Mind Warriors #6: Peace
Chapter One

Consciousness came back slowly at first, but after the first minute or so I remembered exactly what had happened. I'd left my teammates and Murdock McKenzie behind and had tried to get a ride to the port, but I'd flagged down the wrong people. The vehicle I'd stopped had contained a woman who was a member of the Alderan governing council, and from the few words she'd spoken it was clear she'd been looking for me. One of her people had used some kind of device on me, and now I lay on the floor of their vehicle.

I let my mind spread out just a little, confirming the fact that I was still in that vehicle. There were four people only a few feet away, one driving the vehicle, the other three just sitting and feeling satisfied and happy. They had "plans," and now that they'd captured me they were all but jumping around with excitement. If my body had been working the way it was supposed to, I would have put my hands over my eyes and groaned.

But my body wasn't working the way it was supposed to. I knew I was lying on the floor of the vehicle, but I couldn't feel that floor. Faint and distant tingling said my body was fighting off whatever they'd done to me, but it hadn't yet reached the point where I could move. It wasn't hard to tell that my captors considered themselves perfectly safe, but that was because they didn't know as much as they thought they did. As soon as I could move again I'd do what I could to change that attitude of safety.

The ride continued for another few minutes before I felt the vehicle begin to slow down, and by that time the tingling I'd felt had turned into actual sensation. I was aware of - and just about completely in control of - my body again, but hadn't made any attempt to move. No sense in starting a fight in confined spaces that could let my opponents get the upper hand again.

The vehicle slowed a second time, and then I heard/felt us entering something that must have been like a garage. By now I was getting annoyed, since this was the second time in a matter of hours that I'd been kidnapped and taken to some hideout. The reason behind the first kidnapping had been insanity, but this time I had a feeling the reason was politics. Which can too often be considered the same thing.

The vehicle came to a stop and the engine was turned off, and then my companions began to move around. A door was opened and someone got out, and then two people began to move my "unconscious" body. They didn't have an easy time of it, but somehow I couldn't find much sympathy for them. I opened my eyes a slit to see that I was being carried from a garage into a building of some sort, but it wasn't a house.

The door from the garage led into a medium-sized room that looked like a storage unit of some kind, but one that had been prepared for our arrival. There was a large chair with wrist clamps on the armrests, with three ordinary chairs facing the large one. Except for a wide case standing near one of the smaller chairs, the rest of the place was empty. There was another door in one of the walls, but that door was closed and probably locked. The woman who had been in the vehicle stood near one of the smaller chairs, excitement just about radiating from her in all directions.

By the time I was put into the big chair with the clamps I'd cobbled together a rough plan of action. These people had no real idea what I was capable of, and they also lacked the headbands used by my last kidnapper. I'd decided to find out what they were after before bursting their bubble of happiness, but first I looked around a little with my mind. There was a camera hidden behind one of the walls, and it didn't take much to make one of the elements inside it fail. Now whatever happened would be a matter of opinion, not documented and inarguable.

The padded clamps put around my wrists were locked closed, but that wasn't much of a problem. When the time came I'd be able to open the locks without much trouble, and afterward I'd claim I got enough extra room that I was able to slide my hand free.

"All right, wake her up," the woman said, obviously speaking to one of her assistants. There were now only two men with us, the third presumably having stayed with the vehicle. "I want to get started as soon as possible."

One of the two men began to walk toward that wide case standing near a chair, so I decided it was time to let them know I was already awake.

"What is this?" I said, opening my eyes all the way and straightening in the chair. "Who are you, and why have you brought me here?"

"I'm Cosra L'for Amil," the woman answered, her smile very much on the predatory side. She was of average height and had auburn hair and brown eyes, and her body in the blue day suit she wore looked on the thin side. "You're here because you're going to help me achieve my goals, and you'll be very well paid for doing it."

"If this is what you consider being well paid, we're going to have some trouble over definitions," I said, waggling my hands in the cuffs. "If you have an offer to make, get me out of these things and let's talk."

"We'll talk now, before you're out of the restraints," the Amil woman said, her smile unchanged. "You told us you're able to do things the … others aren't, and I want to know just exactly what you're capable of. After that we'll see about releasing you."

"You'll see about releasing me," I echoed, giving her a very unamused smile. "That's not what I consider a promise set in polycrete. And what difference can it make what I can and can't do? You already have a seat on the Council."

"So you remember me," she said, her nod not particularly satisfied. "Then you should also remember that I'm not considered very important among my supposed peers. I get to sit in on meetings, but if I tried to say anything I'd be completely ignored because I'm not a Kabra and I'm also a woman. Women on this world are allowed to pretend to be important as long as they don't actually try to be more than wall and window dressing."

