"So you didn't have any warning that Zyanita was working for the Brizali?" Gelhinda was saying. She and I were sitting around Kiri's bed in the command ship's sick bay, where she was propped up on several pillows. Her crimson hair and emerald eyes stood out starkly against her still shockingly pale face, but she was otherwise in good spirits and making a rapid recovery.
Within minutes after the fleet had struck the Brizal colors we had requested emergency medical assistance, and in less than an hour the ship's surgeons had been repairing the damage to her left heart. Remarkably, Zyanita's blade had managed to miss any other vital structures, and the collateral circulation from her other heart had been sufficient to avoid permanent damage to the organ, which was now beating normally again. The general prognosis was that there would be no permanent ill effects. In fact, the doctors were astonished at the speed of her recovery.
We found out later that immediately after we had broken the connection with the fleet commander he had sent out the code word "Mikiria," an action evidently long planned in advance. Only a suitable opportunity had been lacking, and with one unexpectedly at hand officers and crew still loyal to the old royal house (after 30 years!) had within minutes placed all Brizal officers in confinement.
The biggest worry had been the Liquidators, but to everyone's surprise (not to mention relief) they were all found to be quite dead. Apparently they could not survive without the energy radiated by the Tar Deshta transformer and its substations.
The makeshift Qozernan fleet had been contacted before the two forces met and peace negotiations hurriedly initiated. The potential bloodshed that had been averted was beyond calculation. The main question now was what government Qozernon would be negotiating with. About two-thirds of the fleet had already been dispatched back to Deshtiris to maintain order. The balance, including ourselves, remained in place
"Not a clue," replied Kiri to Gelhinda's original question. "We had stepped into a junction of five corridors, really poorly lit, with me in the lead, and I suddenly felt a hard blow on my back. I looked down to see several inches of steel sticking out of my chest." I shuddered. Seeing my expression, she added with a certain malicious glee, "I guess by all conventional standards I was dead before I hit the floor."
"In the back!" she continued in disgust. "Even the Brizali weren't that cowardly. Well, I suppose she still didn't deserve the fate she got; no one could." At that moment Senaria and the youth we had rescued, whose name was Parkor Rann, walked into the room and Senaria froze in astonishment. "Mom?! How did you get here?"
Kiri chuckled and answered before Gelhinda could. "The same way she saved my butt ten years ago." Gelhinda started to protest, but Kiri cut her off imperiously; she was obviously returning rather quickly to her everyday self. "Gelhi, please. It's ancient history now. Besides, it's just between us here. It's not like someone's going to write a book about it someday." She went on matter-of-factly, "She walked here through the Futaba's living quarters."
Seeing the girl's look of total incomprehension, she explained. "The ship's living quarters exist in another time-space continuum, remember? They don't actually go anywhere. The doorway from the Futaba isn't so much an opening as a gateway." She sighed when she saw Senaria shaking her head in confusion. "All right, I'll start at the beginning and see if that helps."
"Ten years ago, as you already know, I returned to Deshtiris to gather as much information as I could. What I didn't tell you, because of Gelhi's silly modesty, is that on the way back my
"I tried to make emergency repairs, but the whole power compartment was surrounded with a high-voltage corona and I had no way to shut it down so that I could even work on it. Worse yet, my speed was increasing out of control and I knew that in a short time it would exceed the design limits of the ship and reduce it and me to elemental particles."
"I did the only thing I could do. I fled to the living quarters and disengaged them from the ship, so that the energy release wouldn't wind up destroying them too. There I was, stranded in another universe, with no way to ever get back. I remember sitting down on the couch in total despair, not so much for myself as because the information I'd collected was priceless and I knew I'd never be able to use it."
"And then I heard Gelhi's voice calling my name anxiously and I looked out into the hallway, and there she was at the other end waving hello! She hadn't heard from me at the designated time and had gotten very worried, and then it occurred to her that she ought to be able to enter the living quarters from my other ship then under construction (the ship that eventually became the Futaba) and just walk in! It was a sobering victory of plain common sense over intellect, and one I've never forgotten, because it had never occurred to me that more than one gateway could be active at once."
Gelhinda blushed as everyone present stared at her with new respect. Kiri continued, "I walked down the corridor with her and opened the door and there I was back on Qozernon in the half-built Futaba-to-be. Since then," she finished, "I've always made sure that a working gateway was available back home. Gelhi, don't be so modest. After all, you did ultimately save three worlds in the process." At that Gelhinda turned bright red with embarrassment and had to turn away for a few minutes.
"That's it!" I burst out, the light finally dawning. "That's the missing piece!" Everyone turned to me in astonishment. "That's how Zyanita found out where you were on Earth," I added, a little more calmly, and pulled the earring clip from my pocket and held it up for all to see. I explained how I had picked it off the floor at Kiri's mountain house and then forgotten about it.
"Way back then?" said Kiri in surprise. "When did you realize what it meant?"
"Too late," I answered ruefully and described how I had found it in my jeans pocket in the tunnels under Tar Deshta. She nodded.
