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Dance of Chameleon and Mirror

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Mairi was in her office in the Library, trimming the profuse bushes that grew around her seat, when she sensed his arrival.

She turned slowly. The entity had changed his form; gone was the attractive male of her own species, replaced by an implacable and improbable being of glowing ice in humanoid shape. And it had been close to fifty years since she'd last sensed him. But she knew who he was.

"You."

"Me," he replied, in a mocking cold voice.

Mairi set down the pruning laser. "What do you want?"

"What do I want?" he repeated. "Why, what makes you think I want anything? Perhaps I just came to visit. After all we meant to each other, are you saying I can't visit?"

"I'm saying you should go. Now." Her hands came up in a gesture she hadn't used in fifty years.

The entity shook his head. "You won't catch me with that trick again, my dear."

"I know more than one trick, Ashke."

"As do I." He circled her slowly, the amused tone gone from his voice. "I came to give you a warning, actually."

This was highly unlikely. Mairi shook her head. "I may be younger than you. That doesn't mean I was born yesterday."

"Oh, but it's true." He stroked a palely glowing hand over her bushes. Deep within the glow she could see darkness, and stars. It was one of the more ostentatious of his forms. "Such care you take with these. Such pride. Almost as if you had personally created them."

"By the terms of the Questioners' treaty with my people, you can't touch us. That includes our property," Mairi said coolly. "Leave my plants alone."

"Would I stoop to destroying harmless plants? Your plants are nothing to me." He turned back to her. "You changed your name again."

"Mairi." It meant decision-maker. "I grew out of the old one."

"I liked the old one better. Do your people change their names every fifty years?"

"Whenever we change roles," she said. "And I should have given you a new one, too."

He shrugged. "I like Ashke."

"It doesn't fit you anymore. If it ever did."

When he had first come to her, fifty years ago, he had identified himself as a Questioner-- a poor translation of an untranslatable concept that defined his species' name, as well as the name their individuals used in dealing with mortals. Mairi had thought it was rather impersonal to call an individual by his species' name, so she had named him Ashke-- a trickster god from one of the many mythologies her people had had. At the time, it had seemed appropriate. Ashke was a harmless trickster whose games were generally aimed at gaining or imparting knowledge, and so Ashke of the Questioners had first appeared. By the time she understood how malicious, how thoughtless and arrogant, he could be, he had grown used to the name. "You should have been Diir," she said now, using a word for a force of implacable chaos.

"Such trivialities," he said. "We're here discussing names, when the future of your entire species is at stake."

Her eyes narrowed. "You aren't permitted to touch my people."

"Did I say I would touch them? I don't intend to harm a single cell on their miserable mortal bodies. But I'm not the only danger in the universe, Mairi."

"No. You're not." She picked up the pruning laser and bent over her bushes again.

"Listen to me!" He caught her hand. His touch burned-- Mairi yanked her hand away.

"Don't touch me."

"As you wish. But listen to me."

"Why?"

"Because your pathetic species is about to be destroyed. And by sparing me a few minutes out of your undoubtedly pressing schedule, perhaps you can avoid it. I'm sure those plants will live if you stop pruning them for half an hour."

She turned to face him. "If you want to talk to me, take a form I can look at without hurting my eyes."

Ashke vanished in a brilliant splash of light, reforming in the image of her father. His sardonic smile would never have been seen on her father's face, though. "Is this better?"

"Not if you want me to listen to you."

With an ostentatious sigh, he transformed again, taking the handsome male form he had worn when first she knew him. "Enough games, Mairi," he said. "I have a purpose here. And if I get bored, and leave before I've achieved my purpose, it won't be me that suffers."

She faced him, arms folded. "I'm listening."

"Are you?" Now that he had her agreement, he seemed in no hurry to get to the point. "I wonder. For someone who makes a living at that, you do it so poorly. Or is it merely me that you cannot listen to?"

"It's hard to listen when nobody's talking."

"Oh, is that what happened?" He stared at her a moment, the intensity of his gaze frightening. Mairi merely gazed back evenly, until he looked away. "Well. It's of no consequence now, I suppose." He began to pace. "This is the warning, and I grant it only once, so listen closely. Within a century, a disaster will occur. Your civilization will topple and your race will be destroyed."

Mairi frowned. "That's helpful," she said, meaning that it wasn't. "What kind of disaster?"

