Copyright (C) 2006 Katherine Padilla. This sample is published by Novaun Novels at www.zerosilver.com and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0.

 

 

TRAVAIL OF A TRAITOR

 

By Katherine Padilla

 

Book 3 of

 

HEIRS OF NOVAUN

 

 

 

Part 1: REJECTION

 

Prologue: TWO AGENTS

 

On the Earth base ship Sovereign of the Stars, in a luxurious stateroom on "A" Deck, Sanel King and Internal Investigation agent Daniel Stewart gazed in satisfaction at a man who had been physically altered to look exactly like agent Stewart, except that his eyes were not brown, but blue.

King hurriedly dismissed the Stewart-twin and telepathically commanded his Eslavu servant to pour him a glass of mineral water.

Stewart received his own glass of mineral water, his satisfaction so extreme it was almost regret. "I almost wish I were the one going to Novaun. I want the pleasure of torturing that son of Abomination myself."

King chuckled. "Your pleasure will be much greater if you live to see the destruction of our young traitor and Novaun's humiliation. Your twin goes to Novaun to die."

Stewart's dark eyes searched King's face calculatingly. "And your spy?"

King's eyes shone with gloating ruthlessness. "My spy is in position and is progressing as planned, possessing a mind of even greater potential than I had anticipated. My plan is coming to fruition so easily I'm embarrassed for the great Novaunian Fleet."

Stewart laughed.

King sighed in ecstasy. "My revenge will be glorious."

 

 

Chapter 1: CONFIDANTS

 

Ton Luciani had just completed a surgery with Dr. Lren Tervel and was on his way to the shower when he received a telepathic summons from Dr. Morlel Hovaus, his mentor. Since Ton was not scheduled for a review, the summons worried him. Had he done something to provoke a reprimand?

Ton quickly showered, changed, and hurried to Dr. Hovaus's office at the clinic. He entered looking as dignified as he could. Ton was relieved that a librarian wasn't present. At least this wasn't going to be an official meeting.

Dr. Hovaus greeted Ton with fingertips touching and invited him to sit down. I'll come straight to the point, Ton. Since you've been here, you've been volunteering all of your free time at the hospital, and it's starting to show. You're slow and rundown.

Ton gazed at his mentor, perplexed. I do what is required, then only what I wish to do. All of my reviews have shown that my work is exceptional.

Your knowledge and execution of technique is exceptional, yes, but you are slow, and you aren't slow because you're being careful, which is what I expect from a new physician. It's a hesitating, unsure kind of slowness that comes from a cloudy mind. We need doctors who are dedicated, yes, but we don't want medical martyrs.

Ton thought in exasperation that if Colonel Quautar would let him have his coffee on the days he worked he would be as fast and as sure of himself as any of the more experienced surgeons!

Dr. Hovaus leaned forward in his chair. I'm worried about you, Ton. You need something in your life other than work. You will not only be happier, your work will become much more fulfilling and effective. I don't want to throw your life into a complete state of shock, but I do want you to relax a little. From today on, you will work only for me. I've already contacted the necessary hospital staff members.

Ton assimilated Dr. Hovaus's thoughts in a daze. What would he do with all those extra hours a week? He would go insane with boredom.

Learning of the death of Ausha's brother a week and a half before had disheartened him enough. His fight with Miaundea had shattered him, and finding the taffuao remains of a woman spy in his room at the Doshyr estate had completely terrified and unnerved him. This final blow of having his working hours restricted devastated him. He scratched at his mustache, too perplexed to reply.

Dr. Hovaus gazed at Ton in concern. I want you to relax, Ton. Not lie down and die. He squeezed Ton's arm. What is really bothering you?

Ton shook his head quickly as if to communicate, "Nothing."

Dr. Hovaus withdrew his hand. You want to tell me that your personal concerns are none of my business. Everything you do is my business if it in any way threatens the quality of your work.

Ton leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, covering his face with his hands. Perhaps he couldn't tell Dr. Hovaus about his fear of Sanel King and the woman spy he knew had been in his room, but he could tell him something about the fight he had had with Miaundea. I had a fight with a girl I like very much. She . . . well . . . I was full of rage, and if she hadn't run away from me I . . . I would have beaten her.

Ton couldn't bring himself to communicate any more. He certainly couldn't reveal the nature of the argument. He couldn't take the chance that Dr. Hovaus or anyone else would tell Colonel Quautar, thus endangering his privilege to live on Novaun. He had no doubt that leaving Novaun at this point would mean instant death. He sat up and leaned back, feeling exhausted.

You need to communicate with Counselor Brunel.

Ton stiffened. That is completely out of the question.

