Five Hundred Eyes

The Eyes Are the Windows of the Soul


The ship hovered like an ebony hawk in the eternal present, forever Now/Here. Nowhere. Skae adjusted the controls on the panel before her, felt the ship quiver at the slight shift in its temporal position. A warning light flickered into life, blinked eratically, then shone with ominous steadiness, staring up at her like a yellow eye. She ignored its call for attention, keeping her own eyes fixed instead on the monitor-screen which took up the whole of the wall before her and part of the ceiling. Its present blankness mirrored the blankness of her own mind - the pickups D/Anah had mounted in the pilot's couch were sensitive, but even they could not show her something that was not there.

A second light began to glow beside the first, red this time - an overload warning. Skae cursed, even though there was only the ship to hear her. The field generators would go critical soon, and she could either shut them down, leaving ForeverTraveller to drift unprotected in the vortex, or she could shift back into normal space and lose all chance of intercepting her prey.

D/Anah said she had bespoken him, given him the proper coordinates to enter the vortex along this timeline. And if F/Tassi has survived as a Navigator, he can not be stupid - he knows that even a Gate-modified ship can endure the vortex only so long.

So where is he?

She hesitated for a moment, watching the indicators which showed her ship's energy bleeding silently into the crack between one Now and the next. Then she reached up and switched on the row of manual overrides one by one, ignoring the constellation of warning lights which blossomed there. Soon their steady glow provided the only illumination in the pilot's bubble as all other lights shut down. The hiss of the air-recirculation system and the steady humm of the aux generators also ceased, leaving a silence that made the hair on the back of Skae's neck stand up. But at least, with all the ship's remaining power funneled into the field-generators, ForeverTraveller had bought a little more waiting time safe from the ravages of the timewinds. Assuming that there was still something left to wait for, that F/Tassi hadn't gone insane and flown the Deveron into time/Other, or been discovered before he could bring the ship to her ...

Or that D/Anah hadn't lied.

For a moment Skae saw again the golden eyes, the silken mane and feline grace of the Keeper of the Gateway. Thou shouldst not be, D/Anah had said then, when Skae came to her still bloody from the slavers on El'uluth, seeking the Gate. Thou art i'mair - forbidden.

I am what I am. The slavers do not accept me as one of their own - do you think I would betray you to them, after what they have done? Tell me the way! Skae heard the echo of her own voice crying out from the wasteland of the Then. Tell me how to use the Gateway, and I will -

There is nothing to tell. Nothing. In her mind she saw the Keeper's graceful, implacable gesture of denial, every detail of it clear as desolation in her memory. Until thou knowst that, thou shalt never use the Gate.

D/Anah's eyes were the eyes of one who could look into probability and see many futures springing from a single moment. They had seemed to gaze through her and beyond, seeing a possible future which Skae could not. And D/Anah had refused her passage through the Gateway, the freedom of the Always where no slavers came. She had turned Skae away in time/Now for the sake of what she saw in the Then, and the safety of her folk in the Always. Yet D/Anah had also looked once into Skae's eyes, and seen something there ...

The blankness of the monitor-screen had begun to waver, filling with the Keeper's image. Skae tried hurridly to clear her mind, knowing that it was dangerous to project something which was not a true time-picture - but the glowing unhuman eyes, golden disks centered by a pupil like a small, silver coin, seemed reluctant to fade.

D/Anah had looked into Skae's eyes once, and then had ForeverTraveller refitted using time-technology, and given Skae these coordinates - against all custom of her own people. And she had given Skae a warning, a voice that rang in the mind where no lips moved to shape the words, and no one else could hear:

Go back to thine own people, child. Go back while thou still canst.

Skae did not understand why the Keeper had repaired her damaged, stolen ship, or given her anything at all. Once D/Anah had branded her i'mair, that should have finished everything. But it had not - for whatever reason, it had not. Perhaps D/Anah was giving her a chance to prove herself. Or perhaps F/Tassi was mad after all, and Skae was being sent to die with him. His death-throes would rip her life out of existence in the Now, the Then, and the Always were she close enough to be caught. That was the final death, from which no rebirth was possible, and a convenient way for one like D/Anah to rid herself of a problem ...

