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Here is your sample:
When he stepped off the fighter, they greeted him with weapons.
Four projectile arms, with connectors woven into the nervous systems of the Eldking’s personal guards. Not the best welcome. He—it was difficult to think of himself as Bryan Landry, though he knew that had been his name—felt the first flutter of terror as their minds brushed his. These were the elite of the Overseers. Brightminds, each and every one of them, with every sense of self obliterated by their chosen duty. Their thoughts burned harsh as the light of a burning star. They could flay his mind down to its basest form, uncover all his secrets, and plant whatever poisoned seeds they chose. He was powerless before them.
And yet his mind turned to those thoughts like a flower to the sun. He had avoided his own kind too long. He wanted their community. Damn his traitor body, he longed for it. He’d been human, once. He even remembered it for brief and fleeting moments. That was not true anymore, no matter how much he and others might wish it. He was theirs. Their blood, their mind, their kin, and every part of him knew it. His consciousness recoiled from the invasion of thought; the rest of him leaned towards it like the embrace of a brother.
The battle to keep his secrets hidden was already half lost.
Faces pale as the skin of a silver moon, the other Overseers watched him. Behind the four were perhaps twenty Lowminds. Bowed and bent with coiled energy, their four eyes avid only with hunger, they watched him warily. Each of them was like a dark hole waiting to be filled by a greater, brighter mind. That was the way of the Overseer. The stronger filled the weaker, and in filling they obliterated. The Lowmind feared the Highmind, and feared the Brightmind more. They feared the Brightest Mind most of all.
It seemed they could also spare a little fear for Bryan Landry. Cold comfort, that.
The Homeship curled around them. Black carapace was blue washed by organic lights. It was brighter here than it would be in the living quarters. A hanger bay was always designed to be a shooting gallery of sorts, easy to guard and impossible to invade. But compared to human society these open spaces were cool as twilight in the lee of a great stone. After so many days of sunlight, Bryan welcomed the dimness. Power conduits and organelles blinked in organic support pillars. Powerpack hearts fluxed as read-screens projected their information onto delicate membranes, the unimportant things that life-engineers didn’t want continually projected into their already cluttered thoughts. The Homeship pulsed against his feet, the selfless void of its computations rested patiently against his mind.
It was like coming to hell.
It was like coming home.
“What do you come for?” one of the Guard asked. The Kind were psychic. Speaking aloud rather than mind-to-mind was an insult.
Bryan squelched the immediate rage. Not here, not now. This was not the time to pick a fight. “I come to see the Eldking.”
-You come for the woman, I think.- The mind behind this thought was not present. Distance hadn’t muted the volume. Those words were like a shaft of bright sunlight, a star gone nova.
It had confused him when he realized humans liked the glow and heat of starlight. It burned the eye and skin, dried out the lungs and made existence a misery. Better the cool dimness of a sheltered place, soft moisture on the air. Light drove these places out, as the invasion of a Brightmind erased one’s own identity.
It took all his strength, but he did not respond.
“He gives you the honor of his thought, Nameless One.” The nearest Guard whispered.
Bryan growled, fists clenched. He had a name. He had won it from his own traitor memory. The Guard’s mind attacked his, searching for a crack in his defenses, a way to infect him with their own eagerness for battle. It didn’t work. He did not give in to anger and throw the blow. The Guards’ mind rippled with the deep burgundy of disappointment. He smiled and forced the surface of his thought to be placid, colorless. Battle was a release. Denying it…well, that might be the only satisfaction he would have in these coming hours.
-Bring him.- The great thought slammed through all their minds, and the Brightmind’s assent radiated back in return.
The urge to run was overwhelming. He had denied himself every pleasure to escape the Eldking’s presence the first time. Now he risked losing even his freedom, just to rescue one human female.
He closed his eyes. Somewhere in these comfortable halls was a woman, dark eyes, red hair, a smile he had seen perhaps three times in this alien life of his. Her touch was gentle. How much gentleness was there in this universe?
He walked forward unassisted.
The Guards’ amusement burned like acid. To the Overseer, a human was fragile, a thing made to die. Did it matter how they perished when their lives were so brief? In answer, he focused on the woman’s face. The alternative would have been fatal.
