Time: 06:38 PM
One thing we learn: everything changes and nothing remains the same. Nonetheless, because some things repeat themselves, even if differently to the time before, there was a party at the Academy last night to celebrate the safe return of the Cube.
It was one of the grand affairs the Academy does so well. My father in his dress suit, presiding over the Ball, made a speech welcoming the Cube back to its home. There were white roses on the tables and Aiko's glittering sculptures of ice and chrome in the corners of the room. The cream of Perplex City society was there, from Walter Cove-Houghton to Michiko Clark, Helix Hesh to Aurora Belle. Someone told me Joya and Alejo were due to turn up at some point, although I never saw them. Even Camryn Scott and Nathan Earlywine were there, studiously ignoring each other at opposite ends of the room.
Scarlett was there, with a group of her friends from college. They hung tightly together in a pack, making sure Scarlett was never alone. I waved at her from across the room. She waved back and smiled. I suppose that's a sort of progress.
Fleming Heath was there too, accompanied by a beautiful woman I didn't recognise until she introduced herself.
"I'm Sylvia," she said, "do you remember me? Sylvia Salk?"
All at once, her face resolved into familiarity. Of course. Sylvia Salk. She looks different now; not so thin or so pale.
"Oh!" I said, "yes! Are you and Fleming...?"
She shook her head, brown curls bouncing. "No, just friends. It's good to talk to someone who understands."
I nodded. I looked over at Fleming; he was deep in conversation with one of Anna's colleagues from the Languages department.
Sylvia looked at me, squeezed my arm.
"Probably best not to. He's not ready to talk to you yet."
I walked through the party, noticing the reactions to me as I went. Some people smiled. Some came over, pumped my hand up and down and told me I was a hero. Some frowned and turned away. Some whispered to the person standing next to them, pointed and pursed their lips.
I ended up, as I so often do, at the bar. I swirled my martini in the glass, watching the happy couples on the dance floor. Among the crowd, Patrick and Garnet were dancing slowly, Patrick's head on Garnet's shoulder. I was surprised; they're not usually so public about their relationship, worried that someone would think it unprofessional for a member of the CRT to be involved with my father's aide. Still, the Cube's back home now. The CRT has become Special Projects again. Everything's different. I tipped my head back, swallowed the rest of my drink, and turned round to the bar intending to order another when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I looked up.
"Hey," said Kurt.
"So, how are you enjoying the party?"
"Hmm. Not much, really."
Kurt nodded. Then reached down and took my hand.
"Come on then. I've got something to show you."
And, without anyone really noticing, we left.
I didn't realise where we were going until I saw the unmistakable silhouette of the Academy Museum, its round cupola black against the stars. Kurt led me to a side door, stopped and fiddled with his key.
"Wait, what are you...? We're going to get into trouble."
"Nah," he said. "I've got clearance. Just for tonight. Anyway," he grinned, "I pointed out that if I really wanted to get in they wouldn't be able to stop me."
"Always logical, Kurt."
"You know me, Violet."
We walked through the silent, empty museum, our footfalls loud on the marble floor. All this, I thought, has happened before. But it's better this time. We walked past the prehistoric displays, past the Anjsbourgian hangings, through the Hausam gallery until we reached, yes. I hadn't seen the Cube room for a while.
The Cube was there, back on its plinth, in the quiet room with the slight background hum. A thousand extra-sensitive bespoke security systems were watching every atom dance around it and within it. And that sense of peace that I always get, if I look for it, in the room with this object. This piece of my own history, now. The two of us intertwined.
We stood together for a long time, just looking at it.
At last, Kurt said: "What do you think? Did we do the right thing?"
I smiled, examined my fingernails and said: "Well, it wasn't all bad, right? You extended your technical skills, I got to travel and Scarlett... discovered squid."
"Yeah, I know."
"There's no way to know," I said at last. "We can't go and have a look at the parallel universe in which we did something different, and compare the two results, can we? Unless..." I grinned "you could invent something like that? In your copious free time?"
Kurt smiled and said nothing. I wondered what he was thinking.
After a while, I said:
"Do you forgive me?"
He frowned. "Forgive you for what?"
"For getting you involved in all this. For making your life hell. For making you notorious. For everything that's gone wrong for you over the past three years. For," I dropped my voice, "for Miranda?"
"Yes," he said, simply. "There's really nothing to forgive."
I didn't think that could be true. I didn't say so.
Kurt put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me, just for a moment, before letting his arm drop to his side.
I paused. Looked at the Cube. Thought a great number of thoughts which I find difficult to enumerate even now.
Kurt nodded and smiled. I never know if he's really understood. I think he does, though.
We walked back together through the quiet halls and out into the museum courtyard. I hugged him, wished him good night. We parted at the steps of the museum and each went home alone.
