Mind Warriors #7: Serenity
Chapter One

When Vennias and I walked away from the small stream on Alderan, we discovered right away that we couldn't just go back to Vennias's tent to reconfirm our closeness. The crazies we'd just captured, the ones who'd been trying to take over the entire Amalgamation, still had to be looked after and watched.

"We've been trying for hours to get through to the Council members of this world, but it hasn't worked," Tanial said as soon as she came over, standing in our way without trying to disguise the effort. "I'd love to just load these fools into our slip and take them up to our transport, but a few days ago we got a message from Murdock McKenzie warning us not to do that. The Council members will explode if we just cart these fools away, so you two will have to do like the rest of us and wait until later to relax."

"Just how long are we supposed to wait for those Council members to get their act together?" I countered, more than a little annoyed. "It's already been hours, and I have no interest in moving to this world — especially this part of it. Hot doesn't come close to describe the climate around here."

"I thought what we needed to do was contact someone other than a Council member, but that hasn't worked either," Tanial grumbled after showing complete agreement with what I'd said. "The upper echelon of Peacemen is also out of touch, just like the senior officers of the Kabras. I know they're all most likely busy handling the trouble from the invasion this world just suffered, but I can't get past the feeling that they're all sitting around somewhere sipping cool drinks and maybe even playing cards…"

"Waiting out of sight for the furor to die down," I agreed with a nod. "I wouldn't put it past most politicians to do something like that, but Kabras usually have more of a sense of duty. And it's just come to me that we can't simply walk away from these buildings and what they contain even if we don't leave any of the crazies behind. These buildings need to be guarded until the different machines they hold can be moved elsewhere."

"And until then we need to be alert," another voice put in as Hall Cummings walked up to join us. "There may not be more members of the 'inner group' we just took down, but that doesn't mean there aren't any lower level crazies waiting their chance to do their own taking over. Which is why I've started to believe that we need to interview all our prisoners, especially those who aren't supposed to be prisoners."

"We won't have to interview all of them," Tanial disagreed, a smile of sorts curving her lips. "Three of the former captives here who were being forced to work for these fools came over to me in one of the buildings. They saw the way I was staring at one of the machines, trying to figure out how to protect the device — whatever it was supposed to do — and they passed on some interesting information. All the plans for all the machines, along with full descriptions of what the machines do, were being kept in a hidden file on the main computer. Those three showed me the file and gave me the password to access the data."

"Which I'm sure you did," Hall said with brows high. "Is there anything else you did?"

"Damn straight," Tanial returned with a laugh. "I made six copies of the files, and now all of our six teams here have one of the copies. One of the copies will go to us, of course, since the people of this world will have the actual machines to work with. Alderan will not be the only one to have access to the machines, not even if they want it like that."

"That's a relief," Hall said with his own laugh. "But what are we going to do about getting the attention of someone in the government of this stupid world?"

"I think we're going to use one of the transfer slips to send Jilin and some of our Rimilian brothers to get the attention of the council," Tanial stated, her smile not as nice as it was a moment ago. "While Jilin is doing that, we'll be using the probe on everyone who worked in this place. When we finally get to pack up and leave, I don't want to wonder if we're leaving behind someone who will make it necessary for us to come back here again."

"I like the sound of that," I agreed, knowing that Vennias also agreed. "Relaxation can wait until later, when we'll be able to appreciate it more."

"Indeed," Vennias said. "When all efforts of duty are seen to, then may we take pleasure in the midst of peace. I shall accompany Jilin, of course, and would know which of my brothers are to join us."

"Why don't we let Hellis choose another five of his men?" I suggested, looking at Vennias. "He'll know which of his people need a little more action than what they've already gotten."

No one argued with that suggestion, so we used our comm system to find out where Hellis was. The big Rimilian happened to be checking on the guard posts he'd established as part of the overall effort, and when he heard there was the possibility of more action he grinned.

"Best would be that I choose our companions quietly," he said around the grin. "Should all our brothers discover what we mean to do, surely will they insist upon accompanying us."

"And then the Alderan Council members will think they're being invaded again," I agreed with my own amusement. "Good thinking, Hellis."

