Learning to detect furtive scans isn’t that easy. It never is. It sometimes even happens that some fail with it. The Major had confidence in Beth. He just needed to figure out how to describe to her what she might feel: it is something one knows without really knowing it. From a Dalygaran point of view, that of a native empathist, it was something rather understandable. But Beth is an Earthling and he had to use her system of references. Again, he asked her to use the relaxation techniques that Nori had taught her and to trust her instincts to protect the house that is her mind. “An odorless gas is coming inside, feel the danger… It isn’t undetectable; your instincts know there’s something abnormal. You know without really knowing it. Listen to your instincts. Bolt your door, build your brick wall.”
Beth ended up feeling this danger, a threat upon her mind, a presence that was trying to hide.
“I’m hunting a ghost,” she thought to herself.
The Major wanted to end the training with the bolting contrary, which is an invitation to let one mind be led by another. This was how they had both escaped Dalygaran while the Major still had the movement disactivator around his neck. But there was no way. Beth did not succeed in opening her mind enough to allow the Major to guide her this time. She had the impression of betraying her partner, of not living up to expectations. “It’s been two days I’ve been asking you to bolt everything, Beth. Maybe carrying on with such opposing exercises wasn’t a good idea. I apologize for imposing this on you. We’ll work on this later. I know you can do it. You’re not even aware of the speed at which you’re learning. Less than a day for a furtive scan, it’s an achievement.”
On their third day on Frigellya, still in the shelter with Mira and Reymo, the four are together analyzing the data from the poisoning of the water on Dalygaran by a group of rebels. They had already identified four of them: Rigo, Tilean, the famous Inissina, and his wife Ardeen. It was Ardeen that Beth had “incapacitated”, as she maintains. These four were known mercenaries. Though they were rather fond of money and could sometimes be violent, they didn’t have the profiles of murderers. It was obvious that one or several persons were pulling the strings. And the track that Mira and Reymo had been following crossed that of the attack on the king’s son in Mesopotamia. Both tracks led back to the Palace. It was why the emergency protocol was set. It was very bad news.
Beth: And you suspect someone?
Reymo: We suspect everyone. In short, we flounder…
Mira watching at the control screen shouts suddenly: “They’ve been located.”
Reymo: Show me that…
It’s his turn to read the data on the screen. Quickly, the mercenaries’ conversation transcription is displayed.
Mira: They’re here, on Frigellya, the mercenary quartet.
The Major: Your strategy?
Mira: Arrest them. They’re already responsible for many deaths. We’ve no time to build a strategy to find the silent partner.
Beth: If the silent partner is at the Palace, a little leak would lead him or her to make a mistake.
Reymo: I wouldn’t dare it. The silent partner must be someone very radical. If he or she feels in danger, he or she’ll just get rid of the problem.
In the face of Beth’s questioning look, Reymo specifies: “He or she will kill the four mercenaries.”
Mira: They must be arrested as discreetly as possible. We’re counting on your help Major.
Beth: And me?
Mira: You’re not going anywhere. You stay here. No Frigellyan except us knows about your existence in this shape. We even drugged our own instructor to keep it secret.
The Major: And I drugged Ardeen so she’d forget we were two. I hope she still does.
Beth: Everybody seems to agree then.
The Major: Don’t make this face.
Beth: I know, on a mission I’ve to follow instructions. It’s just, if I’m going to be alone, I’d like to draw. It relaxes me…
Reymo: I’ll activate the big screen in drawing mode.
Beth: Thank you.
He gives her the electronic pencil.
Mira: Let’s go. Major, take a seat in our transporter, as you’re coming with us.
Discreetly, Mira holds a little device in Beth’s direction, then hides it in one of her pockets.
The Major: The combat room?
Reymo: We know we can freely talk there, and Nori’s home with a splitting headache. Side effect of the drug we gave him.
The Major: A debriefing without Beth being present, eh?
Mira: Major, we’re going to ask you to be a bait. You’re living together, and she’s human…
The Major: I could have explained it to her, you know.
