I didn't see him again for several days. Making use of my new-found freedom, I explored the compound as thoroughly as I dared. One afternoon I wandered into what proved to be a laboratory of some sort, and was shocked to discover a caged cat pacing miserably back and forth.
Caging animals is nearly unheard of on the Twin Planets. Respected as sentient beings, one does not normally eat, experiment on, or confine animals. Angrily I asked one of the attendants why it was here.
"Who are you?" was his annoyed response. Noting my collar, he added, "Prisoners aren't allowed in the research area. Who gave you authorization to be here?"
I tapped the collar. "Obviously if I didn't have authorization I'd be dead right now, wouldn't I?" I snapped back. "Now what about the cat?"
His response was to call for a Brizal guard and have me forcibly ejected. I was spitting mad, but at least retained enough wit not to punch out the guard, which would probably have resulted in the instant revocation of the relative freedom I'd just attained. Seething, I stormed back to my room and punched my unfortunate pillow to a shapeless pulp.
Then I had an idea. Activating the telecom, I asked the astonished operator if The Boss was available. "He doesn't take calls from prisoners," he answered, clearly annoyed.
"Fine," I said, "then leave him a message. Tell him Senaria called."
It was maybe fifteen minutes later that I heard a knock at the door and Tenako appeared. Not bad, I thought; I'd given him a half hour. "What is it?" he asked in some concern.
Adopting my best wheedling tone (something I didn't get to use very often), I asked, "You said you'd be willing to do something to make up for that unpleasant experience I had the other day. Did you really mean it?"
"What did you have in mind this time?" he asked, curiosity clearly getting the better of him.
I told him. I also told him who I wanted to take care of it. He looked surprised, and puzzled, but agreed. "You are indeed an interesting person, Senaria," he said as he left. "This isn't what I expected at all."
A half-hour later a thoroughly chastened lab attendant, the same one that had so rudely tossed me out of his preserve, appeared at my door. In one hand was a small cage; in the other a sack containing a litter box, a bag of cat litter, and an assortment of food tins. "Boss's orders," he grudgingly acknowledged as he set them down on the floor of my room.
"Thank you so much," I said, giving him my very sweetest smile as he left muttering irritably to himself.
Once he was out of the room, I gingerly opened the cage. Although animals on the Twin Planets normally won't injure a human, fright or pain can bring out unexpected responses. To my relief the animal cautiously stepped out of the cage, sniffing at everything in sight and otherwise acting like cats everywhere. I suddenly realized that I had better get the litter box ready, in case that was one of his urgent priorities.
"Now what am I going to call you?" I said, getting a better look. The animal was generally of a yellow color (with a slight tendency towards orange), and a bit larger than a domestic cat, with black stripes on its head and chest gradually changing to spots further back. On the forehead was a small splash of pure white.*
"Tora," I decided.
It took a while, but I gradually gained Tora's confidence with plenty of coaxing and, of course, food. One of the first things I did was to hide away the cage in the closet after giving it a thorough cleaning. I was afraid he would feel just as much a prisoner as before in the small room, but apparently it was enough of an improvement over the filthy cage he'd been in that he promptly settled himself into a certain corner, which from then on became his and his alone, and began acting as lord and master of the establishment.
The next morning I headed over to the gymnasium, as I'd started doing on a regular basis. On a sudden impulse I stopped by the infirmary and asked Veldra to check over my leg. As she did so, she regarded me suspiciously. "This is several days ahead of schedule. Just what are you plotting, Senaria?"
"Well," I admitted, "I was really hoping I could start doing some sword training again."
For a few minutes she was silent as she checked over the angry red scar and began re-bandaging it. "All right," she said finally, giving me a severe look. "But try to be careful. Just because you no longer need the crutch doesn't mean you're ready to start jumping up and down on those platforms yet." Blurting out a hasty promise, I did a passable imitation of a frightened deer as I darted from the room, garnering a muttered imprecation from Veldra and some astonished looks from the assistant physicians that I nearly ran down on the way.
The next day something unexpected happened: the telecom suddenly came alive, seemingly of its own volition, sending Tora diving for his corner. I was in the process of sifting his litter box, now an essential part of my morning ritual, so it took me a moment to comprehend why something about the announcer on the screen seemed so strange, and then I realized that he was speaking in English, reporting on a military coup in the United States of America.