Hellis chose his five one at a time, quietly walking each man away as if to speak to him privately. Once we had our group we lost no time boarding a transfer slip, which also lost no time in taking off. Distracting our Rimilian brothers wouldn't have been smart, not when they really were needed where they were.

The trip to Alderan's major city didn't take long, and we landed in the square in front of the building the council used for meetings. There were Kabras and Peacemen about a block away in all directions, working to keep back what looked like very irate crowds, but that doesn't mean we were entirely ignored. A group of grim-looking Kabras came out of the building as soon as we left the transfer slip, and the leader of the group of eight stepped out a bit ahead of his men.

"I'm sorry, but this building is off-limits to everyone until the Council says otherwise," the man told us in a flat, unfriendly voice, his expression matching. "Just get back into your slip and don't come here again until you're told you can."

"We know the main problem the Council is having and we think we can help them solve it," I said, taking my own step toward the man. "We're part of the group that ended the invasion attempt of your world, and General Obmal will definitely want to talk to us."

"That's a decision the general gets to make on his own," the Kabran stated, still speaking flatly. "You were told to leave here, and you are going to — "

"Pay attention!" I interrupted, clapping my hands in a way that startled the fool. "If the general doesn't know we're out here, he can't decide to let us come in. Just give him a call, and then we won't have to go over you and your men in order to enter the building."

The face of the spokesman of the group twisted in a way that said he was about to start a war, but one of his men came forward and grabbed his arm. The second Kabra spoke very softly and very quickly, and it wasn't hard to tell what he was passing on to the spokesman. The roiling in the second man's middle said he knew exactly what Rimilians were capable of, and facing them wasn't something he and the others were eager to do.

"If you can't use your call to reach General Obmal, you'll have to go inside and speak to him in person," I said as soon as the whispered conference was over and heavy frustration fought with anger inside the spokesman. "We've been trying to get in touch with the Council for hours, and we aren't going to wait much longer before we just pick up and leave. Take my word for the fact that the general won't be happy if we do that, and he'll be even unhappier with you when he finds out our leaving without speaking to him and the others is your fault."

I wasn't quite feeding the man the urge to believe me, but only because he was well on the way to feeling that on his own. He hadn't understood at first who we were, but now that he'd been told he'd find it impossible to cover his ass if it turned out he was wrong to turn us away.

"All right, I'll speak to the general," the man finally agreed sullenly, clearly hating that he had no choice. "You lot stay right here, otherwise you'll find more trouble than you know exists."

Tossing out that threat before turning and marching away from us made the man feel better, something all of us were able to tell. Hellis had chosen men who were all awake and therefore able to tell what the spokesman was feeling, which is why I didn't have to stop any of my "escort" from going insulted and challenging the fool. We could all tell that what the man had said was bravado, so we just stood where we were and waited quietly.

"We really don't want any trouble," the Kabra who had stopped the spokesman earlier said once the spokesman had disappeared into the building. "Those of us who faced your big friends in that challenge aren't surprised that you all helped to stop that invasion. Do you have any idea who sent those attackers? If they hadn't used gas on us… But they did use that gas, so we weren't able to do the defending ourselves."

"That's the point in having allies," I answered, well aware of the outrage the man — and his friends — was feeling. "Alderan was one of the worlds attacked because they offered us an alliance, so it was our place to come and help out. That's what being allies means, at least to us. You help out when your ally can't do it for himself. And yes, we know exactly who sent those attackers, and have even captured the entire group. That's what we're here to tell the general and his associates."

"You have them?" the man exclaimed, his friends saying the same thing in different words. "Where in all the worlds were they hiding?"

"They were right here on your world, pretending to be a bunch of peaceful isolationists," I told the man without trying to soften the blow. "Some fool in your government made no effort to find out if they were telling the truth about their beliefs, so they were able to go about their business without anyone knowing what they were doing."

"Bureaucrats!" the man spat, his friends exclaiming angrily and saying the same thing in other words. "Wouldn't do a job right even if they could, not when they don't want people to expect them to do that job right all the time! I can't wait until we find out just who the guilty ones are. They'll be put on trial right along with the slime they let run free."

The entire group of men was agreeing with that when the one who'd left to enter the building came out again. If his gait going in had been briskly angry, coming out he showed more in the way of panicked hurry.

