Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 06
“Prime Monitor, a question!”
Shagrath nodded at the newstaker. “I have time for a few, Kitron — but only a few. You understand, of course.”
“Of course, sir.” Linbrey Kitron was one of the oldest and most respected ‘takers in the Empire, and had been stationed in the Capital for almost thirty years. In some ways, his influence rivals that of members of the Families.
Which, of course, had made it imperative that Linbrey be recruited by the Kaital quite some time ago. This interview, like many others, had been meticulously planned.
“Is it true that the Emperor is planning to announce a declaration of war against the Zchoradan Meld?”
He raised an eyebrow. “It is not for me to presume to know the Emperor’s mind on such matters, and even if I had such advance knowledge, I would be bound to secrecy. Surely you have other questions?”
“Of course, Prime Monitor; I had to ask that one, of course. It’s the question on almost everyone’s mind these days.”
“I admit, it is often on mine as well.”
That was nothing but the truth, although certainly not in the sense the audience would take it. Shagrath really wanted to declare the war immediately, but this was the most crucial moment in his entire current plan. The war had to be triggered at the precisely correct moment, with all the pieces in place, so as to take down all of the major galactic forces in a single unstoppable conflict. He and his disembodied allies could then swiftly mop up the remnants, and if necessary address outliers such as Thovia and Thann’ta if they had survived the collapse of the others. That would set the stage for another cycle, and he would have removed an immense number of Atlantaean relics and records from circulation.
“Then can you tell me how many psispies have been located within the Empire in the last few months?”
“I am not at liberty to say precisely how many, but I will say that the numbers are deeply disturbing and indicate a powerful and deliberate intrusion into our Empire. They have targeted several secure facilities and organizations — with some small success, unfortunately.”
Linbrey frowned with his trademark seriousness, as convincing now as when he’d actually been human. “Sufficient success to reach Oro?”
“I am not at liberty to disclose the exact location of any of our operations.” He said the sentence with just the degree of hesitation to convince many viewers that the answer was “yes”. In reality, the Zchorada had withdrawn most of their actual spies some time ago. Undoubtedly they were wondering what, exactly, was going on in the formerly stable, if hostile, Empire.
“I know that as the Prime Monitor you observe all our security preparations; are planetary mind-shields feasible, and if so will any be ready soon?”
“Our researchers believe it is theoretically possible; however, if so it will take time. The Empire remains committed to protecting all our citizens, however, and mind-shielded shelters have been constructed here on Oro capable of sheltering all the population for up to forty-eight hours — more than long enough to resolve any battle. Similar shelters have been constructed or are underway on a thousand of the major worlds, and we will expand these projects as soon as we may.”
“That is excellent news, Prime Monitor.”
Shagrath smiled in response to the newstaker’s own grin; it was excellent news, but not really for the listening humans.
Linbrey asked a few more questions, and then finished up with the most expected question of all. “One last question, Prime Monitor: where is Sasham Varan?”
In this case it did not require any acting at all to show annoyance. “I am sorry to say that we have yet to locate him. The latest rumors turned out to be just that, rumors. He has not returned to his home system of Korealis, nor is there any evidence he has ever been there since his . . . emergence as a psionic. There has been some indirect evidence that he is indeed amassing allies — willing or otherwise — and may be in communication with the Vmee Zschorza.”
That last, as far as Shagrath knew, was a complete lie. There had been no confirmed sighting of Varan or The Eönwyl for a long time. But he was out there, somewhere, and he must be found.
He looked directly into the recording lens. “Anyone who has information related to former Captain Sasham Varan is encouraged to bring that information directly to their local Imperial Security or Monitor stations. Information leading to the capture or death of Sasham Varan will be rewarded with no less than one hundred thousand Eternals.
“However,” he let his face go grim, “we must caution all citizens to avoid any contact with Sasham Varan or his known associates. Do not in any fashion attempt to follow or, especially, attempt to apprehend or hinder Varan. He is an ultrapsionic of extreme capabilities, very volatile, and has proven himself capable of unspeakable atrocities more than once. If you believe he is in the area, leave the vicinity at once and report what you know only when you are at a reasonable distance and behind a mindshield.”
He looked at Linbrey directly. “Now, I really must be on my way.”
“Of course, Prime Monitor. Thank you for this interview; our viewers will appreciate it.”
He nodded and continued on towards the Palace. Satisfactory. This will push the war tensions higher. If I judge correctly, it will be a matter of a few months before public pressure “forces” the Emperor to declare a state of war. Then the properly-timed atrocities, a few assassinations at the right moment, and every star nation in half the Galaxy will be torn apart.
