It had seemed like such a good idea, and it was. Ahja was delighted when Miriam first suggested that they should retreat to some place where they might be able to rest, and have the time to make some plans. She even had what seemed like the perfect place for them to go. It was a summer cottage that she and Justin had rented on a small island community, and which was all but deserted during the off seasons. The best part of it was that the location, as she described it, was isolated, and difficult to reach. Ahja was all for making it as difficult as possible for the Rizorians to find them. He had no doubt, however, that given enough time, the Rizorians would track them down anywhere, but they would at least have time to rest, recover and make plans. Ahja knew that in their present condition, their chances for survival were slim. It had all seemed like perfect planning on their part, but Ahja had not counted on Miriam’s insistence that she make certain arrangements before they set out.
“You aren’t going off on a holiday, you know,” Ahja growled impatiently as he paced the living room. “The most important thing is that we get out of here as quickly as possible, and that no one know where we are going. Why don’t you just leave the Purification Squad a note?” he added as he kicked the nearest wall.
Miriam simply ignored him, and she continued to make her arrangements as serenely as if she were indeed setting out on a vacation. Unaccustomed to being ignored, Ahja seethed as he continued to pace the floor, and waited for her to finish her seemingly endless phone calls. Every now and then he heard an unexpected noise, and each time that he did, he would freeze in his tracks.
“We are wasting time,” he objected for possibly the tenth time. He didn’t understand her preoccupation; no Rizorian willingly touched an animal, much less cared for it as if it were a child. “Just turn the beast loose. It can probably take care of itself,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
Miriam flashed him an annoyed look, but she didn’t answer as she stubbornly continued to look for someone to stop by the house to take Max for his walks, and to feed and give him water. Her persistence finally paid off, and Ahja grinned as he thought, “How much like a true Rizorian she really is, in an alien sort of way.” He knew that no matter what he said, or did, that she had to take care of her responsibilities, just as Sadayna and the Purification Squad had to take care of theirs …
Pangs of guilt gnawed at him. In the midst of so much careful discharge of duty, his own failure stood in sharp contrast. He had turned his back on the mission that he had accepted, and had vowed, with his life and honor, to fulfill. By this time he had had many opportunities to carry out contingency plan SAD. Nervously, he thrust all thoughts of SAD out of his mind as he watched Miriam out of the corner of his eye. He would have to be more careful in the future; he wasn’t sure how many of his thoughts were at Miriam’s disposal, or how easily she could gain access to them …
Hours later, Ahja held onto the side of the speeding water taxi. The spray from the bay water chilled him, and he had to resist the impulse to turn the boat around, and find some other place to hide that wasn’t as inaccessible as the summer cottage on Fire Island. Ahja cringed everytime that the fine, sharp spray struck him in the face, but he noted dourly that the young man piloting the water taxi seemed to experience no such discomfort, and neither did Miriam. The Master Translator would not allow himself to be the only complainant, and he endured the disagreeable spray quietly.
On the other hand, Ahja had not seen so much empty, tranquil space for a long time. Out in the open, where he could see for miles in all directions, he was spared the strain of the uncertainty that danger might be lurking nearby. In spite of the discomfort that he felt, Ahja started to relax. The slightly choppy water of the bay was nearly empty except for a short string of clarnmers, whose bodies swayed back and forth in the rhythm of the waves as they raked up their harvest from the bay bottom. The wind was fresh and steady as it pushed past his face; it stung and chilled him like the foamy sea spray. For a moment, he permitted himself the luxury of closing his eyes as he faced the wind, and slowly he was lost in the feeling. Ahja allowed the wind to sweep away all of his stagnant thoughts from his mind, and it was almost as if he could see the remnants of those thoughts sink in the rippling water. He felt rested and clean.
As the water taxi rounded a small group of sand atolls, the bay water suddenly became calm, and the deep pitch of the boat’s engine slid up the scale of muscial tones to an excited higher pitch. The wake of the boat spread out in back of them like the proud fan‑like tail of a peacock; the white foam sparkled with countless rainbows, created by the sun that peeked through puffy clouds. The water taxi cut through the water effortlessly.
