“I come from the other side of the galaxy, where there are more stars and planets grouped in closer proximity than in this relatively isolated quadrant.”
Miriam couldn’t help but smile at the broad shouldered, intense man, who sat in front of her. In spite of the apprehension that she had felt earlier, she experienced a sense of amusement at the incongruous situation.
The table was covered with coupon clippings from newspapers and magazines, the kitchen small and poorly equipped, and the man, who was unable to keep his eye glasses from sliding down his nose, contrasted sharply with the majesty of his voice, and the impressive title which he claimed was his. The setting was wrong, she concluded; they should be seated in a sleek, open and modern setting with a giant telescope shining somewhere in the background. And the man should be dressed in something futuristic, but they were in her slightly out‑dated kitchen, and he was dressed in a brown turtle neck and brown cords. Miriam smiled again, and chided herself for reading too many books and watching too much television.
“We are blessed with many twin stars, and others that are companions to each other.”He was slender, but solidly built; his square chin and the determined set to his jaw hinted at a personality that was sure and confident of his abilities. Behind his glasses, his large, round eyes, which were a strange brown‑green color, gazed at her with an intensity that was on the verge of making her uncomfortable. There was, however, an expression of honesty in those eyes, which inexplicably worried her. Miriam stirred uneasily in her chair. They had been sitting for such a long time that her back ached. She stood to stretch a little.
“Everywhere there is life‑giving light and warmth. On Trag, which is my native planet, night is a dim twilight. We experience total darkness, perhaps only ten times during an average lifetime. “Our first explorers in space went mad when confronted by the lightless void of space. Our ships are miniature worlds completely sealed against the darkness, and they carry, in their core, a source of mind‑saving light. Not even our commanders dare to view space through the few viewing screens on board our ships. Only the navigators, chosen and trained from birth, may gaze into the face of infinity, and still retain their sanity.”
Miriam paced the small kitchen restlessly; while his words were interesting, they had no particular revelence to her. She wished that he would get to the point. Suddenly, unbidden images and feelings slipped into her mind.
The sound of Ahja’s voice was reduced into a soft drone; the words were indistinct, yet their meaning became incredibly clear. Trembling, she staggered into the living room; the images overwhelmed her.
Ahja followed her. He spoke faster as if he were afraid that at any moment he might have to stop, and not be able to finish.
Miriam sank down into her favorite rocker. She no longer heard his words at all; the images in her mind grew stronger, and they demanded her attention. She saw worlds and people different from the Earth; yet it was disturbingly similar. The image of a dark‑haired woman crept in and dominated most of the impressions. She was hauntingly lovely; her long, dark chestnut hair was braided with flowers, and the curled tip of her thick braid brushed against her hips when she walked. Miriam couldn’t help but notice that the woman was as pregnant as she was. She wondered who the woman was. Long before Miriam could see the storm, she felt it approach her. She experienced the terror that the woman experienced as the first winds of the Feyea ripped into her mountain home.
Miriam watched as the storm tore apart the dwelling like a mindless, hungry beast. Then Miriam’s perception of the storm changed; she viewed it from a safe distance, yet the sensation of horror, and grief was even stronger. Disoriented for a few seconds, Miriam then realized that she now saw and experienced through someone else’s viewpoint; it was Ahja himself.
Ignoring the danger to himself, young Ahja ran, stumbled, and fell as he tried to reach his home. He was blinded by tears, wounded by the flying rock and bleeding; the wind knocked him to the ground, and he tore open his cheek.
Miriam felt the pain, and she cried out. She felt his helplessness as the wind dragged him along the ground, and she felt his determination to fight back. He grabbed at the shaking ground with his long fingernails, symbols of his rank, and they splintered; his blood seeped through the twigs, rocks and rotting leaves.
The Feyea took mother and unborn child, along with so many others. Even those who survived, died a little. There was too much grief to feel, and neither Ahja, nor Miriam could run fast enough to escape the grasp of the Feyea, or its memory.
The scene shifted to the glittering circular hall of the Central Council crowded with the most incredible assortment of racial types that Miriam had ever seen. She held her hands up to her ears to protect them against the deafening din of dozens of different languages spoken at once.
At first glance, the people looked like ordinary Earth people, but somehow she knew they were alien. Miriam decided to leave the perimeter of the great hall and move into its center for a closer look at the crowds of celebrants. She was astonished by the variety of life forms that had, at first glance, looked so human, and were not. They all mingled and milled about seemingly oblivious to their physical differences.