He had come here to rescue her, yes, but he had a second purpose. He had a plan, he and Bob Harris did. Cobbled together in a tiny human ship not even twenty four hours ago. The Eldking’s flagship had never been so exposed, or so close to a human world. The human war-fleet could take advantage of this. His job was to arrange—
Interest peaked around him. Damn. The greatest problem with the mind: you cannot tell yourself not to think about something without thinking about it. You can’t even lie. Just obfuscate. Confuse. Omit.
When the first probing thought touched his, he quickly focused on his ship.
It was small, a fighter that humans called a Fang. He’d stolen it from the Eldking’s own hold four months ago, and many of its parts were disastrously old. The engine emissions alone would have given him away, were it not for the cloak.
No. I must keep this secret. I must, he thought.
The Guards’ mind became even more focused. The Guard were unique; if you faced one Guard within a ship you faced them all. Their mind was like water from a thousand sources all poured into the same bowl. One of them would be relaying Bryan’s every gesture, word and surface thought to the Eldking himself. Another would be standing in the most distant part of the ship, and he would know everything that was done here. That mind was frightening and it was terribly hungry. More minds, more bodies, more secrets. More. He thought the Guard would consume the universe if the Eldking did not keep it in check. They walked down a gold-lit hall—not a common area, but a work hall—and the Guard’s probe lanced deeper.
-What is the cloak?- The Guard demanded.
It slipped from his mind like sand through fingers. It was a device of his own invention, conceived within the Homeship, developed on the planet Dorofey and finally grown on the world below. It sat within his ship, between the computer and the primary power coil. The surface armor of a Fang reflected Overseer radar like a mirror. Fangs couldn’t hide in the deep void of space. The cloak poisoned the ship, forced the surface to soften and fuzz. Overseers did not have viewports in their ships. They used their instrumentations exclusively. The cloak turned its ship into a hole in space.
The only downside was how much that poison weakened the armor. It could heal in a handful of seconds, but while the cloak was active even a slow meteorite could puncture the outer carapace. But Bryan had already proven how well the cloak worked. He’d made it through the Cold Faction without incident, and the entire Faction had been looking for him. They wanted to trade him to the Eldking for the right to invade Golden Dragon, and he had made it through their patrols, through their finest battalions, using a device no bigger than a human heart. Proof of concept. The cloak worked.
Satisfaction colored the Guards’ mind. This was followed immediately by the Eldking’s command. –Remove the device from the fighter. Destroy the fighter. Study the device.-
And Bryan was released.
Keeping the relief from blowing it was a titanic struggle. Thoughts and emotions were like the pages of a book; you could only read what lay on the uppermost page. Probes were done to force the victim to think of what they most wished to hide. They couldn’t actually find something not in your conscious thoughts. But deception could not be done the human way. A lie could not be conceived and exploited because the uppermost thought would be this is a lie. For an Overseer, deception was a pyrrhic victory. You had to sacrifice the truth, one piece at a time, and pray you never had to expose a vital piece.
But there was one small advantage. They called it the Echo, an intuitive sense as vital as scent, sight or hearing. An Overseer always knew what their words and actions will do. An insult can be counted upon to incite rage because you know, sure as stars shine, that your words will have that effect. It was like holding a stone above a pond and knowing where the ripples would eventually fall, should you let go.
The Echo whispered to him now. The cloak was a stone. His presence here was a stone. The ripples were spreading out. He had suggested to Bob that they could force the Overseers to fight one another; crippling the Homeship was the suspended bolder they needed. The ripples here would soon become waves.
Unless he blew it.
The Echo told him that was more likely than success.
His left palm itched as if a small rock had lodged on the inner lip of the ust’ye, the feeding organ. He could not scratch. That “stone” would cause unsatisfactory ripples. It was the small black subspace tracker Bob Harris had given him. Bob had intended it simply as a way to extract Bryan and Adry Parker, once he found her. Bryan had radioed back a different plan.
Activation would have rather explosive consequences.
If they find it, they will take it away. They will study it, realize that it is a homing device. They will watch me that much more carefully. And I cannot afford to spend too much time here. I cannot lose the cloak device. I cannot afford to be contained.
And especially, I cannot let this damned thing turn on if I am still aboard this ship.
He walked through the last set of blast doors, and the Homeship welcomed him home.
