Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 19
Aching pain. Fear. Red-black light. Mumbling voices, whispers, shouts of half-understood words, thundering nausea in my gut, horror waiting, waiting to emerge when I could remember the reason. I heard a gabble of nonsense:
…wait to get Off of that you will isn’t the HEY THE READINGS JUMPED hope she doesn’t catch TC Conversion Radius 10,119.5, that’s a little Oh, sink it, I’ll have to I’LL LET THE PRIME MONITOR KNOW Six and One…
Only it was worse than that, the words not separate but dozens of them all at once, yet somehow all trying to make sense, and behind it all a faint yet piercing chorus of whispering cold voices that spoke no language I understood. The words “PRIME MONITOR” caused the horror to leap screaming out of the darkness. I shook my head against that memory, felt actual feeble movement, and the physical sensation was enough to anchor me, remind me that I was still alive NOW, but how much longer was in question. I grasped at that feeble thought, tried to focus, past the fear, past the sick queasiness and blood-red pain. Once more I turned to the best discipline I knew, to the White Vision, the comfort of blankness, a whiteout of a blizzard on Korealis, nothing save the brightness of the sun spread even and soft and crystal-pure.
The pain tried to increase, but the nausea retreated, and the hideous gabble of voices began to fade. I felt… odd, something else strange in my head, cool and smooth and blade-sharp reinforcing my meditation in a way I’d never imagined and couldn’t… quite… understand. But right now I needed the relief, the clarity of silence, as I’d never needed it before, so I accepted the alien assistance, built on it, vaulted straight from White Vision past yet touching all of Heart Center, Red Vision, Hand Center, Clear Vision, Deep Center, Wind Vision, to the High Center and the uttermost quiet of the self.
And it was quiet, a quiet that was both normal and suddenly unfamiliar, as though while I lay unconscious I’d become accustomed to a thunderous tide of incomprehensible voices. I opened my eyes.
The bright white light stung for a moment, but no worse than usual after a long time sleeping. I was in a clean, high-ceilinged room, painted in whites with rose and gold highlights, with the scanning and recording equipment expected in a top hospital room. An intravenous line ran into my arm, and as I sat up, the door opened. For a split second I was sure it was Shagrath and my heart tried to give a panicked leap and go straight to TC Conversion out of my chest. I just barely managed to hold on to High Center.
But it was a pretty, dark-haired Healer. “Awake at last, Commander Varan! That’s a relief!” She gave me the Sign, which I returned rather shakily. “I’ve notified the Prime Monitor, but even though he’s been very interested in your condition he says he won’t be able to get here for a while.”
She helped me sit up, the bed following me and adjusting automatically. “D…Doctor Sooovickalassa?” I asked, my voice being awfully weak after … how long? … without being used.
“The R’Thann? He’s on sleep cycle. Checked up on you a few hours ago.”
I cautiously relaxed, maintaining my interior focus, but trying to feel my way around the… mental area? Part of my mind? There weren’t good words for this… where I’d been hearing those babbling voices. I felt that cold, smooth alien presence in my head seem to … slide back? … a bit, and I heard that one voice, the one that had seemed to blare out far louder than all the others, but much fainter, with only the slightest trace of the other babblings in the background: …looks still almost ready to faint. Poor man. I wonder what the project is, exactly? If the Prime Monitor’s directly involved, it must mean something important. If I can do well on this assignment, it might…
She was turning away, going for something on one of the counters to one side, when it penetrated my understanding: those had to be her thoughts. I was hearing what she was thinking.
I was a telepath. A psionic! The treatment had worked!
The impact of that realization caused me to shake my head in denial and disbelief and confusion. I would never have expected such impact from so ambivalent a reaction; I was simultaneously excited, revolted, terrified, worried, exultant… A dozen reactions, and all of them extreme. I sagged back into the cushions.
Then my practical side took over. I had to figure out if I was really hearing her thoughts or not. I opened my eyes again and watched as she came over with a set of hand scanners. “What’s your name, Healer?”
