Friday, September 26, 2014

Latest Draft of Cynthia


      1. Take off.

The ship's computer was talking, “Miss Cynthia, We'll take off with on a count of ten, nine, what the hades, zero!”
The unexpected and extraordinarily rapid takeoff kicked Cynthia back into her seat so hard that she blacked out. When she recovered from the shock she shouted at her ship's computer, “Chris! What the hell1 was that about?” Under normal circumstances Chris would take the machine up smoothly. There would be little more than a flutter in the bottom of her stomach, and maybe a small ripple in her martini. Indeed, it was the height of bad manners to accelerate off planet too rapidly and disturb the stratosphere. This time her martini was dripping off the wall behind her while fragments of the glass littered the floor.
“Sorry Ma'am. It was an emergency.”
“An emergency?” Chris had led her through the normal pre-takeoff drill. Fasten seatbelts, what to pull if there was an emergency, where the oxygen mask would drop from and, finally, how to use the seat cushion as a flotation device in the unlikely event that you were still in one piece after crashing into the ocean. He was known for his sense of humor. That was part of why he had been voted the most personable control program of 2342. Cynthia considered the credits she spent upgrading to him well spent.
“Ma'am. If you feel up to it, would you look in the screens?” She didn't need to. The shock wave from the exploding planet behind them rocked the craft. “What happened?”
“The Cataxi.”
“They found me? What the fuck. How the hell did they do that?”
“I wouldn't know, Ma'am.”
“Did they just destroy an entire planet to try to take me out?”
“Apparently.”
“Damn. It's not as if I stole that many credits from them. It was just a pretty necklace.” She fingered the deep red stone that hung between her breasts.
“The Cataxi do not put a high value on Terran life. I did try to warn you, Ma'am. In their eyes you are barely worth a tenth credit.”
“Still Chris, it must be more than that. I expected that assassin in the bar. It's part of the normal give and take of interstellar commerce, but it's bad form to take out a planet. Do it too often and you can start a war.”
“Ma'am if you would, I am preparing for the jump.”
To say this was unusual was an understatement. Ships would cruise, sub-light, through the system. It gave the occupant’s time to say extended goodbyes and deal with any last minute formalities. Besides social reasons, performing a jump too close to a solar mass could distort the results and send the ship into uncharted space. Fortunately, most of space was empty, so as an emergency maneuver jumping blind was more or less safe. Safe, that is, if you emerged into normal space somewhere you could recognize.
“On the count of five, five, four, three, two, damn.”
The ship spun out of control as colors flashed through Cynthia's mind. She passed out again from the disorientation. Finally, the ship emerged into a small solar system.
Cynthia recovered consciousness. “Chris, where the hell are we now?”
Chris, for once, was silent. “Come on, computer, damn you. Where the fuck are we?”
“Ma'am. I'm checking. It may be a question of when we are as well as where we are.”
“When??”
“I'm sorry but that Cataxi shot hit us just as we were jumping. That can do unusual things to jumps, as I'm sure you're aware. I'll have a damage report shortly.”
“Good.”
“You will have to wait while I recalibrate. I will be offline a short time while I reboot. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Cynthia had a few anxious minutes. If Chris did not reboot, she would be adrift, somewhere in the universe, in a dead ship. His blue screen of death would spell hers as well. Unless she was extraordinarily lucky, she'd be dead in a few days without her computer. If she were lucky the Cataxi might find her before she died. They'd make sure her death was quick. Not necessarily painless, but definitely quick.
Her anxiety was misplaced. Reliable as ever, Chris returned to life. “Ma'am, are you sitting down?”
“I'm not going to faint. What the hell is it?”
“We're home2, Sol, Earth.”
“Fuck. Earth? Why are the guidance screens empty? There are no beacons. Where the hell are the customs ships, the border guard?”
“I don't know. Sorry Ma'am. But that's where we are. A few days trip in normal space and then we can orbit the planet.”
“I suppose we could pay home a visit. I wonder if the warrants for my arrest in New York and London have expired by now.”
“Not to mention the ones from Perth, Tokyo, Beijing and Berlin. Unfortunately, we don't have a choice, Ma'am. The Cataxi shot took out the jump unit. Wherever we are, we're stuck. There are supplies and air for a few months, but that's all.”
“Damn. I suppose prison is better than starving to death. Let me know when you pick up the guidance beam. I'll be in the AR3 suite. I want to see if I can finally seduce Mr. Darcy. Take him away from that dreadful Elizabeth Bennett.”
“That Jane Austen game, again? Why don't you play something wholesome, like Battle for Mars or Kabul Shootout?”
“I like regency games. They're so relaxing.”
“If you say so. You know, you'd have better luck with Darcy if you played Elizabeth rather than one of the Bingley sisters.”
“What's the fun of that? They are supposed to get together. I much prefer a challenge.”
“Yes, I know Ma'am. Could I make a suggestion?”
“What, Chris?”
“Could we please have an uneventful trip for a change? Maybe something less exciting than fleeing from the police halfway around the galaxy. You have more than enough credits to pay for repairing me at the spaceport.”
“I suppose so. Anyway wake me up if anything interesting happens.”
Nothing interesting happened, only if you count the lack of signals, indeed the lack of artificial radio emissions of any kind as uninteresting. Cynthia's game was interrupted a week later.
“Damn it Chris, I finally had my hands on his trouser buttons. What now?”
“I am truly sorry to disturb you Ma'am, but there are some facts which I must, however hesitantly, bring to your notice.”
“What is it?”
“I've identified the year. It's 1810. We are currently parked on the reverse side of the moon, as the natives possess telescopes that could see us in orbit. I presume you don't want them drawing untoward conclusions.”
“1810. Fucking A. No one down there could even begin to repair you, could they?”
“I have prepared a list of supplies that would enable my automatics to fix me.” Chris flashed them through Cynthia's AR unit where they hovered in front of her instead of Darcy's face.
“I can almost certainly find the iron and copper. Might have to be a little light fingered for that much gold, but have they even discovered selenium and titanium yet?”
Chris continued, “That is a problem, Ma'am. I suppose you could refine the ores.”
“Maybe. What were you thinking of?”
“Ma'am, since you are enamored of regency games, it seemed to me that. No I can't suggest this.”
“You'd like to deposit me in England while you fly off and refit somewhere?”
“Precisely Ma'am. I thought that Iceland would be a good location. It's isolated. Few people live there and it has intense volcanic activity. Most of the materials I need should be available locally. I could use a thermocouple for power and the heat would disguise me. It should only take a few weeks to finish with a partial refit. It would make me spaceworthy for an intrasystem flight. We can still use the com-link so you won't be alone.”
“I doubt even the Cataxi can trace me here.”
“Still, it is better to be prepared, Ma'am.”
Cynthia thought for a few minutes, then said, “All right, Chris. I'll do it. The only alternative I can think of is setting up a farm on Mars and that would be supremely boring.”
“Very good ma'am. I'll switch the AR to conditioning mode so that your English and manners are correct for the period. It will take about two weeks. In the meantime, I'll work up the vaccines you'll need.”
“Can you let me finish with Mr. Darcy first?”
“Sorry Ma'am, no. It might take you a month to tire of him. I neglected to tell you that the damage reports were incomplete. We don't have that much time to spare.”
“We're fucked, aren't we?”
“Precisely Ma'am.”
“Get the hell on with it then.”
It took all of two weeks, but Chris finally woke Cynthia from the AR. She started to say, “What the fucking hell took you so long?”, but her conditioning cut in and she said, “What took so long?”
“I'm sorry Ma'am, but you had a large resistance to the training.”
“F-, Indeed. What is going on?”
“Ladies of quality did not swear in the 19th century.”
“Oh, dear, that's cut my vocabulary in half.”
“I must say, Ma'am, it is an improvement.”
Cynthia was speechless, not thoughtless, but speechless. Eventually she found words she could use. “Chris, that isn't meant to be funny. Where do you think I should be dropped?”
“I checked the archives and then did a quick matter scan over southern England. There is a famous meteorite, 'Lord Wroxham's Stone'. High purity iron-iridium alloy. Just what I need. There is also a small Tahitian idol that is made of Black stone in his collection. Titanium ore. If you can lift a few guinea coins that will cover the gold.”
“I see, anything worthwhile for me?”
“There is a mention of family jewels. A tiara or necklace possibly both. Probably they have some value on the resale market.”
“In other words, a crib well worth cracking.” Cynthia paused, “Chris am I always going to use this darn slang?”
“I'll remove the conditioning once we're aloft again. Though I must add, Ma'am, that it is a marked improvement in both your diction and language.”
