Mind Warriors #2: Enemies
Chapter One

"The worst thing about traveling is waiting to get where you're going," Ben said from the other side of the table in the common area of the transport, flashing me a quick, uneasy smile. "But now that we've almost reached Central I think I'm getting nervous. I don't know what they need us for, and not knowing makes me … nervous. I'm glad to see that you're taking this better than I am."

"I don't have anything to be nervous about," I answered with a small shrug after sipping at my kimla. I do like kimla… "I'm looking forward to what I'll be doing on Central, which will certainly be something that needs doing. How can you be nervous about doing the necessary?"

"That all depends on what the necessary consists of," Ben returned with a wry expression. "But at least you're not having trouble leaning back any longer, I'm happy to see. Can you tell me now what was wrong?"

I studied Ben as I sipped my drink, wondering if I ought to put him back under tighter control. He knew for a fact that I was supposed to go to Central with him to do something for the people who now ran the Amalgamation, but only because I'd given him that conviction. My true purpose in going was to kill those lice who had tried to trap me - and a lot of helpless innocents - on that horrible world of Rimilia, but no one would know that until I had all the necessary bodies lying at my feet.

"The trouble with my back was an arrow wound," I said after a moment, deciding against getting a tighter hold on Ben. Someone on Central might be strong enough to notice my hold, and I didn't want my enemies to be warned. "But the wound is all healed now, so I don't have to be careful of it any longer."

"An arrow wound!" Ben exclaimed, his face paling just a little. "How did you - No, I don't want to hear the details, not when they'll probably make me ill. I'm just glad that the rest of the ladies you arrived with - and the men - will soon be able to be sent elsewhere. Just having them on Rimilia makes me nervous when they'd never be able to cope with the world even half as well as you did. If we didn't need the help of people from the community to train them - and have to give the l'lendaa and varindaa a chance to find mates - I'd certainly look for another place to bring our people to."

"The ones in the residence can't possibly be the people I arrived with," I stated, feeling oddly bothered by the claim. "They have to be a new set of victims you just haven't stolen things from yet."

"A new group is due in at the beginning of next week, so I'll have to find someone to help Minia with them if I can't get back," Ben responded, in a way speaking more to himself than to me. "Putting the group into native clothing and keeping them like that until they leave makes things a lot easier for the instructors from the community. Most of them wear native garb, and we've found that the ladies don't pay as much attention to what they're told if we let the ladies wear their own clothes. Oddly enough, the men don't seem to have that trouble."

Ben's muttering confused me, but I pushed away the confusion and didn't let it affect my purpose. Whether or not there were still some women in the residence from the group I came in with didn't matter. If Ben and Minia hadn't yet given those women to natives to be made into property then it would probably happen in a little while, just the way it had been done with others of us. I still hadn't figured out what they would do with the men, but there was always the chance that I'd find out before my chore was completed…

"It feels strange to be back in a leisure suit," Ben said, running his hand over the suit in question. "I've gotten so used to wearing a haddin and robe that this suit makes me feel as if I'm in a costume. Are you sure you wouldn't rather change your own clothes before we take the transfer slip down? I know no one looks at the style twice on Dembris, but Central is … different."

"The people on Central are narrow-minded idiots who believe that everyone ought to be forced into doing things their way," I said, making no effort to hide my disgust. "If they don't like my boots, trousers, and tunic they can look at someone else. I agreed to leave the sword behind, didn't I?"

"I had no idea you knew how to use a sword, or that you'd be allowed to carry one," Ben answered, his face creased into a frown. "You said you used the weapon against the savages, but I expected you to be protected by l'lendaa or varindaa while you used your mind. I think I'm going to have to have a few pointed words with Vennias when I see him next. I have no idea what got into him, risking you like that, but I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."

"Oh, I see now," I said, looking at Ben with some of what I felt on the inside. "It was perfectly all right for your great friend to drag me along behind his seetar on a rope for an entire day, but giving me the chance to protect myself is unacceptable. I'll have to remember what your priorities are for the future."

"He did what?" Ben yelped, actually looking shocked. "Jilin, you can't be serious! Even if you were being disobedient and rude there's no excuse for doing something like that to a woman. Especially not a woman you say you love."

