| Confronting the Princess
Journal Entry 191 / 00737
Anar, Urim 20, 00737
"You okay?" P'nyssa asked, looking at me quizzically over the bar
separating the kitchen from the living room.
"Tired," I replied. "I ate too much, you know what that does to me."
"Why don't you take a nap then?"
"If I do that, I won't be able to sleep later. And I need to maintain
a day schedule for a while."
P'nyssa nodded, coming around the corner with two glasses filled with
iced tea. I accepted the one she held out to me. "What's that?" she asked,
indicating my book.
"A history of llerkin, in llerkindi. I've gotten the spoken down, mostly,
but written llerkindi isn't quite that easy. This way I'm forced to do two
things at once." I sighed. "I thought Aaden wasn't any good at languages.
Have you seen the books he's got? There's more llerkindi botany in the
library now than I think there is Terran!"
She nodded and leaned over to kiss me. "I love your cheeks," she said.
"I know, you tell me that all the time."
"And are you upset by my telling you?" She smiled.
"No," I said easily, "I love hearing it. Love you."
"Love you too," she said.
We laughed softly, only to be interrupted by the Castle AI. "Ken,
Ambassador Agima is calling."
I raised my eyebrows, giving P'nyssa my mock-exasperation look. "Duty
calls," I said. She nodded. "In here, Dave."
The image resolved in front of me, the deliberate slight flicker in the
image an idiosyncrasy I had asked for to tell me that this was just an
image. Sometimes our imaging technology almost seems too good. "Good
evening, Agima. What can I do?"
"Vatare' Shardik," he said in a voice that immediately made me feel
wary. Something was wrong. "I have received a message from the Princess
Anlestin. She is accompanying the warship Metyslenki, enroute to Pendor. I
do not know why she is coming, and I am concerned. She has asked for a
private meeting with 'Vatare Ilye Pendoro Shardik.' The wording of the
message is most formal."
"What do you think it might mean?"
"I have no guesses. Princess Anlestin is, as you well know, someting of
a--" he sought for the right word-- "A free spirit. Formality of this
type does not become her easily."
I smiled, remembering my last encounter with the lovely Anlestin. "I am
aware of that, Agima. When will she be arriving?"
"Within the week."
After Agima's image had left, I turned to P'nyssa and said, "Okay,
you two, ideas? Suggestions? Thoughts?"
Dave answered first. "There is little data to go on. If we're going to
discuss this from the point of view of in-house knowledge, let's discuss
that you have a unique relationship with Anlestin. You are the first
alien she ever slept with."
"Her request's to meet with you," P'nyssa said.
"Right, so this has to do with something personal. Something between
her and me?"
"Have you written her since the Treaty?"
"Of course. At least three or four times. They were always friendly
letters, and I always got friendly letters in return."
"So that's not it," P'nyssa said. She threw up her mittens in frustration.
"I don't know."
"I'm equally in the dark, Ken."
"Great. Me too. I guess we wait."
"I guess so," Dave and P'nyssa said in tandem. I looked at P'nyssa,
then we both turned slowly to stare at the ceiling. Then the three of
us broke out in laughter.
Four days later, I wasn't laughing quite so easily. When the Metyslenki
has set into orbit, I had joined Joshua at the Arc to welcome them
in-system and to personally greet the Princess. The response had been
cold and formal, an acknowledgment of permission to transit in- system
from the Captain of the vessel. When I had requested a communique'
with the Princess, I had been rebuffed.
Later that day, I had received an invitation to meet the Princess, aboard
her vessel, alone. The strange part of the invitation read "in person."
In a shuttle of llerkin manufacture we coasted from the P.S.F. Parma to
the Metyslenki. I sat in the chair on the right, tapping my fingers in
nervous boredom; on my left Shen, a llerki on Agima's staff and someone
I counted on as reliable and trustworthy, tended to the controls. "Any
"No, but sorry, Ken." I smiled. He was getting the hang of Quen just
a little slowly. "Orders have come from Agima to me to be formal. When
we reach the ship, I must behave myself." I nodded, getting the general
"You have to act like a soldier," I said in llerkin.
