The telephone rang loudly in the early morning; its shrill, demanding tone cut through their quiet conversation, and both Miriam and Ahja froze. It rang again. Miriam stood to answer it; Ahja pulled her away from the phone.
“As long as you remain here, you have to be aware the Rizorians will come looking for you. They know where you are, in fact, they know everything about you,” he added gravely. “For the moment, you are virtually defenseless.”
The phone rang again, more loudly, it seemed. “Don’t answer it,” he ordered.
“Don’t be silly,” she said as she pushed away his hand. “It might be the hospital about Justin. Do you think the Rizorians are going to call to make an appointment to kill me?”
Miriam rushed over to the phone and answered it before its next ring. Ahja strained to hear, but from Miriam’s half of the conversation, he couldn’t make out the purpose of the call. Even after she hung up the receiver, she didn’t discuss the call with him; she was too busy gathering her things, and getting ready to leave.
“You’re planning to go out?” he asked incredulously.
“I have to go,” she snapped. “That was the hospital. Justin has gotten worse!”
“Don’t leave the house! It may be some kind of trap,” he insisted as he followed after her and tripped over the dog, who also followed her every step.
“You’re crazy. That was the hospital, I tell you. I recognized the nurse’s voice,” she insisted. “I haven’t got time to waste.”
“At least let me go with you.”
“Well, hurry up,” she said as she ran out of the house in the direction of the car.
“How do you shut this door?” he shouted to her.
“Just slam it, and don’t let Max out of the gate and into the street.”
Ahja ran after her, but his progress was hindered by Max who tugged playfully at his pants’ leg. With great difficulty, he managed to get past the German shepherd, who was determined not to get left behind.
As they got into the car, Ahja couldn’t help but notice Miriam was extremely agitated. He didn’t know whether to feel pity for this woman, whose entire life had just been turned upside down, or to cold‑bloodedly make plans for her capture, but she was a friend now, and he was not in the habit of betraying friends.
And yet if Minje were to return victorious from the rim of the solar system, he should be ready with some kind of plan. Ahja groaned; he didn’t know what it was that he had to do or should do. All he was sure of at that moment was that he hated the Rizorians, who refused any mention of compromise in this matter. After all, how could a helpless female, confined to this isolated planet, be any danger to Rizoria, or to the Federation? The Rizorians had to be more than merely fanatics, they had to be blood thirsty lunatics. He had to impress upon her the danger she faced.
“I wish that you would acknowledge the peril that you face,” he said. “And not only you, but me too, just for being with you, and the position of the Federation—”
“I know, Ahja. I do know!”
Ahja persisted. “The Rizorian violations of the Quarantine will eventually become too obvious even for Minje to hide. Those violations will be the cause of galactic civil war that may perhaps destroy the Federation and civilization as we know it.”
“I’m sorry, Ahja, but at this moment I just can’t seem to be sympathetic towards your problems. Anyhow, aren’t you being a little over‑dramatic?”
Ahja ignored her comments and continued his arguments. “And who knows how the Terran forces, I mean Earth forces will react when the Rizorians are discovered. Their world history is none too stable. Most certainly they will attempt military action, and there is nothing on Earth that can match the power of galactic fighters. The Rizorian fleet is the most antiquated in the Federation, and even they would have no difficulty in brushing aside Earth’s defenses.”
Miriam frowned. “I don’t suppose the dooms‑day weapons that the rebels were supposed to have used against the Federation still exist.”
“I don’t suppose,” Ahja shrugged his shoulders; he was never going to figure out any of it.
Wearily, he sank back into the comfortable seat and he tried to clear his mind and relax, but a curious thought kept tugging at him. In spite of the tension filled situation in which he found himself, Ahja smiled broadly. The more that he found out about Rizorians, the more he realized they were filled with serious flaws, the latest of which was that they shared a propensity for insanity. Ahja wished that he could share this thought with Miriam, but he thought better of it. He didn’t think that she would apprepreciate the humor.
Suddenly, he thought that he had seen something in the small side view mirror. He was about to swing his head around to confirm his suspicions when the collision sent his head crashing against the dash. He could feel his teeth grinding against each other before they tore at the insides of his mouth. Something warm, thick, and strangely wet slid down his forehead, and into his eyes. The grinding of metal, the screeching of tires and Miriam’s screams melded into one sound. Ahja felt himself being tossed around carelessly. Then just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, and everything was still, quiet and dark.
Ahja could feel someone shake his shoulder and call him as if from some great distance. He wanted to answer her, he tried to respond, but for some reason, he couldn’t. Miriam straightened his body, and carefully pushed his head against the back of the seat.
“This is ridiculous!” he thought. “I feel fine, but why can’t I move?”
