I turned to look at the door. Tylia stood in its frame, looking at me. "Ken?"
"Hi," I said bleakly, resting my head on the desk. "You can leave now."
She didn't leave. "I... I wanted to come and tell you I was sorry."
"Fine, you've done that."
"Tylia, please, just leave me alone. I don't want to be around anyone right now." Before she could say a word I included, "Not even you."
She ignored my words and walked toward me. "It's been a week since the funeral. Everyone's worried about you. I understand..."
That's when I made one of the worst mistakes of my life.
I hit her.
She stood there stunned and one hand slowly reached up to touch her muzzle. I looked at my own hand, stunned myself at that revelation to my own violence. She looked up at me slowly, tears welling in her eyes. She turned and ran. "Tylia, wait!"
She didn't wait. I've never seen someone run so fast in the low gravity of Pindam. I had no idea that kind of speed was possible. By the time I got out the door she had managed to run the entire length of the hall and was disappearing around the corner. "Tylia! Come back! Please!"
She was gone. I walked back to my cabin and closed the door again. Like everything else in my life that qualified as wonderful I was now in the process of destroying any friendship I could have had with Tylia. And I had promised her so much.
"Fuck it," I swore, and close the cabin door behind me. It didn't really matter. Not a whole lot mattered anymore. I contemplated turning off the life support, sitting on a mining explosive, something other than getting on with the day.
And everyone was trying to help so much. All the usual pressures of the current decade-- llerkin, Terra, Ritacha, Pendor, Battia, the Han, the whole kit and kaboodle-- had been taken over by other people. They had taken away the only things I might have distracted myself with during this time, leaving me alone with my thoughts-- and my loneliness.
Paul. Carroll. The note they'd left behind had told me nothing. Had I not paid enough attention to them? I loved them both so dearly, so much. How could they leave me behind like this? How could they kelana? "Move on" is such an euphemism. I hope they're happy wherever they are, if they're anywhere. I want to join them, in Oblivion or Paradise or wherever it is they've gone.
"I miss you, Carroll. I miss you, Paul. Son. Daughter. Firsts." I cried again, as I had every day since the day I'd heard.
The funeral had been, in its own way, beautiful. We'd held it out in the vacuum plain where the other, original Centaur failures lay, lying Paul and Carroll side-by-side into the cold, hard ground. I remember reading something-- I think it was from Coleridge-- but not much else. We had erected an unfloored tent in which to bury them, the last atmosphere their bodies would ever experience. Later, robot crews would remove the tent and leave them to lie, undisturbed, under the lunar soil of Pindam for the rest of eternity. They would always be close.
Diana was especially understanding. I think it bothered me that her parents' decision didn't bother her all that much. She had told me that at her age she's already had plenty of experiences with Centaurs moving on. She held up so well under all the pressure that I wondered if she really understood what was happening.
Of course she did. Who was I fooling?
Two days after my encounter with Tylia, she came back. There wasn't even a chime at the door. It just opened for her. I think I had told Hal to give her that privilege (it extended to quite a few people, though) and I hadn't remembered to revoke it for anybody. She walked over to a panel and touched it. Music began to play in the room, at first just a piano. The timing was simple but lyrical. I realized I hadn't listened to any music but the funeral dirge since I couldn't remember how long. A pause, and then a cello joined in.
Tylia walked over to me. I ignored her, disgusted with myself and tired of the whole fucking universe. It, the people in it, had no right to ask me to be strong now. I was just a man. I wanted to make other people similar to me and some strange, alien force gave me that capability. But then those people, and the local natives from some dirtball named Terra, had come to expect more of me than I had. "Ken..." she said softly.
"Tylia," I growled. "I'm sorry. Leave me alone."
"No," she said. I felt her hand on my shoulder.
And my soul exploded.
