Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 14
“Query: We are near to arrival?”
The EÃ¶nwyl nodded as she strapped herself into the command chair. “Very near, yes, Hmmmseeth. Please secure yourself. I do not expect any difficulties, but –“
“But prudence is wise. Understood.” The creature went to the chair that had been modified for its use, settled in, and wrapped the multipoint harness around itself. The harness tightened and pinged loudly to announce that it was properly secured. “Information: I am ready, EÃ¶nwyl.”
“Good.” She activated the intercom. “Conversion Downbreak imminent, Doctor Guvthor, Doctor Sooovickalassa. Please make sure you are properly restrained.”
A few minutes later, the blaze of Downbreak enveloped the hull of The EÃ¶nwyl and the ship emerged into normal space. All sensors scanned the area and reported no immediate threats. Thank all the powers that might exist for that. We threaded the gantlet of gateways and TC travel through the entire Empire and — just maybe — we’ve done it without alerting anyone!
“Zhiraz control,” she said into the D-Comm, “This is The EÃ¶nwyl, returning from a mission for the Vmee Zschorza. Please notify said council and please advise as to desired course.”
“EÃ¶nwyl, acknowledged,” came the answer, after a few moments of slightly tense waiting. “The Vmee Zschorza will require some time to assemble. Until further notice, you may take the designated orbit around the primary planet.”
“So far so good,” she murmured to herself as she set her ship on that course. “Not under fire or directions to turn ourselves in. Better than the last time we came here.”
“Indeed it is,” Guvthor’s voice agreed in its usual booming way. “I much prefer being welcomed to a parking orbit to being surrounded by warships. The latter seems much less friendly.”
Although this will matter little if Hmmmseeth’s testimony cannot sway them, Vick pointed out.
“It’s the best we’ve got,” the EÃ¶nwyl said, trying to banish the doubt and worry in her heart. “I mean, really, if they accept that we believe our story at all, they know they set us a near-impossible challenge.”
“Comment: That truth may still not carry much weight in convincing them,” Hmmmseeth said. “Yet I will do my best to pay Rational Debt, and if these are psionics they will see the sincerity.”
“I hope so.”
To keep herself distracted, she unstrapped and went to the engine room and began routine maintenance. There were some unbalanced coils and other typical signs of having driven a TC drive for long distances, and these would require the usual maintenance. Even here she could not entirely escape Varan’s memory; they had spent so much time together working on the ship that she found she now associated Sasham Varan with her own vessel’s caretaking — a thought she would have found offensively ludicrous not three years ago. I have changed. I hope it is for the better, but clearly I have changed.
In the midst of preparing herself a small meal, the communicator buzzed. “The Vmee Zschorza is assembling and will meet with you immediately, EÃ¶nwyl,” transmitted the Zchoradan control vessel. “You are cleared for landing at these coordinates. Please be prepared to be escorted by armed guard directly to the Vmee.”
“Understood. I will be landing shortly.” She breathed out a sigh of relief. “It’s time, gentlemen.”
And then perhaps we can actually take effective action against our adversary! The accompanying mental image included a lot of claws and teeth.
“We can but hope, Vick. I’ve sure got a list of faces that could use some forcible rearrangement.” Shagrath being at the very top, of course. But that’s probably more Sasham’s job than ours.
The thought of Sasham — now no longer uncounted lightyears away, but a few thousand kilometers and drawing nearer as they descended — sent a worried pang through her heart. He was so terrified when we left him. How is he? Has he even survived?
Though not precisely designed for human vessels, the linkages for the Zchoradan port managed to connect after a few moments, and she saw the proper lights appear on her board. Accompanied by Hmmmseeth, she descended through the decks to reach the main cargo hold.
This was of course necessary, since Guvthor Hok Guvthor could neither enter nor exit via any other manner than the main cargo doors. The doors opened and the loading ramp extruded; as it did so, the EÃ¶nwyl could see several ranks of armed Zchorada waiting nearby. They did not make any threatening movements, however, but waited in more of an honor formation as the four of them descended the ramp. An odd group we must make, she thought with a faint amusement. One tall skinny human, one huge Thovian, a scaly R’Thann, and a floating purple single-eyed alien they probably have never seen before.