Skae coughed. She could not see futures like the Keeper, but she knew that one of hers would include suffocation if she did not turn the life-support systems back on very soon. Frustration and cold anger fuelled the cry she sent out:


Hhereee ... Attenuated by infinite weariness, a voice crept through a gap in the timelines and into her thoughts. Skae shuddered as she touched the backwash of agony which had become part of the mind behind it. Who ...?

The one D/Anah promised you, Skae told him. But we are almost out of Time ... Show me!

He did and Skae screamed, sharing his pain as well as his knowledge. When she could look again, the monitor-screen had come to life with a three-dimensional starfield, points of light burning cold and hard in the eternal darkness. In the midst of it hung an irregular shadow, visible only by the stars it occulted and by the occasional sparkle of starlight upon its battered hull. As the freighter lumbered across her screens and through her mind, F/Tassi's hatred burned so hot in her that she felt only the coldness of time/Other could extinguish it.

If you do not take them there, I shall ... F/Tassi's words came as a mere whisper, fading into a haze of pain and enhancer drugs. The Deveron is old, and slow in changeover ... Finish it quickly, I will hold them for you to target ...

No. D/Anah gave me other instructions. Skae checked and confirmed her computer's estimate of the course and speed ForeverTraveller would have to have when she came out of the vortex. It was right to the tenth decimal, had to be, or F/Tassi would get the destruction he wished for in the instantaneous annihilation of two unsychronized time-fields. A low buzzing noise had begun to come from the console as she worked, cutting through the increasingly stale air with its warning that the ship had come to the end of its capacity to sustain life.

She felt F/Tassi reaching more deeply into her mind, seeking control, and she wrenched away from him.

You are i'mair, and mad ... F/Tassi's protest reached her faintly. You cannot do this. Unshielded in the vortex , the probability is high that the timewinds will destroy you. D/Anah has sent you here to die! Save yourself and finish it now, quickly ... I do not know how long I can continue ...

F/Tassi, I am ready. Skae cut him off, brought the guidance systems on line. Bring them to me NOW.

Although there was no passage of space or time in the ordinary sense, the part of Skae that still shared F/Tassi's awareness sensed the Deveron changing over, wallowing sluggishly as it entered the vortex. In the back of her mind she felt the crude and painful energies of its timescanner raking F/Tassi as he drew the Deveron away from its assigned course, but there was nothing she could do to help him. She could only try to make his suffering worthwhile.

The Deveron bore down on her like a blind beast, and Skae wondered if they knew they were on a collision course with another ship. If all went well, they would never know she was there. With their crude instruments they could not see where they were going, could not see her - they needed F/Tassi's talents for that, and he would show them nothing. Unless his mind was so broken that it was open to them, all of it ... Skae sat watching as the freighter filled her screens, looming impossibly close, and wondered if it would open fire on her. Even if she had time to fire in return, ForeverTraveller's weaponry was as crude as the pirate who had been both her and the ship's former owner. And at this range not even D/Anah's people could pierce such special armor as the Deveron carried.

In that moment of time/Now before the other ship crashed into ForeverTraveller and annihilated her, Skae felt the auto-nav systems engage and attempt to fire the main drive, shorting out the manual over-rides in a final effort at self-preservation. D/Anah had only refitted the Navigation centre, and she had not interfered with whatever modifications Haras had made to the ship before Skae stole it from him. Those modifications were evidently much more sophisticated than Skae had thought the pirate capable of, and there was no time to manually reprogram the -

Skae closed her eyes to the impending collision and spoke directly into ForeverTraveller's electronic brain in a way that its survival systems, keyed to human norm, had never been designed to resist. She turned the main drive off. Then she ordered the ship to commit suicide.

ForeverTraveller's time-field ceased to exist.

For one instant Skae saw what she had never seen before, the savage tumult of the timewinds raging where time/Now, time/Then and time/Other became one whole. She found herself sharing F/Tassi's overwhelming longing, and his flash of wonder that she was not mad or dead. He unravelled the timelines, seeking that Now in which both Skae and the Deveron possessed the highest chance of survival. Then the Deveron's time-field broke over her like a wave, enveloping her ship and dragging her with it as F/Tassi hurled them all out of the vortex.

