THE ADMIRAL'S LADY
by Rachel Howe
There was a great deal for Louise and the Admiral to do, but for the next couple of days they did very little of it. The Admiral decided that it was time he paid a little more attention to making Louise happy. She had been very patient, but he knew the past days had been hard on her: she deserved more than he had been able to give her. There was also -- though Nelson was determined not to let this be an overriding consideration -- the matter of the vital memories which Louise still could not access. Until he was sure she had recovered from the other strains she had been under, he did not dare try to force her to remember. Accordingly, they spent two idyllic days, shopping for household essentials, eating leisurely and luxurious meals in convenient restaurants, driving in the hills, sitting on the beach, and returning to Louise's apartment in the evening to look over catalogues or simply talk. On one of the afternoons, they visited the house on the shore road. The renovation work was well in progress: the scents of paint and sawdust and new plaster had replaced those of salt air and sun-dried timber.
"Is this what you had in mind?" Nelson asked, looking around a kitchen that needed only the appliances to make it complete. Workmen's smears of paint and grime adorned the surfaces, and wood-shavings and scraps of plastic wrappings crunched underfoot.
"It should be, when it's finished." Louise picked up a rag and rubbed at a dusty mark on the counter. "It may even be better than I imagined it. I don't know how you've found the time to get all this done."
"It just takes a little planning," he said airily. "I'm hoping to have it ready by the time we get back from the Lost City, and that shouldn't be much more than a month now."
"No." Louise dropped her cloth. "No, it won't be long now." She wandered over to the window and looked out at the makings of the garden. "Oh, Harry!" It was a cry of sheer delight. "This is going to be so beautiful!"
"I want it all to be as near perfect as possible," he said, coming to join her. The yard was a wilderness of trampled weeds and builder's supplies, but the landscapers had started work, and the design was beginning to take shape. "Something to come home to . . ."
"I hope it will be," said Louise. "Not that the surroundings are the most important thing, if you're happy."
"I could be happy with you in a shack in Outer Mongolia." He was trying to make her laugh, but she did not.
"No, you couldn't," she said seriously. "You need your work as well, and you probably always will."
"I'm afraid you're right," he admitted.
"It's all right, Love. I know that's how it's always going to be, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
He put his arms around her. She understood him so perfectly, and he still found her almost as much a delightful puzzle as she had been when they first met -- maybe a little less baffling, but even more wonderful. "I don't deserve you," he murmured. "Your mother's right: you're much too good for me."
"Stop that," Louise said gently. "I have a hard enough time living up to you as it is."
"Who ever said you had to?" It was true, he supposed, that he had come to expect a great deal of her. He had not been as surprised as he should have been, the other evening, when she not only volunteered unasked for a dangerous assignment but carried it out successfully and completely without back-up.
"You know what I mean," she said. "You . . . lift me so far out of myself that I hardly know who I am any more."
"You're exactly who you always were. All I did was make you realize your own potential a little more. I want you to be happy, that's all."
"Happy?" she echoed. "Yes . . . You know, I always used to think happiness was something extra, not really necessary: contentment ought to be enough. But now . . . now I'm beginning to know what real happiness is. And . . . I wouldn't want to be without it again."
In the end, it was Louise who brought up the subject of the blocked memories.
"I think it's time," she said, the third morning. "You've been very patient, Love, but I'm as ready now as I'll ever be."
"If you're sure," the Admiral said.
"I'm sure. This has been getting in the way for too long."
The hypnotist recommended by the Professor of Psychology was only too willing to rearrange his calendar to oblige the Admiral: he had been eager to try his skills on this fascinating subject ever since he had first been approached. His name was Goodner: he was a large, soft-spoken man, with implausibly thick, dark hair and designer spectacles.
"If you don't mind, Miss Delamere," he said, "I'd like to ask a few questions before we begin." He then quizzed her at length on the sensations and emotions associated with the block.
Louise answered as fully as she could. "So far," she said frankly, "the only way I can get at anything useful seems to be if I'm more frightened of what will happen if I can't remember than of what will happen if I can -- and that's a little rough on my nerves."
"Fascinating," the hypnotist purred, making a note. "I hope we'll be able to find a less violent method. Now, if you could give me some indication of what you do know already, just for a baseline?"
Louise had been over the same ground so often by now that she could speak quite calmly of what they had brought to light. Dr. Goodner listened intently: he seemed to have a little trouble at first accepting the reality of what she was talking about, but the Admiral provided enough corroborating evidence to convince him.