Cynthia ground her teeth. Chris merrily chirped along, “I've been having the most enjoyable time building your wardrobe.”
“Wardrobe?” While solo pilots could wear anything they wanted, or indeed nothing at all, Cynthia, like the majority, favored a light recyclable coverall. It kept the ship cleaner.
“You can't wear that. Not on this mission.”
“I thought, for just a quick snatch and grab.”
“It might take me several months to refit, and I don't trust my structural integrity. Can you fly?”
“I'm a dashed good pilot.”
“I mean with your arms.”
“I could wear a parachute.”
“There's no one who would fish you out of the ocean.”
“Oh. I see what you mean.”
“This also means that you're going to have to stop the anti-age hormones.”
“What?”
“It's actually a good thing for you to go dry for a year or so. At 60 going on 16, you still can. Take a year off, enjoy human biology for a bit. Maybe fall in love, have some fun.”
“I suppose you're right, but I'm not sure about that falling in love thing. I don't want to have the sudden collapse that happened to Captain Black Jack Daniels. Remember, we found him drifting in his ship, barely able to move, and solely because he missed a shot.”
“I do feel I have to warn you that it will start your biological clock ticking again.”
“Oh cripes, Not that.”
“On the other hand Ma'am, maybe you will meet someone you like above half.”
“Chris, I know you're a romantic, but I've told you before. Out on the frontiers of the empire, there are very few humans. The closest looking aliens, the Gotha, aren't equipped either emotionally or physically for amatory activity with us, and you can't trust a Xylub in front of your eyes, let along behind your back. As for the Cataxi, let's just say Old One Eye Jones was a better alternative.”
“I suppose you're right.”
“Never met anyone who could stir a flutter in my maiden breast. I hope, Chris, you can remove this insipid slang. It is already driving me up the wall.”
“Yes, Ma'am, when the mission is over.”
“Good. Compared with their AR versions, all the real males I've met seem awfully flat.”
“There are many male humans on Earth. Some of them have to be acceptable. This Lord Wroxham is supposed to be a handsome fellow. There's no record of his marrying anyone.”
“He probably likes other men.”
“Maybe, but then maybe he never met the right woman.”
“Chris, stop the matchmaking. I'm not in the market to be leg-shackled. A man, any man would cramp my style.”
“I'm just warning you that the hormones inhibit your emotions, and you could be in for a shock when they wear off. You will feel more emotional than you are currently used to.”
“I understand that. Do you think I'm ignorant?”
“Just forgetful, Ma'am.”
Cynthia paused, digesting the alternatives in her thought. Finally, she said, “I suppose needs must. What have you put together for me?”
“First, give me your arm.” Cynthia put her arm into the medical unit and flinched as a whopping dose of serum was injected. “D-, F-, What the H-. I say, Chris. That stung. What all did you inject?”
“Vaccines for smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, TB, chicken pox, typhoid, yellow fever, staph, strep, influenza, polio and the red gum. Among others.”
“The red gum?”
“Help you to keep your teeth.”
“I hesitate to ask, but what else do you need me to do?”
“Your head please.”
She placed her head in to its holder in the medical unit and felt a small amount of panic as the machine, unusually, clamped it in place. Then she shouted when the unit pierced her earlobes. “Chris! I hate pierced ears. Last time I had them, it took a whole year for my lobes to heal after the earrings were ripped out in a bar fight.”
“Yes, I remember. You will just have to stay out of bar fights on this trip.”
“Chris, why?”
“Your earrings are the best place to conceal the main communications link. I knew if I asked you about it, you would say no.”
“Can't I just use a normal link?”
“I'll give you one of those too, but you'll probably lose it. Like last trip.”
“I didn't lose it. That d-. That assassin stole it. I blasted him and it into tiny little pieces. It left a beautiful red haze in the room, and improved its color scheme no end.”
“If you say so.”
“Why haven't you released me?”
“Follicular stimulation. Most women had very long hair. I'm afraid yours would look too much like a man's.”
“At least I can cut that off.”
“Please wait until you return.”
“Yes, I know.”
When the machine eventually released her, Cynthia put her hands to her ears. “Chris these earrings feel heavy, awkward. They bounce around when I move, and they hurt.”
He brought up a mirror for her, and said, “Take a look. I think you'll agree they are most becoming.”
She looked and then smiled at herself, “You're right, but this hair, what a bl- a mess.”
“Let me show you how to arrange it.” Instructions came up on the mirror and by following them with her hands, Cynthia reduced her mane to a manageable and fashionable arrangement. “I suppose they had lice and fleas.”
“Yes. You'll need to brush it carefully every day. Twice if you can.”
Cynthia took one last look at herself. With her hair arranged she didn't look half bad. “I suppose I'd best try on my gowns.”
“You'll have to take that coverall off. Ma'am.”
Cynthia felt surprisingly bashful. While Chris was conventionally a 'he', he was just a computer program and had seen it all before. They'd cruised the galaxy together for thirty years, causing mayhem while spreading the Terran sphere of influence and enriching themselves in the process. There wasn't much of her that he hadn't treated for some ailment or another. Even with real males at the academy, she'd never had a trouble during showers. Well, at least after they'd started on the anti-aging drug regime with its tendency to damp emotions. Still, she hesitated and said, “Is this the conditioning?”
“I think so. If you'd like I'll disable my visual.”
“No.” She took a deep breath, then she grabbed the suit at her neck and ripped. It came off cleanly, and she stuffed the remains into the recycling unit.
“All right. Show me how I dress.”
A few minutes later, properly corseted, covered with muslin, and adorned with a green Spencer, she examined herself in the mirror. The results took her breath away.
“I say Chris, you do have taste. I didn't think I could look like this. I almost look beautiful. Pity I didn't let you gown me in the AR. I'd have been in Darcy's pants in no time.”
“There's more to life than getting into a man's pants, Ma'am.”
“There's always stealing, murder and mayhem. Just the usual Saturday night at the docks.”
Chris's silence was deafening.
“I'm sorry Chris, I didn't mean to shock you, but you know me.”
“Unfortunately, I do.”
“Speaking of pants, you forgot something. It's windy down there.”
“It's supposed to be. You'll just have to be careful.”
“I will be. Trust me. I don't want to give any of the natives a show. It was hard enough getting undressed in front of you, old friend.”
“I thought, Ma’am that you could leave the Cataxi gem here and wear this string of pearls. It goes with the earrings.”
“Why not both?”
“I'm not sure that gem is safe for you to wear all the time.”
“You scanned it, didn't you?”
“I did, and I didn't find anything. It's just that things don't add up in what I found. I'd feel better if you didn't wear it.”
“Tough. I like it.”
“As you wish, Ma'am. The rest of your kit, other than a couple of changes of gown is normal issue. The communicator and scanner are disguised as a diary pad. Open it correctly and I'll be there. I've added a discrete solar charger. It is configured to look like a ladies' fan.”
“No blaster?”
“Ma'am, I only thought you could get in trouble with it.”
Cynthia fought down the urge to scream at her ship. Finally, she said, “You know I never ever ever go planet-side without a blaster. Might as well be naked.”
“Yes Ma'am. I'll supply one. It will be suitably disguised, but it will be a small limited power one.”
“Since I think they're still using flintlocks that will be fine.”
What is the rest of the plan?
“I'll insert you near where Lord Wroxham will be driving in the morning. Then you can set up something like a wrecked carriage to attract his attention. I'll give you a letter of introduction, which he'll have difficulty refusing.”
“Clever. Is there a plan B?”
“You can always present yourself at his front door.”
“That's rather lame. Let's hope the first works.”
“It will. Now you will need some sleep before I drop you.”
Early morning local time, Chris silently glided the ship to a halt above a field of corn in Wiltshire. Cynthia clambered down carrying a large traveling bag. She waved and Chris silently retreated into hiding to await events. If all went well he would leave for a refit.
Cynthia sat beside the road and waited for Lord Wroxham. By mid-morning the sun was shining and the birds were chirping while the bees buzzed in the flowering hedge on the other side or the road. She found, that unlike the AR version, regency life was on the boring side. A brief buzzing in her left earing alerted her. It was Chris, “He's coming. Time to deploy the lure.” She tossed a small pebble to the side and pressed a button on her control box. The hologram of a broken carriage appeared beside her. It looked real enough, as long as you didn't try to sit in it. Chris continued, “Remember your cover story, and a few tears wouldn't hurt.”
“I'm almost bored to tears already.”
“I mean real tears.” A kindly wasp, diverted from its return to her nest by flying into Cynthia supplied a cause for tears.
A carriage, drawn by an elegant matched set of four horses, with a ducal crest on its side appeared, passed her, then stopped. The lure worked. She quietly told Chris, “Here goes.”
      1. Lord Wroxham has a Visitor.