Normal space exploded back onto the piloting screens. Skae sent the drive from shutdown to redline-max in the time it took for the starfield's image to stabilise, matching vectors with the Deveron so exactly that she was able to stay within its time-field in spite of the limitations of speed and direction in normal space. She could feel ForeverTraveller fighting her; all the ship's programming told it to resist such proximity to a massive object outside the vortex. But Skae wrestled ForeverTraveller closer still and engaged the magnetic grapples Haras had installed to capture smaller ships. They'd not been intended for what she was doing, but they would serve.

Gently, silently, ForeverTraveller nuzzled up against the belly of the Deveron and attatched herself there. Then she began draining power from the freighter's systems to replenish her own. As the enercells shifted into recharging-mode, Skae smiled. There were many advantages to having stolen a pirate's ship.

When she was sure she had reduced ForeverTraveller to quiescence, Skae released her mental grip on the ship's recalcitrant circuitry and allowed herself to slump in the pilot's couch. Gods! If only she had FarSeeker back ... It had lacked time-travel capacity, that was true, but still it had been familiar as her own mind, an extension of her own body. But there was no point in wishing for that. She might as well wish that she'd never been captured and sold in the slave-market on El'uluth in the first place. Next time - lords of space forbid there should be one - she'd make sure to blow herself up with the ship. As the thought occurred to her, she wondered if the explosion of overloaded field-generators would be sufficient to blast a hole in the Deveron's thick hide, as D/Anah had said. She hoped she would not have to find out.

F/Tassi? Her question winged out and was swallowed up in silence. F/Tassi!

A coldness settled in the pit of Skae's stomach. She could not feel him at all, anywhere. The sense of him had faded from her mind when they reappeared in normal space, and it was possible that this last jump had burned him out. Skae tried to throttle down her rising anger at the thought. If those fools had destroyed him, they would pay for it after she had done what she'd come to do. But burnout did not always kill, and if there was anything left ...

D/Anah had told her what she would have to do to make sure.

The hold-chambers of the Deveron were dark and deathly quiet, and the air felt as cold as space. Skae stood very still, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness. The tunnel which had warped space between this ship and her own was fading now, and it disappeared entirely as she ordered ForeverTraveller to shut down all non-essential systems. It had taken the full output of the time-field generators, concentrated into a small space at point-blank range, to punch even a temporary 'hole' through the hull of the Deveron. She'd known the illiuth'v alloy was incredibly dense, but still ... It made Skae uneasy. Even the clumsy instruments of a hulk like this one could have picked up energy generation on that scale.

Well, if she was going to have company soon, she'd better get on with it.

Since she had come onto the ship Skae had been keeping her mind deliberately closed, dreading this moment. Now the moment had come, and she could no longer avoid it. Slowly and carefully she extended her senses, sinking tendrils of awareness through the layer of frost on the walls, into the metal, and through it to the open spaces on the other side.

It was even worse than she had thought it would be, now that her undersenses were no longer blocked by the Deveron's specially armored hull. The whole place stank of fear and death, as though something which had died in agony had been left to rot. And they were here, D/Anah's folk - that was the worst of all. She could feel them pressing in around her, entombed in the guts of the ship. The leap through the vortex and the intrusion of her time-field had stirred them into a sort of half-life, almost sentient, almost aware. But none of them were strong enough to reach the threshold of conciousness, climb over it, and join their minds with hers. They lay in their drugged nightmares and could not wake.

Skae gagged and fell to her knees, although the assault was mental rather than physical. For a few moments she was oblivious to everything except the sickness inside her, and she thought then that she knew the full horror of slavers who traded in time-sensitives. Reality reasserted itself with the burning cold of the deck on which she crouched, the chill of the air which had begun to form frost in her hair and clothing. If she did not move soon, she would find herself as frozen and torpid as the imprisoned Tharils.

Skae shook her head and wiped away the sweat which had come onto her face, and saw that it was already freezing. Much as she longed to give relief to those voices crying in her mind, she knew that reviving D/Anah's folk one by one would never be fast enough - even if she could figure out how to use the portable emergency reviv-units, a thing she was not at all certain about. There must be at least a hundred slaves on this ship, stacked in the holds like frozen dead ... except that they were still breathing. The Deveron had made a very profitable haul. No, there must be some kind of central complex from which the revivification process could be controlled. If she were to do any good, she must find that.

