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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
Issue five contents
Five Hundred Eyes index