Miriam was delighted with the crazy‑quilt gathering of ‘humanity’ in that vast room., Only one type stood in a group apart. They were a pretty blue‑green ‘people,’ who all wore the same type of lacy, semi‑transparent, hooded cloaks. “Selenians” the word formed in her mind instantaneously. Miriam had no idea where that information had come from, and she realized at that moment that all she had to do was to think the question, and the answer appeared in her mind as if she had always known it. But she did not ask who, or what those people were; she wanted to find it out for herself, and she moved in their direction for a closer look. just at that moment, one of the blue‑green group folded back the hood that had framed his face. Miriam was not too surprised to discover that he, or rather she had assumed that it was a ‘he,’ had no hair, but the intricate, dark green pattern that marked his skin fascinated her.
The Selenian removed his cloak altogether; Miriam gasped in surprise. Not only did the Selenian not exhibit any sexual organs, it also had a long, broad tail that had been hidden by its cloak. Its body was long, slender, and it moved with a hypnotic grace.
The Selenian walked by her, and Miriam reached out to touch its arm. She muffled her shriek of surprise and disgust when her fingers touched the cool, hard scales that covered that arm. They were reptiles; Miriam turned away shuddering in disgust.
Out of the corner of her eye, a bright copper color captured her attention, and her very brief encounter with the Selenians was forgotten. Miriam started out to follow the fast moving woman with the bright coppery hair, but she lost her in the crowd.
Groaning with disappointment, Miriam searched for her unsuccessfully, and suddenly, the vision started to fade. For the first time since she had first started to experience the ‘visions,’ she tried to hold onto one, but her efforts seemed to be blocked. As the images faded, she heard Ahja’s voice once again, “. . . and still remain sane.”
I beg your pardon?” Miriam felt dizzy and confused. It had all been so real.
“What’s the matter, Miriam? I was telling you about our space ships and our navigators.”
The look on Miriam’s face disturbed Ahja; it was the same expression that he had seen on the faces of the Rizorian Envoy and her translator after their successful linking. It was that same unmistakable expression of dazed rapture, but he shoved that consideration out of his mind; it just didn’t seem possible. As far as he knew, the Rizorian mind link could not take place without an actual physical link between the individuals. As far as he knew … and he and Miriam had not touched; up until that moment, he had felt safe from her probing mind …Ahja toyed with the idea of not continuing the conversation; he grew silent and thoughtful. Almost as if she knew what he thought, she begged him to finish his story. Her eagerness to have him continue flattered him; it was not often that a storyteller found such a listener.
Ahja spoke of the First Federation, its explorations in space, and its colonies and their complicated administrations. When he noticed that Miriam grew restless with the historical sketch that he drew for her, Ahja decided to explain to her the role that Terra, also known as Earth, played in that history.
“Our society was not perfect, you understand,” he said. “And it’s still not. We had our social mis‑fits, our criminals, our mentally sick, just as this world does now. In order to keep our people safe from this element, we used a system of prisons.
Later, when our explorations in space provided us with many suitable, uninhabited worlds, our prisons were moved off of Trag. That is how our penal colony system was initiated. Some of those colonies were extremely successful experiments, a few were not, and they were
dismantled. Only one of those colonies grew in power and tore itself free of our control.
“Because of its distance from Trag, and because of its relative isolation in the galaxy, Terra was established as a terminal prison for the most dangerous elements in our society, political malcontents, rebels, who threatened our way of life were sent there.
“The Federation had concluded that it was the most humane solution to the problem. The prisoners were given supplies to ensure their immediate survival, and they were then released on the planet surface. It was assumed by many that the great majority of the prisoners would die fighting the elements and the beasts, or each other. Surprisingly, they did not perish. Each time that Federation ships visited Terra, disturbing reports were sent to Trag; the colony not only survived, it flourished!
“The ancient scrolls of history are incomplete. It is not clear why the First Federation fell, but it is certain that penal colony Terra played an important part. It is said that it became a main rebel base, and that it grew in strength until it challenged the Federation itself. In the end, the power of the Federation was shattered, and Terra was free; but freedom was not enough. It is recorded in epic song and legend that Terra would have its revenge, even if it took a thousand generations.
“The Federation withdrew its forces from that sector, and even as the mighty warships limped homeward, the Prohibition was instituted; Terra was quarantined!”
