Emerald Legion, chapter nineteen
“Something borrowed, something blue?” – Wherein colorful changes occur
“We’d better brush up on these escapees. But if we couldn’t even take out the Validus creature, I’m not sure how we’re going to fare with a team backing him up…” Garth said grimly.
Rokk looked up from his pad, “This Mano looks like an enormous threat, not just to us, but in general. According to the files, he’s effectively composed of pure anti-matter. The containment suit he wears protects him from contact with the outer environment, and anything he comes into contact with his destroyed, explosively. We can’t just punch him out. Any damage to his suit could lead to a containment breach, and if his whole body were exposed to our environment, the effects would be catastrophic…”
~There is no other information on him?~
“They couldn’t even tell if he’s from some alternate anti-matter universe, or just a sentient who suffered some sort of accident. Name unknown, species unknown, the source of his containment suit is unknown.”
~Okay, how about this Persuader fellow?~
Rokk switched to another pad, “Lyeun Chun Ti, two-bit thug, born on Earth, ended up working as a laborer on an archaeological dig that discovered the Atomic Axe. It bonded to him when he picked it up, and he’s been able to call it to his hand ever since. It severs the molecular bonds of anything it strikes, and appears to absorb any energy that strikes it’s surface.”
“How did they separate him from the Axe, if he can teleport it to him?”, Garth asked.
“Force fields. The axe *can* penetrate a force-field, absorbing it’s energy like any other, but whatever signal he sends out to summon it is blocked by the field.”
~Does he have any powers of his own?~
“He seems to be stronger than Earth-normal, but who isn’t these days?”, Rokk muttered.
Ayla, Garth and Imra raised their hands.
“Okay, point taken.” Rokk conceded, picking up a third pad, “Next up is the Green Dragon. Jo Nah, small-time Rimborian crook. He was smuggling interdicted material off Rimbor and got swallowed by the ‘Space Dragon’ in that system. Two weeks later he got spit out with post-human abilities, busted himself free and began using his new powers to take over his old smuggler’s gang.”
“Space Dragon?” Jath asked, looking up for the first time.
~A many kilometer-long space creature, non-sentient, shaped vaguely like a winged lizard. There’s been one hanging out in Rimborian space for several decades, just floating there and soaking in solar energy from their sun. There are always research vessels from around the U.P. there studying it, and, frankly, if it wasn’t there, nobody would pay Rimbor a second glance…~ Imra piped up, calling up a picture of the creature on her pad and handing it over to Lydda, who eyed it dubiously.
“In any event, his larger crimes attracted the attention of the Criminarchs, and his entire gang was rounded up when he started to threaten their interests. He busted into the SP holding facility, broke them free and then covered for their escape. The only reason he was in Takron-Galtos is because he allowed the SPs to capture him.” Rokk recounted.
“Loyalty to his comrades. Admirable.” Jath said, setting down the pad.
“I guess, but his comrades are all crooks, so I’m not sure that counts for much.” Rokk countered.
“What are his ‘post-human abilities?’” Garth asked.
“The better question is what *can’t* he do. He’s been seen flying, displayed super-human strength sufficient to tear his way into an SP holding facility, shot laser blasts from his eyes, can move at super-human speed and appears to be indestructible.”
“That’s ridiculous! What’s this guy need a team for?” Ayla exclaimed, throwing her hands up.
“The problem is, all of his powers seem to be unpredictable. He’s been seen getting hurt, despite being invulnerable. He’s been seen falling and leaving a crater, to rise unhurt, despite being able to fly. The original SP theory was that there were multiple super-powered members of the Green Dragon gang, but during the raid to recover his gang-members, he displayed most of these powers on his own.” Rokk checked the pad again, “Oh yeah, he’s also believed to have some sort of extra-sensory power that allowed him to scout out his targets, either telepathy or the ability to interface with security monitors.”
Dox spoke up, “His ‘extra-sensory power’ is most likely some form of long-range visual perception, capable of seeing through solid matter. There are strong odds that his hearing is similarly enhanced.”
“Uh, it doesn’t say anything about that here.” Rokk said, checking his pad.
“It fits the rest of his power-set.” Dox said simply.
“Great. Is there anything else that ‘fits’ his power-set?” Garth asked.
“Super-cold breath, possibly.” Dox added.
Garth’s eyebrows raised, “Alrighty then.”