The breeze died down completely. The rippling of the bay water that had seemed to be never ending, and that had reflected the lonely sun a thousand times over, disappeared; the surface was placid now, except for the disturbance created by the passage of the boat. A few large birds drifted lazily across the sky, circled an area and dove with startling swiftness into the icy water to emerge instantly with small, wriggling, silver fish. Ahja sighed with pleasure; this planet was incredible!
Ahja turned his attention to Miriam, who was seated in the stern of their small craft. She had leaned back to catch the meager warmth afforded by the weak sun. She was bigger and heavier, and her coloring was all wrong, but in spite of that, at times, when he looked at her, it was Tieri whom he saw. Even their smiles were similar . . .
He didn’t have to try very hard to remember Tieri; he had never forgotten the fragrance of her hair, or the soft, gentle touch of her hands. Ahja recalled his fascination and delight with the many changes that had taken place in his wife’s body as she had waited the birth of their child. He had watched her so closely during that time that the memory of it flowed through his consciousness effortlessly. Her slender, graceful silhouette had blossomed into greater depths of beauty even as she grew heavier, and awkward with the new life that grew inside of her. There was one special time, when both suns were at opposite sides of the sky, their arms were around each other . . . they had giggled like children over the strong, lustly kicks of their unborn son … and then the Feyea came …
It was just as Miriam said that it would be; the small village appeared to be deserted. A great majority of the small houses had neatly painted, gray boards nailed over the windows. Some even had front and rear doors boarded up ‑ there was no doubt that the pleasure seeking summer people had not yet returned. Miriam had explained to Ahja that the village had only a handful of year round residents, and a few of those rugged individuals earned extra money by caring for the houses of the summer residents. Not able to afford that kind of luxury, Justin and Miriam traveled to the cottage on weekends to make it ready for the summer. This would have been the first summer that Justin wouldn’t teach summer school in order to supplement their income; he had wanted to spend all the time that he could with Miriam when the baby came.
The cottage was disappointing; Ahja had expected to find something large and luxurious in the style of Tragian vacation houses. He wrinkled his nose in distaste as he looked around and noted that the place was rustic to the point of being primitive. There were none of the common labor saving devices in any of the three tiny rooms, which meant that precious vacation time had to be spent in the drudgery of housework. Ahja wondered how Miriam could have planned to leave the comfort of her home in order to vacation in a place such as this one; it did not seem that it would have been much of a vacation at all. Suddenly, Ahja smiled and chided himself for having committed a basic error in interplanetary scholarship. He had taught the rule himself many times to young apprentices apprentices: all alien mores and values under study must be accepted by the scholar within their particular frame of reference, and without the imposition of the scholar’s own system of values. Ahja knew that adherence to the basic rule was extremely difficult, but as the Master Translator, the error was unforgivable. However, Ahja forgave himself instantly; this world and its people were so much like his home, in so many ways, that comparing them seemed like the most natural thing to do. He knew that he would be on guard against committing the basic error in the future, and that his study of Earth would be consciously purged of his own prejudices.
There were a few canned things in the tiny kitchen, but Miriam was too tired from the trip to prepare anything for them to eat. Ahja insisted she rest, and assured her he was capable and willing to do the work. It worried him to see how pale and out of breath she was. He overrode her feeble objections, and he smiled at how quickly she fell asleep. This was, he knew, the safest time for Miriam to rest; it would take the Purification Squad a while to find them.