Miriam wiped his face with quick, hurried movements. At least she was unhurt, That was good.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “Oh, please, be all right. Don’t worry, I’ll get you to the hospital as quickly as I can. I think the car’ll make it.”
Ahja felt growing panic. At the hospital they would discover that he was not human. He had to let her know that she couldn’t take him there. Try as he would, however, he couldn’t speak. Even listening to her was difficult as the words seemed to fade and then reappear at ear‑splitting volume.
“it was the same dark gray van that nearly killed Justin at the marina,” she whispered. “Do you think that it really was Rizorians?”
Ahja didn’t answer her question; he still devoted all of his efforts towards the warning not to go to the hospital. The words rattled from his throat; he didn’t recognize the sounds that he made.
“Don’t take me to the hospital!” he repeated over and over until Miriam understood.
“That’s ridiculous. You need medical attention, and I must speak with Justin’s doctor.”
“Why can’t you understand?” The words came easier, “I’m an alien.”
“Oh,” she said thoughtfully. “Yes, I do understand. I’ll have to take care of you myself as best as I can, but I still have to know what happened to Justin.”
Ahja groaned. Did the woman understand anything at all? The telephone call had been a trap to get her out of the house. There was no emergency at the hospital. Through grunts and groans, Ahja managed to tell her what he thought.
“Call the hospital and speak to the doctor over the phone.”
Miriam objected. “I can’t do that. There’s no public phone around here, and by the time that I go home and make the call, I’ll lose too much time.”
Ahja groaned again. “it would be better to lose time, and not your life.”
“If what you say is true,” she said, “what makes you think that they won’t be at the house waiting for me?”
“Don’t know. I thought that they would all be at the hospital.”
“I suppose that you’re right, Ahja. It would be the most logical place for us to go, especially after an accident. O.K., the car seems to be working. Let’s go to my house.”
They rode in silence for a short while, when once again Ahja heard the squeal of brakes, and he fell forward as before. This time, however, Miriam’s strong arm stopped him from hitting the dash again. She pushed him back against the seat.
“We can’t go to my house,” she said in response to his moaning question.
“You were wrong. They’re waiting for us near the house.”
“How can you know?”
“Easy. We’re on the over‑pass, and without the leaves on the trees, I can see the house from here. They must have split up to make sure that they caught up with us.”
“My place,” Ahja muttered grimly, “corner of Union and Ocean.”
“No, Ahja, this is silly. I’ll take you to the police station. They take‑”
“No! Are you stupid?” For the first time in his life, he had lost his patience with someone not his equal, and he was ashamed of himself instantly. He started to apologize when he noticed the expression on her face, and he realized that she was being very patient with him! His first instinct was to be annoyed with her patronizing attitude, but after a few seconds, all he felt was amusement. It wasn’t like him to become so easily amused in tense situations such as this one, and he wondered how, and when he had acquired this new trait. Most important of all, he realized that he was beginning to like himself more because of it. “Please, my apartment,” he said meekly.
“O.K. Perhaps, that is the best idea for now. We still don’t know if there will be anyone waiting for us there. You were wrong about all of them being at the hospital, you know.”
“I know,” he admitted, “I’m not always right.” Ahja closed his eyes in order to spare himself that patronizing smile of hers; he could see it anyway.
The ride to the garden apartment complex was quiet and uneventful. They circled the street several times to see if they could spot the gray van, or any member of the Rizorian squad. They saw nothing; that in itself bothered Ahja. After all, the Rizorians weren’t stupid, and it wasn’t likely that they would be easy to spot. Each team, he knew, had six members, and they had seen the van watching Miriam’s house. Squad members always worked in pairs, so that meant that there were two Rizorians unaccounted for. They could be waiting at the hospital, or they might be at his apartment waiting for him. No, he doubted that; he wasn’t the important one, and Ahja was willing to bet that it would be safe at the apartment for a while.
Miriam helped him stumble to his building. She glanced over her shoulder frequently, and a number of times she left him leaning against a wall, or a tree while she ran ahead to peek around some corner. When at last they stood in front of his door, they didn’t know whether to rejoice because they had made it this far, or to panic because they had no way of knowing what waited for them on the other side. Staring at the door wasn’t the answer, they wouldn’t know until they went inside.
The wound over Ahja’s eyes opened up again; the blood poured into his eyes, stinging them until his tears mingled with his blood and ran down his face. It hurt. His fingers shook so badly as he hunted for the keys in his pockets that when he did find them, he dropped them. Miriam scooped them up from the carpeted floor and noted that the carpeting was stained with Ahja’s blood; she would have to clean it up as soon as she could so that it wouldn’t give them away.
Ahja leaned against the wall and let her take over, there was little more that he could do. His vision grew dimmer, sounds were increasingly muffled, and his knees were about to refuse their burden at any moment. He hoped that for both of their sakes, Miriam would exercise extreme care.
