Reymo and Mira look very embarrassed.
Mira: It’s our King’s son, actually. We are in charge of finding him.
Beth: What? The King’s son? What the hell are you talking about?
Reymo: Beth, I assure you, it’s not a lie. I’m going to tell you how it works on our planet. Well, a monarch, whether it is a man or a woman, is elected by the people. The reign’s duration is limited to 50 Frigellyan years, about 150 years on Earth, but the monarch may decide if he or she wants to leave before the term ends. The monarch can nominate one of his or her children for succession. In this manner there had been a few familial reigns. However, anyone can have the opportunity to lay claim to the throne. But the people have to be convinced by the candidate’s skill in leadership. Currently, the King’s rivals have already made their move, and only one candidate stands to gain the throne. Without an opponent, his election is almost certain.
Beth: What do I have to do with this story? You should find someone to stand against the King’s opponents, it’s not my business. I don’t need to get involved in your internal affairs.
Sylvester: I can’t believe what I’m hearing. What did you have in mind?
Mira: Please understand us. It has been many Frigellyan years since we began to look for the Dauphin. He’s got a mother and a father who don’t know what has happened to their child. Beth, with her ability to scan planets, is a real hope for us to succeed at last. Beyond all the political gamesmanship, the King and the Queen are parents, just like others whose dream is to find and get back their child.
Beth: You should have told me the truth straightaway. If you want my help, you mustn’t hide anything from me.
Reymo: Oh, Beth, we have no more time for secrets. We came to you because you’re in great danger. Things are getting complicated on Frigellya. It seems that the King’s rival faction knows of your existence and the mission we’ve given you. They are going to try to stop you by any means.
Paul: You’re completely reckless having her exposed to… political danger. She’s a 25th-century human being! She has nothing to do with your intrigues.
Mira: We know that. But if she doesn’t want to end her life locked up somewhere on our planet, she’d better find the King’s son, and quick. If she gets caught, she won’t be able to complete her mission for the Dalygaran people.
Reymo: Beth, we know how much you want to provide assistance to these people. But it would be better that you settle our problem first. Once the King’s son is found, the rival faction would have no choice then but to accept the new context for the election. And they won’t have any reason to seek to harm you anymore.
Silence settles over the group. The two Smiths put up an annoyed look, while Beth seems impervious. As for the two Frigellyans, they are sheepishly waiting for someone to say something.
Paul: I hope nobody knows you’re here…
Reymo: We took all the precautions we could when we came here. We wouldn’t want to lead anybody to Beth.
Sylvester: You said yourself that Beth’s existence was known to people who shouldn’t know of her.
Mira: It’s why we work just as a pair on this affair. The King has given us a blank check to do what is necessary; it frees us from having to report to anyone. We update the royal couple directly on the latest news, as far as we can, for we distrust their circle. We think the leak has come from there, after we informed them of the possibility of finding their son soon, thanks to Beth.
Silence takes over again. Beth is ambivalent: these people lied to her, why should she help them as a priority? On the other hand, if she were prevented from providing assistance to Dalygaran, she would be cross with herself for the rest of her life. So, she thinks, she will have to deal with this business of the son first. Reluctantly, she accepts the situation.
Beth: I’ll take the case of the King’s son, to back up my mission for Dalygaran.
Paul: I hope, for your sakes, nothing regrettable will happen to her. Should the opposite occur, Sylvester and I would hold you accountable for it. And I’m going to tell this you nicely—you won’t have to face the Frigellyan Great Court in case of a problem, but rather a much higher authority: The Universal Great Court.
Reymo: The Universal Great Court?
Sylvester: Epsilons’ justice.
Mira and Reymo look at Sylvester and Paul somewhat frightened. There is no justice greater than that of the Epsilons, those of the level-5 planets, the universe’s highest level. Being tried by a higher level court, besides being a great and rare event, is moreover reserved for only the most serious of faults. For people like Mira and Reymo, to be summoned to such a court would be the worst form of decline.
