In another story, the Shangri-La could have become a second home to Suena Dalton. At times, she wondered if that was how history would interpret it. The lone human reporter, first to be allowed to mingle with the Mu on their own ground in this tumultuous time of upheaval and rebuilding: surely she had some special relationship with them. History would want it that way.
The truth was that when she stepped onto the Shangri-La for the second time, this time without Jomy to lead her, Soldier Tony looked her coldly in the eye and said, "You're here because if any human has to represent us, I want it to be someone Jomy considered a friend. This isn't your place. Don't forget that."
He would soften somewhat as time passed, but he never took back what he had first said.
"It's childish," Physis eventually explained, "but part of him will always see humans as the ones who took Jomy away from him. Forgive him. He's trying his best."
The Shangri-La remained alien ground to Suena, no matter how many times she visited it to continue her chronicle of the aftermath. But Physis was different.
Suena caught glimpses of her ghosting along the corridors, and without knowing why, she followed. In the beginning, by the time she thought she'd caught up with Physis, the other woman was always gone.
She's running away from something, Suena thought, and she wondered if the Mu woman had heard the thought. She also wondered if she should write it down like the rest of her observations. She decided against it. This one would remain hers alone.
It was on her fourth visit that she finally caught up with the strange Mu woman, at the base of a winding pathway leading to a great bed. "I hear that you're Physis," Suena said, because she wouldn't be any kind of journalist if she couldn't get the name of a unique person like this.
"Yes," Physis said. "Suena Dalton. Have you come to take me back to the humans?"
"Are you going to represent the Mu to us?" Suena asked. It was the first she'd heard of this, and she was curious.
"I can't," Physis whispered. "I'm not a Mu. I'm a human who was allowed to see part of their journey through eyes that were never my own."
It didn't occur to Suena to take notes on this conversation. Physis was the only personal thing she had on the Shangri-La, and now she was beginning to have an inkling of why.
Suena began to make time for Physis on her trips to the Shangri-La. Little by little, they began to rely on each other.
Physis relied on Suena to explain to her what was on her Tarot cards when she turned them over. She could no longer sense the essence of each card. Suena relied on Physis to explain the Mu and their strange actions to her, because no matter how many times she visited, some things and people kept their mysteries. But Physis gave hers up, one by one.
"I always treasured the cards," Physis said. "They gave me an order to follow. Then they gave me a way to help Soldier Blue. My savior." She turned over another card.
"It's the Hierophant, reversed," Suena said. "Will you tell me more about Soldier Blue sometime?"
"Yes," Physis said. "Of course. It's what you're here for. If I can help in any way..."
Suena smiled and took off her glasses, so that she couldn't look directly at the lines of Physis's face when she admitted what came next. "How funny," she said. "It's starting to feel like I'm here for you, too."
"Suena," Physis said, "should I leave the Shangri-La to visit you sometime?"
Suena hadn't been expecting that. But it wasn't unwelcome. "I don't have much of a place of my own," she confessed. "I move around. But you're welcome to join me anytime."
"I'd like that," Physis said. She turned over another card. "Please stay in one place long enough for me to be with you someday, Suena."
"It's the Ace of Cups," Suena said. "I will."
"I don't know what that means anymore," Physis said. "Not with surety. Not the way I used to know, through visions that flowed into me when I touched the cards."
Suena put her glasses back on and looked at Physis intently. "But you know in a way," she said.
"The suit of Cups belongs to the heart," Physis said. "And Aces represent beginnings."
"It means whatever we want it to mean," Suena said. "Doesn't it?"
In the end, they met in a hotel. The humans were still rebuilding after the riots that had taken down the Mother System, and Suena didn't exactly have much money or a stable place to stay, but as the closest thing humanity had to a first ambassador to the Mu, she got preferential treatment at some places. She didn't usually like it—better to work down in the thick of things, like she had when the initial chaos was happening—but for Physis, she wanted something special.
Physis lay on the bed, her hands working through patterns of shuffling invisible cards on her stomach. She hadn't brought any. Suena stood by the window, looking out at the sporadic returning lights of the city and the stars above that they were slowly drowning out. Physis looked right in the starlight: neither human nor Mu, but an ethereal being in between.
"It has been over sixty years," Physis said. "Since I was somewhere ruled by humans."
"You were never somewhere ruled by humans," Suena said. "Isn't that right?"
"I don't understand," Physis said. "Suena?"
"You were always under the Mother Computer's control, until Soldier Blue rescued you," Suena said. "This world is different, isn't it?"
"Yes," Physis said. "I haven't returned at all. I've come somewhere new. But I only came because of you."
"Will you give me your hand?" Suena asked, approaching the bed. Physis held out one slender hand, palm up, for Suena, and she took it, warm in hers.
"There are things I want to do with you," Physis said, "that I never did with Soldier Blue. Is it because we're both human?"
"I don't think so," Suena said. "I don't really know why."
"But you'll find out," Physis said, "because that is the sort of person you are."
"It's all right if I don't find out," Suena said. "Just this once! Because I've finally found a way into someone's heart." She laughed. "That's a strange thing to say, don't you think?"
"Not at all," Physis said, smiling.
Suena kissed her.
When they were naked, with Physis lying peacefully in wait beneath Suena and between her spread arms and legs, Physis turned her face away and murmured something.
"What was that?" Suena asked.
"Before we go any further," Physis said, "you must tell me what the bed looks like. All I can think of is the one Soldier Blue lay on, but smaller, big enough only for the two of us."
"It doesn't look anything like that bed at all," Suena said. "You're worried for nothing."
They embraced. It was a process rather than a single movement. Physis fumbled with where to put her arms, stroking Suena's back in different places, and Suena found herself unaccountably cautious about how she touched Physis. In the end, she ran her hands through all that long and shining hair, then touched Physis's face.
They kissed again, and did more besides.
Physis and Suena lay entangled in one another, feeling each other's breathing and noting each other's tremors. For now, they were both done exploring the other's body and would rest in their arms and feel their heart instead.
"I understand now," Physis murmured into Suena's ear. "Do you?"
"I think so," Suena said. "But let me hear it from you anyway."
"We are drawn to each other because we were always separated," Physis said, "but always, always following the same thing. I watched the Mu from within, learning their story without being a part of them. You..."
"For as long as I can remember, I watched them from without," Suena said. "Trying to find their story."
"I'm sorry," Physis said, "that in the end, they have no single story."
"Don't talk like that," Suena said. "You're the closest thing there is to the story of the Mu. So I found you."
"Is that why...?"
"No," Suena said, still holding Physis. "It's just as you said. We were meant to meet, in the end, as people. And that's all."