Images seared through my mind. I saw Aaden and I laughing and running on the beach, P'nyssa holding Rainy and Richard in her tens, and then me standing in front of a classroom with my arms raised and a grin on my face; I was standing on the roof of the United Nations and talking to Earth for the first time; in The Room, dancing with the genes of my next species; singing aloud with Perry, solidly drunk and happy as clams; just sitting and having a glorious breakfast with my family; holding Tylia and showing her how to work The Room; kissing Ramsey; giving Jofuran her ring; showing Brieanna how to drive Powered Armor; giving Anlestin flowers; listening to P'rose play the violin for an audience; again arms raised, waving a greeting as a Dragon landed on the beach outside; driving through New Hampshire forests with a gorgeous femSatryl at my side; sitting at a starship console and plotting the course homeward; shouting cheerfully at another classroom full of students, arms raised; holding a Ritan cub; touching Hyzen's broad and lovely face, dislodging that lock of golden hair that always fell before her eyes; laughing with Aanji over some private joke; cuddling Tylia while she cried.
And then it was over. I raised my head to stare at her, wonderingly. It felt as if someone had raked my mind over shards of broken ice; inhaled salt; splashed with cold acid.
Tylia reached out and touched my face, touching a tear that had drifted down my furless cheek. "Three minutes and twenty six seconds." She smiled. "That's how long it took."
And then I remembered. P'nyssa's suspicion that Tylia had some kind of psionic talent, something she was afraid of. In the softest whisper I could manage, I said, "You're a psychepath?"
She swallowed, the nodded slowly.
"But... Oh, Gods, Tylia, do you realize... Why didn't you tell me? Why don't you let everyone know? There are interplanetary telepaths who would blind themselves for your talent! Why do you want to be a geneticist when you have that?" Even as I said it, I realized that she was lucky to have both talents innately.
She reached down and touched my cheek with her fingertips, wiping away the tear that had trickled down during those stunning seconds when she had shown me in the high points of my life. The parts that happened every day. Fuck, she was right. It was a good life.
"Four minutes and eight seconds," she murmured. "That's how long it took that tear to get there." She sat down in the chair opposite mine. "Ever meet someone evil, Ken?"
"I don't know. What does that mean, 'someone evil?'"
"I believe in Evil, Ken, with a capital E. I believe some people are born with more hurt than help to give. The first time I touched someone, that's what happened. I don't see what you see, Ken, but I know you saw, heard, felt what you had to give to people. The first person I touched, that's what they saw. Nothing."
She took a deep breath. "I don't know what it's like, to look inside and see nothing, find nobody, feel worthless, see no future. The first person I Touched... he killed himself a few days later. He was only fourteen. That was two years ago."
I looked at her, bewildered. "There's no such thing as prophecy, Tylia. You can't show someone what they have to give, you can only show them what they've given in the past. That's what you did for me. You showed me the... the glories of my past. You can't show someone their future."
Tears began to flow down both sides of her muzzle. "I know. I don't know what he saw. But whatever it was he saw, it killed him. I killed him." Her shoulders slumped and she pitched forward, catching her head in her hands. I stood up, still shaky from the experience she had given me, and gathered her into my arms. She came willingly, grabbing me back and holding onto me, holding me close while she cried, as we both collapsed to the ground, her in my lap.
After a while she began to pull away. I returned her earlier gesture, touching her face with my fingertips. "Why me, Tylia? Why, if you're so afraid of using it?"
A wan smile crept into her features. "I knew that if anyone had something to be happy about, it was you." For a brief moment, she mirrored me, hand to cheek. "I knew you would figure it out for yourself. I just didn't want to wait until my maturity for you to figure it out."
I hugged her fiercely. "What a brave and dangerous gesture for you to make!" I whispered. "You did the right thing, my young friend."
"Friend?" she asked.
"Yes." I sighed softly. "All this time, I didn't know who to turn to. Everyone was trying to... there were so many people trying to help. And all that time wasted."
"Why didn't you get any help?" she asked.
"From who?" I asked. With so many people offering, which one would be the right one? I... I was paralyzed." I took one more deep, shuddering breath. "Thank you, Tylia."
She must have heard something in my voice. "What?"
"I think... Some of the things I saw haven't happened yet."
"I'll tell you later. If they happen. And yes, 'friend.' If you forgive me for what I did to you."
"I forgave you. That's why I came back. Because someone had to help you."
I felt the tears well in my eyes again, the sorrowful blessings of her young and innocent heart overwhelming me. With Paul and Carroll now buried, she had shown me that I had a life to get on with. "Thank you."
She nodded. We sat on the floor for a long time before either wanted to let the other go. When we did separate, it was wordless.