THE ADMIRAL'S LADY
by Rachel Howe
Louise and the Admiral saw Crane off at the airport: their informal council of war, begun over coffee and cakes in the Admiral's office, continued in the car and almost as far as the departure gate. Just before they were parted, Crane managed to draw Louise a little to one side.
"Look after the Admiral for me," he said quietly. It should have sounded absurd, but he was quite in earnest, and she understood.
"I'll do my best," she promised. "And you -- take care out there."
"Thanks," he said. There was no time for more: his flight was already being called.
The Admiral treated Louise to lunch at the airport's best restaurant. They sat at a corner table, half-screened from the rest of the room by a row of potted palms: the soft music, almost drowned out at frequent intervals by the roar of engines, the clamour of the public address system announcing departures, and the occasional rattle as the indicator boards changed, made an odd background to their conversation. They chatted quietly and inconsequentially, like any other courting couple, and by the time the dessert was served they were holding hands across the table.
"Have you noticed?" Louise said suddenly, as she unwrapped the chocolate mint that came with the coffee at the end of the meal, "I haven't seen a single reporter all day."
"Yes, I'd noticed. It may just be that they haven't caught up with us yet -- but that would be surprising in itself." Nelson sipped his coffee, pondering the matter. "No-one called the Press Office all morning. Come to that, even the newspaper coverage of last night wasn't as lurid as it might have been. I think they may have been called off."
"Arroth?" Louise was dubious. "I would have thought it was easier to start that kind of thing than stop it."
"Oh, certainly. But the Defense Department has its own ways and means. A word to an editor here, a promise of an exclusive interview there . . . it wouldn't be too hard to take the heat off, at least for a while. Anyway, we may as well make the most of it."
"What did you have in mind?" Louise asked, smiling. He looked much better, now that the recounting of his ill-fated adventure was over, than he had first thing that morning: she hoped that he had nothing too strenuous in mind, but a little gentle recreation would probably do no harm.
"There's something I'd like you to see," he said, unusually hesitant.
"What kind of thing?"
"There's a house I've been -- I've been thinking about buying, and I'd like your opinion on it."
Louise was not quite sure how she should respond to this -- but then, nothing in her mother's handbook of etiquette had ever been much help in dealing with the Admiral. "What's it like?"
"I'll show you," he said cheerfully, beckoning to their server for the bill.
The house stood on the shore road, a couple of miles from the Institute; an old building, part wood and part stone, with two single-storey wings running back from the main, two-storey structure. It was bare, dusty, and scented with sea and sunshine from standing empty all summer.
"Four bedrooms and a study?" Louise had been content for so long with one bedroom, a sitting room, and a kitchen, that it was hard to imagine anyone wanting more.
"Call it three bedrooms and two studies," Nelson suggested.
"Or you could convert one of the downstairs bedrooms for a second bathroom," the real-estate agent put in.
Louise looked around at the sitting room, with its big, old-fashioned stone hearth. Even unfurnished as it was, with a cracked pane in the window and spider-webs everywhere, there was something welcoming about it.
"It has . . . character," she said carefully, not quite ready to deal with the implications of the Admiral's last remark. "It feels -- like a home, not just a house." Unfortunately, she thought, it might take months to put it in order. The kitchen was thirty years out of date, and the whole place was badly in need of redecorating.
"I'll show you the second floor," offered the agent.
There were two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs -- the latter even more antiquated than the kitchen. The master bedroom, like the sitting-room, had a large window looking out to sea. Dust and sand, drifting through unsealed chinks, had made delicate whorls on the plank floor.
"Well, what do you think?" Nelson demanded, when they had come downstairs again and were sitting on the edge of the back porch, contemplating a miniature wilderness that had once been a walled garden.
"It needs an awful lot doing to it," said Louise. "But there's something about it, isn't there?" She could picture it very clearly, clean and cared for, with the furnishings chosen to complement the ruggedness of the stone rather than hide it. "I think," she added diffidently, "it could make a lovely home. You could even have a small laboratory in the shed, if you wanted."
He laughed. "That had occurred to me, but it can wait. What would need doing just to make it habitable?"
