Emerald Legion, Chapter 3
"You have a hole in your mind" - wherein the convictions of our new Champions are put to the test
The UP sure knows how to make a new dignitary feel welcome, Rokk thought as he took in the amazing numbers of delegates and diplomats and ambassadors packed into the Queen’s throne room. The ‘Champions’ had been a big hit, for about six seconds, and then, as if a whistle had been blown, the delegates started spinning around in a dizzying whirl. At first he thought it was some sort of ritual dance or something, but standing back, he could see the patterns forming and breaking up. It was like some sort of chaotic fractal display, and the longer he watched, the better he could identify the power-players, to whom everyone else was orbiting. It was like a courtship dance, where the brightly colored animals dance around trying to draw the attention of the breeding females, and that comparison made him laugh, as one of the prime ‘breeding females’ was the dour Coluan Ambassador, Orin Fex, standing like a rock amidst an endless parade of people approaching him on some matter or another only to be rudely rebuffed, or outright ignored, at his whim.
Rokk was just close enough to eavesdrop, if he tilted his head just right, and a cute young girl who was certainly not old enough to be Ambassador of anything had caught the Coluan's sleeve and was standing on her tippy-toes trying to get his ear.
“It’s so green in here! You must be loving this, Orin, the entire room goes with you! But really, would have killed her to splash some other colors around?”
“The colors are tastefully arrayed Miss Guampti, and if you’d bothered to consider that the Venegarian visual range is centered around three distinct shades of what you call green, and that any color spectrum past yellow or blue is effectively black to them, you might have constructed a pair of lenses that allowed you to appreciate her eye for detail.” All delivered in a no-nonsense tone, as Orin Fex disentangled his sleeve from the young woman’s grasp with a surgical economy of motion. “As for your colors, you are transparent, young lady. To your left stands Ambassador Ravin, reknowned for his lechery and lack of intelligence. Ply your wares in that direction.”
Rokk had been moving through the crowd slowly, pausing only to catch the last bit and bit back a smile as the young woman smiled brightly and flounced away towards the Talokkian Ambassador with a predatory gleam in her eye, apparently undaunted by her chilly reception from the Coluan appointee.
He wasn’t looking and suddenly there was a hand on his chest, stopping his forward motion before he collided with an older white-haired delegate and as he stepped back suddenly, an identical hand landed on his shoulder, stopping him from backpedaling into the Winathian Ambassador’s twin-brother. Mumbling apologies, he exited stage left, lingering to hear their dry exchange.
“Miss Guampti has assumed a new target.”
“Certainly not Orin Fex, I saw her prowling his direction…”
“Certainly not, although she made a valiant attempt.”
“Allow me to speculate. She burbled and flounced. He gave her a science lesson and a curt dismissal?”
“Hmm. Perhaps I underestimated her charms. A science lesson and a curt dismissal? I do believe that constitutes sexual intercourse for a Coluan…”
“Very droll. And now she has her targeting reticles all over Ambassador Ravin.”
“Fish in a barrel. But he’s slippery, she might end up with nothing to show for her exertions.”
“Did you hear about her work with the Rimborian Criminachs?”
“Only that they signed an exclusive and punitive trade agreement with Caarg. Was that her doing?”
“Indeed. Five of the eight Syndicate leaders scoffed at the Caargite offer, recognizing that it was far to the advantage of Caarg. Over the next two days she seduced her way through their ranks, and when the final tally was held, they voted unanimously to go with the Caargite offer.”
“Breathtaking! Did they discover that they had been duped?”
“They did, but they were not mere elected rulers. Each Criminarch is head of a backstabbing association of murderers, thieves and extortionists, each waiting for the first sign of weakness in their leaders so that they can strike them down and take their place. And so the eight were forced to smile and proclaim their excitement and enthusiasm about their new trade alliance. It was a glorious sight. Then they piled back into their fleet of cruisers and headed back for Rimbor. Rumor has it they were firing on each other before they left the system…”
“She is a marvel, her father must be so proud. Do be careful, your taste for underaged morsels is well known, brother.”
“Oh, you wound me. Speaking of underaged morsels, how is your new wife?
“Most uncalled-for, I merely have your best interests at heart.”
Rokk grinned at the last, but noticed that the older brothers weren’t even looking at each other as their traded jibes, each facing the other and watching over his brothers’ shoulder to take in the entirety of the room, between them. There was no venom in their words, and he quickly realized that it was all for show. Their glittering eyes missed nothing, and their bickering served only to create the appearance of distraction.