D/Anah was counting on a Navigator's intimate knowledge of his own ship ... Without proper guidance, I'll probably kill her folk anyway when I try to revive them. The Wind-riders will have had your soul for nothing, F/Tassi, unless I can find some way to -

Like a live thing, the haft of Haras' favourite weapon - the one with which she'd killed him - dug her in the ribs, reminding her that F/Tassi was not the only source of information on this ship.

It did not take her long, stalking the rimmed corridors of the lower decks, to find him. She had hardly felt the crewman's timeshadow in her mind before she could hear him cursing the cold, his captain, and the stinking luck which had landed him on the worst possible duty round. Although she suspected that he was nominally a sentry, all his swearing and muttering to himself were more than sufficient to cover the sound of her approach. After all, what need did he have to be on guard against prisoners who were unable to think, much less to move ...?

Skae did not know what he thought she was when she stepped through the door of his little alcove, hair and clothing glittering with ice. She did not care. By the time he had managed to close his mouth and start fumbling for his sidearm, Skae had kicked it out of his hand. He just stared at her, and at the needle-gun she held pointed at his stomach.

"I do not know what men call this weapon," she told him. "But I know what it does."

By the way he was looking at it, she could tell that he did, too. Good. Now the only question was his loyalty to the captain he'd just been execrating. Somehow, she thought that the idea of a hundred diamond-sharp crystal fragments flaying out his guts would be sufficient to give him new loyalties very quickly.

"How - how did you get in here? You couldn't have gotten on at Seleris, we checked for stowaways, and Ven's new slave doesn't look anything like you ..." He was a young man with greasy dark hair, too young for this to be more than his first or second voyage. And he had the unmarked hands of a tech. Better and better -

"How I got on this flying cesspit is none of your concern. Let's just say that I am ... seeking a new navigator."

The tech's eyes widened in supposed comprehension. "Oh, so you're one of Ven's rivals, are you? Looking for a share of his cargo?" The tech started to draw himself up and then sat down again abruptly as the needle-gun swerved to follow him. "Well, the Deveron is faster than any other slave-ship in the ten systems, and Ven carries such an arsenal that you'll never get your own ship away intact. And once he's disabled you, he'll board and kill those of your crew who won't be worth anything to traders from El'uluth, Tremaine, or S'st'th. Although you -" the tech gave her an appraising look. "-he might spare you if you took his fancy. After all, a young woman can always -"

"I doubt that you would believe how old I am, even if I felt inclined to discuss the matter with you. Which I do not. Nor do I wish to hear any more boasting about your venerable 'captain Ven', whom just a moment ago you were calling 'a slime crawler born of a bitch-cranocc and a -'" Skae repeated the obscene expression he had used, then added an even more obscene one she'd learned in the prison-pens of El'uluth. "And you are even lower than that, because you trade in other people's lives and make your profit from their blood and pain. Get up." She jerked the needle-gun, gesturing for him to stand. "Get up before the thought of what you are makes me kill you right here."

The tech's face blanched as some of the cocky self-assurance drained out of him. He stood.

"Now, what is your name, man?"

"Why should I tell you?"

Skae smiled at him, and her expression was colder than the shining rime on the walls. "Because I'm sure you would prefer to be called by that, rather than something more ... appropriate. And because I have this." Skae raised the needle-gun slightly.

The tech mumbled something in a planetary dialect Skae did not know, but which she doubted was complementary. Then he said, "Roigan, m-tech first. And who in the hell are you?"

"That is none of your business. Now listen Roigan, m-tech first, because I am going to say this only once. There is a central complex for the freezing and revivification of slaves on this ship. You are going to show me where it is. Since I do not enjoy killing even such as you, I might let you live afterwards if you obey me." She held his eyes until they had to look away, anywhere but at her. "But if you lead me wrong, I will kill you and bleed your timeshadow into the Other. You will have no existence in time/Then or time/Now, ever again. Do you understand?"

