Authors: Anne McCaffrey
AWOKE AT MY
usual hour the next morning, I felt oddly refreshed by the short sleep and curiously alert. I was up well before Linnana this morning, I thought with a grin. She didn’t even appear when I drew my own bath. In a way it was a pleasure to be alone, feeling as I did, and I hummed to myself as I bathed. Gorlot had done his worst and it had backfired on him. The yoke of apprehension was lifted from the back of my neck. Somehow, to me at any rate, the Mil did not seem as terrifying as Gorlot had.
I threw on a robe and walked out onto my balcony. The gardens lay below me, trampled and battered by yesterday’s surging mobs. Beyond, the city was preternaturally quiet, the way New York could be, early Sunday mornings. A sudden muted drone caught my attention and I located the sound from the trail the ship made as it needled upward into the greenish morning sky. The trail was barely thinning when another roar split the air and a second, a third, a fourth line of smoke spurted upward. I watched this exodus for some time before the knock on the door roused me.
Harlan came in and motioned to me to stay on the balcony where he joined me. There were circles under his eyes and fatigue lines drawing down the corners of his mouth. But his step was quick and his voice firm.
“Good morning to you, Regent Harlan,” I said and gave him a full court curtsey.
“Very graceful,” he grinned back and gave me a hand to steady my rising. “I didn’t hope to find you up. But I took a chance. Jokan is far beyond wakening.”
“He was very tired last night,” I tendered.
“He was also very drunk,” Harlan remarked, teasing me. “Hardly blame him. Wish I had the chance.”
I could think of nothing witty or apt to say because Harlan’s very masculine presence disturbed me.
He leaned against the wall, facing me, folding his arms across his chest, regarding me with disconcerting directness.
“What is all the activity at the spaceport?” I asked, nervously gesturing at the smoke trails.
Harlan didn’t bother to glance over his shoulder. “Sending out replacements and technicians for the Perimeter. Have to replace nearly every man Gorlot appointed with someone competent. He did a thorough job of removing, permanently or temporarily, every able man in Patrol unsympathetic to him.”
afraid the Mil are coming back in force.”
Harlan frowned at me intensely. “There is always that possibility.”
“It’s what everyone seems to fear.”
“Well, they might. Gorlot gave the Mil a wide-open field with Tane. What’s to prevent them from assuming that the entire section isn’t wide open? Especially since we’ve always maintained such a vigil.”
Harlan moved to the balcony railing, looking out over the battered gardens. Then he turned back to me, leaning against the iron support.
“Have either Jessl or Jokan been after you? About your origin?” he asked anxiously.
“Jessl calls me the lady of mystery,” I laughed lightly.
“I can’t keep both of them away from you and they’re curious. Look, I’ll send you some vision tapes about Jurasse. You can’t read Lotharian yet, I gather? Hmmm. That’s too bad and there’s no chance to teach you. Well, you’ll have to assimilate as much from the historical and vision tapes as you can.”
Harlan stared thoughtfully into space, scrubbing his chin thoughtfully. I noticed he must have just bathed, for his hair gleamed damply in the rising sun. His lean profile stood in bold relief against the green sky, emphasizing the strength in his rough features. I put that picture into a special corner of my memory for easy reference. He turned back toward me suddenly. The wry grin on his face set as he caught my absorbed expression.
“I’ve never thanked you, have I, Sara?” he said gently. “If you hadn’t had the courage of . . .”
I shook my head to stop him.
“You forget, you were the only way I had of getting out of that ghastly place.”
He reached for my right hand, raising it to his lips without taking his eyes off mine. Then he pulled me slowly toward him.
“Maxil’s Fara has joined him,” Harlan said with a meaningful grin. His arms held me tightly against him and his eyes compelled me to look only into his face. “Maxil is as eager to claim
lady as I am to claim mine.”
Slowly he bent and lifted me into his arms, his eyes never leaving mine. I could feel the warmth of him through the thin fabric of his overtunic and hear the beating of his heart, fast and strong. I felt I must be only one loud, frantic pulse beat. He put me on my feet by the side of the bed, his eyes warm and intense with feeling.
“This is not a smelly fishing boat, dear my lady,” he said softly as his hands unfastened my robe. “And it is much too early for anyone to be up and looking for the Regent.” He shed his own tunic and I swallowed hard with nervousness. Quick concern crossed his face and he framed my head with gentle hands. “Is this body you cared for so long offensive to you?” he asked softly. “You know it so well.”
