrid nodded like a bright student who's just been corrected by her teacher. "Was he head-chipped or wrist-chipped, sir?" she asked.

           "Wrist-chipped. He was only four, after all, and not everyone can afford to be head-chipped."

           Ingrid looked a little startled at Captain Samuelson's remark, but said nothing.

           "How long do you think it will take you to go through all the data?" Captain Samuelson asked.

           "Maybe an hour, sir. Do you have a BI connection here at the department?"

           "I'm afraid local department budgets don't run to BI connections. You'll have to go to Central. I'll call them and tell them to clear a slot for you. Inspector Flowers can take you there."

           "Thank you, sir."

           As soon as the meeting broke up Alan Browning came over to Ingrid. Alan was about Ingrid's age, but not nearly as attractive. He looked sort of like a male version of Inspector Flowers.

           "Have you done a lot of BI work?" he asked Ingrid, sounding impressed.

           "A fair amount," she answered. "It was a standard part of my program in college."

           "And BBI work, too?"

           "Some, yes."

           "That's so amazing! What's it like? Is it weird?"

           "It can be a little overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it, it's fascinating."

           "And what about getting head-chipped? What's that like? Is it bad?"

           "No, not at all. You go to sleep, and when you wake up it's done. You can have problems with headaches and dizziness for a few days, but then it goes away and you feel fine."

           "But don't they drill a hole in your skull?"

           "Yes, but it's a very tiny one. Here, you can see where they did mine." Ingrid lifted up the hair above her left temple and pointed to a tiny hairless spot just above the hairline. "The hair will never grow back," she said, "but the scar's not really visible most of the time."

           Inspector Flowers watched while Alan felt Ingrid's scar and oohed and aahed over it. Alice Thompson and Judith Albarn were also gathered around her, looking at the hole in her head with admiration. It occurred to Inspector Flowers that she had been relegated to the position of driver for Ingrid, ferrying her around so that she could plug herself into other people's thoughts.

           Like everyone else in the Federation, Inspector Flowers was chipped. A tiny computer chip in her right wrist relayed information about her identity and the state of her health to any health care or law enforcement personnel who requested it. She could also be tracked from up to a kilometer away. Inspector Flowers's chip had several other, more exotic functions, but her colleagues didn't know that. Exotic features notwithstanding, Inspector Flowers's chip was still just a wrist chip, and as such did not give her BI, or Brain Interface, capabilities.

           BI had been around for several decades. In its crudest form one could hook up to something like a virtual reality helmet and experience electronic data streaming directly. It was slightly quicker than accessing the web through a computer, and allowed the user to retain the data more completely, but for the most part it was not much better than traditional data-search-and-processing methods.

           Then scientists had come up with head-chipping. Originally it had been brain probes inserted into the skull. Inspector Flowers had heard the original volunteers for those experiments were largely grad students in IT departments, which would explain why they thought signing up for it had been a good idea. Over the course of a decade they had refined the process to the point where they were able to place a microchip against the brain itself. Originally this had just been used for the passive reception of information off the web. Then people had started experimenting with telepathic interaction. Two head-chippers could send and receive messages with each other over cyberspace. This was Brain-to-Brain Interfacing, or BBI. Inspector Flowers had done some unusual things in her life, but the idea of engaging in BBI made her shudder. She preferred to keep her brain inside her head, where it belonged.

           "Are you ready to go?" she asked, once it seemed that the others were ready to stop wondering over Ingrid's chip.

           "Of course, Inspector Flowers, whenever you're ready," said Ingrid obligingly. She gathered up her things and followed Inspector Flowers to the parking lot, where the Inspector's car was parked. If Ingrid thought that the car was rather shabby, she kept it to herself.

           Inspector Flowers entered their destination into the car's computer, drove it out onto the main street, and let the maglev system pick them up and whisk them into the stream of traffic. She reflected that Ingrid could probably have done all this herself, and as a driver she, Anastasia Flowers, was rather redundant. On the other hand, she told herself, Ingrid would need her to help decide what information to look for.

           "What made you decide to join the Children's Department?" she asked Ingrid.

           "Well, I've always been interested in law enforcement, and I've always wanted to help children, so it seemed like the perfect place for me. Do you enjoy working here, Inspector Flowers? You must, I would think, since you've been here for ten years."

           "I've done worse things. But it can be heart-breaking, you know." Inspector Flowers paused for a moment. "You know we may not find this kid, or he may be dead, right?"

