The old woman giggled constantly, and that annoyed Ahja; he could not understand her words, nor could he figure out what it was that amused her. Nervously, he coughed, cleared his throat and looked around him, but there was no one else on the empty country road to turn to for help. If the woman would not, or could not aid him, he faced the possibility of having to waste even more precious time. Ahja redoubled his efforts, and after what seemed to be an endless ritual of gestures and questions, she released the information that he needed to find Miriam. He hoped that what the woman had told him was correct, and that the end of his long, frustrating journey was now in sight.
The sun burned through the thick canopy of clouds. Sweat drenched his clothes as he strode to the spot where the old woman had indicated to him that the road to Miriam’s place began. The entrance to the road was partially obscured by dense tropical vegetation, which explained why he had gone by it several times. Ahja was stunned when he saw the steep, unpaved path through which no car would be able to maneuver. By no stretch of the imagination could it have been a road; it was nothing more than a foot path, and a poor one at that. Ahja knew that he would have to continue on foot, and he didn’t relish the idea; at least in the car, he had been fairly comfortable with the air‑conditioner to cool him.
He ambled back to the rented Camaro, locked it and smiled nervously at the old woman, who watched him intently. Her dark, and deeply set eyes glowed with curiosity, her bushy eyebrows were pulled together tightly into a frown and her thin lips were twisted slightly into a half smile. Thinking that perhaps she waited for some kind of reward for her help, Ahja reached into his pockets for some bills that he tried to push into her unsteady hands. The woman’s face brightened when she saw the currency, but with a proud shake of her head, she refused it, and Ahja feared that he had offended her. As if to reassure him, she reached out with her huge, work‑roughened hand and squeezed his shoulder in a friendly gesture. Ahja smiled warmly at her, and she returned his smile with one of her own that accentuated all of the deeply etched lines in her tanned, leathery skin. Ahja thanked her as she pushed him gently in the direction of the steep, gravelly path that he was to travel.
Sweat poured down his face, and into his eyes as he viewed the “road” that twisted and turned before him. Ahja noticed a tiny community at the very end of the “road.” It was nothing more than a small group of houses that seemed to be huddled together in a patternless group. Not one building stood straight; all of them sagged, or leaned toward each other as if reaching out for encouragement, or support. Ahja doubted that he would find Miriam there, but the only way to know for sure was to go down there and check it out.
The “road” was even steeper than what it had appeared to be from the main road. Ahja discovered almost immediately that walking would require all of his concentration; the loose gravel moved treacherously beneath his feet with every step, and his sense of balance seemed to betray him.
Halfway down the path, just as Ahja had become accustomed to the terrain, he noticed a pack of five or six mongrols scampering in his direction. They covered the distance between him and the small group of houses in the valley with unbelievable speed. Abruptly, Ahja was forced to switch his attention from his balance to the appearance of the dogs.
They circled in back of him, sniffed at the trail that he had left and barked hysterically at Ahja, who waved his hands ineffectively at them. One small, black and white dog sported a network of healing wounds on his shoulders and back, and it was obviously much more aggressive than the rest as it snapped at his ankles. The other dogs rapidly followed their leader’s example. Anxiously, Ahja watched as the pack ran circles around him as they displayed their chipped, stained fangs and as they took turns in trying to sink those fangs into his legs.
It didn’t take too long for anger to displace fear, and Ahja struck back at the pack of mongrols. Careful not to lose his precarious balance, Ahja managed to kick the pack’s leader in the mouth. The dog blinked his large, yellowish eyes at Ahja in an unmistakable expression of surprise. It growled, and took a menacing step towards the man, but when Ahja shouted and raised his fist wildly in the air, the animal backed off very quickly. With its tail pressed firmly against its hollowed out stomach, the leader of the pack retreated down the steep path with dozens of reddish rocks rolling after him in the dust. Taking a hint from their leader’s retreat, the others followed suit.
