I don't know how long I stood frozen in my tracks. I heard Senaria make a slight choking sound as she tried to speak but failed.
I saw a small wound in the upper left back, just below the shoulder blade. Then slowly I knelt by the body, gently took it by the shoulder, and rolled it over. Although covered with blood, Kiri's features were unmistakable. There was a second wound on her left breast, directly over the heart, and I realized that she had been run through. Only a small amount of blood still oozed from either wound. I placed my hand over her heart, but felt nothing.
I looked up at Senaria, her face a shadowy mask in the pallid torch light, and slowly shook my head.
"Zyanita," said a detached voice that sounded vaguely like my own. "It was her all along. I realized too late. Too late..." I saw tears mingle with the blood on Kiri's face and realized they were mine, and felt Senaria's hand on my shoulder.
"Will," she said softly, her own voice barely intelligible. "We've got to finish what we started. Otherwise this was for nothing."
I nodded dumbly. "Just another moment," I said. I saw the chain around Kiri's neck, remembering what she had said earlier. If anything ever happens to me, I want you to take this. Promise me that. I had promised, and now I kept that promise, gently pulling the chain and pendant over her head and placing it around my own neck. "All right," I said finally. "Let's go."
"And where do you plan to go, exactly?" said a mocking male voice in return, as we were suddenly lit by the glare of torches from three of the entrances to the chamber. Drawn laser pistols glinted in the unearthly light. A moment later five uniformed Brizali stepped out of the darkness, followed by Zyanita.
"I told you the bait would bring the rats," she said, and began to laugh. It was a shrill, unnatural laugh, and even in my benumbed state it sent chills down my spine.
"Quiet, you fool," the squad leader finally snapped, and slapped her. She stopped laughing, but her face, still spattered with Kiri's blood, held a fixed expression of unholy triumph. Like a doll, I thought, a doll possessed by a malevolent ghost. The ghost of the past.
The squad leader tapped a small telecom device on his left wrist and spoke. "We have them, sir." I couldn't hear the response, but he looked pleased.
"You will come with us. Bring that along," he said, gesturing at the still figure on the floor. "You are being honored with an interview," and he chuckled, "with the person you've been trying to meet. Too bad you won't survive it." He motioned toward one of the entrances. I slowly gathered up Kiri's lifeless body in my arms and followed silently as two guards led the way ahead of us with torches, the rest following behind. Several times I heard Zyanita giggling softly to herself.
Dazed, overwhelmed by what had happened, I found my mind wandering on its own back to that unanticipated day when my life had been turned upside down, the day a cheerful young college student had accosted me at my desk and fast-talked me into an evening of Tenchi Muyo. It seemed so very long ago now. And this is where it had all led, I thought numbly, barely feeling her weight in my arms.
For many minutes we wound our way through the twisting passageways, then began climbing steadily, at last stopping before a steel door with several embedded electronic locks. The other guards stepped aside as the leader entered a combination and the door swung open. We stepped through into an entirely different environment, a high-ceilinged room with walls festooned from floor to ceiling with indicators, gauges, and screens displaying various readouts and continually changing patterns.
One entire wall was covered with a mosaic of glowing blue indicators, each bearing a symbol of some kind. Given the convention of using blue to indicate a favorable condition, it was a safe assumption that everything here was running smoothly.
The far end of the room was a single giant window overlooking an enormous cavity extending far above and out of sight below. There were huge glowing cylinders positioned vertically through the cavity along which bolts of bluish energy seemed to be continually pulsing upwards.
Of immediate interest were the two figures standing before us in the center of the room. One was dressed more gaudily than any Deshtiran I had previously seen, with elaborately decorated shirt and trousers and a pair of high black (and absurdly shiny) boots. There was certainly no danger of mistaking Krigghin Teyn for anyone else, I thought dully.
The other figure, off to one side and watching us intently with its inhuman dim orange stare, was a Liquidator.
"Here they are, sir, as you ordered," announced the squad leader nervously as he deposited our weapons on the floor before Teyn. For a moment the dictator stared uncomprehendingly at me, then at Zyanita.
"What is this?" he said finally, an angry edge in his voice. "The Boss said he wanted them alive." Her only response was another eerie giggle. Striding up to me, he stared intently at the bloody figure I held in my arms, and then I swear he went deathly white. For several seconds he seemed incapable of speech. He finally turned back to the unfortunate officer, and I could see that his hands were trembling.
"What have you done?" he managed, his voice barely a whisper, his face a mask of fear. The fellow motioned apprehensively towards Zyanita. "It was her doing. She came to us and said she had arranged to lead them into a trap. When we arrived at the rendezvous we found them as you see them."
"Do you know what you've done?" Teyn repeated almost inaudibly to Zyanita.