The guard closed ranks around them and escorted them swiftly along. The EÃ¶nwyl thought she recognized at least part of the route, and sure enough it was not long before they approached a set of very familiar doors — ancient, of solid wood bound and decorated with metal worn smooth over hundreds or even thousands of years.
The Vmee Zschorza met in the Heart of Nests, an amphitheatre whose roof was fifteen meters above their heads, dimly lit with the preferred reddish lighting of the Zchorada. As the visitors and witnesses they were standing in the center of the amphitheatre, surrounded by a three-meter tier of stone. On that tier of stone, each in a bowl-shaped depression carven from the very stone of that tier, were the thirteen senior members of the Vmee Zschorza, and in the center, facing her in a slightly elevated bowl, the Vmee Zschorhaza, the ultimate leader of all the Nests of the Zchorada. The air was warm and humid, but not stifling.
The three who had been there previously made their best effort at the mandibular-salute of respect, arms substituting for the long, scythelike mandibles of the centipedal aliens. The Vmee returned the gesture; Hmmmseeth merely bobbed in place, the gesture being one he could not easily emulate.
“Welcome back, EÃ¶nwyl, Guvthor Hok Guvthor, Master of the Dawning Light Sooovickalassa,” said the Zschorhaza. “You have returned with some small time remaining to you in the year you were granted. Does this mean that you have evidence to present to the Vmee Zschorza of the story we were told by yourself and Captain Varan previously?”
“It does, Zschorhaza,” she answered. “Do we have your permission to proceed?”
“You do indeed. We are most eager to hear what possible evidence you may have obtained.”
She turned and gestured. “Vmee Zschorza, I present to you all Hmmmseeth, a Researcher of the species Mydrwyll. He has been briefed on the situation, and is prepared. I invite Rizzivor, or any other Master of Minds you may have, to first examine him and assure yourselves that he is here of his own will and will speak of his own accord, and is untampered with.”
The red-mandibled Rizzivor scuttled a few steps forward and gazed down. Hmmmseeth quivered momentarily but otherwise remained still. After a few moments, Rizzivor withdrew. “This is a witness present of his own will, mind untampered with. His evidence will be presented and we will read it untroubled.”
Hmmmseeth moved forward slightly. “Query: Are any of you familiar with comparative cultural sentiology as a discipline?”
One of the Vmee raised itself slightly in its cupped depression. “I have studied the subject area somewhat.”
“Good. This is the discipline of my specialization, and my evidence is of that field.”
The Vmee Zschorza buzzed among themselves for a few moments. “Very well,” said the Zschorhaza. “We understand the basic concepts and are ready to listen.”
“Acknowledged. Then observe and understand.”
Hmmmseeth had not been idle in the months aboard The EÃ¶nwyl. He had assembled his information and carefully planned the method and format of his presentation to convey his data and theory in the most emphatic manner possible. He had studied what information they had on the Zchorada, so that he could tailor the images, words, and phrases to best effect.
Now that effort paid off. The EÃ¶nwyl watched as the Mydrwyll scientist carefully, systematically, and convincingly presented first an outline of his profession and field of study, then a detailed sketch of his work in attempting to understand and model the evolution of societies in the galaxy, and the difficulties he had encountered.
“Found situation intolerable. Theory appeared sound. Models designed well. Outputs violated known parameters in unsupportable ways, yet could find no flaw in models.
“Then Captain Sasham Varan pointed out that this situation could only be possible if a vital factor was missing — a factor that changed the behavior of civilizations.”
A murmur went around the shadowy room, but no questions were asked . . . yet.
“Given this point, it was clear that — for scientific parsimony — such factor must itself be consistent. Proceeded to devise and model multiple possible parametric factors to determine characteristics of unknown factor. Eventually found a single set of parameters that described an unknown, active factor whose behavior fit predictive model perfectly. Modeling on multiple known prior civilizations produced expected results.” Hmmmseeth paused. “Modeling on current civilizations indicates that total war and collapse is imminent.”
