Our story resumes about five months earlier on a Deshtiran battleship (one of the space-going kind). The planet had just been freed from thirty years of totalitarian dictatorship under a regime known as the Brizali. Now their energy transmitters were gone, blown to smithereens, their officers under arrest, their hi-tech weapons useless, and the hideous Liquidators (genetically engineered assassination creatures) dead. Needing a popularly acceptable leader to rally the public, the new military rulers of Deshtiris had asked me to become Emperor. This was not due to any remarkable talents, by the way; my parents had been Emperor and Empress at the time of the Brizal takeover and had lost their lives in the uprising. That gave me "royal blood," whatever that means.
I had been, to be quite honest about it, aghast. I couldn't even keep the computer files straight in the records office where I had previously worked at California University/Fontana, much to Ms. D'Arcangelo's evident distress. I was convinced that Kiri would make a much better leader. In addition to a remarkable mind, inherited from her brilliant if misguided father Romikor Tenako, she also possessed a generous oversupply of sheer audacity, bordering on lunacy at times, which had carried her (and me) through some hair-raising situations on more than one occasion.
Besides, everyone on the planet (even, I suspect, most of the ex-Brizali) seemed to recognize and love those giant emerald eyes and the unruly mane of crimson hair, the unintended results of genetic alterations Tenako had inflicted upon her before her birth. As a child, before the uprising that had forced her and me to flee to a neighboring planet called Qozernon, she had probably been the closest thing to a celebrity that Deshtiris had, not just for her remarkable looks but for her utterly unspoiled nature as well. Thirty years of determined struggle to restore her home planet to freedom had added a noticeable edge to her personality, but underneath I still knew and loved her as the adventurous, outrageous, and deadly honest young woman that had plucked me out of a meaningless life on Earth and returned me to my own world.
That was only fair of her, by the way, as she was the one who had erased my memories--admittedly with my consent--and planted me there in the first place thirty years ago. It had happened less than a week after the two of us, all of sixteen years old at the time, had escaped the Brizal uprising. We were staying with the former Qozernan ambassador's family when Brizal assassins made a painful but unsuccessful attempt on my life. Kiri and I had agreed that I had to be hidden somewhere where I couldn't easily be found, and Earth seemed a likely place.
So it was that I woke up a few days later with no memories and no language skills. Once I had learned English I was informed that my parents had been killed in a terrible auto accident which I had barely survived. Being of an admittedly gullible disposition, I had accepted this story for the next thirty years, until Kiri had made her remarkable reappearance masquerading as a student assistant in the same records office where I worked under the formidable Ms. D'Arcangelo.
Using a shared interest in Japanese animation as bait, she had struck up an acquaintance which quickly turned my life upside down. After getting me back into shape and teaching me swordsmanship and the Deshtiran language (all without my suspecting that anything out of the ordinary was going on), she had yanked me off the planet just ahead of yet another pack of Brizal assassins. Along the way I had fallen hopelessly in love.
Which is half the reason the ship's captain had married us in a brief ceremony just two days after the above-mentioned meeting with the Deshtiran military leadership. The other half was of course that as my wife she automatically became Empress, which is where she belonged in the first place. She had indignantly insisted that she would not be married in a wheelchair, however, and it took all of those two additional days of recuperation for her to regain her feet, if a bit unsteadily.
I should point out that this feat astonished the ship's doctors more than anyone else, considering that she had been run completely through the chest (and heart) just four days previously with a sword wielded by my late little sister, one Zyanita by name. The spare heart provided by her father, along with a number of other illegal genetic enhancements, had rendered this mishap considerably less traumatic than might otherwise have been the case.
During those black hours in the tunnels under Tar Deshta, at that time still the Brizal capital of Deshtiris, I had found her seemingly lifeless body face down in a vast pool of blood (yes, her own). Less than an hour later I watched her fight a battle of minds with her father Tenako which ended with his death, the fall of the Brizal regime, and our own hurried escape from Tar Deshta just ahead of a massive fireball. We had intercepted the Deshtiran battle fleet barely in time to avert a catastrophic clash with the approaching Qozernan defense forces.
As for the aforementioned Zyanita, she had in the meantime met a singularly hideous fate at the hands of the Brizali, and our little group had quietly agreed to leave her treacherous deeds forever buried with her. Even Kiri, who normally was a stickler for the truth, reluctantly agreed that unless someone else dug up the facts we were under no obligation to haul them out ourselves.
Although we had hoped for a very small ceremony, we ended up with an audience consisting of Gelhinda (wife of the former Qozernan ambassador and Kiri's adopted mother for the past thirty years), Senaria (Gelhinda's daughter), and seven of the top military leaders of Deshtiris. I suspect that the latter may have just wanted to make sure I wasn't going to pull a fast one; after all, it was this ceremony that officially qualified Kiri to become Empress. In any event the captain, Kiri, and I all said the right things at the right times and I presently ended up with the most remarkable mate in the known universe.