Reymo: We do. But as more time goes by, the risk of them vanishing increases.
The Major sighs. He is human too now. His Dalygaran nature remains dominant but all these contradictions he has never had to deal with before sometimes exhaust him. “They’re right,” he thinks to himself. “Time is short and persuading Beth wouldn’t have been easy.” He answers,
– I understand.
Reymo: Right. You’re Beth and you’re visiting Frigellya. You’ve not met the three individuals you saw on Dalygaran yet. You’ll cross their way. You won’t pay attention to them. It’s going to intrigue them. We know for sure, thanks to our listening devices, that they’re just back from Dalygaran. That’s what I read a few moments ago. We’ll improvise according to their reaction. You’re a tourist. Behave like a… female tourist. Because you’re really going to take on her skin.
Mira takes the little device out of her pocket.
Mira: This is a morpher. Beth’s human shape is set inside.
The Major: Do you think the mercenaries know her earthling shape?
Reymo: The only Frigellyans who have seen her, saw her in both shapes. This includes the masked man in Mesopotamia. She committed the mistake of showing herself to him.
Mira: Look at this beautiful bracelet you’ll have. The red stone is a button. Push it to take Beth’s human shape. Push it again to go back to your travel body shape.
The Major puts the bracelet around his wrist and pushes on the red stone.
Mira: Wow! Even knowing what I know… it’s amazing. But, avoid speaking when you’re outside. It doesn’t change the voice.
The Major: All right.
Reymo: Here’s your route.
He holds a tablet in his hand and shows the Major a map.
Reymo: We know the four mercenaries are there. They seem to have much money to spend on drinks and cards. There’s a holographic exposition in front of them on the other side of the street. Take your time to watch it. They have to notice you before you go on. You’ve got to allay their suspicions by wandering in a relaxed way. If they try to test you, don’t recognize them and answer them with your most charming smile.
The Major: Copy.
Reymo: If they follow you, lead them calmly to us, here. The gate is easily recognizable. We hope they’ll be curious enough to cross after you. At that moment they’ll be ours. Do you still have the regulator on you?
The Major: I do.
Mira: We’ll send you to an adjacent street. Here.
And she points a finger on the tablet.
Reymo: It’s your show now. Do I send the coordinates?
The Major: Send them!
The Major, in the shape of Beth Smith from Earth, is nonchalantly wandering the Frigellyan streets. As he was instructed, he takes his time to watch the holographic exposition. Actually, he is looking for every reflective surface that might help him see the four mercenaries’ reactions. He quickly spots the places where he can see them without being noticed. According to the unrest he can observe, he says to himself that the fish is on the hook. He decides to carry on with his route.
On the other side of the road, the mercenaries are confused.
Ardeen: I tell you it’s her. I may have forgotten what happened on Dalygaran, but I’ve read her file.
Tealean: What is she doing here?
Ardeen: Tourist, apparently.
Inissina: You put a movement disactivator collar on her, though…
Ardeen: She was in her Dalygaran travel body shape, and we were in her era. It might be we haven’t met yet, from her viewpoint, I mean.
Rigo: What do we do?
Inissina: We pay our bill, and we follow her. Discreetly.
The Major, following the two Frigellyans’ instructions, leads them slowly to the porch. He goes through.
Outside, the four accomplices hesitate.
Inissina: Does anybody know what’s back there?
Ardeen: Most certainly a courtyard. We’re losing her.
Rigo: We should wait for her here.
Inissina: What makes you think she’s going to get out of there the same way?
Tilean: Let’s be tourists as well. We’re allowed to get lost too. Let’s go in…
And the little group passes through the door.
Ardeen: An ordinary tourist, but one who has certainly got some advice about places of interest. Look, she’s over there in front of a flower shop…
Then suddenly everything vanishes and rather cold walls appear instead.
Mira: What do you think of our holographic projection? You can take your own shape now.
The Major pushes the red stone for the second time.
Inissina: What’s this?
The Major: A trap, I’d say.
Ardeen: You know who we are?
The Major: Oh, yes. I was the bait.
