THE ADMIRAL'S LADY
by Rachel Howe
They tried the hypnosis again the next day: Louise insisted on that in spite of the Admiral's reluctance. This time, however, it was much less successful. They tried three times, and never progressed past the image of Luisha, pressed against the ten-foot high casing of a memory bank, confronting an insanely smiling Arroth. Each failure left Louise more tired and frustrated. The last time, she came out of the trance screaming in terror. Though she regained a measure of self-control almost immediately, it took several minutes and a great deal of reassurance to restore her to anything like her usual self. Even then, she would have been willing to try again after a brief rest, but the Admiral, appalled at what this quest for information was doing to her, would not hear of it. He would not willingly have inflicted such torture on his worst enemy.
"We'll find another way," he said firmly, "or we'll manage without: no amount of information is worth putting you through any more of this."
"What do you think, Dr. Goodner?" Louise pulled herself a little straighter and gave the hypnotist a direct look, demanding an honest answer.
"I don't think there's anything to be gained from persisting with this," he replied. "It seems that what remains of the block is too strong to be broken this way, and the more distressed you get, the less likely it is to work."
"In that case, I suppose we'll have to leave it," she said regretfully. "It's a pity: I'm getting a little tired of all these unanswered questions."
"It's quite possible that the memory will return spontaneously," Dr. Goodner said, "perhaps under the influence of some very specific stimulus."
"That isn't exactly a comforting thought," Louise observed. "The chances are the right kind of stimulus would crop up exactly when I couldn't afford to go pieces."
"I wouldn't worry about that," said the Admiral, though the same thought had occurred to him. "You seem to have a remarkable facility for not going to pieces until the danger's over."
They went for a long hike in the hills that afternoon. The Admiral was growing strong enough for such exercise, and he thought that Louise might have less trouble sleeping if she was physically as well as emotionally tired. It worked better than he had hoped. They walked themselves to a standstill at a picnic area miles away from anywhere, and had to use a public telephone to summon a driver to pick them up; she dropped off in the back of the car with her head on his shoulder. The following day, he kept her occupied tracking down obscure references in scientific journals. She seemed almost back to normal, but he was determined to let her recover fully before they tried to make any more progress. The day after that, when she reported to him after a morning's work at the library, he greeted her with a new idea.
"Could you show me how to build a time machine?" he asked.
"I could try," she replied. "I think I understand the basic principles. I'm not sure we could make it work, though."
"It doesn't have to work: I just want to know enough to be able to stop Arroth's contraption working. In my experience, only madmen deliberately use time-travel devices."
"All right." Louise considered this new challenge. "It was a very old technology, that had dropped out of use long before Arroth's day -- probably for lack of the vital ingredients. I'm not sure my theoretical physics is up to explaining the detail of the idea, but it comes down to two things: the power to bend time, and the control to bend it exactly where you want to." Her face went blank for moment, as she searched deep into her memories for the information she needed. "Bending time, bending space . . . it's all the same, after all. The same principle was used in the space-ship engines: there it was a small, temporary ripple in space that let the ships move faster than light -- though still not so fast that the passengers could have lived through the journey without the suspended animation technique." She reached for pencil and paper, and began to jot down equations. "Altering history is a lot harder, of course. It needs so much energy . . . and a much more intricate control."
"Control so intricate that it couldn't be done by machine?" Nelson asked carefully.
"Probably." Louise looked very thoughtful for a moment, but not distressed. "That must have been why Luisha was so puzzled to find a computer built into Arroth's device. As far as she knew, that kind of thing could only be done by an intelligent, feeling mind -- and for a change of that magnitude it would take a great many minds all wanting the same thing. Arroth must have found some way to make his computer do that."
"All right." Nelson sensed that they were approaching dangerous ground. "Let's concentrate on the power source for a while. Is there any way to calculate what would be needed to turn the clock back four thousand years?"
"In theory, yes. It may take a day or two, though: the mathematics is quite advanced."
"The theory department can probably help us there, if you can provide the basis."
Even with the help of the Institute's best mathematicians, it took three days to construct an adequate theoretical model of the process. The final stage of the calculations demanded a powerful computer. Louise kept well out of the way while the program was fed in, late in the afternoon of the third day. The result of the calculation, which took several hours to run, surprised all of them.
"There's only one way to release that much energy in such a short time," the Admiral said, looking at the figures. "It would take a nuclear explosion -- a small one, but definitely nothing conventional. A tactical warhead would do it. Now, where would Arroth get hold of that kind of hardware? It's not as if Barton had any serious money: the black market price of even a nuclear artillery shell would run into millions."
"Presumably that was why he was so anxious for your co-operation," Louise suggested.
