At about the same time Wilorian had been finishing his college degree, Kurinton and Gelhinda had added a decoration of their own to their quiet existences, as Gelhinda's first and only child was born and christened Senara. She having obviously inherited Kurinton's ice blue eyes and golden blond hair, it didn't take long for it to become apparent that she also had her mother's deceptively quiet, thoughtful nature and the iron will it concealed. To her surprise Mikiria found herself vastly enjoying this new locus of disruption in the Amkor household, especially after a few years as Senara proved to have a penchant for physical activities of all kinds.
In particular the girl found Mikiria's frequent training sessions with practice swords to be utterly fascinating, and would watch entranced for hours as the older "sister" with the deep red hair would match blades with Kurinton, Gelhinda (who was no mean practitioner herself at the time), or anyone else she could lure into practicing with her. Naturally Senara had soon begged to be allowed to learn herself, and since swordsmanship (at least with practice blades) is one of the more popular sports on Qozernon, Mikiria had humored her by teaching her the basics once she was old enough to safely handle the relatively harmless practice blade.
Carefully stashed away with her most precious belongings Mikiria still retained the swords she and Wilorian had been given on Deshtiris, and on rare occasions could be persuaded to display them for visitors if the subject came up. Senara, already inordinately proud of the dull practice blade she had been given, was speechless at the sight of the gorgeously wrought weapons and had to be sternly cautioned that they were not ever to be touched under any circumstances.
Senara was only ten when Kurinton died unexpectedly. There is little that even the most advanced medicine can do when a key component of the body abruptly fails completely and irreparably, and for her the blow was so sudden and so stunning that for several weeks she withdrew completely into a silent world of her own. When she finally emerged, there was somehow aimlessness where before there had been purpose; in spite of her seeming return to normal behavior it gradually became apparent to Gelhinda that there was a hole in her child's life that none of her efforts could mend.
Mikiria too had withdrawn in her own way, burying herself in the construction of a new ship more advanced than any yet built. To both of the remaining Amkors she seemed distant, as though part of her were somewhere else. Gelhinda understood, knowing what effect the loss of yet another parent must have had on her psyche, but to Senara it seemed only that her beloved Kiri no longer cared about her when she needed her most. In retrospect her behavior might seem cold, selfish even, but then who are we to judge another's response to such a bitter hurt?
It was about a year later that Senara managed to extract Mikiria's carefully preserved swords from their hiding place and persuaded one of her playmates, a boy of about the same age, into clashing blades with her. He had panicked and slashed her cheek, then galloped off into the house screaming that he had killed her, he had killed her. When Gelhinda and Mikiria came dashing out, they had found her still standing there with an oddly pleased expression on her face, proudly wiping the blood away with the back of her hand.
After a doctor had sealed the gash (which was a deep one, and could have cost her an eye if it had been half an inch longer) she had received a thorough bawling out from a furious (and frightened) Mikiria. The stunned look on the girl's face as she finally burst into tears had opened Mikiria's eyes, and she had wrapped her arms around the little girl and held her tightly until her crying ceased, reassuring her that she would always be her friend, that she would never neglect her again.
She had then further softened the blow by promising that if Senara would swear to never again use a real sword outside of a combat situation she would give her one of her own when she turned sixteen. True to her word, it was indeed on the girl's sixteenth birthday five years later that Mikiria had presented her with a beautifully wrought blade which was a near match to the two salvaged from Deshtiris. It was that blade that she had carefully polished up and brought with her on this expedition.
It was on that same sixteenth birthday that she had announced that from now on she wanted to be called Senaria, and for the most part so she had been.
Incidentally, although the doctor could have easily rendered the scar completely invisible, the girl had insisted that it be allowed to heal naturally, a whim the infinitely tolerant Gelhinda had gone along with, since it could be cosmetically removed at any time later if Senaria so chose. She never did.
Although Mikiria had made a point of spending as much time as possible with Senara after her near-disaster with the swords, she had nonetheless proudly unveiled her new and considerably faster ship just a few months later, finally finishing over a decade of work completed in odd hours stolen from her computer consulting and family obligations. Although she was shortly to render the new ship utterly obsolete, at least for her own purposes, it was nonetheless far ahead of any currently in use.
