‘Or visiting local detectives,’ Kai put in.
Or forming friendships, Irene heard behind his words. She wished that she had a spare hatpin to jab into Vale. Or possibly Kai, who wasn’t helping. ‘Standard procedure tends to advise against high-speed chases in borrowed zeppelins, too,’ she said flatly. ‘Bradamant would have told you all this. Perhaps she’s the one you should have been working with from the beginning.’ Yes. Bradamant would never have got so . . . involved. ‘I still don’t understand why your, ah, foretelling urges pointed you at us rather than at her. If you’d been working together, you’d probably have managed to track things down a great deal faster.’
Vale simply stared down at her. ‘None of this explains your ability to control the minds of others.’
‘Well . . .’ Irene tried to think how to explain it. ‘When I use the Language to tell something to do something which is against its nature, the universe resists. This is why those stuffed animals are going to return to that state, probably quite soon. I hope Inspector Singh is there to sort that one out. It’s easy to tell a lock to unlock – these things are in a lock’s nature. It’s much harder to order something to behave in an unnatural manner.’
‘Such as having stuffed animals come to life,’ Vale agreed.
‘Well, that’s only mostly unnatural,’ Irene said. ‘After all, they were once living animals. I couldn’t require a building to jump up and fall on someone, but I could tell a roof tile to come loose. Do you understand me so far?’
‘I can see your logic,’ Vale said, clearly interested but also clearly lacking patience. ‘But again, how is this relevant to controlling minds?’
‘I can tell someone that they’re perceiving something other than what they’re actually seeing,’ Irene said, wishing that English was better adapted for this sort of discussion. ‘The problem is that the universe resists, as with objects asked to do unnatural things. Specifically, the person’s mind resists, and continually resists until – ’ She paused. ‘Well, some individuals manage better than others, but generally the results aren’t pretty. That’s what I was told in classes. But that’s not the same as what I just did, and it won’t last like a glamour does either.’ She was fairly sure that Mrs Jenkins couldn’t hear this. She certainly hoped so. ‘At the moment, Mrs Jenkins’s mind is telling her that no, she did not see full authorization. When that overcomes my temporary adjustment, probably within the hour, then she will remember everything. But would you rather I’d just let Silver catch us?’
Vale gave Irene a cold look and glanced out of the window at London beneath them, not deigning to answer.
Irene propped her elbows on her knees. ‘If the Library told us not to meddle with minds because it was unethical, that might be virtuous. But the fact is, it’s very unreliable. And once the subject regains their memory, it can make a mission so much more dangerous.’ Irene tried not to dwell on her own lack of ethics. Surely she was more than just a book thief? Or was the only real difference between her and Bradamant, that Bradamant looked good in black leather? It was easier to think of herself as a valiant preserver of books when there wasn’t someone looking her in the eyes and questioning that. ‘All I’ve done is applied a very temporary patch.’ She looked up at Vale. ‘Because I couldn’t see any other alternative, and we were in a desperate hurry. As you saw.’
‘Were we?’ Vale turned away.
Irene raised her eyebrows, even if he wasn’t looking at her. ‘I realize that you don’t see Alberich as a personal threat,’ she said, ‘or even as a threat to public law and order.’
‘I admit the fellow did try to kill me,’ Vale said generously.
‘He will continue to be a threat to you all as long as the book is here,’ Irene went on. She felt Kai squeeze her shoulder encouragingly. ‘Once it’s gone, he and Silver won’t be competing for it any longer.’
‘Silver is hardly your concern, Miss Winters,’ Vale said. ‘And I fail to understand your distress over one world, when you doubtless have so many to occupy your time. Why should you care about us, except as a source of books?’
Irene swallowed, and felt her cheeks flush with mingled anger and embarrassment. There was an uncomfortable grain of truth to what he was saying. This was just one alternate world, and one book. ‘So far, I have been assaulted, attacked by cyborg alligators, almost drowned in the Thames, had most of the skin stripped off my hand, poisoned with curare, revived with strychnine, and chased by both werewolves and giant robots. Are you accusing me of not taking this seriously, sir?’
‘On the contrary, madam. I consider that you are taking this extremely seriously. Such devotion is worthy of a good cause. But consider this.’ Vale leaned back, bracing his shoulders against the cabin walls. ‘I see a woman – and her assistant – who are prepared to go to extremes to secure a single book. I have watched you hijack a zeppelin in order to achieve your aims. I ask myself, Miss Winters, just how far are you prepared to go?’
Wonderful. First Bradamant sneered at her for not going far enough, and now Vale was eyeing her as though she were a prize specimen of the criminal underworld. ‘I just want to do my job,’ she said. ‘I have a duty to the Library.’
‘Has the Library laws?’ Vale cut in. ‘Has it signed treaties with all the worlds allowing it to steal books? Has it any authority save that which it claims for itself? I would like to know if there is any reason in the world why I should respect it or its servants.’