Time: 02:07 PM
I'm trying to do something. It's a little tricky. It might take some time. I'm trying... to become one person again. Because I'm fractured now and that's as clear to me as it's ever been. Clearer, now that I see myself from all around. A 360 view.
Because, I've been two people. For a long time, too long. I've been walking and talking and acting and projecting charm in public. And I've been hiding and afraid. And I'm trying to write this as if I'm just... me. Integrated. And it's hard to know. I flip between the two. It's not dishonest. It's two different kinds of honesty.
I stole the Cube, and I tried to find the thief. I slept with Caine, and I shared my private self with Kurt. I was bold and I was cowardly. I was surrounded by friends and I was alone. I tried to help and I did harm. I love my sister and I brought pain to her as surely as if I'd.... She's going to be fine.
And now my secret's out. The me I've tried to hide. The me I've worked so hard to protect. (The me I am, the me that other me has kept safe.) In the paper. On the airwaves. Real and hard and in the world. Just like I always was. No different, but everything's different. I'm in the Sentinel. But I read the words and they're not me. Words go on and on, one after another but no words can ever be enough to describe a person, to delineate their space.
Sometimes I think, no one should travel as far as I've travelled. Sometimes I think I left myself behind when I went. That it was the distance that split me in two. That when I came back it was already done. And sometimes I think no, foolishness. It was the lying, and the hiding and the fear. I don't know. Both explanations seem equally coherent to me. But I can't let the two parts touch for very long. It hurts too much.
This was supposed to be a happy ending. An end to wandering. The translation of the Library of Babel. Nothing that ends can be happy, though. So it doesn't end. I'll feel better in the morning. I'll go on being me. Whichever of me it is.
Time: 03:42 PM
Do you ever think about how your life turns on just a few crucial decisions? What your life might have been if you hadn't gone to that party, met that person who became your dearest friend, whose thoughts and ideas became as close to you as your own? If that picnic hadn't been moved from the Saturday afternoon to the Sunday, you'd never have gone, and never heard about that job that ended up changing your life? If you'd gone home when you intended instead of staying at work that extra hour, you'd never have seen that accident that made you rethink the way you were living? Do you ever think about those things?
My key, which Kurt has souped up to cross-reference every note I ever make, every random audio thought-catch, every book I read, informs me that two nights ago was a year to the day since I decided, on a whim, entirely by myself, to invite Caine along to a Hesh Records party to help me out with some investigating. At least, it felt like I made that decision all by myself. Things that have happened recently have caused me to wonder how much I was being influenced. Was it a coincidence that he's a musician and I needed to investigate a record label? Was it a coincidence that Kurt was otherwise engaged with Miranda? Why did I even think of inviting him in the first place? I can't remember quite why I suddenly 'got the idea'. I'm starting to distrust myself.
So this is how it went. We saved Scarlett. You know all about that, you were there. Thank you. It's not even enough to say that. If I could tell each and every one of you individually how grateful I am, it wouldn't be enough. Scarlett is alive and that's all the win there could ever be. Thank you.
And, I'm alive, Kurt's alive. Helena Frye's alive but injured. Several of her people have been killed, though. The police liaison who's been assigned to me tells me not to blame myself or Scarlett for this, that this was a dangerous operation but they think they've broken the lines of the Third Power and that all the sacrifices are worth it for that. And he's right. I don't blame myself, and I certainly don't blame Scarlett. I blame Caine.
I keep asking myself when I should have spotted the truth, what I should have done differently. I should have wondered why he was hanging around at Ascendancy Point station so conveniently. Of course, he said he'd been looking for me, for Scarlett, had been wandering between his apartment and the Milamont house. The Point is halfway between. It made a sort of sense. And I was so hyped up and nervous I didn't stop to think. Didn't ask who he'd been trying to call on his key when Kurt and I spotted him, and one of Frye's watchdogs smashed it to smithereens. And when I heard that he'd launched himself at some guards, I thought, well, maybe he was just trying to be brave. And when I saw he'd been captured, I thought... well, I didn't think much of anything really. I saw what they'd done to Lettie and I couldn't think of anything at all. Kurt keeps telling me that fingernails grow back but I can't think too much about it or I think I'll start screaming.
Lettie was rambling and woozy when we found her. She kept saying: "I don't know, I don't know where it is." And my heart broke into a million separate pieces. The medics arrived faster than I would have imagined - I guess they had them waiting. And when they'd given her shots and strapped her to a gurney, she reached out and grabbed my arm. All I could see was her fingers, I couldn't stop looking at them, but her grip was really strong, surprisingly so, and she pulled me down and said: "Caine, Caine kept asking me where the Cube is. But I don't know." And even then, I didn't really think. Because, it appears, for all my alleged people-reading skills I am a 24-carat moron.