At the suggestion of Lev she had incorporated a hull material which absorbed microwaves rather than reflecting them, making the ship almost invulnerable to detection. In speed it was easily twice as fast as anything in space, in one jump leapfrogging twenty years of development in space technology. In addition, it included in the back the gateway to the ship's living quarters, located in their own universe.
Even while she was finishing the last few weeks of work, she had made the connection which was to render the yet unconceived Futaba unlike anything ever built before. She had been idly watching a telecom documentary on an exotic material called amorphous diamond, which in essence was diamond configured at the molecular level by computer-controlled subatomic fields into any form desired. The substance was relatively expensive, but the main obstacle to its use was the incredible complexity of the computer simulations required to form it into a given shape.*
Computer simulations, however, were something Mikiria snacked on between meals, and before long the idea had solidified in her mind of a ship unlike anything in existence, one which could reshape itself as needed. In addition, the substance possessed incredible strength due to the subatomic fields used to configure it, making possible a much lighter and more easily maneuverable vessel.
The greatest difficulty proved to be getting a sufficient supply of the remarkable stuff, for in the quantities she needed it was not exactly cheap. For a while she drove herself mercilessly, seeking new contracts, sometimes working on several at once, to raise the necessary funds and still contribute her share to the family expenses. More than once she had gone without sleep for several days at a stretch, suddenly finding herself on the floor or slumped over her keyboard with half a day unaccounted for.
The nascent ship was still only a skeleton, consisting of the floor decking with the associated electronics beneath, the control stand, and a finished but untested gateway in the back, when Lev and Zyanita unexpectedly paid a call. In his usual way, Lev had gotten to the point quickly and without wasted words.
Although direct communication with Deshtiris had been cut off for years, trade still flourished between the two planets, and with the trade came communications traffic. For years Mikiria had been valued for her ability to tap into this encrypted traffic and, more importantly, to insert hidden commands that resulted in even more data being routed in her direction. However, she and the codebreakers she worked with realized all too well that there were serious gaps in the information flow that they couldn't fill, particularly in military traffic.
What was needed was to physically access a terminal with a relatively high security ranking and insert the necessary commands from there. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that this meant a machine on Deshtiris itself, as none of the trade freighters were granted access to such high-level traffic.
Although there were a few agents in place on Deshtiris (for whom life expectancy tended to be deplorably poor), none had the expertise to do what was needed; in fact only one of the Qozernan intelligence computer specialists was considered capable of performing such a task. However, getting in and out of Deshtiris would be nearly impossible with the ships currently available, which were too large and slow to evade the Deshtiran tracking systems.
In short, Lev needed a ride, and Mikiria's recently finished ship would fill the bill nicely. Would she be willing?
No, she answered. It would be foolish to risk two people for a job that one could do. One ship, piloted by one agent. And that agent would be her.
He tried to dissuade her, but she insisted. For twenty years she had been frittering her life away trying to do little tasks here and there. Now she had the opportunity to do something important, and she had the necessary skills and knowledge. She would not be denied.
Finally it was agreed, albeit reluctantly. For several weeks she spent her days, and some nights, working with Lev's intelligence staff to create a cover story, devise the necessary tools, and learn all the little things a spy has to know in order not to be fatally tripped up over some trivial technicality.
She had created an identity for herself in the Deshtiran computer web: she was a low-level technician in the Computer Security Corps (better known as CompSec), stationed in one of the large Brizal administrative centers. Orders were carefully designed and planted indicating that she had been instructed to visit one of the relatively minor military command posts out in the countryside and upgrade their security protocols.
Everything was worked out to the last detail, and she had the mind to retain it all. She had the necessary Brizal clothing, equipment, and identity. Her hair was dyed black to reduce the chance of her being recognized, and she wore a pair of brown contact lenses. To even a discerning eye she would appear to be an average Deshtiran. Only if something unexpected were to occur would she be forced to improvise, and if that happened she would have to fall back on whatever inner resources she could muster.
Don't worry, Zyanita had assured her. Nothing can possibly go wrong.
* In addition, it retained evil associations from a century prior, when it had been used to create "restraint collars" for prisoners. The intention (yet another brick in the road to Hell) had been to provide a humane way of restraining violent prisoners, by placing a collar around the neck which could be caused to shrink if the prisoner attempted to leave a designated area. The resulting discomfort was expected to "persuade" the prisoner to remain where they belonged, without prison walls or handcuffs. A few gruesome and well-publicized accidents eventually led to their abolition. - Ed.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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