Ahja was hungry. As soon as he had assured himself that the cottage was secure, he headed for the kitchen. He found a can of beans in the pantry, which he heated up for himself, but it wasn’t long before he was rubbing his aching stomach and wishing that he had eaten something else. For a few minutes he considered following Miriam’s example, and allow himself the opportunity to rest, but the tension that he felt would not allow him to relax. Furthermore, he felt that he should be doing something important, like stand watch, just in case. Feeling that the walls of the tiny cottage were closing in on him, he went outside to study the area before the sun set. He walked for awhile as he orientated himself; the bay was to the north, and the ocean to the south and the cottage was located on the east edge of the village. As he walked, he couldn’t help but notice how peaceful the world seemed to be, but he reminded himself not to allow that illusion of peace to lull him into complacency. Suddenly, he realized that the sun was setting, and although the knowledge that night was imminent made him nervous, it no longer inspired the blind terror in him that it used to do. He felt free to enjoy the effects of the fading sun on the landscape as he had never been able to do before. For the first time, he noticed that as the sun sank low in the horizon, it sent out long curls of rosy light that seemed to caress the light beige sand until it too glowed luminous pink. It was almost magical; the dwafted, twisted shapes of the pine shrubbery softened and blurred in the deepening twilight, and the restless, low growl of the ocean grew bolder and louder as the daytime sounds of the land lulled and hushed altogether. Ahja sighed deeply with pleasure, and he watched until he grew drowsy. He went inside to escape the night chill, stretched out on the worn sofa and rested.
He slept lightly and restlessly while his mind teased him by parading wonderful memories before him. With a feeling of complete abandon, Ahja followed those memories, wherever they chose to lead him.
He reeled through huge shadowy forests blanketed deep in crumbling leaves as he searched for something precious. So intent was he in arriving at the end of his quest that he grew careless, and didn’t watch his footing. He skid perilously over large, slippery, moss‑covered rocks, fell and rolled down a hillside. At last, he came to rest in front of a large, flat rock that they had named the Curtain Rock for it blocked the view of the cascade and the small pool beyond. It was a favorite meeting place, and he knew, or thought that he knew, that someone waited there for him.
Ahja stood in front of the Curtain Rock. Many small, white and red billed birds circled overhead urging him on, but he ignored them. The fear that she might not be there held him immobile. If the pool were empty, he didn’t know what he would do, and so he stayed on the other side of the Curtain Rock, and listened for a tell‑tale splash, a slightly suppressed giggle, or the faint scent of her perfume, which not even the mountain pool could wash away. Behind that rock, beneath the thick canopy of tree limbs and leaves, she had to be waiting for him as she used to, her pink and white body hidden among the pink and white flowers that floated in the pool. Ahja started to walk around the Curtain Rock to view the hidden mountain pool, when a sharp sound of a snapping twig shattered the illusion.
Ahja’s eyes opened instantly as he twisted his body in the direction of the sound. His heart pounded wildly, was it a twig that had snapped, or had it been part of his dream? J ust when he had decided that it had to have been part of his dream, he felt something touch his shoulder lightly. A scream tried to break free through his front teeth that bore down on his bleeding lips. No, he would not scream in fear like a child awakened from a bad dream. He jumped to his feet, shifted his weight to the balls of his feet, flexed his knees ever so slightly, every muscle in his body was tense, and he was ready to fight.
“Ahja,” Miriam pulled at his arm, “Ahja, there is something wrong!” He lost his forward momentum, and his balance; for the moment he had forgotten that she was in the cottage with him. The quiet hush of the enveloping darkness had played a dirty trick on him by making him forget, and fooling him into dropping his guard.
It was dark, but there was enough lightfrom the full, generous moon for him to be able to see her. She made her way to the front door, put her palms on the frail door and whispered, “Someone is coming, Ahja!”
“Who is it, Miriam?” Ahja tripped over the unfamiliar furniture in the dark room as he crept to her side. “is it someone you know?” he asked as he clutched her arm.
“Yes,” she stammered, “I know them.”
For a moment Ahja relaxed. If she knew them, they couldn’t possibly be in any danger.
“Ahja, it is the Rizorian Envoy, Sadayna and her men!” she whispered.
“How could you know the Envoy?” he scoffed. He grew impatient with her, himself and with the entire situation.
“She is as real to me as your memory of her is to you,” she retorted. Although he couldn’t see her face clearly, he knew that she smiled at him.
“O.K.,” he growled, “so I have very vivid memories. Let’s get back to business. Really, Miriam, who is outside, and how do you know?”