"So you're going to take over and show them just how very important you really are," I summed up, knowing she heard the weary impatience behind the words. "What happens when they send a company of Kabras to stampede over whatever place you choose as a headquarters?"

"They won't do that because the act would lose them an incredible amount of face," she assured me, her smile letting me know she had all the answers she needed. "They'll probably try something more subtle, though, and that's where you come in. Tell me the various things you can do, and don't bother trying to claim you have only one or two abilities. The body language of the others with you said you stand very high in their estimation."

"And you took that to mean I can do dozens of things other people can't," I said, producing a nod. "You also expect me to empathize with your position because I'm a female and not a meek and mild kind of female at that. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I've given up on stupidly useless gestures for a while. If that state of affairs changes, I'll certainly get in touch with you."

"Are you really naïve enough to think I'll allow you to refuse?" she asked, her amusement real. "If you cooperate willingly you'll be very well paid, but if you try to dig in your heels you'll get nothing but pain. I'll have you welded into chains that will never come off, and no one will come to your rescue because no one will know where you are. Now tell me what things you're able to do."

"One of the things I'm able to do is tell you what to do with yourself," I answered, giving her a better smile. "Would you like me to go into details?"

"So you refuse to cooperate," she said, looking not in the least disappointed. "Well, I couldn't have trusted you to be loyal to me anyway. Tain, give her a taste of what stubbornness will bring her, but make it a relatively small taste. That should be enough to put her in touch with reality."

The man she spoke to was the one near the wide case, and he answered her smile with one of his own before picking up the case and bringing it closer to me. The second, unnamed man just stood near the chair on my right, staring down at me. One guard and one torturer, and both Tain and the Amil woman were amused over her suggestion about a "small taste" of pain. What they meant to give me would not be small in the pain department, but I was supposed to think there would be worse to come if I continued to refuse.

Tain opened the case next to my chair, giving me a look at the apparatus inside. There were all sorts of switches and dials in the bottom half where the apparatus was, and the top half had a separate section like netting holding in what appeared to be various drugs and the means to administer them. Torturer Tain was prepared for just about anything in the way of persuasion, and when he pulled out a wire that stuck to my left arm when he pressed the thing against my skin I knew what he and Amil had in mind.

The thing in the case was meant to send an electric shock into someone, and there was even a timer to make sure the current cut off when it was supposed to. I knew there were worse things to do to someone you wanted answers from, things I'd been forced to endure when one of Rathmore Hellman's crazies had captured me. Memory of that time made me want to bare my teeth in a snarl, but these second-rate petty tyrants had earned something more in the way of reaction.

So I decided that when the current turned on, it would reach Tain and Amil rather than me. I didn't know if the trick would work, but it was certainly worth a try. If the trick didn't work I would put all three of those people down while I recovered and got myself out of the cuffs, and then I would give them my thanks for what they'd done. I'd be in a much darker mood by then, so for the sake of the three people in the room with me I hoped the trick did work.

"Last chance," Amil said amiably when Tain looked at her and nodded to show he was ready. "Tell me what abilities you have and save yourself a lot of grief."

"I have lots of abilities, but none that will do you any good," I answered in the same way. "My advice would be to give this up right now or you'll definitely regret it."

"We'll see who does the regretting," Amil responded, her smile a bit wider. "All right, Tain, give her a five second taste."

Tain matched her smile and set the timer on the device in his case, and then he pressed a button. Five seconds is a relatively short period of time, but a lot can be done if you're ready to act. If my trick hadn't worked I would have knocked out the three people before giving myself over to the pain, but the trick did work so my alternate plan went into immediate effect.

As soon as Amil and Tain began to scream, the guard's head snapped around as he looked back and forth between the two sufferers. That meant his attention was off me, and that let me use my mind to open the lock on the cuff holding my right wrist. As soon as I pulled my wrist free I used my hand to close the cuff again, then used the hand a second time to click open the cuff on my left wrist. Yanking the wire off my arm hurt a little, but that didn't stop me from standing up and putting an elbow into the face of the guard. The man was reaching for a weapon he had under the jacket of his leisure suit, but getting hit that hard captured his attention.

A knifehand blow put the guard down to the floor unconscious, and then I was able to look around at my two other captors. Tain was also on the floor, and the way he just lay there was unnecessary confirmation of the fact that he was as unconscious as the guard. That left no one but Amil, and she lay sprawled in the chair she'd been sitting in, her face pale and her whole body trembling. Her eyes were also wide with shock, so I gave her a smile.

