Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 02
“Teraikon.” Guvthor repeated the name. The immense Thovian had an abstracted, pensive look on his brown-furred face.
“That’s what I got,” the EÃ¶nwyl agreed. “There was a lot more he was trying to say — something about Teraikon, something that would have told us exactly what we needed to do or find — but I couldn’t get that.”
An extremely intriguing clue, Dr. Sooovickalassa said, his telepathic voice echoing his interest. The R’Thann scientist tilted his head to one side, then the other, like a bird examining something carefully; the movement made his golden, crystal-tipped crest chime softly. Imperial Research Vessel Teraikon, in his command for a year before the Kaital disguised as his friend Frankel discovered our ruse.
“But given that the Prime Monitor reached the vessel and — insofar as we can determine — wiped the memories of the entire crew,” Guvthor said, “it is a most peculiar direction for us to be contemplating. Admittedly, we no longer have Sasham Varan in our midst, but any records would show that we are so heavily associated with him that we can hardly expect to just show up and be welcomed aboard the vessel. Moreover, even if we could, I am at something of a loss as to what we would be looking for.”
The EÃ¶nwyl frowned. It was a frustrating question. If only they’d let me ask him again.
But the way the Zchorada had decided on Varan’s imprisonment made that a non-starter. They did not want any additional evidence for the existence of the Kaital to be in any way traceable to Varan himself. If the Kaital existed, then the EÃ¶nwyl, Guvthor, and Vick would have to prove it using their own methods, with no chance of Varan affecting the outcome.
“All right,” she said finally, “let’s think about this. We didn’t know about the Kaital until we got to Thann’ta, so clearly there’s not some hidden cache of evidence as such. The battle between Varan and Frankel was completely rewritten, so the immediate evidence is gone.
“The key aspects of the vessel are going to be the vessel itself, the vessel’s activities, and one or more of the vessel’s crew. So . . . there might be something onboard that Sasham in retrospect realizes would be evidence. Something he saw Frankel do, or recorded in his log, or whatever that shows what was really going on.”
“That is certainly one possibility,” Guvthor said, and reached out to get himself a drinking container. The landing bay outfitted for his use was tolerable, but small for something as huge as the nearly five meter tall Guvthor. “Yet direct physical evidence would seem unlikely, given the impossible thoroughness of our adversary, and I cannot offhand imagine any log entry sufficient for proof which would not have seemed instantly and quite terrifyingly peculiar on its own.”
I would also similarly doubt anything in the vessel’s activities. Unlike Guvthor, I was aboard Teraikon for the entire duration of Captain Varan’s tenure. I observed all of the ship’s missions, and while one can posit military purposes for several of them, not one comes to mind as being in any way evidence of the Kaital. I can imagine some Kaital purposes being aided by some of those missions, but no such purposes which would be clearly what is being looked for. Even on Vick’s alien face a grimace was clear. And we are dealing with a being who is . . . he hesitated, his mind still obviouslytrying to finish accepting the truth, . . . who is capable of wielding powers that you call magic. No, physical evidence is out of the question, and the major records have already been altered, so no simple data will remain to prove our case.
“Then . . . it would be the people.”
Guvthor nodded. “I believe that is the only logical alternative. In some conversation or set of events, Captain Varan saw, heard, or deduced something which, in light of our current knowledge, provides evidence for the existence of the Kaital.” He smiled wryly, showing teeth the length of her fingers. “Unfortunately, he undoubtedly had hundreds, even thousands, of conversations over the course of that year to which neither I, nor even Dr. Sooovickalassa, were privy.”
That much seemed obvious, and she didn’t know what to do about it. Her gut-level senses — which she now knew were a manifestation of psi power — still insisted that this was the right general course of action, but apparently even those psionic powers were incapable of direct prophecy.
Still . . . “Let’s try this from another direction. What would constitute proof of the Kaital‘s existence, for a group like the Vmee Zschorza?”
The silence that met her question was not encouraging, yet she felt they were on the right track. “Come on, Guvthor, Vick, this is something we need to answer anyway. We’re supposed to bring back evidence that the Kaital exist; how in the name of the Empire are we going to do that if we have no idea of what they’d believe?”
“A fair question.” Guvthor looked at Vick, who was grooming his crest absently, lost in thought. “I am afraid it is not so easy to answer, however. The best evidence, naturally, would be one of the Kaital themselves. However, I cannot help but suspect that this is the sort of evidence we would be better off without.”
“You practice understatement on your planet, don’t you?” she said with an acid smile.