The Vmee Zschorhaza quieted the following murmurs. “Can you describe — in non-technical terms — this . . . factor you have discovered that makes your models function?”
Hmmmseeth bobbed, and his eye glowed yellow. “Malevolent,” he answered. “Deliberate, long-term design of infiltration and destruction, coordinated collapse.”
The entire council was silent for moments. Then Rizzivor spoke. “What level of confidence do you assign to the existence of this . . . factor?”
“Highest confidence short of verification,” Hmmmseeth responded instantly. “Other aspects of model verified. Other results consistent. No other alternative has provided results approaching the accuracy of current model. Will stake personal and professional reputation, and personal existence if necessary, on these results. I owe Rational Debt to Captain Sasham Varan, and for the payment of that I have abandoned my home and crossed fifteen thousand lightyears to address this company.” Hmmmseeth paused for an instant, and then, before anyone else could speak, continued. “There is an Enemy. An Enemy of all existing civilizations from the First Civilization to today. And I believe Captain Sasham Varan has met this Enemy.”
One of the other members of the Vmee Zschorza raised herself. “These results are impressive and disquieting, but they remain theoretical. They are models. The Nests were hoping for something more . . . material in the way of evidence.”
The EÃ¶nwyl closed her eyes, took a breath, stepped forward. “If I may speak?”
“Put bluntly, if you accept the description of our adversary — that we gave you almost a year ago — what possible material evidence could we present?” she demanded. “I suppose we could have attempted to infiltrate the Empire and kidnap Shagrath, but if he’s even one-tenth as dangerous as we think, how would we have held him? Or if he’d gone with us, we’d have been bringing the enemy here. The same is true of the Kaital. They are bodiless. I have no idea if you can catch a psionic lifeform, but I know by the Towers that my ship doesn’t have the means.
“You’ve seen our minds. You’ve read Hmmmseeth as well, and know he’s not influenced or changed by any of us. He’s given you the only evidence I can imagine for what we’ve claimed — the evidence that the Demons of Atlantaea existed — and at least one of them is still here, alive, and working against all of us. We’ve done what you demanded — gone out, on our own, without anyone’s help, and found you evidence.” She glared up at the Vmee Zschorhaza, and then around at the others. “You took Sasham Varan hostage for this. Well, we’ve done our part! It’s time for you to do yours!”
There was a long pause, and then a murmuring in Zchoradan that she could not follow. It began to grow in volume, but suddenly both Rizzivor and the Vmee Zschorhaza screeched, overriding the others. “ENOUGH!” the leader of the Zchorada said, and then more quietly, “Enough. The EÃ¶nwyl is correct. And I believe you, Hmmmseeth of the Mydrwyll. We have seen . . . disquieting things ourselves. We were debating the course to take before; with this evidence, should we continue debate? I say no. My predecessor says no. Rizzivor says no. We — all the Nests of the Zchorada — are in danger. I demand an immediate vote of the Vmee Zschorza. The Nests assembled have already met on this general matter, and given it to us to decide.”
The EÃ¶nwyl found herself holding her breath as the voting — in Zchoradan, naturally — began. Thirteen. Unless one abstains they have to reach a majority, but I’m not sure whether that’s enough. Deciding war? Is that a majority, or do you need two-thirds or three-quarters or nine-tenths?
Finally the hall fell silent, and the Vmee Zschorhaza rose to face them once more. “It is decided.
“The Vmee Zschorza accepts your evidence and your deeds, and on that recognition accepts that it is our duty to accept the alliance Captain Sasham Varan proposed when first you arrived.” He tilted his head. “Tell the Grasper –“
A brilliant white light blazed near the leader’s bowl; instantly the others went rigid as the Zschorhaza answered. A moment later, the huge-mandibled head turned and then rose high in apology. “It seems we have a more immediate problem, EÃ¶nwyl.
“A small Imperial task force has arrived . . . and is demanding the surrender of Captain Sasham Varan.”