He spun suddenly to face her, a huge malicious grin splitting his face. "Sorry! The Questioners' treaty with your people forbids me to interfere. I can't tell you anything else," he caroled.

Mairi's face tightened. "Then why did you tell me what you did?"

"Because it's no more than you could determine for yourself, if you chose to look," Ashke said coldly. His eyes narrowed. "You think this is a game, don't you? That I'm making this up to torment you? Check it for yourself."

"Is this another elaborate attempt to get me to use my powers?" She stepped closer to him, staring into his face. "You're still fascinated with my people and our abilities, aren't you?"

Ashke shrugged elaborately. "In the sense that a hideous accident is fascinating, perhaps," he said. "And no, this is not an elaborate attempt to see you use your powers. I saw them quite well enough last time."

"Yes. You did." She put as much quiet menace into the words as possible.

His eyes narrowed again at the implied threat, but he didn't speak of it. "Check it or don't, Mairi. I really don't care. Should you choose to examine for yourself, I will wait right here." In a flash of light, he was sitting in a previously nonexistent rocking chair, over by a table full of books.

"Why wait? If you can't tell me anything more, and you don't care if I believe you or not..."

"Oh, but I do care." He smiled oh-so-slightly. "I want to see the expression on your face when you realize I'm right. And I haven't yet made my offer."

Whatever his offer, she didn't want to hear it. Gifts from Ashke were always suspect. But it was unlike him to lie in an obvious fashion, and she could in fact check it. She supposed, on the chance that he was telling the truth, that she had to.

Some of the Adepts of her people used tools for this, foci. Crystal balls. Glowing candles. Drugs to aid in meditative trancing.

Mairi used none of those things. She was one of the most powerful Adepts of her time, and all she needed was a quiet mind and few distractions to be able to see inside. In an adjoining room, she sat at a plain wooden table, studying the grain, trying to shut out the intrusive sense of Ashke's presence in the Library garden. The grain formed loops and lines, like the lines under the fabric of reality, like the lines of each life stretching forward and backward and sideways through time. She stared at the lines until they took on a life of their own, until she knew she was looking at the lines of those closest to her and not the wood grain at all.

Backward, backward, toward the roots where all her people's lines emanated from. She saw her race as a branching tree, lines growing in profusion from the thick trunklike source that was the combined line of all her race. That line she scanned forward, into what those who were not Adepts would call the future. Thick branches, green leaves, the implacable force of growth-- and then a break, a charred stop, as if lightning had hit the tree of life. She stared in horror, scanning the line forward. The trunk of her race tapered to a slender thread, the lines emanating from it pruned down to a mere few thousand out of billions.

In theory she could have scanned sideways-- time, like space, was multi-dimensional, and the lines she saw were not the only ones possible. In theory she could have checked to see if there were any temporal dimensions where the lines of her people continued on, and perhaps she could even have spun the tree, wrenched things over so that it was her people, her existence, that would continue. But the latter was an abuse of power anathema to her, and the former required a quiet mind... so the horror of seeing the end of her people took the sight away. She could not regain the equilibrium she needed to see again.

For several seconds she sat, staring at the woodgrain in horror. Ashke had not lied. Her people were going to die, billions of them cut down by the lightning bolt of sudden genocide. She took several deep breaths, trying to center herself again, and failing. She had thought she'd seen horrors, in close to eight hundred years of life. She had seen nothing at all.

Mairi stood up and went back into the Library garden. Ashke turned to look at her. A satisfied smirk spread across his face, and she wanted to hit him, to physically wipe the smirk away. She wondered what he'd do if she spun his line now, if she locked him out of the universe as she'd once threatened.

"What is going to happen?" she demanded.

He shrugged. "Can't tell you. That would be interference. By the rules of your treaty."

Her eyes went very small, very focused. "Is that all you came here for? To give me a useless warning?"

"Perhaps," he said casually. "Why, do you think you deserve more than that?"

"You still think you have reason to hate me."

"Think? I wouldn't call it 'think', my dear. I'd put it in the category of immutable physical law."

"All I did was hold up a mirror. It wasn't my fault you didn't like what you saw."

"I don't think so." Ashke stood up, the rocking chair vanishing behind him. "What color is a chameleon on a mirror, Mairi?" He walked over to her. "I merely matched your expectations."

"I didn't expect you to do what you did."

"Nor did I expect what you did."

