I woke up the next morning in my own bed, and for the first time in an eternity saw the real sun coming through an open window. For a moment I tried to imagine that it had all been a very bad dream, that none of it had ever happened, and then I saw the bandages wrapping my left forearm. I shivered and rolled over, pulling the sheet over my head, and remained there for a few minutes longer as I forced myself to face the events of the preceding evening.
Most of what transpired after Kiri and Will found me in the engram room remained only an elusive blur. I remembered Kiri trying to get an intelligible story from me as to what had happened to the man on the floor, but giving up after finding that I was apparently no longer capable of framing a coherent sentence. There were a lot of people and a lot of milling around, and eventually I must have just shut myself down into some kind of autistic state, because the next thing I remembered was being led onto the Futaba and into the living quarters where I was given something to drink and told to lie down and go to sleep. I vaguely remembered waking up once to the reassuring feeling of someone gently stroking my hair, and I had drifted off again. And then I woke up here.
For a moment I was startled by a loud purr in my left ear, and as I hastily threw off the sheets a yellow and black object flew off the bed and stood glaring at me, fur erect. "Sorry, Tora. It's okay. C'mere," I said in a placating tone, and as he warily sprang back onto the bed and settled in next to me, I knew once and for all that not only had it not been a dream, but it really was over. There's nothing like a cat waiting patiently to be fed to bring you back to reality, I thought gratefully.
I threw off the sheets again with a sigh and slid out of bed. A few minutes later Tora was happily eating and I was dressed and padding silently downstairs to the kitchen. There I found my mother sitting at the table sipping tea and staring vacantly out the window. "Mom," I said, trying not to startle her, and as she put down her tea I put my arms around her shoulders and gave her my best hug. "Welcome home, child," she said softly, and we held each other as only a mother and daughter can.
A little later we were joined by Kiri and Will, and after more hugs all around it almost seemed for a while again as if it had all never happened. While I dug into the first decent breakfast I'd had in weeks, they filled me in on their side of events. "How did you manage to find me?" I mumbled through a mouthful of biscuits and gravy.
"Holan had a team painstakingly analyze every scrap of the wreckage from your flier," Kiri explained. "When we finally discovered that you'd been shot down with an Earth rifle, we knew that your disappearance wasn't an accident, and that you must have stumbled into something big. We were on our way to rendezvous with the Southern Hemisphere fleet and then take apart the area where you disappeared, tree by tree if we had to, when we received an anonymous transmission. It included detailed maps of the entire compound, as well as the location of the hidden entrance. If it hadn't been for that we'd never have gotten to you in time. It was signed 'T.T.,' " she added, looking at me inquiringly. I looked away, and she didn't press the issue.
"And their firearms?" I asked, changing the subject. Will described how Alan had adapted the Liquidator technology to affect only the compound lead styphnate. "Lead whatnate?" I said inanely.
"It's the substance used as a detonator in the firing pin of standard Earth ammunition," he explained. "Without it firearms are about as useful as clubs."
"And Alan did that?" I said in amazement.
"Yes, and in record time," Kiri corroborated.
"You know, Sen," my mother added, "he was really broken up about your 'accident.' He's been acting a lot differently since then."
"I'll bet," I said, but with somewhat more sarcasm than I really felt.
For a few minutes I concentrated on my food, as the others took advantage of my silence to do likewise. "So what's going to happen to them all?" I said finally.
"The Brizali will go through the same hearing process as Rann and the others," Kiri said coldly. "At least they stood and fought for what they believed in. As for the Earthmen--" and this time I saw that she was stifling a grin.
Will filled in. "When they saw that their precious 'guns' no longer worked, they bolted for their ships like scared rabbits. Unfortunately they found a Deshtiran battleship bottling up the opening to the outside world. They could have rammed it and blown up the whole area, but they didn't have the guts for that, especially the Brizal pilots that had thrown in their lot with them."
"So what did you do with them?" I persisted uneasily.
"We put them to bed and sent them home to their mommies," he replied cryptically.
"Actually, we gave them a choice," Kiri said grimly. "They could stand before a firing squad and be shot with their own damned firearms, or be drugged and sent back to Earth."
"But there's no death penalty on Deshtiris," I protested. Kiri's response was icy.
"They weren't Deshtiran citizens, and this was a military operation. Legally we could have done anything we chose with them. But I liked the other idea better," she added, her face breaking into an evil grin as Will continued.
"We loaded them aboard their battleships, put them to sleep for a few days, and sent them off under military escort to Earth." Kiri looked like she was going to explode.
"Okay," I said, taking a deep breath, "just where are you going to leave them?"
"Well," he said innocently, "there's a nice patch of open desert just outside a little town in New Mexico called--"
"Roswell," I finished for him. "You wouldn't. Would you really?"