Home. How could any place this wicked feel so very safe? How could a place so comfortable chill the blood in the very same moment?
His kind—Overseers, humans named them. The nadziratelya. Humans were so free with names—did not hold their breath in fear. No shivering or trembling while the gut turned cold. They became still and alert. Only the scent of fear remained, thick, heavy and unmistakable. The musk of fear was his ever-present companion now, and he could feel the Guards’ unspoken contempt.
-So scared we would find your surprise?- one of them thought, and laughed aloud. Then they refocused on him, tighter, more intently. –Have you tested it on human systems yet?-
Answering was as easy as thinking. Bryan let his thoughts wander.
Fooling human systems would be trickier. Yes, humans used radar and computer analysis, but their primary detection system was their own eyes. Once they spotted you, they’d find a way to circumvent the cloak. Especially if they were looking for it.
He’d told the Human Resistance on Golden Dragon all about it, in as much detail as possible. He’d also told Bob Harris. Both fleets would certainly be watching.
And if he hadn’t? There were other humans in the universe.
Well, they would be deceived at first. Possibly for even longer, if you were a canny pilot and kept out of visual range. For a while, he’d believed they would continue to be deceived even at close range, that their assumptions were as unchanging as the Overseers’ own. But working with the Resistance on Golden Dragon had told him they would not make the same error twice. And humans used visual confirmation far more frequently in combat. The cloak would work for one battle. Two, at most. Then the Humans would have a counter-measure in play.
Disappointment as the Guard’s mind withdrew. What use was a cloak if it could not hide the Kind from the humans?
Bryan’s pulse increased. No fear, no nerves, not a ripple to trouble the mind. He had made it through the Cold Faction, had he not? This knife was best wielded against enemies of like purpose, not the cattle they had come to butcher.
Silence as they walked through halls lit with gold, with amber, with a dull swamp green. It reminded Bryan of Dorofey, and of Adry, and he banned that memory before it went any further. Along with the nervy, jittery urge to will, swallow it, swallow it, swallow it whole.
A shudder passed through the guard. And then a thought from the Brightest Mind. –We shall study it more. Continue.-
The bait had been taken.
Bryan didn’t let the satisfaction exist for more than a heartbeat. The tracker rubbed against the soft flesh inside his ust’ye, and the Guard brought him deeper into the ship.
Humans named all things. Overseers had to earn theirs, through great deeds, high ranks, magnificent inventions…or through their own crushing failure. Names were a thing either of pride or of shame, but not something one was entitled to. Often one’s rank was the only identity you had. Brightmind of a great ship, Engineer of this great section. Shipsoul—this word had first been translated as ‘god’ by those who studied such things. Loss of rank meant a loss of self.
Only the Guard seemed content to that path. They had surrendered whatever Names they earned and titles they bore, and the sanctity of their own privacy to become the Eldking’s own servants. They belonged to him. They kept him alive.
Bryan shuddered as he followed their gold-cloaked backs.
The ship had a quality, a sort of overmind, that was like water rushing over stones. It caressed and soothed. It agitated until aggression was all you could think of. The subconscious was filled by a thousand surrogate selves. The Lowmind was overwhelmed by it; they could submerge in the pleasure of instinct and desire and never come up for air. The Brightminds could control the overmind, slip into the thoughts of another being like a hand into a glove. The Highminds were the beings lost between; too resilient to wallow in a mire of subconscious revelry, too weak to fight off the imposed commands of a greater mind. Bryan had hated it before, and he despised it now. It wanted to envelop him, consume him whole.
It’d been easier to stay out of the Cold Faction’s overmind. The deep division did not welcome newcomers, and their inward war helped him stay aloof. But here things were placid, as near to peace as Overseers ever came. The soothing hand of Shipsoul was even visible, keeping disagreements at a low boil, soothing the unquiet mind. He had belonged here once before. He could lie here and never rise again.
Being conscious of it dispelled the overmind’s hold. He listened to it consciously, letting its attraction pale.
-new wings for hull design-
-hunger satisfied. Pity. Good human good worker-
He swallowed against that last thought. Somewhere in this ship were many humans, their minds mute and silent, their eyes too weak to see in the corridors of the Homeship. This population would wane as time progressed, sacrificed to sate the hunger of creatures they saw as monsters. The Overseer could live only by consuming those beneath him.
