Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 17
The inane question was out before I could restrain it, and Commodore Morno let his grin widen a bit. “Apparently your friend is an exile, not welcome on Thann’ta. They told us that you would be coming, that you would pass through this system, and even gave us a good general arc – one small enough that I could place scout pickets along the line with a good chance of picking you up, if you were in fact coming when and where they said. The timing was short enough that at worst I’d only be a little embarrassed if I found nothing.”
Sinking hell. We’d known Vick had been exiled, but he thought he’d at least have a chance to prove himself.
Vick gave a steam-vent whistle and rattled his crest, added a few more choppy shrieks that were R’Thann words, probably curses, then settled into a watchful silence, his crest down, his colors noticeably muted.
Morno didn’t laugh at him – his quarrel with me was a long-standing personal one, and he was, after all, a Guardsman, and he’d gotten this far by knowing some diplomacy. “Don’t feel too bad about it. I think they figured there was some diplomatic leverage to be gained from it. The Empire’s been watching them pretty closely, you know – that’s why Kukanaro’s this far out.” He glanced over to Harag. “Everything set?”
“Field’s been stable ever since it was established, sir,” the Sergeant replied promptly. “Crimson-Inclusions is confident he can transition it to cover the target block whenever you give the word. The portable generators can manage a double-strength field for the transition period.”
“Very good, Sergeant. I’ll get out of your way while you make the transfer.” He nodded to me. “Captain Varan, we’ll be talking later.”
“I’ll bet we will,” I muttered.
“This isn’t about long-delayed revenge, Varan,” Morno said calmly. “I won’t say it isn’t a great pleasure to have finally caught up with you when you’ve hit bottom, but Imperial Intelligence and the Monitors have a lot of questions. Since I’m waiting for a replacement Monitor and we don’t have an ImpInt on board, I’m the only one with clearance to do the interrogation.”
Waiting for a replacement Monitor. I had to fight to keep the sheer relief from flooding my face with a completely inappropriate grin. I’d been most worried that Morno would have one of the screaming-voiced monsters working for him – or in him. “Well… I guess I’ve got something to look forward to.”
He laughed and walked off. “Carry on, Sergeant.”
Red Sergeant Harag’s team wasted no time. Vick and I were both herded down corridors flanked both fore and aft with semi-portable psi dampers; for a few moments in the landing bay I was in a quadruple damper field and even my regular thoughts seemed sluggish. Once in the hallways the pressure lightened, if you could call it that, to a mere double damper. Progress was slow because the semis didn’t synch automatically – in fact, it took a delicacy of touch to manage it even with large and well-calibrated installations. Still, the techs they had riding the things were good – which wasn’t a good sign. Morno had picked the right people and given them the chance to do their jobs.
I guess he can’t be exactly the same arrogant bully I remember from twenty years back. A guy like that would be still down here giving loud directions and gloating.
I had a brief attack of panic as I realized one reason a man could have changed… would be not to be that man at all. But I fought the fear down. If anything would give those things trouble it’d be a double-strength psi-screen. The ones hiding in the Empire have to be pulling some interesting tricks to stay hidden, or at least they’re pretty crippled a lot of the time. Morno’s too comfortable to be one of those things. At least… I hope so.
And I had to admit that I wasn’t the same guy I’d been all those years ago, either.
The cell slid shut and locked with a faint click. I felt the psi damper field waver for just a moment and then steady. Their engineer, almost certainly a Myrandaa by its name, was as good as its word. The cell was like most other Naval detention facilities: simple gray cube with appropriate sanitary facilities in one corner, a cot-bed that folded out from the wall, a small chair and desk locked to the floor, and that was basically it. The door was a deceptively delicate looking framework of metal and crystal; it looked like one good kick could shatter it, but I doubted even Guvthor could break that door with all the time in the world to work on it.
Naturally, none of us were sharing cells. If I shouted they would possibly be able to hear me – if Morno had locked my friends in relatively nearby cells – but chances were they weren’t. Sound dampers in the walls would let me talk to the guards or any visitors, but would prevent any chit-chat back and forth. I was on my own now – and so were the rest.
Kilarren’tian was standing just outside the cell. She turned her head as I called, and gave one of those savage smiles I remembered so well from two separate little wars. “You are in a bad position. How does a warrior – for I can see you are a warrior, even if only a man – who once spoke to the Hyarale herself then become one so hunted and harried?”
“No talking to the prisoners!” The speaker was a Sergeant, but not Harag; he had the strange pointed ears and cadaverous build (and light skin) of an Iulti native, one of the hundreds of “human but not human” offshoots that had come from fallen Atlantaean colonies.
“Kyrr-a!” The growl was a Ptilian curse I knew well, a dismissal with contempt. “We are not constrained by your rules, Sergeant. Your Empire gives us this opportunity to look at your ways, while we give you the benefit of our presence and assistance. We are under the command only of the Hyarale and the Lady Herself.”
