Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 03
You have still not located him. The thought was a statement, not a question; Shagrath knew that his allies would have told him instantly had they even a guess where Varan was. The point was to drive home the fact that though many things were going according to plan, there was still a dangerous random factor going unchecked.
Not located. Departed for unknown destination, galaxy is wide, wide, and none of our pieces have seen the ship or any of its passengers. The shrieking, multilayered mindvoice was soothing to Shagrath’s sensibilities, and especially when it carried the undertone of defensive nervousness. Only now were they beginning to recover from their losses due to Varan and his unexpected allies, sustained over a month ago, and they were still all too aware that Shagrath’s power outmatched theirs, especially now.
The galaxy is wide, yes, but his choice of destinations is exceedingly narrow within the Empire, and not tremendously abundant outside of that, he reminded them.
No more are we, his allies reminded him, not without a hint of bitterness. Dispersed, scattered across the Reborn Empire, stretched and weak. Perhaps others of Us exist, but they will have their own Nexus. Will you support us against them?
That was indeed a point he had not considered in some time. This group had been terribly weak when he had found them, but it was quite possible â€“ even probable, he supposed â€“ that another nest of the beings already existed somewhere in the galaxy, and by their nature two separate groups would be very much unlikely to cooperate.
He could not afford the loss of these allies; not when those of his own people numbered less than the fingers of his current hands, and most of those were tending to other indispensable duties. Yes, I shall. I shall of course give them the option to simply join forces, but if they do not, I will not permit them to destroy you. As long as you serve me faithfully, you need not fear that, at the least.
He could sense their gratitude, cold and self-serving as it was, and he smiled inwardly. They might suspect, but could not know, that he hadn’t the slightest intention of letting any of them survive in the long run; their powers were much too dangerous even to one such as he, especially if they understood enough about what they faced, and in the end this group would understand enough. That is settled, then, but your difficulties are noted. Still, there are those areas outside of the Empire he may go.
The Zchoradan Meld?
He thought about that. Perhaps. A bold move that would be, indeedâ€¦ but one that I believe is hopeless, and I think he would think so as well. His name is already known to them, and not kindly, and in the current circumstancesâ€¦ well, the Vmee Zschorza would use him as a bargaining chip with us. He knew the ruling body of the Zchoradan Meld only through official communications, but had little doubt how they would react to a renegade psionic coming to them with a fantastic story of some kind of treacherous super-being manipulating the Empire.
It is well, for we would be all too likely sensed there, not in our power, not strong to hide. Same, as well, for Ptial. There we will not go.
That was a bit more of a concern, for there he would not go either, not if he had any choice. Though they were vastly fallen from what they had been in ages past, separated from their main forces when the Ptilians had fled from the Fall into the intergalactic depths, still they had certain â€¦ connections that he was very loath to test. Earth was fallen, and mostly secure, though some of his people reported disturbing activity in the last few centuries. Ptial remained an unknown factor. Understood. Some of your people will be in the forces that picket the Ptilian border, but I ask none of you to travel to their worlds.
He also wouldn’t ask them to even attempt to spy on the R’Thann; that was a place they would not go until their strength had peaked. Butâ€¦
A thought that had been nagging at him for days finally broke through, and he cursed in a language older than the Fall. There is one other place.
They were neither stupid nor slow, and he did not even finish forming the thought before they understood. Thovia! The clouded world.
Yes. The untouched yet thrice-fallen.
The shrieking thought patterns were grim. We shall send a part of us thence immediately. Clouded they are, but they have little to sense us directly and know not of us to seek. But we like that world little, it disturbs us nearly as much as the Black Place.
One of the few pieces of commonality between all species. Shagrath had found no one â€“ not even himself â€“ who found Fanabulax pleasant. He doubted he ever would. Thovia disturbs me as well, for reasons you know. But all I need from you is the knowledge that Varan is there.
It shall be done. He shall be found, be it on Thovia or on any of the thousands of worlds of the Empire.
He allowed himself a tiny smile as he strode to the small bathroom and checked his appearance. Keep watching. But for now it is not a terrible problem. His absence has certain benefits. But we must discover him sooner or later, and I would much rather it be sooner. He cut off communications; he would be entering mind-shields soon enough anyway.
This was the unfortunately inevitable downside to this approach; by increasing fear and paranoia of psionics, one could indeed drive all sorts of useful changes in the way the Empire ran things, but that also meant that anyone who was anyone would have at least one mindshield active around any installation of note, and would be trying to get something installed on their vehicles and anywhere else. Were it not for the absolutely prohibitive energy drain, every city in the Empire would be clamoring for city-wide shielding. Even Dimensional Tap technology had its limits in that area.
