Something disturbed the darkness; it snaked out towards him. Ahja could not see what it was, but he knew it was there. He felt fear shimmy through his veins and he turned to run—to escape whatever it was that approached. He felt it touch him; he resisted, and it withdrew. Ahja could not give up the serenity that was now his. He wouldn’t. And yet something compelled him to reach out through the shadows to reach the source of the disturbance. It took all his self-control and force of will to let it approach again.
To his surprise, he discovered that the source of the disturbance emitted a pale curl of light; suddenly, filled with boundless joy, Ahja reached out for it. The heart of the void still pulsated invitingly, but he ignored it, and just before he reached the light, he heard her voice. The closer he moved towards the intensifying light, the clearer grew the musical notes in her words. He called her name, and the light flared brightly to dispell the remaining vestiges of the darkness.
To his surprise, and delight, Ahja found that he could open his eyes although it took an agonizingly long time for the light to arrange itself into form, color and image. The journey away from the void had exhausted him, and his eyes kept closing. Ahja strained to concentrate, and finally his eyes stayed open long enough to focus.
The first thing that Ahja saw was Miriam’s frightened, beautiful face. Her uncombed, dark copper‑colored curls tumbling over her face were unable to hide the heavy, luminous tears that balanced on the tips of her eyelashes. She wore the same red turtle neck sweater, the faded blue jeans and the same white and black checkered jacket.
Ahja felt her hands rubbing his, and his own fingers responded to her touch. “How is this possible?” he whispered. “Have we both crossed the great void at the same time and place? Is this the place beyond?”
“Try not to talk, Ahja,” she said as she squeezed his hand again. Her smile was radiant. “It’s all over, and we are both free to continue our lives in peace. That is truly the only important thing.”
“But how? This cannot be real,” he persisted. “I saw you die!”
“No, Ahja, you saw an image die. It was not me.”
“An image?” he asked blankly.
“You won’t rest until I explain, will you?”
Ahja nodded, his eyes were wide open in astonishment.
“Well, then I’ll tell you,” she laughed. “in reality it was your idea. I thought of it when you asked me if I could send images as well as receive them. Suddenly the idea just appeared. I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off, but we were desperate, and you had given me this lecture about fighting back and all—”
“But what did you do? And how?”
“Let me tell my story my way.”
“Then tell it.”
“I knew that I couldn’t out‑run, or out‑fight them, so the only other alternative was to fool them.
It was necessary for the Rizorians to believe they had accomplished their mission. If they thought that I was dead, they would leave Earth, and never come back. Then I thought of the idea to project an image into their minds. When I was able to fool you with the image that I projected, I was fairly sure that my plan would work.”
“You experimented on me? When?”
“Back at the cottage, where we said our good‑byes. You spoke with the image, and it was the image that left. I never did.”
“But it was so real! I saw you die in their laser fire, and the Rizorian saw it as well.”
“I’ve learned a lot of things from your mind, Ahja. One of the most important things that I learned was what a death by laser looks like. I projected that image into each of your minds; each of you saw what you expected to see.”
“It’s too incredible to believe.”
“From what I’ve learned, it would’ve been a simple task for any Adept child.” Miriam smiled and patted his hand.
“But you spoke to me, kissed me,” he objected. His memory of that goodbye nagged at him. “How could it have been merely an illusion?”
Miriam shrugged her shoulders. “Think of it as a different kind of communication. An illusion would suggest a falsehood, and I never intended that. No, Ahja, in the case of our goodbye, the image, or the projection of myself, merely communicated to you that which I wanted to express.”
Ahja sighed; he had a feeling that he was about to lose the argument, which in itself was unimportant. The fact that he would never again be certain if that which he had witnessed was real or illusion bothered him deeply.
“Where are we now?” he asked in a deliberate attempt to change the subject of their conversation.
“We’re back at the cottage,” she replied. “After the Rizorians left, I went to the general store for help. I told them that I had witnessed a mugging. You should’ve seen how upset they were. No one has ever been mugged in Ocean Park prior to the summer season before,” she laughed, and it made Ahja feel good to hear her.
“The only thing that worried me was that they would use that laser ray-gun thing on you. I don’t know what I would have done if they had attempted it. Also, I wasn’t sure how many suggestions I could sneak into their minds before they became suspicious. I’m glad that it’s all over.”
“Me, too,” he agreed. “if they had been on friendlier terms with me, they would have used the laser in order to prepare me for crossing the great void. For Rizorians, death without purification is a terrible thing.”
“You would have been fried to a crisp, no doubt,” Miriam said with a no nonsense tone in her voice. “You’re not in very good shape now, but with some rest and care, I’m sure that you’ll recover. “
“Are you sure that they’re gone?” he asked as he tried to mask the apprehension in his voice.
