THE RIZORIAN FLAW
A patrol car was parked in front of the house. The red globe on its roof whirled hypnotically as the radio screeched and transmitted a message loudly. Ahja froze in his tracks.
“This is the third time this week that she’s called the cops!” Ahja had not noticed the white‑haired woman, who had come up behind him, and her voice startled him. Fortunately, she had been too interested in the scene in front of them to notice Ahja’s nervousness. Ahja composed himself rapidly, and he was pleased with himself, when his voice seemed to reveal no more than a casual interest.
“What’s the problem?” he asked as he followed the woman, who headed closer to Miriam’s house. They joined a small group of people, who stood around the patrol car in a loose semi‑circle.
“She says that there are prowlers, and peeking toms all over the place. But I haven’t noticed anything, and I live next door.” The woman walked up to an elderly man, who sucked on an unlit pipe, and she slipped her arm through his. “And I don’t blame her for being nervous either,” the woman added, “what with her husband in the hospital after that crazy hit and run. And her being in a family way too. For each one of mine I was a nervous wreck, even after the fifth. I had Wesley here up every night to check the windows and the doors all night long,” she laughed as she patted his arm. “Poor thing. I know just what she is going through, and being by herself must make it so much harder.” She patted her husband’s arm again and the two of them left.
After another quarter hour of observation, Ahja was certain that the situation presented no immediate danger to him. There didn’t appear to be any Rizorians waiting in ambush; if they had been there, they were probably frightened off by the patrol car. Ahja doubted that they would be back any time soon.
Ahja watched the young policeman step off the porch, he was followed by the pregnant Rizorian fugitive. It was obvious to Ahja that she pleaded with the officer, but he merely shook his head forcefully, and slapped his notebook with his gloved hand. The patrolman got ready to leave. The group of interested by‑standers thinned out, and in minutes the street was empty except for Miriam, the cop with a pained, grim expression on his face, and Ahja.
“Please, Mrs. Heywood. I came when you called, and I’ve checked out the place. I can’t find anything wrong and I can’t invent something to make you feel better. I’ve made out my report, and now I’ve got to leave.”
“But you can’t just leave! I tell you that someone is prowling around, and trying to get in. The dog goes crazy each time. I really feel that my life is in danger. For God’s sake, do I have to be dead before you’ll do something?”
“Mrs. Heywood, please! You’re getting hysterical, and you’re going to make yourself sick. Now, I can’t do anything more than what I’ve done. You know that I can’t spend the entire night here. Besides, you have the best protection in the world right next to you. That is some big dog,” he smiled politely. “And if it will make you feel any better, I’ll drive by here as often as I can as I make my rounds.”
“Doesn’t it matter to you at all that my life is in danger?” she asked as she clutched his arm.
“Please, Mrs. Heywood, don’t you have some place where you can spend the night?” The policeman stepped back out of her reach.
“There’s no one,” she answered so softly that Ahja could barely hear.
“Look, I’ll make sure that I drive by several times during the night,” the young man retreated hastily into his patrol car and sped away.
“Thanks for nothing,” Miriam shouted bitterly as the patrol car disappeared down the dark street.
Miriam leaned against the porch railing as if extremely tired. There was a defeated attitude about that pose that almost made Ahja want to reach out to her, and comfort her. Ahja watched her silently as she pushed her unruly, dark, copper‑colored curls away from her face, and he wished that he knew how to approach her.
Ahja heard her gasp suddenly, and he knew that she had seen him. He assumed that she would scream, or run into the house, and he was surprised when she did neither of those things. Very calmly, she walked down the steps and up the narrow, cement path to the gate. Ahja could see that her natural grace and agility were made awkward by her advanced pregnancy. She stopped at the gate, her hand rested lightly on the latch.
“You’re the man at the marina, aren’t you?” Her voice was as soft and melodic as any that he had ever experienced on Rizoria during his student years. She hesitated a moment before she held the gate open for him.
“Please, come in. I was hoping that I would see you again, and suddenly, here you are, Mr.‑” she looked at him inquiringly, her smile frozen perfectly in place.
“Ahh‑, my name is Adam Day,” Ahja stammered.
“Oh? Funny, you don’t look like an Adam,” she laughed lightly, and each sound was like a musical note that slid up the musical scale. The effect of that laughter was infectious, and Ahja found himself smiling back at her.
“Why did you want to see me, Mrs. Heywood?” he asked as he followed her to the front door of the house.
“You know my name? Have we met?”
“No, we have not met, and yes I know your name. I overheard the conversation with the policeman.”