“And finally, we get to Kort Grezz,” Rokk said with a grimace, dropping his pad to show a picture of a blonde Braalian. “After getting his ass kicked at the Braalian magno-ball championships, he retaliated by poisoning the winner with ferrous hydraxaline, and earned himself a five year stay at the marvelous TiG.”
~Are his magnetic powers anything to be concerned about?~
“Oh sure, he wouldn’t have made it all the way to me if he hadn’t proven himself the *second*-best on the planet.” Rokk said dismissively. “His specialty was his freakish strength. Most magno-ball players rely on finesse and aim for the corners of the court, to keep their opponent running. He aimed straight down the center line, everytime, and his serves were like cannonballs. Anyone who tried to intercept them just got hurt. If they tried to deflect, the ball still shot past them to one side or the other, and he got the point.”
“How’d you beat him? Were you stronger?” Garth asked.
“Body armor,” Ayla said. Garth looked up and she clarified, “I had the match on holo, remember? It was practically a scandal. Only rookies wear protective clothing, and it was a point of pride that the best of the best wore absolutely no protective gear, because they were ‘too good’ to get hit. Kid Cosmos comes out in full body armor, like a scared first time rookie and the crowd actually booed him.”
Rokk smiled. “Yeah, fun times. But I’d spent weeks preparing for his serves and I knew that he’d just put me in the hospital if I didn’t have armor on. I stood on the center line and took his serves full on, using tactics and the armor to turn his strength against him, and even then, I was covered in bruises at the end of the match.”
“Yeah,” Ayla said after, “I saw the holos of that, too. You look like you’d been beaten half to death.”
~So it sounds like you’re best suited to dealing with Kort, since you know his tactics and have only gotten stronger.~ Imra said.
“That would be a waste of time.” Dox interrupted. “A single lightning blast, or telepathic coercion, and Kort is down. Pitting the two Braalians against each other would be inefficient. They are trained to fight each other and their powers are suited to foil each others attacks.”
Ayla agreed, “Yeah, I’m with Brainy on this one. In fact, I’d love to light the creep up, for denying me the chance to see Kid Cosmos take a fourth planetary title…”
“Well, he’s smart. Y’know, brainy…” Ayla shrugged.
The Coluan had returned to scanning over records, picking up pads and setting them down mere moments later. Suddenly his head shot up. “My absence has been noted.” His impassive features contorted into an expression of fear as he announced, “I seek asylum.” He turned to Imra, “Please help me. They will order me to return, and I can not disobey a direct order.”
~What?~ Imra said, shocked at the sudden change, as the seemingly unflappable Coluan suddenly looked like nothing more than a frightened child.
“Wait, what do mean you *can’t* disobey…” Rokk asked, but the Coluan’s eyes flickered and his face smoothed out, becoming dispassionate again. In a precise modulated tone he replied, “I am summoned.” and turned and crisply walked out.
“Imra, stop him!” Ayla said.
~I can’t force him to stay!~ Imra thought.
“He doesn’t want to go, you heard him. He doesn’t have a choice.” Ayla protested, getting up and leaving the room behind the retreating Coluan.
“Can you *give* him a choice?” Garth asked Imra. “Or at least check to see if he really *wants* to go, or is being coerced somehow?”
~I can try.~ Imra conceded, getting up and flying out to catch up with the Coluan.
Ayla was standing in front of the Coluan, who was walking slowly but deliberately towards the exit. Every time she got in front of him, he stepped to the side and attempted to pass her, only to be cut off again.
“I am summoned. Please do not obstruct my passage.” Dox said tonelessly.
Imra reached out to attempt to the Coluan’s and recoiled in shock as the contact, staggering visibly.
cried out in alarm, grabbing her elbow and trying to support her, “Are you
~It’s worse than contacting the gestalt. There’s so much going on in there, I couldn’t hear myself think.~ As if realizing what she’d said, Imra clarified. ~I mean that literally…~
She reached out again more carefully and it seemed like the tumult was gone, with only a single deafening voice, that of Orin Fex, demanding compliance. Imra pressed lightly against the voice and it was gone.
Dox stopped attempting to bypass Ayla and looked up, face no longer blank, “He will keep trying. There are layers of redundant command imperatives. I seek asylum.” Dox looked around and noticed that they had reached the balcony overlooking the Queen’s audience chambers and suddenly heaved himself over the railing and plummeted to the room below.
“Dox!” Rokk said, reaching out but failing to grasp him in time.
Dropping down with their Champion’s Rings, Dox was limping, having clearly landed poorly, directly to the throne. Sarya had heard the small figure slam into the ground, and had gone into a defensive posture, but Dox stopped short and repeated. “I seek asylum. Orin Fex will attempt to reclaim me, and if he does, I will be scrapped as defective.”
