Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 24
I focused my attention on the test bar. Of one piece with this test chamber’s wall, the bar had embedded strain sensors to return data about how much force was exerted on it. As the chamber itself was completely sealed, only a window allowing a view inside, any force it registered would have to be delivered by psionic means. “How hard to you want me to pull?”
Not hard at first. Increase pull once I have calibrated my instruments and verified the readings. Speaking by mindvoice made Doctor Sooovickalassa’s speech much easier to understand, but did nothing to remove the cold, vaguely hostile precision of his tone. It wasn’t really personal — he seemed to have the same attitude towards Shagrath — but that didn’t make it any more pleasant.
“Understood, Doctor.” I had tried to get a little closer to the R’Thann scientist in the days since the process had first proved itself, but he wasn’t a very companionable sort. Not surprising, I supposed; he was the only one of his species here, he might be contributing to the capabilities of the Empire that would quite possibly be attacking his homeworld, and — I suspected — he was slightly jealous of the fact that I now had more psi abilities than he did, when his species normally had them as a matter of course.
Back to work. I returned focus to the bar, visualized settling my hands around it and pulling very gently.
Excellent. Do not reduce or increase the pull. A few moments passed. Very well. Now increase the pull slowly until you reach your limit.
I took a breath and felt my body tensing as though I was actually trying to pull the bar. I’d found that I often had some physical association with my abilities, even nonphysical ones. I tended to close my eyes, when possible, to do telepathy, for instance. It seemed to help direct my focus, but I was trying to reduce that; it’d be a dead giveaway if I made it a habit.
Still, as I increased the force on the bar and felt its resistance building, I couldn’t help but react by tensing myself. Just as an Exsheath system in a combat suit or fighter converts sensor readings like approach vectors and weapon discharge spikes into visuals of approaching fighters and sounds of airborne weapons firing, psionics apparently translated the indescribable sensations of psionic effort into some sensory analogue which the psi could easily understand — and probably for the same basic reason, though one was a deliberately engineered system and the other some quirk of evolution.
The bar was still almost immovable, but I thought I “felt” it give, just a tiny bit, and threw everything I had into one last pull that strained both mind and muscle before I relaxed. I was sure it felt like it bent that time. “How’d I do?”
Impressive. MOST impressive. The R’Thann’s mental voice conveyed considerable surprise and gratification. You have actually bent the test bar slightly. Peak forces wereâ€¦ well, roughly equivalent to lifting a current-model Streetwing such as that which your friend Taelin drives.
I couldn’t restrain a grin. “Too bad I couldn’t demonstrate it without getting shot.”
“Not quite true, Commander, not quite true,” the cheerful voice of the Prime Monitor boomed out from behind me. “You just have to be very careful who you demonstrate it to.”
“Sir!” I stood to attention.
He waved me back down. “Commander, I’ve told you before, no need to hold to the formalities, at least not at that level. You and I are working together in this; it is no longer a matter of my commanding a subordinate. In truth, there are some aspects in which we literally have no equals save each other.”
I couldn’t deny there was an element of truth in that. If what he and Doctor Sooovickalassa believed was true, I was a sane human psi, which made me only the second one known; the first one was, of course, Shagrath. There were definitely going to be areas that only we would understand fully. “Stillâ€¦”
He laughed. “Yes, I know. You’re an excellent Navy officer, Commander. But that must give way to, in this case, a higher calling. We are the only two who can truly save the Empire. You’ve seen some of the files on the R’Thann. They’re a small, but growing, star nation, and quite formidable. Not our enemies, at least not yet. But if we encounter anything like them that’s at all advancedâ€¦” Shagrath shook his head, light mood already darkened. “We barely keep the Zchorada at bay, and they are, compared to the R’Thann, at best moderately powerful and skilled in the use of their abilities. By human standards, the ability to form a mindshield at all is significant; Doctor Sooovickalassa can make one stronger than yours was, but by his people’s standards he’s a complete cripple — apparently he was exceedingly fortunate to be able to escape with exile.” I felt the weight of his concern descending on him. I had gotten very sensitive over the past couple of weeks; I could now sense moods in people even when they were partially screened. “The Empire needs people like us — but tens, thousands, tens of thousands. But with the past knowledge against us, we cannot yet even speak out. We will have to do this all in secret.”