"She'd heard the story a few years ago, and it would have been easy enough for her to pop through the spare gateway, determine her whereabouts, and pop back home and notify the Brizali. Of course, she didn't know I was there to get you," she added, "and when she found out that she had nearly liquidated her own brother it must have been a bit of a shock for her."
"She apparently got over that quickly enough," I snorted. "But I don't understand why Zyanita didn't just tell the Brizali that it was us coming to Tar Deshta."
"I'm not sure if we'll ever fully understand her motives," Kiri mused. "I don't think she really understood them herself. You'll remember that she tried to dissuade us from going to Deshtiris after notifying us of Lev's murder. And apparently she kept the fact that you and I were part of the expedition a complete secret. Who knows what was going on in that twisted mind of hers? Poor Zee," she finished unexpectedly.
It struck me that there was something ironic about the continued use of the nickname, but then I reflected that she had after all been family in a way, even if she had proven to be the black sheep.
"Besides, she had plenty of opportunities along the way to turn us in, and didn't. I think part of it was the way the diner incident went awry. I doubt that she was ready for what happened there and was terrified that next time she might be caught in the middle." Only then did I realize that Zyanita must have tipped off the commander while supposedly using the "facilities," and again kicked myself mentally for my stupidity.
"Don't feel bad, Will, I didn't catch it then either," Kiri said, seeing my expression. "Besides, I think she had a different agenda. She wanted me, due to whatever catalog of imagined grievances she'd built up over the years, and didn't want the Brizali to get me first. I guess we should be thankful to her for making everything work out in the end, in spite of herself."
"By the way," she said suddenly, looking directly at me, "you really thought I was dead? Didn't it ever occur to either of you two clowns to check for a pulse?"
Under the circumstances, I did what any red-blooded male would do: I deflected the blame to someone else. "Hey, wait a minute," I said indignantly. "Senaria's the one who spent six months in med school, not me."
All eyes turned to Senaria. For a moment she was at a loss for words, a sheepish look on her face. "Well, you looked pretty dead to me," she said finally.
"I'm lucky you didn't bury me," Kiri grumbled. "Now where were we?" She stopped for a few moments to sip some liquid from a container by her bed and collect her thoughts. "Oh, yes. I had just been skewered," and grinned again at my pained expression. "The next thing I knew, I was staring up at the ceiling of Tenako's control room. I had no idea how I'd gotten there, but it couldn't have worked out better, except that I was so dizzy and sick to my stomach I didn't know if I was going to barf all over the keyboard. That would have put an inglorious end to our plans in a hurry." She savored the thought for a moment.
"How did you do that?" Gelhinda asked. "I can't believe that such a critical system would be so easily crashed."
"Tenako used Virrin technology for his weaponry and genetic engineering, but to control it he used ordinary computers developed by error-prone humans. Although the systems had been upgraded over and over through the years, they were all based on a processor design done about fifty-five years ago, which had a very minor and very obscure flaw. Normally if a processor encounters an illegal instruction, it's supposed to set an internal flag that lets the operating system work around it, triggering an error message or starting a self-correcting routine."
"It seems that there existed one series of instructions that would simply cause it to stop processing altogether, locking up the system. It was a really obscure bug, mentioned in a footnote in a design document, but no one worried about it because it wasn't a sequence that anyone would ever intentionally use. And then, with each new generation of chips, the same flaw wound up being unknowingly carried through because no one did their homework properly. A half century later, it was still there. Thanks to Will and a consulting contract from a Qozernan firm, I found out about it just in time."
"However, because of all the security safeguards in place on Deshtiris, I couldn't hack in from outside; I had to actually be at a system console in order to gain access to the core kernel. What I was doing at the keyboard was typing in code, compiling it into a tiny program all of eleven bytes in size, and then telling the system to run it. The rest you saw." We all shook our heads in disbelief.
"Once I managed to crash the feedback system, I expected that Tenako would kill all of us, but at least I knew that in spite of his boasts he couldn't restart the system in time to prevent the overload. And then you pulled that little rabbit out of your hat," she added accusingly, looking directly at me. "So how did you get those words to work, anyway? Weren't those the same ones we tried back on Qozernon? And what was that you were holding?"
"Tenako's notes referred to keys, not a key," I explained. "It never occurred to any of us that it was a combination of the nonsense words and something else," and I pulled out the pendant from inside my shirt, enjoying for a change the surprise on Kiri's face as she involuntarily sought at her own throat for it.
I recounted how I had taken the pendant in that dark moment, never dreaming that it had a special purpose. "When I put my hand around the pendant in the control room, the sensation was incredible. It was as if I had suddenly become aware of energy stored in every cubic centimeter of my body, as though I were a giant charged battery. And at the same instant I somehow just knew that the pendant and the phrase together were the keys. After that it was a matter of waiting for the right moment, which wasn't long in coming."
"And you've been wearing that pendant ever since?" she said incredulously. "Even at night?" I nodded, puzzled at the question. She shook her head slowly, muttering to herself. "It's a good thing you don't talk in your sleep..."
MIKIRIA. Copyright © 1998, 2000 Lamont Downs. All rights
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