Kiri nodded; by now tears were running down her face from her efforts to avoid breaking out howling. "Our ships should be able to land, dump them in the desert, and be back out of radar range within ten minutes," Will continued. "By the time the military arrives to investigate, all they'll find is a herd of snoozing paramilitary wannabees and renegade officers. Badly wanted for treason, I might add. Of course, if any UFO enthusiasts are in the vicinity, they'll get quite a show." I whistled. A Deshtiran battleship is about the size of a small ocean liner.
"It was Alan's idea," Kiri finally gasped. "He's been fighting the UFO crowd for so long that he decided to give their side some ammunition for a change."
Her expression grew more somber as Will produced a small voice recorder. "Sen, I know this is hard for you," he said, "but we really need to know just what happened there. We've got teams going over all the equipment and records, but with the principal players dead or worse there's a lot that I think only you can tell us." I involuntarily shuddered, and found myself twisting my fingers together. Kiri looked apologetic. "I thought that if we voice recorded this we could keep it informal, rather than taking down a video statement."
"Sure," I said dubiously. "I suppose I didn't make a lot of sense last night."
Will grinned. "That's an understatement if ever I heard one."
"Well," I went on, "a lot of it was pretty unbelievable. You might find it makes even less sense now, but fire away."
"For starters," Kiri said, "what happened to Teyn? We thought he was behind all this, but we found him shot to death."
"It wasn't Teyn," I said softly. "It was Tenako."
That brought wide eyes all around the table, let me tell you. Kiri looked thunderstruck. "Tenako? But--"
"I know. He died at Tar Deshta. But it was him. And it was Krigghin Teyn. And it was--someone else."
For a few moments there was silence. I saw that Kiri had turned a deathly shade of white. "T," she finally said softly. She sighed. "Maybe you should just start at the beginning."
I agreed, and for the next hour and a half gave as good an account as I could remember of the events from the attack on my flier to the arrival of the Futaba. For some reason, though, I found myself glossing over Tenako's death. I suppose I couldn't really face it myself. "So it was Tenako, not Teyn, that sent us the information we needed to end the Earth revolt," Kiri said, and told me about the message that had enabled her to put an end to Lucie's plans so effectively.
When I started to describe my near-fatal duel with Lucie, she interrupted me for a moment. "We were able to identify him as Veladikor Sotok."
"A missing Watchdog," I added helpfully. Seeing their amazement, I explained. "Tenako told me about them, but even he had no idea he'd been working with a renegade Watchdog all along."
"I don't know what you did to him," Kiri continued with a shudder, "but he won't be leading any more coups. The doctors worked him over pretty thoroughly and couldn't find a thing wrong with him, except that his mind appears to be utterly blank. No thoughts, no memories, no emotions, no motor skills, nothing. A pure vegetative state but with no physical damage whatsoever."
I reluctantly described how I had lured him under the transducer and activated it at the last possible moment. "I called up the list of available engram files, and selected them all. It must have downloaded over thirty different sets of memories, beliefs, emotional responses..." I trailed off as I remembered again that scream. My mother took my hand in hers and squeezed reassuringly.
"And his mind couldn't possibly hold them all," Kiri finished for me, "so the successive downloads started overlaying each other, until the end result in his brain was just--random static." Her own voice shook slightly as she completed the sentence. "I think that's plenty for now," she said after a long silence.
On the way back to my room I encountered Rann. "Hello, Rann," I said awkwardly.
"Hi, Sen," he answered with a forced smile. Just how much pain have I caused, I wondered. His next words were a surprise, though. "I wanted to thank you for what you did," he continued. "Mom said you were what kept her going those last few weeks. She'd given up hope. You gave it back to her."
"Your mom?" I said in bewilderment.
"You know, Veldra," he answered, and surprise suddenly washed over his features. "You mean you didn't know?"
I shook my head. "Veldra is your mother?" I repeated disbelievingly.
"You really didn't know?" he asked again.
"I guess it never came up," I answered, still a bit stunned. He put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a little squeeze, the way we had so often before.
"She made sure they brought your cat back with you. You were kind of out of it, I guess. Anyways, thanks," he added quietly. I placed my hand over his.
"Rann, you're an awfully good kid and I didn't treat you very well. I'm really sorry. I wish I could make it up to you somehow, but I can't." I gently removed his hand from my shoulder. His eyes clouded over. "What's this?" I said suddenly, noticing a sliver of white showing below the bottom of his short sleeveless shirt.
"What's what?" he stammered, as I grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it up a few inches, to reveal a bandage along his left side running from front to back.
"Did this happen last night?" I demanded.
"It's nothing," he protested, looking embarrassed.
"Nothing, my ass," I snorted. "You don't use a bandage like this for a scratch. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine," he insisted. "It slid between the ribs and the muscle. It just hurts a bit, that's all." Another inch or so and he wouldn't be standing here, I realized with a shock.
"I guess I owe you one," I mumbled apologetically, mentally chalking up yet another casualty to my stupidity.
"Are you going to rejoin the bodyguard now that you're back?" he asked hopefully. I shook my head. "I'm going to be staying for good," he went on. "It looks like my parents will be, too. Kiri's asked my mother if she'd be willing to develop and head a clinic for the palace, so they don't have to keep relying on the military's doctors. Besides, I think my parents are going to need me for a while, especially Mom. She went through a lot."