A split second before she actually answered, I heard: My name’s Lorri Vanya. Healer Lorri Vanya… Yes, I actually made Healer, just three weeks ago… Towers, that was hard, scary-hard testing, but I did make it. And you might just make my career go places if you’re as important as I think you are, Commander Varan…
The soundless monologue continued as she said, “Vanya. Lorri Vanya.”
Verified. I’d known her name before she said it. And, I realized, I’d heard several sentences in the time it’d taken her to process the question — surely one of the easiest questions anyone could be asked — and start to answer. Let me verify one of the other pieces of information that had come from that stream of thought, I decided. One’s mind is a funny thing, and it was possible I’d convinced myself I’d heard the name in my head before she answered. But there was a specific piece of information in that stream of thought, and if I could verify it in words… “Can I get something to eat?” I asked to continue the conversation, as she finished running the hand scanners up and down me to verify the automatics’ readings.
“Certainly, Commander. A little light broth first, to make sure you keep it down, and then something more substantial.”
She went to the unikitchen on the other side of the room. “How are you feeling?”
“Headache. Seems to be fading a little. I was sick to my stomach earlier, but that’s gone.” I debated with myself about some of my other symptoms, decided not to mention them yet.
“Not surprising after any major experimental work. Clearly not surgery — no wounds — but I’d guess it’s a neuro experiment.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You’re good. Been a Healer a while, I’d guess.”
She laughed. “I may be good, but I’m afraid not from experience. Got my Healer ring only three weeks ago, and it felt like just barely, too.” She turned back from the little food preparation unit, a small tray in her hands.
No doubt about it. That time I knew how long she’d been a Healer and how hard she felt it was, even before I brought up the subject. I was really reading her mind. I shivered slightly at the thought, making me almost drop the soup as Lorri handed it to me. “Careful, Commander!”
“Sorry. Call me Sasham, anyway. Commander is for when I’m in uniform, which I’m clearly not right now.”
She smiled. “Very well, Sasham.” I like that accent he has. And he’s not bad looking now that he’s not so pale. This was accompanied by a very personal evaluation of my physique in images as well as words; I was starting to notice that even individuals had layers of parallel thoughts, multiple threads of cogitation moving simultaneously. I was however more aware of the nature of those thoughts than of the interesting philosophical implications thereof.
If I hadn’t been in High Center already, I think I might have given myself away by a blush or worse. I kept eating the soup, but quickly forced myself back into the pure quiet, sealing off my perception of her thoughts, feeling guilty and angry. I had no business hearing what other people thought. “You say the Prime Monitor won’t be here for a while?” I said, trying to keep my voice under control — interested, maybe eager, but certainly not scared, that was the impression to project.
“I’m not sure how long, C — Sasham, but he gave the impression that it might be an hour or so before he could get free of prior commitments.”
I smiled. It felt incredibly phony to me, but she didn’t seem to notice anything wrong. “Well, there’s no hurry. I’m not going anywhere right now, and I don’t think he’ll be doing any tests until the good Doctor is up.”
“Probably, but he had left very emphatic instructions that he be notified the very moment you were awake.” She lowered her voice and almost whispered, “He sounded very annoyed that he wasn’t able to come down immediately.”
I gave an assenting, noncommittal nod. “Unfortunately I can’t discuss exactly why that might be, Lorri.” I closed my eyes a moment. “The soup seems to be okay, but I think I’ll wait a while on anything else. Maybe rest until the Monitor gets here.”
“Press the call button if you need anything, then. Seven Standing, Commander.” She gave me the Sign, which I returned with the usual “Standing and Unfallen” and the Sign.
As the door closed behind her, I sagged back into the cushions. Torline’s SWORDS! What in the name of all the worlds was I going to do? I had a momentary impulse to grab my clothes and get out of here. Except I had only the vaguest idea where “here” was — somewhere on the three hundred-plus square kilometers of Silan-Luria base, I was pretty sure — and even if I knew, where was I going to go? I was that classic and hackneyed staple of mediocre adventure stories since probably the days of Atlantaea, the Man Who Knew Too Much. Running would tell Shagrath exactly what I knew. That the Prime Monitor wasn’t what he appeared to be. That he wasn’t even the species he appeared to be. He wasn’t interested in the safety of the Empire, or of any of the people around him. The mind I’d glimpsed in that incandescent, dark-glowing rage was monstrous, something I could only call Demonic. I shuddered, as the realization and dread sank deeper. Demonic, exactly. Perhaps Shagrath was a Demon. Atlantaea’s memory lived on; its descendants were rebuilding. Perhaps the ones who brought low the Seven Towers had their own descendants, ones who saw the Empire as a new threat or an offense.