As he passed from his private quarters back into the main secure area of Silan-Luria, he felt the constricting weight of the shield drop upon him like a suffocating blanket. Mindshields everywhere. He was thus severely restricted in his capabilities within most Imperial domains, and certainly in any of the Five Families’ holdings (which posed some rather amusing difficulties for Borell Dellitama and others who were now Shagrath’s allies and much more dependent on the powers of the mind than even Shagrath). Oh, he could always call on the ancient powers if he had to, but that was definitely something for true desperation, or for very long-planned deep policy.
Fortunately, the wealth of interrogations and executions could be used for more than one purpose; in the next few months he expected he would regain all of that power he had expended in rewriting the knowledge and records of the Teraikon and her crew. If he could maintain the current schedule, he might well achieve a level of power that had not been seen in the galaxy in millennia.
But tend to the present first, for the future will follow in its own time, he reminded himself, and entered the conference room.
Somewhat to his surprise, the Emperor himself was there, seated at the far end of the goldwood-panelled room in the high chair, almost a throne, reserved for him. The Emperor was showing some signs of age now â€“ he was nearing two hundred, after all â€“ but his black, rather curly hair was still thick (if touched with gray), his dark brown skin only beginning to wrinkle, and his brown eyes still sharp. I suppose it’s just as well, he thought. In accordance with operations I’d have had to go and brief him on the meeting; this saves time. He performed the Six-and-One with military precision and saw it returned, then performed a more perfunctory salute to the others at the table, who returned it with equally casual gestures â€“ all except one, who returned it with flair and emphasis. Lukhas Mel’Tasne, naturally.
“Thank you for waiting, your Majesty, milords,” he began. All the others present were technically nobility; he, Shagrath, was the only one who might be considered ordinary in rank, something he had chosen deliberately â€“ but that still, sometimes, chafed him. Still, he had more power than any of them save the Emperorâ€¦ and the Emperor would not be a problem.
“No thanks needed, Prime Monitor,” Lukhas said gravely. “You implied there were issues of great importance to discuss, so a few minutes matters little.” A quick smile (perhaps with a hint of mockery? It was very hard to tell, and given Lukhas’ current position he’d be taking quite a risk). “And the Emperor had some most exquisite delicacies served while we waited.”
Did he, now? “Importance indeed. Unfortunately not news of joyous import. You know, of course, that following the increased security probes we located a significant number of psispies whose allegiances were hard to determine, even underâ€¦ rather extensive questioning.”
Heldan Khardan grunted, an uncouth noise from so small and delicate-looking a man. “But with certainâ€¦ subtle indications, based on what little back history we could determine.”
“Subtle indications no more, I am afraid.” He activated the projector.
“Based on several tips directed to us by Imperial Security,” he nodded to Lukhas, “we raided Missitrill Base on Vhelekin, a Chakron colony located near Tangia sector. The report arrived only a few hours ago; this is what we found.”
The image had the sharp yet amateurish look that field recorders always gave these kind of reports, but for those present â€“ used to seeing such reports â€“ that very quality brought home the immediacy and reality of the imagery, and that made the impact even greater.
Even without it, the events unfolding would have held most of them spellbound; armored troops of the Empire pushed into the base, but found themselves opposed by dozens, hundreds of Chakrons also in Imperial armor. More, waves of invisible force hammered into the strikeforce; some of the men staggered, screamed, fell without so much as a mark on them. The firefight intensified, Imperials slaying Imperials with their own weapons, then a wall of impossibly intense flame materialized within the attackers’ ranks, incinerating a dozen of them â€“ and several of the centipedal defenders as well. Despite this the defenders kept fighting.
The commanding officer ordered a secondary force to do a flanking maneuver using override codes through the next section of the base; the report switched to the secondary force’s commander. His force managed to use swift movement and a precision strike from one of the support vessels to out-flank the main body â€“ and come directly in contact with the source of the preternatural forces: several Chakrons, or so it appeared, in a fortified interior bunker. Flames and ice and phantom force slaughtered most of the strike force, but the commander managed to reach the secondary control panel and override central command, bringing up the psi-shields inside the base. A final volley of fire silenced the beings within the bunker.
