Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 16
Section Two: Hosts Assembled and Foreseen
For once, she didn’t care the slightest bit about being controlled or measured; she ran, ran ahead of the others and caught up Sasham, kissing him even as she lifted him off the ground and spun, hugging him so tight she heard him grunt in surprise. She laughed, kissed him again, hugged and spun once more, and then stopped, but didn’t let go. “I missed you,” she said finally.
He laughed and touched her hair, ran his hands through it, his gray eyes wide and filled with tears of happiness. “Torline’s Swords, I missed you.”
Just hearing that archaic oath made her feel as though everything was finally right again, and she heard her own laugh echo through the Heart of Nests.
Such greetings are well and good, came the mind-voice of Vick, but we do have more important business to hand. Despite the words, the R’Thann’s thoughts were suffused with a cheerful approval that was at odds with his usual calculated exterior.
Guvthor, of course, was never one for restraint; his own booming laugh vibrated the oversight nests above. “Let us not hurry them, friends; this has been a long separation and one filled with a great deal of uncertainty.”
But Sasham reluctantly pulled away from her. She allowed it; after all, we’ll be together from now on.
He turned first to the purple-skinned Mydrwyll and bowed deeply, presenting a full Six-and-One to Hmmmseeth. “I have no words sufficient to express my thanks, Child of the Seventh Hmmmseeth,” he said. “I had hoped my friends guessed the meaning of a single word aright, but there were still so many –“
“Thanks are un-needed, Captain Sasham Varan,” the many-tentacled creature responded, eye focused entirely on Varan. “You were owed Rational Debt; now, it seems that you are fighting a battle for all intelligent creatures, and Debt is even greater. I will assist you in this war as best I can.”
He grinned, the lightning-flash of white she had missed more than she could say. “You’ve already assisted by getting me out — just in time.”
He turned again, this time to the Vmee. “And my thanks to all of you, for giving my friends the time, and hearing them.” He looked to the side, at the red-and-black Rizzivor. “And especially to you, for believing me and summoning the Minds of Power to stand by me against a foe I could never have defeated alone.”
The Vmee Zschorhaza dipped his mandibles twice. “We merely fulfilled an agreement — and had nearly reneged. You owe us no thanks.”
“And while I, and the Masters of Minds, accept your appreciation,” Rizzivor said slowly, “I believe you may underestimate yourself. It was far from merely our power that crushed the Kaital so completely. One mind stood apart and above all the others, Captain Varan, and that one was your own.”
He blinked in obvious surprise. “Are you . . . yes, I sense you are serious. But . . .” He shook his head. “Never mind, we have other issues to attend to.”
“Yes,” said the Eönwyl. “Vmee, what about the other members of the Admiral’s task force?”
“Under control,” answered another Zchoradan, a large squat creature with brown-and-green patterning. “Once their primary emissary vessel was dispatched without visible agency, the remainder surrendered immediately.”
She looked at Sasham. “Sash, are there any –“
“–no,” he answered instantly. “If there were any other Kaital anywhere in this region, I’d have known. There’re no Kaital or any active psis in that fleet, so no messages getting out.”
A minimally useful fact, if at all. Shagrath will undoubtedly know they have been destroyed — if not now, certainly within a few days.
“Indeed, my R’Thann friend,” Guvthor said. “Yet still very useful. He cannot act as though he knows for quite some time, unless he is ready to tear the mask off. Oh, he will be able to prepare and position his forces and responses to be . . . fortuitously conducive to whatever action he decides to take, ultimately, but that action itself is still constrained by the time it would reasonably take for him to deduce that mission’s failure. Weeks, perhaps a few months.”
“We must plan our actions as swiftly as may be,” the Vmee Zschorhaza said. “We are now committed to this alliance, and these events prove that we would soon be in opposition to your Reborn Empire in any case. But the situation is grave, and our analysts do not believe we have a great deal of time. Have you a plan, Sasham Varan?”
She sensed a new tension in him now, but it seemed . . . calmer. He made decisions, he thought things through, while we were gone. Well, he had time.
“I do,” he said finally. “Parts of that plan will be kept to as few people as possible, because it’s going to be delicate . . . by the Towers, it’s going to be as delicate as any operation I’ve ever heard of. But in the end it’s still going to come down to war. The only question will be if we can make it so that the war can be won, rather than everyone losing, which is what’s going to happen if Shagrath’s plans go into motion. I think it can be won, and if we just have enough time, we have the people to do it.”
He looked around at the Vmee Zschorza, and she suddenly realized there was no longer any trace of the tension and fear she remembered. Sasham? Are you . . .?
Cured, he thought back, with the impression of a joyous smile. What has been called ‘immersive reversion’ therapy. I had to be surrounded by Zchoradans, and by so being — and by them proving that they were nonetheless honorable and reasonable beings — I finally overcame that fear and I am, at last, whole.
He raised his arms in salute twice. “First, you know what must be done here in the Meld. You must assemble the greatest fleet the Zchoradan Meld has ever fielded, and prepare them to be directed to a single target.”
The Vmee stiffened. “A single target? Captain, your Reborn Empire has tens of thousands of worlds and ships to match.”
“No doubt,” Guvthor boomed out, “yet Captain Varan is correct. There is, in this shadow war, only one true target, only one real enemy, and that is Shagrath.”