Dr. Hovaus appeared puzzled. Counselor Brunel is perfectly qualified to help you deal with personal problems as well as with the stresses that come with practicing medicine. Receiving help from a psychologist isn't anything to be ashamed of. If a large number of people didn't need emotional help at times, there wouldn't be counselors available to give it.

Ton felt a flicker of spiteful satisfaction. As much as they demanded perfection, Novaunians were as human as everyone else and just as flawed. He shook his head. I'm not ashamed. I just . . . can't.

I think I understand. The young lady you have the problem with is the daughter of your sponsor, Colonel Quautar, and you're afraid that anything you communicate about her would somehow get back to him.

Ton could not muster a reply.

Did it ever occur to you that he may already know everything?

Ton regarded Dr. Hovaus suspiciously.

She may have already told him about your argument.

That is extremely unlikely.

Dr. Hovaus pondered Ton's problem for nearly a minute. Finally he communicated with a shake of his head, You have a problem, Ton, and you need to communicate with someone. You can't change a lifetime of attitudes and inappropriate ways of dealing with frustration with a simple snap of your fingers. As long as we can keep your visits unofficial, I can promise you that neither Counselor Brunel nor any of the other Academy psychologists I can refer you to for counseling will betray your confidence to anyone, even Colonel Quautar.

Ton wasn't so slow and rundown that he failed to take Dr. Hovaus's hint--that if he didn't initiate counseling on his own, his mentor would order him to do it and would receive reports on his progress from the psychologist he saw. I understand. I'll make an appointment.

Good. In the meantime, I feel I should make a couple of suggestions. First, you need to learn to channel your anger. When you feel you're losing control, leave the situation. Then take a walk, write in a journal, scream into a pillow, participate in strenuous exercise, or whatever you find works for you. My other suggestion is to confide in a friend, someone you trust, someone who can help you understand and express what angers and distresses you.

Ton drummed his fingers on his thighs, feeling helpless. I've never had a friend like that.

If you would let some of your young colleagues into your life more, you would develop some deep friendships. Dr. Hovaus stood up, smiling. And since you will only be working for me, you'll have quite a bit more time to do so.

Ton thought immediately of Ausha, but he wasn't sure what she would think of him now that his people had killed her brother. Do you think that when Ausha gets back she'll blame me? He stood up and walked with Dr. Hovaus to the door.

Do you blame yourself?

Yes and no. I could never have ordered that invasion if I had been in a position to do so, but still, they are my people, and I was part of Star Force for five years. They trained me for combat and self-defense just as they did the rest of them. I wore an immobilizer when I was sent into a battle zone to treat the wounded. My ship might have been the one that attacked Jaunel's. How am I supposed to feel?

I don't know. You're in a unique and baffling position.

Ton stopped in front of the door, unable to bring himself to look at Dr. Hovaus. The most shameful thing about it is that it didn't bother me so much at first. I knew that what Earth had done was wrong, but still, it was just an intellectual game, a political puzzle. But then Ausha's brother died, and everything changed.

Dr. Hovaus put his arm around Ton's shoulders and squeezed slightly. What you're feeling is the pain of someone you care about, empathy. Just be honest with Ausha about the way you feel, and she won't blame you.

Ton finally turned toward Dr. Hovaus, shaking his head. It still won't change what happened.

Ton left Dr. Hovaus, feeling depressed. His working relationship with Ausha would take care of itself when she returned from Dinevlea, but he didn't know what to do about Miaundea. He had struggled over the last week not to think about her, with no success. He hadn't realized how much a part of his life she had become. He missed her teasing smile, the way her eyes lit up as she analyzed a problem, the security of having her slide her tiny hand under his elbow and pressing it affectionately against his arm.

She had tried communicating with him several times over the past seven days, and he had refused, repelled by the possibility that she would do as she usually did whenever he did something to disturb her, treat him as if nothing had happened and continue on in her little charade.

He wanted her to be his lover and companion, and one way or another, he was going to force a decision from her. She wanted to communicate with him? Fine. She could do it on his terms. She could come to him at his apartment.

Ton went to the clinic cafeteria and had a quick lunch with Danal, then headed back to his office to study his new cases and complete some reports. Normally he and Dr. Hovaus's other apprentices didn't see patients on Sixth Day since they were usually in surgery or performing an Awareness manipulation, so as far as he knew, he didn't have any patients scheduled for that afternoon. He was surprised to find Ausha there, sitting in the glow of a magnified patient Awareness image being generated by their telepathic transmission recorder, systematically formulating various surgery strategies for one of their more difficult new cases.

