When we arrived back at the house, another, larger vehicle was in the garage, and I could hear a television set somewhere on the other side of the house. "We're home," called out Kiri.
"Back here," trumpeted Senaria's voice from a room down the hall. We headed in that direction, and I suddenly realized that I was hearing English voices. As we got closer I confirmed with a sinking feeling that they were indeed English voices, and with hefty Texas accents to boot. Fearing the worst, I stepped through the door of the TV room to find Senaria sprawled out on the floor, munching chips, intently ingesting an episode of Dallas.
"I should have warned you," Kiri said, trying to keep a straight face. "Earth TV is quite popular here. It's considered 'fashionably exotic.' " For a moment I couldn't place what looked so odd about it, and then I collapsed in hysterical laughter as I realized that Deshtiran subtitles had been superimposed on the picture. (You really don't want to know what a Texas accent looks like rendered in Deshtiran. Trust me on this one.)
"What!?" Senaria finally exclaimed in exasperation.
"Dinner in forty-five minutes," said Kiri, still grinning, as we left her to the mercies of the U.S. television industry.
"How-- How--" I wheezed, but couldn't yet finish the question as we continued down the hall.
"About eighty years ago," she explained, still chuckling herself, "when we found that Earth was starting to use enough radio to make it worthwhile, we planted a hyperspace repeater on your moon to relay broadcasts back to Qozernon and Deshtiris. Of course, we can only pick up what's available from the side facing the moon, but with all your satellites that now pretty much covers everything, including most of your Internet traffic."
"That's a lot to choose from," I finally managed. "I guess I just expected slightly higher criteria for selection." Fashionably exotic my ass, I thought to myself; where there're humans there's always a market for junk.
"Don't be such a snob," Kiri admonished me. "Besides, it's not my fault," she added helplessly. "The new Himiko-den's on later tonight if you want to see it. In raw Japanese, though; no subtitles." With the promise of an eagerly awaited piece of anime in the works, I decided to leave well enough alone.
"Kiri, have you even looked at your email since you got back?" Gelhinda asked at dinner that evening. "I had a call today from one of your clients asking if you'd examined the proposal they sent you two weeks ago. They said the contract and specs should be in your in-box by now."
"I'll look at it tonight," Kiri promised through a mouthful of cherry dumplings (at least I think they were; I never asked what I was eating for fear it would turn out to be boiled garden slugs or something equally 'native' and as long as it tasted good I simply didn't want to know).
"Clients?" I said in surprise.
"I have to pay my share of the bills here too, you know," she answered, deftly slipping in the sentence between bites. Gelhinda chuckled. "The fees you collect usually wind up keeping us in clover for months at a time. If we had to live on my pension we'd be eating potatoes every day."
"So, what do you do?" I asked, my curiosity piqued.
"I fix things," was the typically cryptic response, triggering an indignant rejoinder from Senaria.
"For your information," she announced, "she troubleshoots computer problems for some of the biggest corporations on the planet. When their engineers can't solve something, they turn to her, and she comes up with a solution, and they come up with a big fat fee."
Kiri grinned. "Meet my public defender."
Senaria bridled again. "It's true, though. And you've never failed a commission, either." Gelhinda nodded in agreement.
"Well, I hope it's not some stupid corporate database piece of crap again," Kiri snorted. "The least they can do is come up with something interesting this time."
Later after supper Kiri and I ended up out on the back lawn, as the twilight yielded to an incredible starlit night. By the time the last sunlight had faded I found myself beneath an utterly black dome stretching from horizon to horizon, dusted with more stars than I'd ever seen. Even the view from the Futaba paled somewhat in comparison, for here there were no soft panel lights reflecting off the interior hull. I noticed that the windows facing the yard had been thoughtfully darkened.
For a little while we sat silently enjoying the cool night air. I found myself thinking how strange it was, to be on a distant planet, speaking an alien language without difficulty--and yet the surroundings didn't seem in the least familiar; there was no feeling of déjà vu, no feeling that I had been here before. It was almost dreamlike in a way, a sensation heightened by the friendly family surroundings and the warm, cozy house.
I felt Kiri's arm around my shoulder and responded in kind. "Better than Fontana?" she asked softly. It took me a moment to find my voice. "It's like nothing I ever imagined," I finally replied.
"Our atmosphere is actually cleaner than pre-industrial Earth's," she said. "Even primitive societies did a lot of burning. Nothing goes into the air here without good reason. Besides," she added, "Qozernon's moon is so distant and so small it's virtually indistinguishable from the other stars. I have to admit I miss Earth's moon sometimes," she added a bit ruefully, "but in return we get an almost perfect view of the universe." She pointed out several familiar constellations, most virtually intact, a few oddly distorted by our thirty-five light-year shift of position.
"What's that light on the horizon?" I asked, as my eyes adjusted sufficiently to detect a very faint glow barely visible to the east.
"That's Nedro," she said, "the little village I mentioned earlier. Tomorrow we'll stop in for a visit."
"Must be pretty small," I said. "I can barely see it."
She chuckled. "Actually, it's got a population of about ninety thousand. But town lights here are designed to shine down, not up, to limit the amount of light pollution. On Qozernon you won't find any neon infernos like Las Vegas, which you can sometimes see from a hundred miles away."
She directed my attention to one of the constellations and pointed out a dim yellow star where none was visible from Earth. "That's your sun," she said softly. "Homesick yet?" I felt her hand tighten on my shoulder slightly.
"That's never been home for me," I answered. "Even since long before I met you." I remembered the dream, of playing with the red-haired girl on a broad lawn, under a brilliant sun, and told Kiri about it, and about the terrible sensation of loss I had felt when I awoke. "I don't know why, but somehow that felt more like home to me than anywhere I've ever actually been." I turned to Kiri to see the stars reflecting dimly off her cheeks.
"You know, Will," she said, "I've spent the past thirty years trying to go back home. And when I decided to bring you back from the limbo I left you in, it was because I'd finally given up. I didn't want to admit it to myself until now, but it's true. After thirty years I'm no closer to seeing a free Deshtiris than I was then. Maybe it's time to take a deep breath and make a life here, and quit looking back." She disengaged her arm from my shoulder and started to stand up.
"Kiri--?" I began uncertainly.
"I need to be alone for a little while," she said softly. "I guess I have some thinking to do." I watched her as she walked slowly back to the house, a dark silhouette in the starlight. For a while I stared silently at the house, then turned back and absently surveyed the stars for a while.
I started as someone unexpectedly plopped down next to me, and I turned to find Senaria eyeing me intently. "Hi," she said. "Mind if I join you for a couple minutes?"
"Sure," I agreed, a bit uneasily (remembering the previous night's festivities rather too well). Her next words reassured me.
"Look, I'm really sorry about last night," she apologized. "I didn't know you two were an item, or I wouldn't have been quite so, uh--"
"Friendly?" I suggested. "It's okay, but let's just keep it friends. And Kiri and I aren't exactly an 'item.' I guess there are some things that need to be worked out first."
"Oh, I think I get it," she announced after a moment's pondering. "She hasn't figured out which one of you she's really mooning over."
"Hey, slow down a little," I protested, rather alarmed at her perceptiveness.
"Oh, please," she snorted. "She has all the symptoms. I've seen pictures of the two of you when you were still on Deshtiris, and I can see why it would freak her out. Don't worry," she added, "she'll come around soon enough," and with that cheery reassurance she smoothly performed a strategic retreat back to the house.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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