Distantly, like wrong-way through a telescope, like a dream at a distance, while Nancy used Valerie's senses, Tricia used them too. In the depths of her being, cameo-like, it even so obliterated the widescreen productions of dream, pushing her into a state of awareness of mind while yet her body slept.

In that miniature of reported reality, she saw the carg girl reach down, grasp the helmet, and tear it free. The caress of minds from Nancy reached her, and then the bridge between them was gone, snapping from tautness, recoiling into her mind in flaring light. She opened her eyes, and saw her own room, dark in the midnight. She rolled across to the bedside table and looked at her watch. The hour was 00:54, a time she was more accustomed to treat as a time to go to bed, rather than for getting up.

“Genevieve. Status report.”

“DawnCastle is delayed, while emergency work is done on part of the keel, which fractured during stress-up. Military activity continues as before. Latest estimates make time to lift-off for Castle Wolf as eighty three hours. Do you want anything more than that?”

“Yes. Get this to Jeanne — Nancy is in High Prospect, being held by matts who are trying to indoctrinate her enough to convince her to lead an attack on the Castle. We've got to try and rescue her.”

“How, Tricia? You're letting your emotions run away with you. All the castles are bottled up, so no one can get in or out, and that'll be so even when we lift, as long as we stay within planetary jurisdiction, and apart from us, there's no one who will do the job. The police won't and the guild can't.”

“But surely in a place like High Prospect there'd be some traditionalist paramilitaries we could contact.”

“But not without having the call tapped and traced as soon as it entered the city net. There's nothing that will fly, nothing at all. I know, I've checked them all. I'm sorry, Trish, but my analysis nets are designed to handle facts, not wishful thinking. If anything comes up that might work you and Jeanne will hear of it.”


Tricia spoke that last word with a voice tinged with gloom, and resignation to the inevitable. She sat in her bed, staring into the darkness, watching the sporadic play of false colour in her eyes, and seething at her total helplessness in the face of the events that were overwhelming her.

A thought occurred to her, one that at first turned a little of her futile anger upon herself for thinking of it and then grew more and more attractive — if it could be fulfilled. She climbed out of bed, and clothing herself in her cape, went to seek out a friend, any friend. Surely even at this hour they could not all be asleep or otherwise engaged. In any case, she would find out.

Around High Prospect, a dozen furtive figures spread out from the tower where Nancy had been held, wary of the official police, of the corporation directed matts, and of possible pro-clan activists, as eager to avoid any of these as to find Nancy Elanor of Wolf.

They had covered the tower, and knew that she was not there. Even when they had tapped the environmental control sensor system, there had been no sign of her. Therefore, by some means, though its details be unimportant, she had escaped the tower unnoticed.

So they must search elsewhere, and so they did, efficiently, swiftly, eager to conclude the search before the area they must cover grew too wide. But wide as they spread their net, they had little or no success; and what success they had was in the negative sense of going unnoticed by their rival groups. None of the searchers ever bothered to notice the red eyes that glowed betimes in the corona of their lights. There were, after all, not interested in the local wildlife.

Nancy was woken by the cold. Though the actual numeric value of it would probably have been 280, well within the range of her tolerance of hypothermia, it sufficed to send her into violent fits of shivering as she lay unclothed in the dew-wet grass. The sun was not yet risen, but it would do so within the hour, though closer she could not guess. Dawn was always so different to a reversed-time sunset, and though she saw the sun go down many times, she rarely saw it rise, and had not learned the signs to tell its timescale.

The sky, however, was content to go its own way, to lighten more slowly than the eye could follow. As yet, it was blue, but deep blue, more nearly purple than was the midday sky. In the east, fingerlings of cloud were touched with the first colours of a sun reaching itself over the edge of a world. She was captivated by the beauty of the scene.

Above her, a tree reached up into that heaven, and spread its leaves wide over her, and she nestled among the bushes that crowded around its base. Eastwards, ten yards away, the grass ended, and the grassland proper took over. Between the arch of two trees, the dawn yellowed a tiny patch of sky and blushed far more into peach-pink.

The world was not silent either. A faint morning breeze stirred the leaves, and the lizards warbled. Across the open ground, at the base of one of the border trees, a tree-rat sat, and chattered angrily at something.

In among that harmless chorus, something new, something alien, something dangerous. The voices of people, at first distant, but approaching from behind her, out of the wood. She turned, carefully, quietly, to peek from behind the tree, hoping that the dawn behind her would blind any watchers to her presence, poorly advanced, though that wakening of the day might be.