"I know. You didn't think anyone could threaten you."

He stared at her. Softly he said, "I admit, I didn't realize you could threaten me, but the fact that you could was not what surprised me. It was the fact that you did."

"What else did you expect me to do, after what you did? I had to protect my people."

"Yes, yes, your people, your people, your marvelous people. I'm truly sorry you were too stupid to understand what I was trying to say, and that you were too primitive to do other than resort to treachery to deal with it--"

"Treachery?" She frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"

"If you don't know, then there's no point in my telling you."

Mairi shook her head. Treachery was not the term she would have used. Treachery implied that he had trusted her, that he had considered her a friend. That was not the way she remembered things. If he had considered her a friend, he had a downright psychotic way of showing it. But then, considering what she knew him to have done to friends, perhaps that wasn't so unbelievable after all. "We're talking at cross purposes, Ashke. What are you still here for?"

"Why, I've come to offer you aid. To show you that I can let bygones be bygones." His tone hardened. "Or at least, to prevent your people from suffering the consequences of your actions."

"My actions will bring the disaster?"

"Your actions prevent me-- or anyone else-- from moving to help you." He moved away from her and began to pace again. "As lower species go, yours is an intriguing one. Arrogant, self-centered, immature and know-it-all--"

"Are you sure you're not speaking of your own kind?"

He ignored the interruption. "--but interesting, for all that. I'd rather not see it destroyed. But I can only take action if specifically invited to by one of your species-- one who understands the consequences, and is willing to pay the required price. You, in fact."

"So you want something from me. What's the price?"

Abruptly he was standing in front of her, leaning down into her face. "You are the price, my dear Mairi."

"Me. In what sense, me?" She looked up at him, firmly standing her ground.

"Grant me permission to save your people and release yourself from the terms of the treaty. Give yourself over to me, and I'll save them."

His body language could almost have spoken of sexual desire, but she was fairly sure that wasn't what he wanted her for. "Give myself over to you for what?"

"For whatever I want to do to you," he said coldly. "You betrayed me, Mairi. My price... is that you pay me back for that."

Now Mairi stepped backward, twisting her head from him in disgust. She knew what Ashke's idea of vengeance entailed. She had helped one of his own kind, one who had been his best friend, recover from suicidal despair because Ashke had "paid her back" for the crime of loving a mortal man more than she'd loved him. "You are a twisted, spoiled brat," she said. "You imagine that trivial injuries are terrible ones and demand a far disproportionate vengeance, like a child who wants his mommy dead because she won't give him a toy. You think for a minute I'll hand myself over to you?"

He looked taken aback. "On what basis do you say that?"

"On the basis of Azi Martikale." She saw his face change. "I met her, Ashke. The one you mentioned had betrayed you. I found out what her so-called 'crime' was, and what you did to her in revenge. You didn't tell me that part of the story, did you?"

"I told you almost none of the story, and it was a mistake to tell you as much as I did. I was advised that you could help... obviously a cruel practical joke on my advisor's part."

"I could help you? You already had your revenge. You destroyed an innocent person's life because your best friend had the temerity to decide she wanted a part to her life that didn't include you."

His face was white, with rage, she thought. "Is that what Azi told you? Is that what you believe?"

"She was in too shattered a condition to lie. Who am I supposed to believe, you?"

"Obviously you've made up your narrow little mind without knowing all the facts. Which is typical of you, and I should hardly expect any differently."

"So what's the other part of the story, then? What's your personal justification for what you did?"

Ashke turned away from her. "None of your business," he said softly. "You believe whatever you like, Mairi. The point is. Whether or not I am a 'twisted, spoiled brat', I have the power to save your people. You don't. So, shall you nobly sacrifice yourself to me to rescue them? Or shall you refuse me, because the idea that I should desire revenge on you offends you morally-- or simply because you don't want to get hurt-- and doom them all?"

"If we have to rely on you for help, we're already doomed," Mairi said quietly.

She knew what he wanted. She knew Ashke too well. In his script, she would accept-- because she'd have to; he knew perfectly well that if it came down to a choice between her own life or her entire race's, she would sacrifice herself. And he would keep her alive, in some kind of subtle torment, while he rescued her people. And then he would show her what he had done. And she would see that in the process of saving their lives, he had destroyed all that was good and valuable about them, and she would know that the blame was hers for giving him permission.

And then he would release her, to spend the rest of her long life blaming herself.