"Probably. But I think he's given up on that idea: he must have something else up his sleeve. I wonder . . . could he walk into a military base and just take what he wanted?"
"He might," said Louise. "It wouldn't be easy, even for him, but he could probably get away with it."
"I'll warn the Defense Department," the Admiral said briskly. "It remains to be seen whether they believe me, but I'll do my best. First thing tomorrow, we can start figuring out how to disable the device if he does manage to assemble it."
At eight o'clock the next morning, Louise was surprised by the ringing of her door-bell. She had been up and dressed for an hour, attending to a few household tasks before leaving for the Institute: she came to the door with a duster in one hand.
"Miss Delamere -- please, we have to talk." It was Dr. Barton. He was obviously nervous, though it was hard to tell whether he was more intimidated by Louise or by the thought that he might have been followed.
"I don't believe I have anything to say to you, Dr. Barton." Louise's opinion of him, never high, had sunk even lower after she heard the Admiral's account of the doings in the lost city.
"Please, Miss Delamere," he repeated. "I need help."
Louise studied him, not letting her guard drop. He was a pathetic figure, perhaps after all more pitiable than contemptible: the strain of living under Arroth's domination had marked him, carving deep lines in his face and putting more grey in his hair than she remembered noticing when they first met. There was an unsteady, unhealthy glitter in his eyes.
"You know . . . what he's like, don't you?" he said, glancing over his shoulder as if he feared to be overheard. "You're the only one I can turn to . . . the only one who might understand."
"Ten minutes." Louise held open the door. She could not turn him away: if he was really repentant, there was at least a chance that he might be able to help them. "But this had better be good."
He sat down in a corner of the settee, hugging his knees as if he could hardly keep himself from shaking. "I can't stand it any longer. He's evil, more evil than I thought anyone could be. He'll kill me, when he's got what he wants: I know he will."
"You got yourself into this mess." Louise dropped her duster onto a chair, but stayed on her feet. "Why should you expect me to help you out of it?"
"You could say you owe me," he suggested. "If I hadn't discovered your lost city, your sleeping ancestors . . ."
Louise could not quite contain her anger at that remark. "Then the Admiral wouldn't have been hurt, and Captain Crane wouldn't have nearly died."
"That pair could have found half a dozen other ways to get themselves killed by now: it's what they do, and they're very good at it. But would you really want these last few months never to have happened?"
Of course not, Louise thought. I like being shot at and badgered by journalists and bullied by Generals and having nightmares nearly every night: I can't imagine how I ever managed without that kind of thing. She glared at Barton, not dignifying him with a reply.
"I'm sorry," he said unexpectedly. "That was unfair. I'm so desperate I hardly know what I'm saying. I have to make the Admiral listen, but I doubt he'll even see me, unless you put in a word for me."
"You can hardly blame him for that," said Louise. "After the way you've behaved . . ."
"It wasn't my fault," Barton wailed. "Arroth . . ."
"That's no excuse. He's powerful, and dangerous, but he can't force anyone to act against their true nature. You were a coward and a thief long before he got his claws in you." He shrank from the lash of her words, almost cowering, and suddenly she found that she could not sustain her anger any longer: he was simply not worth it. "What do you want to talk to the Admiral about?" she asked in a milder tone.
Then something soft and chokingly sweet came from behind and clamped over her nose and mouth. She struggled for a moment, but the fumes were too strong: her sight dimmed, and there was a tingling numbness somewhere very far off in her extremities, and she fell endlessly into a cold blue darkness.
"Admiral, I've had nothing to do for a week but eat and sleep and let my mother spoil me," Crane said. "If you can't find me something useful to do, I'll have a relapse out of sheer boredom."
"We can't have that." Nelson had protested, for form's sake, when Crane presented himself in his office on the stroke of nine in the morning, but he was very glad to see him so much better, tanned and relaxed though not yet quite back to his normal weight. "Very well: sit down and I'll fill you in."
Crane perched himself on a corner of the Admiral's desk. "Is Miss Delamere coming in today?"
"She should be." Nelson glanced at his watch. "Come to that, she should be here now. It's not like her to be late."
"The traffic was pretty heavy," Crane remarked. "She might have gotten held up."
"I expect you're right," Nelson said easily. When half an hour had gone by and there was still no sign of Louise, however, he began to be a little concerned. "I suppose she might have overslept," he said. "We were working quite late last night, and she's had a tough few days." He hesitated a moment, then picked up the telephone and dialled her number. There was no reply. He put down the receiver. "Either she's left already, or she unplugged the phone. We'll give her another half hour."
"Could she have gotten confused and gone to the Library by mistake?" Crane suggested.
"Louise? I doubt it: she's usually very well-organized." All the same, Nelson picked up the receiver again and called the Library.