As they came closer, out of the gloom, Nancy could put locations to the speakers, two of them, and dressed in paramilitary uniforms. She could not see any badges, but she could see the colour, a mottled green and brown, with black and yellow splashes. None of the Clans used other than monochrome battle-dress, and there were so few pro-Clan forces that it would be safer to discard that possibility as an operating hypothesis.

The pair were Ayassa, a female and a male, much smaller, by her side

“Let's give up now,” he suggested, “we've been searching for the little minx for six hours now. Hell, she could have practically walked to the Guild port in all that time. I'd not reckon on her staying anywhere near the heat, at least I wouldn't, and by all accounts, she's not stupid.”

“OK. We'll get back to the car, and say so.” The tall girl stretched herself further as she yawned, catlike as ever her people were. “I could do with a few hours sleep now.”

So slowly, they moved past, unhurried in their walking, out into the grassland, striking to the right, and passing beyond sight. Their voices faded.

A trap? She thought not. The mechanism was far too complicated for that. It would just be enough to point a gun in her direction now, and tell her to stand to get her out of the bushes, given she had been noticed. On the other hand, however, it would do no harm to wait a while longer before moving. Slowly, one number to the second, Nancy began to count, and continued until she had reached the count of two thousand. And all that half hour, she was cold, and her hunger was like barbed wire. The sun, slowly, approached the horizon, and the sky above it began to blaze brightly.

In all that time, she remained alone, neither hearing nor seeing any other matts. It was enough for her. She stood, with joints creaking and muscles aching, protesting at the sudden change of posture, abrupt after hours of huddling.

A mile away, below her, and across a wide lake, its colour still the deepest of blues, lay High Prospect. Twenty five miles away on the far side lay the Guild port, and the sanctuary of the Embassy there. Her home was besieged, and besides, two hundred fifty times as far, so it would have to be the port. Without shoes, walking was out. Therefore as a direct consequence, some poor unsuspecting person would, have to be relieved of his car — there would be less difficulty in that than acquiring footwear.

For once the decision that she, and the others of the Clans be educated among the folk of their world had a beneficial side effect, in as much as she had acquired one reasonably trustworthy friend resident in the city, one to whom she had intended to flee under cover of night.

The question that she had put aside a dozen time before rose again to plague her. Why was she here, and how? and how come she had no memory of the preceding nine hours? She could make no definite conclusions, only fearfully speculate that the Linna personality that had been embedded in the necklace had taken control. It was something she could think about, or try to avoid thinking about, while she walked.

The city lay in the middle of a piece of sign writing on the planet's surface, where a bulls-eye design had been carved out of the forest for the guidance of incoming spacecraft, its centre astride one of the radial arms. Nancy was on the one side, and her goal on the other, across open land, devoid of cover, and with potentially hostile eyes to watch her. There was no recourse than to use the only cover open to her, the city itself, trusting to the early hour to keep her from the notice of casual passers-by.

She followed under the eaves of the trees, the course of the pattern, until she struck an out-stretched arm of slideway to take her as she wanted. Its surface was as chill after the night as its arctic appearance might suggest, yet as it moulded itself to her feet, and was warmed, it was more comfortable than the vegetation strewn earth that she had covered to reach it.

As she had planned, she took the direct route, under a sky lightening to dawn, observed only by the unconscious maintenance robots. The buildings — houses or shops — all turned their blind windows on her. Yet there was an aura as if someone watched her. The open sky above worried her, more so when the sun began to edge over the horizon, casting long and unmistakable shadows, with its M-coloured light. The direct rays were hot, making her skin bead uncomfortably with sweat, despite the rushing, chill of the air. She did not like this part of dawn, where its quiet mystery was transformed into the humdrum rush of daytime. The night was more the time for her, she decided.

The sun was its own width above the horizon, and she five miles along the line, deep into the forest, when she reached her destination, a clearing where a house had been built, one of a score or so strung sparsely along that particular slideway spur. Nancy stepped off onto the grassy verge, kicking up the dew, and walked closer to the house. Each and every window was opaqued, which was not particularly surprising, given the time of day. But in a couple of hours — given that the family had not gone off somewhere in the meantime — it would be a temporary refuge.