Ahja was careful to omit from his story any mention of Terra’s doomsday weapons; there seemed to be no reason to tell that to Miriam.
“As nothing but infamy could ever emerge from Terra, it was decided that the colony’s isolation must never be violated. Terra’s name was stricken from star charts and erased from computer memory as the First Federation turned its collective back on the notorious penal colony.
“Centuries passed. The First Federation fell eventually, and a new and more powerful government took its place. Rings of Tragian satellites, programmed to seek and destroy ships attempting to either leave or enter the Terran zone were forgotten. Memory of Terra faded into vague legend, or fanciful epic.”
Ahja knew that Miriam was close to exhaustion; her face looked drawn, her eye lids were half closed, and she squirmed in her seat constantly. He watched her anxiously; she stood, stretched and walked around the room. When she sat down again, she looked fixedly at the clock by her chair; it was close to morning.
Miriam interrupted his words with an impatient gesture. “Why are you here, Lord Ahja?” she asked as she tried to stiffle her yawns.
Ahja flushed with pleasure at the correct use of his title; “she learns fast,” he thought. Before he could answer, however, Miriam interrupted him again.
“What could be so important that you have travelled through the darkness to find me?”
“Please understand, Miriam. I am not an adventurer. I had no wish to leave the comfort of my home and propel myself through space in search of excitement. What I have done was motivated by the belief that my home planet, and the Federation, were in danger.”
“But what does any of that have to do with me?”
“I didn’t want to rush my explanations to you. So much depends on your understanding, and perhaps your cooperation.”
There was so much more he had wanted to tell her first, but he could tell by the expression on her face that she had already decided to end the conversation, and yield to her fatigue. Ahja decided he had to eliminate the bulk of what he had wanted to say, and take his chances with springing the truth on her prematurely.
“Miriam,” he stretched out the words slowly and deliberately, “this is not your home planet!”
Miriam’s first response was to deny his words, to wipe out his statement with her hands, which she held out in front of her in protest.
Ahja leaned forward in his seat and took her hands in his own. He spoke quietly, reassuringly, and as she looked at him through the tears that dripped from her coppery eyelashes, overpowering images moved in to overcrowd her mind. Miriam braced herself to fight off the vision, and suddenly she was too weary; she yielded to it.
The planet she saw was more beautiful than anything that she could have ever imagined. From a distance, the landscape seemed similar to an Earth landscape, but on closer scrutiny, there was no doubt that this was not Earth.
At first, she couldn’t decide what it was about the scene in front her that made it appear so alien. Perhaps, it was the coloring of the countryside, she thought. Yes, it was just that. The tones of green were slightly different, and the colors of the clear, sparkling streams were just a tone off of the familiar hues; it was as if she looked at the scene through a filtered camera lens. Miriam looked across the countryside, and strained her vision towards the horizon. The sun was not the familiar yellow, but a pale blue‑white.Miriam fell to her knees; the grass beneath her was soft and silky, and cool. She broke off a blade of that grass and held it close to her eyes. Miriam stared at it wide eyed; the grass shimmered as if it were wet! In fact, the entire country side sparkled, or rather appeared to. It was as if some over‑zealous housekeeper had scrubbed and buffed the entire world into a soft, shimmering patina. All of a sudden, Miriam felt that she should wash her hands and wipe her feet before she explored this extraordinary place.
She brushed at some imaginary speck of dirt on her sleeve, and she gasped in surprise. The familiar colors of her old, flowered shirt glowed with disturbingly different hues. She rolled up the sleeves of her shirt and exposed her arms to the light of the sun. Within seconds, her skin tones also changed; they glowed soft, pearlescent copper. Slowly, shadows materialized, hazy and indistinct, a step away from being recognizable. Miriam sucked in her breath softly when she became aware of them. She felt as if ice cascaded through her insides, and she wondered why she should feel that way. Her curiosity edged out her instinctive fear, and she strained to see those shadows more clearly, but the images remained indistinct, and out of her grasp.
Miriam felt like a moth that hurls itself against the window screen in an attempt to get closer to the light. All of a sudden, she felt an unexpected surge of energy, and she tumbled headlong in the direction of the nearest shadow. She saw it, and all the others clearly. Nothing was held back from her; Miriam wept.
She turned away from Ahja and reached for something with which to dry her eyes. The shadows had vanished, and Miriam could hear Ahja’s voice again. He spoke in quiet tones, and there was an expression in his brown‑green eyes that combined compassion and concern.
