I didn't go to breakfast the next morning, although by then the only lingering effects were a mild headache and an odd, disconnected feeling at times, as though my body belonged to someone else. Finally, about lunchtime, I decided that staying in my room pouting wasn't helping matters, especially if it meant going hungry. Besides, I didn't feel like being home if Tenako showed up; not that I could really hide from him in the small compound. I made my way to the mess hall and found a seat at an empty table. I tried to convince myself that I was annoyed when Veldra arrived shortly afterwards and asked if she could join me, but of course I wasn't.
For a while our conversation remained on safe topics, but inevitably found its way to the previous day's ordeal.
"I hope you don't mind my asking," Veldra was saying, "but did Tenako explain why he put you through that yesterday? He's subjected some of his key personnel to it, but never a mere prisoner. I thought the point was to preserve their knowledge and skills in case something happened to one of them."
"Not this time," I snarled, savagely biting through a large carrot. "He wanted to find out if what I'd been telling him was true."
Veldra looked puzzled. "I don't understand. I've always been told that you can't just read those files."
"He said he was going to download them into himself," I said. "Find out what I really knew, really thought. I guess he can do that without wiping out his own personality. Sort of a mind meld from hell," I added bitterly.
It took a moment for it to sink in, for the expression on her face to change from perplexity to horror. "He did that?" she finally whispered. "Everything?"
"Everything," I spat out. "Everything I ever did, thought. Everything I am. The son of a bitch." I heard my voice shake, and felt her hand on mine.
"I can't imagine what it must have been like," she said finally. "I'm sorry. Let me know if I can do anything."
I shrugged helplessly. "What's done is done," I said, a little more calmly. "Maybe at least now he'll believe me." I tried to concentrate on my food for a few minutes, and then realized I was swallowing everything untasted.
"Listen, Senaria," she said, tactfully changing the subject, "you must be going crazy from lack of exercise. We do have a gymnasium of sorts in this building, and if you're careful your leg could probably benefit from a workout."
My ears perked up at that. Pacing around my room wasn't very effective, and I could well imagine growing downright fat if I continued eating like this and reading all day. "Sure," I said. She gave me directions and promised to meet me there in an hour.
It proved to be quite an elaborate gym, in fact, with exercise equipment, a running track, and a pool. More alluringly, it also had a small sword training area, with the usual platforms scattered about for leaping around on. Seeing the gleam in my eye, Veldra firmly put her foot down. "Maybe in another week," she said.
I noticed that several of the combatants eagerly slashing away at each other wore restraint collars. "We're allowed swords?" I observed in astonishment.
Veldra gave me a wry grin. "Sure," she said. "They're only practice blades, so unless you want to try poke a Brizal in the eye you're not going to hurt anyone with one. Besides," and she tapped the restraint collar around her own neck meaningfully.
Even so, I decided that as soon as my tyrant of a physician gave the go-ahead I'd be there in a flash.
Later, back in my room, I reflected on what she'd said at lunch. So this was the first time Tenako had used the device this way. I wondered if this meant I might have actually reached him a little. Then I realized I was imagining myself turning Romikor Tenako from the error of his ways: Tenako, the creator of the Brizali, and the man who in other circumstances had felt no compunction about killing his own daughter, and I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the utter futility of it all. Out of habit I turned to the telecom, only to be greeted with the usual warning screen advising me that all outside communications had been disabled. I found myself wishing I could entomb myself in an evening of mindless entertainment. They could at least have subscribed to Dallas, I reflected in disgust.
I saw no sign of Tenako that day, and as I lay in bed that night I realized I was actually curious about his reactions to what he might have learned from me. I've already been here way too long, I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
The following morning Veldra intercepted me as I was heading for a table in the mess hall and led me to an empty one. She seemed almost furtive as she leaned over and asked me if I'd seen any sign of "The Boss" the previous day. I shook my head. "Why? What's the big deal?"
She explained that since checking on me after the "download," as she called it, he'd apparently confined himself to his room, canceling all meetings and refusing all calls. One or two people who claimed to have seen him momentarily in the corridor had described his appearance as haggard and strained, as though he hadn't slept. "Whatever he got from you seems to have given him a bad case of indigestion," she finished.
"Serves him right," I snapped viciously. "Maybe he found out what goes on in normal people's heads for a change." I paused, and thought a moment. "Come to think of it, that could be pretty unsettling," I added sheepishly. "I can't say I'm too crazy about the idea of anyone seeing all my thoughts."
"None of us lets more than a tiny sliver of our real thoughts loose on the world around us," Veldra agreed. "I'm not sure civilization could survive if we suddenly acquired the ability to read each others' minds."