"No, Ashke. I see through you. If we're fated to die, then whatever you do to save us will end up destroying us somehow. And if there's some way we can survive, accepting help from you instead of working through it ourselves will damage us." She shook her head. "It's wrong to go around manipulating the cosmos the way you do. It's wrong for you to impose your will on reality like you do. And if we participate in that wrongness, we become no better than you-- and that opens the door for us to abuse the power we have. Better we all die than that."

"I see." He studied her, expressionless. "Then so be it. I leave you to your fate."

In a blinding flash of light, he vanished.

For several seconds, Mairi stared into the space where he had been. Finally she turned and left the garden, left the Library entirely, and headed for the sprawling, interconnected complex of houses which was her family's home.

Mairi's people liked to live with their families, given a chance. They were also immensely long-lived. The complex included over ten main houses, with additions and wings and refurbished attics piled on as homes for returning adult children, interconnected underground by a maze of tunnels and additional living quarters. For this marriage, Mairi had asked that her husband come to live at her family home-- she had lived in the two previous husbands', but she felt she'd done enough traveling for now.

Her current husband, a biologist, was working. She peered in on him as he used various instruments to study a tissue sample, occasionally turning to dangle a toy in front of their infant daughter's face. The baby, happy in her basket by her father, laughed delightedly.

Both of them would probably die, Mairi thought, and the pain of it wrenched at her heart. Little one, have I failed you? To bring a child into the world is to make a pact with her that the world will not end, that she will live to grow up. If I'm seeing the lines right, you'll still be a baby when the end comes...

But she hadn't failed yet. Mairi turned away before either of them could see her and headed to the center of the house, where her father lived.

Father was an ancient Listener/Adept, ancient and wise. All her life Mairi had tried to be like him. In terms of Adeptitude she had surpassed him centuries ago-- it was why she had been chosen to watch Ashke when he'd first come to their world, that she was one of the most powerful Adepts currently alive. But power was nothing without wisdom. As old as she herself was, as wise in the ways of guiding others, Mairi needed her father's reassurance that she had done the right thing.

The old man looked up as she entered. His dark brown skin had started to become leathery with great age, and his hair had turned brittle and white, but his eyes were still bright and sharp. "Antay," he greeted her with her childhood name. "It's been a while since you've come down to see your old father."

"Too long, Tada." She kissed him on the cheek, then sat down in a plush formchair in front of him. "I just had a visit from Ashke."

"Didn't he do enough damage the last time?"

"Apparently he didn't think so. He came to give me a warning, Tada. He said our people would be wiped out within a century." She grew somber. "I checked, and it's true."

Her father drew inward, thinking. "So."

Quickly, leaving nothing out, Mairi explained to him the full details of the encounter, of Ashke's offer and her refusal. She did not ask her father to validate her decision. If he thought it worth validating, he would tell her so.

"Well." Her father considered for several minutes. "You've become a spokesperson for our people since the whole thing with Ashke first began, Mairi. I thought it was good for you. About time someone recognized your abilities. And I think you're good at it. But you're not happy making decisions that affect the lives of others, are you?"

She wasn't sure what this had to do with their predicament, but she knew very well that Listeners rarely came straight to the point. "Not really. But it wouldn't have mattered in this case-- whether I was Decision-Maker or not, it still would've been me Ashke came to."

Her father nodded. "That's true... it was written from the basis of your last encounter." He gazed at her evenly. "Do you ever think perhaps you handled that one badly?"

She considered. "Occasionally," she admitted. "Angering Ashke probably wasn't the smartest thing I could have done-- but what was I supposed to do, give in to him? You remember what he demanded, what he was like..."

"I remember," her father said, nodding. "He was arrogant, obnoxious, self-centered, demanding... all the signs of a spoiled child. Or else the signs of a child in pain. He never did tell you why he came, did he?"

"He dropped some hints, but when I tried to draw him out he wouldn't come. I thought I'd wait for him to come to me... and then things went sour long before that happened." She took a deep breath. "You're right, I know. Ashke's a kid. I shouldn't have let him get to me... but he's a kid with a lot of power, and a lot of knowledge, and a lot of experience in hurting people. Were we all supposed to obey the demands of a spoiled child just because he has power?"

"Is threatening him the way to educate and guide a spoiled child?"

