Nar'Bon and the Human were just looking everywhere but at me or at the procession. Russell sat himself down at the terminal and started performing searches, on what I do not know. Nar'Bon sat next to him and watched. We had just watched the last Markab, the last of his species, die. I sat down in a corner and tried to meditate, tried to talk to Na'Tal, but scenes of what had just gone before kept repeating in my head. Not even food was interesting at the moment.
After some time had passed, I suddenly could stand no more. I burst into action. "I'm going for a walk. I may be some time."
The others barely noticed me going. They were talking about scanning the canned food label that the Pak'ma'ra had kept, but noone knew where he was.
I found him on the stairs. He had been weeping - I hadn't known that Pak'ma'ra could cry. He did not try to hide it. I had intended to walk or run or whatever by myself, but something in me said that I should be nice to the Pak'ma'ra. For once. Still, there was business to attend to first. "Russell and Nar'Bon want the label that you had. They want to scan it and compare it to the language files. I can give it to them if you want."
The Pak'ma'ra shook his head. He pulled himself onto his feet and walked very slowly back to the computer room. He handed the label over, then looked bleakly around the room.
I felt sorry for him. Killing was not what he had been raised to do. Narns are born and bred to fight and death is a natural consequence. "Do you want to come for a walk?"
I don't know if my offer surprised me or him the more. He looked at me, then agreed. I adjusted my pace to his. I stopped and waited at the first landing. The Pak'ma'ra was very weak still and was having difficulty with the stairs. Of course considering that a bit over two hours ago he had been on Death's doorstep, it was not surprising that he be weak. I waited again at the entry to the first level. When the Pak'ma'ra caught up to me, he said that the signs on the door read kitchen and plant.
It was very dark on the other side of the door, and I felt quite disinclined to go exploring in an area where I could not see my own hand in front of my face. My torch had been left behind when we left our last bolt hole.
The Pak'ma'ra sat down on the steps with a sigh. I looked at him - it was still surprising that he was on his feet so quickly. Even more surprising was the action he had just taken. My attitude to him had softened markedly. It was very strange. Everything was very strange.
I blurted out, "It is a hard thing to kill a being."
The Pak'ma'ra looked away, then rapidly changed the subject. He would not understand me anyway, and why did I want him to? He is only a Pak'ma'ra, after all. Why would he want to know that when I fight, I always end the fight by whatever means it takes? If this means killing my opponent(s) then so be it. Why would he want to know that I only kill by necessity, not for enjoyment (though the bloodlust sometimes runs strong in me when what is mine is threatened)? For some unknown reason, I wanted him to know that I understood the regret of granting the last Markab Mercy, and that he had acted correctly.
No, the Pak'ma'ra wanted to talk about the one thing in which we were in agreement.
"What did Kimmini say to you?"
The question surprised me. "Kimmini? Do you mean the prophecy or the vision?"
"Well, in the desert, I played with her as I had when she was alive. It all happened in her play area and everything seemed normal. I was well and not suffering from having walked for so long in such harsh conditions. She was very happy to see me and asked if I had brought her anything. Of course I had nothing, but she didn't mind. We played, then she got tired and asked me to read her a book. I didn't expect to be able to read the book, but the story was in Narnish."
"What was the story about?"
"A great Markab warrior who had to undertake a number of tasks before he could truly become a hero. In the story I read, he had to walk a bed of coals to obtain the key to the next task."
"And what was the key?"
"The mountain. What was yours?"
"The facade of this building. I also played with Kimmini. It felt natural despite the fact that I never played with her, nor do I play at all. The story I read was about water and crystal. The hero had to rescue a drowning child. He tried to swim against the rushing torrent but could not. He eventually realised that if he flowed with the river from upstream, he could rescue the child.
The Pak'ma'ra wanted to know more about the prophecy.
"All Kimmini said was that we must be strong and stay together. That we are surrounded by a great darkness. We must be strong and stay together - she kept emphasising that."
"Strange, then, that we have these visions when we are separated from the group."
I hadn't thought of that. I was still trying to figure out what killing a Markab, the last Markab, had to do with the flow of water - water once past cannot be recalled? The liberation of the last drop into the flow? I don't know. I had endured my own bed of hot coals. I had seen the face of Death. What the Pak'ma'ra's vision was trying to teach I did not understand. Maybe it wasn't trying to teach anything. Maybe it was just trying to keep us alive by showing us the places that we had to go to survive.
What I could see was a pattern. "I suffered fire. You had water. Those are two of the four elements, leaving earth and air. I may be wrong, but those are the obvious trials."
The Pak'ma'ra regarded me strangely.
"You don't have religions holding such things holy? No worship of the sun or the seas or the land or the bright air? We Narn are polytheistic. There are many faiths on my world. These are just some of the older ones."
He shivered. "I have no reason to stay here now. Let us go."
In our absence, Nar'Bon and the Human had managed to shred the original copy of the label, but not before discovering a way to duplicate it. They had scanned the replacement label into the computer and matched it to language files.
"Look at this. When we do the cross-referencing, we find that this language is very similar to, if not the same as, the scientific script of the Dilgar. We also tried digging through the hospital records to see if we can find any mention of the Redeemed. This is what we found."
A series of partial pictures of skin and hair samples flashed across the screen. "Nothing to confirm that these Redeemed are Dilgar - no eyes or facial structures or any other distinctive body parts are apparent in any of these images. However, they do have hair, which says that they are not truly Markabs."
"Nor are they Narns," I inserted.
"We haven't been able to find anything else. There aren't very many records or these Redeemed and what they do have is not complete by any means."
Something else suddenly occurred to me. "What is the date?"
The Human was obviously surprised by my question, but it was very important to me. "What is the date? Can you get the computer to tell you?"
Russell tapped at a few keys and a little window zoomed in on an image of my Homeworld. I read the date. The Human cringed as he saw my face change.
Tantrums and apathy. Pain of so many different forms. We had been here for more than a standard month, more like 40 standard days. I had missed the deadline on the payment for my ship.
Worse, much worse was that I would probably miss my daughter's pouching day.
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