"Just what I intended to do," she giggled, a bizarre grin spread across her usually dour features. "What I've wanted to do for years. What she deserved." The surrounding Brizali noticeably edged away from her, and I suddenly felt that something terrible was about to happen. I was terribly right.
"Well, little princess," Teyn began softly, "it seems that we can no longer be entirely sure where your loyalties lie. One assignment after another you've botched; that I can forgive. But apparently you've decided that you no longer need to follow orders at all." The vapid grin on Zyanita's face had finally begun to fade, to be replaced by the beginnings of fear. "I think it is time for us to dispense with your services, Princess Zyanita," he finished. "Kill her," he shrieked unexpectedly, motioning to the Liquidator standing by the wall.
For just a moment her face was distorted with terror. An instant later she was bathed in orange light from the creature's third eye and I was aware of a very faint but unpleasant high-pitched warbling sound. She screamed, a horrible scream cut short even more horribly.
And then she dissolved before our eyes. It was as if she were a wax figure exposed to an open blast furnace. Skin, flesh, bones, all seemed to lose form and slumped into a shapeless mass, then melted down into a ghastly puddle of thick yellow-orange liquid. Only her clothing remained intact, though now a sopping slimy mass. One of the guards looked sick; the others seemed unaffected. I suspected they had seen this too many times before.
For several seconds we all stood frozen in the nightmare tableaux. At least Kiri had been spared this, I thought. As for the rest of us... and I shuddered. Teyn was speaking rapidly in a low voice to the five guards, who nodded in agreement. I had the distinct impression that they were all thoroughly frightened about something.
Teyn motioned to me. "Put that down over there," he said coldly, and motioned towards the side wall near the door we had come through. Silently I did so, knowing that I would most likely be joining "that" very shortly. Then he signaled for the two of us to move back against the far wall, and stood uncertainly with the other Brizali as if waiting for something. I felt Senaria's hand groping for mine and took it, giving it a reassuring squeeze. I could feel her shivering uncontrollably.
And then I heard a door open and another man stepped into the room. He was of advanced middle-aged appearance by Earth standards; only his white hair revealed to my now-experienced eyes that he must be well over ninety years old. To my shock Teyn immediately bowed down on one knee and gave him a respectful salute. The newcomer carefully surveyed the scene, taking in the body lying against the wall and the grisly mess in the center of the room. "All right, Teyn," he said finally, motioning for the dictator to stand. "Explain. What has happened here?"
Teyn took a deep breath. "These are the agents we've been expecting. Zyanita acted without orders, and killed one of them out of some kind of grudge. I think she finally went over the edge." He stopped abruptly, while the older man digested this rather incoherent recital, then slowly walked over to the body against the wall and gave it a cursory glance. He came up to me and stared intently into my face. There was something strangely familiar about his features that I couldn't quite place.
"Someone you cared about?" he asked quietly. I nodded dumbly. "I'm sorry," he said in the same unexpected tone. I couldn't tell if he was serious or not. I wondered absently why he looked so familiar, and then I felt Senaria suddenly stiffen.
"Tenako," she said in a strangled voice. "You're Tenako."
Romikor Tenako. Kiri's father. There was indeed a resemblance, I realized with a shock. Something about the voice also sounded hauntingly familiar for some reason. I wondered if it were possible that he hadn't recognized her.
Tenako turned to Teyn and gestured towards what had been Zyanita. "Was that really necessary, Teyn?" he said softly. Teyn said nothing, and I again saw the fear in his eyes I had noticed earlier. "We'll discuss this later," Tenako added ominously, turning his attention back to us.
"So you're the brave fighters for freedom and justice," he said finally. "How cooperative you have been, saving us the effort of tracking you down. You're still alive here for one reason only, you know. But first, I have to congratulate you on your initiative, if not your choice of associates. I didn't really think you'd ever get as far as using the map we provided."
So they had known all along, I thought bitterly, glancing again at the still figure lying against the wall. "As your reward," he continued, "I'll treat you to a little show before we continue," and he touched a few controls on a console at his side.
The large glass window at the far end of the room seemed to vanish. Instead, it was as though we were in space looking out through a huge opening in a ship's hull. Spread before us were uncountable battleships, all of them with the ugly Brizal emblem emblazoned on the side. "Our fleet is already on its way to Qozernon. Contact with their fleet is projected for fifty-two hours from now. I anticipate that this will all be wrapped up within the next three days." He looked back at us with a melancholy smile. "What an unfortunate mistake you've made. Such a waste, really. Nothing you could possibly have done would have stopped us."
"Qozernon is peaceful," protested Senaria unexpectedly. "We only have trading ships, not warships."
"Shut up, bitch," Teyn snapped, cutting her off with an imperious gesture.