"Yeah," he replied, using a colloquial llerkin "Yes." "You won't need
that," he said, indicating the biocybe unit I was carrying. "Agima told
me that they've tuned the atmosphere to make it more suitable to you,
since we have no trouble breathing your air. Two trillis, Ken." About
three and a half minutes. I put the biocybe pack in a pocket, just in
case he was wrong. He easily coasted the ship into the docking bay and
set about routine shut-down as the doors closed behind us.
"This way," he said. "Good day, Vatare'." I nodded and left the shuttle,
bending down under a door that was too short even for llerki. Taking
a deep breath, I found the air acceptable. Outside, I was met by an
'honor guard' of six armed soldiers in light battlegear and two llerki
I had never met before. The one on my right I recognized as The Captain,
but lacked a name for him. The other I knew not at all, although she was
an llerki. "Vatare'," she said with some formality, "I am Ipsi,
The Princess Anlestin's personal secretary. Will you join us?"
"Before I do," I said, looking at the Captain, "it is your vessel.
Permission to come aboard?"
He smiled, finally. For the reptilian llerki, he looked like a handsome
and self-assured mel, but he also looked slightly uncomfortable. "Granted,
"Then I will join you, Ipsi." She shook her head slightly, which in llerki
is our equivalent of a nod, and turned, walking away. I followed. The
Captain took up behind me, the honor guard behind him in two rows.
The Mestylenki looked like a very comfortable ship; the halls were
spacious and, if not the padded leather interiors of Pendorian vessels,
they were at least paneled and painted in comfortable natural tones.
The two of them led me down to an elevator, and together we took it
to another level. The honor guard did not follow, but I was not at all
surprised to find another one waiting for us when we exited. I thought
furiously as to what could require that I be accompanied by six armed
llerki at all times.
"Through there," Ipsi said, indicating a door. It was not labeled.
I nodded and said, "Thank you for your hospitality, Captain." He shook
his head in response. I turned to the door and walked in; the two halves
parted as I did so, then closed behind me with a snap.
Inside was a living room, done in a comfortable dark green, a color not
unlike the Princess herself, who stood behind a large desk set in one
corner of the room. "Stay where you are," she said. A cold fear began
working its way up my neck. That was not the Anni I had met four years
ago. The thought rammed its way into my consciousness again, Something
She ignored me for the most part, examining the data screen in front of
her. She smiled for a moment, then said "Good." She looked up at me,
walked around the desk to stand in front of me, just at arm's length.
"This time, it is you." With that she hit me.
Not just slapped me, but hit me, hard across the face with a closed fist.
I shook my head with disbelief, staring at her, rubbing my jaw with my
hand. "What was that for?" I said.
"You prag, how dare you insult me by sending that abomination under the
guise of a peace treaty to violate me."
I stared at her for a few seconds, not sure what to say. Not sure what
she meant, either "I... I don't know what you're talking about, Anni."
"Do not dare call me that," she said. "I do not know you, and you do
not know me. You will address me as 'Your Highness.'" I stared at her,
uncomprehending. She continued. "On Hermoc the 40th, do you deny that
you sent an android with your appearance to llerki to attend the dinner
given in honor of the Peace of Fahn to be signed Remmar first?"
"A what? Princess, that was me."
"With the exchange writ recently, we have been allowed to review some
of your current technologies. According to your own documentation, the
basis of your respiratory function does not perform on llerkin. You would
asphyxiate if you came to my world, Shardik. Do you deny, therefore,
that what was on llerki was a machine of some sort, sent as your proxy?"
I sighed. "No, I do not deny it. That was an android."
She smiled, a chilling sort of smile. "I cannot make war on Pendor,
Shardik, for I know who would lose. But I can kill you."
"Wait a second!" I said quickly. "Don't you want to hear the other part?"
"What other part, Shardik? What is there to discuss?"
"Okay, Back on Remmar 1st, that wasn't this body, but that was me!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Anni, if you've read our tech-level reviews, then you also know that
one of our major science is biocybernetics. Maybe that wasn't this body
in your bedroom at the Skypalace, but that was this mind, this soul,
talking to you."
"Are you trying to tell me that your technology allows you to move minds
from one body to another?"
"Yes. In certain cases. But that wasn't what was happening that night."
"Explain it to me," she said.
