I wondered how long it would take him to bring up the matter of his "errand." Sooner or later he'd have to say something, since right now I had the only transportation available. The question was answered a few days later when he casually asked how I'd feel about taking a trip to Los Angeles.
"Something you need to do there?" I inquired innocently.
"Well, yeah," he acknowledged. "Kiri asked me to pick up some videos for her in Little Tokyo. Since she's coming all the way here just to fix her ship, I ought to at least have them ready for her."
"Sure," I said. "It's a nice drive. Where's 'Little Tokyo,' anyway?" He pointed it out on a map; it turned out to be just southwest of the Union Depot. And so early the next morning we set out once again on I-15.
Before we left, my mother insisted on placing a small gold chain with an amethyst locket around my neck. "It's for warding off danger," she explained.
"Whatever," I agreed amiably, tucking it under my T-shirt.
It really was a nice drive, too. Along the way we talked about anything and everything. I found out how he'd become a member of the Brizali (the Deshtiran equivalent of the Nazi Party), and later helped overthrow them.
"We're growing our own crop right here in the States," I grumbled. "Ever since the MEU collapsed you see street gangs of young thugs wearing black T-shirts wherever you go. If you're lucky they don't bother you, but they're getting noisier and more aggressive. It's only a matter of time before they start shoving people off the sidewalks."
"MEU?" Rann interrupted, obviously puzzled.
"The Millennium Eve Uprising," I explained. "Some weirdo tried to take over the country the year before last. Came pretty close, too. A lot of innocent people died," I added, remembering Melanie's brother.
"Oh, you mean the Jack Lucie revolt," Rann said.
I looked at him in surprise. I'd only heard him called John Lucie, and wondered just how much Rann had heard. "The government never did explain how they finally put it down," I continued. "It just collapsed all of a sudden. There's a whole conspiracy cult developing here that claims the government used nukes to wipe out his headquarters and makes him out to be some kind of hero. Its followers also believe he was secretly murdered by government agents, since his body was never found."
"Tell me more," Rann said.
"Well, unfortunately it's attracting the worst elements in the country, especially young males in their late teens and twenties. You probably know the type: obsessed with violence and looking for an outlet, legitimate or otherwise. Probably the same ones that would have joined Hitler's storm troopers seventy years ago. Anyway, they dress in black T-shirts and go swaggering around the streets. Fortunately no one's shown up yet to pull them all together, but it's only a matter of time. And then I guess it starts all over."
"And no one does anything about this?" Rann asked, fascinated. I shook my head.
"No one wants to argue with crazies. There've already been reports of people badly beaten because they confronted some of these gangs. And the government seems terrified of them. There was so much political flak from the opposition party after the treason trials that they'd rather just look the other way. The lunatics are taking over the asylum. Again."
Rann was silent for a while, just staring out the window. We were crossing over the railroad tracks in Victorville when I heard him mutter something under his breath. "What?" I said.
"Oh, sorry. I was just talking to myself, I guess."
"About what?" I asked, nosy as usual. I wouldn't always have the chance to cross-examine an alien from another planet, and I intended to make the most of it.
"I was wondering if Senaria had done it all for nothing," he said, still somewhere else.
"Who's Senaria?" I asked. "You mentioned rescuing her before. Someone back home?"
"She's a lot of things," he said. "I guess the one most meaningful to you would be that she's the person who killed Jack Lucie." I almost swerved across the freeway at that.
"All right," I finally said once I'd regained my composure a little. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Lucie wasn't from Earth, you know," he said matter-of-factly. "He was a renegade Deshtiran."
"What is this, a joke?" I exploded. "You don't seriously expect me to believe that, do you?" I wondered for a moment just how much Rann was putting me on, and how much else of what he'd told me had been a fabrication.
He was staring at me in surprise, and I thought I saw hurt in his eyes. And at the same instant I remembered green lasers, and two unexplained meteorite impacts at opposite ends of the country, and a few days later Lucie's top henchmen turning up drugged in the desert outside of Roswell, New Mexico, and I found myself shivering uncontrollably. The truly frightening thing was that for the first time it all actually made sense. "I'm sorry, Rann," I managed through misbehaving vocal cords. "I do believe you," and was rewarded by a look of relief on his face. "But it just sounded so crazy."
"It was," he agreed.
"So Lucie's really dead," I observed with considerable satisfaction.
"He died in a Deshtiran hospital about a year ago."