Miriam moved away from the door and sat down on the sofa. Ahja wished that there were enough light to allow him to see the expression on her face; the tone of her voice had him worried.
“The air is full of the sounds of their steps, their breathing, their thoughts,” she sighed a long, drawn out sigh. “You could hear them too if you would shut up and listen.”
“No, not I,” he replied with a trace of bitterness in his voice. “All I have is me to depend on. I don’t have your Adept ability.”
“Now you sound like one of them,” she snapped. Ahja did not want to ask her what she meant, and he remained quiet. A few seconds later, she reached for his hand, and he squeezed it.
They sat silently in the darkness, shoulder to shoulder and listened. The minutes lengthened, the shadows faded and vanished in deepening darkness. Ahja hoped that it was a passing cloud that had covered the moon, and not that the moon had set. After a long while, Ahja felt Miriam lean back against the sofa. She must be tired, he thought, and he whispered that perhaps she should return to the bedroom and lie down. She shook her head forcefully and held onto his hand tightly. Suddenly, Ahja knew that she was crying.
“They killed Max, my dog, Ahja! Why did they have to do that?” There was unmistakable anguish in her voice.
“How do you know that they did such a thing?” he asked. “It isn’t like them to kill indiscriminately.”
“They, the Rizorians, are so close that their images and thoughts are forcing themselves into my mind. I don’t think that I could shut them out, even if I wanted to. I can see Max’s body in the backyard, his body is stiff, and his tongue is hanging from his mouth onto the ground.”
“Then, believe me when I tell you that he is not dead, Miriam,” he whispered. “What you just described violates basic Rizorian behavior. They are such neat people that they wouldn’t allow a carcass to deface a landscape, not even Earth’s. I promise you that they would dispose of the body immediately. It’s most likely that the dog was stunned.”
“Oh, dear God, I hope so!” she sobbed softly.
“Miriam!” Ahja had nearly shouted. “Can it work the other way around? Do you know whether they can pick up your thoughts and feelings?” Even as he spoke, a tingling, almost electrical sensation passed through him. He had forgotten about the Adept brain wave detector! At that very moment, they were tracking her with the aid of that device. Ahja hoped that what Minje had told him about the unreliability of the detector at close range was true. Ahja groaned.
“What’s wrong, Ahja?”
“Miriam, forgive me, I had forgotten all about it.”
“What? What did you forget?”
“There is device,” he said hesitatingly, “an Adept brain wave detector. If you are an Adept, they can find you with it, and I guess that you are Adept because they’ve tracked us here.”
Miriam jumped to her feet and looked around the cottage wildly as if ready to run. Ahja held onto to her; he knew that there was no place to hide. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” she cried, her voice was full of despair.
“I forgot, I told you that it just slipped my mind,” he stuttered angrily. How could he have overlooked such an important detail? It was incredible to him that his uncharacteristic lapse of memory should be the cause of their capture and death. He knew that given enough time, Sadayna and her Purification Squad would find them no matter where they hid.
Miriam struggled in his grasp, and Ahja was startled to discover that even in her weakened condition, she was very strong. He held onto to her tightly, and he tried to hush her cries.
“They’re terrible people, Ahia. All they think of is killing. I think that killing is their sole reason for being, and they hide what they do by calling it Purification!”
“I know, Miriam, I know.”
“What can we do?”
“We have to get out of here as soon as possible.”
“But what’s the use? You just told me that all they have to do in order to find me is to tune me in with their brain wave gadget, remember?” she asked with a nervous, sarcastic laugh. “There is nothing that either one of us can do to stop them, and you know it!”
“That’s true. I’m not about to deny that, Miriam, but we can’t just sit back and allow them to do what they will. As long as we’re alive, we have to fight for our right to stay alive. Once we surrender to them, we surrender our right to survive. It is as simple as all that.”
“As simple as all that,” she echoed mockingly.
“Yes, it is! And if you don’t want to fight for your own life, then at least think of the baby. I refuse to believe that you’re willing for it to die even before it’s born!” Tears filled Ahja’s eyes as the green color of his eyes overran its border to flood the disolving brown. Also weeping, Miriam tried to turn away from him, but Ahja wouldn’t allow her to escape his words.