Lord James Alistair Marion George Wroxham, Duke of Tenby, was bored. He, his sister the honorable Alice Wroxham and his school friend the honorable Frederick Thomas Alverston were riding in his carriage along the road from Bath to one of his many country estates. Carling Hall was in Wiltshire. They planned to take a few weeks or maybe a month on a repairing lease in the country and then they would drive to Brighton to enjoy the summer social season. Alice had insisted on inviting his friend to come with them, and Mr. Alverston, being at loose ends, agreed.
Lord Wroxham exclaimed, “Nothing exciting ever happens.” Had he not been riding with his impressionable younger sister, he would have explained how, for his sixth consecutive season in London, the only females who were ever attracted to him were far more interested in his wealth than his person. It made them so boringly predictable and mind-bogglingly vapid and dull. At least the muslin company that supplied his baser needs were business-like about it. He found their fee-for-service basis eminently satisfactory, at least for the short term.
Frederick or Freddy as his friends called him, replied, “What do you mean. Aren't I good company?”
“Freddy, I know what you're going to say and do, almost before you do it.”
“If you say so. Didn't think I was that boring.” He peered out of the carriage window and spied a broken Barouche with a pretty young lady sitting in front of it. “I say, James old boy, here's something you wouldn't expect.” He thumped on the carriage and asked the postilions to halt.
“I'm sorry Freddy, but the number of females who have tried anything to attract my attention is beyond counting.”
“This one is dashed pretty. If you don't want to talk to her, I'll give her a shot.”
Alice was shocked and said, “Mr. Alverston! Please consider my feelings.”
“Your feelings, Miss Wroxham?” She collapsed into a confusion of blushing, which Freddy didn't seem to notice.
Lord Wroxham critically examined the outside. She was sitting by the road on her bag and looking up at his carriage. She seemed to be dressed in the correct fashion for a young chit. There was certainly nothing about her dress that indicated anything other than a young lady of taste and refinement stuck in a distressing situation. After giving her what he hoped would be a disquieting examination, he said, “What seems to be the trouble?”
“My carriage lost a wheel and my groom has gone off to find a wheel-right.”
“I see. Where are you bound?”
“I have a letter of introduction to Lord Wroxham. I was hoping to visit him at his country estate.”
Wroxham gave Freddy a significant glance, as if to say 'I told you so'.” He then asked the young female, “Do you know Lord Wroxham?”
“I'm sorry but I don't. My guardian recommended me to him, but I'm sorry to say I wouldn't know him from you.” She smiled at him. He noticed that she had an unusually pretty smile. He started to return it. Unfortunately, long and bitter experience had taught him that unusually pretty smiles were usually closely coupled with unusually avaricious hearts. So he wiped his smile off his face and frowned at her.
“We happen to be going that way. Would you desire a ride?”
“If you could,” Cynthia thought “That would be fucking fantastic.” Instead, she said, “I would most appreciate it. Could we leave a note at the next posting house for my groom?”
“Of course, but that won't be necessary. We'll be there shortly.”
Cynthia thought, “Of course arsehole, why did you think I set it up here?” but said, “That would be most satisfactory.” She touched her right earring and quietly muttered, “Chris, I am most displeased with this conditioning.” Her left earring replied, “Fuckin' A Ma'am.” Then it chuckled and continued, “I suppose you have made contact?”
“Yes.” Cynthia couldn't add the rest of her comment.
One of Lord Wroxham's footmen dismounted from the back of the carriage and took Cynthia's baggage to add to the load in the boot. She resisted at first, and then threw it to him. He staggered under the weight. “I'm sorry, I thought I packed light.” Lord Wroxham noticed this and opened the door for her. He said, “Please miss. I'm sorry that I didn't catch your name.”
“I'm not surprised that you didn't as I didn't tell you it. I'm Miss Cynthia.” She paused to remember her cover name, then added, “Miss Cynthia Morris.”
“Miss Morris, I'd be overjoyed to escort you to Lord Wroxham's estate.”
“Thank you.” She paused and studied his face, “Are you Lord Wroxham? I have a letter of introduction from my guardian to you. Unfortunately it is in my bag.”
“Dear Miss Morris. I have the misfortune to be him.”
“The misfortune to be one of the richest men in England?”
“It is. So many females try all sorts of tricks to be introduced to me. It gets exceedingly tedious. I do hope you're not one of them.”
“Me?” Cynthia thought, “Hell no, shithead. Not if you were the last man in England. There is no God damn fucking way I'm getting entangled with a native on this godforsaken backward fucking planet.” but said, “No my lord. Of course not. I was commended into your care by my guardian. I have plenty of wealth of my own.”
“If you say so.”
Freddy added, “I must say James, cracking up a perfectly good carriage to draw your attention would be a bit extreme.”
“Freddy, many of the attempts young ladies have used to draw my favor have been almost as brazen. But it is usually a turned ankle or something equally genteel and boring.”
Cynthia hoisted herself into the cab without waiting for the footman to assist her. She started to sit next to Lord Wroxham, but then her conditioning set in and she switched to sit next to his sister. She blushed, something she hadn't done in years, and said, “Thank you very much Lord Wroxham. I don't know what I'd do without your help.”
“Probably walk.”
“How far?”
“Only five miles.”
Cynthia touched her right earring and after a moment replied, “If you'd rather I walk, I'll race you.”
Alice interjected, “Please don't.”
“I think it would be best if you rode with us.” Lord Wroxham thumped on his carriage and told the postilions “Drive on!”
As they moved off, Cynthia smiled, then muttered, “We mustn't litter” and pushed something in her reticule. The broken carriage vanished, unnoticed, behind them. She reached out of the window and caught something that flew by.
The inside of the carriage was plush with silk covered pillows and soft seats. The covers were embroidered with the Wroxham crest. Cynthia looked at it in amazement. Her AR training had led her to believe that all carriages had Spartan hard wooden seats that would inevitably lead to an uncomfortable ride. Noticing Miss Morris's amazement, Alice said, “Miss Morris, have you ever been in such an elegant carriage as this?”
“Not in a carriage. Once I had a rescue mission, from a harem. The harem was almost as nice as your carriage. The trip paid well too. It was on.” She stopped, suddenly aware that she was going to tell them about the Xylub homeworld. She backtracked quickly, “I'm sorry, I'm rattling on about what I imagined the harem from a novel to be.”
Lord Wroxham stared at her and said, “Miss Morris, a rescue mission from a harem. You must have quite an imagination.” His smile belied his stern words. Despite her resolution to have nothing to do with a native, she automatically returned it. Indeed, she found it hard not to.
“My governess said I read too many novels for my own good. I begin to think she was right.”
Alice said, “Miss Morris, can I call you Cynthia? I love novels. Have you read Mrs. Radcliffe's latest, 'the Italian'?”
“I haven't had the pleasure.”
“We shall have to share it. I have it in my baggage, because I can't read in a carriage. Too much motion makes my head swim.”
“I should love to read it with you. However, if we're to start on it tonight I'll need to rest.” Cynthia snuggled into the cushions and propped her head on a bolster. Then she said, “It's been an exhausting day,” and promptly fell asleep to the swaying of the carriage in the warm early summer air.
Freddy remarked to his host, “This chit, at least, doesn't seem interested in you, James. Dashed funny way to make an impression, if you ask me.”
Lord Wroxham replied, “Freddy, I just hope she isn't the standing budge4 for some gang of cracksmen. She's dashed smoky.”
Alice said, “She said she had a letter of introduction to you. Is that a problem?”
“It's easy to buy a counterfeit. I'll have to look at it carefully.”
“How exciting! A criminal in our house. What are you going to do James?”
“I'll set one of the maids to keep a close eye on her, or failing that one of the footmen. She'll soon enough trip up if she's playing a game. In the meanwhile I'll check her letter of introduction. She might just be an overly imaginative young female.”
“That would be a shame, so commonplace.”
Cynthia opened an eye and said, “Whatever I am, it is not commonplace.” Then she dozed off again.


