If it is true that artifacts are fragments of lost worlds, it is equally true they are mirrors of our own.
She woke up in a pleasant sun-drenched room. Yellow curtains framed the windows, and soft music drifted out of a speaker. A door opened almost immediately and someone came in. He, or she, wore a physician’s smock.
Kim couldn’t remember how she had gotten here, couldn’t remember anything since attending the memorial service for Solly. She tried to concentrate on her visitor, but noticed she had no feeling in her right leg. “Broken, I’m afraid,” he said. It was a male. Tall, dark skin, deep voice. She couldn’t focus on his face. “But you’ll be up and around in a few days,” he continued.
“Is this a hospital?” she asked.
“Yes.” He had dark eyes and seemed pleased about something. “How are you feeling?”
“Not too well.” She’d ridden the train to Eagle Point. Yes, that was it: She was in Eagle Point. Looking for Sheyel.
The physician was tapping a pen against a monitor screen, nodding to himself. “You’re doing fine,” he said. “You’ll probably feel a little out of sorts for a while, but you’ve suffered no serious damage.”
“Good,” she said.
The battle at the lake shore edged its way into her consciousness.
Sheyel was dead. They were all dead.
“Kim? Are you with me?”
“I’d like to ask you some questions. First, why don’t you give me your full name?”
He pulled up a chair and asked about her professional duties, how she had come to get into fund-raising, whether she was good at it. He wanted to know her birth date, what books she had read recently, where she had gone to school and what she’d studied. He asked whether she remembered how she had come to be in the hospital, and when she stumbled trying to answer he told her it was okay, don’t worry about it, it’ll all come back.
She had fled with the Valiant.
He asked her opinion on various political issues, questioned her on whether she owned a flyer, and how she enjoyed living in a seafront home. And he wanted her to explain how it could possibly be that the universe was not infinite.
The police cruiser got too close again. She tried to shake the memory off, assign it to delirium, get rid of it. But it had happened.
And then there had been the tunnel.
“By the way, there’s someone who’d like to talk to you. Asked specifically to be put through as soon as you were awake. Do you feel able?”
“Who?” she asked.
“A Mr. Woodbridge.”
Well, it didn’t take him long. “Yes,” she said. “I can talk to him.” She looked at the physician. He smiled at her, took her wrist for a moment, and told her she was going to be fine.
“What happened to the shroud?” she asked.
His brow creased. “What’s a shroud?”
“The thing. The whatever-it-was that was trying to kill me.”
“I’m sorry, Kim,” he said, “I really don’t know anything about that. But I wonder whether you should talk to anyone just now. Maybe you should rest a bit.”
She’d thrown the Valiant into the lake. My God, had she really done that? “No, it’s okay. I’m fine.” She tried to raise herself against her pillows. He helped. “Put him through,” she said.
“Okay. But five minutes. That’s all. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“Something to eat,” she said.
“I’ll have breakfast sent right up.” And he withdrew. She closed her eyes.
The projector came on, and she was staring at a virtual Woodbridge.
He was seated in an old-fashioned oak chair. Because of her awkward position in the bed, the projector was angled. Woodbridge peered down at her from a spot near the ceiling. He looked worried. “Kim,” he said, “are you all right?”
“I’ll have to do a little healing. Otherwise I’m fine.”
“It’s safe,” he said. “We’re on a secure circuit.”
That wasn’t why she hesitated. Tell him about the Valiant and it’s gone. Either to a government lab for research. Or back to the Tripley estate. Damn. After all she’d been through, the thing should belong to her, if it belonged to anyone. Anyway, she couldn’t see that she owed any kind of debt to anybody else.
“I got a call from Sheyel Tolliver,” she said, “asking me to meet him at Severin.” She explained that Sheyel must also have contacted Ben Tripley since Tripley had gone there too. But before she could find out what it was all about, the thing had attacked.
She described the assault at the lake and her subsequent flight.
“Curious,” said Woodbridge when she’d finished. “Why did Tolliver go out there? Why would he want you and Tripley along?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“And why did this thing suddenly go berserk? I mean, apparently it was there all these years, right? What was going on?” He frowned at her. “Kim, is there something you’re not telling me?”