           Ingrid frowned. "I'm going to find him," she said. "I can't bear to think of the poor little thing, scared and alone." She made an effort to cheer herself up. "So, what did you do before you came here, Inspector Flowers?" she asked.

           "This and that. Nothing very interesting. Then I got married, and I needed a steady, stable job."


           Central was an imposing high-rise building made of shiny metal and glass. The Federation's law enforcement emblem, an abstract shape that vaguely resembled a pair of handcuffs, was displayed on the roof and on the front of the building.

           They parked and went inside. The interior was equally shiny and impressive. An attractive red-haired woman whose uniform only enhanced her appearance was sitting at the reception desk by the entrance. She looked down her nose at Ingrid and Inspector Flowers, but admitted reluctantly that Captain Samuelson had called and that, in light of the serious nature of the case, a BI hook-up for Ingrid would be available immediately.

           They walked down the shiny corridors, their footsteps echoing, until they came to a room staffed by another, equally attractive, guard. She had a tiny antenna poking through the hair above her left temple, which Inspector Flowers realized must be a wireless BI hook-up, and in fact when they told her their names, she rolled her eyes back in her head for a moment, and then said, "Cleared. You have station 3. Do you know how to do the hook-up?"

           Ingrid assured her that she did, and went over to station 3. The other stations were empty, which made the fuss over Ingrid's immediate access seem a little excessive.

           "Can I talk to you while you're interfacing?" Inspector Flowers asked Ingrid.

           "Yes, but you may need to catch my attention in order to do so—I may be so focused on the interface I won't notice. I have a late-model chip, so I can download all the information we need onto it and upload it onto a reader when we get back to the station."

           They sat down, and Ingrid picked up a thin flexible cord, one end of which disappeared into the wall. She applied some kind of gel out of a tube that was sitting on the table in front of them to the scar on her head and stuck the cord to the spot. When she took her hands away the cord remained in place.

           For the next hour she sat there with her eyes closed, while Inspector Flowers asked her questions and reminded her of things to check. By the end of the hour they had determined that Candace Andrews and her husband were neither rich nor in financial difficulties. They had never been divorced, and they were not currently in any kind of custody battle over the child. Their mental and legal profiles were normal. Benjamin Andrews was in good mental and physical health, and his chip had no record of previous malfunction. They also went through the databases on kidnappers, and the information on all the people who lived on Vine Street, and came up with nothing.

           "So, no obvious reason for his disappearance," stated Inspector Flowers.

           "Yes," said Ingrid, detaching herself from the BI cord and cleaning off the gel with a disposable wipe from a box sitting on the station table. "Doesn't it seem odd to you that he could disappear in such a short amount of time? I can't imagine him getting that far in the ten minutes Beth Morrows was inside. And how did he do it? The playground is fenced in, so he would have had to go through the building to escape. And why didn't the other children notice anything? There were other children in the playground with him the entire time, weren't there? Surely they would have seen something."

           "All good questions," said Inspector Flowers. "Why don't we go to the daycare center and see what's what?"

* * *

           Like most of the buildings on Vine Street, the PlayPal Center was basically a box made of concrete and aluminum, a style that had been around for several hundred years. It was painted a faded tannish-yellow, and was surrounded by a chainlink fence. The playground had a weathered swing-set, a faded see-saw, a worn-looking merry-go-round, lines for hopscotch that were now barely visible, and the sandbox where Benjamin Andrews had last been seen. The sandbox was missing most of its sand. Toy trucks were half-buried in what was left.

           "The sandbox is near the fence," observed Ingrid as they looked around. "Maybe someone was able to come up to the fence and snatch him that way."

           "How?" asked Inspector Flowers. "The fence must be three meters high. There's no way for Benjamin to go through it." She scuffed around in the sandbox for a while. The sand in it had been recently disturbed, although whether that was from ordinary play activity or something more sinister she couldn't say. She looked at the cracking in the asphalt nearby the sandbox, but came to no useful conclusions.

           "What about Beth?" she said, apparently to herself.

           "Pardon?" asked Ingrid.

           "What about Beth, the caretaker. What do we know about her? Maybe she set this whole thing up. Maybe she's the one who snatched Benjamin."

           "Maybe," said Ingrid doubtfully. "But what about the statements from the other children? They all said that one minute Benjamin was there, the next he was gone. It seems like it would be difficult to get them to all lie about something like that."

