Tim removed his glasses and sighed. Alice looked from him to Oliver and back again, growing more anxious by the moment.
“Oliver,” said Tim, disappointment heavy in his voice. “I didn’t expect such scheming from you. You should’ve been honest with her about your hopes and expectations on this journey.”
“What hopes?” said Alice, turning frantically to Oliver. “What expectations? What’s going on?”
Oliver had turned maroon. He refused to make eye contact with Alice, no matter how hard she looked at him, and Alice was suddenly accosted by terror; she felt a fist of panic clench around her throat and, despite her efforts to shout angry things at Oliver, she struggled to speak.
“Alice, dear,” Tim said to her as he replaced the glasses on his face. “Oliver has never met with your father. He’s never spoken a word to him.”
Alice nearly fell out of her chair. “But—but he said—”
“I’m afraid he lied to you.”
“No,” Alice gasped, looking desperately at Oliver. “That’s not possible. You see I made an ever-binding p-promise—”
Tim was shaking his head. “Oliver has never seen your father—at least not in Furthermore,” he said firmly. “He’s never made it that far.”
Alice, poor thing, was beginning to hyperventilate.
“Breaking your father out of prison is a fine idea,” Tim went on, “but the problem is no one knows exactly where the prisons are located. There are dozens and dozens of them; each an entire village unto itself, and all secured by intensely private entrances. They’re meant to be nearly impossible to access. Don’t you see? It’s not as simple as—Alice? Alice—?”
Alice’s mind was spinning.
Oliver had lied to her. Which meant Oliver had been lying to her. But for how long? How many lies had he told? And how had he managed to trick her? And how could she ever trust him now? How would she ev—
Tim rapped the desk to get her attention.
“Young lady,” Tim said sharply. “Are you listening at all? I said I need to see your visitor pamphlets. I do hope you have your visitor pamphlets,” he said with a frown. “You should’ve received them at Border Control. You did go through Border Control, didn’t you? It would make matters infinitely worse if you were here without a ruler.”
“No,” Alice managed to say. “I mean yes. Yes, I have my ruler. And the pamphlets.” She dug through her pockets, unearthed a stack of glossy brochures, and pushed them across the desk. She was dizzy with fear and couldn’t bring herself to look at Oliver anymore.
Tim adjusted his glasses and picked up the first (and thinnest) of the bunch, which was titled
— WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO —
A Quick and Easy Guide to Furthermore
When Tim opened the slim pamphlet, it unfolded itself across the desk and onto the floor until it grew to be no shorter than ten feet in length, every inch of which was covered in cramped, spasmodically capital-lettered print, and was more than occasionally punctuated by overzealous exclamation points. Alice found the entire business overwhelming and was silently grateful she hadn’t bothered to peruse the other pamphlets—
— FURTHERMORE PHRASEBOOK —
How to Understand the Languages You Don’t Speak
— DESTINATION GUIDE —
The Top 10 Villages You Should Visit This Year
— SHOP LIKE A LOCAL —
Insider Secrets to the Best Gifts in Town
—because it all looked like information for tourists, and Alice didn’t consider herself a tourist. She considered herself the brave heroine of an unlikely tale.
“Ah,” said Tim, tapping a bit of text on the page. “Here—do you see? Under the Permitted and Prohibited Items list. It’s been recently updated, you know.” He glanced at Alice and scooted closer, making room so she could get a better look.
Time is permitted until it is prohibited, that is, until it has expired, which is to say: until it is no longer valid under the terms and conditions it was originally acquired (said terms and conditions having been agreed to upon the receipt of 1 [ONE] Furthermore Standard Issue Ruler, the procurement of which is required for all visitors as of sixty-and-two years hence [see section 172-5.42]), and as such, the illegal acquisition of Time shall be punishable by The Law of All Lands, and the punishment shall be no fewer than five years Enslaved Imprisonment in Isolation, (hereafter referred to as EII), a sentence bound by The Laws of Exile, the duration of which may vary. Amended to add: In an effort to emphasize the severity of Time Thievery, EII shall be henceforth effectuated by The Laws of Complex Color.
Alice sat back and collapsed in her chair. She was sure her bones had come loose; in fact, for a moment she thought she could hear them—elbows knocking against wrists cracking against knuckles—but it wasn’t that at all. It was Tim; Tim who was rapping the desk again, trying to get her attention.
Alice jerked in her seat.
“Alice? Alice,” Tim was saying. “Do you understand what you’ve just read?”
“I do.” Alice’s voice was steady, but she couldn’t make herself look at Tim. “Father has been enslaved for wasting time.”
“Yes, my dear, but it’s more complicated than that. Furthermore has been reinforcing all prison sentences with The Law of Complex Color.”
Tim leaned in. “Do you know what that is?”
Alice glanced at Oliver one final, awful time in an effort to make him speak, but Oliver was determined to look at the floor.
The coward, she thought.
It made her hate him, to know that he’d known all this and never told her. She’d thought they’d moved past these obstacles; she’d thought they were equals now, that he would’ve shared all truths with her. Instead he’d tricked her into trusting him and had lied to her the moment he was able. She felt more foolish than ever. He’d pretended to be her friend, and it was all a lie, wasn’t it? (No, it wasn’t, but we’ll get to that.) Alice was angry and hurt and heartbroken and she would stand for this no longer. Her pride wouldn’t bear it.