He tried to dissect her with that Mephistophelian gaze. But she hardened herself and thought how easily she now resorted to deceiving people. “No,” she said. “I’m as baffled as you are.”
“This shroud, I’m informed no trace of it was found.”
“It strikes me that it has a resemblance to the creature you described from the Hammersmith”
“I’m sure it’s the same kind of beast, Canon.”
“Have we reason to believe there are any others about?”
“Not that I know of.”
He looked sternly down at her. “Good. Let’s hope not. In the meantime, the local authorities are waiting to talk with you. Be careful what you say to them. No connections to the Hunter. Or to the Hammersmith. No otherworld stuff. Okay? You were meeting friends, and other than that you don’t know what it was or why it attacked.”
“Canon, why don’t you just call them off?”
“Can’t,” he said. “People would think we were hiding something. You’ll be safe, Kim. I have confidence that you won’t tell them anything you don’t want them to know.” He smiled and blinked off.
An attendant came in with breakfast, accompanied by a nurse. “Dr. Brandywine,” she said, “there are some people here from the police to see you—”
“Repairing the tunnel’s going to cost half a million.” Matt Flexner was exasperated. “They’ll be rerouting traffic for the next year. You’re not very popular right now with the transportation people. Or with the taxpayers.”
“I’m really sorry,” she said. “It was the best I could do under the circumstances.” Aside from the broken bones, she’d suffered internal injuries and some burns, and would have bled to death had it not been for the quick work of Air Rescue, and the good fortune that they’d been able to get to her from the western end of the tunnel.
“Kim, we can do without the sarcasm. Since you’re an Institute representative, we’re taking the heat now.”
“Matt,” she said, “try to understand: I was running for my life. The Institute’s views weren’t uppermost in my mind.”
He softened. “I know. The problem is that they told you to stay out of the tunnel. But I’m glad you came through it okay.”
“I’m delighted to hear it.”
He nodded. “I guess I deserved that.”
“Yes, you did.”
He had a stack of images of the shroud, culled from the media. “What exactly was that thing anyhow?”
“It’s probably a designer lifeform. It was apparently a passenger on the Hunter.”
His eyes widened. “How can that be?”
Matt wasn’t somebody you’d necessarily rely on in a crunch, but he knew how to keep his mouth shut. She needed to be able to talk to somebody. Especially if she was going to arrange to have the Valiant analyzed.
She was still debating what to do with it after she fished it out of the lake. Take it home and put it in the den? Keep its existence quiet while she tried to learn as much about it as she could? Any other course of action would lose the Valiant immediately. “Matt,” she said, “I’ll tell you everything I know. But first I want a quid pro quo.”
“Okay.” He folded his arms, as if someone were about to question his honor. “Name it.”
“You don’t say anything to anybody about what I’m about to tell you without my prior approval. Absolute blackout on this.”
“First tell me what it’s about.”
“No. I won’t tell you anything without the agreement.”
The muscles around his jaw worked, but he remained silent. “Okay,” he said finally. “What have you got?”
“A starship,” she said. “A microship. From somewhere else.”
His eyes went wide. “Are you serious?”
“Have you ever known me to kid around?” She’d never seen him look so confused. “They’re telling me I’ll be out of here in a few more days.” Reconstructive procedures would heal her quickly. “Meet me and I’ll show you.”
“Show me? Where is it?”
“We’ll have to rent a boat.”
They also picked up some diving gear. Matt didn’t swim a stroke, and he worried about what would happen in the event of a problem while Kim was submerged. He feared she wasn’t quite entirely recovered yet, but she assured him that she was fine. She needed only not put too much weight on the leg.
He’d drawn the only possible conclusion. “You’re telling me it’s in the lake,” he said, as they put out from the north shore.
“Kim, even if it is, I’ll drown trying to get a look at it.”
“You won’t have to go down.”
“You mean it’s visible from the boat?”
“I hope not.”
“Just bear with me a bit.” She had a sensor. But in fact it took almost two hours to find the site she wanted. By the time she did Matt had lost all patience. “It’s small,” she told him finally.
He frowned. “How small?”