I got back home around 4am on Wednesday morning and slept for about 17 hours. When I woke up it was dark and my key was flashing its "urgent messages waiting" light, illuminating my bedroom in milisecond-long bursts of red. I picked it up and held it between my palms, remembering everything that had happened over the previous few days. Outside my window, the mosaic of city lights demonstrated beyond doubt that the world hadn't ended, that despite everything that had happened, the city still proves indestructible. This thought made me smile, just a little.
"How many messages?" I said.
My key responded in its usual calm, level tone "You have 1,754 messages."
"How many voice messages?"
"You have 58 voice messages."
"How many unique message-leavers?"
"You have messages from 17 unique sources."
"List the top three message-leavers."
"You have 5 messages from: Caine Johannsen. You have 7 messages from: Kurt McAllister. You have 12 messages from: Fleming Heath."
Twelve messages from Fleming?
"Play messages from Fleming Heath."
He'd left a lot of messages. His voice, usually so strong and humorous has cracked since Anna died. Sometimes he was barely audible, but I got the idea. "It's Faberling," he said, over and over, "Caine Johannsen called a song Faberling. It's not, it can't be a coincidence. It's not a real word. It's a made-up word, Anna and I.... She used to call me Faberling. It was our secret and she swore, she swore never to tell a living soul. She wouldn't... You have to ask him why he called the song Faberling. She wouldn't have told him."
Fleming's hoarse voice died away. My room was still dark. I didn't want to turn the lights on. I watched the cars racing along the coast road outside.
"Call Caine Johannsen," I said.
My key brought up a holographic display of Caine's face - a goofy pic I'd taken one day when we'd gone out to the Marina together and I'd managed to catch him without a scowl on his face.
"Hi Vi, how's tricks?"
From the sound of his voice, I'd woken him up.
"Yeah," I said, "just woke up. Knackered."
"Add a side order of 'in pain' and you've described me too. You want me to come over?"
"Maybe in a bit? Anyway..." I tried to work out the most natural way to draw the conversation round. "You can hardly leave your house without bodyguards, can you? Now that you're a rock star."
He chuckled, a low rumble in his throat.
"Oh yeah. Nearly forgot about my mega-stardom."
"I heard about the concert. Sounds like it went well. Especially that song you wrote... Faberling?"
I tried to make my voice sound casual. My heart was beating so loudly I thought he must hear it.
"Oh that old thing. Just something I threw together."
"Cool word, though. Where did it come from?"
A pause. A breath. My heartbeat in the hollow centre of my throat and fear constricting my vocal cords.
"Actually, it was Anna. It was the name she called me."
"Really? What kind of name is that?"
"I dunno. From Earth, maybe. Belgian or something. Why do you ask?"
"Nothing. I just keep humming it. It's catchy."
"Sure you don't want me to come over."
"No," I said, "don't do that just yet. I'm just... I want to be by myself just now, OK?"
"Well that's typical," he said, laughing.
"Yeah. Just, typical me. Bye."
And I sat in the dark, thinking. Either Caine and Anna had had the most unlikely torrid office romance known to man - in which case, why would Caine have made the mistake of revealing anything she'd told him secretly? - or Anna had told him the word for another reason. In a desperate moment, when all hope was gone and she'd known she wouldn't survive. She'd given him a message for us. I felt fear like acid in my stomach. Every part of it made sense. Every single thing. From the fact that Caine and I got together just as Kurt was being preyed on by Miranda, to his helpful curiosity about everything we do. And the way that he was so near to Anna when she vanished. And that I'd left Scarlett with him, so he'd know just where she was, just when she could be snatched. I didn't have a lot of mental energy left over for self-loathing about that, but when I get a moment there'll be quite a quantity to get through.
The police, who are better at this stuff than I would have given them credit for, have appointed a liaison officer for me and Kurt, whilst Frye's out of action. He's called Ranjit, Detective Ranjit and frankly he looks like Frye could eat him for breakfast and still find room for extra crispy bacon, but since Frye told me I could trust him I know he's a good guy. He'd given me all his details at the hospital, told me to call if I needed anything, given me a meaningful look in the eye and told me we'd "talk again very soon". It was 10pm at night by this point, but he answered his key after just one ring.
"Ms Kiteway," he said, "I hope you're feeling a little better?"
"Yup. How's Scarlett?"
"She's resting comfortably. We have a 24-person team guarding her at all times."
That sounded good. I wondered if I could persuade them to keep a 24-person team guarding her forever. With particular reference to any man I ever sleep with.
"Listen," I said, "I have something to tell you."
And I told him, and he listened. And at the end I said: "Do you think I'm crazy? Is it just the effects of trauma, shock, whatever?"
And he said: "No, Ms Kiteway. You're not crazy. We've suspected for some time that there must be a mole in the CRT, or close to it. We thought Solitano might be it but some things still don't make sense. What you've told me... that makes sense."
I hadn't realised until then how much I'd been wishing that he'd tell me I was being ridiculous. But I'm not being ridiculous. I've been dating a murderer for the past year. I guess that's just one more thing Kurt and I have in common.