"The Council asks if you'll please come inside," the Kabran got out as soon as he was close enough, obviously trying to sound efficient instead of scared gray. "I'd like to … offer my apologies for … delaying you in your effort to — "

"No need for apologies," I interrupted with a wave of my hand, not about to humiliate the man and make things worse. "You had your orders, and the problem with expecting people to follow orders like that is the clear point that those orders may not cover all situations to come up. If there's any fault here it belongs to your commanding officer, but that's not your problem."

I left the man frowning as I led the way inside, knowing his inner anger at us had begun to change to something else. He'd decided at first that we were responsible for the way he'd been shouted at, but now that idea had been pushed aside by other thoughts entirely. If we were going to do our own shouting at his superior officer, he wouldn't have minded being there to see the show.

There was only one Kabra waiting inside the building, and he was a member of the Council. He stood at the door leading into their conference room, and when we reached him he gestured us inside.

"It's nice to see you again, Jilin, but I'm afraid we can't give you much time," General Modlis T'lon Obmal said as soon as he saw me, a strained smile on his dark face. "Your people may have stopped the attack against our people, but now we have everyone on the planet screaming for the blood of those responsible for the attack. We've been trying to come up with a way to tell the populace that we don't yet know who's responsible, a way that won't set off riots."

I could see there were a lot more people in the room than just the Council members, but that made things better rather than worse.

"That's why we're here, General, to help you folks out again," I answered, making sure my own smile didn't change into a grin. "The ones responsible for the attacks against six worlds were right here on your world, and now we have them in custody. We're ready to turn over your share of the captives, but we can't just leave their headquarters unguarded. They've got devices in the buildings they were living and working in that need to be — "

"What do you mean, our share of the captives?" one of the men in the enlarged audience demanded while everyone else exclaimed in shock or surprise or delight. The man was dressed like a Kabra, his rank badges clear on the straps crossing his chest, and he'd surged to his feet while voicing his outrage.

"Those people will all be turned over to us," the Kabran officer growled, clearly giving orders to lowly underlings. "They'll be put on trial for what they did, and once the trial is over they'll be executed for the murder and maimings they're responsible for. If you think we'll change our stance on that point you're dreaming."

"Sorry, Colonel, but I'm not the one who's less than awake," I stated, aware of the way Vennias and Hellis were keeping the rest of our people from challenging the fool for the way he'd spoken to me. "Did you miss the part where you were told that this is only one of six worlds that were attacked? The other worlds want their share of the guilty vermin, especially my own world of Dembris, and I feel really sorry for the ones who end up on my home world."

"Why?" the fool colonel demanded, not in the least impressed by what I'd said. "What do you think Dembris can do to them that we can't?"

"It's not a matter of what they can do, just a matter of what they're willing and able to do," I pointed out. "I heard some of the leaders of my world talking after we got them loose, their attention on the man we saved for questioning. One of the first things the two men and women agreed on was that putting someone to death was letting them off easy."

Every face in the room changed expression at hearing that, their minds pretty much matching. Some of those people were in grim but full agreement, the rest disturbed in one manner or another.

"If your people believe in locking up filth like this, that's their business," the colonel stated, his mind showing how unhappy he was with that idea. "Those of us on this world aren't that kind-hearted, not when — "

"Kind-hearted?" I echoed, letting my laugh tell him how wrong his take was. "My people aren't kind-hearted, they're mad as hell and mean to let their captive know all about it. They intend to put the man into a … waking dream of some kind, and then convince him the plans he and his friends made are starting to work. Once the captive feels elation and victory, they'll then have everything fall apart on the filth. To begin with."

"What do you mean, to begin with?" General Obmal said when the loud-mouthed colonel just stood and stared at me.

"I think the colonel is starting to get the idea," I answered, knowing my newest smile wasn't very nice. "Is there anyone here who doesn't know how it feels to be on the verge of winning and then have everything come apart in your hands? The disappointment is staggering, sometimes overwhelming, and the people I heard talking know that almost as well as I do. They're going to keep doing that to their captive, making him believe he and his friends are about to win, then plunging him back into despair. They don't know how long it will take to break his mind, but they're firm on the decision to find out."