She held her hands a half meter apart. “Really,” she added. “It’s a microship.”
The sensor picked it up finally, and she slipped over the side, used the jets to take her down through water that was quite clear, and had no trouble finding it. She plucked it out of the mud, then returned to the surface and handed it over to Matt. He made a skeptical face, took it from her, and stared at it.
“Stop assuming,” she told him, “that the celestials have to be the same size we are.”
Gradually he came to accept the possibility. On the way back to Eagle Point, he sat with it in his lap, saying things like, It feels as if it could be. And Maybe it’s possible. “But, Kim, God help you if this is a joke.”
They bundled the microship in wrapping paper, stowed it in a carrying case, and put it in the flyer. “Okay,” he said. “First thing we’ll need to do is put together a team to look at it. We’ll want to take it apart, find out how it works. Maybe we can figure out what sort of crew it had.” He looked pointedly at her. The message was clear: If she was wrong, they were both going to look silly.
“We’ve got a problem,” she said as they lifted off.
“What is it this time, Kim?”
“You start bringing in experts and the word will be out within an hour.”
“You’re telling me that Woodbridge doesn’t know about this.”
“If he did, do you think we’d be sitting here with the microship?”
His jaw muscles worked. “Kim, there’s no way around that. He has to be informed.”
“Then kiss it goodbye.”
“Look, Matt, think about it. Once the Council finds out we have this, they’ll claim it. They’ll probably make it a security issue. You won’t have it long enough to get it out of the container.”
For a long time he said nothing. She watched him stare at the artifact, and then look out at the sky. “You’re right,” he said. “Okay. Let’s figure out who we can trust. We’ll keep it down to an absolute minimum number of people. Rent a lab somewhere, away from the Institute.”
“We can tell Phil.”
“Kim, he’s a son of a bitch, but he knows how to keep a secret. We can trust him.”
“I don’t care whether we can trust him or not. There’s no reason he needs to know.”
They argued back and forth. In the end Matt caved in when she simply refused to go along with the idea.
He sat staring out the window all the way back to the hotel, clinging to the Valiant, not speaking, his jaw set, his eyes by turns exultant and wintry. “Kim,” he said, as they settled down onto the roof, “let me ask a question: Why are you so concerned about all this? The Council would recognize your part in the recovery; you’d become famous; you’d be wealthy before it was over. What more do you want?”
“I want to be part of the team that looks at it,” she said. “I want to be there when things happen.” She hesitated.
“I want to find out about Emily. How it happened that she was killed and dumped overboard. And who did it—”
The afternoon out on the lake had stimulated both their appetities. “The Blue Fin?” she suggested. It was a restaurant down on the mall, specializing in west coast cuisine.
“What do we do with this?” asked Matt.
“It’s starting already, isn’t it?” she said. “We’d better take it with us.”
They were early for dinner and the restaurant was almost empty. They found a table in a corner, and set the carrying case down on a chair against the wall. Kim asked for a shonji, which had a rum and strawberry base. Matt, who rarely drank, stepped out of character and ordered a Tyrolean Pistol. And they both went for the catch of the day.
Matt had a strong voice. It was a rich basso profundo, and when he got excited people could hear him at a considerable distance. So he made a conscious effort to speak low. “What do you think?” he asked. “What’ll the Council do about all this?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “But I think the celestials are psychos. So Woodbridge is right to be worried. After we’ve been able to get the information we want out of it—” she glanced at the container, “—we’ll turn it over to him.”
“How are you going to explain it?”
“We won’t have to. We hand him the ship, and we give the public whatever advanced technology goes with it.” Their drinks came and they toasted each other. “I don’t think there’ll be much anybody can do. He’ll be annoyed that he wasn’t brought in. But he’ll know why, and it won’t matter by then anyhow.”
That night, in her hotel room, she connected with Shep and had him bring up Solly.
“You’re playing with fire, Kim.”
“I have no faith whatsoever in any of your experts to keep this quiet.”
“Solly, I don’t know what else to do. I’ve thought about talking to Woodbridge—”
“No. Your first instincts about Woodbridge are correct. You give it to him, you’ll never see it again.”
“So where do I go from here?”