Still, he found himself unable to relax, and he knew why: Varan. The former Captain had escaped, found his way to the supposedly-lost homeworld, and against all odds found some degree of assistance there — assistance that included a complete mystical barrier around The Eönwyl. As long as Varan remained within that vessel’s hull, he would be utterly unreadable and no bearing of any usefulness could be obtained. Shagrath was certain that Varan was no longer ludicrously far away; he had to have returned to Imperial space or one of the nearby star nations by now.
But why have I heard nothing of him or his allies? Nothing even hinting at what they are doing, what plans they may have to use the knowledge Varan has gained?
I must try to discover his location once more. He changed his direction, hailed a skytaxi, and headed straight for Silan-Luria base, and from the gateway straight to the hangar set aside for his personal . . . researches.
It was necessary to try again, he assured himself, and honestly, it was true. Varan had to leave that ship at some point, and if he was negotiating with different people to gain allies or research other paths for dealing with Shagrath and his Kaital allies, it was highly unlikely he could do so while remaining always within The Eönwyl.
Momentarily he contemplated the possibility that Varan had obtained a shield like that which Taelin Mel’Tasne now wore, unwittingly, about his wrist. It is possible. Not likely, no, for such things were uncommon even in the old days, but that is Atlantaean workmanship, and the Sh’ekatha or Konstantin Khoros could possibly have given him one.
But it made no difference; he had let much time pass as other events claimed his attention, he had to at least try now.
At the same time, he could not risk doing this often. Using magic, even with the sacrifices (in the guise of interrogations and executions) he could now rely upon, was simply too taxing. He no longer had the margin of safety he used to possess, for a very simple reason. The Kaital Nexus continued to grow stronger, and it was absolutely essential that he retain sufficient power to overwhelm it if that multipartite entity decided to act against his timetable.
Once more instructing the guards to see to it he was undisturbed, Shagrath sat within the elaborate ritual design, held the strand of Varan’s hair twined about his fingers, and let the power rise slowly. Patiently he let tension and uncertainty flow away, be replaced by clear purpose and focus, and then — only then — did he call upon the power, let it flow through the strand of ebony that had once been a part of Captain Sasham Varan, and call to its source . . .
Abruptly — with such startling swiftness that it nearly disrupted Shagrath’s concentration, for he had in honesty expected nothing — Shagrath’s consciousness was sent hurtling outward at a speed to beggar any imagination, racing past solar systems like blades of grass at the verge of a highway, until finally it halted.
The scene in his soul’s eye was hazy, hazy in a way that spoke of powerful mindscreens driven by Dimension Tap generators. Though not magical as such, anything that could seal off the greater powers of the mind could at least impede such limited magic as he commanded at such range. And there was a touch, a scent, of some other magic, something that made the vision even less clear.
Even through the haze, however, he could see enough, could sense enough. The figure standing in the room, holding objects that were probably swords or training staves, was surely Captain Sasham Varan.
But far more important, Shagrath could sense where that figure was, the location in the great reaches of the Galaxy where Sasham Varan now stood.
He let the vision drop, the power flow safely away, and began to laugh, laugh with a rising sense of relief and triumph and sheer appreciation of the irony of the situation. Zhiraz! The capital of the Zchoradan Meld! He did attempt to negotiate with the Vmee Zschorza, even as our invented rumor said!
It made sense, of course. There was no other current star nation capable of challenging the Reborn Empire, so ultimately Varan would have had no choice but to convince them to side with him. Only the Zchoradan Meld would have the resources he would need.
But of course, they had heard the tales of Varan coming from the Empire. . . and they had more than enough reason to consider Varan an enemy in his own right. Varan had no evidence to prove assertions which would sound insane to any sensible being . . . and here was the proof: Captain Sasham Varan, formerly of the Imperial Navy, locked up in a secure, mind-shielded prison. Undoubtedly the Vmee Zschorza was debating what to do with him, and when and how.
Excellent. He rose, feeling better than he had in months. The others — the pilot, the renegade scientists — they did not really matter. It was Varan who mattered, and he now knew that Varan was imprisoned and in the hands of his worst enemies.
Remembering another little fact, he grinned wider — a smile that a human would have shuddered at. Leaving aside the basic hostility between the Zchorada and the former Imperial officer, Varan’s little phobia would make it almost impossible for him to continue to reason with them or even function. Perhaps it would even, finally, break the insufferably noble Captain. But no matter; he would soon be able to acquire Varan for himself. I cannot send the request immediately. Must allow time for it to be reasonable that any spies I managed to plant could report, and I could check the reports . . . but in a few months, perhaps?
He laughed aloud again. A few months? Perfect. A demand to have Varan turned over to the Empire would end up serving as a perfect pretext for the war with the right presentation — regardless of whether the Zchorada agreed or refused!
“Ahh, Captain,” he said cheerfully, dusting his black uniform off and setting his blankly-silver glasses back in place, “what a homecoming I will have for you. You, yourself, will trigger the very war you are trying to prevent!”