“And here we have the truly crucial part of the report,” Shagrath said quietly, as the recording crew inspected the bunker, to find some disquietingly familiar equipment hidden within â€¦ and the camera focused in tightly on the remaining bodies, particular parts of their exoskeletons, patterns, anglesâ€¦
“Fallen Towers. Those aren’t Chakrons, they’re Zchorada,” Lukhas said suddenly.
“Precisely so, White Controller. And many of the troops involved never knew it. Our people killed each other and, for the most part, both sides were fighting the good fight as far as they knew.”
“You are saying,” the Emperor said slowly, “that one of my bases, one of my military bases, was in the control of Zchoradan psis?”
He bowed his head. “I am afraid that is precisely the case, Majesty.”
“This is absolutely intolerable. It is an act of war in any possible definition,” Ralia Ha’Ni Rishak said after a horrified pause. “And the loss of securityâ€¦ What have they learned from this?”
“It is far too early to tell exactly what information may have been sent back,” Shagrath said, keeping the grave, regretful expression on his face; it was sometimes difficult to manage that when the real expression would beâ€¦ quite inappropriate. “Especially since the Zchorada went to considerable lengths to make their connections with the homeworlds vague indeed. It would seem obvious that such a thing could not possibly have been done without the knowledge and direction of the Vmee Zschorzaâ€¦ yet we cannot prove it.”
The Emperor looked at him with a cold glare. “Are you telling us that the Zchorada have infiltrated and controlled one of our bases, and that we should do nothing because we cannot prove it?”
“Not at all, Majesty,” he said quickly. “I am saying, however, that despite â€“ as Milady Rishak said â€“ the intolerable nature of this offense, we could not actually prove it an act of war. And in truth, we are not fully prepared for war against the Zchorada. We need more time to prepare the proper forces, to determine the full nature and extent of their current alliances, and so on.”
Lukhas was frowning, but not at his words. I think you see some of what lies ahead, human. How you react to it â€“ both now, and in days to come â€“ will tell me whether you can be used, or are a threat to my plans.
The others were whispering amongst themselves, and Khardan finally spoke. “We can at least lodge a strong protest. They may deny it, but if we send some very powerful forces to the border, it might put more appropriate fear into them, especially since we’ve uncovered such a well-covered plot.”
“I agree,” the Emperor said, “and it shall be done. However, Prime Monitor, I believe I see a much greater problem.”
“Yesâ€¦” Lukhas said, very slowly. “Chakrons.”
Shagrath allowed an expression of relief to show as the Emperor nodded. “I did not wish to bring that subject up alone. But yes. If the Zchorada have succeeded in this, I believe it demonstrates something that we have been afraid of: that they can use this species, so similar to their own, as cover, and perhaps some of them are deliberate traitors. There were at least a few such in Missitrill Base; in addition, of course, many of them were mind-controlled and of those some may never be the same â€“ may never be trustworthy again, through no fault of their own.”
“What are you saying?” Kyrell Dellitama said, face going pale. “That we must lock up each and every Chakron in the Empire?”
“No, no!” Shagrath said hastily. “We must hope and pray it would never come to that. But we must be aware that Chakrons are a higher-risk group. They may not be what they appear, or they may sympathize with the Zchorada, or be mind controlled â€“ even with the extensive current use of mind shields. I simply think we need to alert our forces to be more aware of Chakron activities, keep a closer eye on them. For their own good as well â€“ most of the Chakron are loyal and valuable citizens of the Empire; they don’t want their good name and their appearance used against them.”
The Emperor looked somewhat torn; several others of the Five Families’ representatives wore similar expressions. Lukhas, however, simply tightened his lips, then nodded. “We will need to phrase things very carefully, at least at first. Additional security surveillance can be added in increments, once the initial shock is past.”
My, my, my, what truths are now revealed. He had always suspected that even the apparently noble Lukhas Mel’Tasne harbored the same ambitions and desire for power and control that the prior White Controller had possessed; after all, he didn’t believe anyone sought such positions if that wasn’t one of their essential features. But so gratifying to see him stepping forward to defend his Empire with such vigor that he will destroy an entire species’ freedom in the name of protecting them. He considered whether, perhaps, Lukhas might not have reacted this way a few months agoâ€¦ before he was forced to declare his little brother Taelin kattasi and reduce him to a member of the Great Familiesâ€¦ with every likelihood that he’d have to demote Taelin even farther soon. Such losses harden a man; when you sacrifice your beloved brother, what care you for the sacrifices of others a thousand lightyears away?
Perhaps we can indeed reach an accord, Lukhas Mel’Tasne. Perhaps we can.