This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 21
She found herself ducking without knowing why, then dodging to the side and bringing up her arm to parry a blow that drove her to her knees. The Master of the Final Light looked down on her expressionlessly, golden crest chiming ever so slightly as it rippled above his head.
Acceptable, the Master thought after a moment, and withdrew his clawed hand, allowing her to rise.
“I wasn’t even at practice this time!” she snapped, the aftershock of fear and combat making her voice shake, even as she reached down to gather up the tools she had dropped. “I was just working on –“
Your enemies will give you no warning of their intentions, EÃ¶nwyl. The only training that will suffice for your talent is to push it — constantly test its reactions and boundaries, so as to force it to extend itself, to show its limits or reveal that it has none.
“Everything has limits.”
A flicker of amusement from both the Master and Vick, who was standing near one of the ship’s control panels. Perhaps, though there are some that appear to have none that are easily discovered. Whether your combat sense is one of those is something worth exploring, as — even if Captain Varan gains all the allies he seeks — we shall all be heavily outnumbered in the coming conflict.
She shrugged. “And you really think this power will make a difference in a Galactic-scale war? The fact that I can dodge –“
Dodge? Dodge? You . . . Vick’s mind-voice faded in strangled indignation. The greatest dodging you are doing is to evade the simple truths of your abilities, and neither I nor the Master of Final Light can grasp why this is so!
She didn’t have a retort, but she wanted one, and stood frozen in angry defiance.
“Ahh,” Guvthor’s voice rumbled through the control room from its dedicated connection to the cargo bay. “I believe I can penetrate this mystery, my R’Thann friend.” The immense furry visage gazed down from an auxiliary screen. “It is, I suspect, something very difficult for your people to understand, but much more familiar to myself. Captain Varan would not have to ask the question, but alas, he is not with us.
“EÃ¶nwyl,” Guvthor said, with a gentler tone to his deep voice, “I believe you are more obtuse than usual because you truly dislike the idea that you, personally, have some possible grand purpose, something setting you apart in a manner that you neither chose nor controlled.”
She winced inwardly, and tried to look at him defiantly, or casually, or . . . something. But instead she found herself looking down.
“Your life is your own — and only your own. You want no connections — save those you choose — to the past, to the future, to the present, and that includes your personal abilities. I suspect most other people would have acknowledged, at the least, that they had some strange premonition of danger, but you –“
“I don’t want to be special!” she snapped.
What an . . . absolutely incomprehensible statement. All beings want to be special, the Master said.
“I think what our esteemed trader means is that she does not wish to be special due to circumstances she did not choose.”
The EÃ¶nwyl turned away, feeling tense and confused in a way she could not describe. “I . . . yes. Maybe. Something like that.”
She could feel the sympathetic gaze of the Thovian and turned to face the screen. There was no sign of anger or disappointment on the fur-covered face, only understanding. “Understandable. Some details you and the Captain withheld, but your encounter with that ancient . . . force or being within the deep caverns of Fanabulax surely caused you to withdraw from any acknowledgement of your unique nature — a nature that had drawn that being to you. And then you devoted yourself to an escape, to a personal liberation, based only on your personal fortune and capabilities. In a sense, you wanted to prove that an ordinary miner could rise above anything and free her family . . . and so anything that makes you extraordinary undermines everything you thought about yourself.”
Utter nonsense, Vick said.
“To you,” the EÃ¶nwyl murmured, and swallowed. “To you it’s nonsense. But he’s . . . awfully close.”
“As close as any could get, I suspect,” Guvthor said. “But just as Captain Varan had to accept the inevitability that he would become a revolutionary — literally planning to overthrow the Empire in order to save it — so you must accept that you are unique, and your uniqueness may be as absolutely vital to our victory as anything the rest of us could achieve.”
