It was on the morning of the sixth day after the collapse of the Earth revolt that I heard the familiar knock at my door, and found Tenako once again standing there. "Senaria," he said, "there's going to be a meeting of my top staff in twenty minutes. I think you should be there." I was frankly shocked at his appearance: he seemed to have aged years in those six days, and there were again bags under his bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep.
"T.T.," I said, "are you all right?"
He smiled slightly at the ludicrous nickname. "I'll let you judge that after you hear what I have to say. Do you know where the main meeting hall is?" I nodded. It was one of the few brick buildings in the complex, and apparently far older than the newer flimsily built structures. "You'll need this," he said, pulling a small plastic pass from his shirt pocket and handing it to me. Before I could say anything he'd vanished down the corridor.
When I arrived at the meeting hall I was immediately turned away by a Brizal guard, who curtly informed me that it was open to top staff only. The plastic pass worked wonders, however, and I was soon inside the ancient building, which basically consisted of a single very large room.
It had apparently been designed for several thousand people, and the hundred or so attendees present looked oddly lost in the huge space. At one end there was a raised wooden platform, perhaps four feet above floor level, that served as a stage. Except for portable chairs for those present and a giant telecom screen on the wall behind us the room was bare, lacking even windows. Light came from the same glowing panels as outside, mounted on the ceiling.
I found a seat at the end of an aisle, receiving several dirty looks from nearby Brizali, at least until I waved my pass at them. A moment later there was a hush as Tenako emerged from a doorway at the rear of the stage. To my surprise he walked to the front and sat himself down in the midst of the small gathering, his legs dangling over the side of the platform. For several minutes he just sat there like that, shoulders hunched, not even looking at us. What has happened? I wondered. Nor was I the only one, as I heard a growing undercurrent of whispers all around me.
They ceased instantly as he looked up. We were all close enough to easily hear him without a sound system of any kind.
"You have been my friends for many years," he began slowly. "I found each and every one of you, and trained you, and told you what we were working towards. All of you have put aside your own lives for a very long time to support a dream. Many of you had to put aside your principles as well. You've all seen the Brizal organization do things that violated your sense of decency. Krigghin Teyn did many things that I wouldn't have wanted done. But I've also done things, ruthless things, always justifying them to myself with our ultimate dream: inexhaustible energy for the human race."
"Some of you may be wondering why a prisoner is at this meeting," he went on, gesturing at me. I heard a momentary murmur of discontent, stilled almost instantly as he glanced around the group. "Her name is Senaria. You probably already know that she was a member of Empress Mikiria's bodyguard. You may not know that she was also part of the small group that sabotaged Tar Deshta and the other stations." I expected some kind of reaction; what I got to my surprise was dead silence. "She has told me of something that until today was known only to perhaps five or six people on the planet."
He told them of Kiri's flight, and her discovery of the fate of the Virrin. That at last triggered a minor uproar, as at least a dozen people all tried to speak at once. Finally Tenako motioned to one of them. "This is one person's story," the fellow protested, "and hardly a disinterested witness. Do you really expect us to believe the tale of this--this child here?"
Tenako angrily cut him off. "Do you take me for a doddering fool? Don't you think it sounded like science fiction to me as well?" By now the room was silent again. "Of course I didn't take it on faith. Let me tell you what I did. First, I downloaded her neural engrams into my own mind." There was a distinct rustling at that. "I now regret doing that. It was a terrible thing to do to someone. But I can tell you that Senaria, at least, sincerely believes the Empress' story. I'm also aware, however, that it really proves nothing in the end." He paused for several seconds before resuming. His voice now sounded very tired and defeated.
"For the past six days I've been running the most detailed simulation we've ever done of the mathematics behind the planar field theory. To do so required not only most of our computing resources, but that of many of the other computing centers on this planet. Of course the operators didn't know that," he added wryly. He took a deep breath and looked around slowly at the faces before him.
"The simulation confirms that the field is self-sustaining once initiated," he said at last. "It cannot be shut down." The previous disturbance was nothing compared to the furor that now erupted. One of the more persistent interrogators, an older woman close to Tenako's age (though not of Teyn's clone) finally made herself heard.