And then any attempt at remaining a detached spectator ended, as the Braalian Ambassador plowed her way through the intervening delegates to stand right in his face. Ambassador Rela Martt had been a miner, and through hard work and back-breaking discipline, moved through the ranks of supervisor, manager, corporate flak, executive and was within a hairs-breadth of being the youngest CEO when she was side-shuffled into the diplomatic corps by terrified rivals, eager to get the woman they called ‘the guard-dog’ as far from Braal, and their own careers, as possible. She was the last person in the universe to be made Ambassador to anything, being notorious for her abrasive attitude, taste for micro-management and utter loathing of any idea that did not come from her own head. Absurdly, her stocky frame was draped in the frilliest pale yellow dress, with lace and many tassels, which snapped angrily in the air around her like hissing snakes as she maneuvered her fire-plug-like frame into his personal space.
“Mr. Krinn. I thought I saw you skulking around. I don’t know what Venegar was thinking, proclaiming the likes of you as her 'Champion,' but it certainly sets her down a peg in my estimation.” Her meaty hand thumped on his chest as she stared up at him, “Do NOT do anything to bring further shame on your family, Krinn. You’re a screw-up, and it’s an insult to Braal that you are out here partying it up with your betters while hard-working Braalians are trying to restore the integrity of the sport.”
And with that she was gone, stomping away on her thick hairy legs.
Rokk set down his drink with a shaking hand, ‘Well. That went well.’
Imra had left early, complaining about the ‘noise’ of all the alien minds with their multiple agendas being a bit overwhelming. Thanks to the Champion’s Ring, he was dimly aware that she had gone outside, and was now either hovering over the building or perhaps seated on the roof, probably gathering her focus before making another attempt.
Garth had been standing in a corner, trying not be noticed, but with the amount of people present, it was hard to find wall-space, and it came as no surprise to Rokk when he checked the Ring and determined that Garth was also outside, near Imra. He’d noticed that Garth had become conspicuously absent about the same time as the Winathian Ambassadors arrived, and was beginning to suspect that he wasn’t the only Champion in no great hurry to be reminded of home and family…
Still somewhat shaken by the encounter with Ambassador Martt, Rokk almost dismissed the sight of a Karthooni diplomat shaking her head in disgust and waking out of one of the curtained alcoves. He moved towards her, but she just raised a hand and kept walking. Curious now, he moved quietly towards the entryway and peered within, only to see some huddled figures in whispered negotiations.
Garth! Imra! Get down here, now.
Already the whispering had paused, and someone had noticed a presence at the door, so Rokk just walked in, “*There* you are. Do you know how hard it is to set something like this up? We’ve got a hundred people out there, each with their own specific needs, and it would look appalling if we didn’t have the ability to accommodate our guests.”
The drug-dealer had gone into a defensive stance, moving his product into a fold in his robes, but seemed cautious. “What you mean, young Champion? I assure that the presence of security is not required, nothing untoward is occurring, simple negotiator of passage through extra-spatial rifts in the Vega sector, I am.”
“Security? No, I serve the Queen, and nothing you are doing violates Venegarian law. I’m here to buy. You sell, yes?” shifting to the staccato rhythms of gutter-speak felt natural, and Rokk felt soiled just hearing the words roll off his tongue, especially after his meeting with the Braalian Ambassador. ‘If she could just see me now. She’d kill me herself…’
Rokk hadn’t managed to make out the whispered words, but it sounded like it ended with ‘fire.’ Hearthfire was a happy narcotic, barely illegal. So Rokk picked the worst option, “I need Mindfire, and a lot of it. Payment will be in star emeralds.”
The dealer’s multifaceted eyes clicked as the man shifted his focus. Rokk knew he had his direct attention now…
~According to the Ring, Rokk is in the left-most chamber.~
Stay outside, and out of sight, came Rokk’s silent command.
“What’s going on?”
~There are two others in the room. Sweet concepts, they are negotiating for drugs!~
~This can’t be right. Rokk just said that he wants Mindfire!~ Imra started moving with purpose towards the room, but Garth pulled her back.
“He said stay out of sight.”
~Let go of me, you don’t understand, Garth. He said Mindfire!~
“You’re right, I don’t understand. But I trust Rokk. Let’s do as he says.”
Okay, I’ve convinced him that I need more, before the end of the party. He’s going to go back to his source. Imra, can you follow him without being seen?
~If he sees me, I’ll destroy his mind.~
“Great harvest, Imra!”
~Fine. We follow him. We find his source. *Then* I end him…~
He’s got a man watching me, and I can sense a transmitter in the bag he gave me, so he’s going to know if I follow him. I can’t short it out without him knowing something is wrong, and I don’t want to just leave it here.
~Garth and I will follow him…~
Imra spins around and grabs Garth in a passionate kiss, throwing him up against the wall.
~Quiet, we don’t want to look suspicious.~
~Watch it with the hands, buster.~
Rokk stood frustrated, staring at the henchmen left behind to make sure he wasn’t ‘up to anything funny.’ “So, you ever watch magno-ball?”
“Do you like any sports?”
