Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 13
PART TWO: Mind Dances
“Welcome, Commander Varan. It is a genuine pleasure to meet you at last.”
“Thank you, Monitor Shagrath.” The Prime Monitor had a handclasp of E-steel; I did my best to match it. I’m not sure which of us got the better of it.
I could see what made Shagrath unsettling to Taelin, or at least part of it. The Prime Monitor wore a reflective sensevisor, hiding his eyes behind blank silvery lenses which could display vast amounts of data overlaid upon the scene before him. With his dark hair — sprinkled with gray, signaling the one and a half centuries he had over me in experience — and skin even darker than mine, the mirrored lenses were like camouflage, cloaking whatever Shagrath actually thought in a distorted fog of one’s own image. I couldn’t tell if the Monitor’s welcoming smile and deep, warm tones hid something less welcoming.
Torline’s Swords! Taelin’s formless concerns and the natural caution everyone had around Monitors were really combining with my nervousness to make me paranoid! I had to stop this. “So, sir, can you tell me now why I’ve been brought here?”
“Certainly, certainly, Commander. You undoubtedly understand some aspects of this extremely urgent summons, but you are quite correct in your surmise that there is more — much more — to it than merely an examination for some unusual traits. There will be such an examination, of course, but there is much more to come.”
“Not meaning to sound… socially presumptuous, sir, but will I be seeing the Emperor on this visit?”
He laughed, an even deeper sound that echoed warmly about the corridors of Silan-Luria as he led me onward — with, I noticed, no security contingent. This said either a great deal about his trust in me, or in his confidence to keep himself safe. People at his level always had a security entourage; even lesser children of the Five Families had a hard time evading it (Taelin was a past master of that game, to the eternal frustration of the Mel’Tasne security forces). I decided to assume it was both — take it as a compliment and as a subtle statement of his confidence. “Undoubtedly, undoubtedly, Commander. Not for long — the Emperor has many demands on his time — but he will be presenting you with his commendations in person, and has, you should be aware, directed me to see to the investigation of this entire incident myself. The entire project on which I am going to brief you is being carried out by his express and considered direction.
“Besides,” he continued smoothly as we entered a large foyer for a secure area and were scanned minutely, “One who is welcomed into the homes of two of the Five Families as though he were one of them is scarcely able to be socially presumptuous. I am, myself, only allowed such exalted contacts by my position.” From the foyer, we entered a transit capsule, which smoothly accelerated along the guiderails, taking us past and through kilometers of training areas, barracks, administrative buildings, and proving grounds. Silan-Luria’s exact size was hard to know, because it kept growing slowly, but I knew that the developed part of the base was over three hundred square kilometers.
I felt my cheeks flush uncomfortably. “I’m not really on that level. Taelin and I were just in the Talanda together and got to be friends. He sort of dragged me everywhere for a while when we were in school, so they all think of me as Taelin’s friend.”
“Exactly the reaction I predicted. Good.” He glanced at me with those unfathomable lenses.
“You’re testing me?” I’d find a Navy or Guardsman who used that approach to be annoying at the least, actively damaging to morale at worst. Monitors, though, had different priorities and duties… and this was not just any Monitor. Prime Monitor Shagrath had more personal power than anyone except the Emperor and, possibly, the Five Families… and more personal power than any individual member of the Five.
“Say, rather, I’m testing the outline of you that I have gotten from the reports. You are, I am sure, aware that given the size of the Empire I cannot have any in-depth knowledge of more than the most miniscule fraction of the Navy officers.”
That was an extreme understatement. The Empire stretched over a roughly circular portion of the galaxy about 15,000 lightyears wide, encompassing over 20,000 major worlds and ten times as many colonies and minor worlds. One man couldn’t even remember the names and details of the major worlds, let alone the hundreds of thousands or even millions of Navy, Guards, and Monitors from each of those worlds.
Seeing my nod of understanding, Shagrath continued. “I have had to familiarize myself with your quite impressive record in short snatches over the past few weeks, while seeing to all the other duties required of me. I am pleased to see that your dossier appears, thus far, to be accurate.” The transit capsule hummed to a halt; we exited and proceeded onward through a wide hallway. “I hope that I will continue to verify that outline, as the man I discern within it is precisely the man I am looking for.”
We stopped before another secured doorway. This one Shagrath stepped up to and presented himself for a full body scan. “Prime Monitor Shagrath and Commander Sasham Varan,” he stated. The door’s automatics having verified his identity, it was my turn; the scan agreed that I was indeed me, and the E-steel barriers rolled silently aside.