Ton stopped in just inside the door. The change in Ausha was astounding. She looked sickly, her skin ashen instead of its normal creamy translucence. Her gaunt face, with its dark shadows of exhaustion, made her exotic brown eyes seem larger than normal, which only emphasized their sorrow. Gone was her cheerful exuberance and breathless, frenetic pace, replaced by unhurried graveness. Even her plants drooped around her in desolation, proud Hokinnon most of all.

Ton felt queasy. What was he supposed to do? What was he supposed to communicate? It didn't seem right to act as if nothing had happened, and yet seeing her this way made him long to redirect her thoughts to happier subjects and help her forget.

Sensing Ton's presence by the door, Ausha lifted her head and looked at him. The Awareness image disappeared. She smiled, just barely, in an attempt to be cheerful. Hello, Ton. I told you that one of these days I would surprise you and get here first.

Ton walked cautiously to the middle of the office and the telepathic transmission recorder. Hi, Ausha. He groped for something to communicate. When did you get back?

This morning.

Andrel came in yesterday and asked about you.

Ausha grimaced. I don't want to see him.

He seems very concerned.

She sighed. I know. She continued, somewhat vexed: I also know just what he'll communicate in his "concern." He lives completely in his idealistic world of knowledge and principle, rights and wrongs. He can't begin to understand real people and real pain. He'll try to comfort me, and instead he'll moralize and tell me that Jaunel has made a natural step in his progression, that he's at peace, and that there will come a time when we'll all be together again.

Ausha stared into space, her expression wry. Well, I already know all of that, and it doesn't change what I feel. It doesn't build a bridge over that awful chasm between this world and the next. And it doesn't make me miss him any less.

Ausha's communication about death and "that awful chasm between this world and the next" paralyzed Ton. He could think of nothing at that moment but his treason, Sanel King, and the female spy that had been in his room in Launarda.

Feeling Ton's spasm of fear in their telepathic exchange, Ausha looked up at him and frowned, her expression one of alarm and concern. She stood up and pulled a chair over to the transmission recorder next to hers and gently sat Ton down in it. She reseated herself and stroked his arm. What is it, Ton? What is it that terrifies you so?

Ton gazed at her, uncomprehending. How did she know? How could she possibly know?

Ausha almost smiled, communicating as if in answer to his thoughts, I felt it.

Ton felt like a fool. Of course she had felt it. The problem with telepathy was that these Novaunians could read emotions too well, particularly the more empathic ones like Ausha and Dr. Hovaus. Virtually the only way to keep feelings private was not to communicate at all. With Ausha, though, that wasn't an option. Knowing how futile his effort would be, he had never fought it with her, nor did he withdraw abruptly now, but her perception made him uncomfortable all the same.

Ausha gazed at him solemnly, again feeling his emotions and understanding their nature. We're friends, Ton. You have no reason to be embarrassed or uneasy with me about anything. I have no intention to ever judge you or moralize.

For the moment, Ton's curiosity was stronger than his fear of King. Why not?

Because I hate it when people do it to me, and it doesn't do one bit of good. Maybe that's why I've always felt so at ease with you. You're opinionated, maybe even more opinionated than I, but you never moralize.

I can't do anything to offend you!

I don't think we would work very well together if either one of us let ourselves get offended and irritated by our personal differences and idiosyncrasies.

But I can't offend anyone on this planet. Even the ones who get offended don't treat me differently afterward. I don't understand it, and I don't like it.

Why do you wish you could offend people?

So that they'll despise me. It makes it a whole lot easier to despise them. He continued weakly, It makes you a lot less vulnerable.

Ausha gazed at him compassionately. You've lost people close to you, haven't you?

She was so sincere, and their communication had always been so natural and comfortable. Ton couldn't not answer her. I have, but not to death. Sometimes I think death would be the easy way. At least the person who dies generally doesn't have control. It can't be anything like the agony of one day realizing that after years and years of fighting to gain someone's approval and support that you're never going to get it, no matter what you do. Or losing an intimate friend because you remind him of someone who hurt him. Ton nodded. I really think death would be the easy way.

At least I know Jaunel wouldn't have had it this way, that he misses us as much as we miss him. Sometimes that makes me feel better; sometimes it makes me feel worse. I can't bear the thought of him there and all of us here, and how lonely he must feel. Ausha's lips trembled. He was so young, Ton, so young, and he had his whole life ahead of him. All he ever wanted to do was join the Fleet and rescue wounded soldiers, but there was no one there to rescue him. He left a wife and a new little baby. It just doesn't seem fair, you know?

Ton nodded slowly, again gripped with fear. I know.

I guess that's what scares me most about dying, that I'll miss my family too much and that I'll leave something unfinished, like Jaunel did.