“Do you speak Interlac?”
Waving his hand in front of the meter-wide doughy pillar of flesh, “Are you even sentient?”
Rokk sat down with a heavy sigh. “Great.”
Okay, we’re attached to the hull of his ship, flying off to harvester-knows-where. I love this plan. So what’s Mindfire, and why does it make you go psycho? Garth asked through the Ring.
~It’s a drug.~
I figured that part out, he added, attempting to figure out how to ‘sound’ sarcastic in his mind.
~It gives most races a sense of profound oneness with the universe, and rush of sensation that has been known to kill people in poor physical condition.~
So, say no to Mindfire…
~That’s not it. The reason I’m ‘psycho,’ is because of the source.~
The suspense? It’s not actually killing me here, but it does kinda itch.
~They make it by torturing a Titanian, and distilling the neurotransmitters from her system. To get a pure dose, they have to terrorize her to the point of nervous collapse, and because she’ll never be quite as terrified by the same thing the same way, they have to find new creative ways to terrorize her to keep the dosage levels pure. Eventually she’s so broken that they can’t scare her anymore, and they discard her as useless.~
Okay, I’m on the psycho shuttle now, too. Let’s fry these creeps…
~We’re slowing down, I’ve told Rokk that we’ve arrived. Oh, prime mover, there are a half-dozen people here. I can’t hide us from all of them, Garth…~
Fine. Keep yourself out of the line of fire.
~They have guns, Garth, and you can’t stun them all!~
I’m not on a space-cruiser surrounded by paying guests, Imra. I’m not going to shoot to stun...
The landing bay was deep underground, and as the shuttle landed, alarms began to sound and various sentients began to produce weapons. The dealer leapt out of the shuttle in surprise as a meaty tentacle seized him out of the air. “You fool! You’ve led them right to us!”
With that Garth came flying around from behind the shuttle and cut loose, blinding yellow flashes of lightning flying in all directions. Two gun-toting crims fell to the ground, not even twitching, without even having time to bring their guns to bear. Within seconds, the remaining four present had pointed various weapons at him, but they couldn’t seem to get a bead on him, as he flew through the landing bay at breakneck speed, flinging lightning bolts indiscriminately in his wake. Swooping through the air like some crazed stunt-pilot, at one moment he was swinging around the parked shuttle in a deadly game of keep-away, the next he was skimming along the ground mere centimeters from the surface, flying directly under one spindly-legged gunman and blasting him in what should be a most sensitive location, assuming his anatomy conformed to humanoid standards. Based on how he curled up and whimpered, Imra assumed this to be the case.
Still, the three remaining gun-men had regained their composure, and the blaster-fire was getting too thick for Garth to dodge. Imra tricked one into shooting another, while Garth wasted a moment attempting to electrify the deck plates and stun the tentacled leader. Unfortunately, the plates were too well insulated, and a well-aimed blaster-shot struck him from the air.
~Garth!~ Imra made it to where he had landed unconscious, a smoldering hole in his shoulder, and reaching into his mind, she screamed, ~WAKE UP!~
“Aaaagh!” Garth jerked awake in time to see Imra standing directly behind the original dealer they had pursued. For some reason he was pointing a gun into empty air and talking while Imra had picked up a fallen man’s gun and was holding it like a club.
“I’ve got you now, female. Surrender.” the noisome creature menaced.
“Dude, she’s behind you…”
Imra helped Garth to his feet, only to freeze, as a half-dozen more armed thugs entered the hangar-bay. The tentacled leader clarified their mission objective. “What are you waiting for? Kill them! Kill them both!”
“Here goes everything…” and suddenly both Garth’s lightning blast and a half-dozen blaster bolts intersected on the hapless shuttle. There had been an explosive rush of air and a thunderous explosion, and in the blink of an eye, the shuttle was parked, on it's side, directly between the young Champions and the gunmen.
“Hey guys. Thanks for saving me some.”
“Man, am I glad to see you, Rokk.”
~I can sense the Titanian here. We need to get to him.~
“One thing at a time, Im. Crazy gun-men first.”
With that, the gunmen came around the smoldering shuttlecraft on both sides, only to fall back as a storm of metallic objects from all over the hangar-bay and lightning bolts drove them back.
~Throw the shuttle at them or something.~
“Can’t. I drained my reserves getting here and doing it the first time. It’s going to be days building up to that sort of stunt again. How about you Garth?”
“Gah! Fine. I’m good. Let’s go.”
~Rokk, he’s losing blood. I can’t keep him awake much longer.~
A piece of metal hull fragment suddenly flew towards Rokk and hovered in front of him. “Can you zap this and make it hot, Garth?”
“Sure, why?” he asked, but already pouring current into the metal until it was glowing slightly around the edges. “It’s not going to hold a charge or anything… AARRGGH! WHAT THE SPROCK!!!”
