"He's dying?" I croaked, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. The veterinarian, a middle-aged man of my mother's generation, nodded.
"Tora's a very old cat, you know," he said. I felt my face burning and fought off an impending wave of tears as he continued. "There's no telling how old he was when the Brizali captured him, or how long they had him there. But he's not sick. He's just dying of natural causes." I nodded clumsily, not trusting myself to speak again.
"His liver is failing," he said as gently as he could. "It's very common with older cats. But even without that, his kidneys are functioning at about a fourth of normal capacity. It's only a matter of time."
"How long?" I managed hoarsely.
"Maybe a week, maybe two, maybe three. It's hard to tell." I looked at Tora, sitting unconcernedly on the examining table, licking himself in an indelicate place. The room suddenly turned into a watery blur and I felt the tears running down my cheeks.
"Tora," I whispered. "Please don't do this. Please." I felt the vet's hand on my shoulder.
"How long have you had him?" he asked.
"About two years." He already knew, of course; he'd been Tora's health protector since I'd brought him back to Qozernon.
"He's been your friend and companion all that time, hasn't he?" he said. It was more of a statement than a question. I nodded.
"Life's not a free ride, Senaria," he said. "There's a price for everything, especially for a relationship with another living being. The moment you decide to love something--or someone--you're accepting the fact that sooner or later one of you is going to lose the other. It's a contract, and an unbreakable one. We're all mortal creatures, and no matter who we are we have to honor it eventually. Would you rather have foregone these past two years?" I was silent now, half-listening, half of me hearing another voice.
You're always afraid to start anythin' 'cause you look too far ahead and see that no matter whatcha do now, it's goin' to end someday, and you can't face that.
I squared my shoulders and tried to blink the tears from my eyes. "What do I have to do?" I whispered.
He gave me a handful of small plastic tubes, and explained how to get Tora to swallow the liquid they contained. "This will spare him undue pain," he explained. "Just give him one of these every other day or so, and he should remain comfortable." He paused. "I'll send you the data on what you'll need to do when he's gone. Just remember: he's still Tora, he still loves you, and he doesn't know that anything has changed. Don't pull away from him. Just keep treating him like you always have."
I spent the next two weeks watching Tora die.
They were the longest two weeks of my life, and the saddest, and they flew by so quickly. I called the EMRN and asked to be taken off the duty roster until further notice, and spent every minute I could with him. I took him places in his carrier, let him wander for a day around the great planetary park filled with every known wildflower. I kept him company as we watched television together, he fascinated as always by the strange moving objects inside, with shape and depth but mysteriously lacking scent. He slept on my bed at night as he always had. And yet always I could see him slowly slipping away, always a little weaker than the day before, his naps longer, his appetite fading into nothing.
And then one morning I woke up to find him asleep on my bed as usual and reached out to stroke him and realized he was gone.
I spent the day taking care of the formalities. I brought the body to a crematorium which handled animal as well as human remains, and made the necessary arrangements. I filled out and transmitted what seemed like endless reports to the Qozernan and Deshtiran animal protection bureaus. Late in the afternoon I stopped back at the crematorium and picked up a small opaque white container, perhaps two inches on a side and five inches high.
When I finally returned home I set the little box up on a shelf until I could decide what I wanted to do with it, and sat down in the kitchen. It was then that the silence of the house hit me like a physical blow, and I felt myself to be utterly alone, more alone than I'd ever been in my life.
I absently turned on the telecom, not looking for anything in particular, just idly flipping channels. At one point I found myself watching the New Year's celebration in Earth's Times Square, watching the ancient ritual of the dropping ball, and the crowds singing Auld Lang Syne at the top of their lungs. Somehow it just made me feel more alone than before, and I ended up switching it off.
Eventually I tried calling my mother, only to receive an automated message that informed me she was out and wouldn't be back for several days. I knew that usually meant she was running some kind of diplomatic errand. I could have overridden the setting and gotten through to her wherever she was, but to do that in anything less than an emergency would have been extremely rude, so I gave it up. Kiri and Will were also out, as was Kizuko, and I decided not to leave a message. I just couldn't bring myself to call Alan or Rann. But--
"This is Hal," said the youthful face in my telecom. "Oh, hi, Senaria." She paused, scrutinizing me intently. "Are you all right? You look really terrible." That was Haley all right, I thought; never any punches pulled where she was concerned. I told her about Tora, suddenly fighting off tears again.
"You must be really lonely," she said sympathetically. "Is anyone there with you?" I shook my head. "You have the Noriko," she suggested. "Why don't you come visit us for a while? Rann and I would love to put you up for as long as you'd like."
"Mmmmm. Maybe later," I said, and changed the subject. "So how are things with you? Studies going okay?" It was then that I heard for the first time about the disaster that had occurred.
"And he has Will's bolts?" I said incredulously.
"You know about those too, huh?"
I nodded grimly. "I've seen Will use them twice," I said. "You've got a real problem, I'd say."
"Yeah," she confirmed. "Did you know him? Rokun, I mean. He had your picture in his office, you know."
"Mohantor Rokun," I mused. "No, the name's not familiar. A lot of people at the palace seemed to know who I was, a lot more than I knew personally. It's too bad. You liked him a lot, didn't you?"
"He was a really nice man," she confirmed, blinking a few times. "I just hope they can do something for him when they find him. But he's so dangerous now--"
"I understand," I said as sympathetically as I could. "So how's Rann these days?" I added, not wanting to belabor a sensitive topic. Her face brightened.
"Oh, he's doing really well. Did you know I moved in with him the month before last?"
"That's wonderful. You two do make a great pair, you know."
She blushed. "He's really sweet. It's a good thing I never met anyone on Earth like him, or I'd probably still be there."
"He's grown up a lot since I left," I acknowledged. "And Alan?" I asked casually.
She shook her head. "This whole mess has left him really depressed. But he still keeps plugging along. I've heard rumors that he's in a lot of trouble with the politicians over the whole thing. They're afraid it's going to blow up into a major incident. There's even talk he could wind up deported back to Earth as a result."
"I can't believe Kiri would let that happen," I said.
"I hope not," she agreed fervently. "By the way, you wouldn't believe how pissed she is right now. Apparently someone--she thinks it might even have been Rokun--broke into her computer files the day before yesterday."
"Into Kiri's files?" I said, astonished. "Is that possible?"
"She says whoever did it had an incredible mind. That's why she's worried."
"I can see why," I agreed. "By the way, I don't suppose you know where my mother is? Her telecom says she's unavailable for the next few days. I was hoping to talk to her."
"She and my mother are touring up north for a few days," she explained. After a few more pleasantries, we broke off the connection.
There's nothing like hearing about someone else's problems to help put your own into perspective. I stared at the blank screen for a few minutes, then connected to EMRN headquarters and had myself put back on the active duty roster.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|