Slowly, and as quietly as she could, Miriam worked with one key and then the other until she found out which key went with which lock. She worked with the unfamiliar keys clumsily until she felt the door move on its hinges. With the tips of her fingers, she pushed the door open, then she jumped back away from the doorway. Miriam was eager to drag Ahja inside in order to give him some badly needed first aid, but she couldn’t bring herself to rush headlong into a place where Rizorians might lie in wait. She couldn’t tell for how long she had hugged the wall just outside the doorway while she tried to decide whether or not to enter the apartment. Something about the place made her very uneasy, but she couldn’t tell what it was, and she couldn’t stay in the hallway much longer.
The unborn child inside of her started to kick vigorously, and Miriam wondered if it could feel her fear, her anger and her frustration. No, of course not, she decided, those were old wives’ tales. While Miriam waited for the baby’s movements to stop, she stroked her abdomen gently as she had been taught at natural childbirth class. She shut everything else out of her mind, everything, except for the strong feelings of love she had for this baby. In seconds the baby’s kicking ended, and a powerful surge of anger gripped her. They would kill her, if they could, and her child would die too. Miriam had lost two others babies for some reason, or another, but not this one. Fiercely, she vowed that this one would live to squirm contently in her arms. She wrapped her arms protectively across her belly. They would not take from her what was rightfully hers; she wouldn’t allow it.
Miriam called upon every ounce of strength, every bit of instinct, and perhaps whatever Adept power she might have lying dormant to get her through the dangers of the present and into the safety of the future. She walked into the apartment.
It had been ransacked! Everything was in total disarray; the furniture had been ripped apart, and nothing that should be standing still stood. She moved gingerly through the debris to see if it still held any danger for her. A rapid, but thorough search of the place assured her that it was relatively safe. Miriam went back out into the hall to help Ahja inside.
Even though she had always been a very strong woman, Miriam was aware that she taxed her strength at an astonishing rate. The effort that she expended in dragging Ahja inside, and in clearing an area on the floor to make him comfortable, left her breathless and dizzy. Nevertheless, she didn’t stop until she had pushed a large chair in front of the door (it gave her a sense of security) and she checked all of the windows and closed the drapes. In the semi‑darkness of the bedroom, she tripped over the torn mattress on the floor. Miriam fell on her hands and knees; the jolt winded her, and when she tried to get up, she found that she couldn’t. As Miriam sank back into the yielding firmness of the mattress, she promised herself that she would only rest for a few seconds, but involuntarily, her body relaxed so rapidly that she never knew when she had crossed over into a deep, restful sleep. A part of her, however, unknown even to Miriam, remained awake and watchful.
When she opened her eyes, Miriam wasn’t sure how long she had slept. She noticed that the edges of the drapes that were outlined by the bright sunshine, and she felt comforted by the fact that I twas still daylight. Miriam yawned and stretched‑she felt much better, but her muscles ached, and she shuddered at the thought of having to get up. She was about ready to close her eyes and go back to sleep when she remembered Ahja, and she was suddenly wide awake. The last time that she had seen him, Ahja was unconscious on the living room floor. He was still there.
There was little in the apartment that she could use for first aid since everything seemed to be either dirty, or broken, but she managed to find some towels and a small plastic bowl that she filled with some warm water. After she had cleaned off his face she realized that although there was a lot of blood, none of the wounds were deep. Perhaps his injuries weren’t as serious as she had feared. Miriam wondered what she should do next to help this strange man, who had selflessly come to help her. Her ignorance as to what might be the best thing to do kept her idle. Ahja’s face became pale, and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and on his upper lip. Miriam wiped his face with the towel carefully, and then she stroked his feverish forehead with her long, cool fingers.
“I wish I knew what to do to help you, Ahja,” she murmured, and bit her lips in anxiety. Even before she was aware of their presence, the images flowed easily into her mind.
Miriam recognized the place although she had never seen it. It was the place that Ahja thought of as home, the place where he had grown up. The image focused on a thin, sandy haired woman who paced nervously in the small room. Suddenly she knelt by the side of the narrow cot where a young boy tossed and turned. There was no mistaking the look of deep concern, and fear on the woman’s weary face. The boy moaned and trembled violently, his mother held his hand and stroked his head. After a while the boy’s body relaxed, and a loud sigh escaped his lips. The woman smiled with relief; she recognized the signs that the boy was out of danger, and now in a recuperative coma. She knew he would awaken soon, and be well.
The room was small, and by anyone’s standards, poor. The walls were made of decaying wood that were mostly hidden by rows of books. Hung across the window opening, there was some kind of semi‑transparent cloth that let in the light, but did little to keep out the cold. Miriam lingered inside the reverie. The room was depressingly awful, she felt, or at least it should have been, but instead it was wonderful. The care and the love that glowed in the woman’s face made the room seem warm and almost beautiful. Miriam looked down at the boy, but it was Ahja’s adult face that she saw; the vision had faded.