“I know it well, yes, but not the man within it,” I whispered.
He smiled then, a wonderful tender possessive smile.
“When the man I am is within you, you will know all of me well and I, all of you. And you will no longer be afraid of me.”
My arms, of themselves, slid up around his neck and our bodies touched. I couldn’t control my trembling.
“Dear my lady Sara,” he said very softly, his voice rough with passion. “I’m claiming my own.
A long time later, I heard his soft chuckle in my ear.
“You know, you were untouched after all. Those bully boys Gleto used as guards weren’t above rape.”
“I know,” I said in a very small whisper into his chest, “I was terrified they might have when I wasn’t in possession of my senses.”
He tipped my head up so I had to look him straight in the eye.
now?” he asked gently. He wouldn’t let me duck my head and he grinned at my furious blushing. “I can see you aren’t and I’m glad.” He kissed me quickly and settled me against him. “I’ll do better by you next time, sweeting. But I can’t give a guess when that’ll be. This is stolen time.” He sighed deeply and the lines loving had lifted briefly settled back into place.
“You look so tired, Harlan,” I murmured, worried, touching the raggedy scar on his cheek.
“I feel a lot better now than I have for some time,” he grinned wickedly at me and kissed my breasts. His hands tightened on me roughly. When he looked up at me, his face had changed completely. “If anything should happen to you now . . .” He sat up abruptly, his strong back to me. I could hear him slap one fist against the other palm.
One long arm reached out for the overdress he had dropped to the floor. In one fluid movement he had thrown it over him and buckled it into place. He looked down at me.
“That’s why I can’t stand to have you stay on here. Too many people get to see you. You’ve too unusual a face to be easily forgotten. Someone who knows where you were before you were made my attendant is going to remember you. But . . .” and he sighed deeply, “there’s no possible chance of whisking you away to a less public place.”
“Nothing will happen, Harlan. Surely someone would have come forward by now. I’ve been seen so much,” I reassured him. “And I’ve been doing quite well. I’ve had to.”
“You’ve recalled no memories, not even fragments that would give us a lead?”
“None I want to remember,” I said, suppressing a shudder.
He bent to kiss my forehead in apology for stirring up those memories.
“By the way, we got those nine men out of Gleto’s tender care,” he said, sitting down beside me. He took my left hand in both his, stroking my wrist gently. “They’re coming round and furthermore, we found enough cerol in Gleto’s medicine room to supply an army. There wasn’t much of that stuff available before the Tane wars, too new a drug, so it was obvious someone has been importing it in quantities. We’ll find out who soon.”
prove to anyone that you never were insane in the first place. Not that it matters now.”
“It still matters,” Harlan assured me. “But what is more important, we should be able to learn from those nine when the Mil first got to the Tanes . . . in what force. . . .”
“Can’t you get Gorlot to tell you?”
“We’re working on him, too,” Harlan said grimly. “We’ve had more success with his cronies in Records and Supplies, but they don’t know the total plan.”
“What about Monsorlit?” I asked hopefully. It would be nice to be rid of one menace.
Harlan looked at me questioningly.
“He drugged you, after all. And Gorlot appointed him,” I argued, not understanding his reluctance to indict the physician.
“No. Monsorlit has always been in charge of the staff at War Hospital,” Harlan said quickly. “Gleto has been accused,” he added to pacify me. “But other than Gleto’s counteraccusation there is no proof Monsorlit was involved. Gleto’s such a wretched cave-blocker his word doesn’t go for much.”
“But mine does,” I replied, trying to ignore the fear that sank like lead into the pit of my stomach.
“Look,” and Harlan closed strong hard hands around my shoulders. He gave me a little shake to make me look at him. “We’ll have to forget about Monsorlit’s duplicity. If restoration is once brought into this, you’ll be killed just as if you were any other restoree. Monsorlit must have done the restoration. He’s the only one who would dare or who could do such a superb job. But how he did it and when, I am not interested in finding out. And neither, dear my lady, should you be. By the mother of us all, Sara,” and he threw his hands out in an exasperated gesture as I stared at him, unconvinced, “do you
to be discovered?