"I just don't see what else I could have done. I tried, Tada. I was reasonable with him for years, but he just got worse and worse... And you didn't meet the one whose life he destroyed. Ashke's capable of tremendous evil. I didn't know just what he was capable of at the time. I know now. And if I hadn't escalated it to the point where his hands were bound by the treaty... who knows what might have happened?"

Her father nodded again. "If you believe that, then you can feel confident that you did all you can do. I believe you handled this situation well, given the lines behind it; if you directed those lines in the only way possible, then no blame can attach to you for anything."

"But did I direct them the only way possible?"

"You must answer that, Mairi. As you've answered it to me, and to others, you must answer it to your own heart."

She nodded. She'd known that, but every so often even a Listener needed to hear it again.

"As for the other... we're not defeated yet, Mairi. We can tell the Council, and we'll research the possibility of a natural disaster."

"Right. And I can go offworld and keep my ears open. If there's a powerful conquering race coming this way, there'll be refugees, advance travelers, and a lot of rumors."

"Yes." He smiled at her. "We'll find a way to survive, Antay. Even if it means we leave our world behind, our people will survive."

Three weeks later she was in space.

Most of her children had agreed to help, traveling offworld in various directions to try to find evidence of a hostile power moving their way. Only her baby Raina had been left behind, staying in the care of her father. Mairi wondered if she would ever see the child again, and if she did, would Raina still be a child? Her people were long-lived; childhood lasted fifty years. But she could easily be away fifty years.

Over the next ten years Mairi traveled, tending bar in one place, teaching language in another, working as a volunteer counselor in a third-- low-paying, low-status professions where she could keep her head down and hear all the rumors. She heard about the expansion of the people from Earth, whom she knew she was destined to meet again someday, and their growing Federation of peace. She heard about the arrested development of the Klingon Empire, as internal troubles and a godlike race kept them from warring on the Federation. She heard about the adventuresome people of Willic, moving out from their tiny world into the grand galaxy, and about the growing economic power of the Ferengi Alliance. She heard nothing at all about a new conqueror race.

Until finally she sensed it, from a thousand light-years away. She was working as a journalist at the time, and was in the middle of an interview. Hastily she ended the interview and booked passage on a charter ship, making her way back across the stars she'd passed. It was close to a year of fits and starts before she reached her home.

Nothing remained.

From orbit, she stared in horror at the viewscreen, that showed her huge gouged-out tracts, craters where the cities of her people had been. She scanned the planet for sentient life and found none. There were huge carbon deposits, showing areas where millions of bodies had been vaporized, and there were skeletons exposed to the air, picked clean. There were birds still, and plants, and trees. But no sentient life, none of her people alive.

She dove inside herself to study the lines, and saw that some had escaped. Some lived. Even some of her own children. But the line of her smallest child was too small to see, and her last husband was dead, along with her father, along with her family, her species... On a plain of her world, deeply buried, someone had left a message crystal. Mairi went there.

The message crystal had recorded the last moments of its owner. Standing on the gouged-out ground, holding it in her hand, Mairi saw black-clad cyborgs, soulless and empty, pour across the land, killing and consuming all that stood in their path. Entire cities were gouged out and carried to their giant cubical ships, sinister, unnatural black moons in low enough orbits to be seen in the sky. Thousands of people were transformed, their souls cored out and replaced with hard machinery, but their memories intact and used against those they loved. The maker of the crystal had been an Adept. When the soulless ones, the Borg, came for him, he had suicided rather than allowing the possibility that the Borg could use an Adept's powers once they'd taken his soul.

Despair, horror, shock overwhelmed Mairi as the message ended with its maker's death. She sat down heavily on the empty ground and began to weep hopelessly for her lost people.

Then she sensed him. And she stood, and wiped the tears away, and brought her hands up in a gesture of power. "Show yourself!" she snarled.

Ashke appeared, no different than she'd seen him ten years ago, in a brilliant flash of light. "Happy now?" he whispered.

"Bring them back," she said. She knew it was wrong, knew what she was asking was an obscenity, against all the laws of her people, and she didn't care. What had consumed them was also an obscenity. "Bring them back, Ashke. I accept your offer."

"It's a little late for that."

She shook her head wildly. "Time means nothing to you. I know that. You can stop it from happening now as easily as you could have before. Bring them back!"

"Oh, Mairi." He chuckled. "What would your people say if they could hear you now? How the mighty have fallen."