"No, Miss Delamere hasn't been here," Mr. Jennings told him. "Perhaps she's sick, or gone off on her travels again."
"What do you mean by that?" Nelson asked sharply.
Mr. Jennings sounded uneasy. "Well, she has been under a strain lately. I thought last time I saw her that she looked rather tired and on edge -- and once or twice, when things get too much, I've known her go off abroad at very short notice: it seems to be one of her ways of coping with life. I've been wondering for a week or two whether that was going to happen again soon. She's never actually gone off without a word, though."
"It doesn't seem very likely." Nelson was frowning as he touched the receiver rest and dialled the number for Louise's parents.
Mrs. Delamere had not seen Louise for days, but she said very much the same as Mr. Jennings. Nelson did his best to reassure her, but he was growing more and more worried. He had been driving Louise fairly hard recently, and it was just possible that the necessity of using the computer the previous day had precipitated some kind of crisis.
"I'm going round to her apartment," he announced, when ten o'clock had come and gone with no sign of Louise. "If there's something wrong . . ."
"I'll come with you," Crane said promptly.
There was no answer when Nelson rang the bell. He waited a minute or so, then tried again, but there was still no response. Thinking that the bell might be out of order, he tried knocking, and then shouting through the door.
"She'll be out at work, this time of day," a neighbour volunteered, pausing on the landing.
"Did you see Miss Delamere go out?" Nelson enquired.
"No -- but then I never do: she's usually gone before I come out."
"Thanks," Nelson said sardonically. "That's a great help."
"You're welcome. Have a nice day."
As soon as the neighbour was out of the way, Nelson, wishing that Louise had given him a key, began hunting through his pockets for something he could use to force the lock. He might be being absurd, but whatever her friends and relations might think, it was totally unlike what he knew of Louise to disappear without warning: he was becoming seriously concerned for her safety.
"Admiral," Crane said suddenly, "it isn't locked. See?" He turned the handle, and the door swung open.
"Louise?" Nelson called. "Are you there, Love? Is there anything wrong?"
The little apartment was silent. After a moment, Nelson pulled out his sidearm. He felt quite ridiculous, stalking into that small, familiar home as if expecting an ambush, but there was something about this whole business that made him uneasy. There was no sign of Louise: her bed was neatly made; the breakfast dishes were washed and draining beside the sink in the kitchen; her purse lay its usual place in a corner of the sitting room.
"That's odd," Nelson remarked, picking it up. "She wouldn't have gone out without this." He clicked open the clasp: driver's license, wallet, keys, her Institute employee's identity card, were all there. He frowned at it, shaking his head, and then reached for the telephone and dialled the Police Department.
"Look, Admiral," Lieutenant Holman said patiently, when he had examined the apartment, "we can't assume that Miss Delamere has been abducted just because she's a couple of hours overdue for work. She might have her own reasons for wanting to disappear."
"Without any money or ID?" Nelson asked. "I don't think so -- and if she did, she may need help anyway."
"That's true." Holman reached for his cigarette case, and then looked around the apartment again and thought better of it. "Is there any particular reason you might think along those lines?"
"It's possible, but I don't think it's very likely," said Nelson. "She had been under some strain lately, but she was handling it: she's a lot tougher than most people give her credit for. But the fact remains that she seems to have disappeared. I want her found, and quickly."
"Very well, Admiral," Holman said. "We'll do everything we can. If you can just give us a list of places where you think Miss Delamere might be?"
"I've already checked the most likely places," said Nelson.
"Friends? Relatives? Is there an address book anywhere around here?"
They found an address book by the telephone, and a pocket calendar in Louise's purse. The detectives took these away, and Nelson and Crane, persuaded that for the moment there was nothing more they could do, went back to the Institute.
There was a package waiting for the Admiral, delivered by special messenger half an hour earlier. He stripped off the wrappings with impatient fingers. Something dropped out, rolled across the desk and fell to the floor. Crane pounced on it.
"Isn't this Miss Delamere's bracelet?" He held out the delicate loop of silver for the Admiral's inspection.
"Yes." Nelson dropped into a chair, staring at it. "There's a note," he added presently.
"She hasn't . . . left you?"
"No," Nelson said heavily. "I almost wish . . . You'd better read this." He handed over the slip of paper.
"If you wish to see the lady again you have no alternative but to place yourself entirely at our disposal. Come to the central parking-lot at the University at noon, alone. You will gain nothing by informing the Police of this."
"Arroth?" Crane suggested.
"It has to be." Nelson's face might have been carved from bone: he spoke as though he was dragging every word out of some unfathomable pit. "He'd know about the bracelet. And . . . somehow I doubt he has anything as simple as ransom in mind."
