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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Lord Jeffrey
 

«Jewel of Tharn», Jeffrey Lord

The lights were burning late at Number 10 Downing Street Big Ben had just struck three and still the three men sat around the long, green-topped table in the Privy Council room. Blue smoke from J's pipe wreathed upward to form baroque curlicues in the white light of a high chandelier.

The Prime Minister took a sip from the small brandy snifter before him. He said: "It is a sort of death, I suppose. A death in life. Which this man Blade is willing to undergo again and again. You say he accepts these risks gladly?"

Lord Leighton, England's greatest scientist, a shrunken little man with a grotesque hump and glittering yellow eyes, nodded and said: "He does. Gladly."

J, who was Richard Blade's friend, and superior in MI6A, made a grumpy sound in his throat. "I don't think 'gladly' is precisely the word, sir. Blade is no fool. He couldn't have been my top man for twenty years if he were. He is a handsome fellow, right now in the prime of life, and he has a great deal to live for. The world, as the saying goes, is his oyster. Yet he has volunteered. He does accept the risks willingly. That's the better word, sir. Willingly. It is simply a matter of duty, of serving England, and that is something that Blade understands better than most". J's pipe went out and he fumbled for matches.

The Prime Minister looked at Lord Leighton and J, then down at the pile of flimsies before him. He put a pudgy finger on the papers, as though he expected them to fly away, and cleared his throat.

"Very well, gentlemen. Let us see exactly where we are. I will begin by saying that I do not understand, Lord Leighton, do not comprehend in any degree, this miracle that you have brought about. I am a politician, not a scientist, and God knows I have enough problems in this world without seeking for new ones in odd corners of the cosmos...or wherever it is that you send this man Blade. I..."

Lord Leighton, who would have interrupted God if he felt like it, broke in to say, "Not a question of cosmogony, sir. I tried to explain that in my report Not a question of time or space, either. It is a question of the dimensional rift: my computer so alters the molecular structure of Blade's brain and body that he is able to perceive, and live in, dimensions that none of the rest of us are aware of."

The Prime Minister, who did not like being interrupted, gave his Lordship a rather cold stare.

"You tried to explain a great many things in your reports, Leighton. I in turn have just explained that I don't understand them. Not really understand. Now, if you will allow me to get on?"

J busied himself in lighting his pipe again, covering a smirk. Lord Leighton, highest boffin in the land, could be arrogant, and a trifle condescending, with lesser brains than his own. Already, on several occasions, J had felt the rasp of Leighton's impatience.

The Prime Minister continued. "Blade has been out on two of these...these journeys?"

Leighton was silent, his small leonine eyes half closed. He looked sulky, but J knew better. Leighton wasn't sulking, he was merely thinking ahead a couple of centuries.

J said: "Yes, sir. Twice. To Alb and to Cath. The first time it was an accident. Something went wrong with the computer experiment. The second time it was deliberate. The third time... well, sir, that's why we're here."

The PM riffled the file of papers with his fingers. "Yes. You want a white card, an imprimo, a 'let this be done.' You also want a million pounds."

Silence. Lord Leighton closed his eyes altogether. J took the hint. He was now carrying the ball. As it should be. His Lordship knew little of officialdom and how things got done in a democracy.

J stuffed his pipe with crude sailor's roughcut, not taking his eyes from those of the PM.

"Yes, sir. That just about sums it up. We want your signature on a piece of paper. Carte blanche. And we do want the million pounds. With no questions asked in Parliament I am sure you realize, sir, that this matter is of life or death importance to England. So far, incredible as it may seem, only four people in the world know about it! Lord Leighton, myself, you, sir, and Richard Blade. But if we intend to exploit this thing, sir, and implement the decisions we are obviously going to have to make, based on the discoveries that Blade makes, we cannot maintain this type of cabalistic secrecy. We must expand, call in other people, a lot of them, and that is going to be an awesome task, sir, from the security viewpoint I think I can handle it, but it is going to take money. A great deal of money."

The PM stared down at the sheaf of papers. He drank a little more brandy. Then: "It is just possible that I can get the money. There is a fund - I suppose it is still extant - that was set up during the war." He gave J a tired smile. "It would have to be something like that, of course. Not only in the interests of secrecy, but plain common sense. If I were to go before the House and ask for money for... for a project this... they would have me in a straitjacket in no time."


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