"You want me to beg?" She fell to her knees in the dirt, looking up at him with burning eyes. "You want me to grovel? To crawl? I'll do anything. This shouldn't have happened, it couldn't have happened, it's too horrible, I'll do anything, Ashke, anything. Please! Please, if there's any decency in you..."

"But I made the offer. And you refused me." He smiled coldly. "My own people's laws forbid me to interfere now."

"You have to!"

"I don't have to do anything." H knelt down in front of her and took her chin in his hands, cruelly gentle. "You killed them, Mairi," he said softly. "You had the opportunity to save them all, and you refused it out of pride. You'll never know, now, what I would have demanded of you. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad. Perhaps I wouldn't have hurt you badly at all, certainly no worse than what this has done to you. But you'll never know." He stood. "Did you know, I saw your daughter in the garden, as the Borg raped the Library. Her father was already dead, gutshot by a disruptor blast. She was so small, so fragile and terrified. And such power in one untrained-- you know, she saw me? I wasn't even manifested, but she sensed me there. She pleaded with me to save her, but..." he shrugged. "I had to tell her that her mother had forced me to agree not to interfere with her people. If there had been an adult there, someone capable of giving informed consent to release me from the treaty, well... but there wasn't. She was too young to give consent. Nothing I could do." He shrugged sadly. "And then the Borg broke in..."

"Stop it!" she screamed at him, her mind filling with horror at his tale. Raina wouldn't have understood why the treaty was made or what it was intended to bind. She would have known only fear and need and a man telling her that he couldn't save her because her mother had forbidden it, her mother who had abandoned her to die... She grabbed him around the waist, tugging at his clothing. "What do you want? You want to torture me? To kill me? I give you permission, anything you want, if you'll save them..."

And he smiled, and flowed out of her embrace as if he were a mirage. "No, my dear. I think I have what I want."

And he was gone.

For seconds Mairi stared after him, the brilliant flash of his departure imprinted on her retinas, turning the gray world red. And then she folded over onto the ground and wept hysterically, as tides of darkness crashed over her mind and she longed to die.

After some time she was spent, the tears gone, the darkness receded. The world was gray and cold now, no warmth or color inside it. She was wise enough to know that that would change someday if she lived, that the color would return and she would find joy in life again. But for now, she needed a cold reason to survive.

She understood now what Ashke's goal had always been. He had known she would refuse his offer-- he had not given her enough information to do otherwise. If she'd known what would happen... If she had known her people were facing, not merely death, but consumption by a soulless overmind... perhaps she would have made a different choice. Or perhaps she would not have, but she would have known what the choices were. Ashke had made the offer because she would refuse it, and because her refusal would torment her once the disaster occurred. It had been an exquisitely planned revenge. It deserved an exquisitely planned response.

With incredible focus, she sought out Ashke's line. It was impossible to miss, once she sought for it, a thick steely line, impervious to the sideways splitting of mortal lines, impervious to the possibility of death. It extended backwards farther than she could see, into the dim reaches of prehistory. When she scanned it forward, however, she found a tiny hairline weakness, within the possible range of her lifespan.

Slowly, carefully now, she worked on that weakness, rotating his line through the realms of possibility. He would notice, if she tried to lock him out of the universe again. He would notice if she did anything overt, anything sudden. But while he could see the future, his powers were only active, only direct-- he could see nothing if he did not actively look for it. And he had no reason to believe his future would hold anything the past did not.

His line thinned at the weak point and shattered, splitting off into the thousand possibilities of mortality, and she smiled. There were places where it recovered, where he survived what she had just done. There were places where it did not. All she had done was alter the probabilities of an event in his future, so what had been unlikely now became almost certain.

Almost as an afterthought, she moved her line to intersect his there. They would meet again, during the period of Ashke's greatest vulnerability, and she would see then what fate moved her to do. Perhaps she would have an opportunity to pay him back. Or perhaps by that time she would feel no desire for revenge, and regret what she had done to him. This was, after all, not the act of a wise and responsible creature. Someday maybe she would regret.

Right now she didn't care.

Her name would have to change, she thought. She would not again make a decision for another than herself. The name she'd used in young womanhood struck her, the name that simply meant "listener", and she nodded. As she had been once, so she would be again.

She stood up and touched the automatic transporter device on her waist. A moment later there was a shimmer in the air of her world, and then the last sentient life was gone from the world forever.