"Surely she can handle him?" Crane knew he had to break the Admiral out of this shock somehow. "She's never had much trouble before, as far as I can make out."
Nelson's head jerked in involuntary, angry denial. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Perhaps you'd better tell me." Crane kept his tone neutral.
Nelson was silent for a while, frowning at the intricate silverwork of the bracelet as if trying to puzzle out the message coded in the loops and spirals. When he did speak, he sounded lost, unsure of himself. "There's something between them . . . something that goes back thousands of years. She's . . . very strong, but he hurt her so badly before she was even born that it's amazing she functions at all. And he . . . he isn't exactly sane, and she . . . at the very least, she reminds him of the things that made him that way. If she's in his power . . . he could destroy her. Not easily, maybe, but sooner or later. I can't . . . lose her that way." He hesitated again, then. "Unfortunately, the price Arroth wants may be more than we can afford to pay."
"So what are we going to do?" asked Crane. Mere expressions of sympathy would help no-one.
"Do?" Nelson echoed. He laid the bracelet down and stood up, and was himself again, giving the only possible answer. "We're going to get her back, of course."
There was an end to the falling at last. Louise opened her eyes, and found herself staring at a painted ceiling. She lay still for a while, wondering about that: she felt sick, giddy, and generally uncomfortable, and there was a foul taste in her mouth. Part of this, she realized presently, came from the gag that was stuffed into it, and much of the discomfort was attributable to the fact that her hands and feet were tightly bound with what felt like lengths of electrical cable. She was lying on a carpeted floor. By the smell of it, the carpet was new, and the paint on the ceiling was fresh, with bare ends of flex protruding from the place where the light-fitting ought to be.
"Finally," a cold voice observed. "I was beginning to wonder when you would wake." It was Arroth, and he was speaking his own language: the way her head was aching, Louise had trouble understanding him. She squirmed, trying to sit up. It was hard, with her hands tied in front of her, but she managed it at last. The carpet was jade-green; two of the walls were painted in a warm, delicate cream-colour, and the pine boards of the others were varnished red-gold. There was something very familiar about the whole decor, but she could not quite place it before Arroth, with a casual kick, sent her sprawling on her back again.
"Stay where you are," he ordered. "I wish to speak to you." He stood over her, relishing her helplessness; she glared back with futile loathing. "I thought the fool Barton would appeal to that soft heart of yours." His voice sank to a gloating murmur. "The Admiral is not so vulnerable -- but maybe he will be moved to do what is necessary to secure your safety: I do believe he cares a little for you. But if he does not, it does not matter: with you, one way or another, I can defeat him. Love is a weakness, as all wise men know: it is time the Admiral learned that lesson."
He was wrong, Louise knew: lying or mistaken, she could not believe a word he said. She could not afford to believe him, but the words made small, smarting wounds nevertheless.
"Meanwhile," Arroth continued, "while I have you, and you have the use of your wits, I will make as much use of you as I can." He bent down suddenly, and wrenched off the gag. "How much have you remembered, daughter of Luisha? How much of our people's secrets have you betrayed to the Admiral?"
Louise stared defiance into his pale, mad eyes and said nothing.
"You will talk, woman," he hissed. "You will talk, or I will rip your mind to shreds and give you back to him that way. I cannot lose, you see: whether you live or die, whether he loves you more or less than what he sees as his duty, you lose, and he loses, and your world is lost, and I win everything."
"We have to rescue her," Nelson said. "But where would they have taken her? Not Barton's house, surely -- that's too obvious altogether. I'll have the police check it, but I doubt they'll find anything."
"We've only got an hour before the deadline," Crane pointed out.
"I know, Lee. I know. There has to be something we can do." The Admiral had been pacing around his office, but he came to an abrupt halt now, as the first inklings of an idea occurred to him.
"What is it, Admiral?" Crane asked after a moment.
"There's one other place they might use," Nelson said slowly. "Knowing how twisted he is, it's the kind of thing Arroth might do. The house . . ."
"What house?" Crane was baffled.
"My house," Nelson replied. "Of course, you wouldn't know: I bought it the day after the debate, after you left."
"Does that mean that I should be congratulating you, sir?" Crane asked, startled, as he realized the implications.
"What? No, not quite yet -- not officially, anyway. The point is, it's empty, and fairly isolated, and there's no-one due to do anything to it today: it would be a perfect place to hold a hostage."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
"Hold on a minute, Lee. We can't just move in without thinking this through. If we mess this up, we may not get a second chance." The Admiral cogitated briefly, and then went back to his desk and brought out a roll of architect's drawings. "I'll have to go to the rendezvous," he said. "My guess is that Arroth will send Barton to pick me up, but it doesn't make much difference if he comes himself. It's about a quarter-hour's drive from the University to the house, so say we'll be there about twelve-fifteen, or maybe a little later. I want you to be in position before then. Here -- this is the ground-floor plan. There's a window here at the back that doesn't close properly: the carpenter was supposed to be attending to it next week, but it could be very useful now. Get into the house, and try to find out where they've put Louise, but don't let Arroth know you're there until I arrive."