“Oh, yeah, the cop,” she frowned for a second. “The police is one of the reasons that I wanted to get in touch with you. I want you to go down to the police station to give them a statement on the accident. You do remember what happened when that van ran my husband down, don’t you?” Ahja nodded. “Oh, good. So many people don’t want to get involved with anything that has to do with the police. Please, come in. Would you care for a cup of coffee?”
“It’s rather late,” Ahja stammered.
“Yes, it is, but I’m not going to be getting any sleep this night. I would appreciate a little company until my nerves settle down.”
“Well then, yes, I’ll have some coffee with you.”
“Good,” she said genuinely pleased. “And please, don’t worry about Max. He won’t bother you.”
Once in her kitchen, he watched her move confidently and almost gracefully around the room as she set out cups and spoons. Suddenly, he realized that he had been staring, and he coughed self‑consciously as he lowered his eyes. She was beautiful, definitely Rizorian, but different somehow. Terra had added its own touches.
While the coffee perked, they talked about the evening’s developments, and her problems with the prowlers; she complained bitterly about the police. Ahja then asked her if she really did not have anyone with whom she could stay. The woman sighed, both her parents had been killed in a car accident, she told him. She had no other relatives; she had been an only child.
No relatives, Ahja thought, that meant no other Rizorian survivors. “How about your husband’s family?” he asked.
“Yes, he does have a large family, as a matter of fact, but I’d hate to call them.”
“Why?” Ahja prodded gently.
“Oh, they were against our marriage. I suppose that I was too different for their taste, but let’s talk about something else now.”
Ahja grinned devilishly; he wondered what the staid family would do if they knew just how really different this woman was.
They talked for a long while. The conversation began with all of the safe, proper topics that people discuss when they first meet and are getting to know one another. Ahja found that Miriam was as attentive listener, as well as an avid talker. As they spoke, Ahja learned one more important fact about this Rizorian fugitive. She actually believed she was a native Terran, that her parents were a poor, Terran couple, who lived on a small Caribbean island, and that they died when she was very young. After her parents’ death, she had been cared for in many different foster homes. She had met her husband, Justin, a military man on leave. Love sparked instantly; their courtship was brief. Justin and Miriam married and when he was transferred they had moved to be closer to his family. They spoke about the weather, sports, the headlines and many other ‘safe’ topics, but the conversation always drifted back to the one subject that was foremost in her mind, the accident at the marina. Yet even as he seemed to be involved with the casual conversation, Ahja struggled with the problem that was his primary concern, how to introduce the one topic that he had come to discuss with her. The correct approach was extremely important; he didn’t want to lose her because she might think him insane, or a prankster. He reasoned that perhaps the accident at the marina was the correct point of departure, it was their common ground.
“Would you believe that on that particular day, I didn’t even want to go to the marina? The feeling was so strong that I was frightened. I always follow my intuition, but Justin just laughed at me. I always follow my intuition and I should have done so that day.” Miriam’s voice dropped to a whisper, and her eyelashes fluttered nervously. “We’ve had quite a number of close calls lately. I’m beginning to think that they just couldn’t all be coincidence.”
“Do you mean to tell me that there have been other serious accidents?” he asked. The so‑called accidents might be proof of Rizorian activity.
“Too many,” she nodded thoughtfully. “But then I’ve always felt like some kind of jinx. First my parents were killed in a hit and run accident that shouldn’t have happened. No one ever came forward with a single clue.
“Then I went to live with my father’s sister in New York, and she fell out of a sixth story window a few years later.” Miriam’s voice was expressionless as she sketched out the bare details of her family’s history. It was only when she spoke about the recent events that some emotion began to surface.
“And as for me, well, I’ve had so many near misses, and so many close calls that it’s a miracle that I’m still alive. And ever since I got pregnant, it’s gotten worse‑”
“Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it now. I’m so mixed up, and the whole thing sounds so crazy.”
“I don’t think that it sounds crazy, Miriam.” Ahja smiled as reassuringly as he knew how; he wanted her to talk.
“It’s almost as if someone, or something—”
“Yes? Miriam what is it?”
“It’s as if they don’t want this baby to be born!”
“They? Who is they?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered as if afraid of being overheard. “I told you that it sounds crazy, that I sound like I’ve lost my marbles.” Miriam laughed nervously as she studied Ahja’s face for his reaction.
Ahja didn’t answer her, and his smile was noncommittal. It seemed obvious to him that the Purification Squad had been very busy on Terra, and for a long time. They had eliminated her entire family, and they had been careful to make sure that the deaths appeared accidental. But why had they failed with her? What protected her? And now with the birth of her child so close, it was almost as if they had redoubled their efforts. It made sense, Ahja thought, once the child was born, it could be separated from its mother, hidden anywhere, and the hunt would have to start all over again.