The metal had suddenly spun around behind Garth and slapped onto his wounded shoulder. A sizzling sound and smell of scorched flesh assailed them.
“You were bleeding. It’s stopped now. You can kill me later, if we live.”
~I’m blocking the pain, Garth. We need to focus.~
“Block harder. ‘Cause I don’t think it’s working…”
And with that, combat was resumed, as the three Champions took to the air, no longer able to shelter behind what was left of the shuttle.
“Science Police! Freeze!”
The gun-men pivoted, to pay attention to this new threat, as a dozen heavily-armed SP troopers pounded down the launch bay.
“Good thinking, Rokk.” Garth admitted weakly. “We were getting our butts kicked…”
“Yeah, only I didn’t call them.”
~No one did, it’s an illusion, I had to wide-cast it to get all of them. Strike now!~
Thanks to Imra’s illusory ‘cavalry,’ the three Champions quickly dispatched the remaining thugs, and the leader, four blaster pistols torn from his nerveless tentacles was backed against a wall.
~You will lead me to the captive.~
“Titanian. You think I’d be trafficking in Mindfire if I wasn’t shielded against your kind?” the ring-leader blustered. “Your powers are useless against me. Release me, or the prisoner dies.”
~You are bluffing. You have no men left. And you’ve never met me, so don’t tell me what I can do.~
With a wet gurgling sound, the ring-leader flailed about and collapsed in a heap of twitching tentacles.
~I’ve got the codes to the door.~ Imra thought-cast as she walked over his twitching body and opened the bulkhead behind him.
Garth nudged the twitching form with his boot, “Imra, you didn’t actually destroy his mind, did you?”
~No. He still remembers his name. In a few months, he should have re-learned how to control his limbs...~
Impatient, Imra flew down the corridor to a door and entered another code, to reveal a darkened room where a single emaciated figure, body covered with half-healed scars, lay enmeshed in tubes and wires and machinery.
“Imra, be careful…” Rokk began, but she seized the crystal helmet off of the man’s shaven head and immediately both of them jerked, and the minds of all four were seized as the two telepaths made contact, and the young man’s fear and pain were amplified through the room, endlessly looping and feeding back upon itself at the speed of thought. Garth fell over immediately, the new wave of pain blending with his own and dropping him like a stone, and Rokk felt his mind shuddering around him. He managed to lash out and shove Imra away from the young Titanian, severing the connection and ending the assault.
“Science Police! Freeze!”
Rokk just shook his head, “Great timing, guys.”
“I said freeze!” repeated an SP trooper, pointing a gun at Rokk’s head as he tried to get back to his feet.
“We’re with the Venegarian embassy and have diplomatic privilege. Contact your superiors.” Rokk said, with his hands raised palm forward in a show of submission.
“Sir, we’ve got the Mayor on the comm. She says anyone wearing a green ring is ‘a good-guy’ and to ‘give them all necessary cooperation.’”, interrupted another SP officer.
~I contacted the Queen at the same time as the SP. She’s covering for us.~
“We encountered a man dealing Mindfire at the Venegarian Embassy, which is our jurisdiction. We followed him back to his source, and have made the arrest. This is now your show, and we’ll get out of your way. But we need medical attention for this Titanian male, and our friend. Now!”
“Sir. I have no idea what’s going on here, but if the Mayor tells me to, I’ll take your word for it. Get these people out of here! And put out those electrical fires in the hanger-bay…”
They stood before the Queen, who was on the comm with the President of EarthGov, the Mayor of New Metropolis, the SP Commissioner for the Metropolis district, the Titanian Ambassador, the Kathooni Ambassador (who was corroborating Rokk’s story, having also seen the original suspect ‘dealing’) and a bunch of other people that Rokk didn’t recognize.
“Excellent. This issue is resolved. Thank you for your supporting testimony as well, Ambassador Marin, it’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The Queen signaled that this meeting was concluded and the dozen floating panels winked out one by one, after an interminable series of parting statements.
The Queen took a pause and sighed heavily, and they shifted their feet uneasily. "Well, my young Champions. Not even twenty-four hours had passed since the Ceremony of Choosing, and you already have earned the gratitude of the Titanian government for rescuing one of their citizens, and, equally importantly, shutting down New Metropolis’ most notorious Mindfire supplier. As I have honored you, so now you so quickly prove your worth by honoring me with your bold acts,” she pauses to look at Garth, still wearing a regen-pack on his shoulder, “and at great personal risk to yourselves.”
The Queen rose from the Emerald Throne and bowed her head before her stunned Champions. “Thank you.”
She sat back down as they gaped, smiling slighty. “Now, please. Do try not to stir up any more excitement today. I have a full schedule.” Sarya waved her dismissal, indulging in a warm smile to her departing Champions.