"Right." Crane grinned tautly. It seemed a very long time since they had done anything like this together. "What do we do then?"
"I'll try to keep them both occupied while you get Louise free: after that we'll have to play it by ear. If she isn't too badly hurt or upset, she may have a few ideas of her own. The main thing is to get her out of there in one piece -- and if we can turn Arroth and Barton over to the authorities, so much the better."
"What about the police? Do you want them in on this?"
"Not conspicuously, to begin with. I'm going to ask them to turn up at the house about twelve-thirty." Nelson hesitated a moment, drumming his fingers on the desk. "Listen, Lee," he said very seriously, "if anything should happen to me -- this mission has to go ahead, no matter what. Louise knows all about it: if necessary, you'll take your orders from her."
"I understand, Admiral."
"You will talk," Arroth repeated. He chanted a phrase that hurt as though he had twisted a knife in her guts, and reiterated it, turning the knife again and again, until she was struggling not to scream. Then he stopped, leaving her gasping as the pain faded. "Well? Answer me, woman. That is only a tiny sample of what I can do."
Louise met his gaze, still defiantly mute.
He knelt down beside her, and stroked her cheek with thin, cold fingers. She shuddered in revulsion. "So like," he murmured. "So very like. But she did not defy me, at the last, and neither will you. Speak!" His eyes bored into her, and his voice had edges and resonances that no merely human throat could encompass. She felt a brief, blinding pain somewhere high up in the back of her nose, and then a cold, liquid trickle that ran down her throat. She choked, and spat blood into his grinning face. He wiped it away with the back of his hand, never taking his eyes from her, and then wiped the hand on her blouse, leaving a damp, red smear. "Speak!" he commanded again.
"Amo," Louise whispered, knowing that she could not fight him with his own weapons for long. "Amas, amat. Amamus, amatis, amant. Amabo, amabis, amabit, amabimus, amabitis, amabunt." The old, familiar chant, that she had used to steady her nerves before a hundred examinations, worked its usual spell. Arroth glared at her, baffled, but his words and enchantments could not penetrate through that steady stream of sound. She went through all the dozen tenses of the first-conjugation verb, and then started on the second. "Moneo, mones, monet." Amo, I love, she thought. Moneo, I warn. Who will warn the one I love?
Nelson arrived at the appointed parking-lot a minute or so before noon. He had hoped to be earlier, but he was out of the habit of driving himself, and had nearly gotten lost when some roadwork detours caught him unawares. He stopped the engine and sat in the car, waiting. It seemed an unlikely place for such a meeting, busy with students and faculty members: there was even a hot-dog stand in one corner of the lot, doing a brisk trade.
Barton emerged from the crowd by around the hot-dog stand and strolled over to join him. "You're very prompt, Admiral," he remarked, fingering something in his coat pocket. "Shall we go?"
"Where?" Nelson enquired.
"I'll give you directions." Barton opened the passenger door and climbed into the car. Once he had closed the door behind him, he brought out a gun and poked it in Nelson's ribs. "Go left as you leave the University grounds."
"Why?" Nelson asked, when they were out of the congested streets around the University and he could free a little of his attention from driving. So far, they were going the way he had expected, but he could not afford to relax too much. "Why are you doing Arroth's dirty work for him?"
"I never had any choice about it."
"Oh, I think you did. There's always a choice. You didn't have to take that crown: in fact, you were explicitly warned against it."
"I know -- but you don't understand. It was so beautiful, so priceless . . . with that alone, I would have been a rich man at last. I had to go back for it . . . and then he woke up, and after that . . . well, there wasn't much I could do. He's so strong -- there's no hiding from him, no way to beat him. He and his friend were with us in the Flying Sub on the way back, and no-one even knew it, and then they made me hide them in my cabin until we got ashore. It wasn't hard: no-one was very interested in me, except them. If I'd asked for help I doubt anyone would have listened."
"But you never even tried," Nelson observed. "You never once tried to break free, did you? You've let yourself be a pawn in that madman's game. Do you have any conception of what he's planning -- of what that will mean to the whole world?"
"It doesn't matter," Barton said tonelessly. "I'm nothing to him -- just a tool. If I stopped working for him, he'd just get rid of me and find someone else."
"If he gets me as a tool," Nelson pointed out, "I doubt he'll need you any more."
Barton made no response to that, and for the remainder of the journey confined his conversation to giving directions.