Things moved quickly, while I sat in my darkened apartment, watching the traffic from my window seat. I drank some coffee. After a while I put on some clothes. In the meantime, things happened. Detective Ranjit called to fill me in. I called Kurt. He offered to come over but I said no. I didn't cry, because that's not what I do. I thought a lot, and drank more coffee.
Caine was in police custody within an hour. Which is a good thing. Because otherwise I'd kill him. People say that kind of thing all the time, don't they? "I'm so angry I could kill you." "I wish you were dead." But I find that, whatever I'm doing, wherever I am, a part of my brain is thinking it through perfectly logically. Who do I know who knows people in prison? He's likely to end up in Fletcher or Stanwood. How could I get to him there? I find that I'm making plans. I know I won't carry them out, don't worry. I wouldn't want to risk myself or my family, not even a whisker, for that piece of scum. But, I guess this means we're definitively over.
Time: 03:21 PM
I'm in. I'm here. The 'nerve centre'. Such as it is. The 'overcrowded, slightly smelly set of rooms filled with exhausted people who've spent too long without taking a shower and are probably all about to succumb to gastroenteritis caused by poorly-reheated ready meals' would be a more accurate description. It's not that I'm ungrateful to be here. I'd say I get snarky when I'm nervous, but since you'd know I was lying I'll just say that, instead of being only snarky I'm currently both snarky and nervous.
I met up with Helena last night and managed to convince her, using every means at my disposal, to let me in. I explained all the research I've done into the Third Power, how I'm the one that Scarlett has discussed her adventures with most thoroughly, how I'm extremely cool under pressure and how I really won't get under anyone's feet, honestly. I'm not sure which bit did it, or if she just decided that I'd be less trouble in than out, but she finally agreed. I'm giving the group a talk on the History of the Third Power later this afternoon. Which is how they apparently relax around here.
Kurt's probably told you, we're gearing up for the attack. We know where we're going and what we have to do. My role, when it comes to the day, will probably be just to go along, try not to get hurt, and be there as a friendly face for Scarlett when (I can't let myself think 'if') we find her alive. It's better than sitting around at home waiting for news, anyway. Our key access has been severely limited - as far as anyone in Perplex City knows we've just vanished for a while, and that's the way it'd better stay. It won't be for long; one way or the other this'll all be over soon.
Time: 06:02 PM
Peripatetic: walking about, wandering from place to place.
"In the absence of anything useful to do, Violet's life rapidly became anxiously peripatetic."
Something's happened, but I still have nothing to do. I hate this marginally less than I hated 'nothing happening and I have nothing to do'. So, thank you. Scarlett's in Ascendancy Point, it seems. All the transmissions lead there, everything indicates that it must be the place. I have been informed in the strongest possible terms that I must not go to Ascendancy Point, must not indicate by anything that I do that Ascendancy Point is of any greater interest to me than it was a few days ago. So there's a window of my apartment where I can see the tip of the Point, if I crane my neck to the right. That's where I've been standing a lot recently. Craning my neck to the right, looking at the Point, wondering how Lettie is.
Other than that I have been mostly: wandering the city and ignoring calls from my now-more-than-ever-not-quite boyfriend. There's nothing he can do anyway, and even though he seems concerned about Lettie now it doesn't help. And trying to fend off questions about why I keep walking to the window, staring at the Point, is getting harder and harder. I've been ignoring all calls, in fact. I've had supportive little key messages: from Aiko and from Garnet and from Patrick and from, I can't bear it, Fleming Heath. I can't reply to them, especially not that one. Fleming said he wanted to talk to me but what could I say to him? What would he say to me?
I have picked up my key and made one call, though - I spoke to Helena Frye today. Kurt was wary about giving me her personal contact details, but I twisted his arm. Not literally, although I probably would have gone there if he hadn't given in. She answered with a barked-out "Frye."
I introduced myself.
"Ah," she said, "McAllister's friend."
"Not just that," I said, "Scarlett's sister."
"Yes." She paused. "Well, what can I do for you?"
"Listen," I tried to work out what it was I'd been planning to say. This already felt like it wasn't going so well. "I want to help. Scarlett's my sister, and I'm sick of feeling useless, and I just... I want to help."
"I quite understand that." She didn't sound unkind. "But as I'm sure you'll appreciate, we're strongly opposed to involving family members in our work in these cases. For obvious reasons."
I'd known she'd say this. What else could she say?
"I know a lot about the Third Power," I blurted, "a hell of a lot, maybe even more than Kurt. We've been working on this together all this time, you know. I've seen the mines at Lancewood and the works at Viendenbourg. I've looked through secret documents about the Third Power. I know Ascendancy Point, I've even tracked down a Third Power agent working there. I just think... I think I could be useful," I finished, lamely.
"I appreciate your interest, Ms Kiteway, but that seems very unlikely."
"Look, can I at least... can I just come in and talk to you?"
