I felt someone gently shaking me awake, and saw Kiri's emerald eyes glinting down at me through the near dark. "It's time," she said very softly, so as not to wake Alan.
"I'll be there in a few minutes," I whispered back.
For a little while I just lay there, listening to Alan's soft breathing and thinking about yesterday's festivities. I grinned to myself as I pictured the effect my own announcement must have had on them, considering their smug satisfaction with all the surprises they'd sprung.
We'd stopped in Nedro on our way to my mother's house and hunted up a notary. There'd been no fuss, no visitors (witnesses aren't required for a wedding on Qozernon). We'd filled out some forms, signed our names, and it was all over. Or it was just beginning. Whatever. I'd sworn Alan to silence, thinking the news might be another entertaining surprise if saved for the right moment.
Looking ahead into the future, I knew that once I had my full strength back I could find employment on Deshtiris with its equivalent of the EMRN. Alan of course had his position as head of the Imperial Research Institute. Beyond that, life would take its course. We both recognized that I'd probably outlive him by many years, but I just didn't care any more. The future may exist in the mind, but life exists in the present, and that's where we're going to live it from now on. I dressed as quietly as I could and slipped out, taking care not to awaken him.
I stepped to the front of the Noriko, a small plastic box in one hand. "Sen, you'll need this," Kiri said as she threw a light jacket over my shoulders. "It's going to be absolutely frigid out there." She then buckled a harness of plastic straps around my torso, securing it to one of the Noriko's chairs with a length of sturdy rope.
"Is that really necessary?" I protested.
"I've nearly lost you twice now," she snapped, but with a strong undercurrent of affection. "I'm not about to go scrape you off those cliffs down there. Are you really sure you want to do this alone? You're not quite back to your old self yet, you know."
"Don't rub it in," I said with a mock glare. "Thanks, but this is sort of private."
She nodded understandingly. "Noriko: portal," she commanded, and I realized that she hadn't been exaggerating as a stiff icy breeze swept through the little craft.
With a second command she extruded a horizontal plank from under the opening, railings along both sides. "I'm going to close the portal most of the way once you're out there," she warned. "Hang on tight. That harness could still hurt if you slip." Gingerly I limped out onto the plank as the portal sealed itself gently around the rope behind me, and looked out at the dimly lit panorama. It was at least an hour before sunrise, and although the sky was lightening along the horizon the stars were still bright. The Deshtiran terrain far below looked oddly familiar, even though I'd never seen it from quite this vantage point. I recognized the river, with its impossibly tall banks of solid forest, and a few seconds later an opening in the trees came into view, as though a tributary was emptying into the river at that point, and I knew I was seeing the camouflaged entrance to Tenako's base. I contemplated the small plastic box in my hand.
"I guess this is as close to anywhere you could call home that I know of," I said to the box. I faced away from the wind, and pressed a small catch. There was a large white puff, almost instantly gone as the wind swept it away into the distance. I pressed a second catch and the box itself disintegrated in my hand into a cloud of small pellets. I saw them dancing in midair for just a moment before they vanished. They would biodegrade within a few days, I knew.
"Goodbye, Tora," I whispered. "And thanks. For everything."
Seconds later I was back inside the ship, and only then realized just how frozen I was when I broke into an uncontrollable shivering fit. "Are you okay, Sen?" Kiri asked.
"Just damn cold," I stuttered through chattering teeth, and she put both arms around me and held me tightly against her until I felt some warmth seeping back into my blood.
"All right now?" she finally said softly, still holding me, her lips beside my ear. "Yes," I said. "Yes, I am. I'm all right now, Kiri. Thanks to all my friends."
She finally let me go, and fixed me with those wonderful green eyes. "You know I've always loved you, Sen, and I always will."
I nodded slowly. "I know, Kiri. And I've always known that. It just took me a while to realize what it really meant."
Soon the Noriko was climbing and picking up speed, knifing through the atmosphere several miles above the ground. All around us the sky was metamorphosing into a brilliant tapestry of incandescent color, while below I saw the forests drop behind, to be replaced by villages, a city, mountains, and then the ill-famed Sea of Doom. I shuddered as I remembered the hours I'd spent in my little flier sweltering in the superheated humidity, now far below and falling behind us within a few minutes.
Still more familiar landmarks began to appear as we began our descent, until finally, just as the sun was breaking over the vast plains to the east, the city of Deshti swam into view, its magnificent skyscrapers towering over a mile into the air above us, gloriously festooned with giant vividly colored banners celebrating the planet's return to freedom just three years ago today. Then at last I saw the spires and turrets and towers of the royal palace, and finally the great skylight, scintillating in the morning sun with every hue of the rainbow, scattering brilliant shards of color in all directions in a never-ending dance of light, a beacon to home.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|