"The kitchen needs a complete refit, for a start. And the bathroom . . . and probably the whole house needs rewiring as well as re-decorating."
"What's wrong with the kitchen?" he asked innocently. "It looked all right to me."
"Oh, Harry! You really haven't any idea, have you? You've been institutionalized for too long, that's your trouble: you've forgotten how ordinary people live. No-one has enamel sinks and wood-burning stoves any more."
"All right," he said equably. "I'll take your word for it. I may need a little advice, but I'm sure a kitchen could be arranged. There's only one thing about this place that worries me a little."
"What's that, Love?
"Would it take a lot of looking after? Cleaning and so on?"
"I don't think so," Louise said, after a moment's consideration. "If you put in a modern heating system, and took care about choosing the floor-coverings and so forth, it ought to be quite easy to run. I'm not sure about this yard, though." She was finding it hard, with the rumble of the Pacific breakers in her ears and the clean scent of dry grasses and old, sun-baked timber in her nostrils, to think about the drawbacks of the house.
"I'm sure something could be done with it," Nelson said cheerfully. "As for the rest -- it shouldn't take more than a few weeks. There's nothing wrong with the fabric of the building."
"You'll take it?" she asked, almost unnecessarily: it was obvious that he had made up his mind.
"I'll take it," he said. "The doctors keep telling me I should have another hobby: setting up house should do quite nicely."
Louise chuckled at that. "It certainly wouldn't do you any harm to have something pleasant to think about," she said. "I remember how exciting it was when I was setting up my apartment -- picking out the furniture, and all the little bits and pieces."
"I'd appreciate your help with that. I've got a few pieces of furniture in storage somewhere -- family heirlooms, mostly -- but I suppose it's the bits and pieces that take the time."
"It tends to be." Louise let out a blissful sigh, thinking about carpets and curtains, china and household linen, and of how much more enjoyable the choosing would be with someone to share it.
They went back through the despised kitchen, arm in arm, and found the agent waiting in the sitting room.
"Dare I hope you've decided to take the house?" she asked.
"I'll take it," Nelson replied. "In fact, I'd like the deal concluded as soon as possible."
"That's what I like to hear. The paperwork's back at the office: would you like to come back with me now and get it started?"
They went to the real-estate agency, and most of the legal formalities were dealt with there and then. The Admiral signed a large check for the deposit and took immediate possession of the keys, and then, unable to resist the temptation, they collected a tape-measure and a picnic-basket from the Institute and went back to the house. They spent a delightful couple of hours measuring rooms and windows, deciding which rooms to use for bedrooms and which for other purposes.
"I don't remember the last time I enjoyed anything so much," Louise said happily, when they both ran out of energy and went to sit on the porch again. By then, evening was coming on, and the air was growing cool.
"Neither do I, Love." Nelson looked appreciatively at her: dusty and dishevelled as she was, he had never seen her so beautiful, so lit up with happiness. He was glad: it worried him sometimes that he had disrupted her orderly life, forced her to face her worst nightmares for his own purposes, and almost destroyed her hard-won serenity in the process. It was comforting to know that he had brought her a little joy as well. He was also rather amused to realize that, courageous and brilliant and not entirely human though she might be, she had as strong a nest-building instinct as any woman he had ever met. He reached out and pulled her close.
The sound of knocking on the front door had been going on for some time before they noticed it.
"If that's a reporter . . ." Nelson said darkly, getting to his feet and going to answer the door.
"It doesn't matter," said Louise. "We've had a wonderful afternoon."
It was not a reporter: it was the security man who had been waiting in the car. "I'm sorry, sir," he said. "I've had an urgent call from the Institute. Two gentlemen from the Pentagon have just arrived, and they want to talk to you right away."
"Oh, well," Nelson sighed. "I suppose we'd better go back and face the real world. I'm sorry, Love: I had hoped they'd leave us alone for one day at least."
"Lee! I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it." Chip Morton looked up from the roster he was checking, as Crane came down the ladder that led from the deck hatch to the Seaview's Control Room.