"I can, if I need to, shunt all input from my senses to a storage buffer
and substitute any other set of sensory input I want. I admit, that
night and the next day this body that stands in front of you was held
in a sensory-deprivation facility aboard the Eldarfaroth. But that was
so that I could freely get input from the android on the ground. Anni,
as far as I know, I was on llerkin. That was me down there with you." I
decided to press my luck. "You do remember, don't you? In the Skypalace? I
said you were cute. You remember my touching you, tasting you? Remember
how hot you said I felt, how warm my skin was? Come here, touch me. You'll
find it the same."
"I do not trust you." She bit slightly at her lower lip.
"Dammit, Anni, I'm seven hundred years old. I've had plenty of time to
learn a martial art or two. Do you think if I really wanted to kill you
there's anything to stop me?"
She looked at me, emotions warring on her face for supremacy. Finally
she walked towards me and put her hand on my cheek, right where she had
slugged me just minutes ago. "It feels the same."
I smiled, my jaw aching only slightly. "I can prove it. If you are
willing to trust me."
"How can I? I am still angry that you did not tell me the truth."
"What would the point be? From your point of view, either was a lie. That
was me on llerki that day, talking to your mother. I remember you telling
me about Maerts. I remember you slipping the note into my pocket. Tell
me, was that a common style, or did Aaraon arrange for that?"
She smiled slightly and said, "I asked Aaraon for your dimensions and
had the clothes delivered to the embassy."
"My dimensions. They fit me well enough, didn't they?"
She thought about that for a second. "Very well, I will accompany you."
"Anni, I put myself into your hands by coming here. Trust me in return." I
paused for a second. "Please?"
That bite of the lip came back, and finally she said, "Shardik, there is
one difference between us. If I were to kill you, I would die as well in
the ensuing war. If you were to kill me, all llerkin would have to show
for it is another humiliating defeat by the Pendor Fleet and the loss of
a Princess. There is something riling in the knowledge that nothing but a
peculiar concept of peace keeps Pendor from making a servant of llerkin."
"That and our wealth."
She sighed. "I will go with you."
"You don't have to."
"Yes, I do." She turned to the desk and said, "Captain, you may dismiss
the honor guard. And prepare a shuttle. I will be returning with Vatare'
Shardik to the Starship Facility."
There was a pause, and then the Captain said, "Yes, Your Highness."
We boarded the shuttle together, she first. Ipsi was more than a little
distressed, but Anlestin raised her voice and Ipsi relented.
"Shen!" I said as I boarded.
"Greetings, Vatare'. Good to see you again."
"You too," I said with earnest. "I trust you recognize The Princess
He shook his head, bowed down on both knees and said "It is an honor,
She shook her head and said, "Please stand. I cannot abide the formality."
"Shen, we will need cargo door sixteen on Parma. Can you find that?"
"Like the back of my paw," he said in Quen.
"Back of your hand, Shen. Hand. You don't have paws."
"What's the difference, then?" he asked. I proceeded to explain the
conceptual differences between hands, Hands, paws and mittens. He shook
his head finally. "So Centaurs, Humans and Satryls have hands, Dolphins
and Pamthreats have 'Hands,' Tindals have mittens, and everybody else
"But I've met Satryl's with fur on their hands," he pointed out.
"They're still called hands."
He sighed, bobbing his head. "I'll never figure this out."
He frowned at that. "And AI's just have whatever happens to be lying
He shook his head in frustration.
I finally had a good chance to look at Anni. Not that she had changed much
in four years. Her skin was made of very fine dark-green scaling, almost
microscopically fine over the bridge of her nose and under her eyes,
which were wide with vertically-slitted irises of a coppery-blue color. On
the sides of her hairless head two tall, narrow triangles ending in sharp
points were her ears. Her hands had three fingers and a single, opposable
thumb, and I smiled when I realized that she, like me, had the annoying
habit of tapping her fingers when she was bored. She was still thin,
although I wondered if she would gain the same weight her had;
the Queen Stevves was quite overweight. llerki have no visible mammae.
Shen interrupted my musing. "Cargo door sixteen, dead ahead."
"Take us in easy and put us next to the door by the far right."
"No problem," he replied, setting the shuttle down just where I had
"Princess, if you will follow me," I said.
"Yes," she replies, rising from her chair. We walked down a corridor and
into a SDisk control room. I asked that she step on the platform, and
she agreed. "You've never ridden one of these before, have you?" I asked.
"No," she said. "But I am familiar with what they do."
