Every eye turned to see an apparition from Hell, smeared with half-dried blood from head to thigh, hair matted, leaning unsteadily against an equipment cabinet behind one of the control consoles. Senaria gasped audibly. The Liquidator turned towards her and Tenako waved it off with a sharp gesture.
"I'm so glad to hear that you haven't forgotten me after all these years," continued the apparition sarcastically. For several seconds I found myself unable to breathe, my heart pounding wildly, as
"You?" he stammered finally. "Here? How?"
"That's right, Father. Your people didn't kill me on Earth, and they didn't succeed in killing me now." Tenako looked more bewildered than ever, nor was he alone at that moment as I stole a glance against the wall where she had lain and saw only a dark puddle of half-congealed blood instead. I turned back to see Tenako staring intensely at me. Recognition finally dawned. "Wilorian," he whispered. I nodded.
He turned to Kiri. "I never tried to hurt you," he said in a strangely defensive tone. "I just wanted you to stay out of the way. I've protected you from Teyn all these years. Why did you come back? I warned you not to."
"So that's what it's about," Kiri mused. "I knew you were involved somehow, and that there had to be something behind it all that we didn't understand. But I never expected that it would be this."
"You know now what it's all for," insisted Tenako in the same oddly defensive voice. "I've watched you for years, you know. You're a practical person. You know I'm not pursuing an evil cause. Why don't you help me instead of fighting me? With your mind you could be invaluable here." I realized then that he was pleading with her, and wondered if after all this time he still somehow loved his daughter.
His next words dispelled the mood. "Besides," he added in a colder tone, "you could also save your friends' lives."
She shook her head. "Until a few minutes ago I really wasn't sure if I could go through with this. Ten years ago I thought I killed a man in cold blood, and didn't know if I could live with myself afterwards. What I have to do will probably kill a lot more. But you're right; I understand now what you're attempting. And I know that I have to stop you, whatever it takes."
She continued randomly poking keys. "You see, I've done some research too. I think you might find it interesting." She stopped for a moment, as if to catch her breath. "Let's go back a few thousand years. We both know that the Virrin left suddenly, and one hundred twenty-three years later a supernova was sighted in the Sigma quadrant. Our astronomers finally determined that the supernova was one hundred twenty-three light-years away from us. Now how do you interpret that?"
Tenako still looked rather dazed as he responded, "Obviously the Virrin were notified of a problem and returned home because of it."
Kiri nodded and went on. "And obviously they had hyperspace communications as do we. But we didn't know why they were summoned. I do." Tenako tried unsuccessfully to hide his surprise.
"You know as well," she continued, "that when a hyperspace transmission is made, it also propagates as ordinary electromagnetic radiation at the speed of light. Well, I decided to overtake those transmissions. Do you recall a few years ago, when I vanished for almost fifteen months?" Tenako, now obviously fascinated, nodded slowly. I suddenly realized I was watching a battle of minds unlike anything I had ever seen. I felt Senaria's hand reach for mine again and grip it tightly.
The hoarse voice went on, fighting pain and exhaustion. "It took me over seven months in the Futaba to overtake the transmissions. It took me almost all of the equally long trip home to decipher them. But I did. And what I found out was that the Virrin had been using the same planar field that you're setting up. That was where their energy came from, and it made them masters of this corner of the galaxy." Tenako began to smile in satisfaction.
"And then one
"The Virrin here were summoned home. Every available mind was needed. But in the end all they could do was watch as the planet touched the intersection point and nine sextillion tons of matter were converted into pure energy. Even a supernova pales in comparison, and it left them and their empire a cloud of gas drifting through the galaxy." She tottered for a moment and nearly fell, and stopped to regain her breath again. I saw a streak of fresh blood glistening on her left breast. "So you see, Father, why I can't let you do this," she said finally, tapping a few more keys.
Tenako unexpectedly laughed, an ugly barking laugh, and an unconvincing one, as he sought to regain his composure. "A clever story, my child. And you seriously expect to frighten me with it? Stop me? We can all see that you're totally helpless, daughter. What do you think you can do that these misguided children," and he gestured toward us, "couldn't? You can't even stand by yourself." And he laughed again, a hysterical edge creeping into his voice.