Inissina: You can’t detain us. We’ve got a very clever boss, and our own little tricks too. If we get caught, we just have to push on this button to be sent to a safe place. Goodbye.
They all disappear in a flash of blue light.
Mira: Ughh! We’ve been had, like newbies. It looks like we’re not going to arrest them today.
Reymo: Didn’t you see the blue light Mira?
The Major: Yes, they are the ones who’ve been had like newbies. They’re all dead.
Mira: The blue light. So that is it?
Reymo: Neither Mira nor I’ve seen it before. It’s our first time.
The Major: Not me. And never will I forget it. The silent partner sent them to themselves: spatiotemporal loop. They vaporized.
Reymo: Was your cleaner on?
Mira: Yes, all in-coming and out-going signals have been recorded. We should be able to trace the track to the killer now… Let’s get back to our base.
Beth is very happy to see them back. But she can see the seriousness on their faces.
Beth: What happened?
The Major: Beth, we’re facing someone very dangerous. They’re all dead.
Then he raises his eyes to the screen. Mira and Reymo notice his sudden silence and turn to the big screen too. The Major whispers,
– It’s us.
Beth: Yes, when we were about to leave the Dalygaran forest for the Frigellyan shelter. You still have the disactivator around your neck. The mercenaries’re dead?
Mira: It’s magnificent.
Mira: The drawing, I mean. It’s…
Beth: … a gem, I grant you. But the mercenaries, how did they die?
The Major has trouble taking his eyes off the screen. Beth reproduced the Dalygaran forest around her in a realistic manner, with her back visible as he faces her. On his face she perfectly translated the total abandon he experienced with his partner, to let her guide them both.
Beth: Is someone going to answer me?
The Major shuts his eyes for a few moments before turning to Beth. He answers,
– Spatiotemporal loop. Two versions of the same person coming from and to the same time at the same place. Pschht, vaporized. Nobody can survive when sent to oneself.
Beth: That’s awful.
The Major: They thought they were being sent to a safe place. They didn’t have a chance. The silent partner decided to eliminate them if anything went wrong. Beth, I’m sorry to have led you here. This person is very dangerous.
Beth: You didn’t lead me anywhere. I knew that following a soldier on a mission would carry risks. But we can face them together and support each other. We’re a team, aren’t we?
The Major: Beth, you’re not a soldier…
Beth: I know that.
The Major: I’m not finished. You’re gifted. You’ve got amazing abilities and you’re clever.
But you ignore rules, especially those that can save your life in some situations. On a mission, or anywhere else, I would never, in my all life forgive myself if anything happened to you through my fault. But you’re perfectly right, we’re a team and I wouldn’t want any partner other than you for my missions. Together, we can be very effective. But you’ve got to learn a lot. The person we’re tracking today is one who takes advantage of others’ weaknesses. And lack of experience is one. It’s why I’m blaming myself for almost having taken you to him or her.
Beth: Technically speaking, I brought you here.
The Major: Beth, you’re impossible.
Beth: I know.
The Major: I blame myself, but I’m glad to have you by my side.
Mira: It’s contradictory.
Beth and the Major: It’s human!
Beth: You know that in case of danger, I will follow your instructions without any question.
The Major: Yes, I do.
Reymo, who during all this time was working to decipher the data recorded by the cleaner, suddenly shouts, interrupting the conversation.
It is with a voice that mixes incredulity and dread that he says: “The signal is from Nori’s private apartments.”
Mira: He couldn’t have done that. He’s in bed, with a horrible headache I gave him…
Reymo: Mira, it came from his home. There’s no doubt about it.
Mira: Let me see that… Bloody hell, you’re right.
The Major: Does Nori live alone?
Reymo: No, he’s got a wife.
The Major: No kids?
Reymo: No kids, just a wife.
Mira: She? So Machiavellian? I can’t believe it. She’s more this kind of subd… Oh, my Gritchack. The last person to be suspected indeed.
Beth: Do you think it’s her?
Mira: Unless they’ve got a surprise guest, and with Nori being sidelined, it can only be her.