"The plane was held up in fog," Crane explained. "Are we ready to get under way?"
"In a few minutes: everyone else is aboard already. How were things in Santa Barbara?"
"Warm," Crane replied succinctly. The raw chill of an autumn evening in Boston seemed to have settled in his bones, even during the short walk from the dock gates, and the down-draught of cool air from the hatch was going straight down his back. He moved away from the ladder, towards the banks of instruments, automatically glancing around to check that everything was in order. All seemed to be as it should be: the crewmen on sonar and radar were already at their stations, hunched over the flickering screens, and none of the complicated arrays of indicator lights showed anything untoward. Even the smoke-stains from the last fire, he noticed approvingly, had been scrubbed from the panels.
Morton looked a little surprised by his response. "I saw the debate on television," he said tentatively. "The Admiral put on a good show -- but what was all that afterwards?"
"That," Crane said, "was the set-up for an assassination attempt. I'll tell you about it later." The steam-heated warmth of the Control Room was beginning to penetrate: almost absently, he stripped off his jacket.
"What's that on your sleeve?" Morton asked at once. "It looks like blood. Are you hurt?"
"What? Oh, that. It's nothing much." Crane glanced down at his shirt sleeve: there was a wet, red-brown smudge from the cuff almost to the elbow. "I must have knocked it on something." He undid the cuff-button and rolled the sleeve back for a closer inspection. The duty surgeon at the Institute had replaced Miss Delamere's improvised bandage with what he had at the time considered an unnecessarily thorough dressing, but this was now soaked in blood.
"You'd better get that looked at in Sick Bay," Morton suggested.
"I will. You carry on here: you know the course."
Crane had a fresh dressing put on his arm by a corpsman who did not ask too many questions about the injury. Before returning to the Control Room, he went to the galley and begged a cup of coffee. Tired, stiff and thirsty after the flight, he had been considering an early night, but there was much to be done and he already felt guilty about taking shore leave while the rest of the crew was hard at work repairing and resupplying the ship. He was half-way through the coffee when every fire alarm aboard went off. Gulping one last mouthful, he headed for the Control Room without waiting to be called on the intercom.
"It must have been a short circuit in the alarm system," Morton said, a few minutes later. None of the fire details had reported finding an actual fire.
Crane frowned at the indicator panel. "I thought all the circuits had been checked."
"It looks like it'll all have to be done again." Morton sighed. "Ten minutes after we cast off and we're already having trouble. Did the Admiral have any ideas on how to deal with this?"
"Some -- but it isn't going to be easy."
They were interrupted by another alarm bell, indicating not fire but imminent collision.
"I'll brief you about it when all this settles down," Crane yelled above the clamour, when they had established that it was another false alarm. He flicked angrily at switches, but the alarm refused to reset.
For the next three hours, the ship resounded to bells and klaxons as every possible alarm system malfunctioned. Then, when they had finally tracked down the faulty circuit and disabled the alarms for repairs, a real fire started in one of the stores lockers. If it had not been for the prompt action of a crewman who spotted smoke leaking around the door, the consequences might have been disastrous.
"We can't go on like this," Morton said wearily, when normality was finally restored. "We've got a three-week cruise ahead of us, and everyone's had more than enough of this kind of thing in the last few weeks."
"I hope we'll be able to deal with the cause of the trouble before too much longer," said Crane. "In the meantime, we'll just have to stay on our toes."
Morton glanced at the time. "Double watches again, I suppose?"
Crane nodded. For the past few weeks, with trouble more than likely to break out at any hour of the day or night, the two of them had been operating a punishing system of sixteen-hour watches, so that one or the other was always on duty. "When did you come on?" he enquired.
"Call it 1600 hours. By that reckoning you ought to have been off hours ago. You'd better turn in now."
It was nearly midnight: if they stuck to the system they had been using, Crane should have been back on duty at four o'clock in the morning.
"I was forgetting," he admitted. "Very well: I'll tell you the rest in the morning." Then, reminded by the sight of his watch, he pulled a small parcel out of his pocket. "I want these issued to all personnel," he said, "to be carried on the person at all times."