“Oh, yes, I’m positive. I watched them get into their boat, and to be really sure, I followed them with my mind for as far as I could. They have a few days of travel ahead of them before they reach their rendezvous point, and are able to leave Earth. Since they are under the impression that I’m dead, they have no reason for ever coming back.”
“They’re going home, I guess,” Ahja said wistfully as he squinted at the brilliant blue sky outside the cottage window.
“Oh, Ahja, I’m so sorry. I know how much your home means to you. I feel guilty that because you helped me, you’ve lost your means to get home.”
“It wasn’t all your fault, Miriam, in fact none of it was your fault. We’re both victims of circumstance. Anyhow, I have a feeling that the Rizorians would’ve killed me, no matter what I did.”
“I wish that I could have helped you get to your Trag.”
“You mean that there is actually something that your Adept power can’t accomplish?” he asked good naturedly, but there was an unmistakable twinge of bitterness in his voice.
“There are many things that I can’t do,” Miriam ignored the bitterness, and smiled at him warmly. Ahja’s mood improved in the bright warmth of that smile.
“I can help you to get well,” she said, “and it has nothing to do with Adept ability. Good old fashioned Earth‑style home nursing will take care of all that ails you, and when Justin comes home, the two of you will get along just fine. You’re going to stay with us, you know, until you’re healthy, have a means of earning a livelihood, and can fend for yourself on this world.”
“Is Justin out of the coma yet?
“No. Not yet, but the doctor thinks that Justin will make it, and that he’ll be fine.”
“I’m so happy for you, Miriam.” Ahja smiled broadly although it hurt his bandaged face to do so. He enjoyed watching her radiant face and warm smile, and although he felt a great deal of warmth in that smile, something troubled him. The germ of an unshakable idea gnawed at him although he pushed it away from his mind over and over again.
All afternoon she handled everything. Two men from the mainland came, and she filed a report with them on the alleged mugging. She made arrangements for the water taxi to pick them up the following afternoon, and she tidied up the cottage, humming pretty songs as she worked through the day.
Ahja had tried to escape the thought by thinking of other things, or by sleeping, but nothing seemed to work. By late afternoon, the thought had grown in strength, to the point that it crowded out everything else from his mind. Despite the consequences, the thought matured and ripened; he would have to speak to her about it.
“Miriam,” he said as she served him his dinner, “there’s something that we have to talk about.”
“Go ahead, I’m listening, what’s on your mind?”
“Miriam, there’s always the possibility that the Rizorians might come back,” he said as he tried to hide his anxiety. “What if they run a routine scan on the planet, and discover you’re still alive?”
“Why should they do such a thing? Are you trying to scare me?”
“You know that’s not true. I’m just presenting a possibility. You have to admit that it could happen‑”
Miriam’s face darkened and her madonna‑like features became distorted by frustration and rage. Ahja reached for her hand to calm her. Her fingers wrapped themselves around his with such strength that it surprised him.
His bed began to shake, and he thought that he saw the walls of the cottage start to tremble. Suddenly, everything around him was moving, doors slammed, windows rattled and the bed in which they sat shook violently.
“Miriam!” he cried as he tried to free himself from the increasing pressure of her steel‑like grasp. “Miriam, stop it!”
Hair brushes, combs, mirrors and magazines flew around in the room with increasing velocity; they threatened to become deadly projectiles. Ahja felt himself start to tremble as well. He couldn’t help himself as his shaking grew increasingly stronger and more violent.
“Miriam, you’ll kill me if you don’t stop!”
After a final series of loud crashes, everything grew still, and Ahja fell back against the bed. Miriam still held onto his hand, but she had relaxed her grip. All of the gentle softness had been erased from her face, and when she spoke, the musical tones were absent from her voice. She spoke with such a cold determination that she frightened Ahja more than the phenomenon that he had just observed.
“If they come back, Ahja, they won’t find me as helpless as before. I have the knowledge now. In no time I’ll be stronger than anyone or anything they might have ever encountered. In fact, it would be better for them if they never come back. I can promise you that they will regret another run in with me!”
“Miriam, calm yourself. It was just a thought. I was just posing a hypothetical question. That was no reason to upset yourself like that. You have to think about your baby, you know.”
Miriam nodded her head, sighed and rubbed her belly gently. “You’re right, Ahja. I must keep my baby safe.”
“That kind of stress can’t be good for it.”
“The baby is not an it, Ahja. I carry a daughter.”
“Really! Well, then congratulations. A daughter, who will be as beautiful as her mother.”
Miriam smiled. Ahja watched her face as her expression become soft and her eyes acquired a dreamy expression.
“Besides,” he said, “I really think that you are right; they’ll never return to Earth because they have no cause now. You’re safe, Miriam, you’re safe, and your daughter is safe.”
Ahja watched Miriam’s face regain its serene madonna‑like expression. The master translator had learned something very important just now. Never get Miriam angry. Ahja shifted uneasily in the bed.