"That's odd," Kiri said, a quizzical look on her face. Something about her expression made me distinctly uneasy. She got up from the table and instead of answering the door pressed a switch on the wall. A small panel slid back, revealing a television screen and some high-tech controls that looked oddly out of place in the fifties-style house. She did something with the controls and the screen lit up with a crisp outside view of the house and front door, displayed in full color as if in broad daylight.
Standing before the door was a uniformed policeman with a notably unpleasant face; in the background were several other figures clustered around a patrol car, its blue lights flashing. "Uh, Kiri?" I said in alarm. "Just how many speeding tickets have you accumulated, anyway?"
"Not that many," she snapped as she entered a command into a keypad. Red flashing rectangles appeared around each of the uniformed figures except for the officer at the door; his was yellow.
"Omigod," she said, and something in her voice made my hair stand on end. She pressed another button and closed the panel as the doorbell rang again, more insistently this time. "We've got to go."
"What!?" I exclaimed in dismay. "Kiri, those are police. You can't be serious." Urgently grabbing my wrist, she pulled me upstairs to a darkened room facing the driveway, and fumbling in a drawer pulled out a pair of binoculars.
"Use these," she said, pointing through the window at the shadowy figures below by the patrol car. I took the binoculars and saw nothing. "Here," she said, pressing a button on the side. Suddenly I was looking out at the driveway in what appeared to be full daylight; there was a small red square in the center of the field. Cool, I thought.
"Center one of the figures in the red square," she continued, "then press this button," guiding one of my fingers to a small projection. I somehow sensed she was making a supreme effort to keep her voice steady. "Then zoom with this ring." I did as she said and then I felt my own blood run cold.
What I saw was no human face. Under the police cap was a nightmare with a ragged gap where a nose should be, two tiny wide-set eyes, and a third eye in the center of the forehead. There seemed to be a dim orange glow coming from the extra eye. I suddenly felt as though I had stepped out of Leave it to Beaver into a sci-fi horror flick.
Something else looked wrong as well, but it took me a moment to place it. "Why are their uniforms damp?" I said finally. "In fact, they're soaking wet."
"That's what's left of the previous owners," was the horrifying response, and now her voice shook noticeably. "Come on, we have to leave now!"
I was no longer inclined to argue. We dashed down the steps to the garage, and as Kiri flipped on the light she shouted "Futaba transform: starship!" The RV's metal exterior suddenly liquefied and ran like water before my eyes, reforming into an object resembling a giant glass bullet lying on its side, with a steel rear panel and a narrow metallic floor running along the length of the tube. There were four seats near the front and various unfamiliar shapes of metal and glass between the floor and the rounded bottom of the thing. "What the hell?" I gasped.
A moment later the house shook from a loud explosion. "Futaba: portal," said Kiri urgently, and a round opening formed near the front as a ramp extruded itself from the opening to the floor. "Hurry!" she gasped, dragging me up the ramp, "the stasis barrier I set up is only going to hold for a few minutes longer." Another blast rocked the house. More or less in shock, I allowed myself to be shoved into one of the two front seats as Kiri buckled some kind of harness around me and then did likewise to herself.
"Hang on," she shouted, and this time I swear I detected a definite note of glee in her voice. And then, the strange craft still horizontal, we lifted straight up, right through the upper floor and roof over the garage as if they were made of cardboard, with shattered studs and drywall cascading off the transparent walls of the craft with a deafening clatter. As we cleared the ruins of the garage Kiri manipulated the controls in front of her and we abruptly lurched forward toward the cliffs on the other side of the clearing.
There was a brilliant green flash as something hit the vehicle and for a moment sky, mountains and clearing spun around us crazily, followed by jagged rocks looming directly ahead. An instant later I was shoved deep into the seat, gasping for breath, as the nose rose sharply and we shot almost vertically into the sky. Then the ground was receding from us at an incredible rate.
After a few seconds I got up the courage to turn my head slightly. The effect of the glass walls on all sides was dizzying, like flying unaided. I felt queasy for a moment, then instantly forgot about it as several bright green streaks flashed alongside us, apparently missing by only a few feet. "Alright you sons of bitches," she snapped in her best Hollywood style, "we're clear now and you're toast. Close your eyes," she said sharply to me, and as I involuntarily complied a brilliant flash echoed and reechoed inside my skull. Reopening them, I looked around wildly, or tried to. It was difficult to move against the acceleration.
