There was one last piece of unfinished business to be concluded, and that was the legendary skylight. For weeks we had heard nothing more from the Qozernan organization handling the matter, and I have to admit that we had started to worry a bit. The skeletal remains of the old skylight had been carefully removed and preserved, and the vast opening temporarily covered with a gigantic sheet of clear plastic. But it would hardly suit the scale of the event we were planning, and we were greatly relieved when Gelhinda finally informed us that the new skylight would arrive on the planet the next day.
The following morning (word having gotten around quickly), a huge crowd had gathered on the palace grounds by the time a large Qozernan transport ship began ponderously settling over the main hall. We saw a cargo hatch slowly open, and then, suspended from several heavy cables, something was carefully lowered over the now open roof that I can only describe as a large translucent blob of an indeterminate substance.
Senaria was a little more blunt. "What the hell is that? It looks like a giant gob of snot!" she roared as Rann turned pink with embarrassment.
"I wasn't going to say that," I said. I can't say I felt much more appreciative at that moment, either. Kiri had an odd look on her face that I couldn't quite read.
And then, just as the object (for lack of a better word) had reached a position about twenty feet above the roof it suddenly began to twist and elongate itself in the most astonishing way. For a moment I could have sworn I was watching the Futaba in the midst of one of its transformations. "It's amorphous diamond," breathed Kiri, finally putting her thoughts into words. Soon it had transformed into something that left us all gasping for breath.
Try to imagine, if you can, a sheet of glass reshaped into a giant multi-pointed crystal of innumerable facets. Now add to that every color of the rainbow, as well as some that I swear no human eye had ever seen before, all this sending shafts and slivers and knives of light in every direction as the sun hit it, and you may begin to form a feeble idea of what was being carefully guided into place and secured by an army of workers stationed around its circumference. We hurried into the great hall, brushing aside the safety officer's feeble protests, and found ourselves beneath a panorama of pattern and color that I simply can't describe.
I will never forget the sight of Kiri staring upward, her face transfigured, tears running freely down her cheeks. I knew that it wasn't only a beautiful work of art she was seeing. It was the realization of a life's dream.
Later, when we had somewhat recovered our composure, we invited the artist to share lunch with us. The poor fellow, a young man in his forties like Kiri and me, was initially utterly tongue-tied at being in the presence of--well, you get the picture by now.
"Do you have any idea what that much amorphous diamond must have cost?" Kiri marveled, trying unsuccessfully to put him at ease. "It took me a year's earnings just to buy enough to build the Futaba," she added in awe.
"Yeah, and you don't want to know what I thought it looked--Ow!" began Senaria. The unexpected exclamation was punctuated by a mouthful of peas forcefully expelled onto her plate (judging from the momentary glare she shot at Kiri, I assumed it was her foot that had kicked her under the table). It took only moments before we were all reduced to helpless laughter. Even Rann's usually sober composure suffered a severe crack.
The ice broken, our guest enthusiastically explained that the new skylight did indeed utilize the same amorphous diamond composition as the Futaba's hull, unique in its ability to maintain whatever shape and color was needed based on the microconfiguration of a subatomic field. Kiri had used these properties to enable the Futaba to take on the appearance of any vehicle she chose; the skylight's designer had instead exploited them to create an incredible work of art composed of a breathtaking range of shapes and colors. "It was a bit difficult convincing the managing authorities to buy into the idea," Gelhinda added, "but when he pointed out that it would be a kind of symbolic reference to what Kiri did with the Futaba, they decided to go along with it."
"Well," said Kiri quite sincerely, "you've created a masterpiece. Saying thanks doesn't begin to express our feelings." And she leaned across the little table and kissed the astonished artist.
Incidentally, if you're picturing some kind of pale plastic imitation of a real stained glass window, let me assure you that the depth and purity of color attainable by amorphous diamond leaves ordinary stained glass in the dust. Best of all, the image was practically alive, subtly changing colors and patterns to adapt to the changing light as the day drew on, so that it never looked quite the same from one hour to the next. I have never tired of standing beneath it, bathed in the most intense colors I have ever experienced.
I once expressed concern about what would happen if the control circuits which maintained and configured the gigantic structure ever failed. "It would simply solidify into that shape permanently," Kiri explained in some amusement. "If you're afraid of it falling apart and collapsing onto helpless victims below, I can assure you it would take nothing less than a nuclear blast to crack it."