"I'm not sure what that would accomplish."
"I just. Look. Please." That's not a thing I hear myself say very often.
She paused. I could hear her thinking.
"Very well then. You can have fifteen minutes of my time this evening, after 9pm. But I very much doubt it'll change anything."
So, between then and now I need to find a way to convince Helena Frye that I could be useful to her. Or at least that I could make things difficult for her if she doesn't let me in. I'm sure I'll think of something.
And in the meantime I keep asking myself: can it really be true, what the Third Power seem to think? Could Scarlett really be the one behind the theft of the Cube? It seems unlikely, but I when I stand back I have to admit it's possible. It's not like she's not resourceful, plucky, determined. It's not like she hasn't lied to me, to all of us before. But somehow it doesn't quite add up. If it's true, it'd mean she'd been lying to me, to all of us, for the past three years and I can't see that from Scarlett somehow. I just hope I soon get to ask her myself.
Time: 03:10 PM
I hate this. I hate this more than I hate losing at poker, or talking to morons, or being forced to take part in loathsome puzzle karaoke. Scarlett likes puzzle karaoke. I hate that I'm worried about her and there's nothing I can do. I've spoken to Iona at the Sentinel, of course. They had lunch together, apparently Scarlett was in good spirits, there's nothing suspicious to report. I don't know if I can trust her but what choice do I have right now? While we were talking, I found that my hands had bunched into fists under the table while my face was going on being charming, my voice being pleasant. I hate that I can't just wring the truth out of someone.
I hate that Kurt has more to do now than I do. I hate that he gets to go off and be Mr Action Hero and all I can do is wait around for him to do his thing. Sometimes, I mistake this thought for hating Kurt but I try not to let him know that. Instead, I focus on hating Caine for everything he's ever done. He keeps trying to tell me not to worry. Even if Scarlett's been kidnapped, he says. Which we don't know, he says. Which we can't be sure of. Even if that's the case, they wouldn't just take her and kill her would they? I don't know, I say, they've done it before. I think of Anna and I'm so afraid it feels like my heart will beat right out of my chest and flop, bleeding, onto the floor.
People are beginning to hear that Scarlett's missing. Not what we think has really happened to her, not that. But one person mentions to another, mentions to a third that she hasn't been home. Probably the only person safe from the news is my father, and that won't last for long. I'm afraid of what's going to happen next. And I hate that.
Time: 04:10 PM
I'm usually pretty good at controlling my emotions, or at least controlling the appearance of emotion. That's how I make the money which keeps me in my rather nice apartment in a rather swish part of town, after all. So I'm not hyperventilating, or fiddling with my pencils, or scratching my upper arms in a telltale way. But I'm going to have to leave the library soon because otherwise my carefully-controlled veneer of calm will peel off and I'll just start screaming or hitting things. Scarlett is not OK. I know she's not. She left me this message, and all it does is convince me even more urgently that she's not OK. And you know and I know how very many kinds of not-OK are available for consumption in Perplex City these days. Someone's taken Scarlett. And my dad's in prison, and I can't see the police believing me, and I just don't know what to do. But I'll think of something.
Time: 03:51 PM
I can't take this anymore. I've left five messages for Scarlett, and still haven't got hold of her. I know I shouldn't be trying to keep hold of her every minute of the day, I know she can take care of herself, I know, as Caine keeps telling me, that she's a big girl now. But I really can't take it anymore. I'm going to call Kurt and get him to search for her key. Just so I know where she is.
Time: 02:56 PM
The library's not really the best place to have a full-on freak out. It's: a) quiet, so everyone can hear you fret, b) calm, so your fretting energy quickly spreads around the building causing everyone to turn and stare, and c) when you come to think about it, the place of work of two recently-murdered people, so, when you come to think about it, a place that really encourages fretting. Which is my way of saying: Scarlett hasn't called me like she was supposed to, and she's not answering her key.
I'm sure she's fine. She's probably fine. I was a bit concerned that she seemed so happy and bouncy this morning, off on her little mission, but hoped that maybe, somehow, she's turned a corner. And now I'm just fretting. What happened at the Sentinel? Is she still there? Did they tell her something that made her retreat back into her curled-up ball again? Is my little sister sitting on a bench somewhere crying?
I called Caine just now. He was all "don't panic, she's fine, you need to give her some space". I'm sure he's right. I haven't called Kurt yet because, I suppose, I don't know how he'll respond. And I don't need him yet. Lettie's fine, I'm sure she's fine.
Time: 01:24 PM
See, this is what happens when I take a night 'off'. The moment I turn my back... well, OK, nothing really bad seems to have happened except that out of the three most important men in my life, one's still in jail, and the other two seem to be angry with me for no particularly obvious reason. Oh yeah, and some journalist turns over my dad's house. Of which the most critical outcome will probably be a recurrence of Scarlett's agoraphobia. What's the betting she decides that she's never going to leave Caine's apartment ever again, under any circumstances?