“Any mother who would allow those fanatics to kill her child isn’t worthy of having a child at all. Listen to me, Miriam, your own parents gave up their lives so that you might live. How can you not be willing to fight to keep that life? If you give up now, their sacrifice was all for nothing! Prove that you were worthy of their actions.”
“Stop it,” she said as she pushed him away from her. She glared at him through the dim light.
Ahja wiped away his tears, and unhesitatingly, he pulled her towards him. She did not resist, and he held her in his arms, and caressed her entangled copper‑colored curls as he tried to comfort her.
“We must be quiet,” he whispered when she tried to speak, “they will find us.”
Miriam pulled away from him and shook her head sadly. “They will always be able to find us.”
“But why help them to do it? Come on now, you’re not thinking clearly. We still have a chance.”
“What chance?” she asked. “They’ll track us‑”
“Not at close range, Miriam. The detector doesn’t work well at close range.”
“Well then, since you know everything there is to know, and since you’re able to think clearly, you can tell me what to do.” Miriam waved her arms in a helpless gesture. “So, tell me, how are we going to escape?”
“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted, and all of a sudden he felt an overwhelming surge of defeat. He turned away from her.
It was her turn to comfort him. Miriam touched his shoulder; her fingers brushed against him only for an instant, but the rush of emotion was such that it frightened her with its intensity. She rubbed her fingers as if they had been burned, and she stepped back. “Are you so afraid to die, Ahja?” she whispered.
He thought of all the comforting words that he had ever heard, or studied, of all the brave gestures and phrases, but they all seemed inadequate and hollow. “Yes, I am very much afraid,” he answered simply.
“So am I,” she said.
They both heard the sound then. It was a slight scraping, but neither one of them could tell from where it came. Ahja held his breath; there were so many windows and two doors to watch at the same time. It was impossible to do anything else, so they waited inside the fragile cottage.
Ahja knew that he would fight when they found them, that he would claw his way into the future second by second as he held onto his life. A blinding flash would signal the way into the entrance of the unknown void, and it would be painless and fast.
The perspiration slithered down his face slowly. “Let it be now!” he growled under his breath. “What are they waiting for?”
“They’re not sure where we are, Ahja. And‑” Miriam’s voice quivered with excitement. “‑they’re afraid of me!”
Holding onto Ahja’s arm almost as if it were an anchor, she reached out across the darkness to follow the newly discovered scent of fear. The trail was easy to follow, and with growing expertise, she absorbed the images that she found thirstily. There was knowledge in those jumbled images that reached out to her from the other side of the galaxy, and through the barriers of time. In seconds, she learned intimate details about Rizoria, the Adept, her parents and the people who persued her. Ultimately, all of the new knowledge taught Miriam a great deal about the power that she possessed. She had always been a good student, and now at that moment, she was superb.
In addition, she learned that everything that Ahja had told her was the truth. There was no way to out‑fight, or to out‑run the Rizorians who persued them. Even if the squad were to be destroyed, another one would take its place. Miriam acknowledged the fact that they were indeed the perfect fanatics. But there had to be a way to out‑maneuver them, she thought. Somewhere among all of the hazy fragments of knowledge and the flickering images that bombarded her mind, the answer had to exist. At the moment, it was hidden from her, but all she needed was the time to sort it all out; she needed time. She looked at Ahja from the other side of her thoughts, and suddenly, she knew what it was that she had to do.
“You’ll have a better chance, Ahja, if we separate. We know that the Purification Squad will always be able to find me. When they do catch up to me, I don’t want them to find you as well,” she placed her long, slender fingers across his lips to muffle the objections that formed there. “You have a chance to get out of here, take it! Perhaps, you’ll make it to the Coast Guard Station. Yes, I think that would be your best bet. Anything official will frighten away the Rizorians.”
“I can’t just leave you here to face them alone,” he objected. “How long, and how fast do you think that you’ll be able to run in your condition?”
