Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 17

Chapter 17


I have passed beyond rage and reached uttermost calm, Shagrath noted with a faint surprise.

Varan has eluded me again.

There should have been no trouble in this mission. He knew Varan was being held by the Zchorada. He had remained there, a prisoner, for months. Admittedly, there was that annoying and not entirely explicable blurring around him, but there was no doubt that it was, in fact, Varan; though the details of the figure could not be made out, its movements and posture and other factors — such as its routine to practice the easily-recognized forms of Tor — made it certain.

He was also certain he had read the Vmee correctly. They were naturally not trusting of the Empire, but they were not yet ready — and perhaps never would be truly ready — to confront the Reborn Empire directly, so giving up Varan for the sake of even a few months unmolested would be a fine bargain.

Shagrath had even considered the possibility that Varan had told them everything he knew, but without evidence? They would not have credited it.

He shook his head, still trying to find his center as he thought. The ritual would not work if he was not focused. What if Varan did have evidence? There was the nagging, simple fact that Shagrath had never quite figured out how Varan had seen through the façade that should have utterly deceived him. Obviously he had been assisted, nearly from the first, by Doctor Sooovickalassa, but the R’Thann surely hadn’t had the faintest idea of what Shagrath was; had he had such suspicions before Varan’s advent, he would have acted on them.

Thus it was, somehow, Varan who had penetrated Shagrath’s disguise, and that, quite simply, should have been impossible. That fact had never stopped bothering Shagrath. Still, even granting that for the moment, whatever knowledge Varan had couldn’t have been evidence. It would not have served to convince the cautious and justifiably paranoiac Zchoradan leaders to ally themselves with a renegade.

It had to have something to do with that incident on Mydrwyll some months ago. Why and how, he did not know, but for some reason it had been desperately important to the Eönwyl — and presumably Varan and his other allies — that she make contact with one of the former members of Teraikon‘s research complement.

That made little sense . . . yet it had to make sense. Shagrath growled to himself and rose, feeling the furious calm becoming unbalanced by his indecision and confusion. Think it through.

Item: None of the crew of Teraikon would remember the true sequence of events that led to Varan’s escape, not even aliens like Mydrwyll.

Item: No records of the true events would remain either; the magic used would assure that, even if some member or members of the crew had secretly made other recordings and hidden them.

Item: Sasham Varan had to be aware of this by now. At the least he would have found and read the released log recordings and know that they had been modified, despite the fact that the Empire’s science would claim it was impossible to modify such recordings without obvious traces. Knowing Shagrath’s other abilities, it was essentially certain he would know that not only recordings, but memories would be useless to him.

Conclusion: Sasham Varan believed there was some other data of vital interest, presumably that could be used to convince someone that he was not insane, held by one or more members of Teraikon‘s crew, but that data was not directly associated with the events that led to his escape . . . and thus would not have been erased.

The logic held. But what could this information be? The Mydrwyll had been a student of various species and cultures. Offhand, Shagrath couldn’t see how that could possibly benefit Varan; neither the Kaital nor Shagrath himself were or had been members of such cultures, at least not as themselves, and most of the ones that might have known something of them were long dead.

It doesn’t matter. Accept for the moment that there was such evidence. That was the only thing that made sense of the actions of Varan’s friends . . . and of the subsequent events. The emissaries, with two Kaital overseeing them, had arrived to take Varan, and after that . . . nothing. The Nest had, of course, not been in direct contact with those two at the time; the risk of simply having the bodiless intellects in the task force was already high enough. But that did mean that neither he nor his allies knew precisely how it had all gone wrong.

Still, I know enough. The Kaital were wiped out, and by sufficient power that they were literally unable to even make contact with the Nest before it happened. The only force that could reasonably have achieved that would have been a union of the Zchoradan Masters of Minds — thousands or tens of thousands of powerful psionics attacking at once. And the only reason they would have attacked so swiftly and savagely would be that they knew what they faced.

And now they know for certain.

The question was . . . what would they do now? And what should he, Shagrath, be doing to ensure that it did not disrupt the entire plan? The very thought of it coming apart now was infuriating; if he could not coordinate the collapse properly, he’d have to start over again much sooner and it would be that much harder to eliminate the traces of his presence.

Time to get some information. Having followed these thoughts to their conclusion, Shagrath felt his mind at least reasonably in balance. But after assaying the power of his circle once more, he found himself little more informed than he had been previously.

No longer a blur. Varan is gone now, invisible. Which, of course, meant that he was back on board that never-sufficiently-accursed vessel, behind the wards that Khoros and the Sh’ekatha had placed upon it. Whether he was still within the Zchoradan systems or had departed, Shagrath could not tell. Moreover, the defenses of the Zchorada had been fully activated; the number of both mechanical and living mindshields was immense.

What will he do now?

Shagrath considered the question — and realized that now he was viewing Varan as his adversary. The former Imperial Captain was not a fugitive, not a loose end; he was becoming the catalyst of any effective resistance, despite everything that Shagrath had done to neutralize him. A small part of Shagrath felt a grudging respect for the sheer indomitable tenacity of the man, but mostly Shagrath simply felt a cold, venomous hatred for Varan.

“Very well,” he said aloud. “What are you going to do, Captain?”

Speaking aloud seemed to crystallize his thoughts. It was, suddenly, obvious. Varan now had allies — in fact, he had just gained the one group of allies he absolutely had to have if he was going to move against the Empire under Shagrath’s direction.

But both Varan and the Zchorada would know that they didn’t have sufficient forces to stand anything like an even chance against the Reborn Empire. Therefore . . .

Shagrath felt a slow grin starting. “Therefore you still have work to do, Captain,” he said to the empty room.

The Zchorada would be increasing their production, attempting to build and crew as many vessels as possible, of course, but they’d need more allies. Varan was the key there again; there was only one more stellar power of any note, one which also incorporated psionic individuals into its innermost workings: Ptial. Varan would have to travel to Ptial itself and convince them to join the war against the Empire.

Shagrath didn’t allow himself any illusions; based on prior knowledge and experience, it was virtually certain that Varan would succeed, although Shagrath would do his best to throw as many obstacles in the Captain’s path as possible. But the important part of this was that it would take time. Even with the help of the Zchorada’s known Nexus gateways, getting to Ptial and back would require at least two months, perhaps more, and building disparate groups into a coordinated assault force would also take time.

Yes. That would actually work very nicely. In, say, two months he could announce the Zchorada’s refusal to turn over Varan — that would be plenty of time for word to have gotten back and a response formulated. That would ratchet tensions right up to the breaking point, he could make final adjustments to deployments, final arrangements with the Kaital to trigger the proper events on multiple worlds at his signal, and then . . .

He allowed himself a chuckle. “And then, Captain, whether I can find a way to capture you or not . . . I will let you — your own actions, with your own fleet — be the trigger for the war!”