"This really is most remarkable," he said at length. "I can't remember ever coming across anything quite like it."
"The question is," Nelson said bluntly, "is there anything you can do to help?"
"I can certainly try, Admiral -- but with so little precedent to go on, it's hard to know what to expect."
"Well, shall we find out?" Louise suggested.
There was no difficulty about putting Louise into a trance: she was a little tense at first, but Dr. Goodner was an expert. Within a few minutes, she was leaning back in her chair, completely relaxed.
"Now," he said. "You are fourteen years old. When I count to three, you will open your eyes, and you will answer any question I ask you. One . . . Two . . . Three!"
Louise opened her eyes obediently, and looked around in an odd, unfocussed way, as if she imagined herself to be somewhere quite different. It made Nelson a little uneasy, to have her staring through him as if he was not there.
"What is your name?" Dr. Goodner asked.
"Louise -- Louise Delamere. Some of my friends call me Lulu, but Daddy doesn't like it." The very voice was different -- a young girl's voice, nervously confiding.
"And how old are you, Louise?"
"Fourteen and a quarter -- nearly."
"Why did you come to talk to me, Louise?"
"I . . . fainted in class again today. That's three times this month already. I want it to stop, Doctor: I want to be like the other girls."
"What made you faint this time?"
"There was a poem we were reading in English. It was kind of weird, but kind of pretty, too -- and then everything started spinning again. I tried to stop it, like you showed me, but it was going too fast, and then I blacked out."
"Can you tell me the poem?"
"Not all the words -- something about a place called Xanadu, and a dome, and a cavern, and a dark sea . . . that's about all I can remember now."
"That's good, Louise, very good. Now, can you think of any reason why that poem should frighten you?"
"No, Doctor. It isn't frightening at all, but it was like . . ."
"Like it reminded you of something you couldn't remember?"
"Perhaps. But we've been over and over this, and it doesn't make any sense. There wasn't anything really bad that ever happened to me. There is one thing I wondered -- but Mommy says only crazy people talk about that kind of thing. I don't think I'm crazy, not yet, anyway."
"No, Louise, you aren't crazy. You go ahead and tell me what you're thinking: that's what I'm here for."
"Suppose," Louise said, hunching her shoulders like an embarrassed adolescent, "it isn't something that happened to me at all. Suppose it's something that happened before I was even born? Maybe a real long time ago, even before Great-Aunt Matty was born?"
"What kind of thing?"
"I don't know. Maybe a whole lot of things . . . scary things. Great-Aunt Matty says I shouldn't be scared, and I try not to be, but I'd like to know what it was."
"All right, Louise. Now here's what we'll do. I'm going to put you to sleep again, and we'll try to help you remember the time before you were born. Is that all right?"
"All right, Doctor. Right now I'd do almost anything to be free of this: if it doesn't start getting better pretty soon I'll never make it through high school. And I hate having everyone staring and whispering every time it happens, and the boys laying bets on when the next time will be, and the girls saying I do it on purpose to get attention. That's silly -- nobody would want that kind of attention." Louise started to tremble -- a frightened, lonely, tormented child desperate for normality. Nelson longed to take her in his arms and comfort her, but he knew that for her, at that moment, he did not even exist.
"It's all right, Louise," Dr. Goodner said soothingly. "It will get better, I promise. Sooner or later, even if this doesn't work, you'll be old enough and strong enough to deal with it yourself."
"All right. Let's do it." She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin, already showing a little of the courage she would learn in later years.
"We are going back in time," the hypnotist intoned. "You are a child . . . You are a baby . . . You aren't born yet. What is the last thing you remember?"
Louise blinked and shuddered: for a moment she seemed about to wake out of the trance. Then her breathing steadied. Her face had changed again -- a young woman's face, now, marked with the tenderness and worry of motherhood.
"I put the little one down to sleep an hour ago," she said. There was something strange about her intonation -- a flatness in the vowels, a precision in the consonants, and, underlying that, hints that English was not the language of her birth.
"What is your name?"
"Luisha -- wife of Hugo Delamere. Mistress Delamere, they call me here."
"How old are you, Mistress Delamere?"
"How should I know that? Seventeen years before the long sleep, and seven after, but how long the sleep was I cannot tell."
"Can you tell me about what happened before that long sleep?"