So, today I repair some bridges. I am, in fact, refreshed and rejuvenated after a night spent doing not very much. Today I take my maybe-boyfriend Soupery lunch at his desk to thank him for looking after my exhausting sister. Today I wait for my best friend to take his Saptivan and then cheer him up with tales of how incredibly badly the increasingly-inaccurately-named Cube Retrieval Team is doing in his absence. Today I make yet another attempt to communicate with my incarcerated father. And today, well, I have a little plan about how Scarlett might make herself useful - and we all know how being useful makes you feel better about yourself, right? I'll talk it through with Caine - they're developing some kind of sympatico, so he'll probably have an idea about whether it'll tip her over the edge or not.
And, oh yeah, I guess someone should be looking for the Cube at some point. I'll get right on that just as soon as I sort out everyone else's lives.
Time: 05:37 PM
Do you know what no one else can ever give you? Well, since you ask, or since you simply look blankly at me wondering where I'm going with this, I'll tell you. The one thing no one else can ever give you is solitude. For a social animal, not to say a party girl (and, really, you're not to say 'party girl', it's not wise) like me, the desire for solitude isn't something I experience very often. I often experience the desire for this particular person to leave me the hell alone, but not often the desire for everyone in the world to just... go away.
But, who knows, perhaps it's the experience of attending an exciting party only to see my father led away from it in police custody, combined with several months spent tending to my increasingly irrational and depressed sister that have led me inexorably to one conclusion: I want to be alone. So Caine's going to 'sit' Scarlett tonight. Actually, I think he's probably better for her than I am; unlike me, he seems to be able to make her laugh. Unlike me, he never gets angry with her and never appears to experience even the momentary desire to tell her to pull herself together. He's even got her talking about the Sentinel and her love of journalism again; with all that's happened to her over the past few months I thought she'd developed a loathing of reporters that would never leave her.
Which means, for the first time in forever, I'll be spending tonight alone. Utterly, entirely, blissfully alone. I've been back and forth to the police station today; still no joy other than a five minute conversation with my father in which he told me not to worry. He looks about 10 years older than he did on Sunday. But, I can't do anything about it now. I'm having a night in, reading some favourite Earth literature, doing nothing at all. Have a peaceful night; who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Time: 02:57 PM
Why? Why am I cursed with an entirely useless group of people as my supposed 'backup'? Why will no one ever listen to anything I say? Why can't the world organise itself according to my convenience? Why doesn't everyone understand that I am almost always right?
Damn and blast. In fact, hellfire, damnation and zounds. This is the sound of a woman who has spent all night in the company of the Perplex City Police, trying to persuade them that the most senior academic in Perplex City is not a flight risk, that he isn't likely to tunnel his way out of the holding cells using a penknife, and that he really doesn't need to be physically restrained. They wouldn't listen, of course, but that didn't mean I stopped trying, as I'm sure you can imagine. Time was when I could have phoned Camryn Scott in a situation like this and got things sorted out - of course, at that time I didn't like to use it, didn't think it was proper somehow. And now, well, calling Scott would have been as useless as calling Skip Applebaum and getting him to read to the police from his most recent dull and rather charmless book. Although, as the evening wore on, don't think I didn't consider it.
Instead, I phoned Kurt. My old, dear friend Kurt. Kurt on whom I can always rely for assistance and for succour. Kurt who has never failed to provide me with a shoulder to cry on or a leg up when needed. It was about 3am. This was how the conversation went.
"Hi Kurt it's Violet. Listen, I need your help."
"Vilet... Vye-let, Vilet I'm in a bar."
"S'called the Missing Link, I think? S'great they're all rilly friendly, s'great here Vilet, you should come down."
"I can't come down, Kurt, I'm in the police station. I need your help."
"S'not the Missing Link! S'the Missing Piece! Vilet they have a tretretretre head on the wall! I want to wear it. Come here and help me get it down from the wall."
"Kurt. I can't come down. I need your help. Get in a cab, come to the police station, we'll get you some coffee and some Saptivan, you'll be fine."
"But the Missing Piece! Is awesome! S'awesome!"
"Wait, how did you even get into the Missing Piece, Kurt? Teri's not really friendly to... well... and wait, don't they have a puzzle lock on the door? How could you possibly open it in that condition?"
"I'm a genius, Vilet, I'm a genius and no one ever remembers... you never remember, Vilet."
"Yes, fine. Just. Get a cab. Come here."
"A geeeeeeeeeeenius. Ingenious. A genius. And they've supen... they've suspin... they've fired me! They fired me Vilet and I'm a genius."
It was at this point that it became clear to me that Kurt wasn't going to be any help at all. I can't raise him on his key now, nor can I find Caine, and Scarlett's got a 'Do Not Disturb' on hers, so I presume she's still asleep. But Kurt, though - I'm going to pull in every favour I can from every techie I've ever met to make his key sound a foghorn in his ear at regular intervals for the next, oooh, year or so.