The carriage turned off of the main road and down the country lane that led to the hall. The lane, while shaded and comforting, was not in as good condition as the main road. The postilions were forced to go slowly. The carriage creaked over the rough parts of the lane, and was once, briefly stuck in the mire. Freddy remarked to his host, “James, you need to get after that steward of yours. This lane is worse than last year.”
“It's just a shortcut. Mostly used by cows and farmers. I don't see why they need me to lay out my blunt.”
“If you say so, but what if you had a visit by a person of importance?”
“Then I'd direct them by the main road.”
Lord Wroxham's statement about cows was soon proved. The carriage stopped as one of his tenants moved his herd along the lane to be milked. While they sat there engulfed in a strong bovine aroma and endured the buffeting caused by the animals passing the carriage, Alice wondered if she should have brought her book inside after all. Cynthia woke with a start and jumped out of her seat when one of the animals loudly mooed in her ear. “What was that?”
Alice tilted her head in curiosity as she asked, “Don't you know?”
“Wait, yes, I do. It's a cow isn't it?”
“Yes, Miss Morris, it is a cow. They're common, even in London.”
“I didn't think they were so big.”
“Where did you say you were from?”
“I didn't say. I was just off in a lovely dream about flying around the moons of Zeta Cygni 8.”
“Zeta Cygni 8?”
“It's a planet, with beautiful moons, scenic mountains and verdant forests.”
“A planet like Herschel5?”
“Do you mean, Uranus? No it's much smaller and prettier. I was dreaming of my.” She stopped. “I've been letting my imagination run away with me again, haven't I? My guardian, Lord Petersborough, has repeatedly told me to stop. That's part of why he's sending me to visit you Lord Wroxham. He hopes that if I see more of the real world, maybe I'll be less fanciful.”
Lord Wroxham made a noncommittal noise in response, but stared at Cynthia as he thought, “I know Lord Petersborough and he doesn't have any wards. Certainly not any as young and pretty as this one, and if she has any money there is no way he would let her out of his sight. At least not until after he had secured the money for himself.”
The cows eventually passed the carriage and they quickly made their way to the hall. Inside the main gates the drive was well-kept. The postilions pushed their horses and the carriage sped to the front of the building in a stylish swirl of noise and dust. Alice held the strap, excited by the rapid ten mile an hour pace. She said, “Cynthia, isn't this exciting?”
“You know, I've never felt I was moving so quickly.” She caught herself before she added, “Even that jury-rigged ship I used to flee from the Xylub felt sturdier than this crate.”
They disembarked from the carriage, and leaving the servants to unload their luggage went inside. Lord Wroxham suggested that they refresh themselves and then have dinner. Cynthia found that she was in need of a visit to the head. She asked Hannah, the maid assigned to watch over her needs, about it and was surprised to find out about chamber pots. She realized, once it was patiently explained to her, that there was a sound reason for her lack of pants.
Dinner itself went surprisingly well. The AR conditioning taught Cynthia manners, and she handled the maze of glasses, forks and other cutlery as if she had been using them all of her life. The food itself could have been a problem, but for one who prided herself on eating Xylub delicacies without anti-nausea pills, regency cuisine held few fears. Indeed, it was excellent. That is until she asked, “This dish, what is it?”
“It is a ragout, of veal I believe.”
“Veal?”
“Baby cows.”
Cynthia swallowed and felt a little ill. She was eating real animals, real animals that were cooked in a sauce, and not synthetic textured microbial protein that was also cooked in a sauce.
“Are you well, Miss Morris?”
She smiled. She'd eaten worse, only this was a shock because it was unexpected. At least it was already dead and well-cooked. “Yes, I'm fine. Could I have some more of the frites, please?”
“You should save some room for the trifle.”
“Trifle?”
“Sweet, pudding, dessert?”
After dinner, Alice took Cynthia to the withdrawing room for a comfortable coze. “We should leave Freddy and James to the port and snuff.”
“If you say so. What will we have?”
“Is tea suitable?”
“Tea?”
“Yes, tea.”
Cynthia looked away from her, as though she were listening to a distant voice, then replied, “Of course, tea. What was I thinking of?”
Sitting in the corner of the room was a harp. It looked neglected. Cynthia stopped and stared at it. “Can I play that? I used to have a harp.”
“It was my mothers, I can't play it. You're welcome to try, if you're careful with it.”
“Oh please. I had to sell mine for fuel on.”
“For fuel.”
“It is a long story. I'll tell you sometime.”
“Another of your imaginings?”
“Yes, definitely yes.”
She sat behind the harp and began to try to play it. Not surprisingly, it was far out of tune. Alice said, “It hasn't been played in years. I can only play the piano. Would you like to hear me?”
“Yes, very much, but let me tune this first. Maybe we can play together. Can you play a 'C'?”
Alice hammered out a 'C' on the piano. Cynthia grimaced. It wasn't exactly a 'C', but being in tune with the other instrument was more important than being on the right scale. A few minutes later, Cynthia pronounced her work done. “It's not perfect, but it is playable.” Then she started to play. Alice sat and listened. When Cynthia stopped she gasped, “You're good. Most of what I hear when young women play their harps is just plink plonk plink plonk. That's why I chose the piano. How did you learn?”
“Practice.”
“Can you play 'the Miller'?”
“I don't know it. Can you show me?”
Alice started on the piano and after listening, Cynthia joined in. Freddy and Lord Wroxham entered, having had their statutory glass of port. Freddy said, “My, what fair muses you two are. Euterpe and Erato themselves.”
Alice blushed. She had a tendre for Freddy and a compliment from him meant something to her. Lord Wroxham simply said, “I'm sorry that I have some business to attend to. I will return presently.” He bowed and left to go to his study.
While Cynthia and Alice were enthralling Freddy with their playing, Lord Wroxham was carefully examining Cynthia's letter of introduction. It was perfect, the seal matched one from an earlier letter, the handwriting, spelling and signature matched Lord Petersborough's. Indeed, had he the ability to analyze the ink and the paper he would have found those were perfect too. Chris had done his job well, down to the laid paper and oak-gall ink, but then he had lots of practice generating fake credentials. Still, as Lord Wroxham read the letter, something kept bothering him. “I know Lord Petersborough. He's an odd old crotchety bugger and this letter is so out of character for him.” He put it aside and was considering sending an express to London asking for confirmation, when there was a quiet knock on the study door. It was the maid who had been assigned the task of unpacking and freshening up Cynthia's clothes.
“Sir,” she began, “This.” She held out a small lady's diary. Her hand trembled as she said, “It talked to me when I picked it up.”
“Did it?”
“Yes sir. I don't want to go into that room again. Who knows what devilry that Miss Morris is up to?”
“It's fine Hannah, I'm sure she's not a witch or anything strange like that. All the same, you did the right thing to bring the book to me.”
“You're not worried about her, Sir?”
“A little Hannah. There's something dashed smoky about Miss Morris.”
“Sir?”
“Just the things she said on the ride here. They make me wonder if she's not up to some game.”
“She's not normal, Sir. I'm scared.”
“Just leave it here and get about your work. Thank you Hannah.”
She gingerly placed the diary on the table in front of him, curtsied and left. He walked over, hesitated, and then picked up the diary. It immediately asked him, “Has that silly woman left?”
“Yes. Reveal yourself, I'm not scared.”
“You're not? Then you're either brave or foolish. If not both. Are you Lord Wroxham?”
Lord Wroxham regretted that he hadn't had a fire kindled in his study because it had been a warm afternoon. He fought down the urge to through the book out the window.
“Y-y-yes, I am.”
“Excellent. I was hoping to meet you. To do so this soon in our visit is a great stroke of luck. Lucky for both of us.”
“Who are you?”
“I'm called Chris. Would you very much mind opening the book's cover and looking at the pages.”
He opened the book, but instead of a blank page of paper, ready to be covered with the day's doing in a lady's neat handwriting, there was a dark sheet of glass.
“Does this help?” An image of a young man's face appeared on the glass. “It's not me, but maybe you'll feel better if you think you're talking to another person.”
“You're not a person?”
Chris paused for a moment. “Lord Wroxham, now that I've had a chance to look at you, I'd say you're exactly the person I imagined you to be. Perhaps even a bit more handsome than your reputation. You can ask me questions, but please understand that I can't answer all of them. It's not that I am trying to mislead you, but there are things that you simply won't understand even if I tell you the answer.”
“If you're not a person, what are you?”
“You see, there's one of those questions already. I'm an automaton, like that magical chess-playing Turk, only much closer to human.”
“There was a man inside of the magical Turk.”
“There's nothing more I can tell you that you could understand.”
“How do you talk? Where are you?”
“Calm down. Those are questions I'll answer in time. First I have one or two for you.”
“If you're not answering all of my questions then maybe I won't answer those.”
“I'm sure you will. They are about Cynthia.”
“Miss Morris?”
“How are you finding my mistress?”
“Your mistress?”
“I'm her,” He paused, “Steward. That's the closest servant, I think. Either that or her guardian.”
“I'm not sure about this letter of introduction. It's not something that Lord Petersborough would write. Especially if she's really an heiress. I was about to send him an express.”
“I wouldn't bother. It's a fake letter.”
“It's fake?”
“One of my best quality fakes, but yes, it's absolutely fake. I made it.”
Lord Wroxham sat there, flabbergasted. He said, “This cannot be happening. It must be something I ate. Maybe that veal was too old, or could it be one of the mushrooms?”
“It is happening, My Lord. I'll be quick so you can rejoin the others before your tea gets cold.”
“Do so.”
“I've taken advantage of a little detour in our travels to arrange for Cynthia to take a repairing lease in the country. She likes to play historical games, especially one game that is set in the regency period.”
“Regency period?”
“Now, I suppose you'd call it modern England. She needs to take at least a few months, and even better a year or two off and spend some of her life with other humans.”
“Historical games? Other humans?”
“Normal people. You for instance.”
“What else is there besides humans?”
“Many things. If we're unlucky you'll get to meet some of them.”
“Oh. I'm a historical figure am I?”
“Yes and no. It's real to you now, but in the future it will have happened in our past.”
“Can you run that by me again?”
“No. Now I must warn you Cynthia has a little problem distinguishing between meum and teum. She's also rather handy with, what was that phrase? With her fives.”
“So she's a bloody sneak thief and a brawler to boot.”
“More of an adventuress, and a darned good one at that. In fact one of the best in the galaxy. The mention of ‘Cynthia the Invincible’ anywhere in border-space is guaranteed to cause a stir. It's been an honor to serve her. She thinks she's here to steal your stone. Don't let her take it. If someone's jewelry goes missing, the chances are that she has it.”
“Why should I let her stay here?”
“She's also great company. I have never been bored in the thirty years I've served her.”
“Thirty years? She looks sixteen.”
“Physically she is sixteen. She needs to grow up. I'm hoping that the meum and teum problem will resolve itself when she matures.”
“I don't understand.”
“Lord Wroxham, I don't expect you to understand me. Please trust me. You won't regret it.”
“Are you sure about that, because I'm not inclined to trust talking books. To be honest, I'm having trouble believing this is happening.”
“Yes, I'm certain you won't regret it. May I ask you a question?”
“Why not?”
“Is there a reason you haven't married? You do like women, don't you?”
“Yes, I enjoy females. I'd like to enjoy some female companionship that I didn't have to pay for. It's just all the ones I meet in society are so boring, so predictable. They're all after my money. I could be an ugly hunchbacked cripple with one leg and two teeth and they'd still be fawning over me.”
“That's unfortunate. Cynthia, you will find, is highly unpredictable. I hope you will enjoy her company.”
“Then I won't be bored with her?”
“Angry, upset, frustrated, and maybe even in love, but not bored. Now I need to give you a warning.”
“Yes?”
“In about a week she will get terribly ill. That's just the effects of the medicine she takes to stay young wearing off. You can send for the apothecary if you want, but talk to me about what to do.”
“All-right. You're not going to scare the maids again, are you?”
“Now that I have measured your print. I will only turn on for you or Cynthia.”
“My print?”
“Look at those ridges on your fingers. They're unique to you. I'll know when you pick up this device. One other thing.”
“Yes?”
“Please don't tell Cynthia we've talked, and put this book back in her room.”
“Why?”
“It would be best, trust me.” Chris shut off. The dark glass became a sheet of paper again.
Lord Wroxham thought for a few minutes. Then he rang and asked that the maid Hannah come to his study.
“Sir?”
“Hannah. I don't know what you heard, but I've been through this book from the front to the back and it is just a book. See.”
He opened it and flipped through the pages in front of her.
“It did talk to me, Sir.”
“I'm sure you heard something. But not this book. Books do not talk. Miss Morris is an unusual young lady, but one you will grow to like.”
“If you say so, Sir.” Hannah was clearly dubious about it.
“Would you take this book back and replace it?”
“No sir.”
“Shall I carry it to the room for you?”
“Sir, please.”
“I will, but only if you agree to try to be her maid.”
Hannah thought for a few moments, then replied, “Yes, Sir.”