"Good. Josh, I need to contact Halloran Eldar."
Josh, local AI and Commander of Parma and The Arc, replied "That's an
unusual request. Okay, you have him."
"Good evening, Ken. What is it you want?"
We blinked, and were standing at the end of a long hallway. Brieanna's
home hadn't changed much in the past six centuries. Designed with typical
Pendorian thoroughness and typical Terran idealism, it smelled of wood
and leather and a light tracing of dust. The hallway was carpeted in dark
brown. Light came in from the large window at our backs and from small
incandescent bulbs set in ornamental holders made of copper and glass. As
I walked down the hallway the floor echoed. "Drac?" I said aloud.
"Good evening, Kennet," the house computer said. I turned around and
motioned for Anni to follow me.
"Telephone, Drac. For... " I tried to remember the AI's name, found it.
"Roberta Majors Masters Reedhon."
"Hello?" said a pleasant but professional female voice.
"Roberta? It's Ken."
"Ken!" she replied, the professionalism replaced with an easy familiarity.
"Why aren't I getting any visual?"
"I'm at Castle Hidden, sweetheart."
"Ah, that explains it. What can I do you for?"
"That's it. Why, do you need Richard?"
"No, that's okay. What I really need is an aspect shifter that can
interface with a new design by induction. Can do?"
"Not one of your designs, I take it."
"I'll ask Will." There was a long pause, and Roberta said, "Can do. Four
"I'll call back." There was an audible click as the line disconnected
and Drac announced "Call terminated."
I turned to Anni, who was running her fingers along the banister of the
stairs leading up to the second floor. I watched her for a second and
said, "I like doing that too."
"Doing what?" she asked.
"Touching. Learning the textures of things. Like you."
She closed her eyes briefly, then said, "It is so hard to accept."
"Come with me," I said, leading her to the front door. The well-maintained
lock slid out of it's slot easily and the door opened. After the short,
brick platform immediately outside, the small grassy meadow that was all
of Brieanna's home lay before us. To the left were the garage and the
stables, looking as rainwashed and ancient as always. I knew if I looked
there would be two horses in the stables. I could smell them from here.
"Where are we?"
"I don't know. This place is called Castle Hidden, and only two people
are allowed to come here. Myself and Brieanna Flanders."
Anni smiled and said, "I have read that story."
"Yes, that one is publicly available, isn't it? What did you think of it?"
"I am not sure what to think. I know that the human in those and you are supposed to be the same person, but those are always
five centuries out of date. You could have changed in those centuries."
I nodded. "Come on. I'll show you what our tech can do." I threw the
garage doors wide open. "There it is," I said. "The Powered Armor that
almost killed me."
She walked in ahead of me. "Is it safe to touch?"
"Should be," I said. "Power's off."
She ran her hands over the ceramic armoring carefully. "We have nothing
like this on llerkin."
"More important than that," I said, reaching in for the key access
and pressing the 'open' latch, "you don't have this." The chest panel
fell open and I reached in, grabbing the remote control. I flicked a
few switches on the battery back-up, and closed the hatch again.
"What is that?"
"You'll see," I said. "Come outside with me." I walked over to a tree with
line-of-sight on the garage and sat down. I put the remote in my lap,
put the b/r headband over my temples and hit the 'on' switch. The
world righted itself again and I was staring at the ceiling of the garage,
painfully aware that I was still down.
My body had changed. I thought to myself and my fusion-powered heart
began humming again. I felt electricity course through my myomer sheaths,
each tiny link tightening against the next, preparing for action. My
senses expanded, and I decided it was time to stand. With one quick
motion I was on my feet, looking out of the garage. From where I stood I
could see Anni and my human form. She stood next to me, and I could hear
her speaking. "Why are you silent? Your suit has started to move!" She
did not sound happy.
From my electronic throat I said "Because that's not me anymore, Anni."
She turned, her eyes wide. "Ken?" she said. Somewhere in the back of my
head a small celebration ensued. She had called me 'Ken.'
"Yup, it's me. I'm in the armor now."
"It's that easy?" she said.