So it had started, I thought, feeling slightly sick. This had to be Tenako's big Earth gamble. The United States was by far the most powerful nation on the planet, especially since the collapse of the counterbalancing Soviet Empire. Previous American governments had found themselves more constrained by world opinion and economic pressures than they would have liked, but the result had been a relatively cautious and small scale exercise of the vast power available to them. I knew that a government led by a Brizal puppet would feel no such restraints.
I stepped out into the hallway, where I found several people milling around anxiously. "What's going on?" said one of the other prisoners, a young man who worked in one of the chemical facilities. "My telecom--"
I explained briefly what I'd seen. "I'm not sure why we're suddenly getting access, though," I added.
"The Boss's orders," chimed in another. "I called the communications desk and the desk officer said the order came straight from him."
"You understand English?" one of them observed in surprise. For a moment I was taken aback, then I remembered that for decades Deshtiran education had lacked the language requirements that were standard on Qozernon, nor had the Brizali permitted Earth broadcasts onto their comm net.
"Yeah," I said. And so for the next few days I became the impromptu interpreter for the broadcasts that left us all transfixed in fascinated horror.
Instead of crowding everyone into my small room (and terrifying Tora in the process) we congregated in the mess hall, where a large telecom screen at one end normally served as a conduit for general announcements. There we remained for most of the day, taking our meals as they came. Rather to my surprise a number of the uniformed Brizali ended up joining us and made no effort to interfere. I suspected they knew as little English as my fellow captives and welcomed the opportunity to find out what was going on.
I won't go into great detail on the events on Earth, since Will's already done that in his part of the narrative. We did find that access to all Earth channels had been provided, although as the day wore on coverage became spottier, until by that evening the only remaining news was coming from stations outside the U.S. as all the American stations vanished from the airwaves.
Eventually everyone, myself included, drifted off to our own rooms. For a while I amused myself surfing through the remaining stations from all over Earth, finally settling on a loony Japanese animated series featuring a super-powered android with the brain of a cat.§ I was brought back to reality when I answered a knock at the door and found Tenako standing there.
For a moment I glared at him, then backed away, rather caught off guard by the strange look in his eyes. "May I come in?" he said softly. I nodded warily. "You might want to switch back to one of the U.S. channels," he said as he seated himself in one of the chairs. I did as he suggested, to find an obviously impromptu announcer advising everyone to stand by for an important message, after which the telecom went dead except for the Brizal emblem.
I turned back to find Tora cautiously sniffing his leg as he absently stroked the animal's soft fur. "What's this about, Tenako?" I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.
He sighed. "You're about to see one of the two worst mistakes I've ever made," he said.
"And they were--?" I prompted him, now thoroughly puzzled.
"The first was what I did to my daughter Mikiria," he began, to my considerable surprise.
"And the second?" I said finally.
At that moment the screen came alive again, as a face appeared onscreen. Tenako made a feeble gesture at it. He looked tired, I realized, very tired, as I encountered Jack Lucie for the first time.
When the speech had concluded, I turned to him. He was sitting back, his eyes closed, Tora on his lap. "One of our Watchdogs discovered Lucie about nine years ago," he began in a near monotone. "He seemed the answer to our prayers. He had connections, power, and considerable wealth. And he wanted more, and was willing to work with us to get it. Over the years we've provided him with technology and shown him how to manipulate Earth's relatively crude computer systems in order to divert funds to his operations."
"The results were successful beyond our wildest dreams. Under the very eyes of the government, and, more importantly, the media, he assembled a powerful force ready to move on cue. Today was the long-agreed upon date, and you've been watching the results." He stopped.
"You must be thrilled," I said sarcastically. His answer stunned me.
"Jack Lucie may be the most dangerous man in the universe," he said at last. "He's utterly ruthless and more brutal than I had ever imagined. And I've put almost unlimited power into his hands."
"You didn't discover this today," I said in a low voice.
"No," he admitted, rising wearily to his feet to depart. "But I always kept the main goal in mind. He was a tool, nothing more. And now the tool is the real menace," he concluded, as he quietly closed the door behind him. Suddenly Tenako seemed the lesser evil, I realized as I tried unsuccessfully to sleep, the telecom still muttering quietly in the background.