"Down there," she said, pointing, and I managed to turn my head far enough to look back several miles at a huge and growing fireball where the house had been a moment before. She laughed gleefully. "I'd love to see how FRMAC* explains this one."
I digested that for a few moments as the acceleration eased slightly.
"Kiri!? That was a nuke!?!?"
"Oh, just a little one. Maybe 1 kiloton. Very clean," she added. "Don't worry, I scanned the area when I saw who was visiting us. No innocent bystanders. Honest." She seemed embarrassed. I shook my head in disbelief as we climbed in silence for a few more minutes. At the moment I was too stunned to try sort out the million questions that were crowding at me from all directions.
Perhaps five minutes total had elapsed when Kiri touched a symbol on her panel and the acceleration eased off to a moderate climb. Looking down through the glass (or was it crystal?) I could see the lights of distant cities appearing across the landscape. The horizon was beginning to acquire a distinct curvature. In spite of myself, I felt unbelievably exhilarated.
"You really aren't from around here, are you?" I said finally. She shook her head, intent on the controls before her. "So, is this a kidnapping, or what?" I added, a bit hesitantly. Then, apparently satisfied with something, she turned to me and said very seriously, "You told me you were willing to leave this place for good. Last chance. Did you really mean it?"
The force pressing me into the chair eased further, then stopped. I could no longer even tell if we were moving. The thin blue edge of the atmosphere was clearly visible along the now pronouncedly curved horizon. I guessed we were several hundred miles up.
"I'm really sorry," she added apologetically. "I had planned to explain things before we ever left the ground. I had no idea this was going to happen. Believe me, I wouldn't have ever intentionally put you in danger like that without your okay." With the last statement her voice shook slightly.
For the first time it really hit me. I was Leaving, with a Capital L. Leaving Cubicle 49, leaving a life with no evident options, apparently leaving the whole damn planet for a future I knew absolutely nothing about. I thought it over for a few more seconds, and then I thought of the firecracker sitting beside me. This woman was undeniably loony, I realized, and I loved her for it. I looked at her and silently nodded. Relief lit up her face and she grinned in anticipation.
"Are you sure you don't want to know anything more before you make up your mind?" she said mischievously.
"I'll go anywhere you go," I said without further hesitation, adding with some asperity, "But I most certainly do expect some explanations!"
"You're on, then. We're clear of the atmosphere. Get ready for the ride of your life." She punched a fat orange button on her panel. "Here we go," and for just an instant I felt a slight lurch, then caught my breath as the faintly curved landscape below dropped away into a greenish-blue globe and within a few seconds shrank into the star-studded cosmos at a breathtaking rate. "Say hi to Mister Moon," she added gleefully, and I started involuntarily as I glanced forward and saw a twice-normal size moon, seemingly dead ahead, expanding very fast. Within seconds it grew to fill our entire field of view as we veered just enough at the last instant to skim the nearly airless surface by a few miles, then it too was receding into the distance. I had never ridden a cosmic roller-coaster before, and I suspect I must have turned a bit green.
"Sorry I can't give you a tour of the outer planets as well," she said, eyeing my dangling jaw, "but unfortunately they're aligned in all the wrong places and it would take us several hundred million miles out of our way. Hope you don't mind?" I just shook my head and continued to gape. Turning back to her panel, she pressed another button, blue this time, and for a moment the universe around us transformed into a brilliant white nothingness studded with black stars, growing in luminosity until I had to shut my eyes. When I opened them again (and shook off the afterimages) space had returned to normal--except that I could see the stars slowly moving against each other.
Kiri slumped back in her seat. She suddenly looked very tired, I realized. "All right, Will, now we have quite a few reasonably uneventful hours ahead of us. I suppose it's time I explained a few things."
"I would be grateful," I answered dryly, eyeing the shifting stars in awe. "But first, is there, er, a bathroom in here?"
Kiri pointed to the door in the metallic rear wall of the craft and showed me how to unstrap myself from the seat, and I stumbled back on distinctly wobbly legs. Between the nearly invisible walls on all sides and the narrow floor panel it felt like walking around on top of a skyscraper construction site. I was about to pull open the handle when it hit me. "Kiri!? What are you trying to do to me? There's space out there!" Sighing, she unstrapped herself and, stalking past me, flung open the door.