"I must not talk of such things, my husband says. They would call me mad, or witch."
"Tell me, Luisha. I will not harm you, or gossip to your neighbours."
"I was a king's daughter, once, in a city under the sea. It is sleeping now, or dead: there can be no going back. My husband came and took me from that place, and I will never return."
"What happened there?"
"Terrible things . . . terrible, terrible things. Arroth . . . My father was dead, and I could not prevent him . . . I failed my people: I am not worthy to rule."
"Tell me about Arroth."
"No! I cannot . . . I must not speak of it. I must not even think of it, or I will die, or go mad, and what would become of my children then?" She was trembling, terrified. "Please, do not ask me any more. I cannot bear it."
"Enough," Nelson said suddenly. "This has to stop."
Dr. Goodner nodded. "Sleep again, Mistress Delamere," he said gently. "Forgive my intrusion: I will not disturb you again."
Louise subsided into deep trance.
"Wake her up," Nelson ordered. "We aren't going any further without her permission."
"Whatever you say, Admiral. Miss Delamere, on the count of three you will wake up. You will remember whatever you want to remember, no more and no less. One . . . Two . . . Three!"
Louise stirred and opened her eyes. "Oh," she said shakily. "That was . . . strange. Was it any use?"
"It was . . . interesting," Dr. Goodner said carefully.
"Are you all right?" Nelson asked.
"I think so." Louise reached out and slipped her hand in his. "A little tired, but nothing out of the way. What happened?"
"We've been trying to talk to Luisha, Love. Unfortunately, she couldn't help us much. She may have been a princess, but I don't think she had half your courage."
"I don't think that's quite fair," Louise protested. "It was all much more real and immediate to her: it's quite possible that she really would have gone mad if she'd remembered."
"What would happen if we regressed her to the time before the memories were blocked?" Dr. Goodner enquired.
"It might work." Louise sounded dubious. "There'd be a problem, though. She couldn't speak English then."
"Ah . . . yes, that is a difficulty. What language would she speak?"
"Her own, of course. I think it had elements of the ancient Minoan language, and possibly Sanskrit: I haven't quite worked out yet whether those are borrowings or lendings. Most of it was something else altogether -- not a human language at all."
"You understand it yourself?" Dr. Goodner was fascinated by this new phenomenon.
"Of course. I can even speak and write it, a little. That all came with the open memories, and languages are a hobby of mine anyway, so I've studied it in some detail. I think it might be the key to a lot of undeciphered ancient inscriptions -- but that's beside the point at the moment." Louise frowned, trying to think of a way around the problem. "I wonder," she said presently. "If you told me the questions you wanted to ask, and I translated them for you, and then you asked Luisha and recorded the answers, I could probably translate them back for you."
"Are you sure?" Nelson asked. "Wouldn't you run into the block again when you came to translate?"
"Possibly -- but there's only one way to find out. Anyway, we can always stop again if it gets too bad." Louise smiled. "There has to be some way around the block, and this may just be it."
Nelson squeezed her hand, very glad to have the real Louise back.
It took them the rest of the morning to establish and translate a suitable set of questions. The two men watched with interest as Louise wrote out the translations: as usual, she wrote first in the alien script, shaping the curious hieroglyphics awkwardly with an instrument they had never been designed for, and then added a transliterated version.
"Admiral," Dr. Goodner said seriously, "I hope you intend to publish this research some day."
"That depends on the security considerations. Anyway, I don't intend to turn Miss Delamere into a circus freak -- or even a laboratory specimen."
"I'm glad to hear it," Louise commented, looking up from her work.
After lunch, Louise submitted herself to hypnosis again. As soon as she was in the trance, Dr. Goodner picked up his sheet of questions and read out the first line, stumbling a little over the strange syllables in spite of the coaching Louise had given him. He was rewarded with a very girlish giggle, and a few quick phrases. The conversation that followed was very peculiar. It was obvious that they were talking to a rather younger Luisha, a pretty, imperious, slightly spoilt girl who was much amused by Dr. Goodner's clumsy attempts to speak her language, but it was impossible to make any sense out of her replies, or to tell whether the agreed questions were apposite. At first, she answered readily, rather impatiently, as though the questions were too naive to be taken seriously: after a while, her face turned sombre, almost frightened, and her replies grew longer and more considered. When they came to the crucial question about Arroth's plans, she shook her head -- not in fear, it seemed, but in ignorance. The whole process took about half an hour. Louise emerged from it quite unscathed, though rather thoughtful, and professed herself ready to start on the translation at once.
