Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 15
The door slid open without warning and the Grasper lunged in. “Captain! Captain Varan, come swiftly!“
Even under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t question an order from a jailor, but the grim panic in the Grasper’s voice lent it vastly more urgency. I rose from my chair; the Grasper was already turning away and I followed, feeling a rising sense of nervousness. Well, she didn’t come with additional guards; I presume I’m not in trouble. “What has happened, Grasper? Where are we going?”
“You are summoned by the Vmee themselves; your friends have returned and given evidence sufficient to convince the Vmee that you were correct all along about your Empire and those now guiding it.”
Vindicated! I felt my broadest grin spreading across my face, realizing that this meant that not only would I be free . . . the Eönwyl was here, was not more than a few hundred meters from me now! She was here, she had come for me, and —
But that would be no reason for panic. “What, then, is wrong?”
“It has been three weeks.”
“Three . . . Torline’s Swords. The emissary from the Reborn Empire –“
“–arrived within moments of the Vmee’s acceptance of your friends’ testimony,” the Grasper finished. “Yes. And there is still a powerful minority that thinks the evidence at least somewhat weak, and believes that appeasing the Empire is the wiser long-term course. Even a few more months to a year would naturally give us more time to fortify –“
“–but of course the same’s true of the Empire. Niaadea’s Name, what rotten timing. A few hours and we’d have been well away and you’d at least have had an excuse for not handing me over.” We passed, for the first time since I had been imprisoned, through the entrance of the prison, and I felt the psionic dampers lifting away, my psi-powers fully awakening. Despite the situation, that gave me a surge of confidence and elation. I was, finally, completely myself again. Despite the fuzz of many other psi-shields, I was sure I could sense the most beautiful mind in any world ahead of me. She’s there. The Eönwyl is there. “What now?”
“Your friends’ ship has been hidden. They are now in a room to the side of the Heart of Nests and we hope to at least conceal their presence from their emissary.”
I thought fast. Shagrath won’t want to give the Zchorada any evidence of my testimony’s accuracy. So they’re not going to send down a Kaital. But I will bet every Eternal I’ve ever owned that there’s one running this task force. Maybe two or three. “So there’s at least going to be discussion of turning me over, and they’ll need to exhibit me.”
“Yes. Had the agreements between the Vmee and you and your crew been finalized, you would have been able to depart, and the Zchorada would have been committed. But the situation changed at the worst possible moment, and the minority’s position is much stronger than it was mere minutes ago.”
“So . . . it’s possible they will vote to turn me over to the Empire?”
When the Grasper hesitated, I understood, and felt my gut tightening to steel-cable tautness. “There’s a good chance of them turning me over.”
“I am . . . afraid so.”
“Do they understand I have absolutely no intention of allowing that?”
“The Vmee Zschorhaza certainly does. Many others in the Vmee overall. But as the demands do not require you to be alive . . .”
Perfect. The allies I could have had moments ago might actually shoot me down so they could turn my body over to the Imperials. Something which would be just fine as far as Shagrath was concerned. “Grasper, if I am not presumptuous, you are on my side in this, yes?”
She did not hesitate. “Absolutely, Captain. The Vmee were convinced you had told us the truth, and if so, it is the very existence of all Nests that hangs in the balance. These cowardly . . .” she used a term in Zchoradan that meant, roughly, scavengers of offal, “. . . believe they can avoid the digger forever by sacrificing another Nest. In the end, there will be no Nests left to sacrifice.”
“Then I need you to do me a favor. Will you be able to speak to any of the Vmee?”
“I will, but a few words only, and not to the Vmee as a whole. I am sure I could manage to speak with any given member, but only, as I said, briefly. The situation is desperate.”
“Okay. Then tell . . .” I thought back over the Vmee I’d seen, “. . . tell Rizzivor this.” I paused, making sure I condensed everything into as few words as possible. “Tell him, ‘When the time comes, I need you to follow my lead, and drop the shields.'”