As the day of the coronation approached, the formerly dead city began taking on a life I found hard to credit. Once again crowds were filling the stairwells to and from the nearby subway stations; an increasing number of the noiseless fliers I had first encountered on Qozernon were filling the streets, neatly avoiding collisions in their almost ghostly way. Shop fronts were reopening; the sidewalks were coming to life. And, with the big day nearly at hand, the number of visitors from elsewhere on Deshtiris (not to mention Qozernon) began to take on frightening proportions.
"Where are they staying?" I asked Kiri apprehensively. She pointed towards the city center several miles away, where the huge skyscrapers frequently touched the clouds.
"Accommodations are pretty primitive, but with the lifts working again you can put an awful lot of people in those things. And everyone's being a very good sport about it. Of course the military is taking care of feeding everyone, since there isn't even remotely enough restaurant capacity."
She wasn't kidding. By the time coronation day dawned, somewhere over a million visitors were crowding the city. Since even the huge main hall of the palace couldn't hold more than twenty thousand or so, there were one heck of a lot of people picnicking on the many spacious lawns of the palace grounds that morning.
The great hall itself, once so desolate, was now gaudy with banners and streamers everywhere. A sea of chairs covered the vast floor, already filling up rapidly, and at one end a raised stage had been set up, even more brilliantly decorated if that were possible. And overhead, of course, casting a continually shifting landscape of color over the visitors, was the reborn skylight. Suddenly our flamboyant new outfits no longer seemed quite so out of place.
Pomp was the order of the day, and a great show was made of the arrival of each featured guest on stage. The best bands of the Deshtiran military forces had been joined together into one large aggregation, and provided carefully chosen music for each entrance. The band was not all that different from those of my own experience on Earth, basically consisting of instruments blown into and pounded on; the music, of course, was much different than the Western European-based flavor that I had grown up with on Earth.
Until, that is, it was time to make our way to our own assigned places, and I suddenly realized I was hearing something very familiar-sounding indeed, and not at all Deshtiran. "Walton's Orb and Sceptre," Kiri whispered into my ear as we readied ourselves for the long walk down the central aisle. "Valkar somehow managed to have someone scrounge up a set of parts on Earth and get the piece arranged in time for the musicians to learn."
I looked at her in amazement. "Did you know that was one of the pieces they played when I graduated from college?"
"Did you know I was there watching you?" she shot back, her eyes shimmering.
I couldn't help but grin broadly in delight; it was a brilliant, resplendent piece that reminded me in more ways than one of the kaleidoscopic marvel overhead, and the musicians had done a remarkable job learning the unfamiliar scales and runs. I wondered if Willie Walton could ever in his wildest dreams have imagined that someday it would be his composition echoing through the great hall of Deshti thirty-five light-years from Earth.
I felt a momentary flash of panic, picturing the entire assemblage breaking out laughing as we entered through the great wooden doors. But when we stepped into the rear of the hall the response was much different, for all twenty thousand people silently rose to their feet and turned to face us. As we slowly walked down the aisle I saw men and women of all ages, including small children and some of the oldest Deshtirans I had ever seen, some with tears running unashamedly down their cheeks, watching us intently. I thought about the vast history of this planet, extending through almost six thousand years of written records, and suddenly felt very small indeed as we made our way onto the stage and took our seats.
"Coronation" is really a misleading word here. There is no crown placed on the head by a robed cardinal. In fact, our newly commissioned costumes were probably as close to robes of office as Deshtiris ever gets. The actual ceremony consists of just two events: a person of the Emperor's and Empress's own choosing declares them to be Emperor and Empress of Deshtiris, and the major civil and military figures affirm their loyalty to the new leaders. Since the real relationship between the Deshtiran people and their rulers is based on trust rather than technicalities, this is all more a formality for public show than a legal ceremony in any sense. In fact, there were no legal papers, no documents of any kind ever signed handing us our authority. That's just the way it's done here.
Kiri and I had had a number of discussions as to who should be our "appointer." We sadly ruled out Gelhinda, as she was after all not Deshtiran. We quickly settled on Valkar, whose years of loyalty and service to two generations of the royal family, as well as his ceaseless fidelity during the intervening three decades, made him the inevitable choice. Except that he nearly had a stroke when we told him, and it took us a while, and the administration of several stiff drinks, to reassure him that this was not just another of our bizarre practical jokes on his much-abused personage. (I must regretfully admit that at times he did indeed suffer much at our hands, although we tried to make it up to him whenever possible.)
And so it was that the climactic moment of the day's events was also the simplest. The two of us knelt before him, and in a cracked voice (though not at all from age) he repeated the ancient formula, "Nendor Wilorian, be you now Emperor of Deshtiris. Romikor Mikiria, be you now Empress of Deshtiris. It is so." There was no other sound in the huge crowded hall. This was not a moment for cheers or applause. I know that I could not have spoken at that moment had I wanted to.