I felt Senaria tense and I turned to her, tightening my grip on her hand. "Will, we have to do something," she hissed almost inaudibly. "Shhh," I whispered, shaking my head almost imperceptibly. I didn't know just how hair-trigger the Liquidators were and didn't want to find out now, of all times.
I had finally begun to dimly comprehend what Kiri was attempting, and through an incredible combination of circumstances she had ended up just where she wanted to be. Whether she could buy enough time to succeed I didn't know, for Tenako could easily kill his daughter at any moment if he so chose, as he was much closer to her than I. And of course there was that Liquidator patiently standing by. Desperately I sought a solution but could summon only confusion as the bizarre duel of personalities unfolded.
And then I suddenly understood why Tenako's voice had sounded so familiar. At the realization a chill ran through my body, and simultaneously something somewhere deep inside my mind told me to reach up and grasp the pendant hanging from my neck. Several seconds later, still reeling from the resulting shock, I knew what I could do.
"When you 'improved' me, Father," Kiri finished bitterly, "you enhanced three things: my survivability, my vision, and my strength. But I inherited your intelligence. And, unlike you, I've spent the last ten years looking for just one thing," and she tapped a few more keys. "And that is?" Tenako said tonelessly, not moving.
I saw her green eyes fixed on me, burning into me. "Goodbye, Will," she said quietly, her voice almost inaudible. Slowly she sank back against the cabinet behind her, utterly exhausted.
And nothing happened.
Nothing at all.
I felt my heart sink. The worried look that had begun to surface on Tenako's face was quickly replaced by a sarcastic sneer. Then something behind him caught my eye, and I glanced over his shoulder.
One indicator, out of a wall of solid blue, had silently blinked green, then yellow. Tenako turned to see what I was looking at, just in time to see it turn orange, and he froze. I heard a single soft beep.
And then everything went crazy. Scattered indicators began changing color, followed by others around them, within seconds rendering the formerly serene blue wall of light a seething menacing mass of yellows and oranges, and somewhere in the building an alarm began to wail, followed an instant later by a second. A high voltage cabinet in one corner unexpectedly exploded with a sharp bang into a shower of white sparks, followed by a cloud of ugly yellowish smoke.
The giant display of the battle fleet vanished in a burst of static, revealing power cylinders visibly sliding out of synchronization with each other to disorienting effect. I became aware of an unpleasant low-pitched thrumming sound, punctuated every few seconds by thunderclaps audible even through the heavy glass barrier as savage discharges of energy arced from one cylinder to another. Slowly Tenako turned around, his face white, and then blind fury swept over his features and I realized that he had utterly lost whatever self-control he had managed to maintain until now.
"Vandal! Idiot!" he screamed furiously. "Do you really think you can sidetrack the future of humanity that easily? Your interference ends now!" He signaled viciously to the Liquidator with a gesture in Kiri's direction, but the creature was holding its head in both hands and moaning in apparent agony, then it collapsed to the floor. Tenako looked around frantically for a instant, then, spotting the pile of weapons at his feet, snatched up a sword and turned to Kiri, his face almost unrecognizable with blind rage.
"Vren," I said loudly, my hand still on the pendant. Tenako turned and looked at me, his fury frozen in perplexity for a instant, then turned back. Kiri stared at me, her mouth open, as if I had lost my mind. "Bri," I continued. He stopped and eyed me again, as though a long-forgotten memory was surfacing. I held out the pendant for him to see.
"Doh." Kiri began to grin through the blood and the pain now. Recognition finally came to Tenako, and with it sheer terror. "No. You couldn't know that. You can't
The blinding bolt from my fingers hit him in midsection, in a millisecond flashing all the water in that part of his body into steam, blowing him apart. Something crystalline bounced against the far wall. A second bolt blew the Virrin data crystal into a million shards. A stench of burning flesh filled the room. For a moment everything was still, except for the noise of distant alarms and a quiet horrifying sizzling sound.