"Hoity-toity little madam," she commented, when she had heard the first few questions and answers played back. "'You should call me lady, and bow three times before you address me, you ignorant barbarian,' indeed. I suppose one has to make certain allowances for royalty, but really!"
"Royal children can be difficult," the Admiral agreed, with a reminiscent smile. "What comes next?"
"'I am seventeen years old, and I have not been a child for a long time,'" Louise translated. "Poor thing. Listen to this. 'When my nurse-maid was executed, they decided I was too old to have another. That was more than five years ago, and I have been a grown woman ever since. I will be Queen one day, if the City continues.' You know," she said thoughtfully, "we might have gone back a little too far. This is interesting, but there's nothing new."
"She certainly seemed worried about something, towards the end," Nelson pointed out. "Let's see what we've got."
"All right." Louise fast-forwarded the tape a little. "Ah, now this is interesting. The question was, 'Tell me about Arroth,' and the answer went something like this." She played it back twice to be sure of the translation. "This I didn't know, though I suppose I should have guessed. 'I don't trust him. He looks at my mother sometimes, not the way a royal servant should look at the Queen. I believe he thinks she should have married him, instead of my father. He's wrong: she always hated him as much as I did. He isn't a man who knows about love. Perhaps that's why he's so twisted. Why are old people so stupid about things like that?' And it goes on . . ." Louise played back a little more of the tape, and took up Luisha's account again. "'And lately . . . he scares me. He's had so many people killed, only for saying we could live in the sunlight and be friends with the barbarians of the islands. That was why my maid had to die -- she had a friend on one of the islands. She brought him down to the City once. I thought he was nice -- brown and smiling and gentle -- but Arroth said no barbarian could see the City and live, and he had them both fed to the Hydra. Sometimes it seems like he'd rather we all died down here. I don't see why we have to: the people up above aren't so very different, only they don't have memories like we do. They might be smarter in other ways, though -- or why do we have to hide from them? I daren't say that anywhere where he might be listening, though. Even the King's daughter might not be safe. I've been watching him, and he isn't as loyal to my father as he pretends. He's doing something, down in the cellars under the Palace, tinkering with the machines from the old ships, and no-one's supposed to know.'"
"Is that all?" Nelson asked.
"Not quite." Louise pressed the play button on the tape recorder again, and listened intently. Presently, her eyes went dark, horrified, and she hastily stopped the tape.
"It's all right," she said, but her voice shook. "There is something . . . useful, I think. I'm getting all the usual reactions, anyway, so it must be important."
The Admiral put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Take your time," he said gently.
"Listen to this. 'I think Arroth is building a time machine. I was hiding on the stairs, and I heard him say that we would all go into the future, to a less barbarous age . . . and then . . .'" Louise stopped, struggling for breath. "'And then there would be no more trouble with humanity. But I don't understand. There's only one way to work a machine like that . . . and he'd never get enough people to agree. And . . . there aren't enough parts, anyway. Anybody in the royal line knows that. If we can't fly the ships, there's no way we can make a time machine.'
"That's all there is, I'm afraid. It doesn't make much sense, does it?"
"You don't have any idea what she was driving at?"
"Wait a minute." Louise pressed her hands to her forehead. "It wasn't a time machine he used to take them into the future," she said uncertainly. "So . . . either she was on the wrong track, or . . . Harry, help me! I can't . . ." She sagged in her seat, clutching at the edge of the table.
"All right, my darling." Nelson tightened his hold on her. "I'm right here. Just take it easy."
"Sorry," she whispered after a moment. "This is ridiculous . . . we must be nearly there, but I can't think. Can you . . . try a few guesses?" The table rattled with her trembling.
"Don't you think we'd better stop this right now?"
"No . . . we're so close, we might as well finish it. I'll be all right."
"If it wasn't a time machine to go into the future," he said slowly, "could it have been intended to go back instead?"
"Go on," Louise murmured.
"Suppose he could get the parts he needed in a sufficiently advanced civilisation, and then . . . turn back the clock? Is that it? Is that what he's been planning all along?"
Louise went very still. For the space of a dozen heartbeats, she seemed not even to be breathing. Nelson was startled when she jerked sharply out of his arms and jumped to her feet; when he saw her hand coming up to strike him across the face, reflex took over and he grabbed her arm.