"He said a lot of things, and most of them were lies," I growled, on the edge of losing control just remembering what the time had been like. "Among other things he said I ought to go back to the residence, but when I tried to go back he stopped me. He claimed to care about me, but when it came right down to it he cared more about how he looked to others than he did about me. If I ever see him again I intend to kill him."

"Well, there's no need to go that far, but I think I understand how you feel," Ben said, leaning over to pat my hand with heavy sympathy in his mind. "I was certain that Vennias was your perfect mate, and to find out that he isn't is a great disappointment. But if Vennias refused to let you go back to the residence, how did you get there? With one of the l'lendaa or varindaa?"

"I got myself back," I responded, deciding that I'd had enough of this conversation. I needed to have complete control of myself if I meant to do what was necessary, but talking about what had happened on Rimilia wasn't helping. Ben was asking too many questions because I'd loosened my hold on him, but tightening up again would be no trouble. I reached along the link I had to him - but a soft chime interrupted before anything was done.

"That means it's time for us to board the transfer slip," Ben said as he shot to his feet, the nervousness he'd mentioned earlier filling his mind and wiping out memory of everything else. "Let's go, Jilin."

He picked up his bag and hurried toward the corridor that would take us to the transfer slip, actually forgetting that he'd offered to carry one of my bags when he'd first seen that I had two. I picked up the bags myself and followed, having no real need of help, but got it anyway from one of the stewards before I reached the corridor. I let the man take both bags to the transfer slip with me right behind him, then chose a seat a short distance away from a fidgeting Ben.

As soon as the steward was gone from the slip, we left the transport and headed down to Central. There was no sense of motion, of course, not even when the pilot in the center of the slip had to change course rapidly to avoid a private vehicle in our flight path. No one was supposed to be anywhere near the flight path of an incoming transfer slip, but too many of the people on Central knew that the rules applied to everyone else, not to them. Central was filled with those who considered themselves privileged, which made it the perfect place for our new leaders.

Tallion City Outer Port was about as far from the city itself as it could be put and still be considered part of the city. Transfer slips made no noise of any sort either taking off or landing, but Centrans were still convinced that having an inner port was more of an imposition than a convenience.

When we landed I expected to have to carry my own bags to and through the customs people, but there was a car waiting right near where the slip landed. We were expected - or at least Ben was - so customs was waived in our case, something that made me smile. Going through customs meant the possibility of having my bags opened, but now there was no chance of that. Ben eased our driver's mind about me being with him, and once our bags were put in the vehicle's back section we both got in and let ourselves be driven to our destination.

Or, flown rather than driven, at least most of the way. The vehicle took to the air almost at once, but a minute or so later the driver let the central traffic computer merge us into the traffic patterns. Tallion City was like a disturbed bug's nest, with vehicles and walkers going in every direction it was possible to see, just as if all those people actually had something productive to do or go to. Most of them didn't, and I spent some time wondering again how people could live like that, but there wasn't all that much time for thinking. Before I knew it we were being landed near a ramp, and our driver took over handling the vehicle again.

"I've never stayed at State House before, but I hear it's worth experiencing," Ben commented in my direction as our driver went from ramp to ramp at what was really too fast a speed. "I don't know if they'll be able to give you your own suite, but if they can't then you can stay in mine."

"I think I'd better stay in your suite anyway," I returned, reinforcing the comment into an order for him. "We both know they aren't expecting me to be with you, so let's not upset them with requests for another suite. As long as there's more than one bedroom we ought to be fine."

"Yes, you're right, of course," Ben agreed at once, completely unaware that our words were mostly for the benefit of our driver. "We can always arrange for another suite once we find out why we've been sent for. If we aren't going to be staying on Central there's no sense in making a fuss."

