Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 18
“All right, Varan.” It had taken him just another half-hour to finish up whatever business he had elsewhere; Morno settled himself into a chair just outside of the doorway. “We’re recording now, though I’m sure you don’t need that warning.”
“No, I rather expected you were recording long before you got here.”
Morno’s eyes narrowed. “Actually, no. Without a Monitor to order me otherwise, I’m sticking with full military procedure, and that means that even suspected psis like you aren’t spied upon without warning. Which means not until now. We will of course be recording you continuously from now on.”
My surprise showed â€“ I actually meant it to, this time. He looked sour. “That’s one of the things I always hated about you, Varan. It wasn’t just that time you and that idiot Canta trampled my lunch into my face because you couldn’t keep your juvenile quarrel in your sandbox. It was watching everything you did and seeing that assumption you understood everything that happened, everything that everyone did. I kicked you and your friends around and so I was obviously some kind of traitor to the holy Imperial cause, a conscienceless bully unworthy to be a Guardsman Striker. Right?”
He was right enough, and the accusation â€“ with its accurate reflection of my simplistically arrogant younger self â€“ stung even though I’d expected it. “And I should have thought any different when you followed me so that you could catch me â€“ or Canta â€“ alone and finish the job that Helkoth ordered you away from?”
A tiny bit of crimson showed in his tanned cheeks. “Well â€“”
“Not that it mattered since in the end Jearsen sank you like the towers.”
“That â€¦” With a visible effort he stopped himself. “Nice try, distracting me into talking about material that no longer matters, or letting me distract myself. I’m here to interrogate you.”
I looked around. “No drugs or beatings?”
Now he gave the nasty grin I associated with him. “I prefer to give everyone the chance to tell the truth and any interesting additional facts without special aids. I’m monitoring all your vitals by remote, and as you know that’s a Towers-damned good way of making sure you’re telling the truth.”
In general, he was right. Someone trained in Tor as far as I was, though, could probably fool such a setup pretty well. However, I didn’t intend to lie. Telling him the truth might get him in for a world of hurt, or might get him mind-wiped by Shagrath or one of his friends, but would be potentially much more useful â€“ and certainly a lot more amusing â€“ than trying to spin out some imageplay fantasy for him. “So ask away, then.”
“Why were you going to Thann’ta?”
“Looking for allies to assist me in a revolution against the Empire â€“ or rather, the corrupt people controlling the Empire currently.”
He coughed slightly in startlement. “Towers, you don’t hesitate to go for treason in the opening sentence.”
“Why should I? I’m already convicted as far as most people are concerned.”
“Where were you beforeâ€¦ no, let me guess. You visited Thovia first. It’s not far off, comparatively speaking, and you had a Thovian on board.”
“I see I was wrong in thinking you were a stupid Guardsman.”
“You were wrong about a lot of things, Varan. Soâ€¦ you left Meletta and â€¦ hm. You went straight here, by the time differential. Well, straight to Thovia. And didn’t spend all that much time there.”
He was definitely looking puzzled now. “Iâ€¦ see. And that means that The EÃ¶nwyl was the one that destroyed Lalam, and destroyed half the spaceport. Treason for her, too, plus a few hundred counts of murder. Unless you were controlling her.”
“A couple hundred? A Marjaav doesn’t have that big a complement. And let’s not exaggerate the ground damage.” We’d wrecked maybe four landing bays when The EÃ¶nwyl blew her way out of there.
“All right, maybe a quarter of the spaceport, and you were damned lucky that only a couple hundred people were killed!”
Sinking Hells. Shagrath had decided to make sure things always looked worse. I didn’t need to ask to see the pictures. Obviously they’d fit. “We didn’t do that. As far as I knew, the only people we killed were the ones shooting at us on Lalam.”
“Do you expect me toâ€¦” he looked nonplussed at the air in front of him, where his visor was obviously projecting the data from the vitals monitor. “â€¦ hm. Well, sociopathy does generally allow liars to lie with conviction. I suppose you’re going to tell me you didn’t kill Frankel, either.” Morno had known Frankel, though not that well; on the other hand, he hadn’t had a quarrel with Frankel.