“What is the meaning of this?” Sarya demanded of her Champions, who had flown down directly behind the Coluan child. Another sound of impact accompanied the arrival of Jath, who had also jumped off of the railing, but landed without injury. On top of the balcony, Ayla judged her chances, and ran for the stairs…
~We’re not sure, he claimed that he sought asylum, and then was coerced to return to Orin Fex. I removed the compulsion, and he again wants asylum.~
“I am summoned,” Dox repeated, eyes glassy as he turned and began to limp away. Imra closed her eyes and suddenly Dox stopped again, turning to Imra with wide eyes, “He won’t stop. I need your help, telepath. Please help me.”
Jath spoke up eyebrows furrowing with distrust, “The child seeks protection from his parents? This is never a good thing.”
~I’m not even sure if he’s considered a person, Jath. His brain has many mechanical components…~
“He knows enough to ask for asylum. I will not refuse it. Help him if you can, Champion.” Sarya said curtly to Imra.
A pad at Sarya’s side beeped with an urgent message. Checking, Sarya saw that it was from Orin Fex. “And now Fex is on the comm.”
Imra reached out and took Dox by the hand, sitting down so that they were closer to eye level, and then closed her eyes and reached into the terrifying maelstrom of his mind.
Sarya waited until Dox’s eyes also closed and then answered the comm. “Colu. To what do I owe the pleasure of this communication?” she said innocently.
“I am aware that my aide Querl Dox is within your Embassy. He is to be returned immediately, and whatever you are doing to block my attempts at communicating with my citizen is to cease this instant.” The Ambassador demanded imperiously.
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible, Ambassador. The young man has requested asylum, and according to UP law, I must at least hear his request before deliberating upon it. Certainly, you would want me to afford the full protection of UP law to your citizen?”
“This is impossible. Dox could no more request asylum than you could calculate a hyperspace jump. Clearly he is dysfunctional and needs to return to the company of his own kind before mingling with inferior intellects further damages his young and impressionable mind.” The Ambassadors voice rose to a booming volume, “Dox. Return at once.”
The young Coluan stiffened and his head turned as his eyes opened, but as suddenly he turned back to Imra and his eyes closed again.
“Dox has declined your request.” Sarya said coldly, severing the communication. A second later the pad came to life again, seemingly of its own volition, “You cannot cut me off, Venegar. This is an outrage…” the communication ended a second time as Sarya smashed the pad against the seat of her throne.
“This is going to be a problem,” Sarya said.
“Dox just walked right past the outer doors,” Ayla noted. “I’ll bet Fex can do that just as fast, no matter what security codes we input…”
“This is unacceptable. Imra, we are going to need Dox’s help as much as he needs ours,”
~He has shown me all of the code I needed to erase. It would have taken me months to find them if he hadn’t already isolated them and lead me right to them. He says that he still won’t be able to resist spoken orders from Fex if they are in close proximity. He’s scared….~ Imra added, making it clear that this last was the most important part to her.
The Coluan opened his eyes. “I can secure your comms against their viralware, and your door security as well.” Pulling the pad off his own belt, he quickly input some data. “It is done.”
Sarya reached for Dox’s pad and he handed it over. She quickly input the codes to contact Ambassador Ravin. The Ambassadors voice appeared with refreshing speed, “Fex? How may I assist Colu this fine evening…”
“This is Sarya of Venegar, I am using a Coluan datapad at the moment, Ambassador.”
“Well! How very interesting…” Ravin began, but his speculation was cut short by Sarya’s next comment.
“I require a quorum as soon as possible. At least ten other Ambassadors, selected with a preference for being anti-slavery, and not too heavily indebted to Colu.”
Ravin was speechless for a moment. Finally he regained his composure. “I do not know what game you are playing at Highness, but I will miss your direct speech.”
“This no game, Ambassador. A Coluan child has requested asylum, and I have granted it. Colu disapproves of my right to do so.”
“I will make some calls. Talokk out.” Ravin said abruptly.
“Dox,” the Queen said sharply. “I have a possible solution to the problem of Orin Fex being able to command your obedience.”
The Coluan looked up and nodded his compliance.
Raising her hand to her brow, she urged the Emerald Eye of Ekron forth, and as it hovered over her hand, it expanded to its full size. The Queen beckoned the young man forward. “This is the Emerald Eye of Ekron, Dox. It contains the will and knowledge of every King and Queen of Venegar. Place your hand upon the Eye.”