I couldn’t restrain an appreciative exclamation. I may be good at fighting when I have to, and I like the idea of being the commander of a ship of my own… but I do love my engineering, and this was an engineer’s paradise. The Silan-Luria Military Research and Development Center stretched away in the distance, the room seeming large enough to hold an Unfallen Tower-class leviathan and all ten thousand of her crewmen. Some areas were blocked off to sight, workspaces the size of most research universities’ entire laboratory area dedicated to single experiments. I could see assemblies of both in-system and superluminal drives, null-rannai cannon, blankh-toh missiles, and a lot of less-identifiable gadgetry. The room was filled with a suppressed murmur and hum, the sound of concentrated work and ideas and the power to make ideas reality. “Give me this, sir, and I’ll need nothing else ever again.”
“It affects many people that way, Commander. At least, those with the vision of their technology in their hearts as well as their heads.” He led me down the long room with a brisk stride, continuing, “Would you indeed like to be the director of this research installation? It could be possible.”
I stopped in sheer astonishment, staring at him.
He laughed. “Indeed, indeed. Not, perhaps, immediately, but then, you have many of the qualifications for a director of such an establishment; a knowledge of the science that you must direct, but also an intimate awareness of the demands of the front line, and an excellent record of getting the job done while maintaining good relations with your subordinates. But I think it really would be worthwhile for you to answer the question; is that, truly, what you would like? Or something else, perhaps?” He looked at me directly for a moment, and I could feel the eyes behind the mirrored gaze measuring me. “What do you want, Commander Varan?”
I pushed away the completely astounding implications of the possibility — why, it would imply jumping me several rank grades just to give me sufficient authority to run the place! Shagrath, despite his amusement, was taking the overall question seriously, or so it seemed, so I thought it over for several minutes as we strode along down the center of the Center.
“I do not ask questions that I wish inaccurate answers for, Commander.” Shagrath’s tone was not exactly annoyed, but perhaps emphatic would be the correct term. He wanted me to understand that he was interested in the truth, and nothing else.
“Well, then, sir… It’s a job I’d very much like in many ways, but I think I’d probably miss being in the active Navy. Getting a real ship of my own — not a fighter, but a big one, like a battlecruiser — has always been one of my dreams.” I shrugged and felt a little embarrassed. “I think I like moving around too much. Besides, even though I know how much good the R&D does, I’d feel like I wasn’t doing everything I could, this far from the real action.”
“The precise answer I expected. You appear to be a man who knows his own mind quite well, Commander… and who would rather follow his dreams than sacrifice them on the altar of simple advantage. While in some cases this is actually a weakness, for my current purposes I approve of this. But more on that later.” He gestured for me to precede him as we turned to the left, having covered maybe a tenth of the distance to the far end of the great room.
This area was cordoned off by yet another security screen. It was also one of the largest of the sub-laboratories I could see, and completely enclosed — almost a separate building within the Research Center. “This is where our testing and research on you will be conducted, Commander. As you can no doubt see, there is a great deal of work already under way, so you may — correctly — conclude that you are considered part of a much larger research project. And …” he glanced around, “where is… Ahhh! Doctor! Doctor Sooovickalassa!”
Across the room I saw something sparkle and turn. A figure came scurrying over, claws making a staccato rattle across the polished stone floor. “Doctor Sooovickalassa, Commander Sasham Varan, Navy. Sooovickalassa is the head researcher in this project and will be personally conducting your phase of the experiment.”
Sooovickalassa and I exchanged handclasps. I studied him curiously. I was familiar with an awful lot of alien species and humanoid variants, but he was like nothing I had ever seen, or even heard of. The top of his head came barely to my chin, but that did not make him look harmless. The bipedal form, balanced by a long tail, was supported by clawed legs that could undoubtedly kick my guts out; the talons that were delicately scraping the back of my hand as we exchanged clasps were perhaps too small to inflict much damage (claws, after all, tend to get in the way for toolmaking species), but the scaled head had a very large mouth filled with a predator’s teeth. His movements were quick and sharp and precise, and the scales covering most of his body were brilliant shades of green and gold and silver, the gold matching his eyes. The most eyecatching feature, though, was a tremendous sweeping crest of slender spines topped with crystalline material, starting from the top of Sooovickalassa’s head and running all the way down his back and, diminishing in height, down the tail as well. The crest shimmered bright gold with the slightest movement and the crystals chimed and whispered together; the topmost portion of the crest was a little above my eye level. “Pardon my staring, sir,” I said to Sooovickalassa, “But I must confess I’ve never seen any of your people before.”
