Emerald Legion, Chapter thirteen
“Endings and beginnings” – wherein more questions are raised than answered
had been in a regen-induced stupor when the Kathooni delegation arrived at the Embassy that evening,
having heard of the battle on the news-nets (or, more likely, through the
diplomatic gossip-line, which possessed some sort of faster-than-thought
network). Ambassador Marin accepted the
Rokk spent the next morning watching her sleep fitfully, punctuated by fits of loud snoring that he had come to associate with the warrior-woman, while searching the commerce boards for a supply of metal wire. He managed to locate a suitable quantity, at a reasonable price, and it was delivered before lunchtime. He fed Jath, who woke only long enough to swallow three bowls of soup in rapid succession, until he could feel her stomach bulge slightly with the warm broth, and then immediately dropped right back into a deep sleep. The read-outs indicated that her bones were setting well, the regeneration procedure proceeding without incident, and the soft tissue damage from her torn muscles and ligaments was completely repaired. He made sure she was comfortable, and set a pitcher of water within arms reach, before collecting his 100 kilos of iron wire and heading down to the training area.
Seeing Imra in the training room, walking on her hands, eyes closed as she slowly placed one hand before the other while striving to maintain her balance on trembling arms, Rokk turned slowly to find another area to work.
~Come in, Rokk. I could use the distraction. It will help me practice my focus.~, Imra broadcast, her thoughts as steady and calm as if she was not currently trembling with exertion, as sweat dripped off her brow as she regained her balance after another ‘step.’
“Okay, I’ll just go over here,” Rokk gestured, realizing belatedly that she would have no idea where he was pointing, with her eyes closed, “out of your way.”
He set the box down and began feeling the currents of the dozens of meters of coiled wire. Pulling out a plasma cutter, he began measuring out lengths just under two meters, straightening them with a pulse of magnetic force, and laying them on the floor next to him while he worked.
Twenty minutes later, he had a large collection of these wires, and he waved his hand theatrically, causing them all to stand at attention, perpendicular to the floor, clustered together like a forest full of thin metal trees. Portioning sixteen wires out from the rest, while holding the rest steady, he caused them to begin looping around each other, the metal twisting and bending before his eyes as his mind imposed a new order upon the metal. Holding that batch steady, he then continued to separate out other batches and twist them similarly, until he had a dozen thick ‘braids’ of metal, interwoven among each other.
At some point Imra had finished her hand-walking, and was now running up the wall, Champion’s Ring glowing faintly as she used it to lessen the pull of gravity on herself, but not negate it, requiring her to use her leg muscles and continuous forward motion to keep herself off the ground.
She paused, fully activating the Ring and floating in mid-air, staring at the construction taking place in front of her motionless friend. His hand sat idly on his knees and his eyes had gone out of focus. Imra could tell that he was no longer *seeing* the metal with his eyes, only sensing them through his magnetic perceptions. His breathing had become shallow, as if his body was falling asleep, while his mind worked furiously.
She initiated a very light mental touch, enough to alert him to her presence without startling him out of his deep focus, and after a second he replied, “Yeah?”
~I didn’t want to break your focus. Can you talk and do this at the same time?~
“We’re about to find out.” He said matter-of-factly, the metal towers swaying slightly with the effects of his now-divided attention.
~This is an amazing display of concentration. You are holding up a dozen different items at once, and also performing fine manipulations. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I wouldn’t have thought anyone not trained on Titan would have such focus.~
“Magno-ball requires you to be able to calculate trajectories instantly, and to perform split-second micro-analysis of the currents your opponent has charged into the ball. If you don’t spot them in time, the ball could jink off in an unanticipated direction as the currents shift, and, well, you lose.” ‘and I don’t lose,’ Rokk added silently, the unspoken motto that had gotten him to the world championships, and the motto that had gotten him back on his feet.
Imra noticed that he’d slowed down his work, and the metal components weren’t moving as quickly or precisely, and knew that the conversation was taking its toll on his concentration.
With a sudden wrenching sound, all of the dozen tall twists of metal wrapped around each other and tightened in a constricting embrace, and suddenly Imra was staring at an iron representation of Jath’s towering coiffure. His eyes opened and he took a sudden shuddering breath, as if waking up, but a smile crosses his features.
~I thought you were refining your powers… You’re practicing hair-styling?~ Imra said with a disbelieving tone coloring her thoughts.