"What are they?" Morton gave the packet a curious shake.
"Force-field generators -- small enough to fit inside a watch case. They're supposed to work against lasers and stun-guns, including the sort our saboteur may be using." He saw the startled question in Morton's eyes, and added quickly, "In the morning, Chip. It's a long story."
"I'll see the men get them," Morton promised.
The "gentlemen from the Pentagon" proved to be a four-star General -- a big, silver-haired, cigar-smoking man -- and his aide. Louise was surprised to be summoned to the Admiral's office when they had been closeted with him for less than an hour. She went with some trepidation: she had managed to brush most of the dust from her clothes, and put up her hair, but she hardly felt presentable enough for an important interview.
"Miss Delamere." General Waters gave her a hard, appraising look. "I understand that you have access to certain -- information -- not otherwise available."
"That's one way of putting it, sir. I seem to have inherited memories that are relevant to what happened to Admiral Nelson -- and to what is still going on."
"And you are willing to place these 'memories' at the disposal of the military?"
"I work with the Admiral, sir, and I'd rather it stayed that way. But I'm willing to do anything I can to help."
The General nodded. "Can you tell us about this Arroth?" he asked bluntly.
"It's a long story," Louise warned.
"Just give us the gist, then. We can go over the details later." He settled back in the Admiral's chair and started to light a cigar.
Louise gave them a brief, business-like account of what she knew. They interrupted several times to clarify particular points: by the time she finished the General had smoked his way through three cigars, and the air was thick with their fumes. The Admiral was beginning to fidget as if he could not find a comfortable position.
"Yes, all this is very interesting," the General said, "but do you know what this Arroth is planning to do that's so dangerous?"
"I'm afraid not," Louise replied. "At least, I think that knowledge is buried in my subconscious somewhere, but I haven't been able to uncover it yet."
"What's the problem?" he asked impatiently. "If you can come up with all that other stuff, why not the one thing we really need to know?"
"General," Nelson warned.
"It's . . . blocked somehow." Louise had to force the words out past a constriction of sheer terror that she told herself fiercely was not real. "I've . . . tried to remember, but . . . I think Arroth did something to my ancestress so she couldn't warn anyone. I . . . hope we'll be able to find a way around it." Her heart was pounding in a most unpleasant way, and the room was spinning around her, but she managed to hang on to her consciousness.
"Convenient." The General tapped the ash off the end of his fourth cigar.
"That's enough!" Nelson snapped. "I did warn you, General." He came to stand behind Louise, laying a comforting, protective hand on her shoulder. "I can't allow you to continue this line of questioning -- not this way."
"I think the Admiral may be right, sir," put in the General's aide. "If there's some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion at work here . . . we could do serious harm if we push the lady too hard. We've all heard the stories about spies conditioned to self-destruct rather than betray their own side."
"Do you mind, Commander?" said Nelson.
"I . . . don't think it's that bad." Louise could not quite keep her voice steady. "It's too many generations removed: as far as I know, about the worst that can happen is that I might pass out, and maybe have a little trouble sleeping afterwards -- and I'm quite used to that kind of thing." She knew she was going to have to do better than this if she was to convince the General. "I can . . . at least tell you where the edges of the block are." It was hard -- perhaps the hardest thing she had ever done -- but somehow she found the strength to keep talking, even as the waves of fear and grief crashed over her. "About the last week before the end of the City . . . there aren't any memories, except a few glimpses of murder and mayhem. And . . . something about a computer . . . a very powerful one . . ." She had to stop then, because suddenly she could not breathe at all: the tightness in her chest was so bad that for a moment she wondered if she was going to have a heart attack.
"Louise," the Admiral said, a long way off, "you don't have to do this."
Unfortunately, she knew that he was wrong: the consequences of her inability to recall those vital facts would be infinitely worse than what she was enduring now. Clinging to that certainty, she forced herself to relax a little, to draw a few shallow, painful breaths.