And Adrienne Parker was here, among them. If he surrendered to the overmind, she would die.
There were no doors in the corridors now, save those that lead to labs and private quarters. Airlocks weren’t installed this deep. Individual rooms could be sealed, but this was the ship’s very heart. If that were wounded, the ship itself was lost.
Humans would have installed airlocks, he thought.
He’d been with humans too long. Their light was blinding, the heat and dry air exhausting, and the hunger a constant reminder. But here the light was cool and illuminated, its burn restrained by bulb and membrane. The air was sweet to breathe. Decks vibrated underfoot, computers reached for any mind able to hear, and he could feel the promise of buds waiting to become true ship-parts, the irresistible promise of what they could become in his hands.
The Overseer knew when to bare his throat and surrender.
Humans did not have the Echo. They fought until they died.
The light increased the deeper they walked, though it never became truly unbearable. Membranes rippled, the few plants that could live without light grew riot in peach-tinted light. Phosphorescent flowers bloomed amid the blinking organelles and harsh carapace forms. And they came to the final set of doors at last. Dark gemstones glittered in organic curves, a light dusting of gold shimmered on the upper ridges. Here was the entrance to the Eldking’s throne, the beating heart of the entire Overseer race.
The Eldking’s own did not walk through these doors. They were a symbol of division. Only those apart from him, or those he had some grievance against, were made to use these outer doors.
Bryan walked through them, head held high.
The light here was bright to the point of pain. The Eldking's throne room was not a comfortable place. The seat of power ran from darkened floor to shadowed ceiling. Rippling steps of black carapace were inset with lights. Rays of bright blue scattered at Bryan's feet. The Eldking himself looked smaller seated; great age pressed down onto his frame. He wore a cape of gold etched chain mail, enough to protect his back, his arms, his hands and feet, but intentionally left open to the front. His life was in the hands of his guards, and in the wits of his enemies. If you were smart enough and bright enough to avoid his probing thought, strong-willed enough to bring your weapon to bear, skilled enough to avoid his guards and his own attempt on your life, you had earned the right to kill him.
No one ever had.
The guard brought Bryan into the Eldking’s view, and the Brightest mind reached out to all like a golden sun. Bright thoughts burned against the safe darkness of privacy, erased it and filled the space left behind with the presence of another. In his presence you lost your very self within his tidal pull.
Bryan dropped to his knees with the rest of the guard, only realizing the titanic pressure brought against him when the Eldking relented.
There were overtones of great possession in this thought, as if Bryan were part of his body, an extension of his power. A possession, not a person.
Bryan said nothing. Obedience, he could not deny. Response, though, that he could withhold.
“We greet our heir,” the Eldking said, aloud. Hushed whispers were accompanied by an explosive sort of gloating among the younger minds present. There was some resentment that they had not been chosen as Bryan had. To become part of the Kind, to be converted by the Eldking himself…this was the greatest honor possible any human. And to be denied the soft mind-language of the Overseer, the nadziratelya, that was the worst insult imaginable. What a feast for the cruel-minded this moment must be.
Bryan rose to his feet as if unbroken. He said nothing. He waited.
I have no standing here, he thought. Humans did not understand how important that was. Reading the Echo. Knowing where your standing lay. That you could command him, that you must obey him, and that this one was your equal and, most likely, your rival—this was as critical to life as breathing. The cells knew their place in the body; the Overseer knew his place in the Kindred. And he knew when that place could be improved.
There was room for a lot of improvement now.
But I choose to be outside that. I am not a part of the Kind anymore. No force can make me kneel.
-Truly?- The Eldking’s question was soft, gentle, like the kiss of mute light on closed lids. Gone, as soon as given, and heard by no other. Aloud, he continued. “You have returned to us on the eve of battle, one that was to be your ransom. Why?”
His ransom? A war for an ungrateful heir? Why even bother? He started to ask this question aloud, but he caught a brief face in the Eldking’s mind. Pale, human, short brown hair, soft jaw, brown eyes, and an expression like steel…an impression that she belonged to Bryan.
Damn. They didn’t just have her. They’d taken her on purpose.