“Is needed no apology,” he replied in a high, slightly hissing voice. “Empire recently to Thann’ta has come. Know therefore you not R’Thann.”
“Thann’ta is the homeworld of the R’Thann,” Shagrath said. “We have just recently made contact with them and, to be honest, there are some serious questions about whether this contact will remain peaceful.” The Prime Monitor looked momentarily pensive. “Doctor Sooovickalassa, however, is much more interested in working with us than his people.” The hiss-spit that Sooovickalassa gave needed no translation. “And his background happens to make him ideal for this particular project.”
He was still being circumspect about the actual nature of the project. While I could guess some of it, that implied that there was still material he felt was awfully sensitive. “I presume you’ll let me know more about the project when you feel the time’s right, sir,” I said.
“Indeed,” he agreed, smiling. “Indeed I shall. For now, Commander, I will need you to allow Doctor Sooovickalassa to perform his initial evaluation. Once the results of that evaluation are complete, I will know more about what part you might be able to play in this project.” He turned to the R’Thann scientist. “Doctor, please expedite this report. Once you are done with the data-gathering phase, you may call my office and I will arrange for someone to bring the Commander to the Mel’Tasne estate, where he will be staying at least for this night.”
“Understood,” Doctor Sooovickalassa said. Satisfied, the Prime Monitor bowed to me, making the Sign, and left.
“Questions first I will ask, confirming prior information for,” Sooovickalassa said, leading me to a desk. He proceeded to verify that I was who I said I was, that I had indeed faced a Zchorada psi assault and, according to my suit’s readings, had managed to act despite not being, as far as I was aware, psionic in the least. “Good,” he said, and gestured towards something that looked somewhat like a hospital preservation tube, except upright, larger, and open in sections which appeared heavily instrumented. “Cabinet interior please to step.”
To cabinet interior step I did, and encircled instruments by I was. I was becoming used to the R’Thann’s odd way of speaking Oron. Humans or humanoids on all the major worlds of course were raised with the main language, and so were aliens who had belonged to the Reborn Empire for any length of time. Still, with new humanoid worlds being discovered practically every week and new alien species beginning their cooperation and integration into Reborn society every year, it was common for anyone who travelled widely to encounter people whose skill in speaking the default language ranged from horrible to the … interesting. For someone from a race that had just begun its contact with the Empire, Dr. Sooovickalassa was doing quite well.
“Would it be rude of me to ask how you come to be working here with the Empire’s best, Doctor?”
One of the taloned hands made a sharp clawing gesture, very peremptory. “Rude not, possibly. Time it is inconvenient for subject to be discussing. Quiet. Focus! Instructions for you specific I have.”
For the next few hours I was kept busy in Sooovickalassa’s network of sensors, mostly running through different techniques of mental focus. As I expected, he was particularly interested in trying to replicate the mental state I was in during that conflict with the Zchorada. That much effort directed at the events of that day wasn’t without some effect; especially when I was channeling my efforts into maintaining the right Tor discipline in mind, I sometimes felt phantom sensations of a mind trying to touch my own, ghosts I was sure of the mental beating that mind-crawler had given me. I suppose those sensations must have been helpful in putting me back in the right state of mind, though, because I obviously hadn’t just been in perfect meditation, but in a paradoxical state of meditative calm, panic, fury, and despair.
It was wearing, though, despite the fact that most of the sensor enclosure was transparent and I could see clearly that there wasn’t anything even vaguely Zchoradan in the area. I was glad when Dr. Sooovickalassa finally sat back and the enclosure opened up again. “Gathering data finished is.”
“I hope it’s useful,” I said.
“Usefulness undoubted,” the scientist replied cheerfully, and informed me that someone was already on the way to pick me up. “Known soon results will of interest be. Contacted then again.”
A Regional Monitor entered and gave me the Sign. “Monitor Noivos, Commander Varan. I will convey you from the research area. Taelin Mel’Tasne is waiting for you outside Silan-Luria Main Entrance.”
“Excellent!” I hadn’t been sure if I’d have a chance to visit on this trip; evidently Lukhas had already put in his word. “I’m sure I’ll see you again soon, Doctor.”
“Likely.” He added something in what I presumed was his own language; it sounded like the equivalent of a farewell, judging by the posture and intonations.
“Lead on, Monitor Noivos.”