But to most people, that would be the talk of a madman, or at least a foolish Seeker fanatic. Especially since I hadn’t a single shred of evidence. I’d learned what I knew by pure random chance, and at the moment, Shagrath didn’t know I knew anything. There was no sane reason for me to try to escape. Be upset, yes, be confused, in pain, angry, whatever, but no reason to run. I’d volunteered for the treatment, knowing what it was supposed to do to me. If I was going to get out of this alive, I had to convince him I was still a loyal, reliable servant of the Empire who still thought of him as I had just a couple of days ago… or a couple of days plus however much time I’d been out.
Another terrible, deep pain struck me then, of the betrayal involved. Part of it was simply personal: I had believed in the Shagrath I had seen there, the man who held possibly the most lonely, dangerous position in all the Empire, the watcher over all security, yet surrounded by people who watched him to make sure that he didn’t abuse that position. I had believed in him, been convinced by the sincerity he projected, the knowledge of decisions made that would cost the lives of good people across the Empire even if the decision was the right one. And it had all been a lie, and worse, a lie that he was getting away with telling to the entire Galaxy.
That was the other part of the horror. This monster stood at the right hand of the Emperor, directed policy across the Fleets, Navy and Guardsmen alike. The Five Families advised; the Emperor ordered. But the Prime Monitor was the source of much of their information, was the guiding hand in many choices. A fresh shock of horror hit me. How many things like him WERE there? How many of the people I saw every day were like him? Was he alone, or were there dozens, hundreds, thousands of his sort?
I shook my head again and focused. Those questions weren’t relevant now. I had to survive long enough to make them relevant, and that meant I had to be ready to confront Shagrath. I had to focus on my cover story — what had so few hours ago been the honest truth — and make myself believe it, or at least make it look like I did. I might have to do this for weeks. But I had to do it. I had to succeed. If I didn’t, even if there was only Shagrath, the Empire was in deadly danger. And one part of the act would be pure truth. I still served the Empire I was sworn to twenty years ago.
So. Loyal Sasham Varan. Psionic, now. Shocked by the swiftness that it worked, okay, that’s good. Bit horrified by reading people’s minds, there’s some truth, and it’s what would have been truth anyway. Curious about what else I can do. Eager to return to duty — what kind of assignments will I have? I had to wonder, actually, what Shagrath was up to. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good. Could it be that he actually WANTED disasters like the Black Dragon? Ugh.
Come on, Sasham. Keep focused on the task at hand. The High Center had to be maintained — it gave me an anchor and calmness to use inside, to guide my actions in reaction that seemed instantaneous yet was fully considered. Now, what would I be doing while waiting?
“Examining my abilities, of course.” I answered myself. Scared, repelled, or not, this was the purpose of the program, and I wouldn’t waste time trying to pretend they didn’t exist.
All right… clearly that incomprehensible babble I’d heard before came from a lot of minds within my range. I’d managed to lower my defenses partly before; the question now was, could I sort out all those voices? It seemed possible to at least some extent; I’d heard Lorri Vanya, but the other voices had been filtered, almost inaudible. But that was the simple approach: listen to the loudest noise. Could I do the equivalent of what most people can do in a crowded room — listen to a particular voice or particular noise, even if it isn’t the loudest?
I tried relaxing the barrier again. The babble started to come through; I heard Lorri Vanya’s nearby voice, a chaotic hum of other voices from whispers to distant shouts underneath. I tried to focus past the obvious noise of Lorri’s thoughts. At first it didn’t seem to work. Instead, I heard her louder than ever; the more I focused on trying to both stay “open” to reception and yet push her thoughts away, the more I heard from her — and the more underlayers of thought I started seeing. I shut down, backed off. Not the right way to do it.