Time: 02:44 PM
Hello again. Did you miss us? We missed you. I shouldn't think anyone else will mention that, wrapped up as they are with their own stuff. I, of course, think only of you guys, because frankly it's more pleasant than thinking about the people of Perplex City. It's been a hell of a few months. For the city, for the Academy, for the Kiteway family, for me, my sister and my well-yeah-maybe-he-is boyfriend.
So. In the beginning, there was Earlywine, great and holy and filled with renewed promise for an invigorated city giving up this stupid obsession with Earth. Except, you've still got our Cube so that plan was hardly likely to last a thousand years, was it? Plus, the Earth shoe fetish still shows no signs of losing ground. Polls have showed Earlywine's popularity steadily declining over the past six weeks as more and more people come to this unavoidable conclusion. And now the link's been re-opened because, well, I guess Kurt will fill you in on the finer points of security breaches. That is, when he's finished clearing out his desk after his suspension. I said: "look on the bright side Kurt, time for a little holiday!" He gave me his 'you've just said something so stupid I'm not even going to dignify it with a response' look. Or it could have been his 'I want some dim sum' look. They're easily confused.
The rest of the CRT hasn't had a particularly happy few months either. Garnet's been promoted to head up the team and has been walking round with a permanent scowl on his face. Aiko's got even more secretive and defensive about her incomprehensible projects, Tippy's regularly stopped turning up to work for days at a time without letting anyone know where she is leaving us all to fear (or hope, depending on perspective) that she's finally collapsed under the weight of her own ego and won't ever be coming back. Poor Von's suffered the worst fate of all; after the thorough 'investigations into the behaviour and actions of the CRT' it was decided that employing him when he was only 17 had 'breached his rights as a young Perplexian' and he was strongly encouraged to 'pursue an academic route for the time being'. Of course, all the colleges fought over who should get him, and he's apparently got the largest scholarship grant ever given by Edyta College but he really wants to be back on the CRT. Kurt says that Von still turns up at the office most days, bag full of work he could do blindfold, kicking the tables and looking like a proper moody teenager. Which is slightly amusing, since that's pretty much how Kurt looks now too.
Caine's been spending much of his time over at my apartment. Which, apart from anything else, I'm grateful for because he's been great with Scarlett. Scarlett has been... not so great. She rises and falls, rises and falls. One day she seems fine, back to her old self, gets out her books or calls a friend. And the next day I find her crying in the shower. Or waking up in the middle of the night screaming. To be really honest, I just can't take it anymore. We've made peace with my father, some sort of temporary truce anyway - he had us over for dinner a couple of weeks ago with Camryn Scott, another person at more of a loose end than she used to be - and Scarlett's moving back in there today. I don't know if it'll help her, but I just need a break.
And as for my father... he's held onto his job, just about. The 'investigative team' has been working on his office particularly hard. Patrick, my father's secretary, has a scowl to match Garnet's - it's been down to him to provide the investigators with all the information they need and, well, we still don't know what's going to come out of all of this. I expect I'll see them all at the ball this evening and get as much info as I can. I can't help feeling it's going to be a bumpy night.
Time: 05:24 PM
I think I have reached what Kurt calls "the limits of system tolerance". I think this is it, actually. I have no more room in my mind for useful or coherent thought about any of the things that are going on in the city. This could be the last uncensored message to come from Perplex City, and perhaps I ought to be giving you an in-depth political and sociological analysis, but I can't. Caine wants to talk about mounting a demonstration, Kurt wants to talk about making a formal protest within the Academy, the Sentinel want me to make a statement, and I... I find myself staring into space, thinking about my family. Scarlett hasn't been out of the apartment for a couple of days now and shows no sign of wanting to leave. She flicks through the key news channels, and cries, and sleeps, and sits and stares out of the window at the street below, and cries some more. She hasn't even changed out of pyjamas today. Of course, the fact that there are reporters crowded round the door to my building doesn't make her keener to go for a walk.
My dad's not doing much better. Scarlett and I watched him make a statement on the news last night and we could tell he hadn't slept, his eyes were red and puffy. She wondered if he's going to have to resign, and I wondered if he's going to go to prison but I didn't say that to her. She started crying again anyway. And she's not eating. I order takeout and she pushes it round her plate and chews a couple of mouthfuls but it's not good. My father wants to come over and talk to us but I'm afraid that'll just push Scarlett over the edge. And, in the strongest way I can ever remember, in the deepest sense I've ever known, I miss my mother. I want someone else to come and put all this right, and look after my family because I just don't know what to do.
Time: 12:33 PM
Come with me now on a journey of intrigue and mystery. A journey that will chill your very marrow and thrill you to the core. Come with me now on the journey.... BACK TO VIENDENBOURG! Or, in my case, "to Viendenbourg" since I've never been here before.
