1.12 The Gates of Death (II)

They soon docked at another space station.

"Here we are at the Tanaver system," said Kubiri. "We're in orbit above the third planet, the planet Tanaver. The second planet is the Chaktai planet."

"Does this station have an elevator like the last one did?"

"Not exactly," said Kubiri. He opened a door and gestured for Katja to go through it. She did.

And found herself suddenly standing on a platform, which in turn was on a tall cliff overlooking a sea full of waves. She froze, uncertain what had happened.

"Not much like an elevator, is it?" asked Kubiri, who was now standing beside her.

After a second or two of trying to speak, she finally managed to say, "How is this even possible?"

"The Tanaver have a somewhat great discretion about which laws of space and time they will obey than the rest of us do," said Kubiri. "Or, to put it in other words, even the Samar do not know. These things happen on occasion. Telepathy should be impossible, and yet the Chaktai have it. Who knows what else they have; there are times when they seem capable of ten impossible things at a time. We do not know how Zezai consciousness maintains itself. And as for the Tanaver, they know all the loopholes in all the laws of nature, it seems. We know that there is something they do with the Portals to make them more temporally coherent than they should theoretically be. We do not know what it is. We Samar can build Portals ourselves, but we cannot, and perhaps could never, make them work on the scale the Tanaver do. And this place...," he turned and gestured at the building behind them, a great building of domes and spires. "The name of this place in Simplified Samar is the Palace of Wonders, and it lives up to its name. Come along; we need to finish getting you set.

They practiced more of the Samthyrian language as they walked. Their footsteps and their discussion made echoing sounds as they went along. The whole place seemed deserted. They passed many rooms that were completely empty and many others that were empty except a table or a cabinet. They walked a very long time, until Kubiri finally stopped before yet one more room, this one empty except for a table with a large box on it.

"I believe this is the one," he said. He went in and opened the box. "Yes, this is very definitely the one." He pulled out a sheet of paper and read it.

"These are final instructions," he said. "First of all, you must understand that the Samthyrians are facing a severe and demoralizing plague. Therefore your xenium to them, your ambassadorial gift to show them that you come in good faith, is medicine for it. It is simultaneously vaccine and cure." He pulled out a belt with little vials in it and a little leather box, also filled with vials. "You should put the belt on, and you should put the box in your bag. It is important that you do not lose them before you can give them to the Samthyrians. Also, you must make very clear from the beginning that you come with the cure, and you should expect them to be suspicious of you until they are able to prove for themselves that you are right.

"Second, part of what you will be negotiating is military assistance. You will receive more information about this later, but the initial assistance will consist simply in intelligence." He pulled out a little stick. "This is the information, adapted for their computer systems. It is important that you not lose it and that it only come into the hands of the Samthyrians, and no one else.

"Third, the ideal goal will be for them to sign on to the Alliance Charter; information on that treaty is also found with the intelligence. Look for any honest means you can to persuade them not merely to be allies but members of the Alliance.

"Fourth, as other strands come together, further representatives and assistance will come to you, but you will largely be on your own at first, and your primary goal should be simply to establish good will. The Tanaver will also contact you when they deem it possible to do so without risking the danger of conflict between the Tanaver and their counterparts before the Tanaver are capable of assessing the situation fully.

"And Fifth." Kubiri looked very grave. "This is, again, a dangerous meeting. If you can win their trust the Samthyrians will treat you well. But there is a danger that you will be captured by Symbiosis, who are the agents used by the Tanaver's counterparts. If they do so, you may be tortured, and you may die. The Tanaver do not consider either of these a likely possibility, but their assessments of probabilities are not as accurate as they usually are, because they do not usually have to account for the interference of someone like themselves. You are not to make any concessions to or deals with Symbiosis; they will not honor any deals you make, because they must ultimately answer to a coercive force greater than they can resist, who will not care about treaties and agreements. You must hold the line, and you must represent the Alliance to the full extent of your ability. You are to resist to the full extent you can. One reason a Sylven was chosen is that you are used to resisting the kinds of temptations that Symbiosis will extend; you were chosen because you could, if you choose to do so. That is precisely what you must do, for while the plans of the Tanaver will not fall apart if you fail, your failure would force others into positions of great sacrifice."

