Dern, clearly feeling like a travel cube without a passenger, politely left, heading back up to the surface, letting the family reunion occur in private. Ponter, Adikor, and Jasmel had moved to the small eating room in the quantum-computing lab.
“I never thought I’d see you again,” said Ponter, beaming at Adikor, then at Jasmel. “Either of you.”
“We thought the same thing,” said Adikor.
“You’re fine?” asked Ponter. “Everyone is fine?”
“Yes, I’m all right,” said Adikor.
“And Megameg? How is darling little Megameg?”
“She’s fine,” said Jasmel. “She really hasn’t understood everything that’s been going on.”
“I can’t wait to see her,” said Ponter. “I don’t care if it is seventeen days until Two next become One, I’m going to go into the Center tomorrow and give her a great big hug.”
Jasmel smiled. “She’d like that, Daddy.”
“What about Pabo?”
Adikor grinned. “She missed you awfully. She keeps looking up at every sound, hoping it might be you returning.”
“That sweet bag of bones,” said Ponter.
“Say, Daddy,” said Jasmel, “what was it that female gave you?”
“Oh,” said Ponter. “I haven’t even looked myself. Let’s see …”
Ponter reached into the pocket of his strange, alien pant, and pulled out a wad of white tissue. He carefully opened it up. Inside was a gold chain, and attached to it were two simple, perpendicular bars of unequal length, intersecting each other about one-third of the way down the longer of the two pieces.
“It’s beautiful!” said Jasmel. “What is it?”
Ponter’s eyebrow went up. “It’s the symbol of a belief system some of them subscribe to.”
“Who was that female?” asked Adikor.
“My friend,” said Ponter softly. “Her name—well, I can only say the first syllable of her name: ‘Mare.’”
Adikor laughed; “mare” was, of course, the word in their language for “beloved.”
“I know I told you to find yourself a new woman,” he said, his tone joking, “but I didn’t think you’d have to go that far to meet one who would put up with you.”
Ponter smiled, but it was a forced smile. “She was very kind,” he said.
Adikor knew his partner well enough to understand that whatever story there was to tell would come out in its own good time. Still …
“Speaking of women,” said Adikor. “I, ah, have had some dealings with Klast’s woman-mate while you’ve been away.”
“Daklar!” said Ponter. “How is she?”
“Actually,” said Adikor, looking now at Jasmel, “she’s become rather famous in your absence.”
“Really?” said Ponter. “Whatever for?”
“For making and pursuing a murder accusation.”
“Murder!” exclaimed Ponter. “Who was killed?”
“You were,” said Adikor, deadpan.
Ponter’s jaw dropped.
“You went missing, you see,” said Adikor, “and Bolbay thought …”
“She thought you had murdered me?” declared Ponter incredulously.
“Well,” said Adikor, “you had disappeared, and the mine here is so deep within the rocks that the alibi-archive pavilion couldn’t pick up the signals from our Companions. Bolbay made it sound like the perfect crime.”
“Incredible,” said Ponter, shaking his head. “Who spoke on your behalf?”
“I did,” said Jasmel.
“Good girl!” said Ponter, sweeping her up in another hug. He spoke over his daughter’s shoulder. “Adikor, I’m sorry you had to go through this.”
“Me too, but—” He shrugged. “You’ll doubtless hear it soon enough. Bolbay said I resented you; she said that I felt like merely an adjunct to your work.”
“Nonsense,” said Ponter, releasing Jasmel. “I could have accomplished nothing without you.”
Adikor tipped his head. “That’s generous of you to say, but …” He paused, then spread his arms, palms up. “But there was truth in her words.”
Ponter put an arm around Adikor’s shoulders. “Perhaps the theories were indeed more mine than yours—but it was you who designed and built the quantum computer, and it is that computer that has opened up a new world to us. Your contribution exceeds mine a hundredfold because of that.”
Adikor smiled. “Thank you.”
“So what happened?” said Ponter. He grinned. “Your voice doesn’t sound any higher, so I assume she didn’t succeed.”
“Actually,” said Jasmel, “the case will be heard by a tribunal, starting tomorrow.”
Ponter shook his head in wonder. “Well, obviously, we must have the accusation expunged.”
Adikor smiled. “If you’d be so kind,” he said.