Laughter-spiked lunchtime chatter rose and fell in the White Ox, and the large room, rustic with exposed beams and wainscotting, smelled of meat pies and damp wool.
Cen, however, faced away from the convivial crowd and barely registered his surroundings.
He perched on a stool at a scarred, wooden counter fronted by thick, wavy glass down which twisted drops of rain. Small electric cars surged silently round the circus beyond like so many multicolored hamsters, a bright contrast to the grim stone buildings encircling the road. Cen absently washed down the slightly burnt crunch of grilled sardines with a swig of warm, bitter ale. When he picked up his pen it activated the screen of his notebook, which flashed once, signalling readiness. Then something disturbing caught his eye; he glanced through the steamy window and frowned.
Yes, it was Smith, tromping up the hill with a crowd. Everyone in it carried dripping black umbrellas, which they folded in decisive unison as they approached the White Ox.
The heavy wooden door next to him creaked open and the laughing, chattering group rushed in with a gust of wind. Cen turned away and hunched over his screen but it was no use.
"Cen!" Smith, blond, tall, and expensively tweeded, broke from the crowd and squeezed between some tables to get to him. She was panting slightly and Cen blinked; her perfume always made his eyes burn.
"Join us for lunch, Cen, all right?"
He gestured toward his empty plate, a sinking feeling in his stomach. "I'm about done, Judy. I really have to get back." He pushed back his stool and stood.
"Oh, nonsense," she said. She was very attractive, actually. She had what Cen believed was called strawberry blonde hair, slightly curly, which gave her bangs an unruly look. Her complexion was beautifully pale, her cheeks invariably flushed beneath large blue eyes. Cen had found that she was not at all used to having people disagree with her.
She glanced at the blank screen. "Thinking hard, I see."
Wouldn't you like to know? Nettled, he reached into his pocket and tossed some coins on the table. "I'm finished, I said." He swept the notebook into his bag and cinched it shut.
Judy tilted her head; nodded sharply. "Fine, Cen. We can do this your way. Please meet me in my office at 4:30 this afternoon. I'll expect a written report and your files for the last month. Unadulterated, please." You're on thin ice, her eyes said.
He glanced over at the large round table where her group was settling in. Hibritten raised his hand and signalled for their usual pitchers; Silverstein yanked off her gloves and tossed them onto the table, leaned back, and, seeing Cen, smiled and motioned him over.
When he first arrived at Oxford, he loved these informal lunch gatherings. Every single one had opened doors in his mind, showed him new ways to look at the information he already had, seemed to be pushing him closer and closer toward Kaiulani, toward a way to see her again, toward a way to control that experience. Here at the center of the world of quantum physics and cosmology Cen had found an undercurrent of quiet, yet powerful excitement, like the energy of a gathering wave. He began to think of his past meetings with Kaiulani like a surfboard, a vehicle holding information with which he could catch the edge of that wave and ride it with breathtaking speed, when the moment came, to an entirely new shore. There was a greater and greater consensus that existence was almost unimaginably strange. The question which had run through Heisenburg's mind, again and again, after his many talks with Bohr--"Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in those atomic experience?" now had a definitive answer.
Take just one thing--Bell's Interconnectedness Theorem, which proved that physical reality can only exist in a milieu of faster-than-light information.
And that this milieu is the ordinary world of objects, is . . . created, if you will, by information coming from somewhere else . . . superluminally. Faster than light!
This fact had not been in dispute for over fifty years. But what did it really mean?
Cen was convinced that this basic fact had something to do with his connection to Kaiulani.
During the first weeks after his arrival, an international conference had been taking place. Cen had been delighted when Judy, Dr. Judith Smith, had taken him under her wing and made sure that he tagged along. He could hardly believe that he was actually in the presence of people whose proofs and papers he had pored over, some of whom were Nobel laureates. He watched, thrilled, as arguments and discussions were punctuated by cosmological luminaries shoving their dishes aside and sketching on the tablecloth; he'd volunteered his spiral notebook whenever he could after he saw that and now one precious notebook was filled with wild speculation about tachyons and how time may have begun--if it ever had . . .
That was before he discovered that Judy worked for IS.