He set the paper down. "As for the rest, you have full discretion as plenipotentiary envoy of the Alliance. You are the direct representative of the Tanaver and speak for them in all things. You have also been designated a representative by the Chaka Council of Threefold Mothers and by the Samar High Council; you may make any decisions on their behalf that you deem fit, always subject to the understanding that any agreements you make are provisional and subject to review. And that is all the information I have." He regarded her carefully. "Are you ready?"

Katja sighed. "I am wondering what I have gotten myself into," she said. "But yes, I believe I am."

"Then follow me."

He led her down the hall again, past many empty rooms. They went down stairs, then down more stairs, then through another long corridor, then down more stairs, until they came to a very large room that had nothing in it but an archway. It was solid and black and shiny, as if basalt had suddenly somersaulted out of the ground. You could not look through the archway. It was pitch black, like a starless midnight, differentiated from the basalt of the arch only by its lack of shine. Katja grew cold looking at it.

On the archway something was written in letters like runes, and Katja asked Kubiri what they meant.

He looked up at them a moment and said, "They are Chaka, a very old dialect." He pulled out his tablet, and tapped it for a while, then said, "The translation is something like, Here Our Mother has set Her doors. Do not enter except with courage.  These are the Gates of Death."

At that phrase Katja stopped, frozen in place, chills at th base of her spine and her heart beating in her ears. She had to force herself to breathe.

"I do not know if I can do this, Kubiri."

"You have been chosen because you can."

She took a deep breath. "Well," she said to herself in Sylven, "I suppose it is too late now to run away." She looked down at Kubiri. "What do I do?" she asked in Simplifed Samar.

He smiled slightly, lips pushed out in the Samar way, and adjusted his fedora. "You just walk through," he said. "The Tanaver will take care of the rest."

Then he put his hands out in a way that she knew too well, and she felt a sharp pang in her heart, and a slight sting in her eyes. "Katja Ilkaiomenen," he said, "the Universes are vast, and it is likely that we will never meet again. But if you should ever be in the Samar system of Nibiru, visit if you can the dome of Harsan-Narsidya on the sixteenth moon of the second gas-giant. If you ask for me, the people there will know who I am, and send you my way, if I am there. And if you can find me, we will look at all the sights of the domes, which were built by my father and mother, and visit the tomb of my grandparents, where flowers always grow in splendor on that moon where no flowers naturally grow. We will sit beside it and look at the stars, and there on the edge of infinity, we will speak of beautiful things."

By the last phrase a single tear had escaped Katja's attempt to hold them back, and she bent down and hugged him. "Thank you for everything, Kubiri."

"It was a pleasure and an honor."

"What will you be doing now?"

"I am supposed to go work out a resource distribution system for a satellite system for the Ops. Then I should have a vacation period to go home, assuming no emergencies arise."

"That should be nice."

Kubiri pursed his lips and his eyes twinkled. "There is another old Samarisk proverb that translates roughly as 'There is always an emergency'. I will be lucky to have a few hours of it. But the thought is what counts."

Katja felt herself smiling, and it was a relief to smile. "Do you have any last-minute advice?"

"Only the advice I always give. You may represent the Tanaver, but it is not your task to do their work for them. Your task is to find the beautiful action and do it, find the beautiful word and say it, find the beautiful life and live it. If you fail at that, no other success will be enough. But if you succeed at that, you have succeeded indeed, no matter what the universes throw at you."

She nodded and walked slowly toward the archway. Before she was quite there, she looked back at Kubiri, who waved. Then Katja took a deep breath again. "Right roads," she said, and, steeling herself, she walked through the Gates of Death into another universe.