Once having returned to Qozernon, as she gradually emerged from the overwhelming depression that had seized her, she began to adjust to the idea that she needed to find some way to support herself. The Amkors would have been perfectly happy to have simply raised her as their own, and to a great extent they did, but her pride demanded that she at least cover her own expenses.
The solution appeared unexpectedly a few months after her arrival, when they were shopping in Nedro and stopped in at an establishment owned by a friend of the family. There they found the business in a state of near chaos, due to an inexplicable insistence of the resident computer to adjust prices in totally random ways. A technician was unsuccessfully looking over the program code, trying to find the problem without success.
"Perhaps I can help," she had offered. Not fully aware of her already considerable reputation in Deshtiran scientific circles, the Amkors had looked a bit embarrassed. However, when within a few minutes of scanning the debugging displays she had found that the power supply was corrupting memory with random power spikes, their expressions changed considerably.
Before they left the grateful owner had insisted that she collect a small fee for her trouble, and she felt an inordinate amount of pride later that evening when she in turn handed it to the Amkors over their protests. That was when she first began what eventually became a lucrative career in computer troubleshooting.
Her first attempts at earning a living like any ordinary person had brought home to her that she really was a refugee, and for a little while she had sought out contact with some of the other Deshtirans that had fled the Brizal uprising. At first she felt a sense of identity with them, but she soon began to realize that most of them were living in the past, endlessly reliving past glories, or devising impractical and futile schemes to regain what they had lost. She had almost resolved to cut off ties altogether when one of them had approached her and asked to speak with her privately.
Expecting yet another intrigue, she had almost refused, but something led her to humor the man, and that evening over dinner he had introduced himself as Masakor Lev, head of Qozernan security for Deshtiran affairs, and just nine years her senior. It had been the start of a long and productive relationship that had ended only with his tragic murder.
As he grew to know her, and realized that she could be trusted with what she was told, and that in addition hers was a relatively stable and well-adjusted personality, he began to share with her some of his recently collected information about events on Deshtiris. She in turn had worked with him to tap into the considerable Deshtiran computer traffic available to Qozernan sources, such as communications with the various trading ships which still plied between the two planets. Soon she was able to use the seemingly innocuous data streams to probe into some of the less well-protected networks back on Deshtiris.
In addition, as her familiarity with the Deshtiran computer net grew, she began to seek information about acquaintances left behind. For the most part what she found was a depressing list of imprisonments and occasional executions, for after all the majority of her acquaintances had been associated in one way or another with the ruling elite of Deshtiris. She had also sought for any word on Zyanita, but to her dismay it appeared that the unfortunate girl had vanished from the face of the planet.
For the next few years she made a point of returning to Earth for several weeks at a time, sometimes several times a year, to check on Wilorian and Darita. Fearful of accidentally triggering a return of his memories, she had adopted a disguise as an older woman, under the unlikely name of Aunt Mickey. It was a relatively simple matter to temporarily wrinkle and age her skin, and with the aid of grey hair dye and the usual set of contact lenses she was able to adopt a persona unlikely to be recognized.
The first few visits were terribly painful for her, as Wilorian, her beloved Will, might for all the world have been a two year old child. However, as he mastered English and began reacquiring skills long since learned she found herself strangely drawn to this new incarnation of a familiar friend. Watching him rediscover the world in all its wonder somehow proved a healing experience for her, as she sat for hours with him watching Earth films, exposing him to music and helping him with his first hesitant attempts at reading.
For Darita she did everything she could, providing her with whatever news of Deshtiris she could acquire, and eventually bringing her back to Qozernon for visits whenever Wilorian was away at summer camp or other extended trips. At first fearful that for all her devotion Darita would prove an unacceptably dour guardian, she had been reassured to find Wilorian developing into a normal, if somewhat introverted, individual. Within a few years he had caught up sufficiently to be enrolled in a local high school with the aid of a private tutor.
By that time she had realized that her "Aunt Mickey" persona had become an unacceptable risk, and she and Darita had agreed that her visits would have to end. From then on she had resolved to stay out of his sight and check on Darita only when he was away, little realizing the impact her fictional character's "death" would have.
It was in the same year that Aunt Mickey "died" that another face from the past made its unexpected appearance, as Lev one day informed her that there was someone he wanted her to meet and arranged to accompany her to the capital city of Lernesdi.
Once there he had taken her to a small complex on the outskirts of the city, where he had led her down a cheerfully painted corridor, lined on both sides by doors with small windows. She noticed that the doors all had external locks. "This is a detention area," he had said apologetically. "They're not quite cells, but they are secure." Stopping at one, he had gently tapped on the window. "Come in," said a tired, muffled voice, and he had unlocked the door with a voice command.