Suddenly, Ahja felt something else brush by him; he was relieved to see that it was not yet another dog that attacked him. A thin, barefoot child, who wore bright, tattered clothing that was much too large for her delicate frame, ran past him effortlessly. Her sudden appearance amazed Ahja, but the fact that she appeared to be unimpeded by the sharp rocks or the steepness of the descent amazed him even more. The child’s movements were as graceful, and as sure as if she strolled on the smoothest, most level of surfaces.
Abruptly, the tawny‑haired child stopped, turned and smiled at Ahja. She waved her tiny hand urging him to follow her, but without waiting for him, she ran ahead. Her waist long hair streamed out behind her, and her deeply tanned arms and legs flashed honey gold in the hot afternoon sun.
She ran towards the small cluster of houses; Ahja assumed that she would stop there, but she didn’t. It was then that Ahja realized that the “road” turned sharply to the right; there it narrowed almost immediately into a barely discernible hard clay path. She skipped along the path without waiting for Ahja, who had stopped to wipe the dripping sweat from his face and to catch his breath.
The tropical heat hung around his head along with dozens of buzzing, humming mosquitos. Ahja slapped at his face and bare arms several times before he decided that the effort was futile. He shrugged his shoulders, the only thing to do was to keep moving. Ahja looked up to see where the girl had gone, and he noticed a small structure at the end of the path about forty‑five feet ahead. It was almost completely covered by shrubbery, and it was dwarfted by the sides of the mountain that soared above it.
The shack seemed to lean against the side of the rugged mountain as if it could no longer bear the strain of standing on its own. It was made of rough planks of unpainted wood that were badly splintered, and rotting in many places. There was nothing straight or level about the place, and it was as if some giant being had crunched it out of shape in a powerful hand before tossing it carelessly onto the hard clay ground. Once again Ahja doubted that he would find Miriam there, not in that awful shack, but he had traveled thousands of miles to find her, and he wouldn’t turn back.
Ahja followed the girl as she squeezed past a narrow space between the shack and the mountain’s side. He found himself in front of the shack’s entrance. As much as he needed to find her again, Ahja hoped that it had been a mistake, that the woman for whom he searched was not there.
Inside the shack, the child called Miriam, and Ahja shook his head as if he could shake away his feelings of sadness and pity. He had been aware of the fact that nothing had gone well for Miriam after the Rizorian Purification Squad had left Earth. The great triumph that he had witnessed all too rapidly had given way to tragedy, when just the following week Miriam had mis‑carried.
The loss of the baby was in itself a severe blow, but the horror of its malformed body haunted its parents’ lives. Even though Ahja had never spoken to Miriam about it, he supposed that any such Rizorian‑Terran cross would end as badly as that one had. Furthermore, at the time that she most needed the love and comfort only a husband could give, she lost Justin too.
Justin really never recovered fully from the accident at the marina. It was true that he was recovered physically, but emotionally, he appeared to have been damaged past the point of repair. The loss of the child must have pushed him past some ill‑defined boundry, and he deteriorated into a distorted, grotesque version of his former self. Day by day, he grew more and more sullen and morose until his face gradually acquired the deeply etched lines that revealed the bitterness, the hostility and the resentfulness that tore him apart. Miriam never stopped trying to reach through to him until the day that he walked out of the house and disappeared.
Ahja gave Miriam all of the aid and comfort that he could, the months of waiting, however, took their toll upon her, and he was not able to dissuade her from her decision to leave as well. She sold the few things that she had, and moved back to Puerto Rico as if she could run away from the memory of all of the terrible things that had happened to her. All of those events had taken place years ago, and now as he stood in front of the shack, Ahja experienced a sense of guilt, the years had been good to him, in contrast, and he should have insisted she accept his help.
Ahja hesitated at the door to the shack; he was unsure if he should wait there, or go inside. As he tried to decide what to do, the little girl reappeared at the door. She smiled shyly at him, and without speaking ran back in the direction of the ramshackle community. Ahja watched her run, and when he looked back at the doorway, he saw Miriam standing there.
She laughed with delight and surprise as she extended her hands out to him in welcome. As always, whenever he saw her, Ahja gasped with pleasure; Miriam was as beautiful as he had remembered. There was also a glow of serenity that seemed to radiate from her that Ahja had never noticed before.
With the joyous abandon of two old friends who had not seen each other for years, they hugged, kissed and held onto each other as if to reassure themselves that they were really finally together once again.
“Let’s get out of the sun,” she said as she pulled him into the dark interior of the shack.
The silvery musical tones of her voice swept over him instantly, catching him off guard. He fought off the serene effect of those sounds to regain his composure. It was difficult, he had forgotten just how difficult it was.
Miriam was a great deal thinner, and her hair seemed to have been hacked away; it was short and curly. Gone were the cascading tangles of curls, whose shimmering copper color had never ceased to fascinate him. He mourned the loss of those curls, but then he noticed how much larger, and hypnotic her eyes seemed to be.
The inside of the shack surprised him, although it shouldn’t have. In fact, he should’ve expected what he found. The walls and the floor were made of the same rough, unfinished lumber as was the outside. In many places, daylight shone in brightly through the spaces in the boards, but the fairly large room, which served as the living, dining and kitchen was thoroughly immaculate, even comfortable. A tiny room to the right held the bed, which was carefully made up with a quilt and several decorative pillows. The few pieces of furniture were marred and worn, but they displayed signs of loving care and daily attention. Miriam had made everything as perfect as it could be made, Ahja noted; it was a universal, Rizorian trait.
The two friends spent most of the afternoon catching up on ten years of back news as they sipped the dark, rich coffee that she had brewed. Gradually, the bright sunlight withdrew, and evening seeped in through the cracks in the wall boards. When she noticed how dark it had become, Miriam paused in the middle of a sentence to light the only lamp in the room.
Ahja watched her silently, transfixed; her hair had captured the glow of the yellowish, bare light bulb, and it shimmered. He couldn’t help but notice that her tanned copper‑colored skin grew luminous as if it harbored a light source of its own. Suddenly, Ahja was aware of the shadows in the shack that seemed to have come to life themselves as they slid languerously and seductively along the bare walls. A restless, uncomfortable feeling took hold of him, and he stood, stretched and walked to the door to watch the pale, rosy colors drain from the sky.
“Come on, Ahja,” Miriam said, and the brightness in her voice did more to light up the room than the feeble electric light. “We’ve been sitting for too long. Let’s go for a walk; now that the sun is down, the evening breeze has picked up. You’ll find it much cooler than what it was when you arrived. Later, we’ll see about dinner.”
Miriam took his hand, pulled him out of the shack and led him onto a footpath, which led away from the ugliness and the poverty of that mountain community on the gravel path, and into ebbing heat of the forest. The breathless hush of the early evening yielded to the myriad chirping sounds of the night, which was highlighted by the tiny, brilliant flashes of the fire‑flies. Those unusual insects hung from the branches of the trees, and it seemed that someone had hung hundreds of decorative lights. Ahja watched the cool, shimmering blue‑green lights drift to the ground, and then seemingly float up to the branches again in an endless carrousel of light. A few of the more sedate fire‑flies lingered along the footpath to light up the way.
The surrounding darkness was now so deep the stars seemed to rush at him from the night sky. Ahja thought that perhaps he might reach out to touch the stars, but when he reached out with a curious hand, he realized that what he touched was a swarming colony of fire‑flies. As he felt the insects land on his hand, and saw them light up the outline of his fingers, Ahja suddenly sensed that everything was about to get out of control. Suddenly, gravity lost its power over him, and he floated, drifted aimlessly and helplessly in the void of space. The sensation overwhelmed him; helplessly, Ahja leaned against a boulder for support. He dug his nails into the rock as the almost forgotten night-fears nibbled at him hungrily for the first time in a long, long while . . . .
Still trembling with the exertion of his struggle, Ahja felt Miriam touch his shoulder, and he was back in the soft pulating heat of the darkness. He listened to the comfortable, familiar rhythm of her breathing, and sensed the warm closeness of her body. Miriam radiated a sense of tranquility that soothed and banished the Tragian, primal nightfear that had almost claimed Ahja for its own. Slowly, the over‑stiff muscles in his body relaxed.
Miriam knew that something more than the old nightfear troubled her friend. In vain, she peered through the darkness for some clue hidden in his expression, and failing in that attempt, she had to resist the almost overpowering urge to reach into his mind and extract the information for herself. Years ago, she had promised never to enter his mind again without his knowledge and consent. She had never violated that vow; it was the basis of their friendship, which she valued too highly to endanger.
The minutes plodded by, the silence became oppressive, and the strain of Ahja’s silence was almost too terrible to bear. He had come to speak to her about something important, of that one fact she was certain.
“What is it, Ahja?” she asked, no longer able to tolerate the silence between them.
“What is it that you don’t know how to tell me? It isn’t the Rizorians, is it?”
Knowing that he could put it off no longer, Ahja took her hands in his and squeezed them gently. “No,” he said. “it isn’t the Rizorians. It’s the Federation‑”
“Yes, Miriam, they’ve come back for me!”
“How is that possible? Didn’t they leave ten years ago?”
“I’m not sure. Time is different in space, perhaps they never left at all. While I’ve lived and aged ten years, it’s possible that nothing more than a few hours has passed for them.”
“I don’t understand any of it,” she said.
“Neither do I,” he admitted, “I was never too interested in that field.”
“Well, how did they find you?”
“They haven’t found me, yet,” he replied, and knowing that she waited for an explanation, he proceeded to tell her about the strange radio and television disturbances that had plagued Earth’s commercial transmissions during the past year. Those disturbances had been blamed on sun spots, and on solar flares, but Ahja the Master Translator recognized the pattern of color and musical tones as the private code used to summon him to the Lord Chairman, Minje. The message from space contained the coordinates for the differences in Earth time, and the time on the ship that orbited the planet. It was clear to Ahja that the hand of the Lord Chairman had directed all of the careful planning.
“I don’t understand you at all,” she said as she pulled away from him impatiently. “They put you into a situation where the chances of your survival were totally against you. They lied to you, and they kept things from you that they had no right to keep, yet you sound happy and proud that they’ve gone to so much trouble for your sake. Have you forgotten what they did? How can you ever trust them again?”
“Perhaps you are right, Miriam, perhaps I can’t and shouldn’t trust them.” As he spoke, the green and brown colors in his eyes intensified and faded as he stumbled through an entire spectrum of emotions that he struggled to control. “But, Miriam, please remember that Trag is my home, and they are my people. I’ve spent my entire adult life in the service of the Federation, and the habit is too strong to break. I have to go home, if I can. I shall go home!”
Miriam turned her back to him. Spread out in the darkness, the small town of Cayey defended its position against the darkness by turning on its lights proudly. Miriam studied the familiar pattern of colors and lights intently.
“Why does the thought of going home trouble you at all, Ahja? You should be happy.”
“I am happy! But there is one important consideration, Miriam, a very serious one that involves you.”
“Yes, well, what is it? Ahja, please get to the point!”
Ahja took a deep breath, and the words spilled out. “The problem is,” he said, “the debriefer probe.” Ahja turned and started to walk back in the direction of the shack without waiting to see if she followed.
As he explained it, the debriefer was a sleek and shiny cap, which would be placed on his head when he returned to the ship. The probe would extract from his mind every second of his experiences on the planet surface. It would do this efficiently and ruthlessly, and nothing could be kept hidden from the probe, nothing.
“I still don’t understand, Ahja. What is your problem?”
“You’re the problem, Miriam!” The words rushed out of him, and they sounded much harsher than what he had planned. “Don’t you see? The probe will force me to betray you. It will reveal the fact that you did not die at the hands of the Purification Squad. In all certainty the Rizorians will come back for you!”
Now,Miriam understood, and she wept silently for all of the pain that she had caused her friend. More than anything, she knew, Ahja wanted to return to Trag, but not at the expense of her life.
Unaware of her own turmoil, Ahja continued to speak. As far as he could see, there were just two alternatives to his dilemma. The first was simply not to show up at the rendezvous point. Minje would then logically assume that he had not survived the perils of the planet surface. The first alternative would forever eliminate any chance that he had of returning to Trag, and Ahja wasn’t sure that he could make that sacrifice.
There was just one other solution to the problem, which was why he had come to speak with her. Ahja needed Miriam in order to make his plan a workable one, but when he explained what it entailed, Miriam objected vigorously.
“You must be insane to propose an idea such as that one.”
“Not insane, Miriam, desperate.”
She laughed nervously, but when she received no response from him, a sudden sinking, chilling sensation took hold of her. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes, Miriam, I am. It’s the only way.”
“But, Ahja, I can’t do what you ask, and if I could do it, I just wouldn’t.”
“You can, Miriam, I know that you can. You must do this thing for me, for both of us. Please!” Ahja put his arm around her shoulders. “I need you, Miriam. Please, help me go home!”
Miriam pushed his arm away from her in the same instant that she refused his plea. “I want to help you, Ahja, I owe that much to you, and even more, but your whole idea is crazy. How can you ask me to enter your mind to destroy memories? You must know that I don’t have that kind of skill! What if something were to go wrong? What if I turn you into some kind of a zombie?” Miriam shuddered.
“Don’t be ridiculous! You’ve spent a great deal of time perusing through my thoughts and memories for your amusement,” he said bitterly. “Why is it that all of a sudden you can’t do what I ask?”
“That was a long time ago, Ahja, and it was a stupid thing to have done. At that time I didn’t understand the damage that I could’ve done to you, to your mind. Anyhow,” she added, as if to excuse her past indiscretions, “even then I only shared thoughts and memories with you. I never tampered with them in any way.”
Ahja stopped walking, he turned to look at her and he cupped her face in his hands. They stood in a small clearing that was brightly illuminated with the light of the nearly full moon. He tried to look deeply into her eyes, but at that point, the moonlight proved to be an inadequate spotlight. He could only guess as to the expression on her face.
“I’m begging you, Miriam, please do this one thing for me. It’s all that I’ve ever asked of you. Now that I have this chance to go home, I realize that no sacrifice is too great. I thought that I could make myself happy here, but that was before. I would rather die than to let this opportunity slip by me. I want to go home, and this is the only way that I can do so without putting you into danger once again.”
Miriam started to object, but Ahja pushed ahead with another argument of his own.
“Since I won’t have any need for the wealth that I’ve managed to accumulate here, I’ll leave everything to you. Think of it! It’s your chance to get back on your feet again, a new start, a chance to get away from here.”
“Oh, Ahja, you don’t have to bribe me. I thought that we were beyond that.”
“I wasn’t trying to bribe you, Miriam,‑”
“Well, just so that you understand how I feel, Ahja. Anyhow, I wouldn’t leave here no matter how much money I had.”
“And why not?”
“I couldn’t leave the children.”
“Make sense, Miriam! What children?”
“The children who live on this mountain. They are very special children, and they mean a great deal to me. We spend a great deal of time together and . . .”
“I teach them songs, help them with their homework and . . .”
“And what for heaven’s sake?”
“Nothing. Well, just children’s things, you know, just children’s things.”
Miriam pushed herself away from Ahja, and she walked rapidly away from him. Ahja tried to keep up with her, but her strong, well conditioned body kept her ahead of him. In just minutes, he had lost sight of her in the darkness.
Miriam waited for him at the entrance to the shack. He strolled over to her and faced her silently, yet she seemed not to see him at all. Was there nothing that he could say to make her change her mind? Ahja thought of new arguments, and new ways in which to present them, but he also noticed that the expression on Miriam’s face was blank, and that the pose of her body was stiff and unnatural. Just as he was about to turn away from her, the barrier that she had strung up between the two of them was gone.
“How much time do we have before you leave?”
“Two months,” he replied, and a rush of hope dispersed the feelings of desperation that only seconds ago had sickened him.
“After all that you’ve done for me, and all that you’ve suffered, Ahja, I can’t refuse you, no matter how insane it may seem,” Miriam sighed as she sat on the splintered step of the shack entrance. “I don’t think that I can do this thing that you ask, but I’ll try‑”
“Don’t thank me yet,” she snapped. “And one more thing, you have to agree that the final decision is mine. If I decide that it can’t be done safely, I won’t do it, and I won’t let you argue the point.”
“It’s a deal,” he said as he sat down next to her and hugged her happily. “Now why don’t you pack a few things so that we can go somewhere more comfortable than this.”
Miriam jumped to her feet. “You keep talking about my leaving here when I’ve already made it very clear to you that I won’t go! If you want me to help you, you’ll have to stay here with me.”
“Here, in this place? Why can’t you leave, it’ll only be for a couple of months?”
“I will not leave the children!” she said through clenched teeth. “They wouldn’t understand. As far as they are concerned, two months might as well be forever. They’ll think that I had deserted them.”
“But, Miriam, they have parents, don’t they?”
“That’s beside the point. I will not leave them!” Miriam accented the meaning of her words by the pounding of her fist against the shack wall.
“Listen, Ahja, with my new found wealth, we’ll make this place comfortable, the town has everything that we’ll need and in one day’s worth of shopping you would be surprised what we can do. Besides, if I’m successful, you won’t retain any memory of this place. For you, it will never have existed. And, didn’t you just finish telling me that no sacrifice was too great? Was that just oratory, Master Ahja, or did you really mean it?”
Ahja listened to her laughter and to her good natured teasing, and he couldn’t help but feel that she used both the laughter and the light‑hearted words to conceal something. The thought made him uneasy, but he was so overjoyed that she had agreed to help him, that he pushed it to the recesses of his mind. He allowed himself the pleasure of listening to the sounds of her laughter, flowing through the sounds of the night, and then lingering and echoing in his mind—as a thousand Serilian crystal shells shattering in the endless, and empty stone canyons of Deslan.
Ahja moved into the shack with Miriam, hoping that when he left, it would be to begin the first leg of his journey home. The first days were awkward, uncomfortable. The close quarters and the lack of privacy all but convinced Ahja that this particular arrangement would not work.
It annoyed him that Miriam left him alone in the shack for hours at a time, and she would offer no explanation, but basically what bothered him the most was the boredom that he faced everyday. Ahja wanted to do a great many things; he wanted excitement; he craved change, but because the thing that he most wanted required his presence, he stayed and fought the boredom.
Late one afternoon, after the depressing summer heat had finally relaxed its hold, Miriam and Ahja sat down together as they had grown accustomed to do before starting a session. Ahja noticed that Miriam was unusually nervous, but when he asked her about it, she denied that anything was wrong. Her agitation was such, however, that Ahja toyed with the idea of postponing that session. He was about to make that suggestion when he felt a gentle movement in the outer perimeters of his awareness. Immediately, Ahja surrendered to the pleasure‑filled sensations that he had come to associate with the careful and delicate probings of Miriam’s mind. He opened himself up to her without reservation, and he moaned with pleasure as she flowed through the sensitive byways of his mind. It was a union with which no physical act could compare; joy, delight, pleasure, ecstasy and rapture awakened every atom of his being. The physical, and the mental vibrated in unison, and just when Ahja thought that he could no longer handle the amount of sensory stimulation, Miriam terminated the session. She pulled away from him in such a rush that for a few seconds he felt disoriented and helpless. By the time that he had managed to pull himself together, Miriam had disappeared. Ahja rushed after her and he found her at the shack. She stood with her back to the door, and she appeared to be intently studying the rusting nails that studded the rotting boards that constituted the flimsy protection, which was her house. There was something about the way that she stood that stopped Ahja from interrupting her meditation. His unasked questions seemed to pulsate through the heat and the stillness. When Miriam finally spoke, her usually deep, vibrant voice was quiet and subdued, as if she were afraid of rippling the placid surface of the late afternoon hush. She turned to face him.
“I know how to do it, Ahja,” she said as she stared into his eyes. “I can do it now, if you still want me to.”
The green and brown colors of his eyes ebbed and surged with excitement. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes.” Miriam smiled, but Ahja couldn’t help but notice the shiny trails of tears that streaked her burnished skin.
“I’ve known how to do it for a week. At first, I held off by telling myself that I just wanted to be certain, but later I had to admit to myself that it was because I knew that I didn’t want you to go.”
“And now you’re ready for me to leave?”
“No, but I’ve come to understand that it is a choice that only you could make. I can’t hold you here when every minute cell in your body craves to go. I’ve felt your longing every single time that we’ve joined conscienceness.”
“Why didn’t you tell me how you felt before?” Ahja brushed away a plump, luminous tear that clung stubbornly to the side of her face.
“I didn’t know it myself,” she whispered, and she closed her eyes to better savor the light touch of his fingertips on the damp curve of her cheek …
“Miriam, how could we have been so stupid … all this time … we’ve wasted all…”
“I would never call the time that we spent together wasted, Ahja. Never.” Suddenly, she pushed his hand away from her face, “But if you are going to go, Ahja, I want you to go now. Every second that you stay is one more memory that has to be erased, and it makes the job more difficult and complicated.” Her voice had grown cold, and Ahja noted an efficient snap to it that seemed to him to be out of character.
Ahja put his arms around her and tried to prevent the distance between them from growing any greater, but Miriam pushed him away.
“I now know that I love you, Ahja, but this is not what you truly want.”
“Miriam, you’re wrong‑”
“Oh, God, Ahja, don’t you know that I’m the only person, in this world at least. to whom you cannot lie.”
“But I’m not lying, I‑” Ahja grew silent; he was confused, and he wasn’t sure what it was that he wanted.
Miriam contemplated his eyes; for the first time since she had known him, Ahja’s eyes glowed bright green, and she smiled.
“Goodbye, Ahja,” she whispered as her lips brushed lightly against his.
Ahja felt her enter his mind, and although he knew that it would be impossible to resist her, he tried. He clung to her body that trembled with concentration, and he entangled his fingers in her copper curls to force her to look at him, but there was no response. Miriam’s body was stiff, and her eyes stared through him. Ahja cried out in pain as her hold swelled in his unwilling mind.
“No, Miriam, not now, please!”
Ahja kissed her tear‑stained face, her unblinking copper eyes, the hollow of her long, graceful neck, her tightly pressed lips, but he could not stop the careful movements that penetrated him. He pushed her away from him, and he ran wildly. Perhaps, he thought, if they weren’t in close physical proximity, she wouldn’t be able to possess him. But as Ahja ran towards the main road, he sensed that she followed him, and he looked back. Miriam was no where to be seen; he had escaped, he thought as he ran to where he kept the car. just as his hand touched the Camaro’s door handle, he felt the gentle movement in his mind once again. He groaned, it’s impossible, she couldn’t reach him across that distance! If she could, what else had she accomplished about which he knew nothing? How strong had she become?
“I love you, Ahja,” the words echoed in his mind like a prayer over the dead, “but it has to be now while I still have the courage to send you home . . .”
Ahja leaned against the car, and he wept. He mourned the loss of memories that were suddenly more precious than life, and he raged against their taking. Miriam worked carefully, methodically while Ahja watched horrified at what happened to him; his memories were pried away from him one at a time. He knew that struggle was useless and he turned his attention to imprinting into his mind all that he felt . . . bright shimmering fireflies flashed across the emptiness and darkness of his soul . . . Miriam . . . he would not forget . . . he would remember . . . he would!
Miriam watched Ahja get into his car and drive away. The car moved rapidly out of sight. Nevertheless, she continued to watch him for a long while in her mind. He seemed to have suffered no ill effects. It was good.
No, it was not good. Miriam feared for his safety and she felt lonelier than ever. She wondered what his reception would be like, and whether he would be as happy as he had imagined that he would be. If he had stayed … if . . . and but … yet it was what he had most wanted, wasn’t it? It was necessary that he go, but what if they had made a mistake? Miriam shrugged her shoulders; they both did what they felt that they had to do, there was no time for regrets now.
“Goodbye, Ahja,” she whispered, but this time the message did not travel a great distance to its object, it stayed with Miriam. He was gone, and he would not return. And if by some strange twist of fate, he were to return, he would not be the same man, she had made him different. The thought fascinated her. Would she, Miriam wondered, still love the new Ahja, the one that she had created? And if he did come back, would it be as a stranger, her lover, or her executioner?