"Louise," he protested. Then he realized what had happened. It was not Louise who was struggling against his hold and staring at him with all the fury and disdain of a proud young woman who had found herself unexpectedly in the embrace of a stranger. "Luisha?" he said uncertainly.
"Fascinating," Dr. Goodner observed. "She seems to have reverted spontaneously to the Luisha personality. We'd better respond appropriately: it wouldn't do any good to try to get her back at this stage."
"Luisha," Nelson said again. He released her arm, and she backed quickly away, putting the width of his desk between them. "We mean you no harm," he added, trying to make his tone as unthreatening as possible. He had dealt with aliens in all manner of guises, but a seventeen-year old princess who did not speak a word of English was something new. He was not sure what she might be capable of when provoked, and she certainly looked provoked now, her magnificent eyes flashing with rage that he had dared to touch her.
She flung a stream of words at him, not enchantments but ordinary speech, quick and angry and questioning.
He spread his hands, shrugging his shoulders in an elaborate pantomime of incomprehension. Dr. Goodner leaned forward and quietly switched on the tape recorder.
Luisha shook her head, frustrated, and spoke again. She seemed to be making some effort to be understood, forming her words slowly and clearly, but as the language was completely unfamiliar to her hearers this was not very helpful.
Nelson picked up the sheet of questions that Louise had translated. There were a few phrases there intended to set Luisha at her ease. He read one of them out, stumbling over the uncouth syllables, and looked hopefully at her. She nodded, slowly, and some of the tension went out of her. She looked around the room: her eyes widened when she noticed the window and the ocean beyond it. She asked a quick, startled question which Nelson was quite unable to answer. He tried smiling instead, and after a moment she smiled in response -- a shy, sweet smile that reminded him rather painfully of his own Louise. He tried another of the soothing remarks, and then ventured to come a little closer. She shrank away, but when he pulled up a chair she seated herself gracefully, settling imaginary flowing skirts so convincingly that he could almost hear the swish of fabric. For that matter, he could very nearly see the little gold circlet around her brows. Aware that he was now under intense scrutiny from the lovely blue-green eyes under that illusory coronet, he decided against seating himself. This seemed to be the right decision: presently, she gave a gracious little nod and gestured him to a chair a few yards away. He found himself wondering how much of this behaviour would have been tolerated by her own elders: he rather suspected that she was putting on these regal airs to cover up her own uncertainty. It was an effective act nonetheless: he inclined his head and meekly took the seat she indicated.
An awkward silence fell, then. Luisha folded her hands and looked expectantly at the two men, obviously not considering it her part to make the next move. After a while, Nelson consulted his crib-sheet again and asked the crucial question about Arroth's plans.
Luisha's reaction took him by surprise: he had been expecting fear, or at least reluctance, but her face registered only profound relief, as if he had finally found the key to set her free from a long and weary servitude. After a moment, however, as she remembered that he could not understand what she needed so badly to tell him, she sank into despondency.
A thought occurred to Nelson: he picked up pen and paper from the desk and handed them to her with an inviting gesture. She looked puzzled, so he showed her the sheet with the questions written out in English and in her own tongue. She frowned, but then her face lit up with understanding. She took the pen and began to write, forming the alien hieroglyphics in a round, school-girl hand quite different from the way Louise wrote them.
"Is there any chance Miss Delamere will be able to translate this for us?" Nelson enquired quietly of Dr. Goodner. "Assuming we ever get her own mind back, that is." He did not like to contemplate what would happen if Louise never regained her own personality. Luisha had a certain charm, but even if they could teach her English she would be a poor substitute for his own dear Louise.
"It's quite possible. Don't worry too much about these bizarre manifestations, Admiral: it may well be the only way Miss Delamere can deal with the memories at all, but there shouldn't be any ill-effects. Once she's passed on the message from her subconscious, she should be fine."
"I hope so," Nelson said grimly.
Luisha wrote on, oblivious now to the unfamiliar surroundings except when she needed fresh sheets of paper. After twenty minutes, she had filled six pages, one of which was partly occupied by what looked like a sketch map. She started another page, but her hand had begun to shake. She wrote three more lines, scrawling as if her fingers were stiff with cold, and dropped the pen. Nelson started up to go to her. Then, as suddenly as she had come, she was gone, leaving the body she had borrowed draped across the chair like a discarded garment.