           "True," said Inspector Flowers. She and Ingrid poked around in the daycare building for a while, without finding anything useful.

           "Well," said Inspector Flowers eventually, "there's no putting it off any more. We need to go talk to Candace Andrews and Aaron Smith."

* * *

           Candace and Aaron lived just a few blocks away from the daycare, on Dallas Street. All the buildings on the street were single-family houses of faded vinyl. They had scraggly yards strewn with toys, and chainlink fences around each yard. At 11:30 in the morning most of the driveways were empty, but Candace and Aaron's house had two cars parked in front of it.

           Aaron Smith came to the door immediately after they rang the bell. He was just as faded as his house, although Inspector Flowers couldn't say whether it was because of his missing child, or if that was his normal state. As soon as she introduced herself and Ingrid, he demanded, "Have you found anything?"

           "Not yet, I'm afraid," she said. "I just wanted to ask you and your wife a few questions."

           "Why?" he said. "Why waste your time? Why aren't you out looking for Benjy?"

           "The regular officers are out there looking," she said gently. "But in order to conduct our search more effectively, we need more information."

           Aaron Smith led them to the living room, which was dark and full of overstuffed furniture. Candace Andrews was sitting in armchair, staring at the wall. She had a packet of tissues clutched in her right hand, but seemed unaware of that fact. As soon as Inspector Flowers entered the room, she leapt up.

           "Have you found anything? Have you found him?" she cried out.

           Inspector Flowers told her as gently as possible that they hadn't. Candace crumpled back down into her chair. She was thin, with shiny black hair that was overdue for washing and brushing, and large dark eyes that were very bloodshot. There were dark circles under her dark eyes, and the remnants of yesterday's mascara were smeared across her lower lids.

           "Candace," said Inspector Flowers, once Candace had calmed down, "I know you've been asked this before, but can you think of anyone who would want to take Benjamin? Anyone who had a grudge against you, anyone who would want him for some reason?"

           Candace shook her head.

           "You've never had anyone express any, uh, covetous desires towards him?"

           It took a moment for Candace to grasp her meaning, but once she had, she shook her head again.

           "What about your cousin?" interjected Aaron suddenly.

           "What?" said Candace weakly. "My cousin? Which cousin?"

           "Your cousin Paula."

           "Paula? Why Paula? Why are you talking about Paula when we have to find Benjy!"

           "What's this about Paula, Aaron?" asked Inspector Flowers.

           "Candy's first cousin Paula Andrews," explained Aaron. "She can't have children, and she's always talking about how jealous she is of Candy. She's just the kind of deranged person who'd steal a child, I'll bet you."

           "Don't talk about Paula that way!" shouted Candace. "Just because you never liked her is no reason to go talking bad about her."

           "Face it, Candy, the woman is a freak, always talking about whatever weird mysticism she's into at the moment. Is it Buddhism this month, or Gnostic Revivalism, or Dr. Green's 10 Steps to Spiritual Self-Enlightenment? Frankly, I don't see how you can stand her."

           "Paula has been my closest friend since childhood!" shouted Candace, and burst into tears.

           "She's crazy!" Aaron shouted back.

           "Please, Candace, Aaron," said Inspector Flowers. "We need to focus on the matter at hand, for Benjy's sake. Now, Candace, I know you don't want to think badly of your cousin, but in cases like these family members are frequently involved, or know the people who are. If Paula is involved in any kind of cult, then there's a possibility that she could have mentioned Benjy to someone who decided to take him."

           Candace reluctantly gave them Paula's address, which was only a few blocks away, on Houston Street. It was not hooked up to maglev, so Inspector Flowers had to drive over there on her own power.

           Houston Street had started out life on the same plane as Dallas Street, but had gone downhill since then. The lawns were even more scraggly, and filled with a lot more trash and not as many toys. All the houses were missing at least one window or piece of window trim. Inspector Flowers had a strong suspicion that if she were to start investigating back yards and back rooms, she would find distilleries for a variety of controlled substances.

           "People actually live like this?" exclaimed Ingrid in horror.

           "Have you never seen a neighborhood like this?"

           "They don't even have maglev!"

           "If you're going to be working in the Children's Department, you should be prepared to spend a lot of time in these kinds of neighborhoods. Many of our best clients come from places like this."

           Ingrid bit her lip, but said nothing.

           They pulled up to Paula's house, which was just as disreputable as all the others on the block.