"At least let the girl go," I said in desperation. "She's just a child. She stowed away on this mission. She had no idea what she was getting into."
Senaria glared at me and faced the two. "I knew what I was doing and I'll accept the consequences," she said in a steady voice, although I felt her shiver again. I pondered the wisdom of a suicide charge, but could see no way to accomplish anything more than a slightly earlier death.
"Tenako, why are you doing this?" I said quietly. "You were a man of science, respected by your peers. There's more here than meets the eye. You're not a power-mad genius; those only exist in movies and novels."
To my surprise Tenako didn't cut me off. When I finished, he turned to Teyn and the guards. "Leave us," he said. When Teyn started to protest, Tenako pointed to the Liquidator, who was staring at us unblinkingly with that hideous orange eye, faintly glowing like a hot coal.
"I will be quite safe, I assure you." Turning back to us, he added rather unnecessarily, "I suggest you not move an inch. Trust me, you can't outrun the speed of light try as you like." Reluctantly the Brizali left, Teyn shooting a baleful glare in our direction.
Tenako walked over to a cabinet and opened a door to reveal a small safe. Entering a combination, he opened the safe and pulled out a small crystalline cube. "Do you know what this is?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Neither did I," he went on, "when forty-eight years ago an explorer turned it over to me in my capacity as Head of Imperial Research. He thought it was some kind of mineral specimen. I discovered it was a holographic storage device accidentally left behind by the Virrin. I decoded it and found it to be a complete record of the Virrin's technology, apparently left unerased in the rush to go
"The technology in here would terrify people. If word had gotten out that it was available, there would have been tremendous pressure to destroy it. I couldn't have that happen. The contents of this cube can move humanity ahead a million years within the next few decades. But that can only happen if there is no one out there to destroy, through fear, what can be accomplished. I cannot allow that. That's why I created the Brizali, the Liquidators, even the Imperial Deshtiran Battle Fleet. Only when all opposition has been neutralized can this supreme leap forward take place."
The brilliance of his strategy was suddenly obvious. "You funded the Brizali with the money from SamariCorp," I said, "and in the process created the very social unrest needed to put them into power." He looked pleased.
"You were wrong, Will," Senaria commented darkly. "He is a power-mad genius."
He laughed, a kindly, condescending laugh such as an adult might make at a child's foolish comment. "Power? Do you think that power is what I'm after? In a way, yes, I suppose it is. Listen, then."
"This station is identical to dozens scattered over the surface of the planet. The Brizali think that their purpose is to provide power for their weapons, and the Liquidators. And they're partly right, but that's not the real purpose. These transformers all function together as a single unit. Once we take over Qozernon, we'll set up a similar set of stations there. After that, Earth will follow in its turn."
"At that time, each planet's transformers will cause the entire planet to function as one pole of a giant subatomic planar field, stretching between the three. At the center of that triangle is a point at which the entire effect of the field is concentrated. Any matter that touches that point will be instantly and utterly converted into energy. It's only necessary to feed a continuous stream of
"The Brizal symbol," Senaria said, finally understanding. "Teyn didn't even create that."
Tenako chuckled dryly. "He has an excellent voice and a very persuasive manner. Unfortunately, apart from that, he's really quite stupid. Up to now, the only living people on this planet who know that Teyn takes his orders from me are his personal bodyguard, whom you've just met, and my private staff."
"Unfortunately for you," he added after an ominous pause, "it would not do at all for that to become public knowledge. I'm sure you both realize that I can't let you leave this room alive." I suddenly realized who else Tenako reminded me of. I had known an animal control officer who seemed sincerely saddened by his task of destroying "unwanted" animals. It was, however, necessary, as he once sorrowfully explained to me.
"But why invade Qozernon?" I asked, frantically trying to buy time. "Couldn't you come to some friendly agreement? Why do you need a war for this?"
He sighed. "Almost half the resources of this planet go to supporting these stations. No democratic government could survive committing that level of resources to a mere pipe dream. Once we have Qozernon reorganized, their resources will support their own stations. And so with Earth. Until the planar field is operative, only a police state could manage this kind of operation. I'm sure even you can understand that."
"Now, perhaps you can gain yourselves a few more minutes of life by providing me with some information I want." He smiled ironically. "Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to ask you to betray your world or anything like that. You're at least intelligent enough not to imagine that you could save your lives that way." He paused for a moment, and his expression softened.
"What I want to know," he said quietly, "is the whereabouts of my renegade daughter Mikiria." Needless to say, the question took my breath away. I realized that not only had he not recognized his own daughter, but apparently Zyanita hadn't told them either. I fought desperately to focus as I tried to conceive of a way to turn this to our advantage, and then the issue was taken right out of our hands in the most unexpected way imaginable.
"I'm right here, Father," said a tired, hoarse voice from the other side of the room.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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