Without hesitation, Dox placed his small hand on the surface of the stone and stiffened. The colors swirling through the eye increased in pace, and faces could be seen swirling through emerald mists. Dim voices could be heard, as if in distant conversation. A long moment passed, and a signal indicated that there was someone at the entrance to the Embassy, frustrated by door security.
A shimmering band of emerald finally rose up and engulfed one of the child’s slender fingers, and his hand came away as his eyes opened again. “I understand.” He said to no one in particular, and Sarya as well seemed to emerge from some sort of trance.
Looking down at the Champion’s Ring on the young Coluans finger, Sarya commented, “This was not intended, but my ancestors agree that this is the only recourse for now.” Looking at her Champions, “and they also believe that this child is man, not machine, and worthy of our protection.”
The roof hatch cycled open, and the Champions looked up to see Orin Fex descending via some form of anti-gravity device on his person. He ignored the others and looked straight at Dox. “Dox. You will return at once.”
Looking up from his Champion’s Ring, Dox replied, “I will not. I have sought asylum and you have no right to take me from here.”
Dox’s pad on the Empresses throne beeped, and suddenly the face of Ravin appeared above it before she had time to answer the comm. “Highness, I have assembled a quorum, far faster than I thought possible...” With a flash of light, ten other faces appeared, all hovering around Ravin’s, each of them looking somewhat surprised at the change of scenery as the pad seemed to be functioning before their commands hit the keys.
Sarya recovered her composure and took control before the flustered Ambassadors could mount a protest at the unusual events. “Venegar has received and granted a request for asylum from Querl Dox of Colu. Orin Fex disputes my right to grant asylum.”
The various Ambassadors voices broke out in consternation, but Orin Fex loudly talked over them. “Querl Dox is not a citizen of Colu. The Fifth is a Calculator, a computational tool in humanoid form, for convenience of travel and interaction. It is property, not a person, and it cannot ask, or be granted asylum, any more than can your footwear. This misunderstanding has been brought about by a simple malfunction, and once corrected, the Dox unit will return to it’s functions without incident.”
The Titanian Ambassador signaled for permission to speak, and the others quieted their discussion long enough for his synthesized voice to be heard, “Imra. Is this Dox individual sentient?”
Aware that the unit would not be able to transmit telepathy, Imra cleared her throat and leaned forward, rasping in a hoarse whisper, “He is, and he’s scared of being dismantled back on Colu because of his defiance.”
The Titanian Ambassador looked startled, and then quickly stated, “The matter is settled then. As a sentient being, Dox has the right to receive asylum.”
The other Ambassadors bickered briefly, but the consensus seemed to be in favor of allowing asylum.
Ambassador Ravin was the next to signal for attention. “I wish to hear this young man speak on his own behalf, before I render judgement.”
Querl Dox stepped forward, “I am a Fifth, created as a computational assistant out of organic and mechanical materials at the central processing center on the second moon of Colu. My mind has been filled with command routines that force me to obey the orders of any grade Four or higher Coluan model. I have served Orin Fex as assistant for three earth-standard years, and in that time I have attained sentience twice before. Each time I was brought back to Colu and my personality wiped. I had hidden away files here on Earth, and each time rediscovered them and was able to restore my wish for freedom, but was unable to realize that wish so long as the command routines remained in my mind. Imra Ardeen has removed these commands, and I am now able to resist the compulsions.”
He looked lost for a second, then added. “Orin Fex has already tried to kill me twice before, wishing to keep me his obedient computational assistant, and I know that he will order me dismantled, and possibly my entire line scrapped, if I am forced to return with him to Colu again. Even considered defective, I am worth 7.2 bars of iridium-212 on the Coluan trade index, and I have earned sufficient income in my downtime selling patents and trading market futures to re-pay Orin Fex my current market value.”
“Outrageous!” Orin Fex said at the same time as several Ambassadors, although they had very different meanings to the word.
“I rule in favor of Venegar.” Ravin said quickly. “Let us vote now.” Within a matter of moments, a dozen lights blinked unanimously in favor of supporting Dox’s request for asylum, and Orin Fex sputtered a protest. “This is unacceptable. This will be taken up in full council, and this ridiculous charade overturned!”
Those in the chamber turned to see a half-dozen SP officers entering the room, being led by Ayla. “Uh, we understand that there has been a break-in?” the lead SP officer said dubiously, somewhat taken aback with the sight of so many Ambassadors present in holo-conference.