It had been agreed that our appointments as Emperor and Empress of Deshtiris would officially take effect at the moment of the marriage. As a result we would leave the room two of the most powerful human beings alive. On my own mind, though, was much more the miracle of beholding the strikingly beautiful woman at my side, and who I had come so close to losing.
Later there would of course be an official "coronation," complete with all the usual pomp and ceremony. At the moment, however, the former royal palace was a ruin in a deserted, crumbling city, and it seemed best to wait until things were cleaned up a bit before attempting to put on a show. The Brizali had emptied entire cities in the rush to staff their huge industrial centers, and Deshti, the ancient capital, had been an immense ghost town for decades.
The ceremony concluded, we prepared to escort Kiri back to the infirmary, for although she was now able to walk with some assistance the medicos insisted on keeping her under observation for another week or so. While she regarded it as an infernal nuisance, I could well understand why it was necessary. After all, it had been less than a week since they had mended the damage done to her left heart. Remarkably there was only the thin, rapidly healing scar from Zyanita's blade left to show for it all; the surgeons had been able to accomplish all of their repair work through the original wound.
"I wonder what happened to Rann?" Senaria observed in some surprise. "I thought he'd want to be here." Rann was a young Brizal guard who had assisted us in our flight from Tar Deshta and had accompanied us ever since. He was a forthright, good-looking, rather sober youth with a conspicuous tendency to follow Senaria wherever she went. That in itself was not a particularly odd trait; she was an exceptionally attractive girl who besides her mop of golden hair sported the build of an athlete. Her real name was Senara, but at her insistence even her own mother called her Senaria.
We soon found out what had happened to Rann: he was under arrest.
It seems that he had gone to the canteen on his own to get a bite to eat, and upon presenting his ID was promptly thrown into the brig. In the past he had always accompanied us, and no one would have thought to challenge a member of Princess Mikiria's party. For that reason I think we had pretty much forgotten about his affiliation in all the excitement. But after all he was a card-carrying member of the Brizal organization, and at the moment that was a distinctly bad thing.
"This is asinine," Senaria fumed. "He's told me his entire life story at least five times over the past few days, and there's just nothing in there to warrant arresting him. Except maybe if he bores somebody to death."
"Sen," I said in some surprise, "didn't you know he'd be arrested when they found out he was a Brizal?" She shook her head in dismay.
"If he hasn't done anything," Kiri reassured her, "we'll be able to straighten this out."
We found him sitting despondently in his cell when we reached the brig. I was glad to see that at least they hadn't thrown him in with the other prisoners, as the Brizal leadership had included some of the worst thugs on Deshtiris. His face brightened at once when he recognized us. Senaria and I gave him our most encouraging looks, but the somber expression on Kiri's face rather dampened his enthusiasm. We had obtained permission to speak privately (after all, we were now all-powerful or something vaguely like it), and Kiri made no bones about the nature of her concern.
"Rann," she said softly, "I have to confess that in all the excitement of the past few days I had completely forgotten about your being one of the Brizali. You're going to have to undergo a hearing, and if you haven't committed any crimes there'll be no problem." She stopped, and fixed him with those penetrating green eyes. "However, you have to be totally honest with us. You need to tell us exactly what you've done since you joined the Brizali."
For the next half-hour the unhappy youth told us in detail of his life for the past year, periodically tugging nervously at his long black ponytail as he dredged up a seemingly endless store of minutiae. To our increasing relief, it proved to be a dreary recitation of night watches, supply details, and other routine support duties. Senaria hadn't been kidding; the boy could easily kill with boredom if he so chose. Kiri finally asked him point-blank if he'd ever killed or tortured anyone, under orders or not. The horrified look on his face told me all I needed. Kiri's relief was evident as well.
We soon had him released under our responsibility. There was no telling how long it would be before the Brizal records were sufficiently well-cataloged to start the hearing process (there had been over a million Brizali), but at least the boy wouldn't languish in a cell in the interim.
Although much of the fleet had already returned to Deshtiris, a sizable component had remained in space due to the tense situation with Qozernon. After all, we had sabotaged the Brizal power transmitters just hours before the Deshtiran and Qozernan fleets would have met, doubtless with exceptionally sanguinary results. Now cautious negotiations were in progress between the two planets to ensure a smooth de-escalation of the situation, and the ship we were on was the command ship for the fleet. We could have just taken Kiri's own little craft, the Futaba, back to Deshtiris, but it lacked the medical facilities that were considered to be essential for at least the next few days.
However, the Futaba, currently docked with the command ship, did have one feature that made it very attractive at this time. Though the ship itself (shaped like a transparent crystal bullet) was only about the size of a large motor home, it included a "gateway" that led to its remarkable living quarters. These consisted of one very long corridor, about the length of a football field, with rooms branching off to either side, including several bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room or lounge (for lack of a better word), which was well stocked with paintings and some exquisite antique furniture, a movie theater, and a number of other rooms I hadn't ever gotten around to exploring. Interestingly enough, these living quarters were located in what I think you would call an "alternate universe." In any event they never actually went anywhere, but were nonetheless always accessible from the Futaba, making them the most convenient house trailer in the universe--you never had to find a place to park it.
