Yo! Senaria here. Will thought it might make more sense if I did the narrating from now on, since I was pretty directly involved in the events you're about to read of. Actually I was up to my hips in them, so I guess I don't have a lot of choice. Well, here goes.
I know I fled the palace in a bit of a hurry. At least I left some notes behind, but I realize it was pretty sudden. I just had to get out of there, I suppose.
For a while after the Tar Deshta thing I must have been running on adrenaline or something. All the excitement of rebuilding the palace, getting people back home, and even trying to fix the mess Kiri's father had made of the weather, had helped me bury some things in the back of my mind, where I thought they'd stay. But then we returned to Tar Deshta, and it all came back.
I adore Will. He's a sweet, considerate person, and he's probably the perfect match for her. There's no way I'd ever try to interfere with the two of them. But I realize now that even when I was in love with Lev, I knew deep down inside that I'd never get over her. At first I was thrilled to be her bodyguard, but it gradually turned into a torment. I don't care what they say; unrequited love is a miserable, inadequate substitute for a lover.
On top of that, add in months of Rann following me around like a puppy, and then when Alan--well, I won't go into that. But that last barb of his--I just snapped. I woke up the next morning with Rann next to me--sweet, simple Rann!--and felt like I'd committed rape. I don't even really understand why I did it; that's what makes me so mad. I just had to throw something in Alan's face, and that was it. "That" being the blameless Rann (not that he didn't enjoy it, I suppose).
I slipped out that morning before he woke up and went back to my room and gathered up a few things. I knew I could always have my mother send me the rest later. For now I simply wanted to disappear for a while. I scribbled off some notes and dropped them into the slots in the mail room and just flew away. I suppose it only added insult to injury that I used the flier bought for me as a present.
Ever since I was little I'd enjoyed heading out to some relatively isolated destination, setting up a shelter, and relishing the solitude and maybe exploring a little as well. As I grew older, of course, my targets grew more and more remote and my absences longer, until disappearing for several weeks at a time became the norm. It had been a long while since I'd had the free time to do this, and now seemed like as good a time as any. Not to mention that I had a whole new planet to play in.
Although it's about the same size as Earth, Deshtiris has somewhat smaller oceans. As a result, there's almost twice as much land area here as on Earth, and even after thousands of years there are still unexplored areas remaining. Naturally it's all been mapped via satellite, but when millions of square miles show up as solid forest that doesn't really mean very much. Besides, one of the things the Brizali let slide into disrepair were the hundreds of weather satellites circling the planet, until they were barely capable of a simple visual image, much less the sophisticated remote imaging that used to be the standard.
It was to one of these unexplored areas in the southern hemisphere that I decided to set my course, maybe hoping for a bit of adventure to boot.
As I passed over a forest badly discolored by acid rain, I wondered just how long it would take to recover. I knew that the greenhouse effect which had already started its runaway spiral might require decades to bring under control, even with the advanced technology available. I hoped that at least once the burning of hydrocarbons ceased (and the acid rain with it), the natural resiliency of life would enable the forests to recover.
Will has already given you a brief description of the road vehicles commonly used on Qozernon.* The craft I was using was similar, but just as your sport utility vehicles are designed with travel in more rugged environments in mind, so it was with this one. Basically a small semi-enclosed platform, with two comfortable seats in the front behind the controls and some open room behind, it also sported a specially designed windscreen that made it possible to travel at speeds of up to two hundred miles per hour without the riders suffering unduly within the craft. A gyroscopic autostabilizing feature allowed the occupants to walk around without capsizing the vehicle like a canoe.
Unlike a Qozernan road vehicle, which requires an optically coded roadway, this type of flier can be used away from marked highways. Considering that for the past few decades the Brizal government had extensively paved over their roads for use by primitive internal combustion vehicles (conserving fission and fusion power for the transformers Tenako had been so obsessed with), this is an invaluable feature. Generally speaking, the higher one goes the faster one can go, as the on-board collision avoidance circuitry can sense possible conflicts from greater distances. I soon rose to an altitude of over three thousand feet and opened the throttle wide.
Deshti is located on one of the three northern continents about twenty-one hundred miles north of the equator, or roughly the latitude of Fontana, California (between the climate and the pollution I imagine Will must have felt right at home when he first arrived). I flew without much of a plan, other than heading south. Occasionally I landed in a deserted canyon or forest for a quick pit stop. I had no specific destination and no timetable, and took most of the day to cover the first fifteen hundred miles. As the sun began to approach the mountains, I decided to make camp for the night, as things were soon going to get a lot more uncomfortable for a day or two.
For at least an hour I had seen no sign of human settlement, which suited me just fine. Nonetheless I made a large circular sweep over my chosen landing area for a diameter of about twenty miles or so. I wanted solitude on this trip and I was determined to get it. Below was a pleasant looking pine forest, located in the foothills of an imposing mountain range to the west which I was skirting, and there were periodic clearings which looked inviting.
One advantage I had over your own explorers was not having to worry about wild animals. Almost entirely populated by plants and animals from Earth, both Deshtiris and Qozernon are relative paradises for humans, and humans have always taken care to respect and preserve them so. Although the Virrin transplanted virtually every species available, they also genetically modified the more lethal ones by instilling an instinctual indifference to humans. This could result in some unexpected surprises, such as the time Mom and I took Will (before he regained his memory) to one of the less populated parts of Qozernon and at one point found ourselves in the middle of a pride of lions. I thought poor Will was going to just pee his pants, he was so terrified.