           "Apparently mysticism doesn't pay all that well," commented Inspector Flowers as they got out of the car.

           There was no car in Paula's driveway, but in this neighborhood, absence of a car did not necessarily mean absence of the occupant. And in fact Paula, or at least a woman who looked enough like Candace Andrews to be her sister, answered the doorbell on the first ring.

           "Paula Andrews?" asked Inspector Andrews.

           The woman, who was thin with shiny black hair and big dark eyes, but with a more pinched and less confident air than Candace, even though it was not her child who was missing, said, "Yes" somewhat anxiously, as if she were used to having official-looking strangers come to her door.

           Inspector Flowers introduced herself and Ingrid, and explained they were searching for Paula's cousin Benjy. Paula invited them into her house, which was under-lit and had a strong smell of cooking, cigarettes, and controlled substances. Inspector Flowers had read on the way over that Paula had a sometimes-boyfriend who was also a sometimes-drug-dealer. Inspector Flowers wasn't sure how that fit into Paula's lifestyle of spiritual enlightenment, but apparently he was around the house enough to make his presence felt.

           "I feel just terrible for Candy," said Paula. "Little Benjy has been such a blessing in her life, and now he's gone. She was so lucky to be able to have a child, and now it's been taken away. Truly, the Lord moves in mysterious ways, and we must bow to His will in all things, even when He is moved to test us. Even the greatest trials are a blessing in disguise, meant to prove our worthiness, so that we may pass into His eternal kingdom and be united with our loved ones forever. Soon Candy and Benjy will be together again in Heaven, and then how will they rejoice!"

           Ingrid looked rather startled. Inspector Flowers, although also slightly taken aback, kept her face still.

           "Let us hope that Benjy has not passed into the Kingdom of Heaven just yet," she said. "On the off chance he's still inhabiting the earthly realm, we'd like to ask you a few questions."

           The questioning, however, only told Inspector Flowers that Paula was a flake. Unfortunately, she was unable to connect Paula's flakiness with Benjy's disappearance in any definite fashion.

           As Inspector Flowers was rising to leave, she noticed a picture sitting on a low table near Paula's chair. It was not an ordinary 3D holopicture, but a 2D image. As she examined it more closely, she realized it was not even a photograph, but a drawing. It showed a middle-aged man dressed soberly in black pants and a white button-down shirt, with a broad-brimmed black hat. It was quite a good drawing, very realistic-looking, and it depicted the man as having a piercing gaze that caused the hairs on the back of Inspector Flowers's neck to rise.

           "That's a very interesting picture," she commented casually. "It's rare to see a drawing these days. Was it done by hand?"

           "Yes, I did it myself," said Paula proudly. "Reverend Joshua agreed to sit for it. It was a great honor for me."

           So it seemed that Paula was not completely talentless. Inspector Flowers wondered why she hadn't gone into advertising.

           "Have you heard of Reverend Joshua?" asked Paula. Her eyes had gained a fervent gleam.

           "No, but he sounds very interesting," said Inspector Flowers. "What does he do?"

           "He is the leader of the Church of the Resurrection," said Paula, fixing Inspector Flowers with a piercing gaze that made the hairs on the back of her neck rise once again.

           "Really?" said Inspector Flowers. "Are you a member?"

           "A probationary member," said Paula proudly. "That was why it was such an especial honor for me to be able to draw Reverend Joshua. I have not yet shown my devotion to its fullest yet, but I will soon. In order to become a full-fledged member, one must forswear all material things and all usage of soulless technology, as well as taking vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. Reverend Joshua says it is technology that blocks our path to a higher state, by separating us from our inner self. Once one has prepared oneself sufficiently, one is allowed to join their retreat, where one spends one's time meditating and readying oneself for an ascension to a higher plane."

           "That's very interesting," said Inspector Flowers. "Do you know where the retreat is?"

           Paula shook her head. "Its location must remain secret, so that its residents' meditations will not be disturbed."

           "That's understandable," said Inspector Flowers. "Well, we won't trouble you any longer."

           "Good luck finding Benjy," said Paula, and showed them the door.

           Once they were back in the car, Ingrid said, "Do you think there's any connection between this church and Benjy's disappearance?"

           "The Church of the Resurrection is the only unusual thing we've come across so far. I think it at least warrants some further investigation. Let's go back to Central and see if they'll let us use a BI station again."