“Monsorlit has covered all traces in this affair,” and Harlan swung off the bed to pace restlessly up and down the room, “just as delicately as he covered all trace of restoration on your body.”
He turned and pointed his stumpy finger at me. “If his hospital ship had once been on Tane at any time, we could accuse him of hiding treasonable information or of direct collusion with Gorlot. But he’s clever. He kept his ships in orbit one hundred miles above the planet. The wounded were ferried up to him by small rocket. We can’t pin a thing on him.
“There’s just enough cerol in his hospitals for experimentation. And his staff is so cave-bound loyal to him they wouldn’t spit unless he said to. How can we pin anything on him that would remove him as a danger to you?
“He’s got Ferrill back on his feet and to top it all, he’s come up with an antidote for cerolosis. That makes us grateful to him. And his clinics for mental health all over the planet have touched too many little people for us to try to defame him.”
“But he drugged you,” I insisted inanely.
Harlan shrugged. “I can do nothing that won’t endanger you.”
“What if Monsorlit remembers me?” I pleaded, desperately afraid.
Harlan dropped to my side again. “Sara, Sara, please. Go on making yourself into a Lotharian. It’s safer.” He smiled plaintively and kissed me tenderly. “You’re one now anyway. But remember, fear of a restoree is almost as deep as fear of the Mil and to many . . . you heard Stannall . . . just as hideous.”
I was about to say something when a gentle knock startled us.
“Just be careful, dear my lady,” he whispered urgently as the door opened to admit Linnana.
OFTEN FELT IN THE
next few days as if I lived in the old Grand Central Station. Harlan and Stannall conducted much of their business in Maxil’s living room and board room, including Maxil in all discussions. The boy would reel to bed late at night exhausted, rise the next morning and grimly plunge back into the tedious reports from Councilmen and Patrolmen, or broadcast reassuring messages to the planet. The palace seethed with feverish activity and the air was punctuated day and night by the blasts of shuttling rockets and great ships.
A full report of the death of the Tane was partially cushioned by the discovery of a lone group of sixty badly frightened, suspicious survivors.
All Patrol reserves were recalled for reexamination and assignment. The fiction that this was due only to a reshuffling following the collapse of the Gorlot Regency was not fooling many, but it kept hysteria under control. Every available ship, no matter what size, was being refitted with Jokan’s electromagnetic resonators. Busy as the spaceport beyond Lothar was, Maxil assured me that the Moonbases were bedlam. Jokan spent most of his time with Ertois and Glans although I didn’t get to see any of these extraplanetary allies until later. Jessl was occupied with some radical planetary defense system and appeared only once at the formal dinners that Stannall insisted be continued for public morale.
Maxil announced plans for a speeded-up colonization of one of the Tane planets. Applications from all walks and trades would be acceptable. With a wry afterthought, it was also announced that both Tane planets were being equipped with the Ertoi defense crystals to prevent a return of the Mil. I realized then that that must be what occupied Jessl, the erection of a similar last-gasp defense for Lothar itself. To have admitted this publicly would have crystalized everyone’s nightmare.
My public appearances as Maxil’s companion continued, but I insisted that Fara also be included. Maxil always felt more at ease with her than with me although I know he liked me. But I was eight years his senior and, as Harlan had made plain he had a prior claim, Maxil was uncomfortable when the three of us were together. With both Harlan and Maxil bringing pressure on him, Stannall finally conceded that people would be too concerned with the Mil crisis to worry about such “minor details.”
However, members of the palace circle soon took advantage of the fact that Maxil had made no formal claim on me and pressed their attentions. Stannall would not, however, permit Harlan to make his formal claim public, which infuriated the Regent.
If Linnana ever mentioned finding Harlan in my room that first morning he claimed me, she never passed the information along, I was deeply grateful to her and she became very helpful in dissuading importunate suitors who tried to enter my room.
My private time I spent listening to the tapes Harlan had sent me until I felt I knew Jurrasse intimately and could tour its eighteen hills blindfolded. Fara and I went to the Great Bazaar and I listened to the talk of the crowds, shopping, watching, familiarizing myself as much as I could with Lotharian ways.
