"All right, so just how did you do this?" sighed Veldra as she unwrapped the bandage around my thigh. Only after Tenako had left had I become aware of renewed pain in my leg, and discovered fresh blood seeping through the bandage. Muttering a disgusted curse, I had pulled the crutch from the closet and made my way to the infirmary, where I was relieved to find Veldra on duty.
I told her what had happened, only to find myself on the business end of a furious lecture. "Are you out of your mind, Senaria? You risked getting shot for a cat!?"
"Yes," I said defensively, "and I'd do it again. I'm not going to let some bastard like that kill the one thing that makes life worth living in this god-forsaken place," and I suddenly realized that I was close to hysteria. I felt Veldra's arm around my shoulders.
"Senaria," she said softly, "you probably don't realize this, but you're one of the few things that makes our own lives worth living at the moment. A lot of us had pretty much given up hope by the time you arrived. It's your spirit that's keeping us going now." She removed her arm and stared me in the face. "So don't do anything stupid like that again, okay?"
Sheepishly I nodded. "But if Lucie ever makes a move towards Tora again I'll kill him all the same," I said with a bit less conviction.
When I returned to my room I found a guard standing in the hallway. Surprised, I asked him why he was there. "Boss's orders," he answered. "No one goes in or out of your room without your okay. Especially Lucie," he added in an undertone, and I saw him stifling a grin. I had the distinct feeling that Lucie was none too popular with the native Brizali here.
"Thanks," I said, entering my room to find Tora on his back fast asleep on the bed, all four feet in the air. "Stupid cat," I muttered as he opened one eye, chirped at me, and promptly went back to sleep.
I wished I could have slept as soundly. Even with a guard on duty in the hall, I found myself jerking wide awake every time I heard a rustle or thump from outside. When I staggered out of bed and looked in the mirror the next morning I had to wince at the bedraggled creature staring back at me.
I was just about to leave my room for an early lunch, hoping to avoid the noon deluge of storm troopers, when I heard raised voices outside, not far down the hall. One of the voices was Lucie's, and I paused, feeling again that knot in the pit of my stomach. I gently cracked the door to hear better; they were apparently standing just past the bend in the corridor. I was relieved to see the back of my ever-present guard, almost directly in front of me.
"Don't think I didn't know about your little trick with the communications blackout," he was snarling. "If I hadn't made my own arrangements we'd have walked right into an Imperial fleet. Was that one of your new girlfriend's ideas or your own?"
"Just leave her alone, Jack," Tenako's voice answered icily. "She's no concern of yours."
"The hell she isn't," Lucie exploded, his harsh voice rasping with rage. "I know perfectly well who she is; she's bosom buddies with the harpy that booted you out of power here and helped wreck the plans we worked on for so long. And I'm not supposed to give a damn? What the hell is the matter with you?" By now he was shouting. "You're letting that bitch distract you from our purpose here. Get a grip, Teyn, because if you don't I--"
"You'll what, Jack?" Tenako said so softly that I could barely hear him. "You'll get a grip? Is this a mutiny, Jack?" His voice remained perfectly level. There was a very long pause, and then I hastily closed my door as I heard the heavy sound of Lucie's approaching footsteps. They passed my door and stopped a few feet further down the hall, and then I clearly heard Lucie say in a quiet voice of his own, "You don't have your Liquidators any more, you know," as he continued on.
A few moments later, as I anticipated, I heard Tenako's familiar knock at the door. "I suppose you heard all that?" he said apologetically. "It looks like you've been caught in the middle once again."
"I'm getting used to it," I agreed. "But that's the least of my worries. Or yours. This thing is erupting right under our feet. What are you going to do?"
He sat down heavily. "What can I do? Isn't that the real question?" For the first time since I'd met him, he seemed to be paralyzed with indecision.
"You could surrender to the Empire," I suggested. I wondered if he'd try to kill me again, and realized that this time I didn't care. Time was running out. "Tell me the truth," I went on. "The Brizali here are the ones that you hand-picked for the planar field project. How many of them have committed actual crimes?"
He seemed surprised at the question. "You mean, as in atrocities? Murders? That sort of thing? None, as far as I know. All of the blood is on my hands." He looked up at me. "You knew that from the start, Senaria. I've been as ruthless as any tyrant, all in the name of the Great Cause. But my people here are clean. It was Teyn's organization that fostered the killers, the sadists."
"Your people will go through the same hearing process as the other Brizali," I insisted. "If they haven't committed crimes, they'll be released. They might have to perform public services for a few months or even years. But nobody is being prosecuted for just belonging to the Brizali." He was looking at me intently now, but I couldn't tell if I was reaching him or not.