"Powerful," she whispered. "Powerful enough . . . to take over the functions of a mind . . . many minds." It was at least partly a guess, but she knew, by the almost unbearable sadness that swept through her at the thought, that she was not far from the truth. "And this, as well," she added, when she could speak again. "There's something he needs in our century . . . something that was worth waiting all this time for. But what it was . . . not just a power source to sustain life . . . that was what he told them, but it wasn't true. It was something else he was after . . . something much bigger, much crazier than that. He isn't sane, you see . . . not sane at all."
"All right, Love," Nelson said firmly. "No more -- that's quite enough for one night. Gentlemen, it's been a long day. I suggest we continue this in the morning."
"Very well, Admiral," said the General. "You've certainly given us something to think about."
"I take it you'll be needing me in the morning?" Louise enquired, when the General and his aide had left. She was rather proud of the steadiness of her voice.
"I'm afraid so -- if you feel up to it." Nelson dropped to his knees beside her, taking her hands in a warm, sustaining clasp. "I think we've got them at least halfway convinced: I just wish it wasn't so hard on you. I did try to tell the General to be careful."
"It's all right," Louise said. He looked so worried, and at the same time so proud of her, that she managed to smile for him -- a real smile, after the first few difficult seconds. "I can hardly expect everyone to be as considerate as you've always been. And I think I'm learning how to handle it."
"You really are amazing," he said softly. "Every time I think I've found your limits, you surprise me all over again."
She was a little surprised at herself, when she came to think about what she had just done, but she hardly thought she deserved that look of shining wonder and tenderness. After all, she had only been trying to do what must be done -- and not succeeding particularly well. It felt all wrong, having him at her feet like that; she stood up, drawing him with her. Somehow, in the process of rising, they had their arms around one another again.
"It really is time you got some rest," she said presently. "What time do you want me in the morning?"
"Oh, nine o'clock will be fine." He kissed her one last time, as she was drawing away, and then held her at arm's length, studying her. "Are you sure you'll be all right?" he asked.
"Of course I will, Love."
Crane woke, a little before the appointed time, from an unpleasantly vivid dream of the Hydra-creature. The stench of blood was still in his nostrils: it took him a moment or two to realize that the cut on his arm had been bleeding again, enough to soak through the dressing and stain the sheets. Four hours of uneasy sleep seemed to have left him more tired than he had been before he went to bed: the various minor bruises and muscle strains he had collected in the fight with Arroth combined into a dull, throbbing ache that pervaded his whole body.
The young corpsman on night duty looked worried when Crane arrived in Sick Bay to ask for a fresh dressing. "I think the Doctor should have a look at this, sir," he said. "It shouldn't still be bleeding like that."
"In the morning," Crane said quickly. "Just wrap it up again: I can't go on duty dripping blood all over the place."
With some reluctance, the corpsman agreed that the matter was not urgent enough to disturb the Doctor at this hour, and replaced the dressing with another, more absorbent one.
"You look rough, Lee," Morton told him, by now too tired himself to be tactful. "You should have stayed in bed a while longer: things are quiet enough now."
"I'm all right," Crane said impatiently. "I was awake anyway."
"Is that arm bothering you?"
"It doesn't hurt." That was neither entirely true, nor an answer to the question, but Morton seemed to accept it. "Come on: if it's so quiet I may as well finish telling you about the Admiral's ideas."
It was indeed very quiet: with the automatic controls functioning perfectly, there really seemed to be no sensible reason for either of them to be awake at this hour of the morning. They knew from experience, however, that the situation could change at any moment. In the meantime, they ordered coffee and sat drinking it at the table in the Observation Nose, where yesterday's limp newspapers still lay on the table. The unshuttered window showed nothing but night-black water and illuminated bubbles.
"It's almost certain we do have a saboteur aboard," said Crane.
"It's hard to believe anyone could cause us this much trouble and stay out of sight for all this time," Morton objected.
"You wouldn't say that if you'd met Arroth," Crane told him earnestly.
"The character who's been bothering the Admiral?"
"Right. The one who can walk in and out of a guarded room and have everyone swearing he was never there. I had a brush with him the other night: I almost had him, but it was like he vanished into thin air. Once he was gone I didn't even remember he'd had a knife until Miss Delamere pointed out he'd sliced my sleeve apart. If the man we're dealing with has even half his powers, it's going to take more than ordinary vigilance to catch him."