Miriam listened to what little he knew of Bar‑an and Samira. It required little imagination to piece together what must have happened to those two young, rebellious Rizorians so long ago …
“Please, listen to me,” Ahja said as her sobs interrupted him for the third, or fourth time, “I don’t want to cause you any pain, or grief, but I feel that you should know all of the facts, as I know them. It is, after all, your right.
“Your parents broke the most basic laws of their world. Although it is true that they broke those laws, not for their own personal gain, but for the survival of their unborn child. The instinct to preserve one’s offspring is a deeply rooted one, but by Rizorian law they are still criminals. Believe me, I understand how they must have felt. I, too, would have acted in order to save my child had I been able to do so,” he said huskily as he rubbed his brow to ease the throbbing.
“But nothing that we say here will change things. When your parents fled into space and entered this forbidden sector of the galaxy, they broke Federation law as well.” Ahja grew silent, coughed to clear his throat, and floundered for the words that he needed.
“The breaking of Rizorian law is a local problem that is generally handled by the local authorities on Rizoria.” Ahja stammered and grew silent once again. The stillness in the room became oppressive, and Miriam leaned forward as if she could somehow reach in and drag his words out of his throat.
“But when they broke the Quarantine,” Ahja’s voice faded; he didn’t know how to say it. He removed his glasses and wiped the lenses slowly.
“Well, continue, for heaven’s sake! What are you trying to say?” Miriam cried impatiently.
Ahja took a deep breath. “When your parents came to Earth, they broke Federation law because they violated the Quarantine—”
Miriam threw her hands up into the air as she jumped up from her seat. “Is that all that you can talk about?” she shouted. “The Federation, Rizoria, the Quarantine? So what! What does any of that have to do with me?”
The strain of the evening had taken its toll on her; she was impatient, tired and ready to fly off of the handle.
“Believe me when I tell you that it has everything to do with you. Strict laws have been broken, and things will have to be made right. The Rizorians are fanatics, who, without a second thought, will violate the Federation Quarantine in order to carry out their justice.”
“But my parents are dead! They’ve already paid for their so‑called crime. What is the sense of anything?”
“They want you, Miriam,” Ahja said in a soft voice as he stiffened himself against the outburst that he expected. He felt that he was ready to handle anything from rage to hysteria, but he wasn’t prepared to hear her gentle, rippling laughter.
“Are you crazy? What do I have to do with anything?”
“I told you that the Rizorians are fanatics,” Ahja was nervous. He was afraid that the bright expression of amusement in her eyes might change into something dark and ominous.
“Are they such barbarians that their laws require the children to pay for the crimes of the parents?” she asked.
Ahja looked away; he didn’t know how to answer her question, and even if he had known how, he was afraid to. He saw Miriam reach out to take his hand in her own, and he dreaded her touch, but he did not resist. There was no doubt in his mind that in this moment of stress, she would instinctively use the Rizorian ability for sympathetic linking. Ahja did not resist the intrusion of her mind; it was, perhaps, the easiest way. In seconds she would learn about the Adept, their short sojourn on Rizoria, and she would know their fate. Miriam would learn about the ruthless efficiency of the Rizorian Purification Squads, and their single minded devotion to the attainment of their goal. For a moment he regretted her loss of innocence, and he pitied her.
Ahja felt Miriam dip into the surface layers of his mind; he opened himself up to her. Her touch was light, hesitating, wispy, much like the brush of the wings of an insect. Ahja felt her grow bolder as she started to burrow beneath the surface. Her technique was crude, but Ahja felt no pain; he only wished that he could guide her. He closed his eyes and he concentrated on what he had to hide from her. Suddenly he heard her gasp, and his eyes flew open.
A kaleidoscope of emotions flashed in her eyes, and Ahja thought that he could guess her progress as she persued knowledge. Her probe grew stronger and more demanding; Ahja lost control and could not resist. When a dark, primitive expression darkened her face, he clenched his jaw in fear. Her finger nails dug into his hand; his control slipped away from him, and he bowed his head sadly when he saw the violent expression on her face. She knew all that there was to know. She withdrew her hand.
“You are afraid of me,” she said quietly. The weariness and the tension that she had demonstrated earlier were gone. A serene confidence shone in her face; it frightened him more than the Purification Squad did. Miriam was a new, unknown quantity, and Ahja did not know what to expect.
The Master Translator studied her smooth, unlined brow, and as her lips curved slightly into a smile, he shuddered involuntarily.