"Gosh, now you know one of the things I can do," I said, trying to sound as if I'd accidentally let something slip. "But since that's something all of my people can do, I guess it doesn't hurt anything to let you know about it. Thanks for giving me that tiny bit of extra room in the right cuff. I made good use of it."

Amil wasn't even close to being back in control of herself, which meant she'd most likely accept what I said as being completely truthful. She'd have no idea why she believed as she did, but that lack would do nothing to shake the belief. A little misdirection and a touch of protection for my sisters and brothers, all in two short sentences.

I reached Amil's chair in about two steps, and my fist in her hair pulled her to her feet and after me. The second door the room held was locked, but unlocking it became worth the effort. Beyond the door was a city street, and it took only a moment to realize that we were less than a block away from the building where my teammates and I had met with the Council. Amil was now whimpering and trying to loosen my fist, and all I could do was shake my head at the hubris some people seemed required to show.

As I started for the Council building, I commented to a stumbling, whimpering Amil, "Forcing me to work for you in a place so close to where the Council meets must have been your idea of the perfect arrangement. You would be doing something against all those people who ignored you, and they would have no idea what was happening all but under their very noses. Cute, very cute."

People on the street were staring at us, but none of them seemed to be Kabras or peacemen because no one tried to interfere. I dragged Amil to the Council building and inside, where a couple of uniformed Kabras finally rushed over to put themselves in my path.

"Send for General Obmal," I said before either Kabra was able to order me to release Amil. "This woman and her confederates kidnapped me, and they were about to torture me before I stopped them."

Others besides the two Kabras had started to hurry over, and when they heard what I had to say half of them gasped in shock. The other half were too startled to gasp, but one of the guards pulled out of it quickly enough to use a portable call.

"While we're waiting for the general, please send some people to the place where I was being held," I said to the crowd in general. "The location is about twelve doors away from here to the left, and you'll know it when you see it because I didn't close the door behind me. Two of the three men working for this woman are unconscious on the floor, and I'd like for them to be in custody before they wake up."

Most of the men in the crowd frowned at that, and half a dozen of them in Kabra kilt and chest straps turned and headed for the door. The two Kabras directly in front of me didn't move, though, and one of them shook his head.

"Girl, that's a member of our Council you're holding like a street-attacker you just caught," the Kabra pointed out with the ghost of outrage behind his words. "I think you better let her go right now."

"This woman isn't anywhere near as honorable as a street-attacker," I countered, glancing at my captive. Amil was in the process of trying to pull herself together, but hadn't quite made it yet. "She and her friends ambushed me, and if she's given the least chance she'll disappear to avoid getting what's coming to her. For that reason I'll be hanging onto her until the general gets here."

"Then you can let her go because I'm here," a voice said, drawing my attention to the dark man striding over to our little group. General Modlis T'lon Obmal was another member of the Council, but one who'd proved to be a bit more reasonable than Amil.

"Thanks for coming so quickly, General," I said, doing nothing to loosen my grip on Amil. "This woman decided she wanted to use my 'abilities' to take over the Council, so she and some of her friends kidnapped me. When I refused to cooperate with her grand plans she told her pet torturer to 'convince' me, but things didn't work out the way she expected them to."

"That's a lie!" Amil gasped out, now trying to look as pitiful as possible. "The girl is crazy, Modlis, and she's the one who kidnapped me. I don't know what she expects to get out of this insanity, but please make her let go of me!"

"Why don't we wait to hear from one of the men who left here a couple of minutes ago before we decide who's doing the lying," I suggested before the general could do as his poor, innocent Council sister had asked. "I can feel someone filled with a lot of agitation coming back this way, and he'll be here in just another minute or so."

That reminded Obmal I wasn't just some crazy off the street, but I hadn't told him even half the story. The men who had hurried down the block had found the room where I'd been held, and most of them had been furious at what they saw. The chair with cuffs, the case with items of torture, the two men lying unconscious on the floor… All of it had backed my claim, and now one of those men was running back here to get more help after he let everyone know the truth.

"Don't listen to her!" Amil screamed, now trying to fight her way free of my grip. The fact that she couldn't reach me in any way except with her fingernails on my hand wasn't stopping her try, which should have shown everyone just how desperate she was. "I'm innocent of all charges, and I demand to be released right this minute!"

"If you're all that innocent, why are you in such a hurry to be released?" I countered before Obmal chimed in on her side. "Another minute or so isn't that long to wait, and then the man on his way here will back you up. He's - "

"It's true!" the man in question shouted as soon as he charged through the door, his breathing showing that he really had run. "The unconscious men, the stuff that can only be for torture, it's all there. And we need the help of the peacemen."