Understatement indeed, Vick’s telepathic voice said. Given what we have learned, bringing one into the center of the Vmee Zschorza might simply be aiding in the destruction of the Meld. Still, this leaves the problem of how to prove the existence of a bodiless, mind-controlling parasite — or, perhaps, of Viedraverion, the being currently going by the name of Shagrath.
“That’s true. If we proved he existed — as the monster we claim he is — our other claims would probably be given weight, too.” She thought about it a moment. “But again, I can’t see how we could actually do that.”
“It is a most interesting puzzle, I must admit,” Guvthor said; his solemn expression belied his light and cheerful tone. “The one set of creatures have no bodies of their own and can impress whatever thoughts or memories they want onto a body if they were to leave it and it were still capable of life. The other being is something vastly more powerful than any individual Kaital, is apparently immortal, and able to disguise itself as almost anything. It would seem, therefore, that physical evidence per se is not possible.”
She got up, pacing around the shuttle bay turned cabin. “All right, no direct physical evidence . . . how about records? Troop movements, orders given that framed certain people, that kind of thing?”
You forget, Vick said coldly, they are not fools, and are not limited to the inside of their own skulls. They were waiting for us, looking for us, on Meletta; Shagrath undoubtedly directs them telepathically, from across half a galaxy if need be. There will be no obvious traces.
“And he is obviously aware of the potential to betray himself if he acts on news that he could not yet have obtained,” Guvthor pointed out. “He prepared an excuse for his sudden departure to intercept Teraikon, and I have no doubt he deliberately does not act on things until after the news has reached him through normal channels — although knowing ahead of time would permit him to spend a considerable amount of time thinking about his exact response. So we are unlikely to find any direct evidence there, either.”
The three sat in silence for some moments.
“All right,” the EÃ¶nwyl said finally. “That seems to leave . . . what?”
“Hm. No physical evidence. No direct records.”
Indirect evidence. It would have to be strong, though.
“What kind of indirect evidence would we be talking about?” she asked.
Multiple examples of events that might happen, taken singly, but that all together are too improbable to believe as a natural sequence. For example . . . Vick paused, and she could sense the difficulty of finding a useful instance of the thing the R’Thann was trying to describe. For example, imagine that at the beginning of a battle, you see a seller of flowers at the edge of the battlefield, retreating as the combat begins. By itself, such an event means nothing, and undoubtedly something like it has happened.
But what would you think, EÃ¶nwyl, Vick continued, with that razor-smile, what would you think if you studied the records of a thousand battles and found that at each and every one of them, a flower-seller was present at the very beginning?
“Statistical anomalies?” she murmured to herself. The idea made sense, but just pushed the problem down a level; what kind of anomalies would one look for in the entire Galaxy of events?
The words caused Guvthor to freeze, a dainty snack the size of her head now immobile and forgotten in his hand. Slowly his head turned. “Dr. Sooovicklassa?”
Yes. . . yes, that could be it.
“What? What could be it?”
“There was a scientist on Teraikon, one of a unique species called the Mydrwyll . . . Hmmmseeth, that was her . . . or his, their species is sometimes difficult to pin down that way . . . name. He, I suppose. He was . . . rrrGH, by the Trees my brain refuses to cooperate . . .”
A theoretical cultural sentiologist, Vick said, with a specialty in progression replication and modeling.
“Cultural sentiologist . . .?”
“A student of cultures . . . and that specialty means that his interest was in the models of the cultures themselves. Yes, yes, I do believe we have hit upon it.”
This is both good news and bad, Vick thought slowly.
She did not like the way that sounded. “How do you mean?”
Vick turned and paced away, facing the stern of the vessel, gazing into nothingness. The current political climate makes it uncomfortable for many species. Hmmmseeth is likely to have returned home.
“Well, that is good news,” she said. “Then we don’t have to figure out how we’re going to get on board one of the jewels of the Reborn Empire’s fleet. What’s the catch?”
Vick turned, and his sharp-toothed smile was anything but comforting. Mydrwyll is now part of the R’Thann Meritocracy. They joined in the interim between Hmmmseeth’s entry into the Empire and now.
She felt like kicking the bulkhead. “And the Empire’s going to have major forces all the way through all your systems, wherever your people can’t face them in large numbers.”
“Indeed,” Guvthor said. “And of course we have a very long way to go.”
“Then I’d better go change our course immediately,” she said, and started striding towards the door. “All we have to do is get to a system thousands of light years away, sneak through a cordon probably coordinated by Kaital to let no one in or out, then locate one Mydrwyll out of the entire population, find out if he has the evidence we need, convince him to come with us if he does — and then escape!” She smiled. “Why, we’re practically done already.”