Things were finally starting to get back on track, and it really looked as though the place could survive without us for a few weeks. I had suggested a vacation to Kiri, and the belated discovery that I had inadvertently left several CDs in my cubicle file cabinet back in Fontana, California suggested a possible destination for our sojourn. At first Kiri had been reluctant, but when I pointed out that she hadn't had a vacation since she'd died she finally agreed. Our plans were soon expanded to include Senaria and Rann, although Gelhinda sorrowfully declined due to several important diplomatic meetings. We eventually reached the point where only Valkar had any remaining objections.
"But your Majesties," he had wailed in dismay, "you surely can't go all the way to Earth without at least a bodyguard. Those people are savages. They give firearms to children. At least think of me. If something happened to you the people would hang me from the nearest lamppost."
"Look," Kiri finally burst out in exasperation, "in the past fifteen years the only people that have seriously tried to harm me have been my own father and my sister-in-law, and they're both dead. Unless you count Will, here, there isn't anyone left who's sufficiently closely related to me to want to kill me. So what the hell do I need a bodyguard for?!" The unfortunate fellow was, however, not to be denied, although after several months back in our service he had justifiably learned to be wary of her temper.
"Very well," she had finally acquiesced. "But only on condition that I shall choose the bodyguards."
"Your wish is my command," said the ancient major domo gratefully, prostrating himself (I hate it when they do that) while falling directly into the trap.
"Then," announced Kiri imperiously, "I hereby appoint Parkor Rann and Amkor Senaria as my royal bodyguard--assuming, of course, that they are willing." Judging from the beams of astonished delight she received from the two, it was quite evident that they were.
Valkar's earlier dismay was nothing compared to his expression now. "But they're only children, your majesty," he protested weakly, then a moment later winced as he found Senaria's sword point at his throat.
"Senaria, that will do," I snapped, although even I had to admire how neatly she had accomplished the move. (In fairness to her, I should mention that it was a practice blade, with a rounded point and no sharp edges, and Valkar knew it perfectly well.)
"I am not a child," she hissed as she reluctantly put away her weapon.
"I second the Empress' decision," I added in my most authoritative voice. "A deal's a deal, right, Valkar?"
"Yes, Your Majesties," he agreed reluctantly and hastily made his exit, shooting an annoyed glare at Senaria as he did so. After informing her that she would write him a sincere letter of apology within the hour or the deal was off, we dismissed her and Rann as well.
"Jeez, that 'Majesties' stuff gets tiresome after a while," I groaned once they were gone.
Kiri laughed. "Well, you told me that you wanted useful employment when I first took you away from Earth. It's not as though you aren't doing anything worthwhile." I nodded, this time a bit more seriously. The rebuilding of Deshtiris had proven to be a far more daunting task than even we had feared. The forced re-industrialization of the planet into a massive war machine had left an entire generation utterly untrained in the technological skills now sorely needed.
Between the military, the Brizali's prison camps, and the Deshtiran refugee community on Qozernon, we had finally managed to come up with a cadre of technocrats with the necessary skills to begin steering the planet back onto the track from which it had so disastrously derailed thirty years ago. Kiri and I had agreed that our role was twofold: first, to give the people a ray of hope during the second major wrench they had experienced during the past half century, and second, to keep a rein on the technocrats and ensure that at least a semblance of humanity was retained during the process.
I had to admit that Deshtiris possessed the most good-natured populace I had ever seen. We had feared the outbreak of rioting, mass lynching of ex-Brizali, and a general bloodbath of revenge-taking, but so far the peace had held (with a few scattered lapses). I had to place much of the credit for that on the love Deshtiris held for its new Empress, for her crimson-red hair and enormous emerald-green eyes were probably the two best-loved wonders of the planet and had been since her childhood. Nor did I feel the least jealousy over her immense popularity, for after all she was my wife and how many people get to marry a space goddess anyway?
And so it was that we left on our first real vacation since my arrival on Qozernon six months ago. And how fitting that our destination would be Earth. At least no one there would be calling me "Your Majesty," I contemplated with considerable satisfaction. We took the Futaba, of course, due to its exceptionally handy ability to transform itself into an RV, a truck, or whatever else was convenient at the time. We had landed the following night at a secluded country house high in the foothills above Fontana, California.