"Then what do we do?"
"For a start, we rig surveillance cameras at every key point, and record the pictures on tape, twenty-four hours a day -- and keep the tapes in a safe place. He may be able to mess with our minds, but there's at least a chance he can't fuzz a recording -- or at least not all of them. And if someone's monitoring the pictures away from where the trouble is, they probably can't be affected the same way a guard on the spot would be."
"They also can't do much about it," Morton pointed out. "All right: we can set up cameras to catch our gremlin at work -- but how do we stop him?"
"Maybe we can rig some kind of remote-control booby-trap somewhere. The Admiral's going to work on an infra-sonic defence system, but it may take him a day or two to come up with a design that won't scramble our minds as well. Apart from that, all I have are those force-field devices and the design for a longer-range version, and a magic word."
"A magic word?" Morton sounded incredulous. "Just what kind of problem are we dealing with here?"
"Just aliens," Crane said tiredly. "More human than most, maybe, but still aliens in a tight spot, with powers we don't really understand. Call it magic, call it hypnotism -- call it what you like, but believe that it's dangerous." He took a mouthful of coffee and looked out at the silvery streams of bubbles rising past the window. The coffee was still too hot, and as bitter as if it had been stewing all night. "We have to beat this before we get back to Santa Barbara. Once we set out for that underwater city, we can't afford any extra problems." He had a strong suspicion that if they did not deal with the saboteur soon, they would never reach Santa Barbara, but he kept that to himself.
"Will the Admiral really be fit for duty by the time we get there?" Morton asked.
"He seems to think so. It's hard to tell: he's certainly a lot better, but he isn't strong enough yet to take any kind of rough handling. And he isn't exactly having a nice restful convalescence: he was in a pack of trouble before he even got out of that hospital, and it hasn't improved much since then, as far as I can make out. Still, he can probably handle it -- and Miss Delamere seems to be taking pretty good care of him."
"What's she like?"
"Miss Delamere?" Crane hunted through the pile of newspapers until he found what he wanted: a front-page photograph of Louise in the lecture-theatre foyer. It showed a well-dressed, moderately attractive woman, with nothing much, apart from a pensive expression and an unfashionable hairstyle, to distinguish her from the rest of the crowd. "You never met her, did you? The first time I saw her, I had her down as a sweet, old-fashioned lady -- probably suffers a little with her nerves -- not exactly homely, but nothing very special to look at."
Morton studied the picture and shook his head. "There has to be more to her than that."
"Oh, there is. For one thing, she has a very good mind, at least according to the Admiral: she speaks about a dozen languages, and when he tried teaching her advanced electronics she caught on right away. Those force-field generators are mostly her idea, apparently. For another . . . well, we were in a pretty tight spot the other night, and she knew exactly what to do, and did it without turning a hair. And . . . it takes a little getting used to, but he's obviously crazy about her, and it looks like she feels the same way about him. You know, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they ended up getting married."
Morton whistled softly. "You're right, Lee -- that idea takes some getting used to."
"All right, Admiral: I grant you the lady spins a good yarn," General Waters said abruptly, helping himself to another slice of toast. "But how do we know she isn't inventing the whole thing -- or imagining it? She didn't look exactly stable to me."
"Stable?" Nelson snorted. "Considering what she's had to cope with all her life, I'd call her one of the most stable people I ever met. And what reason would she have to make up something like this? Anyway, everything she's ever told me fits perfectly with what I knew already -- including things she had no other way of knowing, at least until yesterday morning."
"With respect, Nelson, you're hardly the best person to judge: you're obviously emotionally involved with the girl."
"Involved? I suppose you could say that," Nelson murmured. "But that isn't the point: Miss Delamere would be the first to say that personal feelings have nothing to do with this."
"Maybe. We've been thinking this over, and there's only one way around it: we'd like to put Miss Delamere through some standard psychometric tests, if she's willing. No dangerous questions, just the kind of tests we use for assessing candidates for sensitive posts."