Crane had no trouble finding the house. He parked his car a little way up the road, out of sight, and worked his way along the hillside until he came to the rear boundary of the Admiral's property. The back yard was a trampled mess, strewn with planks and discarded paint-pots, with a heap of soil and stones in one corner waiting to be landscaped into a garden: it afforded him plenty of cover as he approached the house. The faulty window was easy to reach, and appeared to be unguarded. He pushed it open, and scrambled through, to find himself in a small room that had so far escaped the attentions of the decorators: there were patches of fresh plaster where the wiring had been replaced, but otherwise the room was virtually derelict. He could hear neither voices nor footsteps, and there had been no vehicles outside: the house might well be deserted. He stood inside the window for a while, mentally reviewing the plan the Admiral had shown him. He was at the far end of one of the rear wings: there should be a five-yard passage beyond, leading to the main hallway. He pulled a small oil-can out of his pocket and carefully lubricated the hinges of the door before he opened it, then stepped warily into the passage. There was only one other door off it, leading, according to the plans, to what would be the Admiral's study. No sound came from that door, and when he stooped down and peered through the keyhole he could see nothing but dusty sunlight and paint-splashed boards. He moved on, methodically checking all the downstairs rooms. There was a collection of coffee-mugs clustered around a battered thermos in the kitchen, their paint-smeared outsides and dark-stained interiors suggesting that they were the property of the workmen: apart from that, there was no sign of life anywhere.
The Admiral had warned Crane that the stairs creaked. He climbed them very carefully, avoiding the loose third step and the broken left bannister. He was half-way up when he heard a low, choked cry that sounded like a woman. He froze for a moment, listening, and heard a man's voice, speaking in no language that he knew, and then something that sounded like a blow, and another cry. The sounds came from the room directly opposite the head of the stairs. Crane climbed the remaining steps as fast as he dared. Orders or no orders, if Louise was in danger of being badly hurt he would have to chance going in alone. Then he heard her voice, ragged but calm, chanting something rhythmic that he could not understand. The door was partly ajar. With one hand on the small laser-gun that was his only weapon, he stepped into the open doorway of the adjoining room, and risked a quick peek through the crack.
Arroth crouched over his victim like a spider over its prey, so intent on the battle of wills that he was totally unaware of anything outside his line of vision. Louise stared back at him, putting her whole being into the chant that was her only defence. She had gone through the three regular conjugations of Latin verbs, and all the irregular ones she could think of, and now she had fallen back on Greek irregular verbs. There were a great many of these, but she had used more than half of them already. There had been one brief respite, when Arroth was distracted by a bleeping signal from some device he carried: he had returned his full attention to her almost at once, however. She kept choking on the blood that still trickled down the back of her throat, and from time to time Arroth would hit her or try another black word from his arsenal. He had not yet succeeded in interrupting her for more than a couple of seconds. He was growing more and more frustrated and angry at her refusal to submit: it was possible, she thought in the small, still centre of her mind, that no-one had ever defied him for this long before.
Crane watched for a minute or so, without much idea of what was going on. Louise was conscious, and apparently resisting whatever Arroth was trying to do, but she looked hurt: sticky crimson trailed from her nose and mouth, and her eyes were wells of darkness in a dead-white face. Sensing that what she was doing required her entire concentration, he dared not try to interfere. He glanced at his watch: the Admiral should be arriving in a few more minutes.
"Pull in here," Barton said curtly, when they reached the driveway of the house on the shore road. He seemed to be deriving some bleak enjoyment from having the Admiral at his command: he reinforced the order with an unnecessary jab of his weapon. "Get out." The front door was locked: Barton opened it with a cheap duplicate key and gestured for Nelson to precede him inside. "Master," he called up the stairs, "we're here."
When he heard the front door opening, Arroth abandoned his attempts to subjugate Louise. "Later," he promised, clamping one hand over her mouth for a moment to stop her chanting. "It will be more amusing with your Admiral watching." He froze her struggles with a few quick words and a complicated gesture, and left the room.
The paralysis spell encompassed Crane as well: it was fortunate that he had already drawn back out of sight. As soon as Arroth had disappeared round the bend of the staircase, he tried the release-word that Louise had taught him so long ago. It had no effect: he was caught, helpless as a fly in a web, unable even to see what was happening downstairs. Then, after an interval that could only have been a few seconds but felt like eternity, he heard Louise speak again -- a different phrase, longer and more complex than the one he knew -- and felt the invisible bonds dissolve. He slipped out of his hiding place and went to her. She was lying limply where Arroth had left her, her eyes closed as if that last effort had exhausted her.
"Miss Delamere," he said softly, kneeling beside her.
Her eyes opened a little, and she breathed a long sigh of relief. "What are you . . . doing here?" she murmured after a moment.