“He will want assurance that you will harm none of the Vmee.”
“I will direct absolutely no attack against the Vmee or any of the Zchorada.”
“Then I will do this.”
“Thank you.” I saw restraints in her claws. “I suppose I will have to be bound as a prisoner when presented.”
“It is so.” Her voice was apologetic; her next words, however, were lighter. “However, it is possible that these restraints may have failed to lock when placed on you.”
I grinned, despite the growing tension of the situation. “I don’t suppose my weapons might have happened to end up near me.”
“Let us not expect the impossible,” she said.
We came to a small room, unfurnished except for a pair of Zchoradan rest stands. The Grasper gestured for me to wait. “I must see if they are prepared . . . and pass on your message, of course.”
The doors locked behind her. I took the opportunity to bring up the full discipline of Tor, from Fast Center to White Vision all the way through Mind Center. I must be absolutely calm, absolutely focused, ready for any event, yet anticipating none, only reacting to what is rather than what I hope or fear.
I could sense, very faintly, the Eönwyl’s presence in another direction; Sooovickalassa was with her and, I guessed, so was Guvthor — though his Thovian resistance to mental powers made it impossible to be sure. At least they’ll have a chance to get away, if things go badly here.
After a few more moments, the far door opened, and the Grasper beckoned me forward. “The message is delivered. The Vmee await you — as does the Imperial emissary. I pray to the Nests that you have a plan.”
“I have a plan. It’s a desperate one, and if it fails you’re probably at war. But you would be soon enough anyway.”
“I understand.” She fell silent for the next few moments. Then the ancient wooden doors loomed before me. She buzz-whispered “Luck go with you,” and then shoved the doors open.
The Heart of Nests was the same as I remembered . . . and not the same, with the prior overlay of unreasoning horror removed. Now I could appreciate the ancient, alien yet understandable beauty that lay within the worn, curved carvings of stone that supported the Vmee who lay above, rising to see me as I was conducted across the broad stone floor towards the three human figures waiting there; two in full armor, and the third in the uniform of an Admiral. As he turned, I recognized him: Altelle Dor’Kane, one of the first branch of that member of the Five Families.
“Admiral,” I said, nodding to him.
“So they did have you,” he murmured. “Even with the assurances I wasn’t sure I believed it.” He looked up at the Vmee. “May I assume that you are relinquishing all claim on this man?”
The Vmee Zschorhaza raised and lowered his mandibles. “You claim he is a traitor and guilty of high crimes towards your people. While we have a claim on him as well, in the interests of preventing open warfare, we will allow you to take him.”
“Then our business is concluded,” he said, and gestured to the power-armored guards.
I knew those two would have psi-shields on them, and likely would include such on any restraints they placed on me. This was the last instant I could act.
I concentrated, boosted my speed and strength as far as I dared. Instantly the guards slowed, startlingly so; I had expected to see them moving at what seemed a slow, deliberate pace, but instead they were turning so slowly in my direction that I felt I could run multiple times around them before they completed the turn. Rather than test that, I merely ran off to the side — so swiftly I could see their eyes trying, and failing, to keep track of me — and shed the restraints. I hurled one at each armored trooper as hard as my enhanced strength allowed.
To my utter astonishment, the restraints did not merely stagger the power-armored warriors, but punched through the e-steel armor and sent both flying aside, dead or badly injured. “NOW!” I shouted.
And for one moment, the psi-shields defending the Vmee Zschorza dropped. I reached out, scanning, calling on as many of the Zchorada to join me as possible, stretching, seeking —
And I heard a distant screaming.
Instantly I locked onto that sensation, saw a small, fast emissary vessel and sensed the presence of not one but two Kaital.
Hesitation would be fatal. We could not afford Shagrath learning exactly what had happened here. The Zchorada saw my mind, read my intent; the psionic conversation took less time to consider all possible courses of action than it took my body to blink once, and then we were united.