A girl was sitting by the window, looking out. "What do you want this time?" she had said, the voice oddly familiar, sounding somehow like a half-remembered dream out of the past, and she had turned to face them. Both she and Mikiria had stared at each other in utter shock for several seconds.
"You?" croaked the girl at last, in years about nineteen,* with a pale, drawn face. "It's you?" For a moment conflicting emotions seemed to be writhing across her features as she rose to her feet.
"Hello, Zee," Mikiria had responded shakily, finding her own voice again. "I'm really glad to see that you made it out okay. I've tried to get information on you for the past
She recoiled backwards in shock as one emotion finally emerged triumphant on Zyanita's face, the raw hatred suddenly dominating it accompanied by an onslaught of vituperation couched in language so brutal that Mikiria for several seconds couldn't even consciously connect it with the gaunt young figure standing before her. For what seemed forever the words poured out, until the girl collapsed back onto her chair sobbing hoarsely.
"You left me there," she finished bitterly. "You just left me there. My parents were dead. I thought Will was dead, and you too. You just left me there in that awful place." She stopped for a moment, sucking in air. "I spent six years hiding from those beasts. The horrible things they did. I saw
Mikiria tried to say something, only to be cut off with renewed fury. "And then I found out that you were alive, living in luxury on Qozernon while I barely survived as a common vagrant, and that you had left me behind. You'd gotten away in your pretty little spaceship and left me behind."
"I'm sorry, Zee," Mikiria said softly. "But there was no time. I had to save Will, and we couldn't find you. There was just no time."
"You had to save Will?" she screamed unexpectedly. "Why? So you could kill him?"
At that Mikiria had simply frozen, utterly dazed. "What?" she had finally croaked. Lev stood by, saying nothing, but the stricken expression on his face spoke mutely of his sympathy for what she must be experiencing.
"I heard how no sooner were you on Qozernon than Will was 'assassinated,' supposedly by 'Brizal terrorists.' Who did you think you were fooling? You left me to die on Deshtiris, you put Will out of the way, and what does that make you? What you always wanted, of course. Ever since I was little you were always taking over, stepping into my place. 'Princess' Mikiria! That's a load of stinking shit! You were the orphan daughter of a criminal, and now you're in line to be Empress. Am I next? How are you going to get rid of me this time?" Her voice had by now risen to a hysterical pitch, and Lev had quietly taken Mikiria's hand and led her uncomplainingly from the room.
Shaken to the core, she had nevertheless insisted on providing assistance for Zyanita when Lev, against his better judgment, made arrangements to release her. The primary purpose of the meeting had been to verify her identity, and in that it had been all too successful.
It was a strangely subdued Zyanita whom Mikiria encountered the next morning, as she and Lev once again entered the little apartment. The girl's eyes were red and puffy, and at first she avoided Mikiria's gaze. "You're free to go," Lev informed her politely. "We apologize for the temporary detainment, but we had to be sure you were who you said you were."
"I understand." The voice was flat and unemotional.
"Where will you go, Zee?" asked Mikiria quietly. "Do you know anyone here?" The girl shook her head. "Let me find you a place to stay," Mikiria continued cautiously, not sure whether to expect another outburst at any moment. Instead she received only a surprised and grateful stare. There was an awkward silence.
"Lev left the reports on
"I nearly went crazy the night I heard about Will," she resumed hesitantly. "I had thought you were both dead. And then one day a few months after
In fact, their first two meetings proved to be their future relationship in microcosm, for over time Mikiria was to find that one day Zyanita could be polite, thoughtful and considerate (though never affectionate), and the next as cold and callous as anyone she had ever encountered. She sometimes wondered if there were a cruel streak deep inside that years of deprivation and fear had dragged dangerously near the surface.
For a brief time Kurinton and Gelhinda had provided her with temporary lodgings until permanent accommodations could be found. It was quickly apparent that the bustle and excitement of a large city suited her far more than the small-town atmosphere of Nedro, and it was in the capital city of Lernesdi that she wound up settling, provided by Mikiria with introductions to many of the prominent families of Qozernon.
Zyanita proved to be much more interested in the Deshtiran refugee community than Mikiria was, and eventually became deeply involved in their arguments and their many intrigues, although Mikiria more than once had the impression that she was somehow observing them sardonically from a closed space of her own. Over time the two developed a kind of working friendship, yet something in Mikiria kept her from ever mentioning the other refugee safely hidden away on Earth.
* Although to a native of Earth she would appear to be about fifteen.- Ed.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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