He looked up at her, disbelieving but with the shadow of fear in his eyes. "A time- sensitive ...? But that's impossible - you're human, only Cats have that talent -"

Skae sincerely wished that it would be possible for her to agree with Roigan, whose world was still divided up neatly into what was possible and what was not. But Skae herself was i'mair, the word which meant impossibility, and her world was not nearly such a simple place.

"Do you understand me, or do I have to give you a demonstration?"

Skae's face and voice had changed, and the tech knew death when he saw it. Without a word, he nodded. She turned him roughly around to face the door, resting the needle-gun between his shoulder-blades. "Now, we go."

He led her back the way she'd come, down black corridors sheathed in ice and emptiness, twisting and turning deeper into the guts of the ship. His mind was a tangle of conflicting thoughts rioting through time/Now into time/Thens which did not and would never exist - The effort of trying to sort them made Skae dizzy. Although D/Anah and F/Tassi moved in the non-linear time of the Always, at least their minds were ordered in a way that she could understand. Skae gripped the needle-gun more tightly and prayed that Roigan would not do anything stupid. She needed him, and she did not want to kill him unless it was absolutely neccessary ...

The sudden sound of his voice nearly startled Skae into shooting him. "What if I can't operate the reviv for you when we get there? It's not my area, and I'm not sure -"

"Then I may kill you anyway."

Her patience had been stretched to the breaking-point, with the cold and the darkness and the terror of the imprisoned minds around all around her. Much more of this, and she would be as insane as F/Tassi.

"If I can get you a new navigator, one already out of stass - will you let me go?"

For a moment Skae thought she had not heard him right. Then she stopped in mid-stride, clawing her fingers into the collar of the tech's uniform and forcing him to face her.

"Where is he?" A living, whole, awakened time-sensitive could aid her far better than any unwilling slaver and his crude machinery - if this Roigan was telling the truth - "Why would your captain have awakened another piece of his precious merchandise, when you have use for only one at a time? I think you're lying to save your miserable hide -"

"No, wait! Our old navigator is going erratic, unreliable - burnt out. Ven ordered a fresh Cat revived and held until there was time to install him in the ..."

"Where is he now? And if you call him a 'Cat' again, little man, you will regret it."

"If I tell you, how do I know you won't kill me anyway?"

"You don't. But there are worse things I can do to you than killing you. Now - where is he?"

Caught between fear and anger and hope, Roigan moaned as the needle-gun's hungry muzzle pressed into his windpipe. "Level below this one, special confinement area -"

Skae grasped the back of his collar and faced him in the right direction. "Take me there." She hesitated a moment, feeling sick at the fear which radiated from him. "And if you do as I say ... I will avoid killing you, if I can."

The tech cursed her, cursed Cats and stars and the madness which had ever brought him to this ship. But he went.

The 'special confinement area' looked more like a medical laboratory than a prison. A new navigtor's-harness lay on the operating table, half-assembled, and the dull sheen of light on sharp metal caught her eyes. Littered elsewhere around the room were the drugs and equipment which could be used to turn a living time-sensitive into a ... a thing like F/Tassi ... Skae felt cold sickness settle in her stomach, and she scanned the room quickly, taking in all its fittings with a conscious effort not to guess at their uses. There was a portion of one wall bare of shelves and equipment, which she at first passed over - then as her eyes returned to it she saw the outline of the doorway. She touched the surface of the door and shivered, the way an animal shakes its skin. It was made of the same dense alloy as the Deveron 's hull, a waste of expensive material for such ordinary purposes.

Unless one was building a cell to imprison time-sensitives. Having come from the heart of a collapsed sun which had fallen only just short of becoming a black hole, the metallic solid possessed peculiar physical properties. No scientists had adequately explained why lliuth'v'n should block a time-sensitive's perception of the Now, the Then, and the Always. But the slavers knew that it worked, and that was enough to have made the Tharils practically hunted out of existence this side of the Gateway.

"The cell is behind that panel. And it's shielded." The tech babbled, frantic to be done with this job and rid of her. "Look here, the flow of sedative gas is triggered automatically when you -"

"Forget that. Open the door," Skae told him. He moved quickly to obey - too quickly. She jabbed him with the muzzle of the needle-gun. "And don't set off any alarms."

Roigan froze. "If you bypass the restraints, you'll lose him! That Cat nearly killed Baro and Hasiik -"

"If they're members of your company, it's a shame that he failed. Get on with it. And call him by name, or not at all."