Ton couldn't seem to restrain the outpouring of his own worries and emotions. Sometimes I think it would be easier to die, to just shut everything off, all the pain, all the loneliness, all the fear. Then I get terrified that maybe our spirits do continue to live after we die, that all of those feelings, those needs, and those cravings just keep going on and on and on, forever and ever, nagging at you constantly but never consuming you and putting you out of your misery. I can't imagine a more exquisite torment.

Ausha replied only with feelings. He sensed that she had internalized his fears and understood, and that in itself made him feel a little less afraid, at least for the moment. Perhaps the most unbelievable emotion he could feel in her was that she acknowledged his unequivocal right to want to be happy and at peace in his life, that she anguished with him at having never been able to find it, and that she wanted it for him as sincerely as he wanted it for himself.

They sat there still for many minutes, when suddenly Ton blurted in earnestness and anxiety, I'm sorry about Jaunel, Ausha. I'm more sorry than you can know, but when I came in here a little while ago and saw you looking so miserable, I didn't know what to communicate. I didn't know what to do, and I still don't. The Senlana invasion never made me so ashamed of my own people as that day a week and a half ago when Dr. Hovaus told you about Jaunel. It doesn't surprise me that Earth invaded Senlana, but that doesn't make it any less wrong. And no, it isn't fair.

For not knowing what to communicate, you seem to be communicating all the right things. She gazed at him, still sad, but with that incredible concentration that had always so impressed him. Why Ton? Why would they have done it?

It was a question she had longed to ask him since the moment she had learned of the invasion. Ton was disturbed that she hadn't felt comfortable asking it until now, but he was relieved that his race didn't matter to her, only his personal feelings about the invasion, and that she had used the pronoun "they" instead of "you."

It could have been for a lot of different reasons. They're proud, they want arelada, and they need a war. War is something they understand. It's holy to them. It's their way of life, and unless you live among them, there's no way you can really understand it.

Ton opened his mind to her and let her see the attitudes of his Earthon peers in Star Force, from the Prince Jahnzel, to Latanza III, to the Sovereign of the Stars. He showed her the religious services, their fencing tournaments, their rallies, their conversations, their basic military training. He showed her Earth's culture in general, their literature, their art, their knowledge and ambitions, their Zarrist history, their allegiance to their Divine Emperor.

Ausha assimilated it all, fascinated and appalled. She and the other student physicians had, at different times, asked Ton about his academic and medical training on Earth and his experiences as a neurosurgeon in Star Force, but they had never asked him about Earth's culture. She began to understand why Earth would do something so brutal and immoral as invade a tiny neighboring republic, that to many Earthons the invasion hadn't been immoral at all. She began to understand, but that understanding brought new concern about Earth as a significant threat to the security of Novaun and the other planets in the Union, especially those on the borders such as Dinevlea.

I always told you that you're of a corrupt race, Ausha teased.

And being a traitor, I'm the most corrupt of all.

How did you escape it, Ton?

I don't know. I guess it was the natural Awareness ability I had to see the Divine Emperor attempting to take control of a cell in my brain on my Day of Awakening. I guess after that my instinct just took over and I fought it with all my strength. But I never escaped it. I was just never a part of it. I don't suppose anyone was surprised when I sold out to an enemy agent.

A traitor at heart long before you committed treason, hmmm?

Ton smiled. I guess so.

Ausha smiled at him affectionately. You know, for a corrupt Earthon traitor, you're an excellent physician.

Dr. Hovaus doesn't think so. He thinks I'm slow and rundown. Ton told Ausha about his interview with their mentor and the new restriction in his working hours.

I don't understand it, Ausha. At least half of the emergency physicians on the day shift are volunteers. Then there are the staffs of volunteer nurses and technicians both here and at the hospital. So why does Dr. Hovaus now tell me that I can't volunteer my time anymore? It doesn't make sense.

You do spend a great deal of time at the hospital, Ton.

Only time I want to spend.

Isn't there anything else you would like to do?

Have sex, but no one will let me do that either!

Ausha patted his arm. That settles it. You have no excuse now not to come with Bryaun and Danal and me to our Coalition functions.

I want to work!

I'll pick you up and carry you if I have to! We displaced persons have to stick together, you know?

Ton rolled his eyes in good-natured resignation. I know.

Ausha telepathically turned on the telepathic transmission recorder again, and she and Ton brainstormed on several new cases and compiled reports on more than ten of their old ones.

They finished their reports at the eighteenth hour and spent the rest of the evening eating, relaxing, and debating with their colleagues at the Palm Pavilion. Ton went home at the twenty-first hour that night, hoping by some remote chance that Miaundea would be waiting there for him. She wasn't, and although he wasn't surprised, he was disappointed. He entered the apartment cautiously, sniffing for Froquenza and fresh osalaem smoke. He looked behind and under the few pieces of furniture and checked the balcony before allowing himself the luxury of relaxing.