* * *

           The good-looking but stern-faced guards at Central were reluctant to let them back into the BI room, but once Inspector Flowers spoke with Captain Samuelson, and Captain Samuelson spoke with someone important in one of the upper offices of Central, and the someone important spoke with the guards, Ingrid and Inspector Flowers were allowed to use one of the three empty stations in the BI room.

           Once again Ingrid applied the gel to her head and attached the BI cord to her temple and began going through all the information on the Church of the Resurrection. In half an hour she said she was finished, and they left and drove back to their own station, where Ingrid spent several minutes with a chip reader pressed against her head, downloading all the data she'd gotten.

           She hooked the chip reader up to a screen, so that Inspector Flowers could see what she'd found, and they went through it together, eating a late lunch at the same time.

           "So basically," said Inspector Flowers once they were done, "the Church of the Resurrection appears to be some kind of a cult, combining aspects of Christian and Buddhist philosophy with certain elements of Reverend Joshua's own invention. Its members believe that by meditating and avoiding technology, mindless physical pleasure, and interaction with the outside world, they can access their inner being and ascend to a higher plane. If they do this enough times, they will become immortal, although whether this is a physical immortality or a strictly spiritual one I still don't understand."

           "That sounds about right," said Ingrid.

           "They also have a retreat in some unknown location. How can we not know where this retreat is? Why are there no records of it? Are you sure you checked all the databases?"

           "I'm sure," said Ingrid.

           "How can an organization have a location large enough to hold a hundred or more people, and not have it appear on any of the databases? That sort of thing shouldn't be possible. You'll have to check again."

           "Fine," said Ingrid. "And do you think we should look to see if there are any missing-children reports connected with the Church?"

           "Yes, check for that too. I'll see if Captain Samuelson can get us more time in the BI room, although why they guard it so closely I don't know; it's not as if it seems to be heavily used."

           "Great," said Ingrid. She rubbed her temples and her eyes with her left hand. Inspector Flowers realized she looked drained.

           "Does the BI work tire you out?" she asked.

           "A bit," Ingrid replied. "It can give you a headache if you do it too much. But I'm fine, I really am, and this is important."

           A third trip to Central—Inspector Flowers was beginning to be very tired of the route—and a third round with the dragons guarding the door gave Ingrid and Inspector Flowers a massive collection of data on all the children that had gone missing in their region in the past year. Unfortunately, it was difficult to say how much of it was relevant. None of the children were the offspring of known members of the Church of the Resurrection, but, as Ingrid pointed out, that wasn't surprising: if the Church really was kidnaping children, there was no need to go after the children of its members, who presumably would render up their progeny willingly. A more careful check of the information would be necessary to find connections like the one between Benjy and Paula.

           By the end of the day it was reported that Benjy was officially not in any of the local hospitals or the morgue, his body had not been found after a thorough dragging of Crystal Pond, and a search with bloodhounds through all the abandoned lots near Vine Street had come up empty. Of course, as Inspector Flowers pointed out, none of that explained how a four-year-old had gotten over a three-meter fence, or, alternatively, had made it through two doors, one of which was locked, and then moved so fast down the street that after ten minutes he could no longer be found within a 15-block radius of the daycare center. And why no one at the center had noticed his escape. Inspector Flowers was also greatly puzzled that they could find no trace of the Church of the Resurrection's retreat. Not only had Paula talked about it, but it was mentioned on the Church's official site, which strongly suggested that it really did exist.

           Sometime after suppertime they declared themselves at a dead end, and called it a day.

* * *

           Early the next morning, when Inspector Flowers was just beginning her breakfast, her phonescreen made a melodic pinging noise, and Ingrid's face appeared on it.

           "Good morning, Inspector, I hope I'm not calling too early," she said anxiously. Her hair was perfectly coiffed, she already had her makeup on for the day, and her upper body at least was dressed in a pale pink suit. Once again, the thought "ice queen" arose in Inspector Flowers's head. She, by contrast, was still in her nightgown and hadn't brushed her hair yet.

           "Not at all, Ingrid," she said politely. "What are you calling about?"

           "I was thinking about the Church's retreat," Ingrid began, "and I started to think: what if the Federation has no records of it because it's not Here, but Elsewhere? If it were Elsewhere, then the Federation would have no records on it, would it?"

           "A very good point," said Inspector Flowers. "I'll speak to Captain Samuelson about it. Meanwhile, I want you to continue researching any connection between missing children and Church members. If you don't see me at the station today, just carry on as best you can. I'm sure the others will help you."

