Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 21
I got away with it.
That thought was just about the only one in my head for a long time after Shagrath left. I could still barely believe it. A combination of luck, my newly-awakened powers, and — I was sinking sure — the fact that Shagrath suspected nothing was what had saved me. If he’d even wondered about what I thought enough to bother, the mind I’d felt brush me with its uttermost edge would have torn my barrier apart like smoke in a hurricane. Like a hunter watching a windwailer from a snow-blind, the only protection I had was that the creature didn’t attempt to kill me.
In the first instant of discovery, my mind had gone almost totally blank, the barrier staying up only because, I guessed — and then confirmed to myself — because it was an active effort to change the state of one’s psionics. You had to decide to shut off the barrier. That blankness of mind probably saved me; I didn’t HAVE an immediate reaction based on what I knew Shagrath was, because the fact that he was psionic knocked even that horror out of my thoughts for a moment. And so it just happened to mimic exactly what Shagrath must have expected — the shock, surprise, fear, and revulsion were directed at him being a psionic.
Then High Center caught up with my thoughts and I managed to keep from panicking a second time over the thought of the monster I’d seen in Shagrath’s thoughts possessed of psionic abilities. Was that how he managed to walk around as a human being? Shift his shape or maybe just hide his appearance, and use his unsuspected powers to cover up the telltale differences on things like physical examinations and psychological profiling and conditioning? If so… he must be almost unimaginably powerful, an ultrapsi for sure, to be able to get away with it even in places like this base where there would be many areas that had permanent or near-permanent psionic dampener fields.
His long, self-serving monologue — which, I had to grudgingly admit, would have convinced me before, no question — had given me time to work in. I’d noticed that my thoughts seemed faster, and I’d had what seemed to be a very long time to work on the idea I’d had just before Shagrath arrived — that I might be able to “sculpt” the externals of the shield to show what I wanted, rather than what was really there. That weird cold sensation had come back, sometimes feeling almost like a set of strings, or the guiderails on a transfer capsule, pushing me or pulling me in certain directions as I tried to figure out how to make a shield that would let through only what I wanted, keep in that which I had to hide. It was an eerie and not at all comforting sensation; it did seem to be getting me to the results I wanted, but what was doing it, and why? Was I programmed somehow — did Shagrath, maybe, have some kind of override command already set up? That would explain his apparent lack of concern about bothering to read my real thoughts. He didn’t need to. If I turned on him, he had a Tower still ready to play in this game.
Regardless, I’d followed that enigmatic guidance as well as my own disciplines and guesses, and… I must have pulled it off. He’d shown no sign of suspicion. Oh, he could be playing a deep and subtle game with me — the fact that he was here sure by the Seven showed that he was more than capable of it — but if that was the case, I was already sunk with Atlantaea. I had to assume that, so far, he hadn’t a clue that I had seen into his real mind. That was easy enough to believe; during his speech, he’d let me “sense” and “feel” certain things from him which reinforced his explanations; I couldn’t sense a single trace of the monster I’d detected before. I had a moment’s misgivings; maybe what I’d detected before was some terrible fluke of the process, a … a channel to the subconscious, the uncontrolled savage child that lies somewhere behind every impulse. I so very much wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe in the Shagrath I’d known just before the process.
But that wasn’t really what I’d sensed. Yes, there was a level of childish hostility, in the sense of that extreme reaction to being balked momentarily, but in that timeless instant I’d seen far more. That was a thinking mind, a very old thinking mind, and while it seemed to be a bottomless well of hatred, anger, and pain, there was an equally infinite structure of icily controlled, focused intellect that weighed every action and its consequences against a million, a thousand million, other factors, before unleashing that noisome brew of cold-fire hatred. I simply couldn’t dismiss that as a momentary nightmare or delusion, much as I wanted to. It felt far too terrifyingly real.
Enough musing. Now the hard part was starting. Not only was I going to have to maintain this façade until I figured out some way of either escaping or of exposing Shagrath for what he was, I was going to have to do it while playing the part of Shagrath’s best new agent. And I couldn’t manage that if I let myself get too exhausted. So I was going to have to actually sleep. Get rest. Follow the Healer’s instructions, and Doctor Sooovickalassa’s if he had any for me.
Using Tor discipline like a tranquillizer, I lay back and forced my muscles to relax, my breathing to slow, and my racing mind to slow down. Somewhat to my surprise, during that process, aftereffects of the process and the exhaustion of terror and tension caught up with me. I fell asleep.