“No, I killed him, all right. But not quite like you’ve seen in the reports.”
He stood up and slammed a hand against the doorframe. “Don’t try that stupid a lie on me, Varan! I’ve watched that sequence in the original!”
I shrugged. “You think it’s the original. I know it isn’t, because I was there.”
“You’re a psionic and insane. By definition. But you sound pretty rational. Can’t you understand that insanity has to have distorted your perceptions? Think, Varan! We all know psi eats your brain away, but you have to know that there is no way to fake the records off a military vessel, not that well.”
I saw a slight movement just at the edge of my line of sight. Yes, she’s still there watching. Probably having a hard time keeping from saying something with him slandering the holy powers. The Ptial had the opposite attitude from the Empire; those with psi powers were considered Blessed of the Lady.
“I thought the same thing, until after I beat Frankel â€“ or whatever was wearing his face â€“ and escaped to the other side of the Galaxy. Then found that the records had been changed and the witnesses all believed the new version.”
I could see him eye the telltales again. He cursed in what I presumed was his native language and almost spat on the floor. “Either the sensors are useless or you believe that â€¦ mess of ‘wailer breakfasts.” He still looked slightly uncertain. “But â€¦ Falling Towers, you self-satisfied Mada renegade, I can’t believe you’d be trying a lie that ridiculous even with a psi-burned brain.”
His eyes narrowed and he almost made a step forward; a lot of people looking at virtual screens do that. “Funnyâ€¦ no sign of degeneration.”
“Stop there if you don’t want to end up in worse trouble than me, Veshdar.” I almost never had used his first name â€“ not at first, certainly, and in the couple of times we’d met since I’d used it once, and not in a friendly way.
He almost laughed; I couldn’t blame him. “Worse? Exactly how could it be worse than the trouble you’re in now, Sasham?”
“You could be in my fix without any psi.”
I watched his expression shift several times as he stared at me, and I had to revise my old opinion. Veshdar Morno was in no way stupid. I could tell he’d taken my statements and followed them to the logical conclusion, if they were true. Finally he straightened. “Well, it’s clear I’m not getting any sense out of you. Looks like my best course is to just keep you sealed away until I can get a new Monitor; one of the other patrolling vessels will probably be able to spare one for the interrogation, anyway.”
“I demand a Trial by Seven.”
He snorted. “Nice try, but you know better than that. Once you were declared psi, you were stricken off the Family records, and you’re not Mada. Hell, technically you’re not even Imperial any more.”
Ha! He dealt me the Emperor! I could have had to bring up the point myself, but this made it smoother. “Not Imperial?”
“Didn’t you read any of the later decrees? Signed by your old friends, the Mel’Tasnes? Psionics aren’t considered people, officially, so how can something that isn’t a person be a citizen?” He turned and started down the corridor.
“In that case, you’ll have to let me go.”
He stopped in mid-stride. “What?”
“Since the Empire has clearly renounced any claim to my loyalty, I hereby accept the citizenship and identity given me by the Hyarale of Ptial, and as a citizen of Ptial I am not subject to Imperial law.”
He shook his head. “Whatever you’re talking about, it doesn’t matter. There is absolutely no way you’re leaving this ship.”
“Then,” Kilarren’tian said, with cold iron in her voice, “there is absolutely no way that I and my warriors can continue to serve aboard a ship so dishonorable.”
I didn’t bother to restrain my own grin at Morno’s sudden shocked stare; he had forgotten the Ptial was even there. “Warrior-Seeker, please be reasonable; I don’t even have any evidence of this so-called citizenship that he claims â€“”
“I am sister-daughter first â€“ cousin â€“ to the Hyarale,” she said even more coldly, and I saw the tail beginning the sharp, tight lashing that presaged a challenge. “More than once has she spoken of this man, and her offer to him after the Uralian Conflict. I am your evidence, Commodore.”