“There’s no way to plan until you know what really happened out there.”
“You’re talking about the logs again.”
“I still don’t know where they are, Solly.”
“Who would? Somebody must know.”
“Yeah.” She looked into his eyes. “I can only think of one person who might.”
To Matt’s dismay, Kim reclaimed the Valiant when they returned to Seabright. She allowed him to hold it while they were on the train, and to ride shotgun with it when, on arrival, she took it to Capital University. There, she imposed on friends to get some private lab time, and took a complete set of virtuals, inside and out. Then she used a public phone to rent a United Distribution delivery box in Marathon under Kay Braddock’s name. “Not sure who’ll be collecting my mail,” she told the clerk, and asked for an ID number. She then inserted the microship into a plastic container with plenty of padding and shipped it off to her delivery box.
In the morning she reported for work and received an assignment to write a series of articles for Paragon Media on Institute activities. Matt was in and out of her office all day. Was the Valiant okay? He kept looking over his shoulder and referring portentously to the vessel as the bric-a-brac. Where was it? Was someone watching it? What was she planning to do next?
It was fine, she assured him, neatly stashed where nobody would find it. Ever. That might have been a whopper, but it seemed to have the desired effect, both soothing and disturbing him. Suppose something happens to you, he argued. What then?
She shrugged. I’ll be careful.
Matt had names, people they should consider bringing in. She took the list and promised to get back to him.
As to what she was planning, Kim was going to break the law once again. She sighed at the prospect, thinking how she’d come a long way from the very proper and respectable young woman who’d spoken to the gathered guests on the occasion of the first nova. Would he like to help?
“No. I will not. And I think you should forget it. Whatever it is.” He looked disapprovingly at her. “Don’t tell me anything,” he said. “I don’t want to know.”
That afternoon she went into an electronics shop at the Seabright Place Mall. “I need a universal tap,” she told the autoclerk. The universal tap was standard equipment for Veronica King.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” it responded. “But we don’t carry anything like that.”
“Do you have any idea where I can get one?”
“Not really. They’re illegal. Available only to law enforcement agencies.”
She tried a law enforcement supply shop, which carried uniforms of various designs, a wide variety of nonlethal weapons, and all kinds of communications equipment. Here she found a microtransmitter, known in the field as a tag. She talked casually with the clerk about universal taps. He confirmed that they could not be routinely purchased. “There’s a form,” he explained, showing her one. It was required for equipment normally unavailable to ordinary citizens, like surveillance gear.
The Institute funded an electronics laboratory at Hastings College, about forty kilometers up-country from Seabright. The Hastings affiliate was run by Chad Beamer, whom Kim knew quite well, and who liked her.
“It could cost me my job,” Beamer said, after she’d told him what she wanted.
“I’ll never tell,” she replied.
He squinted at her. Beamer had a reputation as a heartthrob, apparently well-earned. But he was also a good technician. “What’s it for?”
“I don’t want to lie to you, Chad,” she said. Chad was smaller than the general run of males of his generation. His parents had opted for longevity rather than altitude. He would get an extra few decades.
“Okay. Are you chasing a guy?”
“That’s as good an explanation as any.”
He nodded. “Give me a couple of days.”
Matt wasn’t happy with the way she was proceeding. He asked her to stay, closed off his office, and directed that they not be disturbed. “This is taking forever,” he said. “When are you going to give me access to it?”
“When I can, Matt,” she said smoothly. “When we’ve got the lab up and running.”
“That’ll take another few weeks, Kim.”
She held her ground. He gave up and let her go after she’d assured him that she’d provided for the possibility that something might happen to her. And she had: She’d written down a complete set of directions on how to recover the Valiant, folded it into an envelope, and given it to one of the Sea Knights, with instructions to see that it was turned over to Matt if necessary.
Her own determination to ensure that important information not be lost convinced her she was right about Markis Kane: He’d have wanted to preserve the logs against history. Somewhere there had to be a trail. Even if he were the monster the news services now accused him of being, he might well have wanted to save the record of his exploits for publication after he was safely clear of the law.
And the trail almost certainly led through his sole child, Tora.
Kim went home early, mixed herself a drink, and directed Shepard to bring up a simulacrum of Sheyel.