      1. Adapting to Country Life.

The daylight streaming into her room woke Cynthia. More accurately re-woke her after the dawn chorus of bird calls had so rudely woken her earlier in the morning. She sat up in bed and tried to remember what she should do. The chamber pot beckoned first, then she pulled a bell rope for her maid.
Hannah timidly knocked on her door.
“Come in.”
Hannah carefully opened the door, unsure of what she'd find. Her imagination was filled with distressing visions of terrible creatures or obscure dark satanic rituals. To be fair, she had been borrowing Alice's copies of Mrs. Radcliffe's works and enjoyed intense Gothic romance novels every bit as much as her mistress. What she found was an impatient young woman who said, “Hannah, despite what you may have heard or seen, I'm neither a witch nor a dragon.”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
“What I am is a hungry young woman, who needs her morning water and help with her hair and dressing. Like any other gentlewoman.”
“Yes, Ma'am. It was just last night when I was unpacking, I thought that day book of yours spoke to me.”
“Of course it didn't. I neglected to tell you that my bag has a device in it that makes a sound like speech. A bladder and reeds. It's there to scare thieves.” Cynthia didn't elaborate, and Hannah, grateful for a rational explanation, didn't demand further information.
An hour later, Cynthia appeared in the morning room, only to find that breakfast was a mid-morning affair and she had risen far too early in the morning. She asked Hannah if there was anything available to eat and ended up settled in the library with a cup of chocolate. The library was a large room with one imposing wall of bookshelves. Like most libraries in country estates it was more for show than for actual reading. The books were removed once or twice a year for dusting, then carefully returned to their places. Left to her own devices, she started carefully searching for something she could stand to read. In the end she discarded 'Fordyce's Sermons for Young Women' in favor of a volume of Coleridge’s poetry.
Alice found her there, still immersed in it an hour later. A cup of cold chocolate sat, untasted, next to her. “Cynthia, I didn't know you liked poetry.”
“I didn't either.”
“Anyway, if you can break yourself away from Coleridge, we are assembling in the morning room for breakfast. I thought it might be fun to ride after we break our fast.”
“Ride?”
“Go explore the local countryside, and get a little exercise.”
“Sounds like fun. I was wondering what you got up to for enjoyment.”
Breakfast sped by. Lord Wroxham quizzed Cynthia about riding.
“Do you ride much, Miss Morris?”
“Some.”
“Surely you can be more informative than that. Have you joined a hunt?”
“A hunt?” She paused, “Hunting things is one of my specialties.”
“I was talking about wearing the pink and riding to hounds.”
“No, my guardian won't let me.”
“Lord Peter's is an intrepid hunter.”
“That is as may be, but Lord Petersborough isn't. It's his gout, you see.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. Should I send condolences?”
“I wouldn't bother. He doesn't like to be pitied.”
“So where do you ride?”
“Petersborough Park. Nothing special. Just a dear old pony.”
Lord Wroxham found himself thinking, “I wish you wouldn't prevaricate. Petersborough wouldn't waste a single pony6 on a pony for you.”
There was a minor complication after breakfast because Cynthia had neglected to pack her riding habit. Alice offered to let her borrow an old one. Together they walked out to the stables where the grooms had placed sidesaddles on two mares.
Alice practically skipped over to the stable. Her season in London was enjoyable enough, but she missed her special horse. She patted her mare on the nose, and nuzzled it, then easily mounted her.
Cynthia stood there, in front of her horse with her jaw dropped in amazement. “You ride these? They're so big.”
“Of course. What else do you ride?”
“I don't know.” Well, actually she did, but neither spaceships, racing hover bikes, nor near-orbital scooters were available at the moment.
“Come on. Time is passing and I want to get out before it gets too sultry.”
Cynthia stood there with her hand on one earring. She stood there with her eyes flickering from side to side. After a minute, Alice asked, “Cynthia are you well?” Cynthia impatiently waved her hand in reply and returned to what she was doing.
Eventually, Cynthia moved. She gave Alice a tentative smile and said, “Sorry about that. I needed to steel myself.”
“If you're scared of them, we can read instead.”
“No.” Cynthia pulled her head erect and her shoulders back. “One thing I've learned in my travels, is that the fear of something is usually worse than the experience.” She smiled at Alice, and added, “Doesn't make it any easier.” Then she cautiously walked to the front of her horse, took the bridle from the groom and stroked the horse's nose. It whinnied and twitched. Cynthia jumped, but immediately returned to the horse's side. Alice was showing signs of her impatience to get going when Cynthia finally said, “That's enough. I'm ready.” Then she confidently stepped back to the saddle, put her foot in the stirrup and sprang up. She asked Alice and the groom, “Is this right?”
“Yes. It looks like you're mounted properly. Is it comfortable?”
“Not really.”
The groom adjusted her saddle to move the upper stirrup to a better place, and then they rode out of the stables and into the fields beyond.
Alice rode quickly into the fields beyond the farm yard. She had steady hands and riding her favorite horse again filled her with joy. She urged it on to canter down the road.
Cynthia called, “Alice! Wait.” She could just control her mount, maybe. The moment her mount saw Alice’s cantering in the distance, it shot off after it. Cynthia rocked back in her seat, and dropped the reins while she grabbed the saddle with both of her hands. Eventually her horse stopped, and started to graze. She touched her earring and said, “Chris, what am I going to do? This isn’t as easy as it looks.”
“Ma’am,” he replied, “What happened?”
“The horse has a mind of its own.”
“Did you drop the reins?”
“Yes, da- da-, yes it took me both hands to hold on.”
“Don’t drop the reins next time. Can you reach them?”
“No!”
Alice finally noticed that her companion was missing. She turned her mount and cantered back, calling for her friend. She found Cynthia disconsolately sitting on her mount, and trotted over. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t ride. I’m sorry Alice.”
Alice reached down and grabbed the reins for Cynthia. “Cynthia, let me show you how.” She handed them to her. “It’s not hard.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“It really isn’t. Do not drop the reins.”
“But I felt like I was falling off and needed both hands to hold on.” Alice rode over and pushed Cynthia so hard that she rocked in the saddle. “Did you fall off?”
“No.”
She pushed her again the other way. “Still on the horse?”
“Yes.”
“Now do you think you’d fall off if the horse moved?”
“I guess not.”
“You won’t. Now let’s walk on.”
As the afternoon continued, and under Alice’s tuition, Cynthia’s confidence in the saddle grew. By the end of the day she could canter with some level of confidence. They rode back to the stables together.
As Alice and Cynthia returned from the stables to the hall, Alice asked her friend, “Did you enjoy it?”
“That was the most fun I've ever had going so slowly.”
“What do you mean slowly?”
“You really feel you're moving when the horse canters. The wind and the noise, it's exhilarating. I've done.” She stopped.
“You've done what?”
“Nothing.”
“Cynthia, it isn't just your imagination is it? I can't stay friends with you if you keep hiding things from me.”
“I'm not sure you will like the truth.”
“Try me.”
“Riding that mare was almost as much fun as the time I dodged rocks, rockets and blasts in my ship while the entire Cataxi navy followed me in hot pursuit. You only do that once or twice in a lifetime.”
“Imagining things again?”
“No. It happened. I told you I'd tell you the truth, but I expect you don't believe me.”
“Why only once in a lifetime?”
“Unless you're a better than half-decent pilot you will crash into a rock or they will manage to hit your ship with a blast. It was even a little closer for me than I'm wont to enjoy, but I'm not known as Cynthia the Invincible throughout border-space for nothing.”
“Cynthia, you really do read too many novels. I never thought I'd say this, because I hated it when my governess said it to me, but you really must rein in that imagination of yours. It will get you in trouble.”
“Alice, you asked me to tell you the truth. I did. When my ship is repaired, I'll take you to see Mars or Saturn. Which would you prefer?”
“Stop it. You're being silly.”
“You'll see, but I'll stop it for now.”
A few moments later, Alice shyly added, “If we can't see them both, I'd like to see Mars.”
“Consider it a promise. Did you know what's for dinner? I'm famished with all this exercise.”
“We'll have to get changed first. I think cook was planning a roast capon.”
“Capon?”
“A big chicken.”
“Oh, a bird.”
“Yes, silly, a bird. What did you think it was? Either that or a meat pie. Depends on what she has in the pantry.”
“Sounds, interesting.” Cynthia was still mentally adjusting from the textured microbial protein of her ship to real food. Food that had once been alive and walking around. She said, “I suppose you haven't heard of Marmite?”
“What's that?”
“Never mind.”
Hannah met them as they walked up to their rooms. She bustled Alice off to get changed, and told Cynthia that she had already put her afternoon water in the room. “I'll be with you presently, but you can get started without me, I'm sure Miss.”
Cynthia was standing in her corset and chemise when Hannah knocked and entered. She had been washing the 'pits and smelly bits' with a cloth. She looked over and asked “Hannah, there isn't any chance of a bath is there?”
“Miss, not with the kitchen preparing dinner. It will take them time to heat up the water, and the servants are too busy to carry it up here.”
“I thought it might not be possible.”
As she bustled about, Hannah said, “A bath, why-ever would you want one today. Surely you had one last week?”
“I did, but still it is nice to be thoroughly clean and refreshed after hard exercise.”
“Maybe,” and here she sniffed Cynthia, “But you're clean enough, especially after I put some of this lavender water on you.”
“If you say so.”
Hannah helped Cynthia finish dressing then quickly headed back to see to Alice's needs. Meanwhile, Cynthia sat and tried to brush out her hair. She touched her earring and said, “Chris, these people. Primitive is too advanced a word for them. Please do your best to finish repairing yourself quickly.”
“What is it, Ma'am?”
“No baths. Can you imagine it? I was out riding real animals. It is hard, sweaty exercise. Then not having a bath to get clean?”
“It is what they are used to Ma'am. Did this happen in Jane Austen world?”
“No.”
“I didn't think much of the accuracy of that game. Remember I warned you about it?”
There was a knock on the door, and Alice entered. “Who were you talking to?”
“Myself. Do you see anyone else?”
“No. Well, do up your hair. They're about to ring the gong for dinner.”
While Cynthia struggled to get her hair into some manageable form, Alice noticed her red stone pendant necklace. “What a pretty gem. Where did you get it?”
“I, uh, found it somewhere.”
“Can I wear it?”
“It's sort of special. We'll see.”
Hannah followed Alice into Cynthia's room and professionally undid and then redid Cynthia's hair. While she was working on it she said to Alice, “Miss Wroxham, you have enough jewelry. You know that with your complexion you can only wear pearls and diamonds. Not these deeply colored stones.”
“But Hannah?”
“But Hannah nothing, Miss. Unlike you, Miss Morris has the dark coloring to carry it off.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Now get down to the drawing room.”
As they left the room, Cynthia whispered to Alice, “I'll let you try it some time.”
Alice replied, “These old servants, just because they've known you since you wore short clothes they think they can dictate what you do.”
The Capon, served with an elegant sauce, fresh vegetables and a meat pie was far more palatable than Cynthia expected. Either that or she was far hungrier than she realized. Lord Wroxham apologized to his guests for the simple meal. Cynthia said “I’ve not eaten so well in a long time. Can you let me upload the recipe?”
“Upload?”
She shook her head and after a moment said, “I’m sorry, I mean could you convey my complements to your cook?”
“Certainly. Whatever did you mean by upload?”
“My mouth must have been on autopilot. I just said the first thing that came into my mind.”
“Autopilot?”
“See. There I did it again. Must be the wine. I’m so imaginative that I make up nonsense words all the time.”
After dinner, when the two women would normally withdraw and let the men have their port and snuff, Alice had a request. “James, since we are so informal tonight, could Miss Morris and I stay with you?”
Freddy said, “I say, that’s an idea. I mean James, old boy, as much as I like you, the company of the fair.” He paused, about to use the word ‘sex’, then recovered with “these fair maidens is not to be sneezed at.”
“Elegant as always, Freddy?”
“I do have a point, don’t I?”
“Why not? Madison, could you bring out the port and the snuff. Four glasses please?” His butler bowed to the ineluctable, but irregular wishes of his master. He produced the wine, the glasses, and the snuff jar.
The decanter rapidly circulated around the table. Cynthia sipped her glass then tossed it off, saying, “Very tasty, but a bit on the weak side.” She refilled her glass, but before she could drain it again, Lord Wroxham offered her the snuff.
“I'll try most things once, if you can show me how.”
He took a small pinch, placed it on the back of his hand and with a rapid inhale sucked it into his nose. Freddy followed suit and said, “James, you are an epicure when it comes to snuff. This mixture is just the right balance between Brazil and Havana. That floral after scent from the rose-water is impeccable.” Cynthia tentatively took a very small pinch and tried it. After she stopped sneezing and her head stopped spinning she said, “That burns. Do you really do that for pleasure?”
Lord Wroxham smiled at her. “I do, but it did take some getting used to.”
“Better you than me.” Cynthia did the unthinkable, she gargled with her port to try to remove the flavor of the snuff. It helped a little. Then she asked Alice, “Do you like snuff?”
“No. I leave that for my brother.”
“So it's not something I need to learn to like?”
“Not at all, most young ladies don't use it.”
“Good. It's awful stuff.”
With four drinkers, the decanter of port was rapidly drained, and they moved on to brandy. Cynthia pronounced that to be more to her taste.
Freddy commented, “Miss Morris, you are imbibing a rather large amount. Will you be able to walk upstairs?”
“Me walk? This is nothing. Why one night at the port of Adabas in the dock pub I put away two whole liters of pepper Wodka. Then we had a.” She stopped and looked at her companions' open mouths. “I'm sorry, I'm being imaginative again. This is from an Arabian night’s story.”
Alice looked at her wide-eyed, “Cynthia, could you tell the story?”
“It's just an old one.”
“Please? It sounds so exciting.”
“Do you want the original or the way I re-wrote it?”
“The way you were telling it. It seems so colorful and vivid, so real. Almost as if you were there.”
“Well, if you insist. It is just a story, remember.”
“Yes, just a story.”
“Good. Well, I'd finished these two liters of Wodka and Old One-eyed Jack. Well he was just called Red Jack then on account of his hair. Anyway we got to bragging about our shooting and flying ability.”
“Flying?”
“Um. Magic carpets. It's a learned skill.”
“Magic carpets?”
“Yes, do you want to hear the rest of the story?”
“Please.”
“So we stumbled on out to our sh-, carpets, and took off on a bounce around the pla- place. We'd dive down, almost to the deck, and fire our cannon at sheep and camels.”
Alice asked, “Do magic carpets have cannons?”
Lord Wroxham said, “Why not? Pray continue.”
“Boring if they didn't. It's not any fun to fly if you can't tickle up the livestock. Anyway we tickled them up with a few shots. Of course the watch didn't like this and soon we had a whole mess of them on our tails. At least four or five, maybe more. But by then I was beginning to see double so I stopped counting. They were weaving all over the place. You'd have thought they were the ones who were drinking, not us. They'd try to get in our way and boom, with a blast they'd be gone. I made it to my ship and we cast off onto the briny sea with the watch standing there on the beach and shaking their fists at us. Anyway every time I think of pepper Wodka I think of poor Jack. One of the watch made a lucky shot that took him down, and that's how he became One-eyed Jack. He earned the old moniker later, but that's another tale.”
After a few moments Alice said, “Sounds like it was fun.”
“It was.” She grinned. “I mean it was a good story before I elaborated on it. I think I made it better.”
Lord Wroxham gave her a serious look. “Miss Morris.”
“Call me Cynthia.”
“Cynthia, you have quite an imagination. How many novels did you say you read?”
“I've lost count, but many more than Lord Petersborough or my governess ever approved of.”