Deciding to forego his usual hour session with InterMind News and Library, he lit a taffuao, poured himself some cognac, and sank into the large reclining chair in his living room, obsessed by a single question--why wasn't he dead?

A spy who had been capable of entering his room in Launarda undetected had certainly been capable of killing him then and was capable of killing him now. Had Colonel Quautar been conducting surveillance on him since his arrival? Even now he wondered. Maybe he had lied too well. Maybe Colonel Quautar had believed everything he had told him in that first interview, felt he was no threat and in no danger, and was thus forgoing any attempt at surveillance. The only way Ton would know for certain would be to ask the colonel himself.

Ton shuddered. Colonel Quautar had no reason to tell him the truth, particularly if he suspected him of being a spy. He would certainly suspect him of being a spy if he told him that he had double-crossed Sanel King. Ton could hear the conversation now:

"Colonel Quautar, you have to help me! Sanel King wants me dead and has sent a woman agent to kill me. She was in my room the night of the wedding. I didn't see her, but I know she was there. I smelled that awful Erdean perfume Froquenza, and I found a taffuao stub in the bathroom sink."

The colonel would look at him skeptically. "What kind of game are you playing with me, Ton? Sanel King has no reason to want to kill you."

"Oh yes he does! My sister Jacquae wasn't the plant on the Sovereign as Teren thinks. I was the plant. Sanel King's D.I.I. agent Daniel Stewart hired me to manipulate Teren and Deia and Paul into each other's favor, to be the third helper in the escape, and to be the channel through which Stewart and his agents would obtain the spirit dimension formula and kill Teren. They were going to pay me three hundred and fifty thousand Earth dollars and provide me a prestigious research position on Erdean.

"I knew immediately upon learning about this assignment that if I accepted it, I would be in a very powerful position of trust. I could just as easily sell out to this boy Novaunian agent as kill him, and there wouldn't have been a thing the Earthons could have done about it. Novaun is a very rich, powerful, and isolated planet, and I believed I could come here and be protected from the D.I.I.

"The thought of outwitting a Novaunian spy was tantalizing enough, but the temptation to also outwit the D.I.I. and Intelligence Director Sanel King was more than I could stand, and so was my desire to experience the spirit dimension formula in flight. I accepted the assignment, intending to sell out to the Novaunian agent. I came to Novaun with Teren without a moment's hesitation or regret and, in the process, ruined Sanel King and all of his plans. That is why he wants me dead."

Colonel Quautar, angrily: "Do you expect me to believe you came to Novaun because of a game? Do you really expect me to believe that anyone could be that insane and suicidal? All for a game?"

"You have to believe me! They are trying to kill me!"

"The woman in your room is working with you. You know that Internal discovered the rendezvous and that she was captured, and now you're making a desperate attempt to cover yourself. You lied to Teren, you lied to me in our first interview about your reasons for coming to Novaun, and now you're lying to me again. And far worse than anything else, you've been trying to seduce my daughter! You are done playing games on this planet, Dr. Luciani!"

No. It was absolutely out of the question. He could not go to Colonel Quautar. King would have him when he wanted him. The only questions were when and, more terrifying, how. He was no longer the player in what had been an elaborate psychological game--he was the prize.

Ton downed the remaining cognac in one gulp, cursing Earth's government. Why in the universe didn't they give that son of Abomination King to the Novaunians? He was no good to them now, and it would have saved them an enormous amount of trouble. It would have been a gesture that would have persuaded the other planetary powers of the galaxy to regard Earth with a certain amount of favor instead of putting an embargo on the sale of arelada and boycotting its products. Earth certainly wanted the flow of arelada to remain unimpeded and the price to remain stable. It needed to sell its products abroad to avoid economic chaos, and it needed favor with the planetary powers of the galaxy, especially now that Teren's report on its plans to conquer several arelada-rich planets had been released on the galactic level and Earth had subsequently been forced to withdraw all of its fleets from the Alliance space territory.

Instead, Earth had refused to give King to the Novaunians and had provoked the boycott, causing the price of arelada to soar. Then when Earth had tried to secure its own continuous supply of arelada by invading the Senlana Republic, it had lost an astounding number of ships and warriors in what would be remembered in history as one of the most devastating military failures of all time.

Perhaps Earth was proud, but it was not that proud. Perhaps Divine Emperor Arulezz Zarr was a despot, but he was not a fool. What kind of power could King possibly hold over the entire Earth government?

