It was just after four when he slipped into the silent and darkened mess hall. "We're all here," I whispered in the gloom. It hadn't been easy, either; most of the prisoners were convinced it was some kind of malicious trick. I'd desperately pleaded with several of them, pointing out that Lucie would unquestionably be taking over the compound within the next day or two and that it was the only chance we had. All had ultimately agreed that given a choice between the two, Tenako was at least the more civilized. I didn't even try to tell them what had happened.
At my feet was the small wooden cage. Inside was Tora, slumbering peacefully. Reluctantly, at Veldra's suggestion, I'd given him a mild sedative from the infirmary stores. At first I'd fought the idea, but I had to admit she was right; it wasn't fair to risk everyone's safety should Tora decide to start emitting feline yowls.
I jerked involuntarily as I felt a sudden slithering sensation around my neck and a moment later heard the soft clatter of a multitude of small hard objects hitting the floor. Any doubts my fellow prisoners might have had vanished when we looked down to see our restraint collars scattered over the floor, now retracted into open half-circles, reflecting weirdly in the faint light. We were indeed free.
"Listen closely, all of you," we heard him say. Dimly I saw his eyes; I could have sworn they were glowing with the intensity of his voice. "In the battleship hangar there's a small starship cruiser, the Kenoki. Senaria knows the way there, and she'll know how to fly it. The Brizal guards have personal instructions from me to look the other way. You'll have to move quickly. If Lucie's men get wind of this all hell will break loose." He looked at me. "Senaria, it's up to you now. My place is here."
"But aren't you coming along?" I said in horror. He shook his head sadly. "No," I insisted desperately. For the first time I suddenly felt certain that I wouldn't ever see him again. "If you're staying, then so am I."
"Senaria, you've got to get these people home safely," he said firmly. "You know where the hangar is. Most of them haven't been out of this building since they arrived. Besides, I'm responsible for all of this. It's up to me to fix it. Now go." And then the lights went up as I felt a horrible sensation of déjà vu flood over me.
"I don't think so," said Jack Lucie as he stepped out of one of the doorways. He was holding a small machine gun in one hand. In the other was a hideous object, a severed human head dangling by the hair. Behind him were several more of his troopers, all armed. I turned to see our retreat blocked by another contingent.
"So it's as I thought, Teyn," said Lucie with a sneer. To my astonishment he spoke in excellent Deshtiran. "Your communications officer told us about the little message you had him send this morning. After a little persuasion, of course." He held up the head, then tossed it across the floor at us, where it made a ghastly contrast against the polished mess hall planking. "You've let the blonde bitch twist you around her little finger. You're not going to throw away everything I've worked for that easily."
"And what have you worked for, Jack?" asked Tenako. "Money? Power? That's out of your reach now. Or is it just the pleasure of killing?"
"Yes to all," snapped Lucie as his gun exploded with a deafening clatter. I saw Tenako hurled backwards by the impact of the bullets, then slide to the floor against the blood-spattered wall.
"No!" I screamed, frozen in disbelief, then my body finally responded to my commands and I ran to him, dropping to my knees and taking his shuddering body in my arms. I saw him trying to speak. "Senaria," he gasped. "I-- I--"
"I love you too, T.T.," I heard myself answer, my eyes blurring with tears and shock. And then he died.
Someone roughly dragged me to my feet. I heard Lucie's coarse voice, shouting, ordering his men to take us to the main meeting hall. I was only half-aware of being led along the corridors, amid a growing number of people. Several times I heard scattered bursts of machine gun fire from various directions. Only when we stopped did I finally begin to comprehend my surroundings.
We were in the meeting hall. Lucie's men had lined us up against one wall on the raised platform that served as a stage, opposite the giant viewscreen. Numbly I looked out at the large hall, now filled with both Brizali and the Americans. Everywhere I saw the automatic weapons that seemed to be the hallmark of the Earth renegades. In a supreme gesture of contempt, they hadn't even disarmed the Brizali, apparently feeling (correctly, I suppose) that swords would be no match against bullets. The Brizali looked dazed; I doubt that they'd ever imagined they would find themselves in such a position. A few held machine guns themselves, and I realized they must have been in Lucie's pay all along.