It had been an accident, really. He'd been in her office, waiting for her, when the tiny angled screen on her desk lit with a picture of a man. He said, "Dr. Smith, this is Ed Nicholman from London Interspace. Please return my call as soon as possible." In the middle of the message she entered the room; she pretended that nothing had happened, but she knew that he knew.
He had felt like an idiot.
He encoded all the work he did on what he called the Kaiulani Proofs, of course, but anything encoded could be decoded. Judy saw his course work, nothing more. He was "working" on a doctoral problem which he'd solved long ago; he fed her bits of it whenever she demanded something, but spent all of his time using the magnificent resources at hand to solve the problem the facts of his own life posed. He wondered if and when Smith would explode and baldly remind him of the deal he'd made with IS.
He shrugged on his coat, waved at Silverstein, shouldered his bag, and walked out into the rain.
A cold wind whipped it into his face. Poor Kaiulani, sent from paradise to this dank climate. No wonder she was always sick.
She was constantly in his thoughts. He worried about her as if she were alive, as if worrying might do some good. She was homesick. She was asking for a bit more money, quite politely. She was writing about her course work--mathematics, languages, politics, history. She was asking about the situation at home, because the letters from Hawaii were so strange and cryptic, telling her to trust no one.
On impulse he turned and walked toward the underground station. Oxford was for all intents and purposes a part of London now, linked by the underground and taxed accordingly.
Cen mused as he walked, splashing through puddles heedless of his increasingly soaked feet. He had heard rumors that IS had other students at Oxford too, and around the world, working on all sorts of problems. Genetic engineering. Nanobiology, nanotechnology. Every once in awhile he relaxed enough to download some generic news, where something about the moon colony which was getting up and running again was invariably featured. The moon colony, and the generation ship which would be built from the moon base, was the prize of Interspace. There were many investors. And many naysaying alarmists. Some argued that it was too commercial, with its proposed pleasure and shopping dome; they were countered by those showing greatly enhanced revenue projections which could be used to speed up the progress of the generation ship. Only rarely were there investigative stories trying to hint at a dark side to IS. Try following the hypertest links on that and see how far you got!
At the station he changed his mind suddenly and punched the icon for a topside train ticket to Victoria Station.
"You ought to get yourself a nice warm hat," scolded the elderly woman in line behind him. "You're a fool to go out in the rain with a bare head."
"You're right; thank you, ma'm," he said. I'm a fool period; you've hit the nail right on the head, old lady. The British amused him. Always so bossy and sure of themselves.
He didn't have long to wait. He munched on a packet of spicy dried bananas from a machine and washed them down with a can of hot, sweet tea. After seven minutes the train arrived and he climbed aboard: a local, and very old. He could only tell that the worn holographic mural on its side was of Windsor Palace because the title below was done in stubborn blue paint. At this time of day only a few passengers were scattered through his car.
The train slid through the backyards of the London suburbs, passed through the old stations; he liked watching the foreigners who lived in the various rings of settlement. They were a different mix than in Hawaii: Indians, Africans, Slavs, and the ghostly pale native Brits. In a neighborhood chiefly distinguished by astonishingly large piles of broken bottles in the streets he saw a knot of shiny-jacketed Plastic Lads hanging about beneath a gray awning. He stared with interest, but they were too far away for him to see if their bodies were as fantastically distorted via recreational surgery as the urban legend claimed. The train passed World Famous Mod Row--so proclaimed by a huge flashing banner--where illegal shops imitated in shlocky, often deadly ways, the various computer/human modifications which were spinoffs of the space program; where, probably, distant cousins of the bionan which had killed Mei, infinite generations ago, and in infinite variations, was sought by addicts. Beneath the gray sky, the holograms which shimmered in many languages, with accompanying pictures for the illiterate, were like beacons advertising joys and horrors which only religious promises could have matched in previous ages. A young woman danced in the rain, whirling as ecstatically as any dervish, wet face lifted to the rain, eyes closed, long red hair swirling about her, her abandoned shirt trampled beneath her feet. No one on the street paid her the slightest attention. Cen sometimes wondered if the previously elite apprehensions of the investigators of matter, which seemed more bizarre with each passing year, was now a zeitgeist seeping into society, one of madness, ecstasy, and fear.