I didn't want a fuss made in any event, and I really didn't care why Ben had been sent for. All I needed was an introduction to our new leaders, and then I'd take it from there…

When the vehicle finally stopped near an opened door, I was surprised to see what looked like two servants waiting. One of the servants went to the luggage compartment of the vehicle and began to take out our bags, and the other opened the door on Ben's side of the vehicle and helped us both out. As if either of us actually needed the help. The servant was older than both of us, but Ben accepted the help with something like a regal nod. When on Central, do like the Centrans, obviously…

The servant not carrying the bags led the way through the open door, and inside was a wide hallway with thick, expensive carpeting on the floors, equally expensive wall dressings, hidden indirect lighting, and a set of double doors opposite the single one leading in from the ramp. Both of the double doors were opened by the servant in the lead, and then he stepped aside with a bow.

"Director McKenzie hopes this suite will be satisfactory, sir," the man said after straightening, no expression at all on his face. "Planetary time is just about noon, and your appointment with the director isn't for some hours yet. Please settle in and have a meal if you wish one, and a guide will signal at your door when the director is ready to meet with you."

Ben was trying hard not to do more than glance around at the opulent room, and needing to tell the servant with the bags which was his helped his effort. The second servant took my two bags through a doorway to the right, came right back out, then carried Ben's bag through another doorway to the left. The first servant waited until the second joined him, then both bowed again before going out and pulling closed the doors behind themselves.

"Isn't this something?" Ben said then in what was close to a whisper, obviously not wanting the servants to hear him as he slowly turned in a circle. "I don't think I've ever seen such rich furnishings in my entire life."

The room, obviously a large sitting room, was done in cream and white with touches of color only here and there. Couches, chairs, lounges, tables, paintings on the walls, knickknacks on the tables, all of it screamed of wealth. There weren't any windows, but a really big living landscape on one wall made up for that. The landscape showed a forest glade with a brook tinkling along, and the leaves on the trees moved as though a soft breeze tickled through them. I could see where city people might enjoy something like that, but I'd had more than enough of the outdoors lately.

"I think I could use something to eat," I said, heading for the doorway directly between the two the servant with the bags had used. "We had breakfast a lot of hours ago, and the kimla we drank before leaving the transport didn't do anything to fill me up. This ought to be the dining room…"

Stepping through the doorway showed my guess was right, and a moment later Ben joined me. The room held a fairly large table with very comfortable chairs around it, but the table also had chef outlets near all of those chairs. I sat down in one of the chairs and consulted the menu, then made my selection.

"I don't believe all the dishes this chef holds, and many of them things I've never even tasted," Ben said after sitting near me and looking over his own menu. "Have you ever tasted all these dishes?"

"Only some of them," I allowed, not nearly as impressed as Ben seemed to be. "I usually enjoy well prepared food, but I see no reason to be fanatical about it. When you come right down to it, food's only purpose is to keep us alive."

"But there is a difference between living and existing," Ben countered with a glance and a grin before making his selection. "I already know I can handle simply existing, and now I get to find out if I can do as well with living. Even if I did think it would take longer to reach…"

The last of his words were more muttered than spoken, leading me to wonder briefly what world he'd come from. Most Xenomediators had experience with the so-called good life on a regular basis while they mediated, but Ben seemed unused to anything more than a couple of steps above the basics. Then I shook my head to dislodge the unimportant thoughts. I had a purpose on Central, and wondering about Ben's problems wasn't part of that purpose.

The table chef delivered the food we'd asked for, along with kimla for me and a light wine for Ben. After we finished eating I took a fresh cup of kimla into the sitting room, and Ben took his wine and the glass he'd been using. He'd been ready to gulp the wine from the moment the chef delivered it, but I wasn't allowing him to do that. If he got drunk and wasn't able to make the scheduled meeting he'd mess up my plans, and I wasn't about to let that happen.

I left Ben briefly to go to the bedroom I'd been given and open my second bag, removing a small weapon before closing the bag again. While still closed the weapon was almost hidden in the palm of my hand, a small rounded object that looked completely harmless. When twisted in just the right way the object would expand to a length of more than four feet, becoming a rod with a sharply pointed tip. The rod could be used as a fighting stick or a sword, depending on need, and wasn't made of metal. If I happened to need help in finishing my chore, the khordri would provide that help.

Glancing around at the bedroom before leaving again showed me a room as opulent as the sitting room. Ivory and pale red was the color scheme, with a few dark red touches here and there. Giant bed with posts, dresser and chest and storage stands, lamps, tables, and wide windows curtained and draped to match the rest. Pretty in its way, but completely unimportant.