As I’d already seen, Morno was not stupid. “I apologize most profusely and completely; I have most satisfactory evidence to hand. Still, this man is a wanted criminal by my people. Surely you would not wish to imperil the slowly-growing relations between our peoples by sheltering such a man, even if he can claim such citizenship?” I also saw his one hand â€“ out of sight of Kilarren’tian â€“ signaling battle-code to the observers. He was warning them to be prepared in case the Ptial went renegade.
Kilarren’tian considered. “You are correct that the Hyarale would not wish me to be as rash as you say.” Morno began to relax, but she continued, with a smile of bared fangs. “But to your people, you say, there is in fact no person here, and thus how can there be a criminal? Criminals are citizens who commit offense.”
“If you accept him as a citizen,” Morno said in a more brittle tone, clearly becoming very un-amused with the way the discussion was going, “then you force us to recognize him as a person â€“ and then he’s a criminal. I’m asking you to avoid that entire problem.”
“There is always the obvious solution; what you would call trial by combat.”
“Forget it,” I said as Morno was searching for an appropriate reply. “He’d never go for it. The last time we crossed paths he ended up kissing the deck.”
“What? You tzil, that wasn’t your doing, that was another Guardsman that did it â€“ that pyonga Jearsen.” The word Morno used was one I’d heard him use before, a particularly insulting one that came from a culture that put women in a very inferior position.
“What did you just call her?”
“Pyonga, Varan, and don’t pretend you can’t hear. I wouldn’t mind having a rematch with her, when she didn’t have the drop on me, but you? Pah! Don’t make me laugh.”
“She’d have used your face to scrub the deck again, Morno, but as she’s dead she can’t prove that, or shove your words back down your throat.”
That rocked him back a bit. “Oh.”
“We were going to be pledged.”
“Captain Varan,” Kilarren’tian broke in. “Is that true?”
“What? That I was going to be pledged â€“ life-bonded â€“ to Diorre Jearsen? Yes.” Inwardly I said a prayer to the Six and the One. This could do it.
“Had you â€¦” she searched for the proper term, knowing that Imperial attitudes were different than Ptilian. “â€¦ been intimate as pair-bonded would be?”
“If you mean, did we engage in sexual relations, yes.” I managed to say this without looking too embarrassed at the intimacy of the question.
She looked at Morno, who was trying to figure out where this line of questioning was going. “And he has insulted her and implied you are a coward or a weakling?”
“The word he used is very insulting, yes.”
She nodded swiftly. “Then you have issued a challenge of blood to Captain Varan,” she said to Morno.
“As far as Ptial are concerned, the intent to form a pair-bond is sealed the moment the couple are joined in body. So you have insulted his lifemate â€“ when she is beyond the ability to defend her honor â€“ and you have implied that one of the heroes of the Uralian Conflict is either weak or a coward. You must be ready to meet him in challenge, to prove such outrageous statements justified. Or â€¦” she noticed Morno shaking his head, “â€¦ or you can refuse to give him this opportunity, and prove yourself an unworthy coward.”
Morno suddenly stared at me. “You incredible bastard.” He realized I’d trapped him â€“ and, more, that he didn’t dare refuse. Twenty-one Ptial â€“ at least, and possibly several times that many â€“ were onboard his ship, and all of them might mutiny in a diplomatic incident that might cost the Empire a lot â€“ and would almost certainly cost a certain Veshdar Morno his career.
“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. “I’ll beat the truth out of him in two hours, with yourself as a witness.”
“And if you lose, you will let him and his allies go free.”
He growled something under his breath, but nodded his head. “Agreed. But you aren’t going to win, Varan. I beat you into the deck last time, and Jearsen isn’t around to save you.”
He turned and stalked off. I smiled my thanks at Kilarren’tian.” I thank you, Sharr-Tilya. You have shown me a path where none lay before.”
“If you can clear the path yourself. He is a formidable fighter.”
“Yes.” I couldn’t argue that. “But so am I. And I have the true advantage.”
She cocked her head. “And what advantage is that?”
“Simple,” I said, and sat down on the floor in preparation for meditation. “I can’t afford to lose.”