As neighborhoods fanned slowly past, some drab, some elegant, the buildings became more massive; the streets more stately. Victoria Station swallowed the train at the end of the line, ushering it into the Industrial Age. The station was beautifully restored, though harboring its full complement of beggars and crazies. Housed here were shops of exclusive clothing, restaurants catering to international tastes, vending machines which would charge your notebook with any written information in existence, in any language, instantly translated to another if you so desired, at a speed dictated only by the size of your credit account.
Cen tried to ignore such things, preferring to try and see Victoria Station as Kaiulani may have, as a symbol of newness and speed at the apex of the England's greatest power, when she was part of an elite group of people whose power was about to vanish--the young royalty of the world.
However, if his theories were correct, it would be far more difficult for him to ever see Kaiulani in London than it had been in Hawaii. Just mapping out the physical locations where she had been was more complex by many magnitudes; Honolulu was tiny compared to London, and Kaiulani had lived in Hawaii for years. She had not been in London all that long.
He paused for a moment before stepping down from the train. One of Kaiulani's names, Victoria, came from her mother's invitation to Queen Victoria's Jubilee, where she had met the Queen. Of course, the Hawaiian court had been perfectly at home in London--for several generations Hawaiian royals had been making world tours. But they particularly liked the British and modeled the Hawaiian monarchy on the British. Not surprising considering that the British presence had been felt strongly in the islands well before the Americans arrived. How oddly amazed Cen's ancestors had been to find that the Americans did not play fair. They trusted the Americans until it was too late.
The station was a cauldron of activity, as usual. Trains arrived and left constantly, the smells of five kinds of ethnic cooking mingled in the cool air; a thousand people milled about, forming constantly changing currents through the crowd, shadows from the complicated strutworks above falling across it all and train schedules echoing incomprehensively as ever in English, Japanese, German, Mandarin. If someone was following him, Cen certainly had no way of telling in this crowded place.
He stood still in cavernous steel-strutted station, aching, short of breath. Kaiulani had most certainly been here, many times. She had been quite a traveller. How perfect a ruler she would have been--canny and worldly enough to be an effective stateswoman, at ease with many cultures, with wide enough vision to see just where Hawaii stood in terms of other nations, and how best the land could serve the people who had originally settled it. Just one visit to President Cleveland, in her Paris gown and smart ostrich-feathered hat, where she stated Hawaii's case with erudition and intelligence, filling the papers of the time with flowery peons of praise, had been enough to stave off annexation until his term ended. Cen thought of how the Hawaiians-- his people, however much he felt removed from the Homeland Movement--now suffered under the heel of a new oppressor, IS. Funny how he was beginning to feel a kinship with Maui, so far from home. He'd expected instead to feel further and further removed from that turmoil, from those oblique demands.
A bagpiper under a stone arch next to Cen began the cacophonous prelude to music; his pipes bleated mournfully. His beard was long and filled with bits of food; his clothes were ragged. As the first skirl got up to speed and issued from the pipes, Cen turned and thought he saw her.
A woman in an elegant, old-fashioned hoop skirt was climbing onto a train. A dainty folded umbrella hung from a strap on her wrist. Beneath a sweeping, fanciful green velvet hat decorated with several peacock feathers was piled dark curly hair, and he caught a glimpse of a classic, utterly familiar profile--
" Kai!" he yelled, and darted down the platform. The door slid shut behind her and the train pulled away slowly. He ran alongside, tears streaming down his face, hoping to see if it was her, really--
Panting, he slowed. He watched the end of the last car recede as it left the station. Then he watched the vanishing point of the tracks for a bit longer, and might have done so for an hour but for an obscuring fog which slowly gathered.
You are certifiable, he thought, as he trudged back into the station. Like a touchstone, he retraced the slim strand of memory which led back to his belief that he had seen her, long ago, not just imagined her. How long ago, Century Kalakaua? Soon it will be a decade. You're clinging to these beliefs like a child, aren't you? What's the point?
Yet his very presence here in London was proof that Interspace did not think his beliefs chimerical. They did not know the extent of his madness, of course, or his genius, whichever it might be and he believed the truth might lie closer to the former. They did not think that he was searching for a passage to his lost love; they did not believe as he did that it might be possible to transfer from one manifestation of what Vlinkin had called the multiverse to another virtually identical manifestation. They only wanted to know how to go very far, very fast, and how to predict the location of other livable planets.