I grabbed Senaria's hand and the two of us raced to the console where Kiri had been standing. She had slid to the floor, leaving a bloody streak down the cabinet she had used to support herself. I scooped her unconscious form off the floor into my arms as another alarm, much closer, began to sound. I turned to Senaria and found her arms loaded with our weapons. "We've got to get to the Futaba in a hurry," I barked. "Come on," and we headed out the same exit the guards had used a few short minutes earlier.
Still more alarms were sounding as we entered a main corridor, and it was obvious that panic was in the air as none of the terrified officers, clerks, and other personnel we encountered along the way made any effort to detain us. Getting away was clearly the only thing on anyone's mind at this point, and we managed to leave the plant and cross the main causeway, now crowded with fleeing Brizali, without incident. A few moments later we reached the disguised ship, only to find a very young and obviously terrified guard waiting by the craft.
"Damn Zee!" hissed Senaria. "She must have tipped them off about the Futaba, too." At our approach the youth bravely raised his sword and ordered us to stop.
"Look, kid," I exploded in exasperation, "this place is going to blow sky high in a few minutes. Do yourself a favor and get the hell out of here." For a moment he hesitated, and then Kiri stirred and opened her eyes.
"Is that Princess Mikiria?" he gasped, and I suddenly realized just how legendary this woman was.
"Yes it is," I snapped, "and if you don't let us pass, she, you, and the rest of us will be cinders within a few minutes."
To my astonishment he threw his sword on the ground at my feet. "My parents told me about her when I was a boy," he said earnestly. "Please take me with you. I'd give my life to serve her." I don't know why, something in his expression I guess, but I nodded and shouted over the increasing din, "Futaba transform: starship!"
In an instant the Futaba had metamorphosed back to its familiar configuration, and I strapped Kiri into the co-pilot's chair and fired up the power cells as Senaria and the youth took the rear seats. A moment later we were rising into the air amid a swarm of other craft heading helter-skelter in all directions. The lone highway was jammed with vehicles, barely moving. I glanced at the building we had just left, and saw that every corner, every projection was flickering with static electricity, like a nightmarish version of the St. Elmo's fire described by ancient mariners.
"Hang on," I shouted, as I turned the Futaba's nose straight up and applied full power, barely missing several other ships. Much as I hated exposing Kiri to the acceleration I had a strong feeling that we didn't want to be in this vicinity in the very near future. In seconds the city was receding below us as we were pressed heavily into the seats. I kept my eyes fixed on the altitude readout, watching it climb ever so slowly (or so it seemed), though in less than a minute it had passed the fifteen mile point.
"Holy shit," breathed Senaria, having turned her head with difficulty to look back and seeing the entire city suddenly surrounded by a corona of glowing plasma.
"Shut your goddam eyes!" croaked Kiri hoarsely, startling us, and hardly had we obeyed when the cabin was filled with a blinding flash. Even with our eyes closed it was a good fifteen seconds or so before any of us could see anything except brilliant blue afterimages, then just as objects around us started taking shape again the shock wave hit. It was like catching a very large wave while body-surfing, not throwing us out of control but hurling us outward into space even faster than before, and after a few seconds the craft settled down to a steady climb as we streaked away from the planet.
With the worst turbulence behind I was finally able to ease off the acceleration in preparation for the shift to hyperspeed. I looked back to see at least seven or eight fireballs of immense size scattered over the landscape. Apparently some kind of chain reaction had occurred. I breathed a silent prayer that none of the transformers were left intact.
Kiri stirred again in her seat and half-opened her eyes. I could see that she was biting her lip from the pain, and a small trickle of blood was inching down her chin. "Please hold me," she said in an almost inaudible voice. I unbuckled her and myself and gently lifted her onto my lap, her head nestled against my shoulder.
"Kiri," I said as reassuringly as I could manage, "hang on just a little longer; you're going to be okay." She looked back at me and grinned weakly, though her face was grey with pain.
"Of course I will," she answered, and taking my hand in hers placed it on her right breast. To my astonishment I felt a steady, if weak, heartbeat. "Two hearts," she said, then grimaced. "Still hurts like hell, though," and she let her head sink back onto my shoulder.
"You little shithead," I muttered, "scaring me like that."
"I love you, Will," she answered quietly. A few moments later the universe had turned inside out and the stars were shifting positions against each other as we left ordinary light behind.
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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