Mira answers them drily.
Mira: No need to threaten us.
Paul: This is not a threat, but information. You’re now responsible not only for Beth Smith’s security, but for that of Dalygaran’s future as well. Many lives depend on you. You will be given no quarter in this regard. Am I clear?
Beth: Listen, I’m sure everyone wants to do the right thing, but pressure is not necessarily a good motivator. Paul, Sylvester, despite their lies, I think we can trust Mira and Reymo. You know the abilities I had developed on Dalygaran, and I have the certainty I’ll be safe with them. As the essential tool to their success, I believe I am their most precious asset.
Mira: I wouldn’t have said it like that, but yes, for the moment you’re what we value as most precious.
Beth: And don’t forget, I adapt quickly. Shall we try time scanning?
Reymo: Now? How many space leaps have you done till now?
Beth: 5 or 6. I was breaking myself in.
Reymo : You’re in a travel-body. Your mind has to be released in order to be able to scan.
Beth: So I have to be a mind again.
Sylvester: We don’t have any extraction pill at hand.
Beth: There are some on Dalygaran, but I don’t want to go back there without the morning star.
Mira: The morning star?
Sylvester: It’s the plant that’ll save Dalygaran and which Beth has to look for in their past.
Silence reigns for a few moments.
Paul: We’ve got an extractor.
Sylvester: Don’t even dare think it. It’s dangerous. We can lose her.
Paul: I know. We just have to find a means to control time so it’ll be safe.
Beth: Would you mind explaining this to me?
Paul: The extractor allows your mind in the travel-body to release as though it was your own human body. Except that you have to preserve the two connections, with the travel-body and your real body; moreover, the second body has to be re-entered first and before a limited time. It’s quite technical.
Beth: I’m afraid I didn’t understand…
Sylvester: The extractor acts on your travel-body as an extraction pill would: it releases your mind. The difference is that when you return, you have to go back to your travel-body and not your human body. The danger is in the return. The extractor’s effect is limited in time and you have to come back before it fades. If you don’t succeed in returning to your travel-body in time, you won’t be able to reach your human one anymore either. Your mind will be lost. There will be no more Beth Smith.
Beth: Hmmm… that sounds quite tempting.
Mira and Reymo look at each other.
Reymo: We can’t ask you to do that.
Beth: Rest assured, I don’t wish to be lost. But let me ask a few questions. How much time will I have if I use… this thing?
Paul: No more than an hour.
Beth: Mira, Reymo, how much time do I need to scan Earth and its different eras?
Mira: It all depends on where the Dauphin is. One hour mightn’t be sufficient.
Beth: Paul, Sylvester, would it be possible to receive a return signal that my human body won’t be able to notice?
Paul and Sylvester look at each other and smile.
Paul: Beth, you’re a genius. The answer is yes. Your travel-body is a machine. We can send micro-signals that your human body can’t feel, but they’ll be perceived by your travel-unit. It should be enough to disturb the connection with your mind and make you come back within the hour each time.
Beth: Let’s have a try.
Sylvester: Are you sure?
Sylvester: In that case, I’m going to bring it.
Sylvester leaves the room for a while and comes back with a sort of diadem. Meanwhile, Paul goes to seek something with which to send electric micro-signals.
Sylvester: The extractor must surround your forehead. I keep the activator with me.
Beth: It looks like a small remote control.
Sylvester: It is. Here, Paul is coming back.
Paul is holding a sort of big box covered with buttons.
Paul: Beth, the extractor has an immediate effect. As soon as Sylvester activates it, your mind will be released. We are going to proceed as so: when you’re released, you’ll go a bit away and begin to count, a calm way, no need to hurry. When you feel the signal, come back. If you count up to 30 and don’t feel anything, come back. Go lie on the couch now.
And so Beth does. She goes and comes back after having counted 30.
Paul: I sent too weak a signal, even for the machine. I’ll proceed with a little correction. Here it is… Let’s do it again. Sylvester, Beth, at 3.