"Louise?" Nelson bent over her, alarmed in spite of Dr. Goodner's assurances. She was pale and cold, and her pulse was a faint flutter under his fingers. After a few moments, however, her eyes opened.
"What happened?" she asked, still dazed.
"Take it easy, Love," Nelson advised.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I must have passed out again . . . just when we were starting to get somewhere. I was trying so hard not to . . ."
"Don't worry about it." It did not seem like a good moment to tell her what had really happened: she was obviously still very shocked. "Just try to relax."
"I'm . . . all right," she said shakily. "It was a bad one, but I've had worse: I'll be fine in a few minutes." Then she glanced at her watch, and frowned in puzzlement. "I can't have been out that long! It never lasts more than a minute or two."
"There was . . . something else," the Admiral said carefully. "I'll tell you about it when you're a little stronger."
"I think you'd better tell me now." With a visible effort, Louise straightened in her chair. Her eyes were very large and dark, but there was a glimmer of humour, faint as reflected starlight, somewhere in their depths. "Come on, Love: let me know the worst and get it over with."
"Luisha . . . took over for a while," he said. "At least, that was what it seemed like. Dr. Goodner may have a more technical explanation."
"It might be more accurate to say that you temporarily assumed her personality as a means of expressing the memories," said the hypnotist.
"Oh," Louise said. "And did she . . . I . . . express anything useful?"
"We got her to write it down," Nelson explained.
"May I see?"
"If you feel up to it -- but I'd rather you rested for a while first."
"I'll rest better when we've got some answers." Louise held out her hand, and after a moment's hesitation the Admiral passed her the little pile of papers.
"Can you translate it?" he asked, when she had been studying the manuscript for two or three minutes with no undue sign of distress.
"Sure," she said thoughtfully. "It isn't all here, but there's enough to be useful, I think."
"And it doesn't bother you to read it?"
"Not in the least -- no more than reading back over anything else I'd already remembered and written down," she said wonderingly. "It's as if these memories had never been blocked at all. I think we've cracked it, Love."
"For a while back there, I was afraid we'd cracked you," Nelson said. "I'm still not keen on trying any more of that unless it's absolutely necessary. What have we got, then?"
"Give me half an hour, and I'll turn you out a proper translation," she promised.
She was as good as her word: half an hour later she presented him with several neatly written pages.
This was Luisha's account.
I never trusted Arroth: when I was old enough to understand the memories that came from my mother, I began to realize at least part of the reason. I never liked the way he looked at her -- or the way he looked at me, covetous, as if I should have been his daughter and not my father's. He never offered me any harm or insult, but I would never have called him a friend. The older I grew, the less I trusted him. No-one trusts anyone these days, and that is his doing, at least in part: he has made us all into spies on one another, fearful of being spied on ourselves. My father wears the crown, but for at least a year, now, it has been Arroth who rules in the City: there is nothing done without his sanction. I had not realized, until this, how complete his power has become, that he can shape the destiny of our whole people to his own ends.
It has always been a dream, a tradition of hope among us, that one day this world would be a home fit for our race, and that others would come from the old world, far away beyond the stars, to share it. Yet the centuries went by, and the people dwindled, and the memories of the old world grew fainter with each passing generation, until we were too few and too weak to make that dream a reality. That was how we came to live in this place, away from the sunlight. I remember sunlight, that my grand-parents' grand-parents saw when they were children. I would like to see it for myself, and there are many among us, now, who think the same in secret -- that sunlight and friendship would be better than hiding in the dark with our failing machines. To Arroth, that is rebellion. He is still scheming, searching for a way to make the old dream true, to bring our kin from far away and destroy the races who were born here. I did not know how close his plans were to being complete. I have to find a way to stop him. I have to warn someone.
There are rooms under the Palace, full of machinery, all that is left to us from the ships that brought us to this world. Arroth spends much time down there -- almost all the time he is not on duty, I think. That has always been so, and no-one thinks anything of it. When I said to my father that his security chief might be plotting something perilous down there, he laughed, and when I persisted he grew angry, and forbade me to speak of such things. I think he was afraid. A King should not be afraid of his servant -- and neither should a King's daughter. I was afraid, a little, but I knew what I must do.
