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Search For Meaning

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There are times, in between the chaos of searching for the seven walls and the organized disaster that is running the shelter and her family, that Emma finds herself alone.

She’s always moderately surprised when it happens, since there’s always someone who seems to want to show her something or otherwise needs her help. Emma doesn’t mind, she never does. She’s happy that way, and it’s harder to worry.

But there are still times when she finds herself alone, and Emma can’t help but think.

The most constant topic is their strategy, the next steps, what they need to be doing. More effective ways to carry it all out, to not get caught. Every possible action she can take to protect her family, to achieve their goals. To be better. Smarter.

But even that can’t occupy her thoughts forever, and eventually she finds herself thinking about death. About the strange morality of taking lives to live. How the only thing life really seems to promise is pain, and all the rest of it is icing on the cake.

She doesn’t like that thought. It reminds her too much of Ray’s personal philosophy, though he’s getting better. There has to be something else.

If pain is a given in life, there must be other principles, other things to balance it out, right? That can’t be the only one.

________

She asks Ray about it, and he gives her the kind of look that says he’s not sure why she’s using brainpower on something like this. He humors her anyway, leaning back in his chair to look at the ceiling when he says, “Of course there are other principles. Physics. Psychology. Biology. The world’s made of laws, isn’t it? We couldn’t live if it wasn’t.”

“I know that,” Emma says, a bit frustrated, because as much as Ray doesn’t tease her for her intelligence anymore he still talks like certain things should be obvious. And maybe they are to him, but she’s still trying to get to the bottom of it all. “That’s not what I was asking, anyway. If pain is a law, what are the others? There have to be happier laws to balance it all out, right?”

Ray gives her a long look, head still leaning over the back of his chair.

“I hope so,” he finally says.

At the look on his face, Emma feels a sudden need to say something, to reassure him that things aren’t as bad as he always thinks they are. So she tells him, “There are,” and then, “I’m going to find them.”

Ray laughs and sits up straight again, looking back at his book. “I don’t know why you asked me if you’ve already made up your mind,” he says. “Seems kind of redundant.”

“It’s your fault for being helpful,” Emma replies. She grins at him, and then picks up the stack of children’s books, because she’s on bedtime story duty and she’s gotten sidetracked again. “Thanks, Ray,” she says as she heads for the door.

“Yeah.” He pauses. “. . . Tell me what you find out.”

______

Emma wishes she could ask Mujika what she thinks, but her friend is most likely hundreds of miles away in some forest somewhere, so that’s obviously not an option. She makes do instead by lying awake in bed and thinking about the conversations they’ve had before, watching the pendant of her necklace twirl from the chain.

Around her, the room is dark, her family sleeping peacefully, and Emma wonders how it is they can manage that after all the horrors they’ve seen. They’re not without their share of nightmares, of course, but for the most part, they’re happy.

Somehow they pick each other up and keep going. She’s done it herself, too, but why? Why does it work?

People working together are stronger than apart.

Is that a law?

The necklace slows to a stop, but she’s not watching it anymore, staring into space as she tries to think.

It seems so simple. So obvious. Is it too obvious? She knows it’s true, she’s seen it work before. They wouldn’t have escaped from Grace Field House without each other, and it’s the same with Goldy Pond. It’s what Yugo couldn’t understand, before, and what Lucas had understood.

Abruptly Emma realizes Norman must have understood that too, understood that he couldn’t escape on his own and they couldn’t do it without him. It hits her like a sack of bricks, but even though it’s suddenly hard to breathe, she can understand a little better now.

Stronger together than apart.

She smiles despite the sadness. That’s a better law.

Are there more?

_______

The answer, it turns out, is yes. Laws about growing, about learning, about, as Ray puts it, “return on investments of effort.” Laws about what’s possible (more than she expected) and what isn’t (less than Ray thinks).

Emma starts keeping a notebook. It’s small, pocket sized, and she doesn’t write a lot in it, but she writes enough to record what she finds. And, since the notebook isn’t for her, she writes her evidence along with it.

It takes a lot to convince Ray, after all.

_______

“Here,” Emma says, tossing the notebook at Ray’s chest. He fumbles with it, finally catching it just before it hits the piano.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“Read it,” Emma tells him, folding her arms. Ray gives her a look that says he’s not sure what she’s up to but it better not cause him a headache, then opens the notebook.

He gets about two lines down the first page before glancing at her. “Law one?” he asks. “‘My best friend is a butt who can’t be convinced of anything without significant proof?’”

“I’m justifying my methods,” Emma says. “Keep reading.”

He does, periodically reading phrases or bits out loud to himself like he’s confirming their accuracy. Or questioning it. Emma’s honestly never been sure which it is, with him. She can’t usually keep up with his comments enough to tell either way.

“Not bad,” Ray says when he’s done, leaning back against the wall. “Aside from the obvious ideological bias towards happiness and the way ‘feelings and intuitive leaps’ somehow count as fact.”

He shrugs away from the wall and tosses the book back at her with a smirk. “Also, your proof for the first law is severely lacking. Were you trying to be nice to me?”

“Ray,” she says, scowling. His smirk widens.

“I know,” he says. “Emma?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”