Lothar was an odd contrast of technical advances and primitive inventions. There were no land vehicles other than animal-drawn carts of the crudest type. Women baked on wood stoves while the land Patrol and the palace cooked with a form of thermal energy in gigantic ovens. There was radiant lighting, but a crude type of radiant heating. Cloth was all handloomed. There was efficient refrigeration but no canned supplies. No paper but the awkward slates or thinly extruded metal sheets for more permanent records. Widespread television existed and recording tapes but nothing approximating typewriters or printing presses. Epic poems were sung by skilled bards using stringed instruments and drums, but there were no dramas other than mummeries. Glass and high-grade plastics but no china, porcelain or clay.
My days were busy, but I waited impatiently for the few hours Harlan could spare to be with me. He would come late at night, waking me from sleep, or early in the morning as I could not break my habit of early rising. If he came at dawn, he would bring cups of beverage and fruit, teasing me about my ravenous appetite.
“When do you ever sleep?” I asked him, half anxious, half amazed at his inexhaustible vitality.
He rolled onto his side and ran a caressing hand the length of my body.
“Here and there,” he answered absently. He stroked my wrist softly. “Remember, I had months of sleep in the asylum and,” he added with an engaging leer, “as long as I have access to the greatest of all restoratives, I’m doing fine. When I think of the time I wasted in that asylum, the opportunities I was oblivious to . . .”
“You are absurd,” I protested, laughing.
“And you are delightful, dear my lady,” and we would be off again.
He never completely forgot my exposed position and my lack of background. But I became more at ease and lost my fear of self-betrayal. I was full of confidence.
The communicator panel, which was always busy, flashed on one morning just as I was rousing from a post-breakfast stupor. Harlan had been with me late that night. Jokan said the call was for me.
I recognized the speaker as Councilman Lesatin. In most courteous terms he asked me to attend a meeting in half an hour at Stannall’s office beyond the Great Hall in the administration wing.
My curiosity, not my concern, was aroused. Lesatin had been a dinner partner twice and I dismissed the man as an amiable, exaggerating character. He happened to be the representative of the mining interests in Jurasse and we had chatted about my coming from there. The only question I hadn’t been able to answer was what shaft my father had worked in. I had fobbed that off by confessing to a sudden lapse of memory. Very silly, I had said airily, to forget a title I knew as well as my own clan. Lesatin had helpfully named a few shafts and I had picked one eagerly. He had not seemed unduly concerned with my forgetfulness.
When I reached the office, not only Lesatin was there but also Stannall and several other senior Councilmen whom I knew by sight. I still had no apprehensions.
I was greeted most courteously and asked to be seated.
“One purpose of this meeting,” Stannall began in his most formal tone of voice, “is to acquaint you with the public approval of this Council and the citizens of Lothar for the considerable part you played in exposing the traitor, Gorlot. Had you not suspected and been able to effect Harlan’s release, we might have discovered all too late the perfidy planned against the entire Alliance. Our gratitude takes this material expression,” and Stannall handed me a much decorated slate. I glanced at it with what I hoped was intelligent comprehension and thanked them most fervently.
“We feel we can never adequately recompense you for the danger in which you voluntarily placed yourself.”
I muttered something to cover my embarrassment.
Stannall’s official countenance relaxed into as pleasant a smile as he had ever directed to me. The other five men beamed paternally at me. I wondered if Stannall had now forgiven me my various sins. He had been less curt, certainly, since Fara had joined Maxil’s suite. Perhaps she had championed me.
“We would be interested in knowing just when you first suspected Harlan was being drugged. Also anything you can remember that would lead to the apprehension of other traitors.”
“There’s Gleto, of course, and his armed guards.”
Stannall nodded and remarked that they had been in custody for some time. “Gleto makes some odd charges,” Stannall added absently, “which we are unable to substantiate.”
“Oh?” I remarked hopefully, not at all suspicious of this line of questioning.
“He had involved several men of prominent position whom many would like to see cleared of such basely derived suspicions,” the First Councilman continued smoothly.
“I’m not sure I could give you any help. I was shut up constantly in the one cottage. I had no opportunity to overhear or see any visitors of consequence. Except when Ferrill came to see Harlan. I think that was the first inkling I had of irregularity,” I said truthfully.
“Ferrill asked particularly to be informed of any change in Harlan’s condition, you see,” I continued, goaded by Stannall’s noncommittal reception. “Gorlot made a sign to Gleto and he smirked. I mean, Gorlot was plainly indicating that Gleto should not inform Ferrill if Harlan got better.”