Veldra stood next to me, and took my hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry, Senaria," she whispered in my ear. "I didn't know." I nodded, still dazed.
A panic-stricken thought suddenly emerged through the fog. "Tora?" I whispered back urgently.
"We shoved his cage under one of the tables. I don't think they saw him." I nodded gratefully. I knew that Lucie wouldn't show him any mercy either if he discovered him.
There was a sudden hush as Lucie, still cradling his weapon, strode up onto the stage and glared out at the crowd. He wasted no words.
"Teyn is dead," he announced bluntly. Once again he spoke in Deshtiran, with no trace of an accent. "I'm in charge here. If anyone has a problem with that they can die now. Any takers?" He was met with a sullen silence.
"He tried to betray you to the Empire," he went on. "I caught him trying to escape with the prisoners," and he gestured at us. "He's the one who sabotaged our plans on Earth as well." I started, then realized it was an unintentional hit; he was probably just blaming everything he could on the dead, who couldn't answer back. "Now we're going to get this thing back on track. One of our prisoners is a favorite of your beloved Empress and Emperor," and he accompanied the sneer with a gesture at me, "and it's time we put her to work."
He motioned towards one of the technicians on the side, and a moment later the viewscreen lit up. I was startled to see the palace operator staring down at us with a bewildered look. It must have been a strange sight indeed on his end of the connection.
"I'm Jack Lucie," said the American. "I want an immediate link with Emperor Wilorian and Empress Mikiria. I have someone they've been looking for."
One of the troopers grabbed me roughly by the shoulder and dragged me over to Lucie's side. I could see by the operator's shocked expression that he recognized me. "One moment," he stammered, and the screen went blank. There was a delay of about thirty seconds, and then Kiri and Will were looking down at me.
"Sen!" gasped Kiri. To my surprise, a look of momentary relief spread over their faces, and then I saw the remains of the mourning bands across their eyes. It suddenly hit home that they must have really presumed me dead all this time. Well, it looked to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, I observed grimly.
"What is this?" snapped Will. "Senaria, are you all right?" Lucie cut him off.
"Jack Lucie's the name." Kiri was staring at him intently. "We have firearms, we have ships, and we have troops. And we also have something here you lost. Want her back?" He grabbed me by the hair and forced me to my knees. For an instant I was tempted to cripple him where it would have hurt most, but I'd done enough to Kiri, I reflected bitterly. I didn't want to make her watch me die.
"What do you want, Lucie?" demanded Will through gritted teeth. I think Kiri would have torn him apart with her bare hands at that moment if she could have. I'd never seen such a frightening expression on her face and I hope I never do again. If only she were here, I thought.
"First, you will release all Brizal prisoners," Lucie gloated. "Second, you will both abdicate the throne of Deshtiris, after announcing that power has been transferred to me."
Will looked stunned. "And if we don't?"
"Your people will disintegrate into bloody shreds before our weapons. You have swords. We have machine guns and rifles. And, just to make sure you make your decision quickly, we have hostages, too." He gave my hair another vicious yank, then shoved me to the floor. I remained there, making no effort to get back up as he strode over to the other hostages.
"You know the drill," Lucie went on, a hideous light in his eyes. "A finger or two after the first few minutes, then perhaps an ear. Keep me waiting and we'll see what else comes off." I suddenly realized that Tenako had been right; it was the killing that Lucie lived for more than anything else. And now there was no one to restrain him.
"Don't be a fool, Sotok," Kiri said. Sotok? I wondered. Who is Sotok? "You know there's no death penalty on Deshtiris. Surrender and you'll be reprogrammed or exiled to the prison planet, but at least you'll be alive. Kill a hostage and we'll stop at nothing to track you down, and I promise you I won't discipline the soldier who accidentally kills you in the line of duty. And if you harm a hair on Senaria's head, I'll be that soldier."
She's stalling, I suddenly realized. But why?
Lucie laughed, a brutal laugh. "We've got all the winning cards here. Do you think your troops and their little kitchen knives are going to stand up against us? Perhaps you'd like me to demonstrate on one of these hostages?" and he raised his own weapon and aimed it directly at Veldra.
"Stop it, Sotok," Kiri said hastily, a little less imperiously. "All right, you've made your point. Let's talk."