"So what are you saying? That we're going to abandon this because of a computer simulation? That's hardly the last word, you know."
Tenako nodded sadly. "Of course. Simulations are only as good as the humans that set them up. However, this one also produced two other very interesting predictions. First, the field, once the vertices are shut down, becomes free-floating. It is no longer fixed between the three planetary poles. Second, the field is invisible, with one exception. The center point, or active point at which the matter-energy transformation occurs, is visible as a dim point source of light, similar to a small white dwarf. This point source has a very distinctive spectrum, due to the way the field interacts with the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum of space." By now you could have heard a pin drop.
"Two days ago I programmed one of the extraplanetary telescope platforms orbiting Deshtiris to examine the segment of sky where the Virrin supernova is supposed to have appeared thousands of years ago, searching for a small light source with this unique spectrum. This morning I received a transmission from the telescope confirming the location of such a source." Tenako slowly looked around the room, and to my shock there were tears running down his face.
"The Empress is right," he said at last. "The planar field would be a massive threat to the continued existence of life in this segment of the galaxy. I have thrown away your lives, and devastated a planet, to repeat the same deadly mistake the Virrin made thousands of years ago. I can only say to you that I'm sorry, but I realize that cannot even begin to repair the damage I've done."
"We've followed you with our eyes open, Boss," said the older woman that had spoken previously. I suddenly realized just how much respect and affection these people had invested in the simple title. "We're with you in whatever you decide to do."
There was an unexpected interruption as one of the guards at the door frantically signaled to Tenako. "Excuse me for a moment," he said softly as he left us to converse with the guard. When he came back his face was drained of color. "Somehow the communications blackout virus has been released," he said. "I can only assume that Lucie and an unknown number of his followers escaped Earth when their revolt collapsed. If I'm correct, they will be landing here within the next six hours."
"My friends," he concluded, and now his voice shook, "we've run out of time. The Americans are coming."
Afterwards Tenako explained to me what had apparently happened. As part of the original contingency plans, he had created a virus which would disable all networking and tracking software planetwide for a period of six hours. He had ultimately decided not to release it, relying on Imperial ships to detect and intercept the incoming battleships, but someone else in the compound had done so without consulting him. The Brizal who had been entrusted with this task was now mysteriously missing, in spite of Tenako's furious demands that he be located at once.
I was outside when the battleships arrived. I heard a growing clamor from the direction of the hangars, and shortly afterwards a seemingly endless column of dirty, unshaven young men was advancing through the compound. All wore the same fatigue-green uniforms and all had automatic weapons slung over their shoulders. Many also had side-arms, but somehow they all seemed to share the same hard, cold faces and arrogant swagger. Most wore no insignia except for the round Brizal patch, aside from a few older men in regular American officers' uniforms from the various services. At the head of the procession was a burly, black-haired man in a dark business suit, now soggy with perspiration. After the days of news broadcasts he was impossible not to recognize; and in spite of the incongruity he frankly terrified me, his dark eyes blazing with rage and hatred. There was no mistaking Jack Lucie.
Almost immediately a furor erupted when one of the few English-speaking Brizal guards protested that his men were to have left their weapons on the ships. Unleashing a torrent of obscenities in response, Lucie informed him in no uncertain terms that if the Brizali wanted his men's weapons they would have to take them. Armed only with swords, they reluctantly backed down.
The troopers were led to the barracks, which although badly overcrowded were quickly made their exclusive preserve. Guards in fatigues were posted at every entrance and approach, automatic rifles constantly in hand. It was clear that Lucie had no intention of submitting control of his men to his unwilling hosts.
Lunch the next day was a torture. The mess hall was filled with shouting, brawling creatures watching some kind of mob sports event from Earth. As a general rule these don't show up on Qozernan television due to lack of interest; between the team nature of most of these contests (tests of individual skill or one-on-one bouts are far more popular on the Twin Planets) and their blatantly commercial nature they're difficult to take seriously. Of course Deshtiran television has had no access to Earth television at all for the past thirty years.