I waited until Arroth should have been in Council, and then I went down into the forbidden places. I went to his laboratory, and I saw his work. There were machines there so old that I could not remember their purpose, but there were books as well, and the notes he had written. He means to make the City sleep, as the forefathers slept on the long journey from the home world, until this world is ready for his purposes. That much was plain, and the equipment was all ready, the potions laid out in their little phials. What I did not understand was why there was one box of phials set apart from the others -- not a large box, not more than two dozen phials in all, with stoppers of a different colour. I took one phial of each kind, and moved the others in the boxes to cover the spaces where they had been.
I was still studying the apparatus with which the potions must have been prepared when I heard him coming. The Council should have lasted another hour, but he was there, and by the sound of his steps he was angry and in haste. His anger is terrible, though it does not come often: I have heard it said that it is safer to face an unfed and deafened Hydra than Arroth in his rage. I needed somewhere to hide, and there was only one place I could see -- a trapdoor in the floor by the machine. I went down, quickly: there was a ladder that went deep, deep into the rock, deeper than I knew there had ever been caverns cut. It was cold in the shaft, and there was not much light for climbing. I must have triggered some kind of alarm: I could hear sirens in the laboratory, but there was nothing to do but to keep going. Far below, I came to a cavern, and here also there was machinery -- some old, some new. There is a whole complex down there, and I do not believe anyone else in the City knows of it, except maybe a few of Arroth's most trusted followers. So many have died lately: I think maybe it was partly to make sure no memories of this place survived. The map shows where the trapdoor is: maybe it will be enough.
I had heard him speak of a time machine, and I knew this must be it -- all that remains of the engines of two galactic ships, tied together in a tangle of wiring that only a madman could have conceived. I was studying it, trying to understand why there was a computer connected into its control circuits, when I heard him coming. There was nowhere to hide, not from him, so I stood with my back against the computer's vast memory-bank and waited.
"Lady," he said, and his voice was cold, but it hurt like knives. "What are you doing here?"
"I might ask the same of you, Arroth," I said. "This is my father's Palace, is it not?"
"Little fool," he said. "Daughter of a fool -- daughter of two fools. There is no place in this city where your father could protect you from me."
"If you kill me now," I said, "they will know for sure that you are no servant of the King -- and that would not serve your purposes, not yet. You are not ready."
"I am more ready than you think," he said. "A few more days, and it is done. But I have no need to kill you, girl. You will never tell what you have learned today. You will never speak of it, or think of it, unless you wish to be driven mad by fear."
There was something in his voice that told me he could carry out his threat. I had not known he was so learned in the dark arts of the mind, but I would not let him see that I was afraid.
"Then there is no reason why you should not tell me," I said, as sweetly and as reasonably as I could.
"True," he said, and licked his lips, looking at me. "Maybe you are not quite a fool, girl. Very well, listen -- for all the good it will do you.
"We took a wrong road in history, a long time ago, and it has ended in this blind alley. There is only one way out: we must turn back the clock and take the other direction at the crossroads. With this machine, I can accomplish that: I can wipe out all that has been, and return time to the point when our ancestors first stood on this earth -- and then do what should have been done then, to make them its masters at once.
"Of course, there is no way to power the machine now: we must go a long journey into the future to find the components we need to complete it, and there is only one way to do that. I suppose you have guessed so much: we will all sleep, until one comes to wake us in a time that has what is needed."
"You will never gain the consent of the people," I said angrily. "Not to the long sleep, and certainly not to this madness of undoing time. And without the will of the people it cannot be accomplished."
"Young lady," he said, "you have much to learn of what machines can do. It does not require the will of the people: it only requires their minds." He smiled then, a small, mad, secret smile.
"That's all?" Nelson enquired, when he had read this.
"I'm afraid so. It does leave a lot of unanswered questions, doesn't it?" Louise took the sheets back and glanced through them again. "It doesn't really tell us how the computer fits in. I'm sure he would have told her: it sounds as though he couldn't resist boasting about his great plan. Unfortunately, the block still seems to be holding on the rest of it. We could try guessing again, I suppose."
"Not today," Nelson said firmly. "There's more than enough here to point us in the right direction."
"It's an outrageous idea, isn't it?" Louise said. "It couldn't possibly work."
"I wouldn't be too sure. It's certainly crazy, but it isn't actually impossible. We can't afford to assume that it wouldn't work: we have to do everything we can to stop it. Think about it: even if it only partly worked, how much history can we afford to lose? Five years? Fifty years? Five hundred years?"
"You're right, of course." Louise sighed. "At least now we have some idea what we're up against."
"That's usually half the battle," the Admiral said gravely.
To Chapter 16
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