Sasham nodded, and she could feel the rightness of this decision, even though she couldn’t even begin to fathom how it could all be brought about. “Oro. The Capital of the Empire itself. That’s where Shagrath is. That’s where the center of the Kaital on his side are, I’m certain of it. We have to break them if we are to save anything. But more, we’re going to have to have to break belief in them, change their story to the truth.”
That, Vick thought, sounds like much the harder problem.
“It’s going to be difficult as the Hells,” Sasham admitted. “I have a good idea of how to pull it off, but that’s for later. Meanwhile, we also need to figure out how to coordinate everything, because we need to gather in our allies. Vick, I know that Shagrath can mentally reach insane distances. How far can people like us communicate, outside of mindshields?”
A sensation of a bladed smile. A very long distance indeed, especially if it is mind-to-mind with both minds capable telepaths. The same is true of many other powers.
“Then are you now strong enough to reach Thann’ta and the Master of the Final Light? Could you tell him that it is time for the R’Thann to assemble their forces as well and meet us at Thovia?”
I will have to attempt it. You have grown vastly stronger than I in this time, but I, too, am stronger far than I was but a few months agone.
“Psionic communication will indeed be a vital factor,” Rizzivor said with a bob of his mandibles. “The Zchorada will assist in this. With the power of our Masters of Minds, a link to your Thann’ta should be quite feasible.” He looked to the Eönwyl. “You, Eönwyl, will require much training, as you will be a vital part of the force.”
She blinked. “What do you mean? I’m just a –“
“You are far from ‘just a trader’, which I believe you were about to say,” Rizzivor cut her off. “You are a psionic, blessed with one of the rarest abilities known — intala, as the ancient texts of your people call it, combat prescience, the ability to enter a deadly situation and sense which of many courses of action is the correct one to take. But you have done little with this power.”
You are correct, Vick said, and she sensed his understanding . . . and an anticipatory amusement she did not like at all. She has avoided grasping this weapon that has been gifted to her, and no longer can that be tolerated. For it is clear what position she must occupy when the time comes.
A terrible, disbelieving foreboding stole over her. “No. I don’t think you’re saying what I think –“
Guvthor’s laugh boomed throughout the Heart of Nests. “Of course they are, my intrepid trading friend. We will be assembling the greatest — and most diverse — combat force in the modern history of the Galaxy. They must be directed and coordinated correctly and there will be barely time to assemble these forces, hardly any to train them in coordinated maneuvers. You will be the Commander of Fleets, the Director of Combat, the High Admiral of the assembled warships of all the worlds we can ally to our cause!”
Appalled understanding broke through. Collapsing walls, no! “I can’t possibly do that!” she heard herself say. That was, itself, a shock; her entire life had been built around declaring that she would do something.
But, she realized even in that instant, that was because it had been solely her life. Her life, her ship, her choices, her risks. The few times others depended on her it was still personal, it was people on board her ship, her friends. It was nothing that lay beyond that, that placed her in a position to affect the lives of millions, billions, quadrillions of others across the galaxy. I can’t do that, she heard, echoing inside her.
“You must,” Rizzivor said, and his deep buzzing voice was resolved. “And you must begin that training now, for time is increasingly our enemy.”
She stared at them in disbelief. Me? Command a fleet? I’ve never directed more than three ships in my life, and that as a trader! I’m not an admiral, I’m just a free trader —
Varan’s hand came to rest on her shoulder, and she looked, slightly down as always, into his gray eyes, eyes filled with both sympathy and grim agreement. “They’re right, you know,” he said quietly. “And I mean that: you know.”
She swallowed. “I don’t want to know. Sasham, I’m not –“
“I understand. Believe me, Eönwyl, I understand. I didn’t want to become . . . what I am now. Either a psi, or a revolutionary. But I had to face it anyway. Ask yourself, Eönwyl. Ask that sense of yours. What is it telling you?“
She sighed, closed her eyes and calmed herself, then reached out, into that part of her mind she had only recently begun to understand. What should I do?
Instantaneously, absolute certainty came. It did nothing to dispel her fears, her doubts about herself or gut-deep revulsion about taking control of others’ courses and destinies, but at the same time it was absolute and undeniable.
She opened her eyes, and saw the sad certainty mirrored in his own. “They . . . are right.” She took his hand. “But at least we’ll be together.”
The shift of his expression jolted her. “We will be –“
“–not right away, no. Not once we really start,” he said reluctantly. “Eönwyl, you, Vick, Guvthor, you have to gather whatever we can get from Thann’ta, and the few ships Thovia can offer, and get everything unified here, while the Zchorada are getting the main fleet together. And me . . . I’ve got another mission that no one else can carry out.”
“What? You mean . . . oh.” With a tremendous effort she forced protests back. She knew already that they would have no effect. “Ptial.”
“Right. And — I’ll explain later — the Empire, too. But that’s going to be touchy. I’m only talking about that on board The Eönwyl, where I know we can’t be spied on by anything.”
So I have to learn to be a, what, prescient commander of starfleets, and you have to go recruiting more fleets for me. She nodded her head finally.
“But not right away,” he said, and his smile brought her own back. “I think that even we can take a few days.”
If you insist, I suppose, Vick thought, but there was an overlay of a smile that took the sting from the thought.
“Indeed,” Guvthor said, and the rattling buzz around the Heart of Nests was laughter in a Zchoradan vein. “Only a few days, but I think even destiny can be held in abeyance for that long.”
“Then a few days it is. Make your own plans and preparations in that time as well,” the Vmee Zschorhaza said. “For our enemy will not give us more time than he must.”