“Here is the only picture that I have of my parents,” she said as she handed him a picture of two thin, dark haired Terrans. Words of protest escaped his lips before he had realized it.
“Don’t feel bad,” Miriam chuckled good naturedly, “I know that she wasn’t my real mother. There’s no shame in repeating what she used to shout at the top of her lungs to anyone who would listen to her in the pueblito. He was my real father, I think. At least, he used to insist that he was. Who my real mother was, I don’t know, and I think that no one else knew either.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, I guess that you wouldn’t,” she smiled. Ahja was totally captivated by that smile. “In Latin countries, especially during that time, a man exercised a great deal of power, simply because he was a man. The grass is green, but if he said that it was purple, then his wife and family had to accept the fact that it was purple.” Miriam sighed as if momentarily lost in her memories.
“That is interesting,” Ahja commented in an effort to fill in the awkard silence that was quicking fill up the room. Miriam responded to the sound of his voice and continued.
“Anyhow, one day my father showed up at the house, after a hard day’s fishing, with a baby in his arms. From the first, he insisted that the baby was his, and that it was their responsibility to care for her. Can you imagine my mother’s rage? Although her pride was dealt a near fatal blow, she would have recovered from the shock, but then he ordered her to raise a child that wasn’t her’s. The neighbors told me that first she laughed, and then she screamed, and that the screaming lasted for months. Her biggest argument against keeping the child was that it couldn’t be his, either, because if in all of their married years, they had never had a baby, it was his fault, not her’s.”
Miriam smiled almost apologetically, shrugged her shoulders and continned with her story.
“Well, that’s another story. Maybe, he wasn’t my father, but I like to think that he was. He was the only loving parent that I have ever known. I loved him. And as for Mama, welI, she swallowed her pride and her indignation and accepted me into the house, even if she never accepted me as a daughter.”
Ahja stared at the picture; there was no doubt in his mind that the man was not the father. Somehow that man had found the orphaned Rizorian infant, and he had adopted her. His act of charity had cost him and his shrewish wife their lives.
“My father was a very stubborn man, and he was accustomed to having things his way. At times I think that he insisted that he was my father so that the authorities couldn’t take me away.” Miriam’s voice grew softer as she remembered her father. “He was wonderful even if he was stubborn, and to prove how stubborn he was, you only have to look at my birth certificate.”
“Your birth certificate?”
“Yes,” she laughed. “it has given me no end of problems. Can you imagine having a birth certificate that lists your father’s name, but not your mother’s?”
“Why did he do that?”
Miriam shrugged her shoulders. “He felt like it, I guess, because he refused to fill in the name, and in its place, he wrote the word ‘unknown.’ It created an uproar in the town, although no one would have dared to bring it to his attention. Until the day that he died, he refused to tell anyone who she was.”
“He never spoke of her to you?”
“Once. No, twice. One day he said that I looked just like her. And one other time, when he got very sick with dengue, and he was delirious. But I don’t know how much of what he said was the truth, and how much was due to the fever.”
“What did he say, Miriam?” Ahja leaned forward in anticipation of what Miriam would tell him. He felt that it would be the last missing link in a series of events that stretched across the galaxy.
“He said that he had met her on a deserted island, now I know that the place exists because I looked it up once, but that does not prove that his story was real. Well, anyhow, when he found her on this island, she was sick, very weak, and alone with no one around to care for her. He actually cried when he described how she tried to nurse and care for her infant, when she couldn’t even care for herself. Papi swore that you would have to be made of stone, if you were not moved by that scene.
“She was beautiful, he told me, the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. He insisted that her skin glowed, or shone so that he thought that she had to be some kind of saint, or madonna. When he spoke to her, she answered him in a language that he didn’t understand, but then, Papi wasn’t well educated. Anyhow, he insisted that they didn’t need words because they understood each other perfectly. He swore to care for me as long as he lived. And he carried out that promise.
“I asked him that day if he was my real father, and I’ll never forget how angry he became. I decided right then and there that it didn’t matter if he was, or not. He was the only father that I have ever known. I only regret that I never got to know him better, because for all that he said he loved me, we never understood each other too well.”
“That happens in many families,” Ahja said gently.
“But, please, forgive me for getting so sentimental.”
Ahja would have forgiven her anything at that moment.
“It’s all in the past, of course. Gone and buried like my parents, and their secrets with them. Sometimes, however, like now, I wonder about it, but then I suppose that they were entitled to their secrets, as we all are.” Miriam stood and stretched. “it has been good for me to be able to talk to you like this, and you’ve been very kind to listen, but it’s gotten very late now, and I’m sure that you’re as tired as I am,” she held out her hand to him in a definite gesture of goodbye.
