Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 26
Varan dodged out of the way of his kick with startling speed. Even though he’d been expecting it, the swiftness of the Navy Commander’s reactions caught him momentarily off-guard, and gave Varan an opening to deliver a cannonlike kick to his back. I actually FELT that, Shagrath mused, as he somersaulted across the floor, regaining control before hitting the wall. The Commander’s enhancement abilities appear to be fully the equal of all his others. He’s becoming a quite formidable human.
He was careful to rise with just enough slowness to show that the impact had really hurt. The power level that he wanted Varan to see was that of someone more powerful than he, but not completely untouchable. This not only made Varan more comfortable — he could believe that Shagrath was vulnerable to him, given more time — but also gave Shagrath a large margin of safety in case Varan was, himself, trying to play a deeper game. The latter was unlikely, of course. He and the Commander had gone mind-to-mind often in the past couple of months, and aside from a few early lingering self-doubts and concerns about whether Shagrath was really as sane as he claimed, there hadn’t been any sign of hidden agendas.
The dark-haired, gray-eyed officer was streaking across the floor at a speed impossible for any ordinary human being. To Shagrath’s full senses it would still be a snail-slow crawl, but it was, measured objectively, a shockingly large improvement over the original capabilities. Shagrath blocked several blows before allowing himself to speed up a bit, taking advantage of that to return the Commander’s prior favor with a punch to the midsection that folded him up like a pocket-tent and slammed him into the far wall.
The hardest part of the entire project was restraining himself. It was excellent discipline, and he had no doubt that the long years he had spent doing this and similar projects had been very useful to him in the long run, but in this case it was very hard not to just kill the oblivious little creature; Varan was so odiously sure of himself. It did not make it easier, either, that he looked so very much like the only enemy Shagrath had any reason to fear. But he would be worth a very great deal for the overall plan if he survived.
As the two of them continued the psi-enhanced sparring match, under the watchful instruments of Doctor Sooovickalassa, Shagrath admitted to himself that he had been wrong about one thing. Varan really very nearly was a paragon of virtue. Most people Shagrath knew had been easy to lead down the path of expediency and self-interest, but it had taken him a week to figure out even an approach that might work.
That approach itself was deliciously ironic; he used appeals to the virtue itself to help undermine it. Varan’s sense of duty, loyalty to the Empire and his friends, and so on, could be coupled with his concerns to lead to him rationalizing a few questionable acts in the name of the greater good. Then a few very, very subtle psionic nudges to reinforce those acts, another discussion, another rationalization… and eventually he would be a wonderful mockery of his old self, just as apparently sympathetic, just as self-righteously convinced of the correctness of his course of action… but willing to excuse any action whatsoever on the grounds of preserving Shagrath and himself. The best part of that was that if Varan was loyal to Shagrath, eventually he’d become something even more useful, if less human, and serve an even greater purpose. If he wasn’t, Shagrath knew how to break him if necessary — by confronting him with the unalloyed truth.
It was the need for the subtle enhancement of the justification for questionable acts (such as erasing small bits of memory from people who accidentally saw things they shouldn’t) that really pointed up how close Varan had been to his own ideal. He had sufficient humility and self-doubt underneath the rock-solid convictions that, left to himself, he would examine each questionable act on its own merits, and couldn’t be led to do more such acts just because he’d done it before. This, of course, made the end result more amusing.
A signal from the R’Thann, and the two stopped and bowed. Varan still insisted on giving that ancient Sign in ritual; breaking his faith was going to take some considerable work, and unfortunately might not be necessary. “Not bad at all, Commander,” he said, smiling.
“You’re… still better,” Varan answered, trying to catch his breath.
“But…” he made sure to look as though he was tired as well, “Not by much. You’re still improving, and Doctor Sooovickalassa is unsure how long that may continue before you reach your final peak. If you keep improving at this rate, you may begin to outdo me.”
“Maybe when Atlantaea rises again,” the Commander said as they exited the chamber; he promptly sat heavily in one of the chairs conveniently near the door. “You’re going easy on me. I can tell.”
That was a bit of a surprise, and not exactly a pleasant one. Judging by Varan’s overall emotional attitude, however, he hadn’t seen anything particularly damaging. I’d best reinforce the shields and wards, Shagrath thought to himself. “Well, perhaps a bit,” he said. “Your perceptions are sharper than they were just a few days ago, Sasham. Excellent. This just reinforces my point, however — you are advancing in all areas at a startling and gratifying rate.”
Clearly he’d done the right thing in getting certain allies well out of range, despite the inconvenience this was causing. One touch on those minds and the Commander would start asking very hard questions, which would mean having to either kill him, forcibly erase the impressions (which could easily permanently damage him and reduce his usefulness), try to program him directly into obedience (notoriously unreliable), or hand him over to those same allies. While the latter would produce another entertaining, and to some extent useful, disaster similar to the Black Dragon’s rampage some years before, it definitely would set back other parts of the overall timetable. Best to tell them to just leave the planet for the duration.
Besides, if Varan did catch on and was able to get away before Shagrath could stop him, one accusation could turn the entirety of the Empire against Shagrath, Prime Monitor or no. Shagrath had no illusions whatsoever about what would happen then. He was powerful, yes — as far as he knew, the most powerful single being in the Empire and its surrounding stellar nations — but against the power of the Empire, alone, he would die or, at the least, be so sorely wounded it would take centuries or millennia to recover. The Black Dragon had lost, and his powers had been, even by Shagrath’s standards, quite impressive. Shagrath was more powerful still, but the energies controlled by an Empire that even had some remaining Atlantaean warships? No, he would fall, and his “allies” would not help him then. They worked for him because he was stronger and could not be used for their purposes, but they had no investment in his purposes, either.
Not to mention that if that eventuality did come to pass, it would also have the extremely unfortunate effect of confirming the truth of what was now mostly believed to be myth and parable. The thought of an entire Empire converted into Seekers like Varan gave even him a chill of fear.
At the same time, he could not simply destroy each civilization at the base level; only huge multi-system star empires such as this one could and would cover enough territory to find significant amounts of the traces of Atlantaea, the things he sought to truly erase, and — more important by far — there were … other forces which made use of the bustling masses of humanity (and, of course, other species) which were only possible with advanced technology, and they would be extremely displeased to find every planet ground back to the stone ages or worse. Shagrath had no intention whatsoever of doing anything to get that monster’s attention. Almost better to be caught by the one I fear than … that.
“So, Kerlamin,” Varan said, using for only the second or third time Shagrath’s first name, “When do I stop playing lab animal? It’s been three months now!”
“Developing still are abilities your,” Doctor Sooovickalassa said as he emerged from the observation chamber. Do you want to be sent out without full knowledge of what you can do?
“No. And yes, I suppose,” Varan answered after a moment. “I guess I can’t argue about waiting while the powers themselves are still changing quickly, but I really can’t afford to hang back and wait until I’m a master. That could take years.”
“I sympathize, Sasham,” Shagrath said. “But our plans must be laid for the long term. If events require it, of course one of us must investigate major potential threats, but on the whole it’s better if we take what time we need to be truly ready before taking an active role. Especially since you, as the first success of the project, are a crucial element for us to study in-depth to ensure that we can succeed with others.”
Varan nodded reluctantly. Shagrath knew the pressures which drove the Commander; as Varan had said to him on their first meeting, even doing useful research wouldn’t really feel like doing something to him.
“Don’t worry, Commander,” he said cheerfully. “Everything’s moving along quite nicely. I’ll make sure you have a part to play in my next major operation.”