Reymo: We have to arrest her now.
Mira: Major, we’d like you to stay here with Beth. If something happens to us, someone has to be able to testify.
The Major: I understand. Is there any means to observe what’s going to happen?
Mira: I’m going to wear a little camera. You’ll see it all from here via a secure channel.
Mira fixes a badge to her blouse.
Mira: You may wear yours too.
Reymo: These are our royal guard officer’s badges. Mira’s has a little camera inside. We rarely wear them. But for an arrest at the Palace, I think it’s quite appropriate…
“Frigellyan,” thinks Beth.
Mira puts on the camera.
Mira: Here’s the picture on the screen. We’re going.
As they stand in front of Nori’s apartment, Reymo rings the bell. The door opens. It is Nori’s wife who welcomes them.
Mira: Good afternoon Alie. May we come in?
Alie looks at them without a word for a few moments. She stares at their badges. Then with a biting tone she says,
– Oh, so you recorded the signal. I should have known.
Reymo: Alie, you don’t even try to deny… What did you do, for Gritchack’s sake?
Alie: What did I do? I made their lives hell. The Royal Couple and their disgusting happiness: their palace, their reign, their son. Everything I didn’t have … It’s my Nori who should have been King, not his silly goose sister’s husband. Oh, having seen their reign fall to pieces during this war was a real enjoyment. It’s been so easy to blow on the embers. And when they finally got their offspring, when I never could, there was no way I could let them enjoy it. When they tried to hide him in space and time, I arranged it so they would never find him again. I just had to tamper with the coordinate calculator. The Queen thought all her life she mistook them as she wrote them down, when they just were false.
Then I had to be sure to take care of the nanny. And the brat would have had no more link with this planet. Then I saw them suffering like I suffered…
Mira: Come on, what did you really suffer from?
Alie: Just having the leftovers. I was the instructor’s nice wife. The one nobody noticed. This Palace had to be mine.
Reymo: Why did you poison the Dalygaran water?
Alie: Oh, this epidemic went beyond all my hopes. It was to keep this girl, this time traveller in a Dalygaran body, busy. I wanted to distract her from her mission for Frigellya. She didn’t react as I expected. She dealt with our case first. She led us to the King’s son. But the incompetents I sent there to get rid of this problem once and for all let themselves be caught. Happily, they didn’t know that much. But I succeed in knowing what they knew. I’ve got a copy of the investigators’ files, with such pretty pictures inside. This girl in her Dalygaran travel body, and in her human shape…
Mira: You’ll have to follow us.
Alie: It’s out of the question.
Then she realizes her husband is in the room. He stands in a state of shock and disbelief.
Alie: Since when have you been here?
Nori: I tried to get up as soon as I heard the bell. I’ve been here long enough. My Gritchack, what did you do?
Alie: I did it for you.
Nori: You killed people for me? You’re totally mad!
Alie: Oh yes, I was mad to think you deserved all this. I deserved it. But you won’ get me. Nobody will. Can you see this wrap? It’s the same that my dead accomplices had. Goodbye.
Mira and Reymo: No!
And she disappears in a flash of blue light.
Nori: She escaped…
Mira: No, Nori. She committed suicide. She sent herself to herself. Spatiotemporal loop. It’s deadly.
Reymo: The Major confirmed this sort of blue light flash was a spatiotemporal loop.
Nori: The Major?
Mira: You’ll remember him later…
Tears run down Nori’s cheeks.
Nori: I didn’t see any of this coming.
Reymo: Nobody did.
Nori: All these deaths for a Palace? I never wanted to be king.
Mira: You’re not responsible for that.
Nori: She was my wife, my own wife. The one I always wanted to have a child with. The one I would have given my life for.
Mira: Nori, I don’t know what to say. It’s a very bad surprise for all of us, I think.
Nori: I need to clear my mind. But not here. I’m going to look for a quiet place in the gardens. I think I’m going to need you in the next while. I’d like to take service again, I mean going on a mission.
Mira: Nori, you know you can always count on us.
Reymo: Always Nori.
