Although it may sound superficially glamorous, being on emergency call is anything but, resembling more a form of voluntary house arrest. You can't leave the premises, you can't start any major projects that can't be interrupted, in fact you're reluctant to even spend a long time in the bathroom since you have to bring a portable telecom in with you just in case an emergency call arrives.
I did finally get a call, in late afternoon, and then there were four in a row, almost back to back, so that hardly had I gotten back home and started to wash up than I was off again. Happily none of them were life-threatening situations, and when I did finally go off duty that night I was feeling very good about myself. So good, in fact, that I decided to take my mother's advice and start getting back in touch with my friends back home.
Impulsively I keyed in Kiri's telecom address. For the few seconds it took for the connection to route, I tried to mentally compose a reasonably sane-sounding message to leave. To my horror, it was Kiri herself that appeared on my screen.
"Hi, Sen," she said, looking a bit surprised. "It's really good to see you again. It's been a while." To my embarrassment I found myself at a loss for words, and croaked out something unintelligible. It took several tries and a throat clearing before I managed a near-incoherent reply.
"Is anything wrong?" she asked, looking slightly worried at my evident distress.
"No, no, everything's going great here," I said, finally getting my voice back under control. "I just wasn't expecting you to answer your telecom. I thought all your calls went through the palace switchboard, and I was going to leave you a message." I reddened, realizing how lame that must have sounded.
"They do," she answered. "We get thousands of calls every day here. But I have several names programmed in for direct connection to my office, and yours is one. If you'd like, I can hang up and you can leave a message," she added with just a hint of a smile.
"No, don't do that. Sorry, I just got a little flustered, that's all. I finished my training and thought I'd call to say hello."
"Congratulations," she said warmly. "Gelhi's been keeping us informed on how it's gone. I hear you're a full-fledged PET now. How do you like it?"
"It's great," I enthused, finally relaxing a little. "I really feel like it's what I've wanted to do." I proudly told her about having my own emergency vehicle, and how the Deshtiran driver's license had come in so handy.
"Speaking of PETs, how's the cat?" said another voice, a male one, and a moment later Will's face crowded into the screen from one side.
"Hi, Will," I said. "Tora's doing fine. He loves the house. Runs it the way Valkar runs the palace, with an iron paw." I saw the two grin at that. "Look," I said, "I know you two are pretty busy these days, but I did want to let you know I haven't forgotten about you."
"We all know that," Kiri said. "We miss you here. We'll be looking forward to hearing from you again." Awkward good-byes were exchanged, and I closed the connection.
I realized I was shaking. Dammit, Kiri, I thought I was over you.
I didn't attempt any calls home for a while after that. For one thing, I found that one can become very tired after a few days on call. On top of that, PET training doesn't end after the initial two-month training period; in fact, trainees barely scratch the surface of what they need to know during that brief time. A standard PET week consists of four days on call, two days in training (sometimes requiring a trip to Karuda, sometimes done at home via telecom), and two days off.*
The initial PET certification, which I'd received after my two months' training, only authorized me to handle certain basic medical procedures and non-life-threatening situations, except in genuine emergencies when more qualified personnel weren't available. As a PET works his or her way through the supplemental two-day sessions the certification is progressively upgraded. It takes about six months to reach a level high enough for one to begin the more advanced courses for ERT (Emergency Response Technician).
I also found that I wasn't the only one with reservations about resuming contact. My attempts to reach Rann were gently rebuffed, my calls only answered indirectly through my mother.
"He asked me to tell you that he'd really rather not, right now," she explained gently. "I guess things hit him pretty hard too." I heard over time that he did make occasional attempts at dating one woman or another, only to break things off. It wasn't that they weren't interested, either; apparently he had a number of admirers who would have been only too happy to become his mate, permanent or otherwise.
It was about a month after my first call to Kiri that I returned home from one of my weekend training sessions to find a message from her waiting. For a while I delayed viewing it, finding lots of little chores that had to be done first, such as feeding Tora and cleaning out his litter box, emptying wastebaskets, all that sort of thing. I finally took a deep breath and retrieved it, only to find that she wanted me to call her back, saying that she needed to talk to me in person. Well, I decided, this business of putting off my friends with my "need for time to myself" was going to start wearing thin very soon, so I squared my shoulders, put on my best face, and keyed in her address. A few minutes later she was there onscreen in front of me.
"Hi, Sen," she said, appraising me carefully.
"Hello, Kiri," I said as cheerfully as I could. "How's life as an Empress going?"
"Busy. We're getting ready for the celebration of the century, you know."