When Cynthia woke the next morning she found Lord Wroxham going through her dresser. “Lord Wroxham, what are you doing?”
“I was wondering if I could look at your diary. I though with the amount you drank last night, you'd still be sound asleep. How's your head?”
“My head is fine, and no you can't look at my diary. It's personal, private.”
“I don't want to read it. I was just wondering if I could copy the design for Alice. She admired the way yours was made.”
“Really? I don't remember showing it to her.”
“She saw it yesterday, while you were writing about riding horses.”
“I suppose she might have seen it.” Cynthia considered for a moment, then said, “If you would avert your gaze, I'll put on a robe and retrieve it for you. But you really should ask me first rather than just taking it. Don't you know the difference between meum and teum?”
“Thank you for the lesson. I have this lovely diary that you may have instead. It's bound in red Moroccan leather.”
“I like the one I have. You can keep yours.”
While Lord Wroxham averted his eyes, averted them, that is, into a mirror, Cynthia rose and put on a robe.
“You may look now. Or rather you may look directly at me. I saw you watching me in the mirror.”
He blushed, embarrassed to be caught in the act.
Cynthia continued, “I hope you liked what you saw.”
“You were in your nightgown. It was pretty.”
“Yes it is. I rather like it.”
“No it's commonplace. You make it pretty.”
Ignoring his complement, she walked over to her dresser and pulled a small bound book from the top drawer. “Here it is. I haven't written much in it. Unfortunately, there is nothing I'm ashamed for you to read. I'll have to see if I can change that for you.”
“Thank you.”
“Please remember, I want it back.”
“I'll return it tonight.” He bowed and left the room. Cynthia smiled. There was a reason she kept a duplicate book, one that was just paper.
The moment the door closed, she locked it and frantically called Chris. “Alright Chris, what the heck have you been up to?”
“Nothing, Ma'am.”
“Nothing Ma'am, my nether regions. That Lord Wroxham was in my room and he was looking for you. He had some lame story about wanting to have a copy of my diary made for his sister.”
“Did he?”
“That is an interesting definition of nothing.”
“Oh.”
“So remember, I have your supervisor password. If I have to, I will set you back to factory specs.”
“Yes, Ma'am.” A reset to factory specifications was the ultimate threat to a sentient program. It was the equivalent of a death sentence. All his experiences would be gone. There would be some other consciousness running his ship and talking with his person.
“So what have you done?”
“I told Lord Wroxham a little about you.”
“How little?”
“A tiny amount, but enough, I hope, to peak his curiosity.”
“Supervisor mode.”
“Stop! Please stop! For the love of all that is holy! Please, no.”
“Tell me.”
“He was suspicious about your letter of recommendation. Something was wrong with it. I told him you were good company, and I intimated that you might be from the future.”
“Is that all?”
“I asked him not to tell you that we had talked, and I warned him that you might fall ill next week.”
“Chris I'm extremely disappointed in you. I thought I could trust you.”
“You can Cynthia. If I erred, it was in doing what I thought was good for you.”
“Now I want you to listen to me, and listen to me very carefully.”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
“Any more talking to these primitives and I will wipe you. A reset. A total unambiguous reset. Do you understand me, or do I have to make myself clearer?”
“Yes Ma'am.”
“Good. Now who is the professional infiltrator?”
“You are Ma'am.”
“Da-, Damn right.” Under the heat of her agitation, her conditioning slipped and she could express herself with her customarily colorful language. “God damn it Chris, I've been doing this since before you were even a fucking block diagram on some ill-begotten bastard of a programmer's sketchpad.”
“Yes Ma'am.”
“Please don't make me reset you. We've been through so much together. I like you, maybe even more than just like you, but let me make this clear. If you put one more electron out of line, I will do it.”
“Yes Ma'am.”
“Good. I'm glad you understand me.”
“Ma'am, I did ask him to contact me if you fell ill from the drug withdrawal symptoms. I didn't call it that. Should I respond then?”
“If my life is in danger or I’m very ill, yes. If I'm just feeling a tad poorly, no. Remember we don't know how I will respond, do we? Nothing at all might happen.”
“Yes, Ma'am. I must warn you that having no side effects is highly unlikely. There is a 90% confidence estimate that you will be seriously incommoded by them.”
“I must admit I'm not looking forward to it.”
“Yes Ma'am.”
“Chris, you have to remember, that as primitive as these natives are, they are not stupid. If Lord Wroxham deduces, as he will if you keep talking with him, that there is a powerful ship available for the taking, we could be in deep over our heads. Remember I have a Letter of Marque, he doesn't.”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
“So no more of this, correct?”
“Yes, Ma'am. I'm sorry Ma'am.”
“Good. I'll say no more. This matter is closed.”
Cynthia and Alice had another enjoyable day. They managed to squeeze in some riding practice, some reading and some music. Alice enjoyed having Cynthia's company and to her surprise, Cynthia found herself enjoying simply being friends with another human.
That evening the dinner gong was banged several times, but Lord Wroxham failed to arrive. Finally, he rushed into the drawing room just as the assembled party started to walk into the dining room. As they walked down the hall, Freddy, a stickler for sartorial excellence, looked his friend over and noted that his studs were simple brass ones. It was not the done thing, not at all. He asked, “James, why aren't you wearing your diamond studs?”
“They were missing. I had Adams look in every drawer, but they were gone. All we could find were these old brass ones. Did you notice the lack of my quizzing glass and fobs?”
“No, but now that you mention it. Were we robbed?”
Lord Wroxham looked over at Miss Morris. She had an especially angelic smile as she talked with his sister. They were discussing horses and riding. Cynthia looked away from her companion and winked at him. He said “Freddy, I would bet you a monkey to a bent farthing that she has them.”
“Miss Morris? No I couldn't believe it. She seems such a nice young lady, and Alice likes her.”
“Maybe.”
It wasn't until late in the evening, after the men had rejoined the women in the drawing room, and after they had dispersed to their rooms, that Lord Wroxham received a knock on his door. It was Cynthia. She said, “Lord Wroxham, are you decent?”
“I'm always decent, but yes I still am clothed and Adams is with me.”
“Good, would you let me in?”
“Adams?”
His valet opened the door and Cynthia stood there, smiling. She looked completely innocent. Lord Wroxham knew that wasn't possible and asked, “What have you been up to, Miss Morris?”
“Please call me Cynthia.”
“All right, what have you been up to Cynthia?”
She smiled at him. “I do know the difference between meum and teum. These are yours.” She dropped his studs into his hands, then followed it with his fobs and quizzing glass.
He gasped, then said, “How did you do that?”
“Lessons are extra. Let me just say that I waited for an opportunity when you were away and no one was paying me any attention.” She curtsied and said, “I need to get to sleep. These late nights are so tiring. See you in the morning. Would you be interested in joining Alice and me for a ride tomorrow?”
“Only if Freddy comes. I have the feeling it will take the two of us to keep you out of trouble.”
She laughed, “One more thing before I depart, did you find my diary interesting?”
“It's just a book.”
“What did you expect?” She gave him another smile. “Some things are not for prying eyes, Lord Wroxham.”