"I've no objection to that -- as long as Miss Delamere agrees."
Louise, when she arrived, was happy to submit to whatever tests the General considered necessary. A facsimile set of papers was duly transmitted from Washington, and she sat at her desk in the little office she had made her own and worked through them. Some of the questions were of a type she was familiar with, either from the psychology courses she had taken or from the tests that long-ago and unhelpful child therapist had put her through: others were new. She found it an interesting exercise, though she would rather have been dealing with more important matters. When she had completed the written papers, a psychologist from the University, hastily drafted into service, conducted further tests. Feeling rather like some kind of laboratory specimen, she obediently demonstrated her ability to press the appropriate buttons on a console when presented with various stimuli, and did her best to interpret meaningless ink-blot patterns on cards. For good measure, they tried something that appeared to be a simple test for extra-sensory perception, but might, she supposed, have been something else entirely. Finally, they ran through a long session of word-association. This took longer than it might have, because she found it very hard to achieve the proper level of mental vacancy: for the first ten minutes she kept making complex, highly intellectualized jumps from word to word, sometimes via several languages. The needles on the monitoring equipment hardly quivered.
"Please, Miss Delamere," the psychologist said at last, "try to relax. We aren't trying to establish your level of education here -- we already know about that."
"Sorry, Professor. I'll try to stop showing off." She had been rather enjoying herself, connecting "bubble" to "chamber" to "commerce" to "monopoly" to "dice" to "Einstein" to "cat" (via, as she explained when they queried that, "Schrodinger"), but she knew that was not really the object of the exercise.
"Let's try this one more time. Cat."
"Dog." Louise stopped herself just in time from jumping on, via the Hound of the Baskervilles, to Sherlock Holmes.
"Nights," the Professor repeated.
"Armour. Sorry, call that stars."
"We'll go with armour," the Professor said hastily. "Weapons."
"Haydn," Louise said, with the opening bars of the oratorio running in her head.
The Professor's face stayed impassive. "Magic."
Louise stiffened, and the needles clattered across the charts. She had just started to relax a little, letting her answers come at random: she was startled to see where they had led. Of course, that was how the game was supposed to work.
"Danger," she said honestly.
"Safety." The Professor made a note, but he did not seem surprised: presumably he had been forewarned.
Louise had a vision of the textbook for her last mathematics course. "Matrix."
"Space-time." That came out before Louise could think of anything less obscure.
For a moment, Louise could not think of anything at all: without warning, she was drowning in fear and grief again, and tiny motors whined as all the stress-indicator needles tried to pass the limits of their ranges.
"Time travel?" the Professor repeated, puzzled by her reaction.
"Danger," Louise said again. "Please, don't ask me any more." It helped to concentrate on the needles, as if willing them back to quiescence: after a few moments, she had the artificial emotions under control again. She knew that they had stumbled on an important clue, but she had no idea what to make of it.
"Time travel? Are you sure about that?" the Admiral demanded, frowning. "Of course it's dangerous: she could have picked that up just from being around me too long."
"I don't think so, Admiral." The Professor fidgeted with his clipboard. "It seemed to be a very strong, spontaneous reaction -- and the subject was as much taken by surprise as I was."
"She's all right?"
"She seems to be, but it wouldn't have done any good to carry on with the test after that. I think I've got enough, anyway."
"Well, what do you make of her?"
"I'd say Miss Delamere is as normal as anyone, apart from these buried memories and the associated phobias. On the whole, she seems remarkably well-adjusted."
"That's what I've said all along, but it's good to have an expert confirm it."
"I would advise a certain amount of caution in trying to recover the memories," the Professor warned. "The trauma associated with some aspects of them goes very deep: it could make her really ill if it isn't carefully handled."
"I understand," Nelson said gravely. "I've seen enough already to be very wary of pushing her too hard."
"You win, Nelson," the General conceded, when he had seen the results of the written tests and heard the Professor's report. "Your lady-friend has the makings of a good officer -- a very good one, in fact. She's a little low on self-confidence, but that would come with training."