"Well, maybe Tenako won't survive it, anyway," I speculated. "One can always hope." Looking a bit taken aback at this particular glimpse into my own psyche, Veldra retreated to other, safer subjects as we finished our meals.
I spent the better part of the day hobbling about aimlessly, trying to restore some flexibility to my still stiff limbs. I desisted only when the pain started to mutate into a somewhat less benign form and I realized I was in danger of doing more harm than good if I continued. I headed back to my room for a change of clothes, looking forward to a hot shower, only to find Tenako silently seated in one of my chairs.
"How long have you been here?" I said in some surprise. I knew that if he'd wanted to he could have had me hunted down and brought here at any time he chose; it wasn't as though I had a lot of territory to roam around in.
"Maybe a half hour," he said, looking up wearily. "Don't worry about it."
I was rather shocked at his appearance; his eyes were red from lack of sleep and there were telltale dark patches under them. "If you need to change, let me know and I'll come back," he said. "I may need to question you for a while this time."
"I'm fine," I said, stashing the crutch in the closet and gingerly lowering myself into a chair.
"Still painful, I suppose," he observed.
"Well, yeah," I retorted. "When was the last time you fell through a tree?"
"I've been spared that experience," he said dryly. "At least literally." What did that mean? I wondered.
"So what do you want this time?" I said, feeling a little less hostile. "Did you find what you wanted? Do you still think I was lying to you?" The reaction was not at all what I expected, as he distinctly paled and looked away.
"No," he answered slowly, "I don't think you were lying. In fact, you're probably the most honest person I've ever encountered. Of course you have your own agenda, and your own plans, but you've told me the absolute truth in everything you've said. Or at least what you believe to be the absolute truth. I'll have to investigate what Mikiria said about the planar field, of course. Just because you believe her doesn't mean that she was also telling the truth." He stopped, and there was an awkward pause.
"So what exactly do you need to ask me?" I said finally. "You now know everything I know. What is there that I can tell you that you don't already know?" I felt my voice rising. "You've seen my thoughts, my memories, my innermost feelings, you've seen every detail of my sex life that I can remember myself, you've--"
"Stop," he burst out in a strangled voice. "Please." The second word was almost unintelligible. His face was white. "Stop," he said again, this time almost inaudibly. "I never expected--I didn't expect--"
"You didn't expect what?" I snapped. "That you'd be seeing into someone's soul? That you'd be committing something worse than rape? Just what did you expect?"
"I don't have to listen to this, you know," he said, his own voice barely under control.
"No, you don't," I said a bit more calmly, putting on the brakes as hard as I could. Alienating him permanently wouldn't do anyone any good, I realized. "But you are. Why?"
I have to say his answer rather astonished me. "Because I didn't expect to see myself," he said. "I know why I'm doing what I'm doing, and I know it's the right thing to do. But to see myself the way you see me, and in my own mind, was admittedly a shock. Do you really consider me a monster, Senaria?" I stared at him.
"Yes, I do," I said softly. He had my mind in his; there was no point in sugared words here. "You enslaved a planet for a crazy dream, one that's closer to a nightmare. And you'd do absolutely anything to accomplish it. You think you're above ordinary morality. What am I supposed to think?"
His next words were another surprise. "I really tried to kill my own daughter, didn't I?" There was wonderment in his voice. "The daughter I wanted to protect more than anything else in the world. And I would have killed her if I could, even knowing who she was. She was in my way, and I would have killed her."
I wondered if he was seeing the same memory I was at that moment, of him picking up a sword and advancing on the helpless figure sagging against a bloody equipment cabinet. "So what am I supposed to think?" I asked again.
He stood up. There was an odd defiance in his voice, as though he were fighting the foreign feelings in his own head. "Don't think that this changes anything, Senaria. I'll look into Mikiria's claims about the planar field. But I have no intention of letting this distract me more than it already has." Seeing the look on my face, he added, "I'm sorry about what I put you through. I'd like to make it up to you somehow. I really had no idea."
Seizing the opportunity, though without much hope, I retorted, "You could send me home."
"Maybe something a little more realistic." An almost imperceptible smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Let me know," he added as he slipped out.
Rather unexpectedly he was back again the next day; I had wondered whether he would see any further need to question me after yesterday's experience. But a bigger surprise was to come.
"You must be terribly tired of this little room," he said. "Why don't we go somewhere else?" Silently I tapped the collar around my neck. "Yes, I think it's reasonable for you to have a little more freedom of movement," he agreed, and from a pocket pulled out a small handheld device that I immediately recognized as a twin of the one used to program my collar. He spent a few moments entering in some new information, then transferred it.