"And that's what they'll do to any other captives they get," General Obmal said after a moment, speaking into the deep silence my explanation had created. "Make them as helpless as our people were when those attackers came. I think I like that idea better than our own, and if the rest of the Council agrees with me we'll get in touch with Dembris to find out how to do the same. With our share of the prisoners."

This time there weren't any protests from his audience about keeping all the prisoners to themselves. The general really did approve of the idea my own people had gotten, but I didn't know how good a chance he had of being allowed to do the same. A number of the people in the room were feeling queasy, and that included two members of the Council.

"Right now we need your help, General," I said, putting the discussion back on the necessary topic. "You'll want to guard the buildings of those people, not to mention send Kabras or Peacemen along to take charge of your part of the prisoners. You'll also probably want scientists to take a look at the machines in the buildings before you move them somewhere, but guarding the stuff will definitely have to come first."

"Yes, we certainly do want to send guards," the general agreed, now turning brisk. "Colonel, take a number of your Kabras to do the guarding, and Captain, we'll need a number of your Peacemen."

"Yes, sir," another large man said as he stepped forward from the crowd. He was light-haired and light-eyed, and if he'd been a little bigger he would have looked like a Rimilian. "I'm Captain Joran B'las Torok, ma'am, and if you give me a few minutes I'll have the necessary men gathered up to accompany you."

"No problem, Captain Torok," I assured him, aware of how eager the man was to get his hands on the enemies we'd captured. "Our own people are more than ready to go home, but not before we get this all wrapped up. We have the upper echelon of the enemy, but there are probably a few members of the 'lower' orders ready to move in and take over. If we make sure we leave nothing for them to take over we'll all be saving ourselves more trouble."

A number of growls joined the sound of general agreement, showing the sort of welcome any other would-be rulers would face if they tried to move in.

"I find I'm looking forward to any tries to take the place my men and I will be guarding," the colonel, who hadn't bothered to introduce himself, said with a smile that wasn't very pleasant. "We'll be ready at least as quickly as the Peacemen, you have my word on that."

He'd already pulled out a portable call like the one Captain Torok had started to use, and then he was busy on the line with someone. General Obmal gave me a wry smile, one that said he didn't much like the Colonel, but it was clear the general wasn't about to start a fight with the colonel. Not now, in public, at least…

We were offered cold drinks while we waited for the various groups to get ready to join us, and the continuing heat made the decision for us to accept the drinks. While we all sipped the refreshing liquid — whatever it was — I explained to General Obmal how the enemy had managed to hide themselves.

"And no one made the effort to find out if those people actually were what they claimed to be?" the general demanded in outrage. "There's a big difference between allowing people their privacy and letting them do whatever they please! Once things settle down again there's going to be an inquiry into some of our governmental practices, you have my word on that!"

"My advice would be to refrain from going overboard with those plans," I said softly, knowing exactly how the man felt. "What you want to do is get rid of the dead wood in your various departments, not fire everyone you come across. Since we're allies now, you might want to consider using some of my people to help out. They'll be able to help you figure out who should be in charge and who should be sent to find another job."

"That's a very good idea so I think I'll adopt it," the general said after thinking for a moment, his anger lessening. "Guesswork makes you uncertain, but knowing for sure… Yes, deciding to be your allies is the best decision we've made in a long time. And I think my men are ready to leave with you now."

Both the captain and the colonel had turned off their calls, and now they stood near the door out of the meeting room. They did seem to be ready to leave, and were probably just waiting until the general and I had finished our conversation.

"Goodbye, General," I said with a pleasant nod. "It was nice to see you again, but next time let's make it a fun time rather than an invasion we get together at."

The general's wry agreement was perfectly clear, so I rejoined Vennias, Hellis, and the others and left the room. When we all went outside it was to find a surprise: the crowds a block away suddenly began to cheer instead of yell and complain.

"We've spread the word that the enemy has been captured, and by our allies," Captain Torok said with a smile when the Rimilians and I looked puzzled. "When people go out of their way to help you, we believe they deserve to get the credit for that help. Not to mention the fact that we look like geniuses for allying ourselves with you in the first place. If you'll lead the way in your slip, the rest of us will follow."

I shook my head at his wide grin, then we got into our slip and led the way to the enemy camp.