“Don’t be ridiculous!” I pointed a shaky finger at the degausing coil. “And put that thing down, will you? I kind of prefer my brain unscrambled.”
She continued to point it straight at my forehead. “Who are you, really?”
“I’m Lieutenant Zak Bowman, Grade 740. You want a retinal scan? A liter of my blood? Or maybe a cranial cross section?”
“All easily fabricated,” she said. “Except for the last.” She laughed then, and her laughter was the most beautiful sound I had heard since the zirconium waterfall on Taurus 4.
“I like that,” I said. “A girl with a sense of humor, even if she is about to short circuit my head. You know, I gave you my serial number during the approach.”
“Very easy to duplicate,” she replied, cool as ever, “especially if you neutralized the real Lieutenant Bowman.”
“Well, aren’t we paranoid.”
“Aren’t we though?”
“Look,” I insisted, “just put that coil down, will you? You’re really starting to make me nervous. Just give it to me and everything will be absolutely fine. Now, I’m going to take one step toward you….”
I had seen that little ploy work in reality theater, but it didn’t work now. Just the sound of a degausing coil is enough to turn your brain to pudding. When it hits, it’s like having a drill go through your head. I jumped up and grabbed at the console to keep from crashing to the deck.
“Ow! That hurt! I think I just forgot that tip on the Daulian panda races. Still remember my name though. Zak something. Now will you please put that thing down? Oh, instant hangover. At least I still have all my teeth. Ah.”
Serena’s blinked her green eyes. “We seem to be at an impasse. Your move, Lieutenant, if that’s who you are.”
“Okay. Okay” I felt my tailbone, which I may have busted on the communicator knob during my fall. “We can stand here and wait to take a hit from one of those celestial hailstones or maybe get taken by the real Holloi, of which I am not one, or we can both take our chances, lower our weapons, and walk out that door now.”
Serena’s eyes narrowed. “I won’t be taken for what I’m not.”
Those meteors were starting to hit closer. This was not a time to talk philosophy. “You’re stubborn,” I told her. “That’s what you are!”
“To go out there and die, ” she said, “probably die, with the last being to see me thinking I’m some kind of knockoff is unacceptable.”
I braced myself as the next one came screaming in, but it landed pretty far away. “Well, you talk like a diplomat,” I conceded. “I’ll give you that much. If you’re an echo, you’re an unusually aggravating one.”
A flash of yellow in the green of her eyes. “You dare to speak to a Daulian ambassador that way?”
I laughed, couldn’t help it. “What are you going to do—prosecute me? ”
She came in closer with the coil. “I would look forward to that.”
“Lady, so would I! Now take your choice. Wait for the Holloi to pick you up or put that thing down and take your chances out there with me.”
The next one was close, rattled my teeth and my nerves.
When the noise died down, she asked me the strangest thing:
“Did he who made the lamb make thee?”
That threw me for a second and then I caught on and played along. “What? Oh, well, sure, with a little help from an itinerant cargo pilot named Zak Bowman, Senior, and Leena, a love-starved governess on Ganymede Seven.”
Again, that laugh, that life-giving laugh. “Less than poetic, but convincing.”
With a sweep of her hand, she started something humming.
I asked her what she was doing.
Her eyes had gone green again. Her chin came up. “Making a decision for both of us. In four minutes and forty-five seconds, there will be no PFK-480, not for you, not for me, not for the Holloi—not for anyone. It’s about to make a very loud noise. Shall we go, Lieutenant?”
I bowed. “Under the circumstances, I’d love to. Take my arm, ambassador?”
She dropped the degausing coil. The doors parted. “I’d be delighted.”
“You know,” I said, “We’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve got a hunch we’ll make it.”
She paused at the threshold. “You know, Lieutenant, I have a hunch we will.”
A meteor screamed overhead just then, and in its light I saw her eyes, her green eyes, go from green to blue to the prettiest shade of indigo in the universe. I figured that violet could wait.
Next time–as soon as you request it–a new serial!