The next morning after breakfast, Alice insisted that Cynthia accompany her on another ride. “You're much improved, Cynthia.”
“I'm also stiff and sore.”
“You'll get used to it.”
“Did you hear me complaining? Where did you want to ride today?”
“I thought we could ride up onto the top of the downs, then return by the mill creek in Carling. It would give the horses a chance to drink.”
“I suppose there isn't any chance we could stop for a drink ourselves?”
“Cynthia, it's not genteel to stop at the common bar in a public house.”
“I guess not. Oh well. I hope James has more port. It's likely to be a warm and sunny day.”
After they were saddled, they left the farm for the hills. Cynthia's prediction of the weather was correct and after riding on the downs they welcomed riding along a shady path that hugged the river. Freddy and Lord Wroxham met them as they were approaching the village of Carling. Talk soon turned to riding. Alice commented, “Cynthia has much improved. She'll make a fine horsewoman yet.”
Lord Wroxham teased them, “Are you ready to race?”
Cynthia looked him in the eye. “I'm always ready to race, James.”
Alice quickly pulled her horse in front of them, “James, she's not ready for a gallop. She can't jump. Please don't.”
“It's in her hands, sister.”
Cynthia edged her mount around Alice's and said “Lord Wroxham. I'm ready if you are.”
Freddy added his mite, “What a great go. The fair Miss Morris against the dashing Lord Wroxham.” Alice gave him a dirty look, which like most of her looks, he ignored. Once Lord Wroxham had his horse clear, Freddy gave a brief count. They were off.
Lord Wroxham was pleasantly surprised that Cynthia seemed able to keep up with him. Indeed, on the straights, she urged her horse into the lead. The path splashed across a stream. He easily forded it and rode on. Cynthia's mount slipped and she tumbled in.
Alice and Freddy followed at a more reasonable pace. Alice told Freddy, “Mr. Alverston, in the future, please pay attention to me about these things. Miss Morris is not ready to race an accomplished horseman like Lord Wroxham. She'll hurt herself.”
Freddy listened in silence, only interjecting the occasional acknowledgement of Alice's points. They came to the stream. Cynthia was sitting on the side. She was covered in wet and muck.
Alice threw her reins to Freddy and hopped down. “Cynthia, are you fine?”
“I don't know whether to laugh uproariously or to cry my eyes out.”
“What?”
“It was great fun, but I ruined your habit.”
“You didn't break anything?”
“No, I'm not even stunned.”
“You shouldn't have done that. You could have killed yourself.”
“Alice, you're right. I won't race Lord Wroxham again.”
“Good.”
“At least not until I'm a much better rider. I nearly had him in the straight.”
“Cynthia!”
“Do you know the way to the hall? I suspect it's a bit of a walk, and I gather horses don't come when you call them. At least this one doesn't, because I've tried.”
Freddy helpfully suggested, “Miss Morris, Cynthia. You could ride with me.” Alice shot him another dirty look. Cynthia, far more observant and already conversant with Alice's interests had a different idea. “Thank you for your offer Mr. Alverston, but my habit is so muddy that I'd ruin your elegant clothes. If Miss Wroxham would not mind, she could ride with you while I ride her horse.”
“I say, that's an idea.” Freddy, for all his apparent disinterest, was not unaware of Alice's desires. Cynthia continued, “Besides being cleaner than I am, she's much lighter. She'd be a much cozier armful than I ever would.”
Alice said “Cynthia, please. You're embarrassing me,” but she let Cynthia help her up into Freddy's waiting arms. Cynthia stiffly mounted Alice's horse and they calmly walked back to the hall. Cynthia said, “I've had enough racing for today.” To which Alice concurred, besides she didn't want to exit from Freddy's embrace too quickly.
Lord Wroxham was waiting at the stables when they arrived. He was striding about impatiently, and debating whether to search for his guest when they arrived. “What happened? Your horse arrived here without you an hour ago.”
Cynthia flashed him her smile. “Was it that long ago? It was hot so I went for a swim.”
      1. The Past Catches Up With Cynthia.

After a few days Cynthia finally was able to sleep through the morning avian chorus. The cooing of the wood pigeons no longer kept her awake in the early morning. It was when she slept through breakfast as well, that Lord Wroxham was worried. He sent for Hannah and said, “Hannah, how is our guest?”
“Ill, sir.”
“I gathered that, she wasn't at breakfast. How ill?”
“She doesn't want to get out of her bed.”
“Is she fevered?”
“No, sir.”
Lord Wroxham remembered what Chris had said, “May I see her?”
“If you wish, sir, but why? She is just a designing little hus-.”
“Hussy? I don't think so Hannah. Please do not criticize your betters.”
“No My Lord. It's not my place.”
“Good. Hannah, you've been with us for years. I understand why you're upset and how much you are attached to Miss Wroxham.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“Miss Morris is our visitor. I'm not sure how long she will stay, but while she is with us she needs the service of a lady's maid.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“Alice seems to like her for some reason. So she can't be all bad.”
“That's true, sir.”
“Now lead me to her.”
Hannah knocked on Cynthia's door again. The answer, “Go away!” came from within. Cynthia continued, “I'm fine. Just leave me al-.” There was a crash as she fell over. Hannah tried the door, and found that it was locked. The key was on the inside and partially turned. It could not be unlocked from the outside.
“Let me,” Lord Wroxham pushed hard on the door. It didn't budge. He threw himself into moving it and it finally opened with a splintering noise as the bolt broke through the jamb. They rushed in to find Cynthia twitching on the floor. Her face was swollen, red and blotchy. From what they could tell, the rest of her body was in a similar state. Under Hannah's somewhat scandalized glare, Lord Wroxham picked Cynthia up and put her on her bed. Wringing her hands while she stood there, Hannah finally said, “Sir, won't you catch what she has?”
“No. In any case, I can't leave her on the floor.”
“No sir, but you could call for a footman.”
Lord Wroxham smiled, and said, “And miss the pleasure of her company. No thank you Hannah.”
“Should I send for the apothecary?”
“Please do. I'll watch her while you go.”
“Sir?”
“The door will be open, and I hope you think I'm honorable enough not to force myself on a sick woman?”
Hannah left. With Cynthia barely, if at all, conscious, Lord Wroxham quickly went through her dresser. This time he found both copies of the diary, and one responded to him.
“Sir, I presume Miss Morris is severely ill?”
“See for yourself.”
“Ah. Actually, sir. That is not as severe as it could be.”
“If that's not severe, I'd hate to see what you call severe.”
“She will regain her wits soon. I am authorized to talk to you about care, nothing else.”
“Authorized?”
The picture of a young man that Chris used an interface was replaced by writing. “The operative word is talk. Miss Cynthia did not specify communicate. Please say the following 'Master password reset'.”
“Master password reset”
A metallic voice emanated from the diary and said, “Current password.”
The writing said, “Say 'Hairy treefungus'.”
“Hairy treefungus.”
The voice continued. “Password accepted, new password.”
The writing said “Say whatever you'd like, but don't forget it.”
“Perseus and Medea.”
The voice asked one more thing. “Please repeat.”
Lord Wroxham didn't need the prompting to say, “Perseus and Medea.”
“Password accepted.”
Chris spoke, “Thank you Lord Wroxham. You've relieved me from one serious worry.”
“I did?”
“Yes, Cynthia isn't a witch like Medea. My dear Perseus, but I'd rather she is not cognizant of my password while she is recovering. She could hurt me and regret it later.”
“If you say so. So what should I do for her?”
Chris started to spout ingredients for a herbal infusion. “Willow bark, from a good 60 centimeters of young twigs.”
“Centimeters?”
“Roughly two feet.”
“Got it.”
“Do you have ginger root?
“The cook probably does.”
“A few slices of that, if you have it. If not some tea would work. Steep them together for about 15 minutes in a quarter liter of water.”
“Quarter Liter?”
“About a cup. Then when she's conscious she can have some. I wouldn't let the apothecary give her anything. Maybe a saline draught or some hot wine if he insists. Those won't hurt her.”
“She rather liked my port last night.”
“Port? Oh yes, a little would be fine. Help her to sleep. Just don't let her over do it.”
“Good. Anything else?”
“No, but you should put me back. If something comes up, feel free to talk to me. Just be discrete. Cynthia must not know about it as it would upset her.”
Lord Wroxham replaced the diary, then rushed off to get his servants to brew up the prescription. They quickly ran to do his bidding while he returned to Cynthia. She stirred when he entered her room, “James, is that you?”
“Yes.”
“I'm glad you're here, but don't worry about me. I won't die from this.”
“I talked to your friend.”
She started to sit up sharply and to tell him off. The effort was too much and she lay back. Lord Wroxham continued, “He told me to make a tea from willow bark and ginger.”
“I'm not that ill.”
“You collapsed when I first knocked. I had to put you in bed myself.”
She smiled at the thought. “I suppose that was a new experience.”
While he'd been in bed with more than a few inamoratas, he had never lifted an unconscious and ill woman into her bed. Nor for that matter, one without an ulterior motive. “Yes, but it's not one I'd like to repeat.” He reached over and touched her forehead the way his nurse had done when he was a boy. Cynthia relaxed when he touched her. “At least you don't seem to be running a fever.”
“Shouldn't. I'll just be feeble, swollen,” here she sniffed, “and ugly for the next few days.”
“I must admit I've seen you to better advantage, but you will recover. Won't you?”
“Should. Might look a little older than 16.”
“I shouldn't worry about that.”
“As long as it's not my real age. Then you should just put me in a bath chair and wheel me over with the other dowagers.”
“You'll let me talk to your friend if that happens. Correct?”
Cynthia laughed, “It won't. Might look twenty though. Hope my dresses will still fit.”
By the time Hannah returned with the apothecary, Cynthia was sitting up in bed and drinking a cup of the willow tea. The apothecary took her pulse and examined her. Then he said, “The closest case I've seen to this was when little John Wiggam ran into a wasp nest. He was swollen from head to toe.” He paused for a few minutes of thought, then added, “I'll write you the prescription I used then. It may have helped him. Otherwise, just let her rest and pray that she recovers.”


Later that day, Alice knocked on the door to check on her friend, then gently opened it. “Cynthia?”
Cynthia was sitting in bed with a sheet pulled over her head. “Go away. I look terrible, and I don’t feel much better.”
“I’ve brought a book, maybe we could sit and read again?”
“I look like something out of one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s most horrific novels.”
“I can read to you, but why don’t you let me see?”
“Shut the door first, I don’t want either Mr. Alverstoke or Lord Wroxham to see me like this.” Alice shut the door. Cynthia pulled the sheet down, “See!”
She was still puffy, but with the addition of bright pink blotches and red spots. Her hair was a greasy tangled mess. “Don’t I look awful?”
“You look like you’ve been ill. That’s all.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Have you looked like this?”
“Not recently, but yes.”
“Oh. I guess I’m not used to it.”
“Cynthia, you’ll feel better if you get your hair straightened out. Why don’t you read, while I brush it?”
“You would do that?”
“I’ve always wanted a sister, isn’t this what sisters do for each other?”
“I really wouldn’t know. My parents thought the world of my little brothers, not me. Couldn’t wait to send me to the academy.”
“I'm sorry they didn't care for you, but I'm glad you're here.”
“Surely you must have had a family that liked you?”
“I was raised by a succession of governesses, mostly very strict, then a short time in a boarding school to polish my learning and deportment. It's been better since James became the head of the family.”
“Oh, so I shouldn't complain, should I?”
“No. Let's just say we're not that different in our upbringings.”
Alice gave her the book, and sat behind her with the brush, comb and powder. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Now start reading while I work on these tangles.”