There followed a number of announcements by major personages. The head of the Deshtiran military formally announced the end of military rule, and reaffirmed its subjugation to the new civil government, shortly to meet for the first time. "Our ultimate loyalty is to our Emperor and Empress," he finished. "May they serve as our consciences and our voices of righteousness should our people ever again go astray." Similar statements by the leader of the newly-elected civilian government and the three high judges of the royal court followed. And then it was my turn.
This was the moment I had been dreading, of course, and I furtively glanced at the podium, making sure that my speech was there where I had arranged for it to be placed in advance. Years of unsuccessful clarinet lessons had taught me the hard way that if memory is going to fail anywhere, it's during a performance. However, I was also looking forward to it, as it was going to provide me with an opportunity to say something I'd long wanted to.
We'd known well in advance that a speech would be necessary. Kiri had adamantly insisted that I do it, as the thought practically terrified her. Her earlier moment of microphone fright hadn't encouraged her any, either, although since then she'd done a quite creditable job on numerous occasions. I reluctantly agreed, but secretly decided I wasn't going to let her off that easily.
I cleared my throat hesitantly and blinked in the light. The crowd was hushed now. I began very quietly, a trick I'd learned long ago from one of my English teachers in college. "I'm an engineer, not an orator," I began, garnering a few chuckles, "so I'm going to keep this as simple as I can." I looked down at the front rows, meeting expectant gazes with my own. I took a deep breath.
"I'm sure you all know by now that I spent the last three decades on Earth, unaware of my identity, of my heritage, or even of my real name. Any small part I've played in the dramatic events of these past few months was pretty incidental. I'm not accepting the duties of Emperor because I think I've earned them, nor do I seriously believe that I can do a better job than any one of you. I'm accepting this trust as a gesture of profound respect for you, for Deshtiris, and for the memory of my parents, your former Emperor and Empress, who lost their own lives in a valiant attempt to preserve what they believed in." By now the hall was silent, and I took advantage of it to pause dramatically.
"However," I continued, "there is one here before you who has spent the past thirty years of her life in a relentless struggle for you, her people. On many occasions she took terrible risks to challenge the forces keeping you in chains. Her rage at what had happened to you never flagged, nor did her determination. Just five short months ago she very nearly lost her life in this battle, and yet today she is alive and with us and you are free." Several shouts went up from around the huge hall and I held up my hand and waited for utter silence. When I finally resumed, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. "There is a profound debt of gratitude due from all of us which can never truly be repaid. It can, however, be acknowledged, and I ask you to do so now. My fellow Deshtirans, let us now honor Romikor Mikiria," and I paused for a brief moment as a rumble began to grow from the thousands before me, "Empress of Deshtiris!"
The rumble detonated into a roar as I took Kiri's hand and raised her to her feet beside me, her face by now bright red with embarrassment. I momentarily wondered if I'd made a terrible mistake, as the cataract swelled to such proportions that I feared the newly-restored skylight overhead would shatter and come raining down upon us (it held). After a few seconds the amorphous din began to acquire shape and rhythm, until finally I could clearly hear a single massive voice shouting in unison, "Mi-ki-ri-a! Mi-ki-ri-a! Mi-ki-ri-a!" And then, before the assembled thousands, I took her in my arms and kissed her, thereby risking permanent hearing loss as the already deafening cheers shot right off the scale.
I suddenly became aware that the chant had changed slightly, and then realized that I was now hearing "Wi-lo-ri-an! Wi-lo-ri-an!" It was my turn to blush, I suppose, and I did a creditable job of it, too. We both thought the cheering would go on forever; sitting back down didn't help, and we finally gave up and relaxed until at last everyone had pretty much shouted themselves hoarse. (I heard later that those two chants were heard in the streets of every city in Deshtiris that night, and some of Qozernon's as well, as the crowds watching the telecom monitors set up on every street corner joined in enthusiastically. I guess that unless you've lived under a tyranny like the Brizal one you really can't fully appreciate what it meant; at least I couldn't.)
After that the rest of the ceremony was somewhat of an anticlimax. There were lots of speeches, and a number of gorgeous and stunning gifts from various cities and groups around the planet (both for us and for the palace). Finally everyone began filing out for the innumerable receptions set up all over the immense grounds, and we steeled ourselves for several hours of glad-handing and chit-chat before we could at last drag ourselves to bed.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
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