"I thought you said this Senaria person killed him," I said uneasily.
"She erased his mind. A human body can only survive for so long without one." I felt a shudder in his voice.
We were due north of the little town of Fontana, notable mostly for the old Kaiser Steel works and California University's Fontana branch, when I pulled off I-15 and headed north up into the foothills. Following Rann's directions, I soon left the paved road and for several miles we wound our way up what amounted to a glorified dirt driveway, until we finally found ourselves in front of a good-sized two story house complete with a well-kept lawn and a spectacular view.
After parking the car, I walked over to the edge of the bluff overlooking the "Inland Empire," as the area around San Bernardino is sometimes grandiosely called (mostly by its Chamber of Commerce boosters). Climbing up onto a large boulder, I peered down into the valley far below. The air was crystal clear, something very unusual for this area, and between that and the brilliant sunshine it was almost like looking at an incredibly detailed computer graphic: crisp, detailed, and somehow unreal. Calling to me impatiently, Rann directed me across the lawn to the garage. "Looks like the lawn service did a good job cleaning up the crater," he observed as I caught up with him.
"Crater?" I ventured nervously.
"You don't want to know," he replied. I was about to protest when he stepped in front of the garage door and firmly spoke something in an unfamiliar language (Deshtiran, I supposed). Obediently the garage door swung open.
Inside I discovered a small Mishima sport utility vehicle. No ordinary SUV, Mishimas are revered for their superb construction, gas efficiency (unlike most of the monstrosities on the roads) and exceptionally high price. "Wow," I said in awe. "It's Kiri's," he explained, leading me through a doorway into the house itself.
It didn't take him long to accomplish what he'd come for. Opening a drawer in a spare bedroom, he sifted through several compartments, assembling a collection of ID cards and a wallet to put them in. "Let me see your driver's license," I begged, and he obligingly handed it to me.
It was his picture, all right, on a standard California license. It gave his name as Randy Parker, and his age as nineteen. "You don't look nineteen," I said accusingly. "Who's going to believe this?"
"Lots of people look younger than they are," he shot back. "Why do you think so many teenagers grow mustaches and beards? Besides, it could be pretty awkward for me to be identified as a minor. I'd have to produce parents and a whole lot of explanations if I got stopped for something."
He resumed rummaging in the drawers, and eventually produced a credit card and a handful of currency. The card was a standard one, bearing the name Ikiria Rumiko.
"Empresses have credit cards?" I marveled. "And I thought you said her name was Mikiria?"
"Back when she was still living here, using her real name could have cost her her life," he commented dryly. "Listen," he added, holding out a wad of bills, "will you let me pay you back now for all the stuff you've bought for me?"
"Absolutely not," I exploded, suddenly feeling inexplicably angry.
"Why not?" he said, looking bewildered.
"Because--because--" I stammered, desperately trying to think of something that wouldn't sound too dumb. "Because I'd much rather have you in my debt. This way I have ultimate power over you," I finished lamely, trying to make a joke out of it. More puzzled than ever, he finally surrendered.
"Let me know if you change your mind," he offered, slipping the currency into his wallet, which he in turn tucked into his boot.
"Do you need to get any more clothes while you're here?" I asked, changing the subject.
"No," he said, "not after all the stuff you bought. Unless--" and he suddenly charged out of the room and up the stairs. I was going to follow him, but a moment later he reappeared at the top of the steps, this time with a pair of dark blue boots much like his own, one in each hand.
"Try these on," he said eagerly.
"What?" I said dumbly.
"They're a spare pair of Kiri's," he explained. "I don't think she'd mind."
"Are you sure?" I said dubiously. I wondered what the penalty was for kidnapping an Empress' boots.
Well, I did finally try them on, and they turned out to be the most comfortable footwear I'd ever worn. Somehow the soft leather-like fabric allowed air through while still protecting my feet. I've never owned a pair of shoes since.
As we left, again via the garage, I asked something I'd been wondering about, especially after seeing money and credit cards lying around like so much dirty underwear. "Rann, aren't you worried about someone breaking in? I mean, this place is pretty isolated. Someone could pick the locks at their leisure, or just break in with an axe."
Closing the garage door with another verbal command, he laughed. "There's a force field built into the structure of the house itself. You couldn't break into here with anything short of a green laser cannon, and even that would take a while. No, this place is pretty secure." I found myself wondering again about that "crater" though as we headed back down the mountainside to I-10.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|