There was only really one place to go, however, to wait out the time, the only place that would conceal her even from infrared eyes in orbit — the stable behind the place, which being built in the archaic style of such constructions, would be easier to enter. And so she did, finding in the hayloft a warmer, and no less comfortable place to bed down than the place she had woken. There would be no difficulty in getting to sleep; the fatigue weighed heavy on her, as if she had been active all of the night, bedding down to sleep only shortly before the dawn. Her eyes closed of their own accord, and the horsey noises beneath her resting place did not impede her drift into a light but dream-fevered sleep.

The sound of a cheerful voice cut through her repose, and she forced her bleary eyes open, and crawled to a place where she could look down into the stable proper. Beneath her, feeding handfuls of hay to a chestnut mare in one of the stalls, was just the person she had been looking for.

“Alan!” her voice sounded unusual, for her mouth was gummy with thirst. He looked up from feeding the horse.

“My god. Nancy What the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for somewhere to cadge a breakfast and some transport. How come I'm here, and stark naked, when I should be at home and enjoying my lunch, well, it's rather long and involved.”

“Hiding after that brouhaha on the news the other night?”


“Hell, that's okay. Come on in. Let's shock my parents with what I've found.”

“OK, but not too much.”

“My Lady, would I do anything like that?”

Nancy did not bother to answer.

Nancy flew the car as fast as she dared along the approach radius, letting her course wind about the hills shielding the town from the port, keeping her altitude as low as she dared, and certainly no higher than the minimum that regulations demanded. Again in compliance with regulations, she kept her speed down to four hundred miles per hour, which was slower than she could have managed on manual, but a limit that she adhered to to minimize her noticablity.

Half way, two minutes more to safety, a cheering thought, despite her almost paranoid fear of ambush; she counted off the miles and seconds eagerly in her haste to be done with it all.

Ninety seconds she counted off, and the great plain that formed the starport opened out before her, over the crest of the last low ridge of hills. It was then, with her goal in sight, that she noticed the car following hers. Disregarding everything else, Nancy poured power to her car, skipping it over the last ridge, and bringing it down screaming, at just short of Mach one — however she might need to hurry, to stun or kill innocent bystanders would prejudice her case. Besides, it would be difficult enough to land the car under those conditions.

The pursuing car matched her every move, even as she brought her own vehicle down in the quickest landing she could devise, heading it straight for the embassy buildings, then cutting in reverse thrust. Safety webbing caught her in a suffocating grip for a few hundreds of milliseconds, as the car, protesting, lurched to a stop. It was still drifting slowly forwards as Nancy vaulted out and began to run the last yards.

She was not yet in official sanctuary territory. The manoeuvre had been clumsy enough to require her to stop in the relatively uncluttered field a hundred yards or so short. The crowds milling about, transferring to ships or cars, scattered about her, and more vigorously yet when bullets began to fly, stitching across the concrete almost beneath her feet. She ignored them. Tangline was the only thing that could be used to capture her in a state where she would be immediately useful to the matts, and a bullet would have to be a killing shot if they wished to stop her this close to her goal. Then, all they would likely benefit by would be her memory, which could at best be only a long term weapon against the Clan.

A burst of fire rang, out, and impossible pain sprouted in her right leg, just below the knee. She stumbled a few more steps, then fell awkwardly. She began to drag herself across the rough concrete, scraping her hands, and snagging her clothes. She waited for them to come for her, as she inched painfully forwards, shattering fingernails for every inch she gained.

The waiting seemed to go on forever, and at last, she turned her head to look behind her. The two matts who had left their car to follow her afoot had stopped., and were slinging their weapons. Between them and her, a yellow line was painted on the concrete, the borderline. The embassy steps were only ten yards beyond where she lay and there were too many Port security guards around to make a violation of neutrality worthwhile.

“Well done, Nancy,” one of them called, “You fight well. But that was only one battle. We're not finished; one day the Clans will be dispersed, Tell the Lady Jeanne that.”

Then he spoke again, in a louder voice, and not addressing her specifically.

“Hey! There's a girl here been shot. She's bleeding badly. Someone call a medic.”

And he saluted Nancy, and Nancy returned that salute, and then he and his companion turned and walked away.

Crazy honour. Better than we showed, though, My god — they may be right after all. Oh, let that be wrong. What a garbage heap my mind is.

In response to the call, and the flurry of events, two nurses came out of the Embassy, and gently laid Nancy on a stretcher, and took her through the great golden doors. Now that everything was resolved, and the Linkers in control, Nancy let herself faint from shock.

© Steve Gilham 2000