I almost missed breakfast the next day, having finally fallen into a deep sleep sometime in the wee hours of the morning. When I got there, the room was nearly deserted (and the breakfast selections down to some greasy potato pancakes and toast). I soon understood why, as I saw that the flow of news had slowed to a trickle, with all communications from the United States completely cut off by the insurrectionists. Listening to the usual patter of uninformed speculation which seems to be the self-imposed duty of television news organizations under such circumstances, I disgustedly finished my breakfast in silence and treated myself to a couple hours of working out in the gym.
When I had finished showering and returned to my room I found Tenako patiently waiting there, sitting in a chair with Tora again on his lap. "Waiting long?" I asked.
"Gives me time to think," he answered with a half-smile. "Out there I have dozens of people continually pestering me for decisions. Besides, I like your cat."
"His name is Tora," I said. "Looks like he likes you too." Tora was performing his usual routine of grumbling continuously as Tenako petted him, while settling in more comfortably all the time.
"I hear that you're the resident interpreter around here," Tenako said dryly. "So what's he saying?"
" 'Stop it some more,' " I translated.
I noticed that he looked even wearier than yesterday. "I guess everything is going according to plan," I said, a bit sarcastically. "Looks like a total news blackout's in effect now." He nodded. I wondered why he was here, as for a while neither of us said anything.
"Watchdogs," I blurted out suddenly, as something occurred to me. "Yesterday you said something about one of your Watchdogs discovering Lucie. What's a Watchdog?" He briefly gave me a description of the Watchdog organization, and I soon realized that he was sharing one of the best-kept secrets of the Twin Planets. I had never even heard rumors of them, in spite of my parents' extensive diplomatic contacts.
"We lost track of some of our best ones when Teyn succumbed to paranoia and tried to recall them," he added casually. "For all we know they could still be there as renegades. That was a long time ago, though." Again silence reigned.
"You're worried about the success of the revolt, aren't you?" I said finally. "I mean, you're worried it's going to succeed. The whole thing's gone out of control, hasn't it?" He said nothing. "What happens next?" I pressed. "Lucie devotes all of Earth's resources to building a war fleet. It isn't just Qozernon that's defenseless, or even Deshtiris. You're also helpless. You gave him the technology, and now he has the resources, not you. You didn't count on that, did you?" His silence was all too eloquent.
"If that's really true, then why don't you do something?" I demanded. "You set this whole thing in motion; isn't there something you can do to stop it?"
I was totally unprepared for the results. His face seemed to cloud over for a moment, then reddened with fury as he rose to his feet. Tora dove under the bed with a hiss. "You goddam bitch," he screamed. "I know what you're trying to do. Tenako might be fool enough to fall for your ruses, but I'm not." I backed away in sudden terror. "I should kill you now," he said in a lower tone. He pulled something out of his pocket, and to my horror I recognized the controller for my restraint collar. "We should have left you for the dogs to eat," he added viciously and pointed the controller at me, his arm outstretched like the barrel of a rifle.
I suddenly understood what was happening. "Tenako, it's Teyn doing this," I pleaded frantically. "You've got to fight him." He stood there as if frozen, a finger poised over one of the buttons. "I know this isn't you. Please." For what seemed an eternity he remained there, expression unchanged, not moving a muscle, as I stared into his eyes, looking for some shred of humanity behind the cold glint.
"Please," I whispered.
I have no idea how long we remained like that, my life hanging by a thread. It might have been seconds, or hours for all I know. Then at last the malignant gleam in his eyes seemed to fade, and he very slowly lowered the controller, his arm still rigidly straight, until all at once the tension seemed to drain from his body and he mechanically returned the device to his pocket. There were beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. For a moment his jaws worked convulsively, and then he abruptly turned and walked out without saying a word.
My knees gave way and I sat down heavily on the bed. Only now did I feel my heart pounding in my chest like a trip-hammer. Not until this moment had I realized just what a tightrope I'd been walking. Tora gingerly ventured from under the bed and looked at me quizzically, then jumped up beside me, rubbing his head against my hand. As I absently scratched behind his ears, I found myself wondering just who I was trying to connect with. Teyn? Tenako? Or a copy of my own soul?
* As far as I can determine, Senaria's cat appears to be a variety of Geoffroy's cat. However, the white marking and orange-yellow color would be rather unusual for this species, so it may have been the result of cross-breeding at some time in the intervening millennia. - Ed.
§ Probably Bannou Bunka Neko Musume, also known as All-Purpose Cultural Cat-Girl Nuku Nuku. - Ed.
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