"Rescuing you, I hope. How badly are you hurt?" He was busy untying her wrists as he spoke: she gasped as the circulation began to return to her hands.
"It isn't . . . as bad as it probably looks," she said. "A few bruises and a bad nosebleed, that's all -- and I'm still a bit woozy from whatever it was they doped me with. Chloroform, I think. What's happening?"
"The Admiral's downstairs. I'm supposed to get you out of here while he keeps them occupied. Can you manage to sit up?"
"I . . . think so, with a little help."
Crane lifted her carefully, not quite convinced by her assurances that she was not seriously injured, and let her lean against him.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, recognizing the room at last. "Of course . . . I knew I'd seen that carpet somewhere before. I haven't gotten blood on it, have I?"
"I don't think so. Here." He offered her his handkerchief, and she wiped the blood away from her nose and mouth with one clumsy, half-numb hand, pinching the bridge of her nose with the other to stem the bleeding, while he untied her feet. "That was a different spell, wasn't it?" he asked curiously.
"You change codes when they've been cracked, don't you?" said Louise. "Arroth may be mad, but he isn't completely stupid."
"It's just as well you had the key to that one as well, then. There -- that's done, and you'd better have this back." He took the bracelet out of his breast pocket and clasped it around her arm.
"Thanks," she said, settling it into place.
"Do you think you can walk?"
"I'm . . . not sure." She tried to stand, but her ankles splayed out at odd angles, and she had to clutch at his arm. "I'm sorry -- I can't feel my feet at all."
"Then I'll carry you. We have to get out of here."
"Thanks." Then, as Crane gathered her up, she said suddenly, "Listen -- this is important. If Arroth tries anything on you, keep repeating something you know by heart -- fill your mind with it, and don't listen to him."
"Was that what you were doing? I thought it was another spell."
"Greek irregular verbs," she explained. "I always knew there had to be some reason for learning dead languages. I was about running out of the ones I knew, though. It doesn't matter what it is: I suppose you could try Navy regulations or something."
"Right." Crane settled her in his arms: he thought he could carry her as far as the outer door without too much trouble. "Let's go."
"So, Admiral. I am glad to find you so co-operative," Arroth said, coming down the stairs.
"You didn't give me many choices," Nelson responded. "What do you want with me?"
"Oh, many things -- chiefly your submission to my will. You have been a considerable obstacle, but that is over now. I have the woman completely in my power: if you are sensible, she will not be harmed, but I cannot allow you to continue to use her as you have been doing."
"Do we have to talk about this in the hallway?" Nelson asked mildly.
"As you wish, Admiral. It is your house, after all."
They went into the sitting-room, which had been painted but not yet carpeted: a small group of half-empty paint-cans stood in one corner.
"All right." Nelson was pleased to note that the old door swung nearly closed behind him. "What is it you want, specifically?"
"Do you really think I will reveal my plans to you until I have your full submission?" Arroth's voice was acid with scorn. "I want you to kneel before me. Kneel, and acknowledge me as your master."
Nelson stood his ground. "I've never knelt to anyone, and I don't intend to start now -- not unless you can give me a better reason than that you want it."
"Oh, so stubborn, still," Arroth murmured. "Do you care for the woman at all?"
"More than you could possibly understand," Nelson said seriously. "But you still haven't given me a reason for submitting to you. If you have so much power, why do you need me so badly?"
"Do not flatter yourself. Your help would be a convenience, but the lack of it will not prevent what must be. You irritate me: I desire you to grovel before me, because I am your superior."
"Superior, are you? A few nasty toys, a few parlor tricks -- it would take a lot more than that to impress me."
"Toys? Parlor tricks?" Arroth drew himself up, and there was a pale, cold flame of anger in his eyes. "You absurd barbarian, with a single word I could strike you dead where you stand."
"Barton could do the same for either of us with that pistol. Does that make him your superior?"
"Of course not. That is a different matter altogether." Arroth took a deep breath, realizing that he was allowing himself to be side-tracked. "I did not have you brought here to discuss philosophy. If you require a demonstration of my power, perhaps this will suffice." He raised a hand, and muttered a couple of words.
Nelson felt his knees buckle: there was nothing he could do to stop himself folding to the plank floor like a puppet whose strings had suddenly been cut. "That doesn't prove a thing," he said. "You can kill me, maybe, but you won't break my will that way: not many human beings are as easily cowed as Barton here, and so you'll find."
"In a few weeks, all of your so-called civilisation will be as if it had never been, with or without your help. Where will your stubbornness be then?"
"You won't do it." Nelson picked himself from his hands and knees, wondering how much longer he would have to keep this up. He thought he had heard cautious footsteps on the stairs, but he could not be sure. "This isn't your world: you couldn't handle it four thousand years ago, and I doubt you'll find it any easier now."