“I’ve learned a great deal about myself in the past few minutes, Ahja. You were right, everything that you said was the truth. And don’t think for a second that I plan to give up, I’m going to fight them. I have such strengths, and abilities that would save us both, if I knew how to use them. I don’t have the time to experiment, learn, and explain things to you, too,” she said as she grabbed his shoulders. She smiled at him affectionately, “really, Lord Ahja, I think that it is the only way. We’ll leave the cottage separately while it is still twilight.”
Over and over again Ahja protested, but in the end he had to admit that she was right. He didn’t feel that he shouId abandon her, but she insisted, and he agreed reluctantly. He tried to rationalize his mixed feelings; perhaps their separation might confuse the Rizorians just enough to give Miriam a chance, however small that chance might be.
“I’ll agree,” he said, “on the condition that you run towards the Coast Guard station. I’ll head east to draw them away from you. If you can make it to the station, Miriam, you might be safe for awhile, at least.”
“O.K.,” she agreed reluctantly, “but I’ll go first, and don’t argue with me,” she added as she noted the darkening expression on his face, and the furious mixing of colors, green and brown that took place in the shadow of his eyelashes.
“It’s almost daylight. They’re not in the immediate area now, but they’ll circle around here soon, and we don’t have much time for discussions,” she said and frowned thoughtfully.
Awkwardly, they stared at each other, knowing that they might not see each other again, wanting to say goodbye, and not wanting to, they were afraid. Miriam resolved the awkwardness of the moment by slipping her arms around his neck. She drew him close to her, kissed him lightly on the mouth and whispered, “Goodbye, Ahja.”
Ahja watched as she turned and walked out of the door. She moved with great effort along the narrow path that linked the tiny cottages the entire length of the village. Heavy and clumsy with the burden of new life, how could she possibly survive? He shook his head and cursed himself for not being able to help her, and he stared after her until a small bend in the path made it impossible for him to see her any longer.
As fragile as the shelter that the cottage afforded was, Ahja hated to leave it, yet he was aware that he couldn’t stay there any longer. He stepped off of the miniscule porch onto the path and started to run in the opposite direction that Miriam had taken. As he ran, he could hear his footfally resound loudly on the wooden sidewalk, or was it the loud pounding of his heart as it pumped blood as rapidly as it was physiologically possible? He tried to run silently, but after nearly tripping over his own feet, he gave up that idea. Ahja decided that a quiet run was just impossible and that speed was the important factor. The distinguished Master Translator of the Second Federation ran until a burning, stabbing pain in his side forced him to his knees.
The pain engulfed him; it tore at his entrails and seared the inside of his eye lids. Tears flooded his eyes, but there was no relief for the burning, or for the pain that raged inside of him. Every breath fed the furnace of pain. A laser rod set on stun, he thought, set on stun. But why stun, and not kill? The refreshing darkness washed over him, and it hinted of peace and the cessation of pain. He reached out for it with both hands outstretched, and he wrapped himself up in it.
“Ahja, look at me!” Her voice was delightfully cool, and strangely musical like the tinkling of thousands of shattering icicles.
He wanted to obey the command, but he found that his eyes just would not open no matter how hard he tried.
“Open your eyes, Ahja, and look at me!”
There was no doubt that the command had to be obeyed. Ahja struggled to control the trembling in his limbs. Someone near him said something, and that wonderful, cool voice answered that it was ‘normal pathology.’ Ahja wondered what it meant as he concentrated on the command that he had to carry out.
When his eyes opened, he saw Sadayna’s beautiful eyes glaring down at him. She frowned even as her lips twisted into a smile.
“Obedience is difficult for you, Master Translator. It is always difficult at first, or so I’ve been told.”
Ahja knew that he felt better because he had to resist an overwhelming desire to take her long, slender neck in his dirty, blistered hands, and squeeze. He almost laughed out loud at the ridiculous idea; in his condition, it would be a futile gesture. With difficulty, he pulled himself to his feet, and attempted a dignified pose, but he succeeded only in swaying dangerously out of control. Two of the Rizorian men held him upright.