But--was that so? This comprised the main edifice of Interspace endeavor; of this Cen was sure. Yet--the memory of Mei arose, for an instant, the last time he'd seen her alive, really alive, not the frightened sparrow IS had turned her into. Her last true words had been of wormholes, of doors in space and time. What had become of those in Interspace who had believed such things were possible?
They had sacrificed Mei. And how many others? Where were those people now, and how much influence did they have? Were they somehow keeping tabs on him?
He passed the bagpipe man again, pulled his credit squirt from his pocket--an object the shape of his enclosed hand, fitting naturally with it, with a separate sensor for each fingertip--activated it with his thumbprint, and transferred a pound with his index finger to the thick bracelet on the man's wrist across a gap of a foot. A green jewel on it flashed and the man glanced down and read how much Cen had given him; nodded brief thanks. Cen walked on, past the ticket counters and the tourist bureau, and emerged on the street. Just as in Honolulu, no private vehicles were allowed in the city center.
At least I'm missing my meeting with Dr. Smith, he thought. One good thing. He smiled. A very good thing indeed!
As usual, the London air was chill and dank. The street was lined with granite edifices, and newer glass towers; a few blocks ahead a row of leafless trees traced dark lines against the sky. He set himself on wander; he had no particular goal. He sneezed several times as he strode along, and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his nose. He couldn't remember ever having a cold before coming here and now he was constantly sick. In sympathy with Kaiulani? He realized that his thin raincoat was soaked. Perhaps he should heed his fellow traveller and buy a hat. Hats! He laughed out loud, drawing glances on the crowded street. Yes, she had a hat or two, hadn't she? The finest millinery to be found, the exotic feathers fashionable in Thomas Huxley's time arcing above her head, curving around and drawing the eye back to her fine face, with those direct dark eyes, lively with conviction and intelligence.
It had not been the Hawaiians who resented the Victorian-like reign of the royal family, back there at the end of the nineteenth century, he mused, but the American businessmen. Iolani Palace, in which they'd isolated Queen Lilioukalani after having her arrested on trumped-up charges, had been a fitting royal palace of its time. He well remembered slipping inside with a tour group one time, marvelling at the imported Italian marble floors, the crystal chandeliers, the throne room. They had probably been the most benevolent monarchs in history, and the most loved. Kaiulani's aunt Lilioukalani, he recalled, had agitated for a trans-Pacific phone line, and bitterly remarked after she was illegally deposed that it would not have been to the advantage of the American businessmen sharking after Hawaiian riches for her to be in easy contact with Washington when the fate of Hawaii was being decided. She had found it necessary to leave Honolulu and go to Washington herself several times, always travelling in state and staying in the finest hotels; her absences from her kingdom had not been beneficial either.
But--had he actually seen Princess Victoria Kaiulani, less than an hour ago?
Hands in pocket, head bent beneath cold drizzle, he walked farther, passing a large park of looping walks which vanished into hedges higher than his head. A man walking two Russian wolfhounds hurried past, looking away from Cen and turning into the park. Cen hoped the waterproofing on his bag was as good as the manufacturer claimed. He had nowhere to go, really; perhaps since he was in London he should go into a pub, turn on his notebook, and call up the maps which he'd painstakingly composed, which showed where Kaiulani had been, when, and for how long. The equation he'd derived from the curve of time and location, including the times and locations when he'd seen her, was there. But it was unfinished, hauntingly open, waiting for the addition of more variables before the chaos of it might settle into a predictable fractal. But once he had that information . . .
Heaven and ecstasy, for him, the byproduct of knowledge beyond the wildest dreams of most of the humans on this planet . . .
He shook his head as he walked, ridiculing himself. Why the hell should going to the places she had once set foot make a goddamned bit of difference? The worlds had whirled through infinities of space since then. Despite that, he had traced her path--the theaters chronicled in her letters; the museums; even the royal anterooms available to him via tours . . . wildly searching faces in all these places, always with odd despair-tinged hope, black self-ridicule . . .
He stopped, suddenly utterly weary. Within his mind the world devolved into bizarre topologies, into vibrating strings whose evidence of existence was traces of electromagnetic force left over from the big bang. Now he had a phenomenon--his love, no less--that he wanted to jam into all the theories which had been floating around unresolved for almost a hundred years, waiting for the unifying vision which would actually be able to use the information available at last to the conscious mind after infinities which lacked the singular, peculiar phenomenon of consciousness.