Ben and I were given enough time to sit and sip our drinks for quite some time before the door chime sounded. Ben jumped to his feet and hurried to the door, and it was our guide who waited outside. The woman wore what was probably the latest Centran fashion in day suit and face makeup, her blond hair twisted about itself in a way that seemed to go with the rest of her decor. She smiled and welcomed Ben to Central and State House, then gestured him into following her. As far as she was concerned I was invisible, which suited me just fine.

We were led to the end of the long hall and a lift, which whisked us to a lower floor of the building. We emerged into an area that was filled with people quietly moving about serious business, going from office to office or to other lifts. In the middle of the very large area was a series of clear-walled meeting rooms, three of which were currently in use. Two of the rooms held younger people who were apparently being lectured on something or other, but the third… The third contained a group of older men and women who were obviously conferring rather than being lectured, and I could feel a smile spreading through me even though our guide had left us standing while she spoke to someone a few steps away.

"That's Murdock McKenzie chairing that meeting," Ben said to me in a whisper, indicating the older group with a small movement of his head. "I don't know the rest of those people, but they have to be important if he's meeting with them. But that can't be where we're going…"

It was definitely where I was going, but before I could decide to simply walk away from Ben our guide came back and led us toward those very important people. Ben turned even more nervous than he had been, but I was distantly delighted. In just a few minutes I would be able to do what I'd come here to…

Our guide stopped near the door leading into the room where my targets waited, gesturing to Ben that he was to walk inside. Ben cleared his throat before plunging into opening the door, nothing but my hold on him keeping him from standing like a statue outside the door. The people inside paid us no mind as I followed right behind, all of them wrapped up in listening to something one of their number was saying. It was as if none of them was aware of our presence - which increased Ben's nervousness - but I didn't mind. It would be just another minute, and then I could -

The click of the door closing behind us was very loud even with a voice droning on, and then there was suddenly nothing but black.

I became aware of heavy gray all around, and when I opened my eyes the gray didn't entirely go away. I lay in a bed of some kind, a sheet and blanket covering me, nothing but formless confusion in my head. On the outside my head was resting on a pillow, and the bed stood in a small, plain room with plenty of light but no windows. The walls of the room were a pale blue and the ceiling above them white, and I couldn't figure out where I was.

"Are you awake enough to understand me, child?" a male voice said, causing me to turn my head to the left. A gray-haired man sat next to the bed, his face expressionless but his gray eyes faintly concerned. I didn't know the man, but for some reason he seemed vaguely familiar.

"State House is now guarded by our own kind, child," the man said, his tone cold but the look in his eyes sad. "You had very little chance of doing as you intended, and now, happily, you have no chance at all. Mistakes have been made by a large number of people, but I'm currently in the process of rectifying as many of those mistakes as possible. You'll be kept sedated until the help I've sent for has arrived, and then we'll see to giving you the assistance you need. I want you to rest easy until then, knowing that all wrongs will be righted."

I had no idea what the man was talking about, the soft gray around my mind hiding all but the simplest of thoughts and feelings. But one thing I was very much aware of, and I found myself asking about it without hesitation.

"The pain you feel is hideous," I got out with some difficulty, still staring at the man. "Why are you in such pain?"

"There was an … accident some years ago," he answered after a very long hesitation, the look in his eyes having turned to ice. "I was not meant to survive the accident and yet I did, perhaps unfortunately so. Life remains mine, but my body could not be repaired."

"Too much pain," I muttered as I reached to his hand where it rested on the bed and touched him. I couldn't seem to hold to any thought more complex than that, not even up to wondering why there was some kind of soft binding around my wrist.

"Yes, there has been far too much pain for both of us, but I feel sure it will be possible to ease your own," he said gently as his hand turned to hold mine. "Thank you for your commiseration, but I must be going now and you must sleep again. For some reason I had the conviction that you had to be partially wakened and spoken with, but what might have been accomplished is still beyond me. Rest easy, and you and I will speak again."

I stared at the man and his faint, wintry smile while he held my hand, and then the gray rolled over everything and took me away with it.