"It's already been a year since you kicked out the Brizali?" I asked.
"Since we kicked out the Brizali," she corrected me. "Stop trying to avoid credit for your deeds. Yes, that's the one, and it's going to be really something." For a while she filled me in on the details. I could see that she was uncomfortable, not at all like the last time I'd spoken to her, and I finally told her so.
"I'm sorry to call you like this, Sen," she admitted. "I know you're trying to put things back together, and what I'm going to ask you isn't going to help. But I think you deserve to be asked."
"Asked what?" I said, feeling my stomach knotting up again. "You don't usually beat around the bush like this, Kiri. What is it?"
"It's Jack Lucie." I made an unintelligible noise in response.
"He's dying, Sen."
"Good," I finally managed. It came out as a snarl, not altogether to my dismay.
"His body can't survive forever without a mind. His systems are starting to deteriorate. He might live another month or so."
I felt anger beginning to rise. "Why do I need to know this?" I demanded. "Do you think I'm sorry for what I did to him? As far as I'm concerned, I killed him when I used the mind machine. I don't give a shit what happens to his body. You can use it for fertilizer as far as I'm concerned."
Kiri looked even more uncomfortable, and I suddenly realized it wasn't because of my outburst. "There's more, isn't there?" I said apprehensively.
"Yes, there is." She took a deep breath. "Sen, we still have Tenako's mind file. We could download it into Lucie's body. But only if you want us to." It took several seconds for it to sink in.
"My god," I whispered hoarsely. "You mean those files still exist?" She nodded slowly.
"You didn't destroy those files?" I said, no longer whispering. "You still have them?" A horrible thought hit me. "And the machine too?" I was almost shouting by this time. Kiri looked like she was on the verge of tears. "I thought you were going to have them destroyed," I said in dismay. "You as much as promised me before I left. What were you thinking?" I looked away from the screen, fiercely biting my lower lip.
I heard her soft voice, but didn't trust myself to look her in the eye. "I'm sorry, Sen," she was saying. "I was overruled. There was strong feeling here that the technology should be preserved for possible treatment of mental illness and the like. You know yourself what the Qozernan mind wipe device did to Will for so many years. I did what I could."
"You were overruled!?" I suddenly blurted out in a strangled voice, turning back to her image. "The goddam Empress of Deshtiris, and you were overruled!? By who? By what?"
"By the imperative to be a ruler, not a despot," she said quietly. "I know this doesn't make sense to you right now, but you know that I've never lied to you, Sen. Not once, not ever. I'm not lying to you now. I did what I could. I've never in all the years we've known each other had to ask you to trust me, but I'm asking you now."
I digested this for a long time, wiping away several stray tears that had somehow found their way down my cheeks. I saw Kiri doing the same, and suddenly felt thoroughly ashamed for what I was putting her through. It's time I stop just thinking of myself, I thought angrily.
"When was the upload made?" I finally asked, a little more calmly. "Which Tenako are we really talking about?"
She gave me the date and time. It was only a few days before the final confrontation with Lucie and Tenako's own death. This Tenako would know me, remember me, have my own memories in addition to his. This was the Tenako who had confessed that he loved me. Say a few words, and I'd have him back, in a different body, to be sure, but the body I'd known him in was Krigghin Teyn's, anyway.
"Tenako's dead," I said finally, as much to myself as to Kiri. "Reloading a set of memories and responses into some other body isn't going to bring him back. His consciousness--the one that I knew--ended when he died back there. Creating a perfect copy would be just--," I groped for words for a moment, "--obscene." To my surprise Kiri smiled a sad, warm smile. I suddenly realized it was the first time she'd smiled during the call.
"I know, Sen," she said softly. "But I had to know that you agreed."
"Can you do anything?" I asked. "Is everything out of your hands on this?" I saw her jaw set, the old familiar set that I knew from so many years of friendship.
"I'll have Tenako's file destroyed. I can't do anything about the others, but I will take care of his. That's a promise. Even if I have to enter the command myself."
"Thanks, Kiri. I know you will." She nodded, and broke the connection. I found out long afterwards that it had indeed been her who had entered the necessary command.
I remember that it was two months later when she called back to inform me that Jack Lucie was dead.
I thought I would have felt elation, or at least a certain savage satisfaction at the news. But I felt nothing at all. It was like reading a newspaper from a century ago, or being told an ancient folk fable: it simply had nothing to do with me.
At the same time she told me that Alan was back on Deshtiris, and had expressed a desire to see me. I told her I'd just as soon not. At least for the time being.
* The Qozernan week is eight days long. - Ed.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|