"Animals don't have names - uhg!"

Skae kicked him, hard. She was rapidly beginning to regret that she had promised this man anything at all. "Obviously they do," she said. "What of yours?"

Roigan glared at her, sweating. Then he reached for a stud on the computer-console to his left.

"Not that one. And if you go for the alarm again, you will regret it throughout the Now, the Then, and the Always."

The tech froze at her words, then reached more slowly for a second stud with a green light beside it. He put his hand to it, hesitated. "Go away. Go away now, and I'll never tell anyone you were here. You'll be able to escape when we make planetfall at Tragaretth. You have my word of -"

"Honour? Don't give me any star-gas about that. I doubt you even know what it means."

"But if I give you a navigator, Ven will kill me!"

"I will kill you if you don't. Take your choice."

The tech looked death at her, driven by anger and pain almost beyond fear of the weapon she held. For a moment she thought he would spring, and she almost shot him; then the moment passed. Lips pressed into a thin bloodless line, he straightened up again. Then he inhaled and began a series of adjustments to the control console. Skae watched him, trying to make it look as though she was following what he did there. A light next to one of the studs flipped from green to red when he had finished - a warning, Skae thought. Then Roigan struck the stud with the heel of his hand, angrily, grinning at her.

"You lying bitch -"


Skae swayed as that blast of sudden emotion hit her. At that instant the tech's shoulder drove into her gut, throwing her back and over onto the floor. Her head cracked against the icy deck hard enough to send a cascade of flashing lights across her vision, and dimly she felt Roigan's heel grind down on her hand, smashing the needle-gun into a mass of crystal shards. The shock was still too soon for pain, and Skae had snarled at Roigan and clubbed him away with fist and boot before she realised how much she hurt. Her right hand was leaving smears of blood in the hoar-frost, but it was not only pain that made the world seem to tilt insanely. As she had never been before, Skae became aware of the time-lines converging on this moment in which she could see the tech reaching for one of those bits of sharp metal her mind had refused to analyse. Behind him on the console alarm-lights were flashing.

"- did you really think you could get away with this? Nobody makes a fool out of Roigan. Human time-sensitives are a myth! And Ven will pay me an extra bonus for adding another slave to his cargo." Skae tried muzzily to get up and he kicked her in the teeth. She hurt, she could not concentrate enough to rip his time-shadow loose from the Now and give it to the time-winds that would set it adrift in the Other - He dragged her head back by the hair so that she would have to see the oddly-shaped surgical knife coming. "But he won't mind if I mess you up a bit first -"

He looked into her eyes, expecting to see fear there, the defeat that would assauge his humiliation. Instead, he screamed like a man whose mind has snapped. Then, still screaming, he brought the knife down with no thought of play, nor of anything else but death.

Roigan's voice stopped, time stopped. The lines converged, and in that instant Skae could see all probabilities spinning out. In most of them, she died instantly with a blade of metal through her throat. In a few she was taken prisoner and put to death by a grinning man with yellow hair. In one, she survived. Skae seized that one.

Yl/Itiric! Unless you want to end up like F/Tassi, HELP ME!

Time resumed its normal flow, and Roigan's interrupted scream continued. The knife was a gleam in the air, gathering light as it fell. Then it wasn't coming at her anymore - it spun through the air, smashed into a wall, and shattered like brittle ice. Roigan started to turn and then screamed again, once, as the time-winds touched him.

There was a silence.

Yl/Itiric dumped Roigan's body on the floor beside Skae and then lifted her to her feet. The time-sensitive's face went in and out of focus, but her eyes, as golden as D/Anah's had been, seemed the only stable point in a world that had a disconcerting tendency to tip and spin.

The One-Who-Exists-No-More hit you hard, i'mair. Stand still until the shock of the time-storm passes.

"I'mair is your word," Skae said aloud, "And D/Anah has made it clear to me that I am not one of you. Just as he -" She nudged the corpse with one foot, looking hurriedly away from the rictus of shock and terror frozen on its face and remembering the sound of its final scream "- has made it clear that I am not one of them. I am Skae. That is all."