Something began to surface through the terror. I realized that the walls behind Kiri looked strange, as if they were alive, continually in motion. And then I understood and my heart leaped.
"Sotok, how do I know Senaria's even still alive?" Kiri was saying. "For all we know those could be holograms standing there."
Lucie snickered, an ugly noise. "You don't. And I think you'd grant our demands anyway. But go ahead and ask her something that only she knows. No tricks," he added coldly, motioning across the stage for me to get back to my feet.
"Sen," Kiri said, her eyes seeking me out, and there was something in them that told me things weren't quite what they seemed. And then she asked a question that absolutely floored me for a moment. "Where are you standing?" was all she said, and suddenly I knew what she was going to do.
"Against the west wall," I replied without hesitation, and her face broke into an icy grin that portended ill times for Jack Lucie. Unexpectedly the screen went blank.
For a second Lucie was stunned, then he spat out an obscenity. "What the hell was that all about?" he snarled. There was a sudden edge of fear in his voice.
"Lucie," shouted a voice from the doorway. All eyes turned to see one of the troopers standing there, breathless, his features contorted. "Something's coming through the compound. It barely registers on our sensors." Lucie's face went deathly white as the truth finally sank in. "Kill her! Kill them all! Now!" he screamed, raising his weapon.
I closed my eyes. There was a deafening crash and I waited for the agony of the bullets tearing into my flesh, but it never came. I reopened my eyes and found that everyone had turned away from me. The entire rear wall of the building had collapsed inward in a chaos of shattered masonry as an incredible object emerged from the dust and debris to settle gently to the floor. It was a bullet-shaped cylinder about forty feet long, and as the dust poured off the sides I could see that it was transparent and that there were people inside. A ramp extruded itself from the front of the thing and a doorway formed above it, and moments later soldiers were pouring out and advancing towards the stunned onlookers, led by a slender young woman in Deshtiran battle armor.
Even from that distance I could see the crimson hair flowing from under the helmet and caught the glint of brilliant emerald eyes. Emperor Nendor Wilorian followed her, holding high in the air a small torch shedding a brilliant yellow-orange glow in all directions, with Rann immediately behind, and after them came dozens after dozens of Deshtiran soldiery, swords gleaming in the dust-choked air. I heard Veldra exclaim something I couldn't make out. There was an odd sensation in my ears, like a dog whistle just barely too high-pitched to hear.
"Look out!" I screamed as loudly as I could. "They have firearms!" Kiri motioned towards the lamp Will was holding up over his head, and grinned. For an instant my stomach knotted up as I saw hundreds of automatic weapons trained on her, and then I realized that their wielders were shaking them in dismay. Not a single shot rang out. Belatedly the remains of the Brizal forces began drawing their swords, as the Americans milled around in evident panic.
"Sen! Catch!" called out Kiri, and with a remarkable javelin-style thrust she hurled a blade across the room to me, hilt first, over the heads of the intervening combatants. I caught it with a bound, feeling my spirits soar as I relished the sensation of the cool grip in my hand. I turned to see several of Lucie's Brizal turncoats advancing towards me, their own swords drawn.
"Now it's a fair fight," I growled loudly. It took them only a few moments to realize what I meant, as I wove a net of flashing steel before me, driving one back, running another through the arm, and watching the looks of growing dismay on their faces.
Meanwhile the soldiers just kept pouring out of the Futaba. I had assumed they'd been waiting in the ship's attached living quarters, but not even it could have held this many troops. There had to have been nearly a thousand by now, mercilessly advancing through the huge hall. Then I realized Kiri had left a gateway open back in Deshti and the soldiers were simply walking on through. A moment later I was brought back to my own situation with a thud.
"Back," snarled a cold voice. "This bitch is mine." The Brizali fell back and Lucie stepped forward, blade in hand. "I don't know how you did this, but I'll be damned if you're going to live to celebrate it." I snorted at the thought of an Earthling trying to wield a sword as he lunged. A moment later I realized that I was in very, very deep trouble.
He was good. In fact, it was all I could do to stay alive for the next few minutes as several times I barely deflected thrusts that would have been instantly fatal. Belated understanding finally came. Sotok. "You're a renegade Watchdog," I gasped.