He realized that he was on a long, lonely, foggy stretch of wide stone walk punctuated at precise intervals by benches and gigantic leafless trees which receded into mist. Oak, by the look of the brown leaves blown against the walk's border in a sodden line. It was utterly hushed here, as if far out in the country. No Londoners. The sky had come down to earth. He might be in ancient Londinium, laid out in the midst of bird-wild marsh, while vengeful red-haired Queen Boadicea plotted to storm the city and drive the Romans out.
Boadicea had failed. The Homeland Movement, which he followed hopefully, at a distance in spite of his skepticism, would fail. Conquerors conquered; that was their job, their goal, their drive. They conquered and enslaved. It was the human way. And time went one way only; a good thing, actually. At least there was something about humans, about consciousness, which made it seem so. He, for one, would certainly not trade all the knowledge he had for the chance to live as an ancient Hawaiian.
But would he trade it for Kaiulani?
If he made it to her time . . . what would he know? What would he remember? How would he be changed?
A cold blast of wind hit him, sending a wild shiver through him. It was not wise to thumb his nose at Dr. Smith. But what could IS do, anyway? They thought his mind was their cash cow. As long as they were nice to him, as long as they had something to offer, like the finest education money could buy, he would be around. If he came to any conclusions, though, he had no real reason to turn them over. Were they counting perhaps on his scientific vanity? Look at me, Cen Kalakaua--I've thought of this! I want the world to know; I want a soft drink or VR game named after me! He had no illusions about monetary profits in that situation; the subject did not interest him, but IS would claim any and all profits for their own.
Well, they would continue to be disappointed.
He paused--did he hear footsteps behind him? Some spy of Dr. Smith following him? Then he almost laughed out loud. You are in a public place, idiot! There might be other people around.
Sometimes he felt as if he was on the other side of a very thin veil, and that Kaiulani was on the other side, hands pressed against some membrane which he could dissolve with knowledge. Rain swept over him again. Now he was he was utterly soaked. He kept walking, ignoring it. Perhaps he was in some sort of trough in the unfolding of the complex system humans called time. Soon he'd be caught in a swirling vortex and all things would become clear, during the infinite instant before he was sucked into a black hole, unable to communicate what he knew.
Ah, shit, he thought, I'm freezing. Just give me a cheap hotel, a shot of whisky, and a hot bath. Where did this damned mall lead, anyway? Where had he wandered to?
Into some part of London he'd never been to, he found, as shadowy buildings came into view and he walked toward them. Not a bit surprising. After all, he'd only been to the center of what was practically the largest city in the world half a dozen times.
He should plan to go next to Brighton. After all, that was where she had spent quite a bit of her years in England, being tutored in languages, mathematics, and history. Yes, that was it. The information he needed was in Brighton. London was a dead end. She hadn't really spent much time here, actually.
But his optimism was utterly shot. This was no way to go about things. He was trying to do two different things at once--work up a whole new theory of the nature of spacetime, and traipse around Europe searching for a ghost. But location was an important matrix. Fine, he told himself. And after Brighton you can head for Jersey, then Paris, Scotland, the south of France, various places in Germany, all the palaces and fine places where the she'd hung out with the other royals of the day. Won't Dr. Smith be interested in that! Trips to London wouldn't arouse suspicion. But all those other places . . . that was what had been holding him back. Of course, if he and IS weren't playing a shell game he could probably ask for the funds to do these things and they would gladly pay. But they knew nothing of his real concerns, and he had to keep it that way. And he had access to unlimited computer time, to luminaries in cosmology, physics, mathematics. The deal was that he would make all his thoughts available to them. He had no qualms about not keeping a deal with people he considered killers.
He felt so dense. What kind of information do you need? he asked himself. Your definition of the problem is wrong. You lack intelligence, the spark which will bring all this together. He wanted to weep. You're making yourself sick.