If you're wondering why the Virrin would bring dangerous animals to another planet and then modify them to be relatively harmless, the answer is that they're only harmless to humans. The Virrin did a remarkable job of replicating the Earth's complex ecosystems of that time, which thousands of years ago were still relatively untainted by human interference. To have transplanted an ecosystem while omitting the predators would have thrown the entire system badly out of balance (as has happened on Earth), so they were retained, but with appropriate safeguards for the human population.
The real enigmas, though, and the ones our ecologists have scratched their heads over for centuries, are the ecosystems found all over the Twin Planets which never existed on Earth. The most widely accepted theory holds that the Virrin used our planets as laboratories, developing incredibly complex systems by combining life forms that on Earth would never be found together except possibly in zoos, and making them work together so smoothly that they're still stable thousands of years later.
There were plenty of natural hazards to be wary of, such as weather, poisonous plants, and the like. But at least I had no worries about being attacked by vicious beasts. It was of course easy to forget about the one dangerous animal the Virrin hadn't modified.
So it was without any fears for my safety that I set down in a clearing for the evening and debated setting up the shelter. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the temperature was still in the upper nineties, and a quick check of the nearest weather satellite predicted more of the same, so I ended up just spreading some pads over a patch of bare soil. By the time it was dark I had eaten a light meal of reconstituted vegetables. I undressed and stretched out on a sleeping pad under the darkening dome of the sky and watched the stars appear, my mind at first almost a blank after the long day.
For a while I kept my thoughts on safe subjects, such as the relative scarcity of stars in the Deshtiran sky compared to Qozernon's. I knew that eventually all the dust and other crud in the air would settle out and leave the sky crystal clear once again, long before the carbon dioxide levels had dropped enough to reverse the greenhouse effect. Deshtiris did have something that Qozernon lacked, however, and they soon rose over the horizon almost in unison: her two small moons, sometimes called the Twin Sisters (Qozernon also has a moon, but it's so diminutive and its orbit so far from the planet that without a telescope it simply appears as a bright star, moving almost imperceptibly among the others).
I watched as the Big Sister slowly made her way across the sky, soon chased by the Little Sister. What's she running from? I wondered. Who am I running from? Rann? Alan? I knew better than that. I'm running away from myself, I thought harshly.
I remembered the time Kiri ran away. From me.
For a long time I had begun to realize that my feelings toward her were more than just the hero worship that I and everyone else had thought them to be. But I hadn't said anything, knowing how strongly she still felt about her lost love and childhood companion Wilorian (little did I dream he'd drop in from the sky one day). It wasn't that I felt any shame about it; in matters of the heart gender is considered to be pretty much irrelevant on both Qozernon and Deshtiris, although there's still the messy matter of physical preferences to deal with.
Love, though, is something terribly hard to bottle up. It gets to a point where it starts to eat away at the container if it's not released, and you begin to think that nothing worse could possibly happen to you no matter what you say or do. And so one evening, while we were on a sight-seeing trip to the same plains overlook that so impressed Will, I told her how I felt. That is, I told her that I loved her.
I also told her that if she were so inclined I wanted to have a physical relationship with her, but that I'd understand if she didn't. I remember that she put her arms around me and cried. "Sen," she had said, "you know you're one of the few people that I love with all my heart. I wish I could make you happy. You're the kindest, most unselfish person I've ever known. But I think you already know that I'm just not physically attracted to women. I wish for both our sakes that I were, but that's just the way I'm made. I'm sorry, Sen."
I could accept that. I was admittedly disappointed, but just clearing the air was the important thing for me. Knowing that she knew how I felt about her was enough. For the next two days we shared a bond between us that I hadn't ever known with anyone. Several times I caught her with a furtive sadness in her eyes, and wondered why, but somehow it just got lost in the exhilaration I was feeling.
And then she was gone. Without warning. When I woke up that morning, the Futaba was no longer parked in its usual spot above the lawn. A few hours later we received a hyperspace message from her, text only, not even a telecom message. She said she had something important to do and would be gone for a while; she didn't know how long. I sent her a frantic message back, asking if it was because of me; if I'd done something wrong; if I'd hurt or offended her somehow. Her return message sent me into a panic that I'll never forget.
I'm sorry, Sen. Please forgive me. It's not your fault.
I remember chewing on that for hours, reviewing every word over and over, and getting nowhere. I was terrified that she was never coming back, although she swore she would be; she just didn't know when. After that her messages got fewer and further apart as she slipped out of hyperspace communication range, until we heard nothing more for ten months. I did things during those ten months that I would rather forget; among other things, that was when I acquired the reputation of sleeping with anyone and anything if I'd had enough to drink. (I suppose it was only fitting that it was Alan who managed to resurrect that particular tradition. And then he had the nerve to throw it in my face in front of Rann.)
When she did finally return, Kiri wouldn't say where she'd been or what she'd been doing. She'd always been rather close-mouthed, but I reasonably thought that this should be different, and although we've once more grown close since then, I've never again experienced the magic of those two days. Even at Tar Deshta, when she finally revealed just how important her trip had been for the future of--well, everything, I guess--I've still never been able to quite forgive her for choosing that moment of all times to run away.
And now, I realized, I had done the same thing. And on that sour note I finally drifted off to sleep.
* In Mikiria. - Ed.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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