Sylvester: One, two, three!
And he presses the remote control again.
Paul counts in his head.
And he pushes one button on his box. Beth comes back.
Beth: I think I felt it this time.
Paul: Oh yes.
Everybody in the room smiles. Mira discreetly applauds.
Paul: Again. Lie down please.
Beth comes back at 30, crestfallen.
Paul: Stay lying.
Beth: I didn’t feel anything.
Paul: I didn’t send anything.
Beth: So funny.
Beth comes back this time just after Paul has pushed the wonder button. He is frankly smiling.
Paul: We can get down to serious things now.
Reymo and Mira, who had been standing a little apart, draw closer.
Mira: Here is how you may proceed. You have to begin by winding out space. Stay in your era and scan the Earth. This might be done without any effort. Then, from this place at this era, make time wind out. When you combine both, it’ll require of you the most energy. The print we implanted in you will activate when the corresponding signal is detected. According to what we know of you, you’ll make out the link by yourself.
Beth: Will I?
Mira: Yes, when the time comes, you’ll know.
Paul: Ok. Now here is the protocol. We proceed with 30-minute sessions, so we take no risks at all. Beth, you scan, and come back at the signal.
Beth lies down again, and the scan begins. She comes back empty-handed twice.
The third session is interrupted after 10 minutes.
“That’s it. I found him!”
Triumphant, she sits, then stands swiftly and collapses.
Paul: Nice catch, Sylvester.
Sylvester: Thank you. Will somebody deign help me lay her on the couch again?
Paul comes to his assistance. He takes a little probe out of his pocket and passes it over Beth’s face, while pushing on a button.
Paul: She is exhausted. I should have suspected it. We all should have. More than one hour scanning. What the hell were we thinking?
Nobody says one word for long minutes. Then Beth begins to toss and turn on the couch.
Paul: Shhhh. Don’t move. You need rest.
“How can a machine have such a weakness?” she manages to whisper.
Paul: That’s your mind that is exhausted, and if your mind is exhausted, it isn’t able to control this body anymore. You have to save your strength Beth.
And she tries to stand up.
Reymo: Beth, you have to rest.
She tries again.
Mira: How stubborn you are!
Sylvester comes up to the sofa, sits at the very edge of it and takes Beth’s hand.
Sylvester: Beth, your determination to help people mustn’t put you in danger. You’re a time traveller now. It doesn’t matter, then, when you can stand up to help Mira and Reymo. You have to soothe your mind first. It’s given a lot during the scans, so going on right now isn’t an option. You’ve got to take a break.
Beth smiles at him and falls asleep almost immediately.
Sylvester: That’s it!
Mira: You’re… amazing Mr. Smith.
Sylvester: We’ve been treating her like a lab rat. Maybe it’s time to treat her as a human being. She’s gifted, but she’s worth warmth attention…
Mira: … and love.
Sylvester: So, you know that word?
Paul: I don’t want to hear anything else. Mira, Reymo, understand that Beth is, in a way, our protégé. We’ve a lot of affection for her. But Sylvester is right, we treated her like a lab rat. We experimented the extractor on her.
Mira: I admit, we somewhat forgot her humanity.
Paul: While she’s resting, would you explain to us how you see the next step?
Reymo: The next step?
Paul: She found your Dauphin, but she was a mind. She didn’t take any compass with her. Only her mind could find the way.
Mira: Her mind pilots the travel-body. She’ll find him again now that she’s seen where he is, don’t you think?
Paul: You’re right. She’s so gifted. This revelator you gave her, it’s a polymorph unmasker, isn’t it? The square button is supposed to give the Frigellyan authorities an alert, when you unmask one, correct?
Mira: We altered it. The alert reaches us, and only us. We have already lost the Dauphin once, we don’t want to lose our only chance to find him. It’s a direct connection this time. Not a print recognition. She pushes the button and here we are.
Paul: It seems perfect. You’ve just got to wait she awakes.