"Thought I was just another primitive Earther, did you? Serious mistake. Fatal mistake, for you," he jeered, and I barely knocked aside a thrust that would have gutted me.
"Yes, I was a Watchdog," he continued, as I desperately retreated through a doorway, across the courtyard, and into another building. At this point, all I could do was to try and stay out of the path of that lethal blade. "For fifteen years I watched people getting rich, enjoying anything they wanted, while I was supposed to be the virtuous, incorruptible secret watcher working valiantly behind the scenes to keep them from hurting themselves." His blade slipped through my guard for a moment and I felt a searing pain in my left forearm. Glancing down, I saw blood beginning to flow from a long deep slash. "You know, Earth is a potential paradise for someone who knows how to exploit it. All it takes is the right attitude."
A sudden quick twist of his blade sent my own flying over my shoulder. Desperately I threw myself to the ground, rolling as I hit, and grabbed up the blade and rolled back to my feet. There was a clang as his blade hit the floor mere inches from where I'd been moments before. I suddenly recognized where I was, and the beginnings of a desperate plan began to take form through the terror rapidly engulfing me.
Leaping backwards to avoid another vicious thrust, I threw my blade directly at his face, turning and running for my life as I did so. As I'd hoped, the move caught him off guard and he barely deflected the blade to one side, receiving a cut on the cheek in the process. It bought me just enough time to dash down the corridor and into a small room, slamming and locking the door behind me. An instant later I heard a crash as he threw himself against the thin wooden barrier. I knew that the door, as flimsily built as the rest of the buildings in the complex, wouldn't hold for more than a few moments.
On the far side of the room was a bank of computer equipment, a blank white computer screen in the middle, and I dashed for it, kicking aside a chair along the way. Frantically I activated the device, hoping against hope that, like the other Virrin technology Tenako had adapted, this one also used the familiar standard Deshtiran graphical computer interface.
What do you want to do today? said an emotionless voice quite unexpectedly. Damn! I thought. A voice interface. Just great. "Show list," I gasped, trying to get my panting sufficiently under control so that the computer could understand me.
Specify list, said the voice. I swore softly under my breath. "Show list of available files," I said as calmly as I could, and a moment later the blank white screen filled with a list of names and dates.
Please select file, said the voice.
I heard the door beginning to give way. "All of them," I snapped, the blood pounding in my temples.
That option is not recommended in this context, said the voice. I hate computers! I screamed silently to myself. I hate them! I hate them! I hate them! "Do it anyways," I managed through near gritted teeth, panic now surging through my body as a panel of the door crashed inward.
Are you sure? said the voice. "Yes!" I screamed, and suddenly the entire screen turned black with white lettering. Ready, said the voice as the door gave way with a splintering crunch and Lucie stepped into the room, sword in hand.
"Well, if it isn't another room full of Teyn's toys," he sneered. "Guess I'm going to get them all bloody," and he slowly advanced toward me, fingering the edge of his blade suggestively. "This time you've got nothing to throw and nowhere to hide." Closer--closer--and then as he stepped onto the spot where the chair had been I shouted "Download now!"
For a moment I half expected the computer to announce another error message, and then Lucie looked surprised, his eyes widening. He remained that way for several seconds, his face becoming a frozen mask of horror as he tried unsuccessfully to say something, and then he began to scream, an eerie, horrifying wail that seemed to go on forever. I put my hands over my ears but I still heard it; I hear it now as I write this, and sometimes I hear it in my dreams.
At last he sank senseless to the floor in a crumpled heap, and my own knees gave way as three weeks of accumulated exhaustion, pain and horror finally overwhelmed me in a massive wave. I heard a commotion in the hallway but was too tired and sick at heart to even look up as someone burst into the room. I no longer cared if it were a Brizal or American, and was only vaguely aware of a voice shouting, "Here she is." After some timeless interval I felt someone put their hands under my arms and gently lift me to my feet, and I found myself looking into Kiri's face. "Senaria? Are you okay?" she said softly, and I pressed my face against her shoulder and put my arms around her and cried at last, crying for her, for Lev, for T.T., and for myself, until I couldn't cry any longer.
THE THREE MINDS. Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2001 Lamont Downs. All rights
reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
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This page last updated 2/5/2010.|