N'ha i'mair, Yl/Itiric repeated, using a modifier that signified the superlative form. Skae looked at her in astonishment. D/Anah knew what would happen if you came among us, but not whether it would lead to death or life. But she did know that once the thing was done, there would be no returning - for you or for us. Before, you were simply i'mair, a forbidden human crossbreed, one of Those-Who-Should-Not-Be. Unfortunately, we know them ... But now what you are, we do not know. N'ha i'mair is what D/Anah saw, and what she could not judge.

Skae rubbed her eyes wearily, then noticed that through there were bright red splashes down her arm, she had no wounds. She held up her right hand and stared at it. Where jagged crystal shards had cut to the bone, there was only smooth flesh, whole and unscarred, underneath a veil of fresh blood.

The time-winds have given you back the health that is yours in another aspect of the future. Yl/Itiric said calmly, appraising her. When the Gate opened they came to you. But that one - she nodded towards the corpse - the Gateway swallowed, and became the entry into Nothing. I knew they would not take you, n'ha i'mair. But I did not know if you would be sane after they had touched you.

"You knew ..." Skae's head still ached with the aftermath of the probabilities which had crowded into her mind. And she had the feeling that they had done ... something ... while they were there, changed her. And that perhaps they would come again ... She shied from the thought. Was that what Yl/Itiric had been talking about? The words seemed to flow through her thoughts easily, making sense to a part of herself that was not rational and then falling apart when her rational mind tried to understand them. She turned back to the remains of Roigan, who at least presented a question she understood. "He knew, at the end - I saw it in his face, in his eyes, and he wanted to kill me for it. But I have kept the secret so successfully that even he did not believe it when I told him before. How ...?"

The same way D/Anah knew, and I knew. The eyes are the windows of the soul. Look therein, and know thyself.

Yl/Itiric's eyes, like D/Anah's, seemed to blaze as though twin suns shown behind them. Yet looking into them Skae found the silvered disc of the pupil through which the time-sensitive looked back at her. And in that mirror, Skae saw her own face, and felt as though the world she had known was falling apart.

She looked away and blinked, her eyes as golden now as Yl/Itiric's and her father's had been. Yet at the center of the golden iris, the pupils of her eyes were still dark and secret like those of her human mother, drinking in all light and reflecting nothing.

D/Anah knew what would awaken, and now there is no return to what you were before. In the Now, the Then, and the Always, you are Skae-n'ha i'mair. You are neither one thing or the other, but both. Yl/Itiric looked up toward the main door, a snarl curling the edges of her beautiful unhuman mouth to show the teeth of her feline ancestors. Skae felt it at the same moment as Yl/Itiric said, The pain-givers have heard the alarm and are coming. They think to take us. The air warped as the breath of the time-winds stirred it. Metal shattered, bits of the half-finished Navigator's harness melted and smouldered on the floor. But this time they have no drugs, no shields. We shall show them otherwise.

The world rippled as though seen through a veil of heat emanating from Yl/Itiric. The time-winds raged around them, reducing the rest of the room to ash drifting in the still air. Then like a spear cast from her hand, Yl/Itiric sent the time-winds to meet those who came, narrowing all their probabilities to one Now: Death.

Skae felt the time-shadows of Ven and his crewmen ripped loose from that Now as the bodies which had moored them there disintegrated. They fought the winds but were themselves fragmenting, being swept into the Other - With a part of her mind that she had never conciously used before, she reached out and unraveled the timelines which sprung from that point, finding one in which the slavers suffered only the Lesser Death. Then she put reality back together again, shaking and sweating. She had never known that souls could scream.

It was very quiet when she had finished. Yl/Itiric stared at her, surprised and perhaps angry. It was difficult to tell. You should not have interfered. Now they still exist in Time and will be reborn to live again, to inflict horror again. You have no right -

You are not the only one who has been a slave. Skae said. I too have been used like an animal while men who were less than animals bid their money for my blood. But these men I have chosen to spare, lest in judging them I become as they are. Perhaps they will find redemption in another life.

Yl/Itiric blinked. Perhaps. But they are part of the Then, and in this Now they no longer concern us. This is a place of death-I wish to seek Life again. Let us go.

