Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 20
He felt the new-built barriers around the human’s mind quiver. The smile grew ever so slightly wider, though the man could hardly suspect the reason for the smile. No doubt he believed that his barrier remained a blank wall, and he himself in perfect control. Let him. At the moment, it was important to let him feel less threatened, to explain all the things around him with plausible half-truths, and discover how well the R’Thann’s treatment had worked this time. From the momentary sensations, it appeared that they may well have succeeded, despite Sooovickalassa’s misgivings. A good thing for the Doctor, if true.
“I sense that you’ve already awakened to some considerable differences, Commander.” He said. “And noticed one in myself.”
“You’reâ€¦ you’re a psionic.” He had to give credit to Varan’s discipline. Despite what must be a truly horrific surprise, only a small hesitation and a widening of the eyes — and a rather amusing attempt to stiffen the mental barrier he had managed to erect — showed the confusion and fear that the Navy officer must be undergoing.
“Yes.” He dropped the smile, let the expression become one of great weariness. “The only sane human psionic alive, Commander, and I have no idea whyâ€¦ or whether I will wake up tomorrow with the first symptoms of madness growing in me.
“Why do you think I, personally, imposed multiple checkups on the mental profiling of all Monitors — including myself? Undoubtedly, Commander, I am a criminal — technically — under our own laws. I cannot argue that. But I knew I was perfectly sane. I also knew how much the Empire needed people like me. I worked my way up, using my powers as sparingly as possible, never harming anyone as far as I know.” The last sentence was really quite amusing, as it was trueâ€¦ depending on how one defined “anyone”. If by that word you meant “humans”, well, it was a bald-faced lie. But if by that you meant “people”, as in, those of your own kind, it was perfectly true.
“Butâ€¦” Varan appeared to be at a loss. Excellent. It meant that he was starting to buy the explanation — which was, if you accepted the Imperial ideals, a perfectly reasonable one.
“Commander, you can walk out of this room and denounce me,” he said gravely. “And, perhaps, you would be able to make that denunciation stick. You have many friends in high places. But I have done everything for the sake of the Empire. I have protected the Empire from psionic spies, and from madmen, and I have devoted this entire project to a dual ideal, one that I sincerely hope you share: firstly, to make the Empire capable, finally, of defending itself from alien psionics without using men and women who are doomed to becoming, themselves, alien enemies to be destroyed. Secondly, to find the answer to why I am not like others, why all the others go mad, and to make it so that it never happens again — so that those who awaken with these powers will know joy, not horror.”
He watched the expressions that shifted subtly over the dark-skinned face. He could, of course, just brush aside the human’s defenses and find out exactly what he was thinking, but it wasn’t necessary — yet. If he was the paragon he seemed to be, he’d come to cooperate from idealism. If, as seemed more likely to Shagrath, he was a man who simply had never encountered something that really tested his morals, he would come to enjoy the power and be easily led to be a more useful tool. In all his very long years, he’d encountered vanishingly few paragons; almost all beings were corruptible if you found the right bait, and the bait of power over other minds and the world around you was, perhaps, the most universal of them.
Varan seemed to have come to some kind of decision. The mindwall stopped wavering but relaxed slightly, letting hints of emotion and thought come through. The man was still unsettled, nervous, but loyal to the Empire, and there was already a touch of eagerness relating to the powerâ€¦ ah, there, an image, he’d tested telekinesis already. Very good. “What about the madness, sir?” Varan finally said. “If it does come on you fairly quickly, what safeguard do you have to make sure that you can’t, wellâ€¦”
“â€¦do a great deal of critical damage to the Empire? Well asked, Commander. I have entrusted my secret to a very few people — one, for example, is Borell Dellitama — who have both actual files on my nature, and an intention to never be caught outside of a psi-shielded area. If I begin to act in a peculiar fashion, or attempt to see them in certain ways, they will sound the alert across the Empire. These people have been allies and friends of mine, but they are also very much citizens of the Empire; two members of the Five Families, a few top members of the Guards and Navy. Yes, as Prime Monitor I could assist many of them to their positions. They know that part of my reason for this is specifically to ensure that I cannot become the monster that I fear.”
Again, truthsâ€¦ and lies. Borell Dellitama did indeed know what Shagrath truly was, but that was because he was not, strictly speaking, Borell Dellitama any more; similarly this was true of the other people he had mentioned. He wished he could do the same for everyone in positions of power, but for many reasons he did not dare, yet. Soon, but not yet.
Varan nodded. “I see. Well, sir, what I guess I need to know is, what next?”
“Next, Commander, Doctor Sooovickalassa will examine you and subject you to a variety of tests. Have you done any experimentation yet?”
The Navy officer looked slightly guilty and embarrassed. “Aâ€¦ few. I learned how to shut off the mindvoices I heard outside, and to listen in on specific ones after a while. And â€¦ I moved that noteclamp.”
“Telekinesis and telepathy already. Perhaps â€¦ just perhapsâ€¦ we have succeeded this time. We can only hope.” He noted that if Varan already had that level of control, he might be unusually sensitive. Best to tell his very special allies to keep a good distance; while it was unlikely even a powerful human psionic could detect them, it was better to be safe than sorry, at least at the early stage. No point in taking risks. The role he envisioned for Commander Varan would be best played by a man who thought he knew exactly what the situation was, and acted from what he believed were the best motivesâ€¦ or, in the case of someone not entirely pure of heart, from what he believed were the most practical motives. Either one would work.