Imagine, if you will, the scene. My sister - daring, plucky Scarlett - and I equipped ourselves with the finest military-grade consciousness-protecting tech the boy genius Kurt McAllister could rustle up. We stalked through the woods by hidden pathways, staying far from the beaten trails we knew the sinister denizens of Viendenbourg might take themselves. We skulked, lurked, and when we passed through the unseen barrier of the "confusion field," we were wary, lest either of us should fall foul of its dread powers of obfuscation.
We had a dangerous mission to fulfill. To break into a secure military compound and rob it of its secrets, to lay bare the truth of whatever-it-is-they're-doing-there. We had prepared ourselves for a fight, though I can't say either of us was looking forward to it. We hid a cache of weapons in the woods because we didn't want to go in all guns blazing, but we wanted to know we could if necessary. We had planned and we were prepared. Prepared for everything except what actually happened.
Our first hint that things weren't going quite according to plan was the strange preponderance of people we noticed walking through the woods as we got close to Viendenbourg.
"Odd," I said to Scarlett. "Why aren't they inside, guarding their terrible secrets?" (Or words to this effect.)
"Hmm," said the plucky redhead. "Perhaps they're taking exercise?"
The second matter which caused us momentary confusion was the lack of what one might call 'military uniforms' among these people.
"Strange," I said to Scarlett. "They're wearing casual slacks and T-shirts with hipster slogans."
"Hmm," said the girl detective. "Perhaps they wear 'civvies' on their day off?"
We were then rather startled to notice the presence of children among the happy throng.
"Peculiar," I said to Scarlett. "Does the army employ children these days?"
"Hmm," said the young journalist, "that can't be right."
But all became clear to us as we rounded the corner and came to the ridge above Viendenbourg base. Which was clearly labelled with a sparkling new notice. "Viendenbourg base," it read, "a great day out for all the family."
A rather attractive young man in an army uniform was standing by the sign.
"Hi," he said, "are you here for the tour?"
We took the tour. It cost 40 Lecks. I have a copy of the glossy tourist brochure. The front of it says "Welcome to Historic Viendenbourg, where modern technology meets the past."
Now, obviously this wasn't part of the plan. We had, as I say, been planning to scout the location, observe the comings-and-goings and devise some sneaky plan for getting in unobserved and looking around properly. As it was, we were wearing bright yellow hard hats emblazoned with the words "Visitor to Historic Viendenbourg: handle with care" and being driven through a maze of buildings in an open-topped electric wagon along with several sets of tired-looking parents with children behaving like they'd taken some of their parents' Ceretin by mistake. The wagon stopped at a building marked "Visitor's Centre", we all got out and trooped into a room lined with graphical displays of what looked like sedimentary layers, each neatly labelled.
"As I'm sure you're all aware," our tour guide said, "Camryn Scott is committed to Open Government, and the Viendenbourg facility is just part of that commitment. The pass you have purchased today is also good for one trip to the Tanraga Animal Sanctuary and a free coffee at the visitors centre at the pre-Hausam land art, OK?" We all nodded and smiled. "Now," he turned to one of the children, "who can tell me what 'archaeology' means?"
It went on like this for a bit. I pulled Scarlett to one side and we examined some of the displays. They weren't too hard to understand: they celebrated the "rich history" of the region "which we know from historical documents was the site of an ancient fortified city". They say that the ancient city of Viendenbourg was destroyed during the war, and that a joint project between the Academy and the Perplex City Defence Forces are now excavating it. Why the Defence Forces? Well, because "there may still be some dangerous objects lurking in the ruins of Viendenbourg - like an unexploded bomb! The Defence Forces are here to keep everyone safe." It may just be my natural cynicism, but I didn't feel we were getting the full story.
We passed through to the "reconstructions of life in Olde Viendenbourg" - static displays and holographic projections where the merry-looking fishwives mingled with tired miners and street urchins. "We know that there was extensive mining in Viendenbourg", our guide told us, "probably for the rich veins of tin which are quite close to the surface in this region." Further on, we oohed and aahed at the spectacle, through reinforced glass, of real scientists working on dating some pieces of blue glass jewellery recently found at the dig.
All too soon, it was over. At the end of the tour, the children hooked their keys up to the Viendenbourg system to download some worksheets and vids to watch at home. Scarlett bought a "Historic Viendenbourg" T-shirt. I got some of their branded chocolate; it was fine. We went back to our tent but frankly now we're wondering why we didn't just get on the bus to Tanraga with the other tourists and spend the night in a comfortable hotel. I think perhaps we're hoping that the discomfort will spur on our thinking. I mean, unless Scarlett spent last autumn and winter having a particularly vivid set of hallucinations, none of this adds up. State of the art security systems to protect an archaeological dig? Doesn't make a lot of sense. Still, we're thinking about how to get to the bottom of it all. Watch this space.