Ton took one more draw on his taffuao, snuffed it out on the small plate he used as an ash tray, then stood up and went to bed. He had nightmares of dying. The nightmare was always the same. Miaundea came to him wearing the pale yellow dress she had worn that dreadful night a week before. They sat cuddled on the couch talking, kissing, and drinking champagne. Then he felt a shot in his back and smelled the peculiar odor of Froquenza mixed with osalaem and burnt flesh.

Sometimes the woman with the immobilizer was Miaundea, her yellow-green eyes shining malevolently. More often, the woman with the immobilizer was a shadowy figure in the background, withdrawing as he groaned, and Miaundea would clutch his head to her neck as he died.

Ton woke up with a start, drenched with sweat, his head throbbing. He reached for Miaundea and instead found a cold sheet. He forlornly stroked the place in the bed where Miaundea should have been, feeling no neurodart in his back, only the abyss in his heart.    

 

 

Chapter 2: A DISILLUSIONED BROTHER

 

Snow crunched under Paul's feet as he ran with Adaum Vundaun. The sun had not yet risen, but there was enough light for Paul to see that his friend was in turmoil. Adaum had not communicated a thought to Paul that morning, but Paul didn't have to be a genius to guess that Adaum was distressed about the information they all had received the day before concerning his brother Brys and his crimes.

The family had been told early in the day. Eauva had stood before the Criminal Council of Judges in Shalaun early that afternoon and confessed her involvement with Brys in aiding Jovem Doshyr's escape from Novaun, supplying him with sensitive government information, and concealing the fact that he was still alive and had kidnapped Paul and Deia and their mother.

After an hour of deliberation, the Council had declared Eauva guilty of treason and an accessory to murder and kidnapping. She had been stripped of her position as proxy-counselor to her father, indefinitely barred from practicing as a judge on any Novaunian planet, and sentenced to remain in prison until Sanel King was apprehended or proved dead.

Paul's grandfather and Eauva had then made a statement on InterMind, during which Eauva, heartbroken, had apologized for her crimes. His grandparents had temporary custody of Brys and Eauva's four children, which, in Paul's opinion, was the most depressing thing of all. He could hardly bear to look at their sad, bewildered faces.

Paul and Adaum completed their fifteen-kilometer run and halted for a moment on the back doorstep to Adaum's little home. Adaum spun around and charged at Paul with his thoughts, his angry pine green eyes the only part of his face not covered by his hat and thick wool scarf, You're so calm and unaffected you disgust me!

I'm not unaffected. I just don't know either Brys or Eauva well enough to be angry with them.

Your father's dead. Your mother's dead. You spent most of the first eighteen years of your life on Earth, controlled by a man who hated you, when you should have been here, and all because my brother and Eauva were too cowardly and criminal to tell anyone you were still alive. You're not angry? How can you not be angry?

Paul shrugged. I'm only angry at the person who brought all of this about in the first place, and I'm not even so angry at him lately. It just doesn't matter anymore. As for Brys and Aunt Eauva, all I can bring myself to feel for them is pity.

Adaum relaxed a bit, sorrow gradually replacing the anger. He stared at the icy doorstep, unable for the moment to open the door and go into the house.

Whatever Brys may be, I don't believe he's a black marketeer or a murderer. I believe as Aunt Eauva, that he was framed by my uncle, at least for those two crimes.

I want to believe that too, I really do, but even if he didn't kill those people, what he did here was bad enough. You didn't know Brys. He was stalwart. A leader. And exceptional in everything he did. He was a great man. Adaum sighed deeply, a sigh of betrayal. Or at least I always thought he was.

Paul communicated nothing. He didn't blame Adaum for feeling angry and betrayed. Paul wanted to tell him that the grief would eventually go away, but Paul didn't believe it ever would.

Adaum startled him with a question, seemingly off the subject: Do you still want to go back to Earth?

Paul didn't know how to reply. Adaum wasn't supposed to know that he had ever sincerely wanted to go back to Earth. No one was supposed to know except Deia.

Adaum put his hand on Paul's shoulder. There are some things a person just knows. I wish Novaun could be everything you want it to be.

Earth was never everything I wanted it to be either. I could never go back--I don't fit. I learned that on the Sovereign. I do wish I could bring some of it to Novaun though, because I don't fit here either.

Adaum regarded Paul knowingly. You want a fencing friend.

I want a friend who can beat me. A real person. What an impossible dream. Everyone here thinks a sport that you fight with swords is barbaric. They all think I'm odd, all of the young people. They try not to show it, but they do. They don't know what to communicate to me, and I don't know what to communicate to them.

You do all right with me.