"You now have nearly complete freedom of the compound," he said matter-of-factly. He named a few areas into which I was still forbidden to enter; one of them, not surprisingly, was the battleship hangar. "Anything with this logo," and he had the device display a symbol on its tiny screen, "is still off limits. And of course you can't leave the compound. Otherwise there are no restrictions. Any questions?" Reeling from this unexpected largess, I could only gasp, "Why?"
"Why not?" he shrugged. "You still can't escape, and of course we could subdue you at any time if necessary. If you cause trouble you'll only harm yourself. So it hardly seems necessary to keep you caged." I have to admit I was astonished, but I wasn't about to argue. Motioning for me to follow, he led me out of the building and across a courtyard. Looking up, I was startled to see not sky above, but a massive roof a good hundred feet above us, studded with light-producing panels.
"You won't see the sky here," he explained. "On top of that roof are several dozen feet of soil, and an actual forest. Anyone flying overhead would see only unbroken green. We didn't do this," he added, seeing my evident awe. "This is several thousand years old. For all we know, it may have originated with the Virrin. But it's very useful for camouflage." Waving an arm around, he continued. "This complex covers several square miles. There are hangars, barracks, even some fabricating plants. We discovered these ruins about sixteen years ago, and thought they might come in handy in case of setbacks. As they did," he added ironically.
"So how do the ships get in and out?" I asked innocently. He laughed.
"Subtlety isn't exactly one of your strong points, is it? Not that it matters. When you flew in, did you see the river below? With the tall trees along the banks? And an occasional stream coming in from under the trees?" I nodded; although the memory was a bit hazy, it did sound familiar. "Well, one of those apparent tributaries is actually a passageway into the battleship hangar here. It's just wide enough for a single ship at a time."
The light from overhead felt remarkably like sunlight, something very welcome after being cooped up for several weeks. I realized that under our feet was real grass. "Make yourself comfortable," he suggested, stretching out on his back on the cool turf.
"Senaria, you remind me so much of my first daughter," he reflected. "She had golden hair very much like yours." First daughter? I wondered. Then I remembered that it was the death of Tenako's first child that had sent him off on the bizarre path he'd followed since. "You know, your beloved Kiri's hair would probably have been the same color if Tenako hadn't--I hadn't--" He stopped in confusion as I wondered at the odd slip.
"It's all right," I said reassuringly. "I understand." I thought how ironic it was; there was a time when that knowledge would have filled me with irrational satisfaction. Now it all seemed so far away. So long ago.
For a while I just enjoyed the deceptive sensation of being free under the sun. I knew it was a sham, but for the moment I surrendered to the fantasy that I was home again in the palace, that in a little while I would be going in for a shower and then supper with my mother, Kiri, Will and Rann. Even Alan seemed a little less odious for a few moments.
I was snapped back to reality by Tenako's voice. "You know, it's a very odd experience to see oneself blown to bits. It's like being a--what's it called on Earth?--a 'ghost.' And you were glad to see it happen." He said it quite matter-of-factly, as though he were reading a report.
"I hope you don't think I'd apologize for that," I snapped, suddenly feeling strangely on the defensive and angry about it. "I was."
"You really believe that what Mikiria told you about the Virrin is true. You sincerely believe that she wouldn't lie, and that it's true. And if it is--" He suddenly stopped, and to my utter astonishment I realized that he was blinking away tears. "I risked my career, my very freedom, in a misguided effort to protect her. Now I've gone so far down this path that I would have killed her. And your memories are telling me it was all madness."
Was this really Tenako, I wondered, the cold, calculating machine that had created the Brizali? I felt a momentary thrill of hope as I knew that I was actually, finally reaching him, something I hadn't thought possible. I realized I was also seeing his life unravel before my eyes, and I think I felt sorrier for him at that instant than I've ever felt for anyone in my life.
"You know it's not too late to turn this around," I said cautiously. To my dismay he abruptly rose to his feet and looked down at me mockingly.
"On the other hand," he said coldly, "this may all be an artifact of the neural download. I'm being influenced by your emotional responses, and find myself reacting irrationally." For a moment I was shocked at the transformation, then realized that somehow the original Tenako personality had regained total control. Clearly this would be harder than I thought.
"I have several experiments in progress which will test Mikiria's theory about the field being irreversible," he added. "Until I have concrete data, my plans will continue as before. Don't press your luck," he added ominously as he strode off towards the main complex.
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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