It was the reminder of Varan’s choice that really stung. She knew just how much the Navy, the Empire, meant to him. And he had accepted that he was going to have to become its greatest enemy in order to possibly salvage even the smallest part of it. If he complained about it, I never heard it. Once he realized what he had to do, he accepted it, and started doing his best. I can’t do less.
With an effort, she raised her head, looked at all three of the others. “All right. All right, I understand. I’ve got something that no one else has, and you think it’s going to be important. But explain it to me. How can my being able to dodge–“
Guvthor cut her off. “When we first came to the decision of the part you would have to play, you acknowledged we were in the right — but you were, understandably, distracted and not thinking clearly. Your defenses were down. Now you have attempted to deny what your heart already knows.
“Your peculiar power is not merely ‘dodging’. By our extensive tests over the last few days we have verified that you have precognition. You know what is to come, and that sense is not fooled by any method we have yet tested. It is limited in the detail you perceive — you do not appear to envision the precise identity of a threat — but it functions regardless of the distance, size, or nature of the threat. There may also be a temporal limitation — that is, we do not know if you can sense a threat a day, a week, a month, or a dozen years in advance — but such would be very difficult to determine without testing that took place over that time period. Evading a threat that is to come seven months hence would likely require only very small changes to your actions and not any outside the reasonable realm of behavior.”
Exactly, the Master of Minds said. The important questions to be addressed are whether you can extend your power to something beyond the merely personal. All the known instances of your power’s use are ones in which you were personally interested — where it was your life, your ship’s safety, the safety of those you called friends, for whom you had accepted responsibility.
But, Vick continued, it should not be limited to that. You should be able to extend it to situations and questions that you focus on sufficiently.
The general concepts they had discussed back on Zchorada were coming into a frighteningly clear focus. She wanted to evade that realization, but she had accepted Guvthor’s analysis and that meant she couldn’t evade any more. She closed the panel she had been working on before the Master’s unexpected attack and turned back to the others. “You mean . . . to what’s going to happen to other ships. In combat.”
Not just other ships; entire fleets of vessels. You were able to sense when your vessel was about to be thrown from Conversion space; you have often stated to your friends when you realized that a course of action was, in fact, the right course. That is precognition of abstraction. The Master’s voice was emphatic. That means that it is not merely the direct and simple threat you can sense, but threats of a much more broad nature — or even choices that are not threats in and of themselves. You knew that it was the right choice to leave Captain Varan in the hands of the Zchorada, even when you had absolutely no idea how you were going to solve the conundrum the Vmee Zschorhaza had presented you with. Do you grasp the implications, EÃ¶nwyl?
She forced herself to contemplate what the Master of Final Light was saying, what her other friends had told her. The implications . . . horrified her. A part of her simply did not believe that anything good could come of knowing the future, in any form; such a power tampered with one of the most fundamental facts of the natural order, that the future was unknown and unknowable because it was not yet decided.
But we need every possible advantage. Drawing a deep breath, she nodded. “If I can do that . . . I might be able to stretch my . . . intala, as Vick says, to recognize future patterns that affect ships and other military forces under my command.”
Especially if you, as a commander, feel the same personal connection and responsibility that you did for your crew.
“The same . . . maybe not. After all, I was in love with Varan even before we realized it,” she said, realizing with surprise that it was no longer hard to admit those feelings, “and Vick and Guvthor were my friends, not just passengers. But responsibility . . . yes, if I have to command ships, believe me, I’ll feel personally responsible for protecting them. It will be my job.”
The Master’s crest rose in a pleased gesture. Excellent. You will have time to practice on your return to Imperial space, and perhaps a bit en route to Thovia.
“Which we should be heading to soon, now that other issues have been . . . dealt with,” Guvthor said with one of his more predatory smiles.
Dealt with was a good phrase. What lay behind that phrase was the utter eradication of every Imperial vessel or agent in the entire R’Thann Meritocracy, including Mydr. The EÃ¶nwyl had been teleported directly to a berth on Thann’ta, allowing the EÃ¶nwyl, Vick, and Guvthor to immediately have a private meeting with the assembled Masters of Light.