The others - F/Tassi - Skae protested. You cannot leave them here, drifting in this hulk until some other slaver comes along to pick them up ...!

They are gone already. Many have sought the Gateway, for they were freed as soon as the time-winds touched them. Any whose bodies are still trapped in time/Now await us on the threshold. Come -

I cannot! Skae struck the scorched remains of the table with her fist, feeling afresh all the anguish of her meeting with the Keeper. D/Anah would not tell me the secret. You must know that. Do not mock me with it!

Yl/Itiric held up her hands, palm out, to Skae. Do nothing.


Do nothing. Yl/Itiric repeated. She took Skae's healed right hand and set it finger to finger with her own slender left one, then held out her right hand to take Skae's left. They stood facing one another. Be quiet, and the secret will speak itself to you. Do nothing, and you will understand.

Skae felt the questions seething inside herself, the worries, the old angers and hatreds. All of them bound her to this life and this time, but if she let them go ... Deliberately she closed her eyes and sought to clear her mind, not simply to stand still but to be still. To do no thing ...

Though she had never been aware of it, Skae found that she had been flowing with Time, letting it carry her along by her own actions and thoughts. Now she felt Time eddying around her like wind and water around a stone. It flowed past her and over her, moving from Then-past through the Now and into Then-future - leaving her behind.

Skae opened her eyes and saw that she now stood before the Gateway. Or, at least, an image of the Gateway, for she knew that they were far in space and time from the place she and D/Anah had met. It was all very strange, for at the same moment she was aware of herself standing in a destroyed laboratory on the Deveron, arguing with Roigan, making a time-jump in ForeverTraveller, talking to D/Anah, fighting the slaver-ships off Nordensyd - doing all the things she had done in this life, and other, stranger things from other lives that she did not clearly understand.

Dizzy with the sense of timelines converging and interweaving, Skae hardly noticed at first those who stood between the pillars of the Gateway. Then when she looked she noticed Yl/Itiric, and D/Anah, and one other, hunched and twisted, whose waist-length mane was silvered with streaks of grey. His face was scarred with pain.

It is well met, F/Tassi said. I am sorry that I could not aid you as I would have wished. My body was dying, and I had no more strength.

I am glad that you are free of ... Skae had never actually seen a working Navigator, but she had heard the stories on El'uluth, and the partially-assembled harness she had seen was enough to make her believe them.

I am not free yet, nor am I quite mad, though I have often wished for both. There is a final thing I would have you do. Kill me now, quickly.

No! Skae recoiled in horror as D/Anah and Yl/Itiric stood calmly watching her and did nothing to forbid it. No!

F/Tassi said nothing, but his pain-shadowed eyes met hers andSkae -

(felt her body lying as it had lain for years, with the metal of the Navigator's couch and harness grown into its flesh. Tubes and needles fed life into the emaciated thing which had once been her but was now part of the ship, a thing whose mouth could no longer shape words even to curse its captors or to cry out in pain. Taste, touch, movement, sight - all were gone, for the slavers had learnt that they detracted from a sensitive's ability to ride the timelines. They had left it ears to hear their commands, but the rest of the body ... There was only the mind left active, alone in the dark until it was let out to find safe passage for the ship. And even it was not left intact, for the drugs that enhanced sensitivity to the timelines also blotted out memories, destroyed the will. Now there was nothing but pain, and the machines which still kept the mind from release by sustaining the husk in which it dwelt)

- reached out and gave a final command to ForeverTraveller. Reluctantly, the ship complied. The resulting explosion was more than sufficient.

When Skae was able to look away from the emptiness which had held both ForeverTraveller and the Deveron, she saw that there were now only two figures waiting for her on the threshold of the Gate. Even through the tears which blurred her vision, she could see that neither of them was F/Tassi.

Where has he gone? Is he dead?

He dwells in the Other, where we may not go, D/Anah said. But he is free now, nor is he lost to the Now, the Then, and the Always. One day he will return to us. As you have returned. She held out her hand to Skae. Skae took it, and the three of them walked toward the Gateway. Come now, for there is much to be done.

Yes, there is much to do, Skae agreed. As she stepped across the threshold into the Always, she thought of F/Tassi, and the slave-pens of El'uluth. And I will start doing it yesterday.

Issue five contents
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