"This won't hurt, Milady," Dr Mehta said as Alys lay down on the medical couch. At Alys's deeply dubious expression, Mehta corrected herself. "All right, it will probably hurt like hell for a minute or two, and you may lose consciousness briefly as your neurological system reconfigures itself, but it will all be over within five minutes and you will feel perfectly fine then."
Alys smoothed out her skirts fussily and said, "Very well. Go ahead." Her voice was calm, but Simon caught the way her gaze flashed to him for a second, then away. He took up a silent parade rest by the medical couch and gave her a grave nod.
Dr Mehta prepared the hypospray, and pressed it to Alys's neck. It hissed, loud in the silent room. The others were standing further away, curious but respecting her privacy. Simon watched. For a while Alys's face was blank and inwards, then he saw her hands grip the side of the couch, knuckles whitening, and her face drained of colour. His own hands were clenched at his side, and he had to make a conscious effort to relax them. Her eyes fluttered shut, open, shut, and her breathing went light and shallow. Simon's gaze flicked anxiously to Mehta, but she seemed unconcerned despite Alys's obvious distress.
He waited, barely breathing, and after a very long minute Alys relaxed again and her eyes opened. "Oh," she said softly. "Oh, that's strange..."
"It may take a while for your new abilities to manifest themselves, Milady," Mehta said. "Don't worry if--"
Alys ... blurred. Simon blinked rapidly and rubbed his eyes. She looked normal again, then seemed to fade, becoming translucent. Simon started forwards, and Alys disappeared entirely.
"Teleportation?" said Jole from a little way off.
"She could be anywhere," Simon gasped, staring around the room in dismay. "Shit..."
"Simon, really!" Alys's voice came from the couch, as tart as ever, and Simon jumped. He stepped forward uncertainly and reached out. His hand landed on something warm and soft and--he jerked it back quickly as he realised just where he was groping her, and he heard Alys make a strange half-annoyed sound.
"Not teleportation," he said. "Invisibility."
"Is that what this is?" Alys said. "It feels ... very odd. You all seem the same as ever." Simon heard the rustling of silk, and deduced that she was sitting up. He tried to stand so that he was still facing her, but even with his memory of where she had been, it was disconcerting.
"Not just invisibility," Mehta said. "I can no longer detect her mind."
"There's nothing registering on any of the security screens," Chameleon added. "As far as they're concerned, she's not in the room."
"Well," Alys murmured, "isn't that ... interesting."
"It's not what I would have expected," Mehta said. "Strange."
"No," Simon said slowly. "No, not strange at all. What else do you think Vor women are? Invisible, silent, working behind the scenes... yes."
"Indeed," Alys said. "Well. Do you have any idea how I might, ah, reverse the process?" Behind the formality in her voice, Simon detected genuine fear. He extended a hand, and found it captured; if he closed his eyes he could imagine all was normal. She squeezed his hand, and there was a chorus of satisfied sounds around him. Simon opened his eyes again, and Alys was there. She released his hand quickly.
"I still don't know how I did that," she said. "Hm."
"It took me months to learn how to control my talent," Jole volunteered. "It's still not entirely reliable. Or I might have known this was coming."
"I can't go around Vorbarr Sultana appearing and disappearing at random!" Alys protested, her voice still not entirely calm.
"Certainly not," Simon said. "I suggest, milady, that you have contracted a severe bout of flu and are confined to your home for the next week or two. ImpSec can fill in the details. With luck, that will give you time to get some control over it. If not, we'll figure something out."
"From my studies," Mehta offered, "I imagine you will first gain control of involuntary, ah, invisibility, but it will take longer before you can reliably become invisible at will." She smiled at Alys. "There's no need to worry. I can see you'll be fine."
Alys flickered out again. Simon tried not to jump. Dr Mehta sighed. "Now that," she said, "is more interesting. You disliked my reading you, and you took action to make me stop. Was that voluntary?"
"Unfortunately not," Alys said, again with that note of tension in her voice.
"It suggests your emotions, your wishes, are involved. That's good to know. I wonder if you could learn to separate the abilities, so that you could block me--or any other telepath, of any sort--without becoming invisible. Something to work on, later."
"Oh," Simon murmured, "yes, that could be exceedingly useful. We keep hearing these rumours out of Cetaganda, of experimentation in that direction... yes."
Alys flicked back into visibility, and gave a nod. "Well, I'll bear it in mind."
Simon frowned, studying her, then said, "Is that all, Dr M? I expect Lady Alys would prefer to go home and rest now."
"Yes, that should be fine. There's only so much anyone else can do, I'm afraid, Milady. You will figure it out on your own, as we all did. Go on, take her home, Captain Lightning."
He winced at the name, but saw a faint smile curl Alys's lips. Perhaps it wasn't such a ridiculous name, if it made her laugh. He extended an arm to Alys, and she took it with a firmer grip than usual. "Thank you, Captain Lightning," she murmured.
As he escorted Alys out of the facility, Simon thought that the name almost sounded good, when she said it.