Like Earth, Exor is thirty-five light-years from Bashti, so that the trip to Deshtiris took just over twenty-four hours. Once we made the switch to the faster-than-light drive, we had plenty of time to review the maps and other information we would need to be familiar with. Somewhat to my surprise the time passed rather quickly.
Kiri finally insisted that we all try to get the equivalent of a good night's sleep, something easier said than done considering the uncertainties ahead. Leaving the ship on automatic, we all headed for the Futaba's living quarters and engaged in the somewhat incongruous nightly rituals of teeth brushing, etc., eventually retiring to our respective rooms.
For a long time I lay awake in the semidark, trying unsuccessfully to sleep. There was something eerie about the stillness, broken only by the sound of Kiri's breathing. It was hard to imagine that we were traveling at many times the speed of light towards a planet so utterly different from the idyllic haven we had just left. Finally I looked over at Kiri and found her watching me intently. "What?" I said.
"I was just thinking about something," she said softly. "I guess I never really thought I'd see you lying there next to me like this, after all these years. Do you remember on Earth when I asked if you were willing to come with me? To an unknown destination?" I nodded; it's not easy to forget a moment that redefined one's life so completely. "Do you realize that if you had said no, I would have left you there? If you had built a happy life for yourself, without knowing who you really were or where you were from, I wouldn't have torn you from that."
"And you?" I asked.
For just a moment I saw the shadow of a melancholy smile pass over her face.
"No," I responded unnecessarily. "I keep wondering. What happens if we're successful in shutting down the transformers or whatever you called them? Then what? Does everybody just say 'oops' and go home? It can't be that easy."
"No," she answered. "It won't be that easy. What we'll have then are two evenly matched fleets on a direct collision course, and there's probably no battle bloodier than one between two equal forces."
"But with the Brizal weapons disabled, what do they fight with?" I asked. "I thought Lev said the Qozernan ships had only makeshift weapons. One-shot laser cannons, if I remember correctly."
Kiri shook her head. "Both sides have some conventional weapons used for defense against the occasional space marauder. We do have criminals here, remember," she added, seeing my surprise. "Those weapons don't have the destructive power of the Brizal ones, but with thousands of ships blasting away at each other, even with low-powered weapons, there are going to be appalling casualties. Probably more than if the Deshtiran ships just overwhelmed the Qozernan ones in an unequal struggle."
"So what do we do?" I wondered. "Just let them collide?"
"We catch up to them, hopefully before they meet, and ask them to stop," she said simply.
"We just ask them to stop," I echoed in disbelief.
"You have a better plan?" she retorted, and I could sense the frustration in her voice. "It's all a huge puzzle, isn't it? One thing affects another, and that keeps another piece from fitting, and it just goes on and on. I'm sorry, Will, I don't know a better way. Now, we'd better try get some sleep."
I sighed. "I don't think I'm going to have a lot of luck. Somehow sleep just seems a long way away right now."
"I know a cure for that," she said, drawing me to her.
I woke up much later with an odd continuous beeping sound still ringing in my ears. Shaking the sleep from my eyes, I saw Kiri sitting up, wide awake.
"Futaba, what is it?" I heard her say. A disembodied voice replied, seemingly emerging from midair directly in front of her. A large body of vessels is proceeding in our direction at hyperspeed. "Futaba display: console," she said urgently. A floating panel appeared in midair before her, and her fingers ran rapidly over the disembodied controls. Then she sighed and the panel disappeared.
"What's going on, Kiri?" I asked, now wide awake myself.
"The Brizal fleet," she answered dully. "They've apparently just left Deshtiris."
"Then we're too late," I said, my heart sinking. She shook her head.
"No, not too late. Their ships are much slower than this one. I'd estimate, assuming the Qozernan sensors have also picked them up, that the two fleets will meet in about three days halfway between the Twin Planets. The Futaba is at least six times faster, so we have a very good chance of overtaking them. If we're successful on Deshtiris," she added heavily.
By this time there was no way I was going to get back to sleep. We had gotten about six hours' worth, and Kiri was already dressing, so I decided to do likewise. As we headed down the long hallway towards the Futaba, Senaria appeared in a doorway, and Kiri quickly explained the situation. A moment later Zyanita had joined us as well.
"Can they spot us?" Senaria asked. "No," Kiri reassured her, "the Futaba's mass is so far into the negative because of our speed that it can't be picked up on the sensors they have available. And I've ordered the Futaba to make a course correction that will keep us from passing directly through their fleet. But this does mean the countdown has started. The clock is ticking for real now."
"I think I could use some tea," I suggested. "Anyone else?" Senaria and Zyanita both declined, obviously fascinated with the displays showing the fleet's position ahead. Only Kiri followed me to the kitchen as I heated some water.
"Well, I don't think we're going to get any more sleep," she murmured. "We have at least four more hours before we drop out of hyperspace. Any suggestions?"
"Yes," I said without hesitation. "Tell me what I've missed." She looked at me quizzically. "I want to know what it was like to live on Deshtiris, with you, with my parents," I said earnestly. "Please. Whatever you can remember for me. You're my memory now."
And so for the next few hours she told me her story, and mine, as I sipped tea and relaxed on the comfortable sofa in the living quarters' lounge, her head nestled in my lap, her legs dangling over one end. Sometimes her eyes were closed, and sometimes I had the luxury of gazing into their verdant depths. At times, as I listened to her, it was as though I could see the past itself in them.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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