In Part II of her interview, Violet tries to explain what happened on the night she took the Cube, how Kurt was involved, and why the two of them planned to use the puzzle cards as a way of getting the Cube back safely.
She also admits to having made some serious and fatal errors of judgement. No kidding.
By IONA RODIE
This is Part II of a three-part interview. Part I may be found here. Part III, containing the answers to reader-submitted questions for Violet Kiteway, may be found here.
Kiteway smiles as she recounts her conversations with puzzle scribe Kurt McAllister about her suspicions over a plot to steal the Cube. She clearly thinks of McAllister with a great deal of affection, but my attempts to probe a little deeper into the nature of their relationship are met with a brick wall.
"We're friends," she says, "that's all it is. He's a really good and wonderful friend. Although... well, I must say that everything that's happened has just emphasised for me what a truly amazing friend he is. There aren't many like him. I don't know if there are any like him, really." She grows silent for a moment, then catches herself, pours another half-cup of coffee and continues with her story.
"I told Kurt everything I'd heard and everything I suspected. Like me, he wasn't sure what to think. It seemed so preposterously unlikely -- a plot to steal the Cube?" She smiles wryly. "We never believe anything truly awful could ever happen until it does, do we? But, because Kurt's thorough, he went and made a careful survey of the security systems at the Museum. He said it was actually pretty tight, but he could see how someone might potentially be able to crack it. It would be really difficult, but it'd be possible. I remember chatting about it with him - when the whole thing still seemed like a game we'd made up.
"'So,' I said, 'you reckon it's possible, theoretically, for someone to use the weak points you've found to make an attempt to steal the Cube?' He agreed that it was. 'Well then,' I said, 'how about if we conceal ourselves somewhere in the museum on the night of the party and if anyone tries anything we... foil their dastardly plot? Or just, you know, raise the alarm?' He smiled, and gave me a typical Kurt response: 'Sounds fun. Or at least, less worse than dying.'
"So we laid our plans. There's an entrance to the catacombs inside the museum, and I happen to know the catacombs pretty well -- spent a lot of time playing in them when I was a child. I had an invitation to the Academy Ball, but Kurt and I decided that it'd draw far too much attention if we were both to disappear at the same time, so I should pretend to be ill and then make my way to the museum through the catacombs."
Kiteway leans back and smiles, toying with a pencil. Am I right to think she enjoyed this escapade?
She grins, but her face falls abruptly. "Oh, then," she says. "It felt like an amazing adventure then. I can't think of it like that anymore. Or at least, I think of it that way at times, moments when I remember how I felt before I knew any of this. And then I remember everything that's happened since and..." She trails off. "It's amazing how hard things can start so easily." She draws a breath, composes herself and carries on. "Anyway, the plan was for Kurt, who arranges the fireworks at the ball, to set them to go off automatically and join me at the museum. It all went like clockwork.
"I left my house at 6pm, walked through the catacombs from an entrance in the Old Town to the museum -- I've walked that route many times before, but never in the dark. The flashlight made everything seem strange, I remember that. Like a different city, another place. Once or twice I thought I heard voices or sounds, but nothing was ever distinct enough to follow up. I still don't know whether anything I heard was real. I came up through the entrance in the museum at about 7:15pm -- Kurt had set my key to be recognised as a security tag by the sensors -- and put myself in the position we'd chosen. Behind the exhibit of prehistoric Hausam art, in the gallery next door to the Cube.
"I was in position and reading a novel on my key by the time the other guests started to arrive. I remember it felt like a waste of time right then -- sitting in a dark, empty museum when my friends and family were having fun at the ball. I have a message on my key I sent to Kurt, complaining that it was 'a whole lot of nothing followed by further hours of nothing at all.'" Kiteway tips her head to one side. "I look at that message sometimes, to remind me who I was before... before all of this.
"Kurt kept tabs on the museum security while wandering through the party, chatting to the people he had to talk to. At about 9:30pm he seemed to see some kind of flicker in the system, thought it was probably nothing, but excused himself, found a quiet place in his faculty, pulled up a dozen security feeds and sat down to monitor the museum. We were in audio contact the whole time and still there was... nothing. The flicker didn't reappear. We'd almost decided that the whole thing had been a waste of time, were trying to work out if I could get home and back to the party in my evening gown in time for the last dance when it happened."
Kiteway, clearly unnerved by retelling this portion of her tale, pours herself more coffee and begins to fiddle with a pencil again. She looks down as she continues.
"I couldn't hear anything but Kurt's sudden, sharp intake of breath in my ear. I said, 'What's going on?' Kurt paused for a moment and said, 'I don't know. Something, there's some process running...' Then another pause. 'It's going faster than I can keep up with.' He sounded scared, which is rare for Kurt. 'Someone's coming, Vi. Just like we thought, someone's coming and I don't know how to...' I kept asking him what he was seeing, who was coming, but he didn't answer me, and then all of a sudden he was shouting in my ear, 'They're coming your way through the main entrance. Run. Run!'
"So I ran. I ran up the long gallery, and into the Cube room, where it was sitting on its plinth. There were no sirens blaring, no sign that the security had been breached. Could I really leave it here to be stolen by whoever was coming? Whoever it was who'd kill to get their hands on it? 'Kurt,' I said, 'are you sure they're coming? I can't see anything.'
"But as he was telling me that yes, he was certain, yes he was sure, I heard the noise of footsteps -- loud, confident steps marching toward the Cube room through the gallery I'd just left. And I thought, I can't, I can't leave it here for them. So I picked it up. And then I was... elsewhere."
Kiteway requests a brief pause at this point in the conversation. She fills a glass with water and drains it, then calls a nearby restaurant to order some sushi to be delivered. In the meantime I glance again around her apartment; if the religions are right and the Cube holds some special spiritual significance, there's no sign in the clutter and detritus that Kiteway's been enlightened by her experience. What was it like to hold the Cube, to travel with it?
"What was it like? The closest I've got to it is in what I wrote in the Library of Babel site I made for the people on Earth. The whole experience felt like a dream. Arriving in New York, the seamless way the arrangements were made. The Cube must have done it, but how, and why doesn't it do it more often? The flight to London and the car out to Wakerley Great Wood all felt unreal. I think perhaps I wanted it not to be real. It would have been easier. But it wasn't a dream, as I discovered when I found myself back in Perplex City."
And why didn't she tell the proper authorities about what had happened to her then?
"I thought about it. I talked about it with Kurt. He'd thought I might be dead, certainly didn't know if I'd ever get back to the city. But he'll have to tell you about that himself. Our reasoning went like this. To get the clearance and know-how to launch that theft of the Cube, whoever had done it had to be both powerful and deep within many organisations in the city. I didn't know who I could trust and who I couldn't.
"Moreover, if I confessed to the theft, who'd believe I'd done it to save the Cube? I'd certainly have been arrested, possibly convicted of the crime. In either case I'd have been a sitting duck, a target for any Third Power operatives in the criminal justice system to kidnap and try to get the information out of me. The only way to keep safe was to keep silent. And it wasn't just my safety I was thinking of, it was," she stops, pushes her hair out of her eyes. "Well, look, I thought I'd keep everyone safe if I just kept quiet. But I was wrong. As much as I don't like to think so, I find I'm wrong quite often."
So why the clues, the elaborate dance with the people of Earth to give hints at the Cube's location?
"That started as a safety net really, or..." she pauses, choosing her words carefully, "maybe it'd be better to say a failsafe. Kurt and I had talked a lot about the possibility that the Third Power might have agents on Earth, that they might start looking for the Cube or have methods to find it like those we could use here in the city. And one thing was clear to me from the start -- we didn't want those people digging the Cube up and getting hold of it.
"We wanted to be able to get a message to the good guys, the players on Earth, but we were worried that the Third Power might be listening in, so we couldn't just tell them the location. When the Cube Retrieval Project was launched, it seemed like the perfect way to get messages to the people of Earth if we needed to. Kurt was on the team, and could alter the cards in such a way that it was only visible from the Earth end of the feed, not in Perplex City.
"We decided to put really tough cryptic clues on the cards. That way, only a big group of smart people could find the Cube. Our thought was that a big group of smart people who'd have the interests of Earth at heart were more likely to be able to follow those clues than a small group of smart-but-evil people." She sighs, then smiles slightly, "it was a desperate move, but that was all we had. And, thanks to the hard work of the people of Earth, our desperate gamble's paid off. I'll never be able to express fully how grateful I am to all the Cube hunters who worked so hard to solve our clues -- the fact that the Cube's safe now... well, we can't know how many lives that's saved."
And does she have any regrets?
She toys with her pencil again, tapping it on the coffee table and chewing the end.
"Some days... some days I have nothing but regrets. What I did, well, it might have been the right thing to do, but it was at the expense of the people closest to me. The people I love. And all the lying." She passes a hand over her forehead. "I've been lying and lying for the past three years. I'm a good liar, a good poker player, but not to be able to talk about the biggest thing that's ever happened to you? That changes you; I'm not even sure I know how yet. I wish I could have told the truth a long time ago but I just didn't see how I could.
"And there are the people who died -- Bernardo Holyoke and Monica Grand, well, they got in over their heads before I ever appeared on the scene. But Isaac Cymbalisty? Anna Heath? And what happened to Scarlett... Perhaps things could have gone differently if I'd made different choices, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive myself for that. I'm not sure I want to."
Her head lowered, she bites her lip.
"So yes," she says at last, "I think it'd be fair to say I have regrets."
The doorbell rings; it's the sushi and the interview time is almost up. One final question -- what next for Violet Kiteway, thief and saviour of the Cube, the only Perplexian ever to travel to Earth and return safely? Kiteway looks up from her toro sashimi and grins: "I don't know what's next. But I'm sure I'll think of something."