Instead of being sucked into the deadly vacuum of space I found myself staring down the longest corridor I had ever seen, with openings and doors on both sides, the whole softly illuminated with some kind of indirect lighting. It had to be the length of a football field or more. "Third door on the left," called Kiri, who had returned to her seat, as I gingerly stepped through the doorway. Along the way I saw a comfortable lounge or living room and what appeared to be a kitchen of sorts through other open doorways.
I found my way back to the cockpit (as it apparently was) and threw myself wearily down on my seat. I didn't even try to ask about the luxury hotel we seemed to be carrying along with us. Kiri was watching me intently with an odd expression on her face. "All right," I said finally. "I thought I knew you. Apparently I'm just a babe in the woods." I paused again, wondering where to start. "Who are you?" I said at last.
She got up from her seat and stared out at the stars for several minutes as I sat silently waiting. When she turned to face me, her face was streaked with tears. "Come on," she said in a flat voice, "the ship will run itself for a while." She strode back through the doorway into the long hall and motioned toward the lounge I had seen earlier. "Wait for me there. When I get back I promise you'll get the answers you deserve." She disappeared into one of the other doorways, closing the door behind her.
I settled myself uneasily on an otherwise comfortable sofa and waited for what seemed like hours, although it was actually more like ten minutes. To my surprise, I found myself speculating more on why she was so visibly upset than on how I had somehow managed to end up on a spaceship apparently exceeding light speed. I finally stood up and had begun pacing about, admiring the remarkable paintings and antique furniture scattered around the room, when she reappeared.
For a moment I was speechless. Her hair, slightly wet, was the same unruly mane as always, but the color! It was now a strong saturated red (and I mean a true deep crimson, not the straw-orange usually meant when one says "red hair"), with noticeable violet highlights. "Why did you--" I began in surprise and then faltered, as she reached into an eye with each hand and pulled something out. A moment later I was looking into the largest, most startling pair of eyes I had ever seen. Not only were they at least twice the size of ordinary human eyes, but the irises were a brilliant emerald green and reminded me of a cat's more than anything else, an effect not lessened by black pupils which were noticeably elongated vertically.
"This is the real me, Will," she said softly. There was a slight quaver in her voice. For several seconds I just stared in amazement, trying unsuccessfully to speak, and then saw her eyes begin to brim over.
"I don't care who or what you are; you're still the woman I love," I half-whispered, finally understanding. I took her in my arms and held her tightly, her face buried in my shoulder, and felt her shaking. "It's okay, Kiri," I reassured her. "I told you, I'll go anywhere you do."
"Sorry," she mumbled sheepishly after a few moments, tilting her face up at me. "I suppose I must seem like a bit of a freak to you."
"I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," I answered, and I meant it, too. It was as though her volatile personality, so unpredictable and full of life, finally had the right face matched up with it. We sat down together on the sofa and she impulsively stretched out on her back with her head on my lap, her feet draped over the other end, as we had done so many times watching television together the past few months.
She was looking up at me with half-open eyes as I stroked her astonishing mane when I suddenly realized why they had always seemed so odd to me. "Do you have any idea how hard it is remembering to keep your eyes partly closed all the time?" she murmured with a wry smile, as if reading my thoughts. I thought of the pale-blue, almost expressionless eyes that had seemed so out of place, and marveled at my blindness. Oh, Kiri! Never a dull moment! Nor would there ever be...
For several minutes neither of us made any effort to continue. I know I was welcoming the brief respite from the barrage of surprises I had just experienced, and I suspected Kiri needed some time to pull herself together also. Finally, at last, she broke the spell.
"Well?" she asked. "Are you ready for this?"
But first I had to ask the question that had been increasingly in the forefront of my mind ever since our unexpected flight into space. "Just tell me one thing, Kiri, before you start," I said. "Out of six billion people on Planet Earth, why choose me? Was it an accident? Or something else?"
She closed her eyes for a few moments. I had an uneasy feeling that I was about to get another "surprise." Finally she spoke, her eyes still closed.
"Because, Will Barton, thirty years ago it was I who left you there."
* Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. - Ed.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without written permission from the author,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles