A Full revolution had passed. Otoallo was with child and fretting over the wedding details. When she asked my help, matters pulled me away. When I would help, she pushed me away in frustration. Otoallo hated her swollen bloated figure and made sure I knew it was my fault. I sat brooding at my desk with chin in hand. Where was the joy we had reveled in?
Barachiel laid down his cards and said from the table, “You should go and be with her.”
I looked up and blinked. “What?” I asked.
“You should be with her,” Barachiel repeated. “Go to her apartment. Hold her in your arms. Kiss her.”
Khamuel said to him, “You are quite the romantic.”
“I’ve been reading,” Barachiel answered.
I sat up and stretched. I answered Barachiel. “I’m waiting for the Elders to present their project. The Chief Legal has hinted that it is ambitious.”
Khamuel replied, “We could use more of that. We flag without purpose.”
I stood and walked to the table. “Are you saying we have no purpose?” I asked, taking a seat with my guards.
Barachiel answered with a question. “Have you seen the streams lately?”
My node chimed. I rose to answer it, glad I did not have to answer Barachiel’s question. I avoided the streams. I found them intrusive and ingratiating. To be honest, archivists irked me beyond words. I tapped on the node screen as I sat. The familiar face of Tuvlasemonali looked out at me. The confidence in his smile belied the age in his eyes. He spoke immediately.
“We are ready, Your Majesty,” said he. “Will you meet with us?”
“I will,” said I, and tapped off.
“Another unfinished game,” said Khamuel, tossing his cards to the table.
I said offhandedly, as I walked to the table, “We can take the game with us.”
Barachiel rose with Khamuel, and said, “That would be the instant Captain Taush walked through. Khamuel would lose his next promotion.”
“As if you would not,” Khamuel retorted.
“Take my hands,” I said as I held out my hands to Barachiel and Khamuel.
Hesitating, Khamuel said, “We should have a personal transport tree installed.”
I answered with a smile, taking his hand, “That is an excellent idea.”
We stood before the Judgment Hall on board the Magis. As I let the hands of my guards drop from mine, Khamuel swooned, falling forward. Barachiel leaped to catch him. I took hold of Khamuel and helped Barachiel support him.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
With fingers pressed to his eyes, Khamuel straightened defiantly. He stood at attention and shook his head as if perplexed.
Barachiel offered an explanation of sorts. “Shifting is not for everyone.”
Khamuel turned to me. “Apologies, Your Majesty.”
“No, no,” I said. “I should apologize. No more shifting for you. I promise to have a tree installed immediately.”
Barachiel added, to Khamuel’s discomfort, “I think we should have the tree techs examine him. His AP approaches.”
“Have yourselves replaced temporarily and see to it,” I instructed.
I closed the door behind me as I entered the Judgment Hall. The Elders rose from their seats and crossed their chests. I groaned in my spirit when I read their faces; I knew the meeting would stretch well beyond my meager endurance. Many turns later, I emerged, weary, to find new guards. They snapped to attention and crossed their chests with clenched fists at the ends of their arms.
“Ah. New faces,” I said offhandedly. “May I know your names?”
They stood before me, side by side, and smartly dressed. The new guard to the left spoke first, with a deferential bow of his head. “Your Majesty. I am called Olifel.”
I studied his rugged dog-like features and asked, “What is your rank?”
He answered, “I am tier five, a cycle ten of the order of the Rose.”
I turned to the guard on the right, and he snapped, “I am Teoar, a cycle ten. I am a tier seven of the order of the Reed.”
I noted the bull-like face and asked, “You are Oliphaerian, correct?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” he answered.
I forced a weary smile and said to them, “Please escort me to my quarters.”
Slumped behind my desk, I looked at the empty table in the white room. I wondered how Khamuel fared. I had caused him distress, and that made me sad. He was a good man. I could not imagine being without him. By the time he roused, my brother would have been back for quite a while. We would almost be upon the new world.
I briefly considered the plan of the Elders. My ears still rang from the bickering among them. Not all of them were in full agreement, but the plan I authorized was a solid step forward in fleet morale. Tuvlasemonali had named their plan in honor of my father. They called it the Godeli Initiative. It was, as Oobulublay had said, ambitious indeed.
I walked into the white room and accessed the node that took me to Otoallo’s quarters. She napped on her couch with her back to me. A striped sheet, pink and blue, covered her. I noticed the clutter on her floor. She preferred solid books to the GM. Her research had caused her loss of sleep, but she insisted that all be perfect for our wedding. Her table was covered with handwritten invitations.
I turned from the node and put my eye on the GUF. I had not talked to father recently, so I took a seat on the floor before it. I removed my broad belt for comfort and drew my pendant from beneath my robe. Father had said he would travel to the end and then back again. I wondered if he could hear my little chats from wherever he was.
“Well,” I sighed and paused. “Here I am again. I have news this time.” I rubbed the pendant between thumb and forefinger. “I am to marry. She is such a beautiful soul; I’m sure you would love her as much as I.”
There was silence, but the mists were restless. I placed my forehead on the cool surface of the GUF and closed my eyes. I rested in that pose for some time. When I tired of it, I rose and walked to father’s bed. I could still not think of it as mine. I stretched out on my back and lay an arm across my eyes when a voice played through my ears. It was thin and distant at first. I heard it a second time, much stronger and closer.
“I am here,” said the voice. “Look up.”
I took my arm from my eyes and looked to the ceiling. The room was much brighter than it should have been. I sat up, and what I saw made my heart skip a beat. Father sat at the desk glowing brightly. His smile had all the life-giving warmth of a sun. I would have run to him, but he stopped me with an upraised hand.
“Do not touch me, son.” His voice was a warm embrace. “Sit and listen.”
My spirit balanced between happy and precarious as I sat back down. I tried to still myself, but I was too enlarged. Father had returned! With a nod of submission, I clasped my hands in my lap and awaited his words. My eyes, like sponges, absorbed the image of my bright father. He was just as I remembered him. Father spoke.
“Take my words to heart,” he said in his wonderful voice of authority. “Memorize what I tell you. Do not accept the tenth cycle. I made a mistake, son. Man was not meant to be immortal.”
I was going to say, I don’t understand, but I only managed to speak the word, I, before my father stopped me with a glance. I had leaned forward on the edge of the bed. I was poised on my toes as if I would spring up. I wanted to be closer; my heart drove me, prodding relentlessly, but I dared not.
“I was foolish in my desire to extend life,” he said to me, eyes fixed, yet sorrowful. “I pushed the mortal frame beyond its limit, and in the end, that is what killed us. Now, you face a new threat, a threat I should have foreseen. Khamuel is dying.”
I jumped to my feet. My chest was tight with fear. My mouth was open, but I could not speak. Gulping like a fish out of water, all I could think was that I had killed him. I should have installed the transport tree the first time Khamuel complained. I should not have forced him to shift with me.
Father said, “The techs do not understand the problem. The setting must be point three one. Go now. Save Khamuel.”
He was gone. The room went black in his absence. My heart pounded in my chest as my father’s disappearance sucked away everything but my painful alarm. I shouted into the darkness.
“GM! Khamuel’s location!” I yelled.
I shifted to Khamuel’s location and immediately pushed the techs aside. They had him in a matrix realignment tree. It looked like a table with a glass top. Khamuel seemed asleep and peaceful. As I reached for the pad to enter the proper setting, I felt a strong hand pull my wrist back.
“What are you doing?” Barachiel asked in alarm.
I met his bewildered eyes with determination, “Saving Khamuel!” I loudly declared.
I pulled my hand from his grip and turned to adjust the setting. The result was almost immediate. Khamuel opened his eyes and looked at me. Barachiel stepped forward and placed his hands on the cover. His relief was palpable. I took a breath to calm myself, and as I turned to explain my actions to the techs, a Huim support aide rushed into the room and announced with great concern, “We have more!”
Rooms were filling with unconscious bodies. An unheard-of malady of matrix misalignment was in full swing. I pulled a tech to me and explained that the setting must be point three one. Barachiel removed Khamuel from his tree, and the three of us assisted the techs. We placed bodies in the trees, affixed the headbands, and closed the covers. We entered the proper settings, and the unconscious woke up.
There was much commotion and noise, at the end of which I stood between my guards with satisfaction. I had helped. I had done well. Barachiel stood before me and looked into my eyes.
“How did you know?” he asked.
I answered, “Father told me.”
Later, with the temporary guards dismissed, Khamuel and Barachiel sat at their table in the white room, their heads bent together in conversation. I sat at the desk watching them in silence. Then it was that the realization of my utter inability struck me down. On my own, I would have lost Khamuel. I was as clueless and ineffectual as anyone else. The sole reason Khamuel sat at the table speaking to Barachiel was the miraculous intervention of the deceased King.
I was startled from my silent introspection by the voice of father speaking in my mind. “Son,” said the voice. “Go to Otoallo on the Mercy. Comfort your love for the loss of her son.”
I jumped to my feet, knocking my chair loudly to the floor. My spirit was numb with unbearable anguish. My guards hurried to my side as I gasped in painful certainty of father’s revelation. I began to pant, unable to catch my breath. I leaned forward and braced myself against the desk. I moaned loudly as Barachiel and Khamuel took my shoulders to keep me on my feet. Their pleas to help fell from my ears unanswered and unanswerable. I could only lift my face and scream in rage.
I broke free of their help and left my guards by the desk as I shifted to the Mercy. I stood in a busy corridor and clenched my fists. I spread my fingers and tried to calm myself. Orderlies ran to me and fearfully guided me to Otoallo’s room. I took a breath and stepped inside. I looked into Otoallo’s swollen eyes. They were empty. I ran to her and took her hand. Otoallo turned her face from me and wept.