Nori: I thank you. Go and do you report to whom you have to now. Go…
Reymo and Mira first go to the shelter.
The Major and Beth look at them in silence. Everybody seems to be sad.
Beth: All those dead people on Dalygaran, this is my fault…
Mira: Beth you didn’t kill anyone, we’re the only ones responsible for your abilities, remember. Major, we’re so sorry. We’ll give our report to the Royal Couple. It seems that Frigellya owes a lot to your planet now.
The Major: Yes, I suppose. But you’ve already paid a large part of it.
The Major: Beth allowed—even unwillingly—a number of Dalygarans to survive the first epidemic. Our planet as it is today, I mean in our present, wouldn’t have existed without the abilities to travel you gave her.
Beth: Nothing’s black, nothing’s white.
The Major: Nevertheless, if a technological cooperation could ease your conscience…
Mira: You’ve your head screwed on right, you … We’ll talk about this with our Great Council.
The Major: I’m looking forward to their decision. Beth, let’s go back to Dalygaran.
Beth: I’d like to visit Frigellya. I can go out of here now, right?
Mira: Listen, I think your security is assured inside the Palace now, but, outside, it’s not certain. You’d better not go out in your Dalygaran shape. You’d attract too much attention, be too easily noticed.
Reymo: To wander in Frigellya you may both change your shapes, even you Beth. Showing yourself in your real human shape wouldn’t be wise.
Mira: But we can consider doing it though.
The Major: I don’t think…
Beth: Please. I’m dying to take a walk around the town…
The Major: A walk around the town, a rest and then we go back to Dalygaran tomorrow morning, right?
The Major: Whose appearances are we going to take then?
Beth: Wait a minute, how do we take the appearance of someone else?
The Major: With a morpher.
In front of Beth’s questioning look, Mira tries an explanation.
Mira: Morphers are bracelets containing a person’s appearance. They work almost like the revelators, except that when you push the button, it’s the shape inside the bracelet that’s shown. The main difference between the two devices is that the voice remains the same.
The Major: It’s how we trapped the mercenaries earlier. I was in your human shape.
Beth: Really? I’d like to have seen that. But tell me, how is it possible I’m in one of your bracelets?
Mira: We just recorded you before we went away.
Beth: Without telling me of course.
Mira: Yes, time was short…
The Major: Beth, if I hadn’t the certainty you’d have approved of this, I wouldn’t have done it. It was out of the question to use you as bait, and I’m trained for this sort of thing.
Beth: You’d have convinced me… and you had to do it fast.
The Major: That’s it.
Beth: Right, granting that’s the case…
Beth: So, who are we going to be disguised as then?
Reymo: We’ve got a character bank at our disposal. We should be able to find a guy and a girl about your ages.
Reymo turns on the screen, always with the same finger movements. Mira brings two bracelets out of a drawer like the one she gave to the Major earlier. As before, one of the bracelets has a red stone as a button, but the other a green one.
She pushes on the red stone first and the blueprint of the bracelet displays on screen. With quick movements of her hand she pushes on several menus and male faces display in front of her. She slides one of the faces toward the bracelet picture. She pushes another time on the red stone. The picture disappears from the screen. She gives the first bracelet to the Major.
She does exactly the same thing with the green stone bracelet, choosing a face among a sample of female ones. And she gives the bracelet to Beth.
Mira: There’s only one button on these bracelets. They are the colored stones, red for you Major and green for you Beth. One push, and you change shapes; a second one and you come back to your initial one. We have to find someone to go with you, for your safety, and you may even appreciate someone able to show you places of interest. We’ll say you’re the Queen and the King’s guests, whom we’re taking for a walk around the town. Right?
Mira: One more thing: you’re both invited tonight at the royal couple’s table.
The Major: We’re honored.
Mira: If you wish to get some rest before the dinner, your room is ready. It’s the same one as last time, Beth.
Beth: Thank you.
Reymo: Push on your buttons now. I’ll take you to the Palace with the transporter. Your guide is waiting for you.
Beth: Let’s go for a bit of tourism.