A moment’s thought showed me the likely error I was making. No matter what my initial attempt’s purpose was, the actuality was that I had been focusing my actual attention on Lorri’s thought-voice. If that was the problem, I had to reverse the approach. I had to pick out some particular other thought-voice and try to focus on it directly.
This time I opened enough to hear the faint babble and distinguish the garbled, intermingled word-thoughts. I picked up on one fragment that was repeating something familiar, focused on it. The smooth, precise mental structure that was, yet wasn’t exactly, a part of me, seemed to click and lock down a sort of window, a filter, and there it was, a single voice with only the slightest echoing voices as background. “…and Torline sheathed his Swords, and, carrying Niaadea’s body, walked across the water, away from where the great City had once stood, where now were only endless waves, and he wept. And after two days he came to land, and made a great pyre, and bade the Eternal Queen and his Lost Son and all of Great Atlantaea farewell…” Someone… a man… was reading the Book of the Fall. Sounded like one of the Repentant editions, but I couldn’t be sure with that short a piece. I pushed the mindwall back into place.
Now what? I’d proved the basic principle, and I didn’t really feel like eavesdropping on more people I didn’t know. Telepathy implied the ability to do things like that mindcrawling Zchorada had done to me, but even if I could overcome the twist in my gut about trying it, I wasn’t about to try on someone who didn’t know what was coming. Leave that for the real experiments, if it got to that point.
Telekinesis? That I could try. Doctor Sooovickalassa and Shagrath had both talked about my high potential, so it seemed likely I would have at least a couple of the broad categories, and maybe all of them. Let’s see… ah, a noteclamp. Small little metal object lying on the counter over there. Now, how would that work? I guess I’d just focus on moving it, right? The point of psis was that they just thought about having something happen and it did. They had to focus on it — otherwise things would happen around them constantly, without control — but there wasn’t supposed to be anything strangely esoteric about the way in which they worked. If there was, the natural psis would never get a handle on their powers before someone caught them. I looked carefully at the little noteclamp, focused on it, held up my hand, and then visualized a sort of strong pull yanking the wire structure from the counter to me.
A sort of smooth tightening across my temples and a high singing sound inside my skull, and the noteclamp suddenly leaped off the counter, blurringly fast, smacking my hand so hard that it tingled, despite the fact that the noteclamp weighed barely anything at all. I stared at the innocuous little device, a twining of metal to hold papers and notes together, and rubbed my hand. Telekinetic indeed. I shouldn’t have visualized yanking the thing so hard.
For the first time, I felt a trickle of satisfaction, of wonder. I couldn’t deny the fact that there was a thrill and a joy to being able to do something so… so magical. This was also pretty sobering, since it meant the fate of other psis was even more horrid; what felt like a magnificent blessing, a miracle, turned into a curse that led to your own death.
Enough musing. Let’s see if I can get a little control over this.
It took a few more tries, but eventually I managed to float the noteclamp more sedately back across the room and onto the counter. Exact placement I couldn’t manage; that was going to take serious practice. My head was starting to ache again in a peculiar fashion which, I guessed, meant that I was pushing things. I leaned back again, reinforcing my meditation and the wall around my mind.
It was funny, I could almost think of that wall as an actual wall, something that could be shaped and colored, though not with paints. With thoughts, I guess. Maybe that’s how psispies dealt with each other? I knew that there were certainly cases of a psispy managing to fool other psi counterspies, at least in other star nations, so they must have some way of faking the “right” thoughts.
At that point, I heard footsteps, and the door opened.
“Commander Varan! Excellent, excellent. It is so good to see you well.” Resplendent in his black and silver, sensevisor gleaming brightly in the light, Prime Monitor Shagrath smiled warmly at me.
My very heart seemed to stop dead. A pulse of mental power had accompanied those words, a ripple that washed out and touched, delicately but unmistakably, upon my mindwall.
Prime Monitor Shagrath was a psionic.