"I've no intention of turning her into an officer," Nelson responded, rather amused. "She hasn't the slightest notion of military discipline, for one thing. But I'm glad she meets with your approval. Perhaps now we can get down to the real business in hand."
Crane was much too busy, once Morton went off duty at breakfast time, to worry about the soreness of his muscles or the thin line of fire along his forearm. There were no major disasters, only a succession of minor, irritating difficulties that kept every available technician constantly occupied. About mid-morning, the ship's radio transmitter suddenly, and for no apparent reason, stopped working. It took two hours to find and repair that fault, and in the meantime an entire bank of radar circuitry mysteriously burnt itself out. To make matters worse, there seemed to be something wrong with the environmental controls, so that whenever he was not close to shivering he was uncomfortably hot. Compared to everything else, that was a low priority, and the men did not seem to be in any distress, so he ignored the problem. Then, in the afternoon, the steering controls jammed in the middle of a course change, leaving the submarine sailing in two-mile circles for over an hour. Shortly before the engineers succeeded in freeing the controls, all the navigation aids failed, so that when the Seaview resumed her course the Captain had to resort to going up on the Bridge and taking visual observations of the sun.
He took the charts to the Observation Nose table, afterwards, partly because he needed to sit down for a while and partly to be away from the bustle and the constant dizzying flicker of lamps and screens. It had been cold, up there in the open, and the air below-decks was stifling in contrast. The pencil kept slipping through his fingers, and the chart was smudged with faint red-brown smears wherever his sleeve had touched it. There were still five hours of his watch to go, but perhaps he could afford to rest his head on his good arm for a few minutes . . .
"Captain? Are you feeling all right?"
He straightened with an effort that drove sharp slivers of pain from his neck into his shoulders, and tried to focus on the ship's Doctor. It was not easy, when he was speaking out of the centre of a grey, swirling mist about a hundred miles away. "I'm . . . fine, Doc."
The Doctor's eyebrows drew together. "You don't look fine -- I don't even need a thermometer to tell that you're running a fever."
"I'm a bit tired, that's all. What brings you up here?"
"I was getting tired of waiting for you to let me look at that cut of yours," the Doctor said dryly. "I'd like you to come down to Sick Bay, Captain."
"Can it wait until Chip comes on watch? This really isn't a good time, Doc."
"Captain," the Doctor said wearily.
"Is there a problem, Lee?" Morton, spruce and clean-shaven, came briskly down the last few steps of the spiral staircase and came over to join them.
"No problem, Chip." Crane stood up, clutching the edge of the table. "I just need you to . . . take the Conn for a few minutes." The grey mist was back, blotting out Morton's face and the slowly spinning Control Room; very far off, he heard someone giving orders.
When the world steadied again, he was lying on his back with something soft under his head. Sick Bay, he realized, recognizing the faint antiseptic smell. Cautiously, he opened his eyes. "Doc? What am I doing here?"
"You fainted." The Doctor sounded annoyed. "You know, it would make my job a lot easier if I occasionally got a patient who didn't wait until he was on the point of collapse."
"What's the matter with me?"
"You've got a temperature of over 102 degrees -- not to mention a cut that's been bleeding for two straight days. I'll need to run some tests to be sure, but my best guess is that you've overworked yourself to the point where your system's too run down to heal a simple cut or fight off a virus you probably picked up while you were ashore." The Doctor hesitated for a moment, looking down at the chart he held. "I don't suppose this is what you want to hear, Captain, but you need to rest."
"I haven't time to be sick right now, Doc," Crane protested. "Isn't there something you can do to keep me on my feet?"
"I'm afraid I can't do that, sir. Even if I could, it wouldn't last for more than a few hours, and afterwards you'd be in worse shape than you are now. Believe me, you'll feel a lot better after a couple of days in bed. And no -- you can't go to your cabin. With a fever like that, you belong right here."
"If you say so, Doc." Arguing would have taken energy Crane did not have, just then. He shifted a little, trying to find a more comfortable position, and then decided it would be better to lie still. After a while, he drifted into sleep.
To Chapter 11
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