“Can’t we tell them the truth? Sir, there has to be a way. We’ve learned a way to make sane psionics, or so we believe. Can’t a proper campaign of education –”
“Of course it can, Commander. But not quickly, nor easily. You are not a socioanalytic specialist, but I have a large number of them at my command. The overall analysis is quite clear: changing this reaction to the point that the public would accept — even reluctantly — a force of psionics in the Empire will take years — a generation, possibly more given that life-extension therapy prevents older individuals from leaving the picture as they would have a few thousand years ago. ”
“So we have to work in secret even while building up numbers? Isn’t that risky — to say the least?”
The smile he gave was wryly humorous. “Risky? An excellent word, Commander. A bitâ€¦ mild, but a good choice. Risky indeed. And demanding, both of our vigilance and, to some extent, our consciences. You know the stakes, Commander. We cannot afford to be discovered. If, by mischance, someone discovers what we are doing here, you know what will happen.”
I knew, all right. I remembered Taelin’s cold look, and my own revulsion and hatred. It was hard to imagine a riot and lynching happening here, in the very core of Empire, but that was exactly what would follow if the public learned that two powerful human psionics were there, trying to hide some secret project.
“Indeed. And so, if by any mischance someone does discover us, or even begins to suspect us, we must prevent them from ever conveying that information. And, if possible, make sure they forget it.”
“I can’t do that,” I said automatically, my stomach trying to turn over. He was talking about mindtwisting, like that Zchoradan monster had tried to do to me, and about doing it to our own people.
“Commander — Sasham — you must.” He had removed his visor to rub his eyes, and looked up at me. The gleaming space-black eyes were surrounded with red, and under them were dark circles that the datavisor hid. “Don’t you think I know how terrible that is? Do you have any idea how hard it is to do? Morally, I mean; in terms of effort, it’s hardly anything for someone like you or me. I very nearly failed to establish this project at all, because I hesitated. The Emperor was fractions of a second from sounding the alarm when I stopped him and made him forget.”
I felt my hand make a reflexive twitch towards a gun that wasn’t there. My reaction was nearly as violent as the gunshot could have been. “You dared touch the EMPEROR?!”
He shot to his feet, glaring at me, pain written across his face. “Yes, I did. And I would do it again. And I have nightmares about that, and about what it could mean that I would come to enjoy it too much. But I — and you — have no choice.”
I glared back, my own powers just barely restrained by the fact that I knew he was a lot stronger than I was.
And as I forced myself to calm down, I knew he was right. The very laws we knew were against us. Not even the Emperor was immune to hysteria and emotional decisions. I might have to do the sameâ€¦ or end up dead and leaving the Empire undefended against the threats that were undoubtedly out there. The sacred rights of all the Empire, versus the sacred rights of a few people who could learn too much and destroy all chanceâ€¦ it was a rotten choice. But it was also a pretty sinking clear choice. I sat down slowly. “Sorry, sir.”
“Forgotten,” he said, tired but with a faint, sad smile. “As I said before, I was looking for a very specific sort of person for this project. Anyone worthy of the responsibility would have to have responded in that fashion.” He looked up. “Apologies, Doctor, we’ve rather thrown off your tests.”
“Notified I be, starting for ready when you are,” the R’Thann said shortly. We have much to do and your incomprehensible difficulties about doing what is obviously the most rational actions for your people are wasting your time and mine. But it is you that have more at stake. His mindvoice amplified.
“Quite so,” Shagrath agreed. “Well, Commanderâ€¦?”