Then he heard the siren of the approaching police car.
"Fool!" Arroth hissed. "I told you that it would do you no good to involve your police. They are bunglers, without real power: they will believe anything I wish them to believe."
"I don't think so," said Nelson. It was just as well that the front door was due to be replaced: by the sound of the blows falling on it, the existing one would not be much use after this. He blinked, realizing that he must have lost track of time for a minute or so.
"Oh, yes." Arroth had an arm around Barton's throat, and his own gun at his head. "This one is of your own race, after all. If you do not submit to my will now, I will kill him, and it will appear to have been your work. That should rid me quite effectively of both of you -- and the woman's spirit will be broken also."
"No!" Louise stood in the doorway, white-faced and gory, leaning on Crane's arm. "It isn't . . . that easy, Arroth." Crane was muttering paragraphs and sections under his breath.
The front door gave way with a splintering crash, and Holman burst through the opening, with two uniformed officers behind him. At the same moment, Barton made a sudden lunge for freedom, grabbing at the gun. Arroth, caught off balance, grappled for it -- and Louise flung a string of syllables that paralysed them both.
"Get them," Nelson said to the bewildered Holman. "Gag that one -- it's the only way to deal with him. You saw what happened?"
"I saw, Admiral. All right, Arrowsmith or whatever your name is: you're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent . . ." Saying this, Holman gagged Arroth efficiently with his handkerchief. A uniformed sergeant removed the gun from Arroth's frozen hand, and clipped the handcuffs on both him and Barton. "Okay, Miss," Holman said then. "We've got them safe."
Louise nodded, and spoke a few more words, releasing the spell.
"Are you all right?" Nelson came quickly to join her.
"I . . . think so," she murmured. "I'm sorry . . . it was stupid, letting myself be caught like that, putting you to all this trouble."
"Don't worry about it," Crane said cheerfully. "Even the Admiral needs to be rescued now and then. Isn't that right, sir?"
"Of course," Nelson responded. "That's why team-work is so important: no-one can be completely independent all the time."
Louise looked solemnly at him for a moment, and then, detaching herself from Crane's support, took a couple of wavering steps and fell -- almost literally -- into his arms. "I think I like being rescued," she remarked, "but I hope it isn't going to be necessary too often."
"So do I," said the Admiral. "Come on, Love. We'd better get you some medical attention."
"I'll need statements from all of you," said Holman, "but you're right, Admiral: the lady doesn't look too good."
"I'm all right," Louise insisted. She clutched at the Admiral to steady herself, until he simply lifted her off her feet.
"It's about time I got a turn at carrying you around," he said, when she protested. A week ago, he would not have been able to do this, but most of his strength had returned: he had no trouble picking her up.
"Aren't we going the wrong way?" she asked, with a tiny gurgle of laughter, as he carried her out over the threshold.
"All in good time, darling."
"Does this mean it's over?" Crane enquired, watching as Arroth and Barton were bundled into the back of the police car.
"I doubt it," Nelson said sombrely. "Arroth won't stay locked up for long."
They took Louise to the hospital's Emergency Room, where the doctors on duty confirmed what she had been maintaining all along -- that she had not suffered any serious injury. They cleaned her up, gave her an injection to counter the lingering effects of the chloroform, and advised her to rest for the remainder of the day. Her parents, alerted by the Admiral, collected her from the hospital and took her to their home. She went to bed with only a little persuasion from her mother, and slept for several hours.
It was early evening when Louise came downstairs and found both Lieutenant Holman and the Admiral waiting in the living room, making uneasy small-talk over cups of coffee. The Admiral jumped up when she came in, but though he looked delighted to see her looking more like herself there was obviously something on his mind.
"He got away, didn't he?" she asked at once.
"I'm afraid so." Holman stubbed out his cigarette in an alabaster ashtray that had never been intended for use. Louise winced. "We're on to him, though. He can't possibly get far."
"As long as he's on the loose," Nelson said, "I don't want you living on your own -- not without some kind of security, anyway."
Louise flopped into the nearest armchair. "My apartment isn't really big enough for a bodyguard," she pointed out, "and I'd rather not get my parents involved in anything dangerous. Are you sure it's necessary?"
"I just don't want to take any chances. It shouldn't be more than a week or so before we sail, anyway. Would you object to staying at the Institute for a while?"
"If you're sure I wouldn't be in the way," Louise said, with a glimmer of humour.
"Considerably less than a couple of security men would be in your apartment," Nelson responded. "I promise I won't make you work twenty-four hours a day."
"I'll hold you to that," she threatened. "Very well, Admiral: I'll agree to protective custody for a while."
To Chapter 17
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