“Yes, I am afraid,” he admitted. It made no sense to try to lie to a person who had just returned from a journey into your mind. He did, however, turn his back on her as he sought to regain a sense of the feeling of separate identity and privacy. It was a natural response to sympathetic linking. She had had access to all of his innermost thoughts, secrets, feelings and fears. All of his past experiences, and knowledge too, had been made available to her, and he felt stripped, naked. How much, he wondered, of him and his past had she retained after the link was broken?
He turned to face her. “I’m afraid of what you have learned,” he said. “And I’m confused as well.” He might as well be as honest with her as he could.
“It is a confusing situation, Lord Ahja. I’ve seen and experienced things today that I would have thought to be beyond imagination. The things that I’ve learned answer many questions, and they explain feelings, whose meanings had always eluded me. And,” she hesitated slightly as if she searched for just the right words, “for this I thank you.”
Ahja remained silent. He couldn’t help but notice that her patterns of speech had been altered, and that she spoke with a slight Tragian accent. It was an aftereffect of the linking, and he wondered how long its influence would hang on.
“For as long as I can remember, I always had quick flashes of feelings that were elusive as a faint scent in the air that you recognize, but for the moment can’t identify. It had always disturbed me when I knew things that other people didn’t.”
“And now that you know who, and what you are, things should be easier for you.”
“Perhaps,” she said thoughtfully. “But I think that I know you better than I know myself.”
“And what is it that you think you know about me?” he asked as he called into use all of his diplomatic training, including the ability to erase expression from his face. He felt that at that moment he had to be on his guard, that he had to pick his words, and to choose his responses carefully.
“Ahja, I know how deep your loyalties run, and I know how well you have served your Federation. I know that you would kill me, or at least try to kill me; no, don’t attempt to deny it! You would if you believed that I was a danger to that beloved Federation of yours, or if Lord Minje ordered you to. You would follow orders even though it would drive you mad in the end.” Miriam held out her hand to wave aside his protests.
Seeing her hand in front of him, Ahja stepped back instinctively in a defensive move. Miriam smiled at him sadly. Her hand dropped and she motioned to him to be reseated.
“I know all of the things that you were told by the Rizorian Envoy regarding the Adept and their destructive power. I can see your fear, and I know that you suspect I might be Adept. To be honest, I do not know if I am Adept, or not. All of my new knowledge I have gained from you. As neither one of us has had any first hand experience . . . Miriam shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.
“Ahja, I only know that I do not think that I harbor the destructiveness that you fear. I’ve never wanted to hurt anyone, and most important of all, I’ve never been responsible for injuring anyone.
“I do know this, however, that if you, or anyone else tries to harm me, or the people I love, I will fight. I would defend myself with whatever power I may have at my disposal.”
“Yes,” Ahja said slowly, “our lives are precious to us all. I share your feelings, Miriam, and I thank you for being as honest as you have been with me.
“As for myself, I don’t know what I am capable of doing. But for the moment, I know that I only wish to help you. Accept that from me, on . . . faith.” Ahja smiled when she nodded.
“There has to be another solution to this problem other than what the Purification Squad has in mind. The days of human sacrifice ended on Trag thousands of generations ago,” he added.
“I warn you, Ahja. I will not leave this planet willingly. I will not leave my husband, and I will not place my baby in danger. This world is my home, and I intend to live my life to a ripe old age with many grandchildren and perhaps great‑grandchildren!”
Ahja smiled, “It is always the love of home and family that is the motivating factor among Rizorians, even those like you, raised far from the influence of Rizoria.”
“You aren’t Rizorian, Ahja, and yet your love is as strong; is it not?”
“You know that it is,” Ahja grinned sheepishly at her. “If it were not for the circumstances, you and I might have been good and dear friends.” Ahia reached out and took her hands into his own. Hers were large, strong hands, the hands of a worker, who gets things done, yet at the same time they were smooth, and lovely. Her long, carefully manicured nails had no hint of polish; nevertheless, they shone with an irridescent sheen— a hint of a legacy from distant Rizoria.
Her fingers curled around his. “We could be friends in spite of the circumstances, if we did not fear one another,” she said as she tilted her head to one side questioningly.
“I cannot know you, Miriam, as you know me, yet I trust what you have told me. And it is lonely for me here on this planet. Having a friend would make it less so.”
“Friends then,” she said, and squeezed his hand again.