One advantage of a telepathic government had shown itself; the discussion and deliberations of the Masters had taken a grand total of two and a half hours, at which point they had immediately declared war on the Reborn Empire — on all planets of their small star nation — and with a coordinated savagery frightening to behold had wiped the Imperials from the sky, including some waiting short Conversion jumps away.
Naturally Shagrath would know what had happened, but there was little he could do about it — and he couldn’t even mention it for months, at least, unless he was ready to reveal that he got his news via psionic links.
And with the observers out of the way, the R’Thann were free to assemble their fleet.
“Are we really prepared to depart?” she asked. “Is the whole –“
Yes. The entirety of the R’Thann Fleet is assembled and awaiting our orders. Look upon it, if you would, the combined might of all the R’Thann Meritocracy gathered for war.
She looked back at the panel she had been working at when the Master had attempted his unexpected assault. “Remind me to finish that bit of maintenance. It’s not crucial, but I hate leaving anything undone.”
I will not forget, Vick said with a telepathic smile. After all, I, too, will be on board this ship, and I would not have any of it neglected. You have your tools?
She finished gathering the tools up and replacing them in the case. “Yes.”
Vick touched her arm, and between one blink and the next she was on the control deck of The EÃ¶nwyl.
Before her, looming in front and to port and starboard and high to the zenith and far down to the nadir, was the R’Thann Fleet.
The ships mostly shared the aesthetic she had come to know well — sharp-edged, compact vessels whose lines suggested jagged daggers forged from warships — but the sheer volume of the vessels was staggering. They marched away into the distance before her, dwindling to dots dimmer than stars, the perfect ranks in array forming a grid that dwindled in perspective above and below and left and right. Scattered amidst the black-blade deadliness of the R’Thann warships she saw enclaves of other vessels, curved, rounded shapes that evoked the sense of shining, smooth pebbles worn by uncountable waves on the shore. Mydrwyll, she thought, and Vick nodded.
They, too, have sent the vast majority of their forces. We all realize how vital is our mission.
“How many?” The EÃ¶nwyl asked the question reluctantly, because she could already feel a grim, fearful weight descending upon her. I will be commanding those vessels. I will be responsible for them.
Sixty-five thousand, Vick said, overtones of pride clear in his voice.
“Torline and Niaadea,“ the EÃ¶nwyl murmured. “From the few worlds you control? That’s . . . incredible.”
You look on the Fleet of the Testing, the Master of Final Light replied. These are the ships that ply the Galaxy about us, seeking and testing new species, new civilizations. It is our mission, our very life’s purpose. We have been doing this for long years indeed. It would be even larger, were not the Testing an expensive and dangerous profession in and of itself.
The EÃ¶nwyl swallowed. In some ways, this brought home the evolutionary fanaticism of the R’Thann more clearly than anything else could have: a gigantic fleet of survey and warships whose only purpose was to explore the Galaxy and test every species they encountered, sometimes to destruction. “It’s . . . impressive. Even frightening.”
Both R’Thann bared their teeth. Then let us hope the same feelings are brought forth in the Imperials. The R’Thann come for them!
She nodded, and felt a hint of her own predatory smile. “I can live with that.” She touched the D-Comm button. “R’Thann Fleet, this is The EÃ¶nwyl. Prepare for departure.”
The reply was instantaneous. “Fleet of Testing to EÃ¶nwyl: we stand ready. Destination?”
“Thovia,” she said. The Fleet acknowledged. She gave them a few moments to propagate the order through the entire fleet, and then spoke once more.
“Fleet of Testing, this is The EÃ¶nwyl. Departing in five seconds on my mark. Five . . . four … three . . . two . . . one . . .”
Her finger reached out and touched the control, and The EÃ¶nwyl leapt forward into Conversion.