This was considered and commented on.
“Did Physician Monsorlit ever attend Harlan at the asylum in your presence?”
My throat dried up suddenly and I coughed evasively. The truth, the truth is the one thing you never stumble over. But I couldn’t tell the whole truth. Not now when I saw what Stannall was after: an indictment against Monsorlit. But they all knew that Monsorlit had been the attending physician.
“Yes, he came,” I admitted slowly.
“What did he do?” Stannall seemed to leap on my confirmation.
“Made a routine examination of Harlan, administered a drug and left.”
“Did you have any idea what drug?” Stannall snapped.
I swallowed and claimed ignorance. Stannall stared at me with such a menacing intensity it was very difficult to act unconcerned. My throat was parched.
“Tell me,” Stannall began casually, turning his back on me for a moment, fiddling with slates on his desk. “How did you obtain the position as attendant to Harlan?”
“The usual way.”
“Which is through Monsorlit’s Mental Defectives Clinic, according to the records,” Stannall retorted, wheeling back to me with blazing eyes.
“Well, certainly,” I replied with mock amazement that he should consider this remarkable.
My admission confused him and Lesatin muttered something to one of his colleagues.
having gone through the Clinic?”
“Certainly,” I was forced to reconfirm. “Mental Defectives Clinic” I heard my mind echoing and an icy finger twisted deep into my stomach. I fought the sudden panic. I must think clearly now. I must. I had just admitted to having been insane . . . no, no, I was seriously disturbed, that’s all. It meant I would be shielding Monsorlit whom I wanted to expose. It meant, more certainly, I hadn’t given the proper thought to my background story at all. No one was asking me how many hills Jurasse had nor the position of the Odern Cave Vaults nor the placement of the inner labyrinths. Nor what shaft my father had worked in.
“Why were you in the Clinic?” Lesatin asked into that chill silence. I looked at him and realized that this affable man with the insatiable curiosity was quite capable of correlating odd pieces of information into logical theory.
“I went there for help,” I said slowly. “You see, I’d had several very bad experiences that upset me. Some friends thought I might get help there.”
“What kind of experiences?” Lesatin urged gently.
“Remember the apartments near the sign of Horn? The ones that collapsed in the earth fault? Well, I was trapped in my room for hours before they could get me out. Then my father was one of the men who was killed in the fault. I didn’t have any relatives and I never could get to see my Clan Officer. I’d have these terrible nightmares,” that was true enough, “and finally, I went to the Mental Clinic.”
I wondered if neurotics were acceptable in this Clinic. Certainly in terms of earth psychiatry, those two traumatic shocks were sufficient to cause a psychosis . . . if you tended to be psychotic. I looked pleadingly in each face to see the reception of my fabrication. I was relieved to see sympathy replace skepticism and suspicion.
“Then you are naturally grateful to Monsorlit for curing your . . . ah . . . nervousness and nightmares,” Stannall suggested.
“Well, not Monsorlit, certainly. I wasn’t a very unusual case and you had to be pretty bad to get his attention what with the Tane war.”
This was not the answer Stannall hoped for, I knew, but it was plausible.
“Did you ever see anything . . . unusual . . . while you were in the Clinic undergoing treatment?” asked Stannall conversationally.
“Yes. Cases where men were perhaps completely bandaged from head to foot. Patients with scars on their wrists, ankles or necks?”
“Oh, no,” I replied hastily. I knew now what he was driving at. He wanted to be able to accuse Monsorlit of restoration. And here was Stannall’s proof sitting in front of him. “Oh, no, no. No restorees, only men he had repossessed,” I blurted out without thinking.
“Repossessed!” and Stannall snapped the word up hungrily and turned triumphantly to the others.
“What exactly do you mean?” asked Lesatin anxiously.
“I don’t exactly know,” I stalled. “I mean, the other girls in the sanitarium were called ‘repossessed’ and some of the technicians too.” I recalled the conversation Monsorlit had had with Gleto about restorees and repossessed. “I guess I mean people who have been ill mentally and he has repossessed them of their senses. People he’s trained to do certain things. I guess you could almost call Harlan repossessed, except that he was never really insane.”
The qualification had an effect on the Councilmen. They talked quietly among themselves.