"Besides," I implored him, "you have over a hundred prisoners here. These are innocent people who never asked to join your cause. Some of them have families at home who don't know if they're alive or dead. They don't deserve to be caught in the crossfire."
"Crossfire?" he said softly.
"You know Lucie is going to attempt a takeover," I snapped impatiently. "He's figured out that you double-crossed him with the communications blackout, and he probably suspects you had something to do with the collapse of his revolt." I suddenly stopped, stunned, as it finally made sense to me. "You told Kiri where to drop that asteroid, didn't you?" I whispered. I didn't even want to risk letting the guard outside hear. "That was a transformer station, wasn't it?"
He slowly stood up, still saying nothing. "What is it you're waiting for?" I demanded. "You've made the hard decisions already. What's holding you back?"
"You are," he said softly. He was staring at me with a strange expression on his face, his lips half parted. "T.T.?" I managed to whisper, just before he took me in his arms and kissed me. To my shock I realized that I wasn't fighting him or the flood of emotions overwhelming my mind and body. Time simply stopped.
At last he pulled himself away, still staring at me with those intense eyes. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely. "That was unforgivable of me. But I love you, Senaria." He spun abruptly on his heel and fled the room.
"I think I--" I heard myself whisper after him; I don't know if he heard me or not. I stood there shaking for a long time, wondering if I really understood what had happened.
It was a while later that it finally hit me: I should have been choked to death by my restraint collar long before he ever physically touched me. I suddenly remembered him handing me the pass days earlier; I hadn't even noticed at the time.
So he had removed that restriction as well. He had to have done it when he reprogrammed my collar, I concluded. A mistake? Somehow I didn't think he was capable of making that kind of mistake. How long, then, had he--?
I don't even remember what I did for the rest of the day. I must have wandered around in a daze, because the next thing I can recall was that evening, when he again returned. He made no further apologies for what had happened that morning. Both of our minds were centered firmly on Jack Lucie.
"He's got to be stopped," he was saying. I was sitting on the bed as he traced circles around the room with his frantic pacing, sending Tora scuttling into the closet. "Whatever it takes. I should never have given him this kind of power. He doesn't know when to stop. Or why. Now it's only a matter of time before he takes over this compound. After that, I don't know what he might do."
"You asked me before what was keeping me from acting," he added bitterly. "It was simple, and utterly selfish. I couldn't bear the thought of not seeing you again. I've never known anything like this feeling. And I realize now that because I feel this way, I've endangered you and everyone else here. I've endangered this entire world--no, all three worlds."
He finally stopped pacing and sat down, staring pensively at the floor. "I remember something that happened to me when I was very young. I was following a path in a forest, alongside a little creek. The path started to climb, and I followed it. All I was thinking of was going forward. After a while the path nearly disappeared, and became so steep I had to climb by holding onto the exposed roots of trees. Then for some reason I stopped, and looked down, and realized I was on the edge of a cliff looking down at the creek a good hundred feet below." Like a cat climbing a tree, I thought, as Tora gingerly emerged from his hiding place.
"I looked back," he continued, "and there was no sign of a path behind me. It was just too steep to see the tiny handholds I had used to pull myself up. I remember for a moment feeling more frightened than I had ever been in my life. I somehow finally found the courage to start climbing back down, one handhold, one foothold at a time, until at long last I felt level ground under my feet." He looked up at me, desperation in his eyes. "But now I don't know if there is any level ground left, Senaria."
"Is this really Romikor Tenako I'm hearing?" I said. I was no longer worried about whether he could be turned around, or how. Now the only question was whether it was too late.
"I don't understand that either," he said in frustration. "Who am I? Am I Teyn? Tenako? Am I you? None of it makes any sense any more. I don't know what's coming from where. I don't know whose feelings to follow; I don't know if what I'm doing is right or not." He stared helplessly at me. "All I know for certain is that I love you, Senaria. Everything else is so confused." I think that's when I finally understood what had happened to Krigghin Teyn's clone.
"Maybe you're just you," I said softly.
It took a minute for it to sink in. "So," he said at last, an unreadable expression on his face. He looked up at me. "So," he said again. Somehow the word had acquired an unimagined richness of meaning. He stood up, still bearing the strange expression. It was as though he had had a revelation, I thought.
"I have some things to do," he said suddenly. "As do you." I looked at him in surprise.
"I want you to get all the prisoners together tomorrow morning at four. Have them meet in the mess hall. It should be deserted then. Can you do that?" I nodded. His eyes stared into mine, and they were no longer the eyes of Romikor Tenako. "I understand now, Senaria. I know who I am."
Anything I might have said was quelled as he submerged me in an unexpectedly fierce kiss. "In case I don't get a chance later," he mumbled finally, letting me go. A moment later he was gone.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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