“Friend Ahja, please don’t look upon me as the enemy,” the Envoy said. As ever, the sound of her voice was wonderful. He listened to its enchanting sound without hearing the words, or noting their meaning until he heard the Rizorian word for Trag.
“Yes,” she said sweetly, too sweetly, “I thought that would be just the word to snap you to attention.
“As I was saying, Master Ahja, we can be of help to each other. My squad made a terrible mistake in its attempt to eliminate you. I can assure you that they have already been properly punished.
“You must be as tired of this mission, and as eager to return home as I am. If we help each other, we can both return to our respective worlds as quickly as our ships can take us there.”
“Return to Trag? How is that possible? Lord Chairman Minje is‑”
“Yes, I know all about that,” she snapped impatiently. “I have a ship at my disposal, and I’m ready to strike a bargain with you.”
“What kind of bargain?” he asked as he tried to ignore the nibbles of pain in order to concentrate on the conversation.
“The swift culmination of our mission is the imperative, nothing else is important. Give us the exact location of the fugitive, and we will take you with us when we withdraw to Rizoria.” Sadayna moved closer to him, and dropped her voice to a seductive whisper. “Home! Think of it, Ahja, you’ll return to Trag!”
Ahja breathed deeply of her perfume, and he struggled to keep afloat in the liquid depths of her luminous copper eyes.
“Home,” he repeated weakly.
“Yes, home. Once we are on Rizoria, you will be greatly honored as you so richly deserve. Then we shall send you home, to Trag as a Rizorian hero.”
The sounds of her voice swirled all about him; they were cooling, refreshing, healing and seductive. She offered him an opportunity that he had believed was lost to him, and it could very well be his final hope. He felt that he should reach out to grab it with his shaking hands, and hold on to it as firmly as he could. He should, he should do it . .
“Use your detector,” he snapped. Ahja the Master Translator would not be won over so easily.
“You know that it is all but useless at close range, Master Ahja,” she replied coldly. “Now we waste precious time, time that could be best employed going home. Don’t you want to return to your world, Ahja? All of Trag waits for your return.”
She had whispered the name of his home planet so lovingly, like a delicate caress, and Ahja moaned with longing.
“Surely, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life on this inadequate world? That female is the only thing that stands between us, and our trip home. Tell me, Ahja, where did the fugitive go?”
“No,” he coughed. Pain tore at him with long razor‑iike claws. “I won’t tell you anything.”
Sobbing, he dropped to his knees, but he was yanked to his feet immediately, and a sudden, powerful blow was delivered to his gut. Blood and vomit propelled its way out of his mouth. He gagged and choked as powerful contraction forced out the remains of the contents of his stomach.
The Rizorian Envoy stepped back, wrinkled her nose in distaste and swept the ground clean with her laser rod.
“This is very unnecessary, friend Ahja,” she said. “The problem is that you think of this fugitive as human; it is not human, it is less than the foam on the water. You owe no loyalty to it, and the Central Council has no jurisdiction over it. In your deranged mind, you defend a woman.”
“She is a woman, a wonderful person‑”
“Why are you so stubborn? Why do you defend this fugitive? It should mean nothing to you, or perhaps it means more to you than we can guess—“ The Envoy’s voice trailed off as if she were lost in thought. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide with disbelief and horror.
Ahja turned his head away; he didn’t know what it was that she thought, and he didn’t even want to make a guess. The only thing that he really wanted to do at that moment, was to wipe his mouth, but the men who held his arms twisted them back in a direction that they were never meant to go. Tight circles of pain slivered through him, and darkness once again encircled him., He wanted to rush towards it and lose himself in it as he had before. Only the Envoy stopped him, only she stood between him and the peaceful darkness.
“Where did she go?” Her voice was sharp, and Ahja knew that her will was unbending. The only thing, of which Ahja was certain, was that more blows and pain were to follow.
“Envoy, look! The fugitive is there!” One of the men signaled wildly towards the dune line. Ahja was dropped rudely to the ground.