That's different. You're paid to be my friend. His statement was almost true. Adaum was one of his grandfather's district managers, and for over a month, Paul had been learning the practical side of the business by working several hours a day as Adaum's assistant.

Adaum laughed, a wonderful, carefree sound in this time of his grief.

I also wish I could go to Tryamazz and bring back some women.

Earthon girls must be very beautiful.

Paul nodded. They're gorgeous--gorgeous and exciting. Novaunian girls are just so plain. They're so plain I can hardly stand it!

Adaum chuckled. Your friend Miaundea Quautar isn't plain. She's actually quite pretty.

A lot of good that does me! She's Ton's girl. She's good for him, too. I think she may actually be reforming him.

Jaunisa opened the door and looked out, shivering. Little Helauna peered up at Paul and Adaum from behind her mother, her luxuriant auburn head pressed against her mother's sapphire-embellished dressing gown. Jaunisa communicated, What are you two doing out there? It's freezing!

Helauna then communicated in that playfully saucy way of hers that so reminded everyone of her grandmother Maranda Vundaun, You'd better hurry, Father, because I've almost eaten all of your breakfast. Then quickly, calculatingly to Paul, I already ate all of yours.

She squealed in delight as Paul chased her into the kitchen, captured her, and mercilessly tickled her. Her two little brothers jumped on Paul, shrieking, tackled him effortlessly to the ground, and attacked him with his own hat and scarf.

*

Deia and Teren returned to Launarda after spending six days in Norund skiing. Deia had never felt so relaxed, content, or more in love with Teren. Although she hated the thought of leaving her grandparents and Paul for an extended period of time, she was anxious to return to Shalaun and get on with her life. She wanted to finish organizing her home and complete her education. Lauria was teaching her how to cook, and Ketina and Alysia were teaching her how to do gemstone embroidery. Deia longed to get back to her piano so that she could play the new music that had been dancing in her head for two weeks, music that harmonized with two beautiful mind songs she had recently assimilated.

Paul met Deia and Teren at the landing field in Launarda, his face solemn. "Have you two assimilated any news since you left?"

"No," Teren said, troubled. "Why?"

Paul motioned toward the station. "Let's have some tea while we wait for your luggage."

Teren and Deia looked at each other in puzzlement, then nodded at Paul. They hurried into the station, obtained cups of zaulyem tea from a synthesizing machine, and sat down in the lobby.

Paul took a sip from his cup of tea. "Internal Security found the traitors."

Deia looked at Paul over her cup, stunned. "Traitors? Just how many are there?"

"Two. Brys and Eauva. Everyone is devastated. Grandfather and Grandmother have temporary custody of the children."

Deia, in shock, couldn't speak or even think.

"When did all of this happen?" Teren asked.

"Two days ago." Paul proceeded to tell Deia and Teren everything he knew. Deia listened to Paul, becoming more and more furious by the second. She had known from the beginning that there was a traitor, but it all seemed so much more real and intolerable now that the traitor had finally come alive in the form of Brys and Eauva.

Deia crushed her cup in her hand. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. Seventeen and a half years! Aunt Eauva finally finds the courage to tell her story, but in the meantime, both of our parents are dead!"

"He was blackmailing them," Paul reminded. "They knew what he was capable of and were even more afraid of him than we were."

"They had no reason to be so afraid. They were here! On Novaun! With the entire Novaunian Fleet to protect them! And our mother was on Earth living in terror!"

Paul's face tensed at the mention of their mother, and he stared at the floor, unable to reply.

"Maybe it would be better if we took the next shuttle to Shalaun," Teren said. "You could just send our things, Paul."

Paul shrugged and looked up again, his expression helpless. "I don't know what to tell you. Grandmother has a room waiting for you, but everything is in chaos--if I could leave now, I would. It's just awful, sharing the house with those children. The little one doesn't understand what's happened, but the older ones do, all too well. They're bewildered and betrayed--destroyed. Faunel won't come out of his room, and Brenda won't eat. Yesterday Senaun disappeared. For hours. It's awful."

Teren squeezed Deia's hand. "What do you want to do, Deia?"

Deia shook her head quickly, her heart tight with anxiety and anger. "I can't stay here; I can't see anyone right now."

Paul stood up. "I'll go back to the house and get your wedding dress. Is there anything else you need?"

Deia shook her head. "No. Just . . . just tell Grandmother I'm sorry."   