"No kidding," I agreed, noticing that he was finally referring to Kiri by her nickname instead of "Empress Mikiria." "So has your father started speaking to you again?"
"Yeah," he said, "thanks to Kiri. She gave him a bit of a talking to. I'm not sure how much of it was what she said and how much was because the Empress of Deshtiris was sitting in his living room chewing him up and spitting him out, but I'm no longer persona non grata, so it looks like things are okay between us again. They really need to get their lives back together."
"Don't we all," I confirmed, half to myself, turning to go.
"Sen," he said hesitantly. "What you wrote in your letter. That was really true, wasn't it? I mean about you being in love with someone else?" I nodded. "Would you--" He stopped, evidently not sure that he had any right to ask what he was about to ask. "Would you tell me who?" he finally finished.
"No," I said, trying not to sound harsh. "No. I'm sorry, Rann, I can't do that. Especially now."
Back in my room I found myself aimlessly poking around at the various souvenirs and possessions I'd accumulated over the years. My arm was starting to hurt again, and I finally just sat down on the bed, stroking Tora's soft gold and black fur and enjoying the simple ability to send him into a frenzy of purring. Wallowing is not going to accomplish anything, I rebuked myself sternly. There was a knock at the door, and I answered it to find Kiri standing quietly in the hallway.
"It's good to have you back, Sen," she said as I cleared off one of the chairs, making a place for her. Tora promptly jumped into her lap. First Tenako and now her, I reflected. There's a cat with good taste. "I hope you didn't find this morning's session too painful."
I shook my head. "It's all in the past now," I said as casually as I could. But I think my eyes betrayed me, as I found myself angrily fighting off a sudden urge to cry again.
"So how's the arm?" she said. "That was a nasty slash."
"Nothing compared to what I did to my leg," I told her, and showed her the bandage. It had been freshly redone sometime during the previous night; I'd probably reopened the injury again during the fight with Lucie. "Never quarrel with a tree and gravity at the same time," I philosophized.
She looked impressed. "I guess you took your share of knocks," she conceded. "You know, it was a good thing for me that you came through all right. Otherwise I think I would have done some things I'd have regretted later." She said it lightly, but coming from her it was a remarkable admission. I remembered her telecom conversation with Lucie, and wondered just how far she might have gone. Then I realized it was also a glimpse into her feelings that I didn't get very often any more.
Kiri seemed to be carefully considering her next words, and said nothing for a little while, idly scratching Tora behind the ears. I wondered how much she'd guessed already.
"I still don't understand why Teyn--or Tenako--did what he did at the end," Kiri mused, finally breaking the silence. "Even allowing that he had your memories and thoughts, Tenako was a pretty stubborn man. Yet it was as though he changed into another person altogether. I think there's more here than meets the eye." She casually avoided looking at me as she said it, but I realized then that I had to tell her, that the truth was the only important thing left in this whole sad affair.
"I think," I began slowly, "that the clone created for Teyn had its own mind and personality, even though it was submerged by Teyn's download as soon as it was first awakened. In order for Tenako to have implanted those instructions, there had to have been something more there than just a blank slate. I think it--he--was like a child, growing up for ten years with someone else in total control of his body, and all he could do was to observe and try to make sense of what he was experiencing. When Tenako's engrams were added in, maybe it somehow weakened the grip of the imposed personalities enough so that his real self could start to think independently." I looked up to see Kiri's emerald eyes boring into me intently, her face an expressionless mask, as I forced myself to continue.
"Then, when my personality was added in as well, and was so utterly contradictory to everything already there, the combination of the three was fatally weakened and he could start taking control, even though Tenako and Teyn were fighting him all the way. He didn't always know what to do, any more than a child does, but he suddenly found himself doubting, and dreaming, and loving--" At that point I couldn't go any further, and just stopped. There was a long pause as I stared at the table, my vision blurring with tears which I made no effort to wipe away. I felt Kiri's hand on mine.
"So that's it," she said very quietly. "I understand now, Sen. I'm really, really sorry." She squeezed my hand, and for a long time neither of us said anything. I finally felt that I had my voice back under control, and looked up.
"I think I ought to go home," I said unexpectedly. Seeing her blank look, I went on. "Back to Qozernon, I mean. Maybe try another job. I don't know. But I'm so tired of death, and horror, and blood. I never know from one day to the next whether someone I love is--" I stopped and found myself staring at the table again.
She finally spoke. "Sen, you've been living in the center of a volcano for far too long, and you've done better than anyone would ever have a right to demand of you. I envy you more than you can imagine, you know. You really can just walk away from it."
No, I can't, I thought to myself, but I said nothing.
"I hope you find what you're looking for," she added softly.
I looked up and stared for a moment into her vaguely cat-like eyes. "I did, once," I said, rising to my feet. "Goodbye, Kiri."
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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This page last updated 2/5/2010.|