"So this is another of your 'safe houses?' " I asked as we set down on the darkened lawn. The phrase seemed especially ironic considering that the last time we had stopped at one we had nearly been killed by Brizal Liquidators. "You know, I never did ask you just where you came up with the money for all these places."
"I stole it," was her astonishing, and typical, answer.
"Say again?" I choked, not sure I had heard correctly.
"From a major bank," she added helpfully.
"Don't be such a prude," she snorted. "I hacked into several banks, and when I found one with lots of organized crime connections (not to mention a record of funding third world dictators), I set up my own account and made some withdrawals. I also sent them anonymous email tipping them off about several real computer criminals who were robbing them blind, so if they bothered to follow up they'll have recovered far more than I used." She named the bank, and I gasped.
I reflected on her skill at sidestepping what for most people would constitute serious ethical dilemmas, and shook my head. "You know what you remind me of?" I exclaimed. "A pirate."
Senaria giggled. "He's right, Kiri, that's perfect. If there were ever a pirate worthy of the name, it's you." Rann gave her a shocked look; after five months of living with us he still hadn't quite reconciled his idealized image of the legendary Princess Mikiria with the distinctly scandalous (and much more interesting) flesh-and-blood Kiri.
She sighed. "I guess it's official, then. Shall I paint a Jolly Roger on the side of the Futaba?"
Like her other mountain home, which had unfortunately been vaporized during our hasty flight from the Liquidators, this one was relatively isolated, located well up in the foothills overlooking the so-called Inland Empire. From a nearby bluff one could look down into the endless sea of lights known as the Los Angeles Basin. More accurately, one could look down into the ever-present smog; fortunately we were high enough to be pretty much out of it.
This locale had been my habitat for most of the past thirty years, but I felt no sense of homecoming. My home, my friends, and my life were on Deshtiris now and I knew it.
The next morning we headed down the narrow dirt road to "civilization" in one of the small sport utility vehicles which Kiri preferred when visiting Earth, while I marveled that her remarkable ability to acquire real estate apparently extended to motor vehicles as well. Our destination was my old office at California University/Fontana, there to seek out my former supervisor, the unsuspecting Ms. D'Arcangelo. Before long we had traversed most of Fontana via the row of palm trees and flowering plums that extended down the center of the town's main street, and were parked in one of the visitors' spaces at the university. As we strolled through the quiet campus (it was, after all, near the end of the summer session), a male voice unexpectedly called out Kiri's name from across one of the grassy quadrangles.
For a moment I was startled, then remembered that she'd also spent quite a bit of time on this part of the planet. In fact, she'd attended classes here on more than one occasion, while keeping a discreet eye on me. The older man that was waving and striding briskly towards us was one of the university's most celebrated (and unlikely) finds, the world-famous theoretical physicist Alan Brinkman.
I saw Kiri's face break into a glowing smile as she abandoned us to meet him halfway in his advance with a big hug. A moment later the two had rejoined us as she introduced her former teacher (and lover, many years ago). "Alan, this is my husband Wilorian."
"It's a great privilege to meet you, Dr. Brinkman," I assured him, greeting him with a warm handshake.
For a moment he looked disconcerted, then Kiri added wickedly, "You might have encountered him in another incarnation if you ever had any class rosters mangled by the records office."
At that he returned my handshake with much more enthusiasm. "You're the fellow Kiri said she was watching over all those years."
"Alan, things have changed since I saw you last," she said more seriously. "We've now got Deshtiris to clean up, and let me tell you it's a job that scares the crap out of me."
"You mean that those Brizzly people you told me about aren't--" he began, being promptly interrupted by Senaria.
"Yer lookin' at the new Emperor and Empress of Deshtiris," she drawled proudly. At that he was finally rendered speechless, probably as much by her Texas accent (picked up from years of watching pirated Dallas reruns on Qozernan television) as by the information imparted, and I took the opportunity to invite him to join us after we ran our little errand.
And so it was that after our victorious skirmish with Ms. D'Arcangelo we picked him up at the student-run coffee shop on our way off campus, and it proved to be a very lucky thing that we had.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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