“You can’t –”
“She can, unfortunately.” That was Harag. “Please. Warrior-Seeker Kilarren’tian, can you understand why we prefer you not speak with a prisoner?”
She looked at him through narrow, slitted eyes. Her features were coated with a fine, golden fur but aside from that were beautiful, almost human aside from the fangs that showed when she snarled. The similarities were enough to drive comparative biologists to blows, especially as her people maintained with absolute conviction that they had no relation to us whatsoever. “I could choose to understand it in a manner which would give great offense to my people. But I will instead choose to not understand it and continue to speak with this man.”
Harag was a man who knew a losing battle when he saw it. He rolled his eyes and with a muttered, “Sink it!”, turned away. “Come on, the rest of you. Warrior-Seeker, I leave the prisoner in your care and your responsibility.”
Her smile might – possibly – have been a touch smug; her voice had no trace of that, however, and she simply gave a Six-and-One. “Understood, Red Sergeant. I will make sure another is here to guard him when I must leave.”
“Now,” she said, “answer my question, if you would.”
“Long story, Sharr-Tilya.” I used the Ptilian form of her title, which did translate roughly to “Warrior-Seeker” but had somewhat more mystical significance. “The short of it is that I am accused of being a Tsrulla gone mad.”
“A human psionic! Yes, I have heard that your people go insane when the power is granted. This is because you have not the favor of the Lady.”
Yes, I suppose that would be the obvious explanation to you. The Ptial divided into two main groups, warriors and priests – with the priests the dominant class by far, even though there were far more warriors. From my personal point of view, the Priestesses of Narleya, the goddess they called the Lady, were just warriors with additional religious training. Anyone who made the mistake of tangling with a Ptial Priestess thinking she was less capable than her warriors would not live long enough to appreciate the irony of his error.
It occurred to me that their explanation was not disproven by my example. Which might be to my advantage. “Well, that would certainly explain why I am not, in fact, insane.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So you claim to actually be Tsrulla? It is not some foolish error of theirs, perhaps confusing the R’Thann’s powers with your own?”
“Oh, I’m a psi, all right. These shields are, from the Imperial point of view, very much needed. If they weren’t up, I could do all sorts of things.” Thinking back to my practice sessions with Shagrath and the slow increase in my strength since, I thought I might be able to pull off something even in this field… but I wouldn’t want to try it if I didn’t have to. “So you are actually independent forces within an Imperial vessel? How did Hyarale Selenriale manage to pull THAT off?”
She started to answer, then stopped, as I’d suspected she would. She studied me more closely. “For your sake I would hope that the Hyarale did in fact give you her name, for only a select few may use it.”
I managed, I think, a quite credible shriek-hiss of offense-verging-on-challenge, even though it stung my throat; she went on guard reflexively. “Sharr-Tilya Kilarren’tian, I am Sasham Varan, named Ka Rerrowerria, The Stubbornly Unbending, by Hyarale Selenriale in her own chambers, after my return from Uralia itself. If you doubt me in this then only tooth and claw may satisfy me.”
She stared at me for a long moment, judging my gaze and stance with deadly precision. Then she abruptly dropped into a low submissive posture. “I have no doubts and apologize for any words which have given offense.”
“They are forgotten; no such words were ever spoken. We are friends.”
She was immediately up, with a smile-snarl and a very different expression – an appraising expression which I remembered all too well from my last trip to Ptial. “Then as a friend I ask you, Sasham Varan, if it is true that indeed she gave you that name because you refused another offer in those very chambers?”
I could not possibly have restrained the flood of crimson to my cheeks, and she laughed with delight. “It is true! For know that my cousin the Hyarale has spoken of Ka Rerrowerria more than once.”
A cousin of the ruler of Ptial. That explained why she was leading this detachment – that and her undoubted competence in combat. “So Selenriale still considers me Ptial by deed and honor, despite that … disagreement?” It was a safe question; if she didn’t she would almost certainly never mention my name.
“Enough so that she regrets you are not available.”
That just might be my key. If I could arrange it… “I ask of you one important favor, though it may seem of little importance now.”
“A hero of the Uralian War can ask any favor.”
Hero? I fought like everyone else, and didn’t run when it got ugly. That’s hardly hero material. Still, whatever she believes… “When the Commodore comes to speak with me… make sure you stay nearby. In earshot, at least.”
The grin was a hunter’s. “You plan something. Good. The thought that one who was favored by the Hyarale would simply let himself be captured was an… unpleasant thought, especially to the one who would be forced to bring that thought to her.”
“Yes, I plan something. But I won’t say any more, so you aren’t directly involved.”
“Hrrr. Then I shall speak no more, though many are the questions I have.” We exchanged the embrace-the-world gesture (through the barrier, of course) and she swayed off, with another glance somewhere between seduction and challenge. Or maybe the two were the same; with the Ptial and their culture, it was hard to tell the difference.
Now I just have to figure out how to get Morno to do the right thing… and then I just have to keep from getting killed.