"Not exactly." I walked over to her easily, feeling the soft soil
give way underneath my 1.09 mTon steps. "You see, we can't move souls,
only senses and orders. I feel through these fingers," and I flexed my
fingers, capable of rending a building in two, "and I hear through these
ears. But there is my brain, and my mind, and if I were to close these
fingers around that skull, I would die. You could shoot this armor all
you wanted and I would never be harmed. But," I said, reaching into my
insides and pulling out the .45 I kept stored in there for my human form
to carry, "if you were to point this at that body and pull the trigger,
it would be all over. There is no AI here to stop you, nobody watching
you but me." I held the pistol out to her.
She shook her head. "I no longer want to kill you."
The ears on the armor flexed upwards, my somatic equivalent of a smile in
armor. I sat down on the ground, and with a single command I turned the
armor off. I was myself again, just another human with too much hardware
coursing along his bones. I took off the command tiara and looked up at
her. "So?" I said.
She smiled and said, "Okay, I believe you. Why do you have people inside
your armor when it is so much safer that way?"
"Because the armor's pretty indestructible anyway. Although it has yet
to be tested, Pendorian PA can theoretically survive ground zero from
tactical nuclear shells. And the link between me and the armor is not
capable of being jammed."
"There were no radio signals being transmitted to or from either you
or Aaraon that night. The Palace security would have found them. How do
"Encoded gamma-ray transmissions rendered into gravitic signal patterns
by artificial singularities."
"I am not a scientist," she said, smiling.
"It's call gradio. Basically, we use gravity waves. It takes a radio
wave to generate one, and we use gamma rays because the high frequencies
allow for encoding, tagging, and throughput."
"That I understand." I smiled. "And anyone using a gravitic weapon,
such as the Shriaa-"
"Would screw up our commands, right. Not to mention having direct access
to the brains of our soldiers. Not a happy thought."
"No," she said, smiling. "You said there was no AI here? Who was that
you spoke to at first?"
"Drac?" She nodded. "Drac is an SI, a simulated intellegence. He isn't
capable of independent thought; he only follows orders."
"Is not that unusual? I thought one of the definitions of a Castle was
that it housed an AI."
I shrugged. "Depends. This is just Castle Hidden. Come, there is one more
experiment I want to show you. A that isn't available to you yet.
But, since we've got two or three hours before it's ready, would you
like to have dinner?"
"Why not? Brieanna keeps a good larder, I think. And I tend to be a
She shook her head. It took me a second to remember that that meant 'yes.'
"Okay," I said.
It took me a while, and Anni stood a corner, sometimes smiling, sometimes
laughing as I set about cooking, listening to everything from Phillip
Glass to Paulos Madhsenger to Nosinik, the last being a llerkin composer
I had positively fallen in mad infatuation with. Sometimes I would sing
along, especially when the Riffkin arrangement of Hendrix's Purple Haze
for violin came over the speakers. She found that particularly funny,
even if she didn't speak English.
"Why are you laughing?" I asked.
"I am sorry," she said, "but you seem so easy."
"Yes. I wonder what allows you to be so silly when you know you are
I shrugged. "After a while you have to accept what you are, Princess. I'm
just being me."
Anni found the lasagna "interesting," the salad palatable "but a funny
color," and neither wine nor soda was too her liking, so we drank water.
"Telephone," Drac announced.
"I'll take it."
"Ken, I've put the hardware you asked for on the SDisk, so if you'll
clear it, it'll be at the Castle," Roberta said.
"Drac, clear path along present t-line for cargo."
"Cargo transit," Drac announced. "In the hallway."
"Thanks, Drac," I said. "Anni, could you wait here?"
She said yes, and I excused myself to go and find the hardware in
question. There it was, a small box about the size of a loaf of bread,
two Brace headbands dangling over one end. I returned to the kitchen.
"What is that?" she asked.
"Brace hardware. Come outside with me," I said, cocking my head in the
general direction of the doors. She rose gracefully. "Anni," I said,
"I don't know if you believe me fully yet, but I still think you're
She smiled and said, "Thanks."
"My Gods," I said with a laugh, "You used an informal."
"I am trying," she said, laughing along.
We walked outside, into the night air with the grass under our toes. The
armor sat where I had left it, in the grass, looking for all the world
like an oversized lost child picking at flowers. I sat down next to it.
"Sit down," I said, "please."
She nodded, sitting down about a meter away from me. I handed her a Brace
headband and said, "Look out that way," pointing to the building. She
turned and I crawled through the grass, putting the customized headband
over headband between her ears and down onto her skull. My fingers
caressed the soft skin of her head gently. "What?" she asked.