“I’m doing both,” Rokk said with a grin, hauling himself to his feet and staring down at his creation. “I’m going to wash Jath’s hair with a ferromagnetic-laced conditioner, and then I’ll be able to do this.” He looked down and the wires all suddenly whirled apart with a screech of tortured metal and stood waving like trees again before reconstructing themselves perfectly in an instant into the twisted tower of wire. His hands were shaking with the effort and leaned back against the wall, breathing heavily, but he seemed proud of himself.
Imra stepped forward concerned, ~You just learned to do that, right now?~
“Yeah. Don’t know what you can do until you try, right?” Rokk said, wiping sweat from his forehead, but still grinning broadly at his accomplishment.
~I’m concerned that you might over-exert yourself…~ Imra began, noticing that his lips were pale and the shaking in his hands had not yet subsided.
Looking done at the trembling hand Imra had started to reach for, Rokk closed his eyes and the trembling stopped, “I’m fine, Imra. You stick to the telepathy, I’ll handle the magnetic stuff.” He waved and the iron sculpture flew into the box with the remaining wire, and then the entire mass lifted and floated into his arms.
~Rokk, please, I’m just worried. Your entire body is dependent on your magnetic powers, if you overtax them, you could end up in bed again.~
Rokk’s face flushed, “Look, Imra, I know you’re just being a good friend and looking out for me, but trust me, I damn well know my limits and I know what’s at stake if I burn out.”
Ditching the wire-sculpture in a storage room, Rokk returned to their quarters to find that Jath had rolled over in her sleep again, and needed to be adjusted to make sure that she didn’t slow down the blood-flow to her arm and reduce the effectiveness of the regen-treatment. She woke bleary-eyed, looking around confused and he smiled down at her.
“Hey, sleepyhead. We’ve got company coming tonight and I need to get you into the tub.” Jath groggily let him lead her to the bath, and he spent a half hour making sure that the torn tissues in her shoulder had not stiffened up while she slept, massaging them to work out the tightness in the newly-rebuilt muscles. He then got to work on her hair, while she dozed in the warm water.
By the time Jath was fully conscious, she was back in her hover-chair, with Rokk finishing the last braids of her hair. She awoke to see the leftover silver pins flying back towards the shelf, and held a cautious hand up to check her braids. All was in order, she was pleased to discover.
She got out of the hover-chair, displeased to note that she still had a soreness in her hip and was limping slightly, and crossed over to a mirror to examine her mates handiwork.
Rokk remained puzzled how she could see her reflection so clearly when all he could make out in the dim room was a shadowy figure, but she turned her head and seemed to notice the presence of the tiny flecks of metal that sparkled in the conditioner that he’d used. “This is not iron?”
“No, it’s a blend of manganese and bismuth. I wouldn’t decorate you with the metal of another Clan.” Rokk reassured her. ‘Especially not the Sangti,’ Rokk added silently.
Ambassador Marin and four of her five remaining Warriors arrived soon after sunset. Kand, Rokk was pleased to note, was not among them, having apparently expressed a desire to guard their quarters for the evening.
The room was dark, and the Warriors talked of the battle, but the descriptions were lacking, given Lydda’s limited view of the action, trapped in the shadows of the warehouse. Rokk stood behind Lydda through most of the exchange, feeling distinctly uncomfortable, and found the occasional silences to be even worse. The Ambassador had produced a pad and was displaying SP footage of the battle, and the Warriors had crowded around, making the room feel even more oppressive than ever. At the sight of Lydda hurling the freight-hauler and the giant robot rocking back unsteadily, a cheer went up, and they started arguing about whether or not this or that ancient Warrior had done something more impressive.
Distracted and having lost track of the conversation, Rokk suddenly noticed that the Warriors had gotten very quiet, and he felt their heads were turned in his direction. Looking down at the pad, he saw the image of Lydda’s body lying in the shadows, her head cradled in his arms as he pulled her breastplate off of her, and he had to look away.
The Ambassador turned off the display with a click. “We leave now, Jath. A great victory, you bring pride to us all.” On the way out of their quarters, each of the Warriors brushed his arm softly as they passed.
Imra’s head turned as she received the telepathic communication, quickly descending to the floor of the training room. She had been, unsuccessfully, she noted sourly, attempting to replicate Garth’s seemingly instinctive ability to maneuver quickly while in flight using a series of suspended hoops. No matter how she focused, she couldn’t seem to match his speed and agility on the aerial obstacle course she had set up, and he seemed to be able to do these things while exercising his powers!