           Inspector Flowers got dressed as quickly as possible, told her husband and her children she didn't know when she'd be back, and left for the station, eating toast as she went. She called Captain Samuelson from her car and told him what was going on. Captain Samuelson promised to connect with Central.

* * *

           The Federation controlled everywhere that was Here. A century earlier, scientists had discovered Elsewhere, which, as its discoverers liked to say, was simply the other side of Here. There was a better explanation, but it involved multi-page math equations and theoretical physics, so most people didn't bother with it.

           No one knew how much Elsewhere there was, but it appeared to be vast. No one controlled Elsewhere, so anyone who wished to carve out a slice of it was welcome to do so. In fact, the Federation encouraged it, on the theory that if enough Federation citizens lived Elsewhere, it would eventually be brought under Federation control without the Federation actually having to exert any force. The Federation's activities in Elsewhere had always been limited, and largely covert.

           When Inspector Flowers arrived at the station, Captain Samuelson was waiting for her behind his desk. Standing next to him was a man Inspector Flowers recognized instantly, even though she had not seen him in ten years. He was lean, pale, and had short salt-and-pepper hair. In many ways he was as unremarkable as Inspector Flowers.

           "Hello, Flowers," he said.

           "Hello, Whitaker," she said.

           "Long time no see," he said.

           "Indeed," she said.

           "You seem to have done well for yourself."

           "I tried."

           "Captain Samuelson here tells me that you've got a case that might have a connection with your, ah, former activities."


           "He says you suspect you have a group that kidnaps children and takes them Elsewhere."


           "I checked up on the Church of the Resurrection," continued Whitaker, "and I am able to confirm that they do have a facility Elsewhere. In fact, I even have the exact coordinates."

           "And will you give them to me?"

           "You know, Flowers," said Whitaker, "I was very hurt when you decided to leave the Corps. You were one of my best agents."

           "I'm sorry," said Inspector Flowers. "But what's done is done."

           "I take it I can't lure you back?"

           "It seems very unlikely."

           "You don't find your current work tedious?"

           "Not at all."

           Whitaker sighed. "Some of us would die of boredom, working out of a desk and never leaving the city limits, Flowers," he remarked.

           "That is where you and I differ," she replied.

           "Well, perhaps you're better off where you are now, then," he said. "The coordinates are loaded into this chip reader here. What you do with them is up to you."

           "Thank you," she said. Whitaker gave her a perfectly ordinary-looking chip reader (in many ways it resembled an electric razor), nodded once to her and once to Samuelson, and left.

           "Your former boss?" asked Samuelson.

           "Yes," answered Inspector Flowers.

           "And do you really intend to go into Elsewhere to track these people down?" he asked.

           "Yes," she said. "I'll need access to Central's Elsewhere facilities, so if you could..."

           "I'll arrange it," promised Samuelson. "When do you want to go?"

           "Right away."

           "You don't need anything?"

           "Central will have all the equipment I need."

           "And you're that sure about this?"

           "I am," answered Inspector Flowers. "I have a hunch."

           "But you never have hunches," objected Samuelson.

           "That's how I knew it must be an Elsewhere case: because I had a hunch," she explained. "I only get hunches when I'm working with Elsewhere."

           "Well, go collect whatever you need, and I'll call Central."

           Within a very few minutes Captain Samuelson was driving them over to Central.

           "Are you nervous?" he asked.

           "No, not really," she told him. "I've done this sort of thing before."

           "But that was more than a decade ago," he pointed out. "You were young and stupid, and you didn't have a husband and children to worry about."

           "Well, now I have all the more reason to come back," said Inspector Flowers.

           The guards at Central treated her with a lot more respect than the day before. A special escort came to lead her to the Elsewhere rooms. She was given various communication and navigational devices, and let into the Elsewhere chamber, which was roughly the size of her clothes closet back home. The technicians asked her if she was ready, she told them that she was, and they shut the door behind her.

* * *

           When Inspector Flowers had just been plain Annie Flowers, twenty years old and with no particular direction or ambition, she had responded to an ad for an employment test. It had promised paid training, good benefits, and lots of interesting travel opportunities for those who passed. Much to her surprise, Annie had passed all the tests, which had mostly consisted of simulated emergency situations and the occasional math problem, and had been offered a position in what had turned out to be the Federation's semi-secret Elsewhere Corps.