"Shh..." I said. "Just a second." I hit the 'establish' button on the
interface and about three seconds later it read "READY." I put the other
headband over my head and said, "Are you ready?"
"For what?" she asked, nervously.
"For this," I said, hitting the 'go' button. The world spun about again. I
felt someone at my back twitch, spasm, and fall over. I tried to turn
around and found my body arguing with me about it. But I persevered,
and turn around to look at Anni, now in my body, looking up at me. I was
sure that if she had had control and understanding of my facial muscles,
the look would have been fear. "Anni," I said in her voice, "easy."
"What?" she asked. I was thankful that Dick had long ago managed to
improve the interim control routines.
"Take it slow and easy. You're in me, now. And I'm in you. Take it
easy. I don't want you breaking something."
The eyes cast back and forth for a few seconds, and then she said,
"Put me back."
"Okay," I said, reaching out carefully with her thin and delicate hand
to hit the switch down to 'off.' Immediately, I was back. Looking up at
her, I could see her shivering.
"That... That was..."
"Frightening. The ease with which you did that. How do you control
"Nobody tries to. People who abuse it tend to end up with one of these
through their heads," I said, picking up the .45 where it had fallen in
the grass and pulling back the slide, releasing a bullet.
She shivered again. I eased over to her and put my hands on her shoulders.
The feel of the light cloth she wore felt rough and ungentle in my hands.
"Anni," I said.
"What?" she asked, looking at me.
"Enough demonstrations. I've frightened you, and that's not what I meant
to do. I wanted to take you with me and have fun, not scare you."
She nodded. As I got up and offered a hand to help her to her feet, she
said, "Wait." I didn't say anything for a moment, so she continued. "When
you came to llerkin, I wanted you, although I still do not know why." I
sat back down on the grass. "Now I find myself torn between knowing just
how easy it is for you and your kind to control us, or destroy us." She
smiled wanly. "It is not unlike, not unlike knowing that there are Gods,
very close, and very powerful."
"Anni," I sighed. "I'm not a god, nobody on Pendor is."
"Compared to me you are. You all live forever, you live in whatever form
you choose, your universe is whatever you make it. Pendorians raise
mountains and divert rivers with their hands. And while you reserve
the power to yourself, you rend stars and make life. What am I compared
"Alive," I said. "And therefore, important." I sighed for a second and
said, "Anni, the fact that in my heart I happen to like you makes a lot
She looked up at me and said, "What?"
"I'm just a Human being, Anni. Someday, your people will share the power
of Pendor. All it takes is a little patience and a lot of science. In
the meantime, we're just equal." I reached out to touch her face.
She touched the back of my hand gently with her fingertips. "I still
want you," she said.
"Excuse me?" I replied, taken aback.
"There are two Ken Shardiks," she started. "There is Vatare Ilye Pendoro,
the one who made Pendor. And there is Ken, who smiles and delights in
"Can I change hats?" I said. She looked at me, confused, and I explained
She smiled and nodded. "I wanted to know I was wrong. I wanted a reason
to not hate you for what I now know you were at the Treaty."
"I'm sorry if knowing the truth makes you more frightened."
She shook her head and said, "There was a melHuman in my bedroom one
night, a handsome and dashing melHuman."
"Come on," I said, standing up again, "This was a mistake, taking you to
Castle Hidden." She looked at me and accepted my hand. I helped her to
her feet. I made a sweeping gesture with one hand and said, "This place
once helped me remember that the ability to do everything doesn't mean
everything's been done. Now it only reminds me of the time and the task
before, and I don't need to be reminded." I walked over to the front of
the armor and opened the chestplate. Replacing the round I had cycled out
of the .45, I took careful aim and fired seven rounds into the controls
of the Shirow, destroying as completely as I could the armor's computer,
radio, and fusion plant. Then I dropped the pistol onto the grass. As we
walked away, I looked back. I had left the chestplate open, to the wind,
the rain, and the snow.
The Journal Entries of Kennet R'yal Shardik, et. al., and Related Tales
are Copyright (c) 1989-2000 Elf Mathieu Sternberg. Distribution limited
to electronic media not-for-profit use only. All other rights are reserved
to the author.