Hi. Remember me? Yeah, it's Senaria again. I thought I'd be free of writing chores after finishing that account for Will of what took place back on Deshtiris,* but, well, more stuff happened, and this time it was my own decision to write it all down. I'm glad I did; it already seems so hazy and so long ago, like memories of memories.
It wasn't much of a homecoming for me when I finally arrived back on Qozernon after the three-day spaceliner trip. I'd arranged at the spaceport for my things to be delivered, then caught the next train to Nedro, where I'd borrowed a public vehicle for the drive to my mother's house. It was winter, and the sky was a leaden grey from horizon to horizon.
I heard a puzzled chirp from the carrier in my hand as the chilly air wafted through the openings in the side. "It's all right, Tora," I said. "It'll be warm inside. And there'll be something there for you to eat." My own stomach was growling; I hadn't wanted to linger any longer than necessary at the crowded spaceport, knowing that the noise and smells would be rather frightening for the little cat.
Tora was a notable exception to the general rule against confining animals. Pets are almost unknown on the Twin Planets, at least in the Earth sense of the word. Respected as sentient beings, animals are not leashed, caged, or kept indoors against their wills. It's not at all unusual for someone to befriend an animal, and even to install pet doors to allow it to come and go as it pleases, but that's as far as it goes.
Both Qozernon and Deshtiris are populated by plant and animal species taken from Earth several thousand years ago by the Virrin. Because all of the dangerous species of animal were genetically modified by them, instilling a benign indifference to humans, it's not unusual to see a mountain lion or wolverine snoozing contentedly on someone's back porch (or, occasionally, their sofa).
Tora's was an altogether different story, though. Captured by the Brizali for god knows what experimental purposes, he'd been yanked out of his natural habitat and confined for an unknown amount of time. I'd rescued him from the filthy cage in which he'd been kept, and since then he'd been a faithful companion, staying with me in the little room I'd been assigned during my own captivity.
Once free of the Brizali, I was faced with the choice of turning him loose in the wild or dealing with the legal restrictions involved. Since I could easily demonstrate that he was both content to remain indoors and probably incapable of fending for himself in the wild, I'd requested and been granted special permits from both the Deshtiran and Qozernan governments to keep him and if necessary confine him. I'd received a number of curious stares, some of them not very friendly, on the three-day trip from Deshtiris. Anticipating such a reaction, I'd made a point of getting copies of the necessary permits in paper form (in addition to notations in my computer records), and waving these at some of the more aggressive observers had generally sufficed to quell any hostility.
As I pulled up to the house in the pale afternoon light I felt an overwhelming emptiness. There were no signs of life except for the verdant lawns, still automatically watered and fertilized during our long absence. For a moment I felt my resolve weaken, then shivered at the thought of returning to Deshtiris, and keyed in the command to return the public vehicle back to the nearest docking station. Unlocking the front door with a voice command and entering the deserted house I glanced around, took a deep breath, and set down Tora's carrier.
I looked forward to watching him explore my mother's not inconsequential home, a two-story dwelling located several miles from her nearest neighbor in an area that Will has described as reminiscent of the plains of western Nebraska. I didn't plan to install any pet doors to the outside for his convenience, however; it wasn't unusual to see coyotes hanging around our back yard, and Tora would've made a one-gulp meal for any of them (the Virrin-instilled indifference applied only to humans). Not that Tora was likely to make an effort to slip out in any case; he clearly knew a good thing when he saw one. Needless to say, I made setting up a litter box my first priority, as he watched with ill-concealed impatience.
I spent the rest of the evening unpacking and settling back into my former home. For a while I felt as though I were moving into a tomb, and then I happened to glance up at one of the shelves to see a pair of gleaming yellow eyes staring down at me. Suddenly the place didn't seem quite so empty any more.
It was only after I'd unpacked the last box and scattered its contents around the living room that I noticed the blue message light on the telecom. I found a letter§ from my mother waiting, welcoming me home and suggesting that I call when it was convenient. I entered the "reply" command and a few moments later she was eagerly appraising me from the screen.
"Hi, Mom," I said hesitantly. "I just got your letter."
"Hello, daughter," she answered warmly, looking me over. "How are you? Is everything all right?"
"I'm fine," I said. "So's Tora."
"How's the leg doing?"
"Still hurts a little when I walk, but the trip did wonders. And my arm's pretty well healed already. How's everyone back there?"
"Worried about you," she said in her usual direct manner. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
I nodded. "I just need some time. Do some things on my own."
"And get out of the web," she said. I looked at her in surprise. "Things can get pretty tangled, can't they? It becomes difficult to keep it all straight, after a while."
"Mom," I began, and stopped. She gave me a warm smile.
"You didn't invent the human psyche, you know," she said. "Take some time to think things out. You'll be fine. I have faith in you. I always have, you know."
"You've always been wonderful," I said. For a few moments neither of us said anything.
"Do you want me to keep the others away for a while?" she asked. I nodded wordlessly. "Not for good, though?"
"No," I blurted out. "I love all of you. And I already miss you. But just for a while, okay? A little while?"
"Leave it to me," she said. "But they are worried about you. Please don't cut them out of your life."
"No," I insisted. "Just for a little while." She nodded. We exchanged a bit of small talk and said goodnight. For a long time I found myself staring at the blank screen.
For the next few days I just sat around the house, watching television and getting some light exercise in the backyard training area. I knew I was going to have to come up with something useful to do with my time, but after several weeks confined in Tenako's compound I found myself unable to do much of anything now that I was free again. I half-heartedly turned over a few ideas in my mind, but couldn't seem to muster up enough energy to think them through.
Posttraumatic stress disorder, I told myself, dredging up some of my former medical training. Inability to concentrate, withdrawal from friends, lack of interest in favorite activities; I mentally ticked off a few of the symptoms. I'll get over it. I just have to give myself time. The days blurred together. Wake, eat, watch television, exercise, eat, watch television, sleep.
I jerked upright as I realized there was someone in the darkened room with me. "Lights," I said, but nothing happened as the shadowy figure approached the bed. "Who's there?" I called out nervously. I reached for a nearby switch on the wall, and felt my hand sink into something yielding and vitreous. Then finally the lights came on.
I looked at my hand. It had sunk several inches into the wall, which seemed to be rippling, as if it were liquefying. With a gasp I yanked it free and looked up at the figure standing over me.
"Oh, it's you," I said in relief. "What are you doing here?"
"Senaria," he said softly, and I felt desire unexpectedly stirring in me as I realized he was naked.
"So you've come back," I said hoarsely. "Do you mean it this time?" I threw aside the covers, revealing myself to him.
And then he started to laugh, and as he did so the flesh began to melt from his bones until only the eyes were left in their sockets, and then the eyes too were melting, flowing down the still laughing skull like raw eggs--
I woke up screaming. For several seconds afterwards I stared wildly around the room, my heart pounding furiously, until I could convince myself that it really had only been a horrible dream. The walls remained reassuringly solid this time.
"Shit," I muttered fervently, running a hand through my hair and finding it soggy with sweat. I took a deep breath as I saw Tora gingerly emerging from the back of the closet where he'd taken refuge. That does it, I thought in disgust. That's the third time this week. This is not going to work.
The next morning I was on the telecom, making an appointment with a recruiter for the Emergency Medical Response Network.
* In The Three Minds. - Ed.
§ A video message. - Ed.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|