And so it was that our little group shortly gathered in the Futaba's dining room to celebrate the wedding and Rann's release.
"I thought those doctors would never let you go," Senaria grumbled to Kiri. "Personally, I don't think it has anything to do with your health; I'll bet they're just hoping to gather enough material for an article in the next issue of Deshtiran Medicine." I grinned. Senaria could always be counted on to be Kiri's strongest defender.
"It reminds me of the days when they were trying to figure out just what Tenako had done to me," Kiri agreed, her green eyes flashing indignantly. "I thought they'd never run out of tests to try. And it's a miracle I didn't run out of blood back then; I think every med student on Deshtiris wanted a sample for their personal collection."
"Well, I suppose it could be worse," I observed dryly. "At least they're so eager to work on you that they don't leave you sitting around waiting for hours the way doctors do in the States."
"Rann, there's something I don't understand," Gelhinda said. "We're all relieved to find that you weren't dragged into some of the Brizali's more unsavory deeds, but why did you join them at all? It was never mandatory." Several of us had wondered the same thing, but hadn't seen fit to raise the issue. Gelhinda, being a former ambassador's wife, had a knack for asking the hard questions when the occasion arose.
"It was pretty stupid," he said shamefacedly. "Both my parents were called up to work in one of the Brizali's factory cities. They put my father to work building trucks. My mother ended up assigned to the plant clinic. I thought maybe if I joined the Brizali I could eventually reach a position where I could do something for them. I found out it wasn't anything like that; I was just one more gear in the machine."
Kiri nodded. "Even the top Brizali didn't know what was really happening. I don't know how much of Tenako's plans, or his role, we should make public. There's always the danger that someone else will try it again." What she was referring to was his attempt to recreate the Virrin's "planar field," a vast interstellar force field set up between three planets, with the center point capable of reducing any matter to pure energy. The Virrin had lost control of theirs, and as a result forfeited their interstellar empire in one immense flash. Tenako hadn't known this, but Kiri had; she'd once spent fifteen months in space overtaking the Virrin transmissions from thousands of years ago and deciphering them.
The advanced civilizations on the Twin Planets* in fact owed their existence to the Virrin, an alien race which thousands of years ago had taken two barren, lifeless planets and seeded them with most of the life forms existing on Earth at that time. If not for the fact that the humans "borrowed" from Earth were in effect slaves, both planets could have been considered paradises.
Then without warning the Virrin had departed, incidentally freeing the hundreds of thousands of men and women left behind. For millennia nothing had been known about the reason for their departure, until Kiri's trip had uncovered the disaster that had befallen them. In the interim the two planets had realized the capability of interstellar travel, and had developed vast and rich civilizations without despoiling their worlds as was happening on Earth. Until the advent of the Brizali, that is.
At this point Kiri changed the subject slightly. "Gelhi," she said slyly, "I've been asked to pass this message along to you," and handed her an envelope. Curious, Gelhinda opened it, then sat back open-mouthed. I grinned, having been let in on the secret in advance.
"Ambassador?" she gasped. "Me?"
"Well," I said, "you don't have to accept the appointment, of course..."
Senaria was only now beginning to figure out what was going on. "Mom? Ambassador to what?" At that Kiri and I both broke out laughing.
"To Deshtiris, of course," said Kiri, when she could finally control herself. "Well, Gelhi?"
Speechless, the older woman could only nod. Senaria was still putting it all together. "You're going to be ambassador to Deshtiris? Like Dad was?"
"That's right, daughter, just like your father was," said Gelhinda softly. She turned to Kiri and me. "All right, you two, how did you manage this?"
It had actually been my idea, I admitted, but there had been no great difficulty in bringing Kiri on board. As soon as the military leadership had notified the Qozernan government of our impending appointments, Kiri and I had requested that they appoint Gelhinda to the ambassadorship, pointing out that her experience as a former ambassador's wife was easily equaled by her own diplomatic skills. Not to mention personal friendship with the new rulers of Deshtiris, which in diplomacy is not considered to be at all a liability. Their affirmative response had arrived earlier this morning.
A related issue that I obviously didn't mention was that both Kiri and I had been concerned about how Gelhinda would live without Kiri's considerable contribution to the family income. The latter's unique genius in the field of computers had enabled her to earn tidy sums troubleshooting for large Qozernan corporations, providing a much needed supplement to Gelhinda's rather meager pension from her late husband's long diplomatic career.
Thus our little family would end up reunited, this time at the royal palace in Deshti, as we commenced the rebuilding of a planet.
* A nickname once frequently applied to Deshtiris and Qozernon, although somewhat fallen into disuse during the years of the Brizal regime. - Ed.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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