This particular "sport" apparently involved randomly bouncing a rubber sphere about a foot in diameter around a polished floor, and occasionally launching it through an overhead funnel made of netting. Also apparently part of the rules were frequent interruptions for the purpose of hawking various products.
I heard continual curses from many of those present protesting the lack of beer, for Tenako had permitted no alcoholic beverages anywhere in the compound. I had the definite impression that many of the Earth visitors were borderline alcoholics, judging from their apparent inability to function coherently after several days on the wagon. I finished my meal as quickly as I could, ignoring the frequent stares and lewd remarks launched in my direction, and resolved to take future meals at odd hours.
By that afternoon I was spending most of my time alone in my room watching television. The atmosphere of the compound had been almost completely transformed for the worse. Everywhere one went one encountered swaggering, arrogant young males in fatigues. The unvarying extremely short haircuts only added to their thuggish appearance. Fortunately most of the Deshtirans, not knowing English, were spared the foul language and coarse comments of the newcomers; I know I heard plenty of words I didn't recognize. (I wish some of the people who have complained about my own vocabulary could have heard a sample.) They had also overrun the gymnasium, rendering it unusable as well.
My train of thought was interrupted by a heavy knock at the door. I knew it wasn't Tenako's. "Who is it?" I asked warily. The door opened and to my surprise Tora jumped into his corner, hissing. I felt much the same urge myself. Once again something about my visitor made my skin crawl.
"Well, well," he said, speaking in English. "You must be our celebrated captive. I think you've probably heard of me by now. The name's John Lucie. You can call me Jack," he added as he softly closed the door behind him.
So this was Lucie up close, I thought to myself. He was a large man, still in Earth clothing: a white dress shirt, now wrinkled and stained with sweat, and dark suit pants. A pair of once-shiny black shoes showed below the cuffs. A kind of leather belt extended over one shoulder and under the other arm. Somehow the overall effect was more intimidating than anything else.
"What do you want?" I said, trying to sound menacing myself, but to my dismay the words came out with a quaver behind them.
"Just to be friends," he leered. "Good friends. Really good friends." He took a step closer. Involuntarily I put a hand to my restraint collar. "Don't worry," he reassured me, "I'm not programmed into your collar. You can get as close to me as you want," he added, pressing me backwards.
"Leave me alone," I said desperately, realizing I was being forced into a corner. In response he reached out and grabbed my forearm, pulling me towards him.
A blur of black and yellow fury shot past me and landed on his face, clinging and clawing and yowling hideously. Lucie shrieked in pain and surprise, then with a heavy blow knocked Tora across the small room. For a moment the little cat lay against the wall, stunned, and then dizzily scrambled to his feet and stood glaring at Lucie, hissing furiously, fur standing on end. To my horror Lucie reached under one arm and drew a handgun from a shoulder holster and aimed it squarely at the feline.
"No!" I screamed, and dove directly between him and Tora. At this point I no longer cared whether I lived or died, but I'd be damned if I'd let him kill the one companion I had in this horrible place. I heard a loud bang and froze, wondering where I'd feel the bullet, but nothing happened. I finally gathered the courage to look up, only to see Tenako standing in the doorway, the door flung wide, staring icily at Lucie.
"Get out," he said very softly. For a moment it looked as though Lucie was going to raise his weapon and shoot him instead, as they stood staring each other down. I noticed with satisfaction that the thug was bleeding from several deep scratches on his face, one of them just under his left eye. Tenako was white with fury. Abruptly with a black look Lucie re-holstered his weapon and stormed out. As he did so I heard Tenako say in the same almost inaudible voice, "Don't ever go near her again. Is that understood?" Making no reply, Lucie simply kept going.
"Are you all right?" Tenako said, turning to me. I nodded dumbly as I checked over Tora for injuries. Except for a slight nosebleed, which he kept dabbing irritably with a paw, he seemed okay. I took a tissue from a box by the bed and held it against his nose until the bleeding stopped, stroking him and reassuring him softly as Tenako watched in fascination.
"Let me know if he ever bothers you again," he said in a strange tone. "If he does I'll make sure it's the last time." I looked up at him, to see an expression on his face I hadn't seen before.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
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