The Echo also worked on plans, and plots. His, it seemed, had just taken a major blow.
It wasn’t over. He clung to this. He had not lost his chance yet. But the first move must be careful. He must not make his play from the heart. Not yet.
For the first time Bryan met the Eldking’s eyes. He sat on the throne, hands wound into yellow-gold circuitry. From here he controlled the Homeship entire; it was almost an extension of his person. The smaller chair beside him was empty. His companion wasn’t there.
He spoke the first thing on his mind that was not Adrienne Parker.
“I would speak for the world,” Bryan said. “The Cold Faction seeks to violate your law and take another human world for its own. Without—” he paused. Damn. What would the Eldking care about? Mercy for humans, protection of the innocent, justice, these things did not matter to the Kind. They thought only of the sweet taste of human lives when taken at the rise of hunger. “—without thought for the preservation of supply. Or—” he fumbled, desperate. What could possibly persuade these monsters?
“—Or thought for the children of blood.” A new voice rang out. Bryan turned sharply as a figure stepped into view.
This had once been a human female, and she had chosen to retain her femininity long after gender became irrelevant. Her mind was bright, surface thoughts unspoiled by instinctive hungers...but it also had a softness, a discrete comfort. It was not so penetrating as the others. She had found her place and her strength, and she was willing to let the others be. Shipsoul was her title. Bryan would have called her Advocate.
She wheeled on their leader. “They have not asked of our own plans, nor given us time to save what we can. There was sense in surrendering the planet for your heir, but you have him now. There is no reason to turn our future over to the Cold Faction's beasts. Don’t cost us this.”
Her words echoed, as Overseer voices rarely did. Still harsh and hoarse, passion gave her volume. Even, he supposed, beauty. And yet there was something stale in her argument’s reception. The Echo was confused…but…had he stepped into an old argument? Yes. Yes, he was sure he had. He didn’t understand the first thing about it, but he sensed understanding wouldn’t matter.
“Does the human fleet know of us?” The Eldking turned on Bryan.
Damn again. Now he had to lie without actually thinking of a lie…or betraying Bob and Holton Fleet. Golden Dragon had a fleet visible from here. He’d even caught a glimpse of it in the Resistance offices during his time with them. Because the government placated the Overseer forces, this fleet was mostly small, untrained boys with large toys, not men who knew war. He thought of them, and of the Resistance, and then of Adrienne’s face, and then of nothing at all.
It is harder to lie with the mind. He couldn’t even hold his breath in anticipation.
“Perhaps,” The Eldking answered his own question. “Or perhaps not. Your attempts at prevarication are only partially successful, child. Perhaps we should try this later. After you have put your hunger to rest.” The command echoed through all minds present: bring food.
This had been coming all along. But perhaps the offered would not be…unbearable. At best, it would be someone already fed upon, drained of personality and living only by the thinnest definition of the word. Still murder, but it would not be his hand that ended the life.
There was a whisper as the witnesses parted. He knew they had brought her long before she was dragged into the light.
Nothing in this life would ever be easy.
Adrienne. Limp and unconscious in the arms of a Lowmind. He growled as they came near. This one had remembered nearly all of its old life—a rarity with one so ridden by instinct—and it clung restlessly to the bad parts. He prayed they were old fantasies. Surely it had put no human woman through that. Surely even this creature had once lived with limitations. Surely the Eldking would destroy any monster actually guilty of those crimes. It met his eyes, and then it thought of Adrienne. Fed upon, lank hair dangling over a slave’s dead eyes. And then dead, a body of paper skin on bone, her blood streaming off skin.
It dropped her in an unceremonious heap at Bryan’s feet and returned to the shadows. The hunger those thoughts had awakened within him was almost overwhelming.
“Slake the thirst that burns within you, and we shall speak of your future.” The Eldking stood and began to walk down the long steps to the floor.
He took her into his arms gently. There were no bruises on her temple, her breath came slow and regular, and the soft, bird like flutter of her mind—too indistinct for him to understand, all emotion and impression and fleeting like frost on glass—did not feel drugged. He was touching her, and it was more than he'd ever dared hope for.
-What if I refuse?- the thought spilled from his mind unbidden.
The Eldking glared down, then shrugged.
- Starve, then. But it is best for her that she die.-