What would not work — at least, not nearly as well — would be for Varan to suspect the existence of unseen forces within the Empire. “For a while, Commander, we will simply be testing you. Remember that our prior experiments seemed to work, then faded. If it seems that you are maintaining your abilities, we will then see what you are fully capable of, and then determine assignments for you. Some of them will undoubtedly be to seek out other men of your potential. Others will naturally be to locate and eliminate psionic spies, or rogue psis, from within the Empire. But I can assure you, we will have a great deal for you to do!” He laughed.
Varan managed a laugh, despite clearly still having to recover from multiple shocks. A rogue wisp of thought indicated that he was still worried about discovering that the Monitor was a psi; unsurprising, and in fact expected. But he’d be used to the idea in a few days. “I have no doubt of it, sir.” He tried to stand, had a surprised look on his face as he almost fell.
“No, no, Commander. Don’t rush things. I know you’re the sort to do so, but it won’t do now. The treatment affects your entire neural system, and has obvious side effects on the rest of you. I want you to take it very easy until Doctor Sooovickalassa is ready to examine you, and then you will follow his instructions precisely. Do you understand, Commander? No exaggeration of your undoubted toughness, no pretense to feeling better than you are. Every symptom, howsoever small, may be relevant to the success or failure of the experiment, and you are not to take any risks in this area. Bravado will not make you look better. Understood?”
Commander Varan nodded, sinking back into the bed with a chagrined expression. “Understood, sir.”
“Then, until later, Commander.” He gave the hated Sign, saw it returned, and left.
He made sure he was well away from that section of the base before he opened his mind to a particular level, a sensation he found pleasant but, he suspected, a human psionic would find most distressing. Attend my commands. All shall depart the capital until I send word otherwise.
The reply was an echoing shriek, a many-layered scream of warming hunger and comforting bitter hatred. The reason?
I take no chances with my mission. You have no need to know the details at this time.
A waterfall of images, of probabilities and estimations of events. You remove us from the center of things. Advancement and control will progress more slowly. It was not an argument, but a statement and a warning; his allies did not wish to lose the advantages they had gained. Quite understandable, of course, and normally he would agree. But this manâ€¦
Your concerns are noted. You will still depart.
His allies had other roles to play elsewhere. He could attend to Oro himself. And if the play unfolded as he had scripted it, Commander Sasham Varan would do more than any to bring about the ending Shagrath intended.
So Varan learned how to let surface thought cloud what he really thinking. Nice bit about letting shock about Shagrath being psionic mask his true knowledge about him. HALF-TRUTHS are indeed more powerful then any lie.
ITs strange that Shagrath accepts Varan new mental barriers so easily . Only with years practice meditation and discipline Varan , AND SOME ALIEN assistance he managed to make them. Any other new psionic will be half insane , from new sensations. Shagrath would have expected long acclimatization and learning curve . This super fast recovery and progress should have been indication that more happening that he knows , he works with psionics all the time.
Well, as you’ll see later, he has reason to expect Varan to progress quickly and efficiently. He’s missing exactly one piece of “critical, need-to-know information” and without that he has no reason to concern himself about Varan. From his point of view, letting Varan think he’s stronger than he is and acting solicitous and considerate is the way to put Varan at ease and bring him into Shagrath’s plans.
One can almost (but only almost) feel sorry for Shagrath at this point.
He is so certain that he has Sasham fooled, but does not realize that Sasham knows that Shagrath is something other than human. His decision to take things slow and try to corrupt Sasham instead of just smashing down his barriers means the Commander has that much more time to build his defences.
I have a strong suspicion that awakening Commander Varan’s latent psi abilities will turn out to be the worst decision Shagrath ever made.
Well, one could guess that this is the case, but for Shagrath it won’t really be clear until the end of the trilogy.
I read all of your postings several years ago of the earlier drafts of the first 2 books, which means that I understood some comments in _Phoenix Ascendant_. Thus, either “Shagrath” is the Wolf King, in which case the Empire goes down despite what Varan can do or Shagrath is not the Wolf King, in which case the Empire goes down when HE takes over for “Shagrath” (whether Varan is still around or not).
Well, remember that part of the “fun” of the game for the Wolf King is that he can lose.
It may be very hard for somebody to win against the Wolf King, but there’s still a chance of winning.
Thus even if Shagrath is the Wolf King, there’s still a chance of winning against him.
Well, (A) we’ve now seen Virigar beaten TWICE — once by (as someone once put it ) a nerd armed with a bucket, the second time by an incarnate goddess, so it’s not ridiculous to consider the possibility that Virigar could be beaten.
(B) Whether or not Shagrath is Virigar (I’d point out that if you study dialogue and internal monologue styles you could tell whether Shagrath is or not, as we go along), it also depends on what you mean by “goes down”. We can be pretty sure the Reborn Empire falls EVENTUALLY — no civilization on Earth that we know of has lasted more than a couple thousand years or so, and this story takes place about 480,000 years before present, more or less. Varan and company could save the Empire and make it last three times as long as Atlantaea ITSELF did, and it would STILL have fallen a hundred and eighty thousand years ago. That would hardly be considered a failure on Varan’s part.