But--there was a clear record of where she had stayed, what she had done. She was forever having fine clothing made, but trying to stay within her budget. She had been shielded from the political events back home until it was revealed to her that her Uncle David had died, and that perhaps it was best for her to travel to Washington and meet President Cleveland, to try and sway him against the annexationists lobbying the Congress at that time. Cen wondered, not for the first time, if through research evidence could be found for the poisoning of the alii of Hawaii. It seemed pretty strange to him that not just one generation but several--from a two-year-old heir to Kaiulani's mother, many of her cousins, and aunts, and uncles--had all mysteriously died within a ten-year period. She herself had been only twenty-three when she died--of what? Bright's disease complicated by self-inflicted pneumonia, as the stories suggested, brought on by a wild gallop through a cold storm on Moana Loa's wintry slopes?
So what, Cen? She's dead. You can't do anything about all that now. If you could, now, just exactly what would you do?
A street of cozy-looking pubs resolved before him, their signs dripping. All bow windows, and dark wood inside, he knew, anachronistic as hell. He was caught by a sneezing fit and when it was over he was certain that to avoid pneumonia he had to have a hot bath and go to bed.
He paced more quickly down the wet street. Gas lamps flickered on, or at least good tourist imitations, and their lights shimmered on the cobblestones. He checked his watch. Well, it was pretty late in the afternoon. His stipend money should have been transferred to his account yesterday, and he certainly hadn't spent much money since he'd arrived in England. He passed two small hotels which looked much too elegant for his budget and went inside the third. It was still costly but he realized that he'd better stop or he might become truly ill.
The room was small, almost stiflingly full of chintz with monstrous pink flowers. But the bathtub, with dull brass fittings he actually had to fiddle with to adjust the temperature rather than punching it in digitally, was large enough for him to stretch out in, and then he made tea with the kettle, put his wet clothes over a chair by the radiator, and passed out on the bed with the quilt wrapped round him. He dreamed, as always, of Kaiulani, and then the dream splintered into planes of white light, which changed to particles . . .
He was awakened by the sound of sobbing.
He opened his eyes. First, he thought someone in his dream had been crying, but as he lay in the bed, he realized that the sounds were coming from the next room.
He heard a muffled knock, the click of a door opening, a voice: "No, I'm not coming to dinner tonight. No, I'm perfectly fine. Fine! Yes, maybe later." The door shut.
He sat up, electrified. It was, without a doubt, Kaiulani's voice, now with a cultured British accent.
He began to tremble, his mind flooded with intellectual implications which had not occurred to him when younger. What if he saw her, and it somehow changed history?
But he had seen her before, had he not, and as far as he could tell, history had not changed.
If it had, would he know it?
His clothes were still damp. Fine, he thought, pulling them on hastily. Does that mean I'm still in the same universe? What would that mean, anyway? Then his thoughts lost coherence, overwhelmed by immense joy which seemed to brighten all he saw--the mundane bed, chair, nightstand. Where was he, suddenly? Could it be true? After all these years?
He stepped into the hall, turned left. His footsteps made no sound on the flowered runner.
He stood in front of her door. He looked up and down the hall and saw no one. He raised his hand to knock. It was shaking. He heard muffled steps on the stairs and quickly rapped on the door.
There was no answer. The steps rounded the landing and began on the next flight. He knocked again, this time more boldly.
The door opened a crack, and Kaiulani looked straight into his eyes.
Her face was tilted upward, her exquisite golden skin a bit more pale than he remembered, her cheeks a delicate, natural pink. Dark curls fell across her forehead. "Yes?"
"Kai," he whispered, and grabbed her, held her close, and before even thinking kissed her wildly, quickly, and she was kissing him back--
He pulled her inside and shut the door, then was filled with an instant's confusion--perhaps had no idea of who he was--perhaps she thought him someone else? He was a man now; not a boy.
He needn't have worried.
"Cen!" Her voice was low and unsteady as she drew away. "What are you doing in London? Where have you been all these years?"
In another universe, of which there are an infinite number, he thought.
He let go and stepped back, looked at her.
She was wearing a fine black silk dressing gown wrapped tight around her tiny waist. Her black, kinky hair hung loose around her shoulders, and caught the lamplight in soft glints.
"How--how old are you?" he asked.
She looked at him strangely. "Seventeen," she said. "But you are much older . . . " She took another step back. "What is happening? Sometimes I've thought I must have imagined . . . I'm sorry . . . "
This was exactly what he had feared. "I'm not sure," he said. The truth! "How are you?" His mind did not seem to function. A small coal stove in the corner of her room gave off an acrid smell which mingled with the scent of roses in a vase on a table next to the bed. A small card had been tossed down next to the vase; Cen wanted to open it. Who . . . ?
She thrust her hands into the large pockets of her robe and spoke; her voice a woman's now, deeper; more melodious.
"It's horrible here," she said. "I want so badly to go home. It's terribly cold and always raining. The people here are very kind, but I've gotten such strange letters from home from Uncle David, warning me to be careful and to trust no one. No one! Do you know how difficult it is to be suspicious of everyone around you, the people who are supposed to be your friends? And today we went to that wretched Tower of London. I've been there before." She walked across the room and stood by the window looking out. "I don't understand how these people can be so proud of it. Everyone trying to poison each other! Spies! Those poor princes! People were tortured there for years! Executed! Cen!"
She whirled, her eyes bright. "I know that Hawaiians sacrificed people. They've been cruel--utterly cruel and warlike, in the past. Kamehameha killed multitudes in order to unite Hawaii under his rule. But since him, because of him, things have changed. We all work together now, for our country and for each other. We've built schools and hospitals and fine homes--even a royal palace. Not as big as Buckingham Palace, but beautiful in every detail, as beautiful as some of those German castles that Ludwig built! These people celebrate cruelty. They're proud of it." Her tears spilled over and she wiped them away angrily. "And what are you doing here? Where have you been? I've wanted to see you so often . . . Cen . . . "
She dropped into a chair, leaned forward with her hands in her lap. He went and sat in the facing chair, in the window alcove. He wanted to take her hands but was afraid. He should leave. Now. She fixed her eyes on his.
"Cen, I remember. The towers made of glass, all around Iolani Palace. The fast carriages. The statue of Lilioukalani with some . . . some dates on it . . ." She took a deep breath. "How is this possible?" She reached for his hands, touched them, and he swallowed hard.
"I--I can't say, Kai."
The strangeness of it was overwhelming. The little room swam before his eyes and only her face held steady. Only her great brown eyes. He rose. "I've got to go."
"No! Please don't go, Cen! I'm begging you!"
"I can't--I can't stay!"
Weird visions coursed through his mind--visions of IS people walking in through the very door he'd entered by--maybe even Dr. Smith, smirking, thinking about how to invest her money when she won the Nobel Prize in physics . . . He was putting Kaiulani in terrible danger.
He tore himself from her, rushed to the door, and ran out into the corridor, slamming the door behind him. He heard the knob rattle, and running steps on the stairs, as he rushed into his door and locked it behind him, trembling, sick to his stomach.
He looked around. He was in his modern room.
He stood there for a moment. His clothes were still damp.
She had touched them.
Could she walk out into the corridor, and into his room?
He took a deep breath, and just stood, silently. Something clicked deep in his mind.
At last, was all he thought, at least in English. For his mind was aswirl with numbers, ideas which were like shapes, like pure energy . . . .
He picked up the phone. He was surprised when a real person answered.
"Room service? I want a pot of coffee. No, not tea. Very strong coffee. Can you do that? A steak, rare. Yes, whatever comes with it. A bottle of single-malt whisky. I don't know. Is that a good one? Oh, of course--sorry."
He turned up the heat, took off his clothes, and donned the robe hanging behind the bathroom door. He sat down, took out his notebook, found it dry despite the rain. His food and drink came and he ate absently. Two hours later he heard the door slam next door. He tensed.
"I told you that show would be a waste of money. But you never listen to what I say." A man's voice.
A woman replied. "I rather enjoyed it. I'm sorry you didn't."
"You know I hate musicals."
Cen let his breath go, filled with loss and relief. Then his fingers flew.
If he was right . . .
THIS SHARED DREAM |
IN WAR TIMES|
QUEEN CITY JAZZ | THE BONES OF TIME | MISSISSIPPI BLUES | CRESCENT CITY RHAPSODY | LIGHT MUSIC |Novellas & Short Stories
| Selected Book Reviews | Travel | Interviews & Signings | Orders | Links | Guests | Email | Home
Last Update 11/10/98
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998 Kathleen Ann Goonan All Rights Reserved.