Obmal, his face suddenly set in polycrete, gestured one of the guards into helping the panting man before turning his gaze on Amil.

"So you're innocent of all charges, are you, Cosra?" the general said in a low, deadly voice. "If that room is nothing but this girl's imagination, it's really odd that we were able to find it so easily."

"I was just trying to get us some answers about those people," Amil said, obviously having no idea how ridiculous she looked trying to project calm maturity and responsibility while half bent over. "We agreed we needed to know more about them before deciding on policy, so I took the initiative to find out. Anything more than that is the girl's imagination."

"You know, General, it occurs to me that someone like this woman would want a permanent record of what was done," I mused, still holding Amil in place. "With that in mind, I would recommend that your people look for some kind of recording device in the room. I didn't see one myself, but that doesn't - "

"You bitch!" Amil screamed, suddenly livid as she struggled even harder. "You've ruined me, and for that I'm going to kill you!"

"So it's true," Obmal said in a steely way as her raving turned to panting and low screams of frustration. "Everything the girl said was true, and you really were out for yourself. You never would have gotten anywhere in the normal course of events because you have no imagination and definitely no sense of honor. If you hadn't had influential friends you never would have been on the Council to begin with, and now even your friends won't be able to help you. Two of you men get those restraints on her."

A pair of guardsmen had shown up, one of them holding a set of restraints. They'd waited to find out who to put the restraints on, and now they knew. They came forward to obey the general's order, but they didn't have an easy time of it. Amil fought to keep from being restrained, but when I tightened my hold on her hair she was distracted from the struggle. That let the guardsmen do their job, and once she'd quieted down I was finally able to let go of her.

"It's obvious we owe you and your people an apology," Obmal said to me once Amil was led away. "It's very much to our shame that you were savaged like that."

The man wasn't joking about feeling ashamed, just as if he were the one who'd been in charge of the plot. He took the matter of honor seriously, and his heavy feelings of guilt were perfectly clear.

"Please, General, the fault belongs to no one but that woman," I said with a sigh. "The decision to find out more about us before committing to an alliance is nothing but sensible, something we ourselves urged you to do. It isn't your fault that a loser in your midst went too far, but I do have a suggestion to make. Before you accept someone as that woman's replacement on your Council, ask one of my people to act as a Mediator between one of you and the candidate. If there's too much ambition behind a blandly calm exterior, you'll know it before something like this happens again."

"You know, that's an incredibly good idea," Obmal said after blinking at me for a moment. "I've been part of Mediations any number of times, and that's what you get from the situation: a knowledge of how the person you're facing feels. Too bad no one made the suggestion before we accepted Cosra to our ranks. And forgive me for not asking sooner, but are you completely all right? Do you need a doctor or some other kind of help?"

"I'm perfectly all right, but I would appreciate a ride to the port," I said, deciding to take advantage of the situation. "Would you mind arranging that?"

"Mind?" he echoed with a small sound of ridicule. "It would be the least I could do. I'd like you to know, though, that we're in your debt because of this very unpleasant incident. If you ever need to ask a favor, I promise that we'll grant it if it doesn't cause harm to our people."

"Now, that's a qualification I can appreciate," I told him with a smile. "You've got a deal."

The heaviness in Obmal's mind finally began to lighten a bit as he turned away to arrange my ride, but I didn't let my own mind start to think about the million different things it wanted to. Those things were too personal to consider anywhere but in complete privacy, something I'd have once I decided where to go and had gotten a transport to the designated world. I'd get in touch with my former team's transport when I got to the port, and they'd be able to send down my belongings in their transfer slip. After that…

One of the guardsmen saluted me and asked me to follow him, and a couple of minutes later we were at a vehicle and getting into it. The air conditioning came on when the vehicle was started, and I enjoyed the feeling all the way to the port. The idea that you have to put up with discomfort in order to prove how tough you are is, in my humble opinion, nothing but hogwash. Putting up with discomfort doesn't make you tough, just stubborn, and enjoying comfort doesn't make you soft or weak. It was all a matter of appearances, something too many people thought was more important than reality.

I came back to that reality I'd been thinking about when the vehicle stopped near the port. I thanked the man who had given me the ride, then went into the port building to look for a place that would let me get in touch with the transport where my possessions currently were. I began to follow the arrows showing the way to a communications bank, but didn't get to complete the trip. Half way there I ran into some people I knew, people I'd been hoping not to see again.

Murdock McKenzie and a handful of his assistants stood staring directly at me, and the pained and sympathetic looks in all their eyes let me know that my plans were about to change whether I wanted them to or not. Well, we'd see about that, we'd definitely see…