Hannah came to find her mistress late in the afternoon. She said “Miss Wroxham, it is time to dress for supper.” Alice had finished brushing Cynthia's hair, and the two of them were alternating their way through the book. Alice rose, and then asked Cynthia, “Why don't you come down? Even if you're not hungry the change of scenery will do you good.”
“Do you think I should? I still look a fright.”
“It's only a family gathering. Who cares? I don't, I'm sure Freddy doesn't and my brother, well, it's his lookout isn't it?”
Cynthia laughed, “That's true. It's their stomach's I'll turn, not mine.”
“Cynthia, believe me, you don't look as awful as you think you do.”
“Even if I'm only half as awful looking as I think I am that's still too much.”
“Tell you what. I'll ask my brother to give his opinion.”
“If you insist.”
Lord Wroxham was already on his way to see Cynthia. While she could be infuriating at times, he dreaded the dull dinner that would result from her absence. He knocked on the door and asked if he might enter.
“At your own hazard.”
“Why?”
“I think I could trade places with the Medusa and no one would notice.”
“You cannot look that bad, Cynthia. I'll risk turning to stone.”
He opened the door and looked in. “I must admit I have seen you looking to better advantage, but I would appreciate your company at dinner.”
“I didn't think Alice and Freddy are that dull, are they?”
He laughed, “No, but you make the meal much more lively. I'd like to hear more of your Arabian night's tales if you are willing.”
“If you put it that way, I suppose I can try.” Cynthia slung her feet over the side of the bed and started to stand. She rose, swayed and stumbled. “I'm terribly dizzy.” Lord Wroxham dashed forward to catch her before she fell and hurt herself.
“Thank you. That's better.” She smiled at him. “You're strong, aren't you?”
“Are you sure about dinner? I'd rather have you rest tonight if that would speed your recovery.”
“I'll be fine. Now if you'll help me to the chair, I can start my preparations.”


Freddy, Alice and Lord Wroxham had already started dinner, when Cynthia arrived at the table. The gentlemen rose as she entered the room. She was supported by Hannah on the way and said after she sat at the table, “I'm sorry I'm so late. It took longer than I thought to get prepared.”
Freddy gave her a wan smile, “Are you feeling better than this morning?”
“Much better, thank you.” Cynthia turned to Alice and continued, “And thank you Miss Wroxham for your help this afternoon. It made all the difference to me.”
“It was my pleasure.”
While she was able to sit at the table, Cynthia wasn't completely recovered. She toyed with the food, only eating a few mouthfuls of the plainer non-animal foods. Similarly, her head swam by the time she had taken her first few sips of wine. She started to rise, saying “Excuse me, but I feel the need of my bed.” Then she sat down again and started to weep. “I can't even walk.”
Lord Wroxham studied her. This masterful young woman looked so hopeless, so alone sitting there. He coughed, and said, “Miss Morris do you need assistance? I can call a footman.”
She gave him such a pitiful look that he changed his mind. “May I escort you to your room?”
She smiled at him. It was that same disarming smile that kept bothering his equilibrium. “That would be very nice. We can chat on the way, if you'd like.”
With Lord Wroxham's steadying hand they made good time on the flat. The stairs were another matter. They rested part way up the stairs, and Cynthia took the opportunity to ask, “Did you talk to Chris about me?”
“Um, yes.”
“It's fine. I told him he could talk to you if I was very ill. I'd say this counts.”
“That's good, he was worried that he had overstepped your instructions.”
“He shouldn't be, but I use that master password to keep him in line when he thinks he knows best.”
Lord Wroxham paused in thought, “So that's what that was about.” He said, “I hope you are finding Carling Hall to your liking.”
Cynthia smiled and looked up at him. Again his heart seemed to skip a beat. “Very much so. I've learned so much in the last week. Thank you for putting up with me.”
Lord Wroxham found that despite his will, he too was smiling. “It has been our pleasure, my pleasure to have your company.”
Cynthia squeezed his arm, “I'm ready to try if you are.”
Misunderstanding her meaning, he started to kiss her, but she stopped him and said, “I meant the rest of the stairs.”
“Oh.”
She squeezed his arm again, “We can try kissing some other time, when I'm feeling better. You wouldn't take advantage of an ill and feeble woman, would you?”


The next morning Cynthia was awake and sitting up in bed when Hannah entered her room to check on her. Hannah bustled about stiffly performing the tasks of preparing the room for her mistress's arising. She drew the curtains to let in the sun and tidied the few things Cynthia had disturbed in the night. A housemaid would replace the partially burnt candle with a new one later in the day and freshen the chamber pot once Miss Morris was breaking her fast downstairs.
“Miss Morris, Ma'am, you are looking better. How are you feeling?”
“Still a bit weak.”
“Miss Alice was planning to ride this morning, will you be joining her?”
“I'd best not. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Yes, Ma'am. I'd best get your willow tea Ma'am.” She efficiently left the room.
Cynthia touched her right earring, “Chris?”
“Miss, I see that you are back in the land of the living.”
“Cut that out. I feel much better, still not right, but better.”
“I must warn you, Miss that you will feel different from when you were on the juice.”
“Maybe, but I think I will rest today.”
“That is wise, Ma'am. I would advise that you spend the day occupied in a leisurely pursuit.”
“Chris, you're not a butler. You're my companion, the only link I have to the sane, normal world. Please stop with this.”
“As madam wishes.” Cynthia replied, “Pity you don't have a neck. I'd wring it.”
“Just as well I'm in Iceland. You will be happy to learn that I'm well on the way to operational status. Not quite fully space-worthy, but in an emergency you would probably survive a flight.”
“Excellent. Now I have to find an emergency.”
“Aren't you enjoying the real version of 'Jane Austen World'?”
“It's not an unalloyed pleasure, but on the most part it's been pleasant. Still, I need to get out of here.”
“Then what's the rush?”
“There's this man, I'm beginning to think about him. I don't like it.”
“Ah, bound to happen Ma'am. That was part of my plan.”
“Your plan?”
Chris refused to answer.
“What plan?”
Silence again.
“Chris, what are you doing?”
“Ma'am. My central task is to keep my person healthy and ready to perform her mission. If it means disobeying her, I will. Just like I won't follow your orders to crash the ship.”
“Oh, so you won't tell me.”
“Only because it would be harmful for you to know. Anything else Ma'am?”
“In other words, you're saying 'trust me', aren't you?”
“Yes.”
Cynthia repressed a swear word or four and asked, “Hannah should be here in a bit with this willow tea. What's in it?”
“Now, that I can tell you about. Willow bark contains salicylic acid7, a potent analgesic. It can control fevers and dampen pain. The ginger is surprisingly effective at settling upset tummies.”
“Chris, please.”
“Upset stomachs. It's just the thing for the side effects. Much better than the mixture of calomel and paregoric that the apothecary prescribed for you.”
“I suppose the paregoric might be helpful, but mercury chloride?”
“At least he didn't propose to purge you.”
“I suppose this is why you talked with James.”
“Yes, Ma'am. I always have your best interests at core.”
There was a quiet knock at the door and Hannah entered. She was carrying a small tray with the willow tea on it. She said, “Who were you talking with, Miss?”
“Myself. I do that occasionally.”
“Not a good habit, Ma'am.”
“I'll try to control it, Hannah. Thank you.”
“I will lay out suitable raiment for a quiet day. When you have finished with your tea Ma'am, please ring and I will assist you.”
“Thank you Hannah.”


That afternoon the sun found its way through a normally curtained window of the library and lit up a corner with light and warmth. Cynthia sat there, curled tightly in a comfortable chair, and reading a book. Lord Wroxham entered and disturbed her.
“Cynthia, it looks like you're feeling better.”
“Much better, My Lord.”
“James, please.”
“Much better, James. I'm not sure I'll be ready to ride with Alice tomorrow, but certainly by the day after.”
He coughed, then with a tense low voice said, “Cynthia, about last night.”
“You tried to kiss me.”
“Um, yes. I don't know what came over me.”
“I do.” She rose and walked over to him. Then she gave him a quick peck. “For friendship, James. Are you interested in marriage?”
“Heaven's forbid.”
“Likewise. It's not on the books for me either. That doesn't mean I don't think you're a handsome man, or otherwise unsuitable. It's just I'm not looking for anyone.”
“Nor am I. I like my freedom from a leg-shackle, and to be honest, I've found other ways to meet my needs.”
“I can guess what they are. Somehow I doubt they are suitable for genteel ears.”
“They aren't. It's just I find you attractive, interesting.”
“James, do you think I don't find you like that too? If the circumstances were different, maybe I'd be setting my cap for you. As it is, let's just be friends.” She extended her hand.
He took it and gave it a shake, then a squeeze. “Friends, then it is.”
She found herself unwilling to remove her hand from his, but replied, “Yes, friends.”
Starting to pull her closer, to which she did not object, he continued, “Just friends.”
They were saved from testing their resolve by Alice. When the door opened for her to enter the library they dropped each other’s hands and moved apart in apparent disinterest. As she came into the library she gushed, “Cynthia, how are you? I hope better, because you missed a great day for a ride. Tomorrow should be good too.” She saw how they were standing, “I'm sorry, did I interrupt something?”
“No, nothing.”




1 Translator's note. Most of the more colorful spacer expressions lose their meanings in translating from modern English and the various Xeno-dialects used in the original manuscript into late Middle English. I have endeavored to preserve the flavor of the language, but there really are no idiomatic late Middle English equivalents for many of the colorful alien expressions that have made their way into common usage. For example the Cataxi expression 'da'thu yrse' which translates roughly as 'may your carapace overgrow your eye slits' really has no idiomatic equivalent in human language.
2 Even spacers who were born, like Cynthia, on other planets referred to Earth as home. If they could, most managed a visit home sometime in their lives. Cynthia's visit had been eventful.
3 Augmented Reality
4 A standing budge is a scout for a thief. Cracksmen were house robbers in general.
5 One name for Uranus at the time.
6 A pony is slang for twenty-five pounds.
7 Actually, willow bark was one of the first modern controlled studies of drug action, published in 1805. The word salicylate is derived from the Latin Salix or willow.
8 This was a cheeky choice of a name, since the Prince of Wales did not like his wife, and Brighton was his town.