Ahja knew that he had to speak now, but for the first time in his life, he could not find the words that he needed. He held out his hand, and he racked his brain for a way to tell her all of the things that he felt he should.
Their hands clasped, and suddenly, she squeezed his hand tightly; her facial expressions struggled with surprise and shock. At first, Ahja was puzzled, and then he understood.
“Oh, my God! I can see things,” she whispered hoarsely as she dropped his hand, and then snatched it up again.
“What do you see, Miriam?” he asked as he tried to remain calm. “What kind of things do you see?”
“I don’t know. Oh!” she exclaimed suddenly, “I don’t see anything at all. Please forgive me. It’s just that I’m tired, confused and upset.”
“What did you see?” Ahja insisted.
“When I touched your hand, for a few seconds I saw … No! I don’t want you to think that I’m crazy, or something.”
“I won’t think that you’re crazy, Miriam. Trust me, what did you see?” Ahja became excited with the idea that this woman might possess the Rizorian linking ability. If she could link with him, it would be the solution to his problem of how to explain to her what she should know. On the other hand, if she were not ready for such a link, it could be dangerous, for both of them. Many Rizorians, even those non‑Adept, displayed the ability to link, but in all cases, it required some training, and a great deal of control. Did he dare take the risk? It was tempting; in such a link, she would recognize the truth, and know it. He weighed the pros and cons, and then decided that he would use a more conventional approach, and speak with her.
“Miriam, I know how tired you are, but I have to speak with you about something that is very important. I didn’t just happen to come by this evening; I came looking for you.” Ahja stopped, took a deep breath, and continued. “I want you to trust me even though I’m nothing more than a stranger to you‑”
Instantly, the relaxed smile faded from her face. The half‑formed images and visions, that seconds before had struggled to rush to her consciousness, disappeared. She stood up and started to inch her way to the back door.
“What are you getting at?” she asked suspiciously. “Does this have anything to do with the accident?”
“In a way it does,” Ahja’s mind worked furiously, now that he had started the conversation, there was no way that he could turn back. He realized that her suspicious and wary attitude pre‑empted any linking attempt, and that the only means of communication left to him was his ability with language, and words.Suddenly, just as the words formed in his mind, he felt an overpowering surge of guilt. His mission had been to aid in her capture, and ultimately to be an instrument in her death. To warn her at this moment went against everything that he had worked for. The word ‘treason’ flickered slightly in his mind; he brushed it aside.
“I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you. And now you’re the one who is going to think that I’m crazy, but please, believe me when I tell you that everything I will tell you is true.
“My story starts many years before you were born, on a planet different than this one, in another solar system many light years away.”
“Oh, my God! I’ve been having coffee with a space nut! Look, mister, I think you should leave now. You heard the cop say that he was coming back, and you don’t want to get into trouble, do you?” She turned to run out of the kitchen door.
“No, please,” Ahja cried, “please, don’t be frightened; I don’t mean you any harm.” He tried to make his voice sound calm and reasonable as he moved away from the back door so that she wouldn’t feel trapped by him.
“I know that it sounds crazy to you, but please listen to me. I want to help you, and the truth is that your life is really in danger. But not from me,” he added hastily, “not from me.”
“You just stay over there and talk,” she said, “and I’ll listen.” Her intuition had never been wrong, especially when it came to people. There was something that appealed to her about this strangely intense man, and there was something honestly sincere about him that she liked.
“All that I ask is that you listen to what I have to say, then I’ll leave. It won’t matter if you believe me, or not. At least, I’ll have done my best. I beg you to believe me though, if not for your sake, then for the sake of your unborn child.”
Ahja watched her face carefully as he spoke; her features softened, and her shoulders, which had been pulled into an unnaturally tight position, relaxed. Ahja sighed with relief; he had not forgotten that her mother was a suspected Adept gene carrier, and there was no way of knowing whether her father were a carrier, or not. There was always the possibility that this woman was an Adept, and if she were, she was dangerous. Ahja felt guilty again, but he would not back away from the decision that he had made.
“First of all, let me introduce myself properly,” Ahja said. He stood stiffly at attention in front of her as if she were the highest ranking member of her world. “I am the Lord Ahja, Master Translator to the Council of Ten at Trag, of the Second Federation.”
Miriam closed her eyes when he spoke; she heard his words, and felt his sincerity. The feeling was right, she decided, she would trust him. Once her decision was made, Miriam would not back out of it, either; she was confident that she was right. She walked back to the kitchen table, sat down and poured another cup of coffee for herself. She also had the distinct feeling that this promised to be a very long night.