Ahja’s eyes fluttered open, and when she looked into his eyes, Miriam realized with a guilty start that she had been intruding into his mind. Her face grew hot with embarrassment, and she pushed the remaining images away from her mind abruptly. Miriam smiled sheepishly at him, and whispered that he would be fine, that he wasn’t badly hurt.
Miriam was grateful that he would recover; if anything were to happen to him, she would truly be alone against the Rizorians. All of a sudden, she remembered Justin. How could she have forgotten to call the hospital?
Miriam made a frantic search for the telephone, and she hoped that when she found it, it would be in working condition. It was, and in minutes she was speaking to the floor nurse. No, the hospital had not called her earlier that morning, and Justin’s condition was the the same, still unconscious. The nurse’s voice was efficiently pleasant, and in the background, Miriam could hear all of the usual hospital noises. She felt reassured.
Ahja groaned. Miriam turned around to see him sit up.
“Take it easy!” she ordered as she pushed his shoulder back towards the floor. “You shouldn’t try to get up so quickly.” It surprised her, and it pleased her that his resistance to her order was as strong as it was.
It cost Ahja a great deal of effort to get to his feet; he stood shakily, but at least he was standing. He looked around the ruin that used to be his warm, comfortable and neat living space, and he groaned loudly each time that he spotted some new wreckage. He guessed that the Rizorians had taken the deaths of their companions rather hard.
Miriam watched Ahja as he hobbled over to a large piece of furniture that was smashed beyond recognition, but from the broken pieces of equipment near it, she supposed that it was a stereo, or some kind of electronic equipment. Ahja seemed to be overwhelmed as he stared at the smashed remains. Miriam watched his face grow even more pale, and she rushed to his side when it appeared that he would collapse.
“You shouldn’t have tried to get up yet. You are still much too weak,” she chided him as she steadied him. Knowing that despite her help, Ahja might fall, she helped him to sit alongside the overturned sofa.
Ahja held his head in his arms, his elbows rested against his knees. He felt his cheeks grow wet, and for a second he thought that his wounds had opened up again, but the drops that dripped on his thighs were not red and he realized that he was weeping like a child. Did he weep, he wondered, because he was so tired and in pain, or because as far as he could see, his mission had terminated as a failure? No, most certainly, he wept because the wreckage of the communicator taunted him with the knowledge that he would never again speak with Minje, and he would never be able to guide the small transporter craft to him. For the rest of his life, he would be a prisoner of Terra. He was cut off, and just like the thousands of early colonists so long ago, there was no hope of getting back. Alone and defenseless, how long could he hope to survive against the determined Purification Squad?
“This was important to you?” Miriam asked as she pointed to the remains of the communicator.
Ahja could barely speak. “Yes,” he said huskily, “very important. It was my lifeline home.”
Miriam looked at him sympathetically. She was unaware, however, how powerful Ahja’s grief actually was until it reached out to her. Miriam had almost no experience controlling the receptivity of her mind; in the past, the images and feelings had merely seeped into her mind and she experienced them. But now she was faced with an emotion so powerful it threatened to overcome her. She got to her feet and stumbled to the far end of the room to get away. Ahja’s grief followed her like an advancing wave that hovered over her. The wave slammed against her and she felt herself hit the wall. Miriam searched frantically for a f ingerhold as the wave retreated, and she felt herself being dragged along by the current.
Lost in his grief, Ahja was unaware of what was happening; Miriam called to him, but he did not hear. She felt the power of another wave, poised and ready to strike at her again, and she knew that she would have to stop it from reaching her. She imagined a thick sea wall between Ahja and herself, and she felt encouraged when it held in the succeeding assaults. But the power of Ahja’s emotions intensified, and Miriam could tell that her wall was crumbling; it would not withstand the next wave that arched in front of it like a giant hand ready to slap away puny resistance.
“Stop it, Ahja!” she screamed. “Help me!” The protecting wall gave way, and the wave advanced. “Ahja, you’ll kill me!”
Ahja looked up at her blankly as if he had just awakened from a dream. He saw the fear in her eyes, but he didn’t know what had caused it. Puzzled, he looked around the room, but he couldn’t see what threatened her. And yet she had called him to help, and he would. Ahja got to his feet and went to her.
“Are you all right, Miriam?” he asked as he put his arm around her trembling shoulders.
Miriam saw the concern in Ahja’s face, and the puzzlement. “He doesn’t know,” she thought, “he has no idea of what had happened.”
“I’m O.K. now, Ahja,” she whispered. “I don’t know what happened to me.”
The two friends held onto each other; their strength grew and multiplied with the passing seconds. When they stepped away from each other, they each felt whole again.