“I don’t have much data on him,” the AI protested.
“Do the best you can. And update him.”
She listened to the electronic murmur which was Shepard’s method of informing her he didn’t feel equipped to perform a given assignment, and then Sheyel’s image appeared before her. He was seated in his dragon chair, eyes half open, presented in an appropriately melancholy mood.
“Good afternoon, Kim,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.”
“And you, Sheyel. I was sorry to lose you. I wish things had turned out differently.”
“As do I. It seems I was foolishly determined.”
They gazed at one another.
“It shouldn’t have been vindictive,” he said. “It was there too many years without harming anyone.”
“You expected the appearance of the Valiant to get a reaction. I guess that’s what happened.”
“I wish I could change things. At least, Kim, I’m glad you’re safe.” He rearranged one of the cushions. “Where is it now?”
“It’s gone. At considerable cost.” She pulled her legs up onto the sofa and wrapped her arms around them. “Sheyel, I wanted you to know that I haven’t walked away from this. I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened. I think Yoshi was killed by the same thing that killed you.”
“Yes. That makes sense. Do you know how it might have happened?”
“Not yet. But I hope to find out within another couple of days.”
“Good. When you have the rest of it, I’d be pleased if you came back. And talked to me.”
“Yes,” she said. “Of course.”
Tora Kane lived in an isolated cottage situated in an oak grove about ten kilometers northwest of Seabright. Kim rode out on several consecutive days and strolled through the area early in the morning, recording when Tora left for the site, nine-fifteen, and when she returned, usually at around six-thirty. She noted that Tora owned a flyer, but not a dog. As far as she could determine, the archeologist lived alone.
She found a toolshed behind the house, which would provide a ladder when she needed it. That was a piece of good fortune: she’d expected to have to climb a tree.
The walks had been hard enough on her: despite modern medicine, she was not yet fully healed, and she knew her doctors would have complained angrily had they known what she was doing.
At home, she worked with Shepard to create a virtual lawyer who would be credible and persuasive. She settled on Aquilla Selby, the famed criminal attorney of the previous century. Selby had not believed in capital punishment, and had specialized in defending the indefensible, rescuing a long line of murderers and sadists from the extreme penalty, and in some cases even springing them loose on an unsuspecting public.
Selby had allowed his years to show, had very carefully orchestrated the aging process to acquire silver hair and a wrinkled brow, gaining the visible appearance of maturity that counts for so much in the courtroom, while simultaneously maintaining the medical state of a healthy thirty-year-old.
Kim touched him up a little bit, changed the color of his eyes from blue to brown, cut his hair to agree with current fashion, got rid of his beard, took a few pounds out of his midsection. She tightened his face somewhat, opting for trim cheeks and a narrow nose.
“What do you think?” she asked Shep, when the finished product stood before her.
“He looks good,” the AI said. “He’d get my attention.”
The image completed, she went to work on the voice, eliminating its distinctive Terminal City accent, the mellifluous tonality that, to a seventh-century ear, sounded cloying. She added some gravel and adjusted the pacing. When she was finished, he sounded like a modern native of Greenway’s Ruby Archipelago.
Next she looked at her equipment.
Included in the package with the microtransmitter was a receiver and a flex antenna for long-distance reception. She rented a flyer and mounted the antenna on it, then went to bed and slept peacefully.
In the morning she heard from Chad. “It’s ready,” he told her.
She flew out that afternoon and picked up the tap.
“Remember,” he cautioned, after showing her how it worked, “if you get into trouble, I don’t know anything about it.”
She promised they wouldn’t be able to beat it out of her.
That evening she flew to within a kilometer of Tora’s home, landed, and walked the rest of the distance. The lights were on when she arrived, and she saw movement inside the cottage. Tora had a guest. Several guests, in fact. Three flyers were parked on or just off the pad.
But she knew that the sleek orange-and-black Kondor belonged to the archeologist. She watched for a few minutes to be sure no one was outside, then circled around to the pad and taped the microtransmitter to the top of a tread, where it disappeared into the well. When she was satisfied, she retreated into the woods and turned on her receiver. The signal came through loud and clear.