She had recognized the mind-contact only as Titanian, and so did not bother to change her clothes from her sweat-soaked workout suit, knowing that another Titanian would care as little for details of personal appearance as she did. Arriving in the meeting area, her fist-sized golden psi-crystal pulsed with a rosy aura, and she placed her hand upon it, sending her thoughts threading through the psi-net to speak with her caller. The image resolved in her mind, and she could see Reyu Nataal, the young Titanian that had been rescued from the Mindfire dealers. Her mental self offered the equivalent of a hug, and Reyu accepted it, but quickly broke direct mental contact.
~It is good to see you up and about Reyu.~
The young Titanian male was still regrowing his hair, from where they had shaved it to attach their machines, and his psychic posture radiated discomfort and unease. Even by lax Titanian standards, his appearance was disheveled and spoke of his inner turmoil. As a mental projection, he could easily have faked a happier guise, but he clearly cared nothing for appearances at this point.
~Thank you Imra. I wished to contact you before I left Earth.~
Imra stifled a sigh of disappointment, ~You are returning to Titan, then?~
~Yes, I’m going home. I won’t leave Titan again.~ he said with conviction.
~I understand Reyu. Really, I do. But those monsters can never harm you again.~
~It doesn’t matter. There will be more. There will always be more, Imra. They sold the Mindfire, but others bought it, and those others are still out there. Someone will arise to provide for them, and more Titanians will be snatched away to be…~ his mental voice trailed off, unwilling to continue the thought.
~I will not contest your choice. Your safety, both of body and of mind, are the important thing. The Commissioner says that they are trying to track down the customers…~
~The Commissioner! He says they are to be punished, and instead I hear that they are being sent to Takron-Galtos, to sit in tiny rooms with only their memories. He said this was a *punishment?* It is a respite! A *vacation!* Where is the justice? They should be peeled and their organs given to the less fortunate.~
~I will not take it back, Imra. They deserve punishment, and instead they will sit and be *bored.*~
~There is nothing I can say to make this better, Reyu. They treated you like a meat-worlder treats an animal, to be harvested and exploited.~
~There is something I would ask of you, that is why I contacted you.~
~Anything I can do, Reyu, you know that.~
~The Commissioner asked me not to speak to the press about certain details, so as not to hinder an ‘ongoing investigation,’ but I knew from his thoughts that he lied, and simply wanted to prevent a panic.~
Imra was momentarily taken aback by Reyu’s bald admission of reading the Commissioners thoughts without permission, but, given the circumstances, she could hardly fault him for being short on trust, ~Go on.~
~They took from me Imra. Not just the fluids they extracted from my spinal cord. Not just the finger they severed to terrify me.~ Imra winced at this reminder, that he had shown signs of having many injuries inflicted upon him, only to be regenerated back to health, so that they could do it all over again. ~No, they shaved my head and cut into my skull. The doctors have confirmed that part of my psipareital lobe has been removed.~
Imra’s shock was wordless, but clear through the link.
~They took part of me, for reasons that the Commissioner could not explain. My telepathy remains adequate, I am not crippled by the loss, but still, they have reached into me and scooped away part of my self, Imra. The Commissioner knew only that the equipment necessary for the procedure was not at the Mindfire lab. Someone came there with surgical equipment, cut open my skull, took a part of my brain, and then took their equipment and left. I cannot fathom why. Do they mean to clone themselves a telepath? Or an army of them? Do they think they can insert these cells into another, to give them telepathy like ours? It is simply too horrible to consider such things. I thought Mindfire would be the worst horror that the universe could unleash upon me, and then I find that they are not only feeding on our pain, but they are feeding upon our brains?~
~I swear to you, Reyu, I will find out what is going on here. I will put a stop to this.~
~I would urge you to return to Titan, but I know you will refuse. I only beg you to be careful, Imra. I know, in my soul, that not every sentient around me is a monster, seeking to prey upon me, but the fear is too great. All it takes is one of those alien faces to be the one. Please be careful. I do not want to hear that you have gone missing…~
~I will Reyu. Please watch yourself on your return journey. I know that you will not feel safe until you are home, and hope that time comes swiftly.~
~My shuttle is boarding. Be well, Imra.~
~Be safe, Reyu.~
The rose-colored radiance faded and Imra pulled away from the crystal with a shudder, looking around wide-eyed. Her room had seemed so magnificent and spacious when she arrived, but now the walls were too far away to provide protection, and she pushed her bed into the far corner from the open doorway, cursing the Venegarian custom of open doorways, and crawled up onto her bed, back pressed against the walls, staring at the doorway.
When Garth arrived an hour later, she was in the same position. He spent the next twenty minutes tearing down the gauzy curtain and re-activating the former museum chambers security door…