Without hesitation, the Envoy issued her orders, “Persue and terminate!”
Ahja lifted his pounding head; he had to see what was about to take place.
“Envoy, the fugitive does not retreat!” the squad‑man yelled in disbelief. “Tt advances in our direction!” the second man’s voice betrayed a note of panic.
“Remember that it is dangerous,” the Rizorian Envoy gave her commands easily. “Set to kill, and prepare to fire!”
Ahja peered through his reluctant eye lids, and his mouth fell open in amazement. It was incredible, but Miriam indeed walked towards them. Perhaps the tension had been too much for her, and her mind had snapped. He wanted to yell at her, and to order her away, but the words could not get past the pools of blood in his mouth.
“No,” Ahja cried, “no, don’t kill her!”
Miriam crumbled to the ground; her body glowed in the colors of the rainbow. The colors moved in a whirlpool and grew indistinct. All of the colors paled rapidly before they faded into pure white, and all that was left was a small pile of gray ash on the sand.
The Envoy was radiant. “It is done at last!” She clapped her hands like a child, awaiting her gifts from the ancient spirits. “At last the mission is over, and the last of the Adept curse is no more. We are free, and we are safe. “
“Safe from what?” Ahja’s voice crackled like the dry dune grass beneath his body. “Now you are safe from a helpless, pregnant woman,” he sneered.
“You are overly emotional, and you’re behaving irrationally. Perhaps the fugitive has tampered with you, Master Ahja. You know as welI as I what the fugitive was, and what danger it represented to the galaxy,” the Envoy pressed her full, moist lips into a hard, thin line.
“Stop calling her an ‘it.’ She was Miriam, a wife, a mother to be, and a wonderful human being!”
“Very well then, she. She was Adept, and all of the Adept were dangerous to us. Their powers were uncontrollable and vicious; you should be grateful to us for having spared you, your world and the Federation as well, from a renewed Adept threat.”
“No, Envoy, you are wrong. I knew her for a short while only, but during that time, never once did I detect the possibility that her powers might be dangerous. She didn’t even know that she had any powers until you and your Squad came. Perhaps if you had never come, she would have never known.” A strong anger, strong enough to deaden his pain momentarily rumbled through his body.
“You are wrong,” he insisted, “whatever powers that she had might have been harnessed for the good of us all. Maybe this mutation was different, a good one, a controllable one. In your blood lust, you destroyed it and now we’ll never know!”
“You are a romantic, simplistic fool, who doesn’t know what he is talking about. We expected more from you, Master Ahia. I tell you that all of the Adept were dangerous. They all had to be eliminated to stop the spread of possible contamination.
“But, of course, the strain that you’ve been under was great, and I forgive you. Come now, we shall be friends,” she smiled at him brightly as she extended her hand to him.
Ahja stared at that hand suspiciously. “You killed Miriam for no noble reason. It was not done in order to keep the galaxy safe as you claim; it was for you.” Ahja took great pleasure in seeing the Envoy’s smile fade from her luminous face.
“Friendship! What do you know of friendship, or love? Miriam knew and you killed her just as your people wiped out all of the Adept because their existence embarassed you. You claim that the flaw in their genetic structure made them dangerous, and maybe that was true to an extent, but I suspect that the most dangerous flaw existed in you rather than in the Adept. I am willing to bet that the great, beautiful and perfect people of Rizoria were simply jealous. You couldn’t face the fact that the Adept were gifted with abilities that none of you could ever hope to have, and that none of you could understand. Your fears that you might not be as perfect as they were drove you to the commission of the most horrible of crimes, the butchering of your own—”
Ahja felt the strong blows of Rizorian fists and feet against his body, for some reason the pain wasn’t able to overwhelm him as easily as before. He screamed his defiance until a well placed fist struck him on the jaw, and slammed his face into the bloody sand.
“—it was Rizorian wounded pride and jealousy that were uncontrollable,” Ahja sobbed. His rage weakened, and he felt tired. For the third time the darkness rushed towards him; wearily; he yielded to it.