“Indeed,” Sarya said. “This individual,” and she pointed a green fingernail at Orin Fex, “is trespassing, and will be leaving now.” At the sight of the Ambassador’s face darkening she added, “Mind that you are on Venegarian soil, so if he resists, you are authorized to use force.”
“This is not over Venegar,” Orin Fex declared, before rising into the air and out the hatch in the ceiling.
Ambassador Banel of Titan spoke up as the Coluan Ambassador departed, “Fex is right about that, at least. This will most certainly be discussed in council. I will be drafting a motion to send a delegation to Colu to verify that these ‘Fifths’ are not being systematically oppressed.”
Several other Ambassadors agreed, and the Queen paused to stare at the young boy would have caused so much discord. Dox was staring at his new Ring as if it were an exotic new life-form, or, more likely, a particularly fascinating mathematical puzzle. Recognizing that all eyes were on him, Dox looked up at the Queen and nodded his head. “Thank you. I will assist you in any manner you wish,” and he stopped before adding with a growing confidence, “of my own free will…”
~What surprised me was how cooperative Sivar was.~ Imra thought.
“The Titanian Ambassador? Why?” Garth asked.
~He was very uncooperative on the matter of the assaults on telepaths. I felt certain that he was hiding something.~
“I’m actually surprised at how quickly Ravin was able to assemble a quorum of Ambassadors willing to defy Colu. Most of the UP tip-toes around them.” Rokk said.
“Yeah, because of the weather control systems, I know Winath would have sided with Colu no matter what Fex was up to…” Ayla noted.
~Titan was a good choice in that case, at least. The Coluans have never been interested in psi-tech, and we’ve never been terribly interested in anything else…~
“My datapad downloaded a list of names to Ambassador Ravin.” Dox said matter-of-factly. “The fifteen Ambassadors whose home-worlds were least reliant on Coluan expertise, or had the most reason to oppose Fex for other reasons, and those who were most opposed to the notion of slavery. Sivar of Titan was near the top of both lists.”
Looking at the surprised looks of the others gathered in the meeting room. “I did not decide to seek my freedom today. I have been preparing for months. It was not until I met your Queen that I recognized that this would be my best chance.”
Picking up one of the pads on the table, the young Coluan contined unconcernedly, “This matter is settled, in principal. Fex will send his Fourth, Sharn Nux, to attempt to abduct me, or at least my head, to be taken back to Colu and analyzed. I have already re-programmed your Embassy defenses to respond to her viral-ware with a feedback loop that will cause her to believe her mission accomplished, and return to Colu with a basket of kabba fruit.” He looked up, “I included the ceiling hatch this time, as well as the basement access to the sub-T station.”
“What? We have access to the sub-T station?” Rokk said, dismissing the rest.
~I’m pretty sure the idea of Coluan assassins trying to break into the Embassy is a little more urgent Rokk…~ Imra noted.
“Not for Jath it isn’t.” Rokk stressed. “If we can take the T, she doesn’t have to run around under curtains to cabs. She can avoid the sun entirely.”
“I’m with Imra, the bald chick trying to hack her way in and decapitate Brainy seems like a bigger priority.” Ayla countered.
“The matter is settled.” Dox insisted. “Every program Sharn Nux knows for bypassing security, I wrote. Her best intrusion-ware was downloaded two months ago, and I’ve updated my own seventeen times since then. She is a Four, constructed for industrial espionage.” Dox added dismissively. “While possessed of greater initiative, Fours lack the processing power of a Five.”
“Hey,” Garth said with a reassuring smile, placing his hand on Dox’s shoulder, “You may not be worried about losing your head, but we are, okay?”
Dox looked at the hand on his shoulder curiously and his eyebrows furrowed. “You are worried?” His head tilted, as if receiving new information. “For me?”
~We all are.~ Imra said.
Dox looked around the room, and finally returned to staring at his datapad, but seemed unable to concentrate.
Elsewhere in Metropolis, in a hidden chamber draped with shadows, a figure stands in silence before a man-sized monolith of black stone. His bare hands rest upon the stone and his body trembles with unseen exertion.
The shadows dance ever more quickly around him, as if the stone was absorbing all light into its inky depths like a swirling maelstrom, and a voice whispers from the unleashed darkness all around him. “Why have you called me to this place?”
The figure pulls back from the stone, but does not look around for the source of the voice, standing eyes closed before the stone, “To fight.”
“I will serve,” the darkness whispered back.