My power, joined with that of half the active psis on all of Zchorada itself, lashed out, caught the ship and its shocked occupants in a monstrous vise of mental power. For an instant I felt resistance as those hideous energy-eating things sought to win their freedom and perhaps more by consuming the very minds that attacked them; but then there was the sensation of shock, disbelief that the power ranged against them could be nearly so great —
— and the vise closed. Two minds — and, I sensed with an aching moment of regret, others far weaker — collapsed like drifting soap-bubbles in the draft of a furnace. The ship itself crumpled like a reed beneath a boot and exploded, erasing all trace of its existence from the cosmos.
The shields came back up.
Instantly there was a screeching and rattling and grinding of multiple Zchoradan voices raised in anger, fear, and confusion; despite the disappearance of my phobia, I still winced inwardly as well as outwardly from the fury and savagery of the exchanges; Admiral Dor’Kane shrank back, face drawn and shocked, gaze darting from me to the two fallen Guardsmen to the Vmee, who were now raised up in near-attack posture. Some of the Zchoradan tones reached the ultrasonic, piercing the ears with not-quite-heard daggers of sound.
Finally the argument began to subside, though it had been a very near thing indeed; I saw Rizzivor sliding his sidearm back into its holster, hiding the gesture from the rest of the Vmee. It must have been within instants of turning into all-out conflict.
Finally the Vmee Zschorhaza turned to me. “Captain Varan, you doubtless understand the situation. Have you anything to say to the Vmee, especially those who were in favor of turning you over to the Admiral?”
“Yes. Simply this: your people assisted in that attack. Ask them of the two minds they sensed. Were they an artifact of my allies? Were they a phantom concocted by the madness the Empire claims?”
Rizzivor raised himself up two segments. “I speak for the Masters of Minds. The beings upon that vessel fit, in every particular, the description given us of the ‘Kaital’. They were of no species we have ever encountered before, and their minds were utterly beyond the ability of any Master to defeat alone. Only such an instantaneous and merciless strike would allow us to prevent them from communicating with their allies or masters. They were actively hostile to the Nests as well as to Captain Varan. This is the independent proof we have sought.”
“Yet you risked the Vmee for this proof,” another of the Vmee said. “They would not have threatened us –“
“Not today, perhaps,” Rizzivor said, cutting her off. “But sense this mind, Ezzxalvi; is there anything of mercy within it? Anything, even, that hints of a possibility of co-existence?”
I could see Ezzxalvi quiver as Rizzivor transmitted the precise sensations of the Kaital — this time through a mind that was fully alert and had understood precisely what it was seeing — into his compatriot’s brain. She gave a tiny screech, then sat there, quivering, for several moments before finally rousing herself. “No,” she buzzed at last. “No. That is . . . that is beyond words, perhaps beyond thought. It is well they are destroyed.”
The Zchoradan council exchanged a few more sentences in their own tongue, and then Ezzxalvi turned her head to me. “All objections have been withdrawn. The Vmee Zschorza is unanimous. Your alliance is accepted.” A ripple of fear and anticipation chased the echoes around the room, as the Admiral stared in shock. “Now we must hope that you also bring us knowledge of how this abomination can be defeated.”
I smiled, feeling a tremendous weight lifted from my mind. Terrible things still lay ahead . . . but now we had the chance we needed. “I think we do,” I said. “But before anything else, I want to see my friends.”
A wave of rattling laughter swept the Heart of Nests. “And well you should,” said the Vmee Zschorhaza. “Call in the Grasper; Admiral, I am afraid you are now a prisoner of the Zchoradan Meld, and if your Guardsmen survive, they as well.”
As the stunned Admiral was half-led, half-dragged from the room, the main doors burst open; framed in the opening was the titanic form of Guvthor Hok Guvthor, the whip-thin shape of Dr. Sooovickalassa, the low tentacled form that I knew must be Hmmmseeth . . .
And sprinting ahead of them, into my arms, the Eönwyl.