           For more than five years Annie had spent most of her time in Elsewhere, sometimes openly representing the Federation, sometimes not. Then her father had gotten sick, and she had met Michael, and she no longer wanted to spend all her time away from home, so she had resigned and started working at the local Children's Department. In many ways it was a very banal story, except for all those trips to Elsewhere, which others were determined to invest with excitement.

           Right now Inspector Flowers felt everything going black before her eyes, like it always did when entering Elsewhere, and then all sensation disappeared, and then she was standing on the grass of some alien reality. And Inspector Flowers knew how they had taken Benjy.

* * *

           It took her the better part of two hours to work her way from the drop point to the retreat. The Elsewhere the Church of the Resurrection had chosen for its hideaway was a lush and verdant place, somewhat damp, and for the moment at least, a pleasant medium temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.

           The retreat was surrounded by a thick screen of bushes. Inspector Flowers crouched under a bush and watched the compound for a while. There was only one building. Various people came out of the compound and strolled around or tended a large vegetable garden behind the main building. They were all dressed in simple clothes that looked handmade.

           Eventually two pleasant-faced women came out, leading a group of children. Inspector Flowers counted ten of them. She guessed they were between three and seven years old. One of them was Benjy. He did not look particularly happy, but neither did he look like he had been abused.

           Inspector Flowers considered what to do. The children were herded to a play area beyond the vegetable garden, next to the bush screen. This gave Inspector Flowers an idea.

           Slowly, cautiously, she began edging her way around the bushes to where the children were playing. Their caretakers told them they should all join in a game of hide-and-go-seek, but that they mustn't go beyond the bushes or the building. This did not offer a lot of hiding options to Inspector Flowers's eyes, and so she was pleased but not surprised when Benjy hid under a bush.

           She silently made her way over to him. He only had time to give her one startled glance before she snatched him up and, hugging him tightly to her chest, she pressed her chip reader against the chip in her wrist. Everything went black.

* * *

           When Inspector Flowers returned, she reported everything about the compound to Whitaker. Two days later she was informed that all members of the Church of the Resurrection had been arrested, and the retreat had been shut down—an unusually aggressive action for the Federation in Elsewhere but one that was felt, he told her, to be justified under the circumstances.

           "I agree," she said.

           "All the children have been returned to their families, unharmed," he continued.

           "I'm very glad to hear it."

           "It seems the Church of the Resurrection has been grabbing children for the past couple of years. Apparently they don't believe in engaging in procreative activities themselves, but they needed children, and for some strange reason adoption agencies wouldn't give them the time of day."

           "Why did they need children?" asked Inspector Flowers.

           "Something to do with pure, unstained souls who would ascend to a higher plane faster than corrupted adults, and then return to guide their elders. There was a lot of talk about angels and Bodhisattvas. They would target the children of friends or family members of their new recruits. Sometimes they made snatching a child part of the initiation requirements for becoming a full member, but not, it seems, in Paula Andrews's case. It looks like she just mentioned her cousin's child, and they did the rest. But I still don't see how they grabbed him without anyone noticing, or how they got him over that fence so fast."

           "The solution occurred to me while I was snatching Benjy," said Inspector Flowers. "Elsewhere technology has improved tremendously in the past few years. You can, for example, open up a window and pass objects back and forth between the two states. And correct me if I'm wrong, but now with the right reading devices it's possible to track someone between Elsewhere and Here."

           "True," said Whitaker.

           "Well, so they tracked Benjy from Elsewhere," she explained, "and at the right moment they opened up a very small window to Here right next to him, reached through, and grabbed him. None of them ever had to pass all the way through from Elsewhere to Here, so they kept their disorientation to a minimum. And it would have been very fast—just a matter of a second or two—and very quiet. If they did it when the other children were distracted with their game, the chances of being noticed were slim. And it worked."

           "For a little while, at least," said Whitaker. "But then you found them. Are you sure you don't want to come work for me again?"

           "I'm sure," said Inspector Flowers. "But thanks for helping me out."

           "Just don't ask me to do it too often," said Whitaker. "And don't go spreading around tales of how you went to Elsewhere. Tell them you found Benjy in a remote holding facility in the desert, or something like that."

           "Sure," said Inspector Flowers.




copyright 2007 Elena Clark.

Elena Clark:

I am a graduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. I sometimes spend my homework
time writing stories instead of analyzing the structure of the trochaic pentameter, which can lead to classroom embarrassment. My stories have most recently appeared on Gryphonwood and The Flash Flood.

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