 

 

Chapter 3: ANGEL-REBEL

 

Lieutenant Braysel Nalaurev stood and stretched his stiff muscles as the Fleet shuttle on which he had been traveling came to a stop on the landing field at the Fleet base in Shalaun. Tapping his hand on his thigh, he wormed through the crowd of other Fleet soldiers toward the exit, managing to be the third person to the ground. He swung his white duffel bag over his shoulder and stepped into a mild, sunny Shalaun day, eagerly scanning the waiting faces. He saw Maurek Avenaunta, his close friend and roommate for two years during his tour as a private on the Larv Ylendoshal, the same moment Maurek saw him.

Maurek rushed up to Braysel, exclaiming in playful horror, What did you do to your face?

Braysel stroked his beard. This? It's a birth defect. And you thought my family disowned me because I joined the infamous Fleet of organized murder.

Maurek laughed and threw his arms around Braysel, embracing him vigorously. They had corresponded regularly over the past year and a half since Braysel had been assigned to the base ship Jerl Normundz for pilot training, but this was the first time since then that they had seen each other.

They released each other and moved toward a transport pod booth. Braysel communicated colorfully about his involvement in the Senlana conflict, explaining and illustrating in the air with his hands every detail of his squadron's attack on the Earthon battleship Champion, Champion's destruction, and the eight Earthon fighters he had outwitted and annihilated in the process.

As they stepped into the transport pod, Maurek slapped Braysel's chest with its Star of Bravery and Sapphire Cluster, Decorated too! I think I'm envious!

What? Isn't watching Novaun rotate on its axis enough excitement for you?

Hardly!

If I remember correctly, you're the one who requested Home Fleet so that you could finally find some excitement with that little blonde supernova you're in love with. Braysel hesitated. The subject was one so sensitive that he hadn't dared address it in the inadequate one-way correspondence of mailing discs. You have managed to at least communicate with her since you've been back, I hope.

Only long enough to have her humiliate me all over again.

Those friends of yours provoked her, didn't they.

No, it was the sight of me that provoked her.

When are you going to stop being such a jellyfish and tell her how you feel?

I did tell her how I felt. I told her that I thought her dress was pretty, that she looked pretty, and it made her furious. She communicated, "It's a miracle! Maurek Avenaunta deigns to give my dress his approval. It's too bad there isn't a dance tonight. Perhaps I would even go with you."

Braysel smacked the side of his head. What is it about that girl that turns you into such an idiot? It never ceased to baffle Braysel that Maurek, a man who had always been successful with women, could be so obsessed with and so terrified of one particular girl. You had to compliment her on her appearance, of all things. She probably thought you were being sarcastic.

How was I supposed to know she would take it that way? I wanted her to know that I thought she was pretty, despite what happened four years ago.

Still, Maurek, mentioning the dress was stupid. You could have told her you liked the way she was wearing her hair, anything.

I've tried communicating with her several times since, but she ignores me. She really hates me, and I don't blame her.

I do. She hasn't been the epitome of kindness to you either. Make her communicate with you. Then at least she'll have a good reason to hate you.

She's just too extraordinary, extraordinary and beautiful.

No woman is that extraordinary.

They stepped out of the transport pod onto the marble walk at the base entrance. Maurek shook his head in hopelessness. It doesn't matter anymore, anyway. She's in love with Ton Luciani.

Braysel stopped abruptly and stared at Maurek in disbelief. The Star Force doctor-traitor?

Maurek nodded weakly. They act like perverse lovers; then they act as if it's all a big joke. It's obvious, though, that she's in love with him. Who knows how he really feels about her.

Maurek had to be exaggerating. Perverse lovers?

Maurek nodded again, the muscles in his face tensing. She gave him a bottle of men's hair-setting lotion for his birthday with a note that said, "For all of those wishes that will forever remain wishes."

You know what's perverse? That you would actually think hair-setting lotion is perverse.

Maurek moaned. You don't understand. It was an inside joke. Teren explained it to us. Not long after Teren returned to Novaun, Miaundea told him that Mautysian men were wearing mustaches. Teren gave his opinion that it was only a fad. Miaundea pointed out that everyone had once believed the comb-backed hairstyles were a fad also. Teren asked how the combed-back styles stay combed back, and Miaundea told him about the hair-setting lotion. Then Ton communicated, "And just how many Mautysian men have had the privilege of having you in their bathrooms with them to watch them do their morning rituals?" Then Miaundea came back with, "There have been so many, I stopped counting a long time ago."

Braysel was impressed. Your little girlfriend has a sense of humor.

It's not so funny. That traitor's about the most lustful character I've ever seen. You should see the way he leers at her!

Braysel shook his head, amused and a little perplexed. Something's wrong here, really wrong. He hurled his thoughts at Maurek. Since when does a Novaunian woman do anything with a womanizer but slowly, torturously deprive him of his manhood and hurl him screaming in agony into a black hole?

Maurek laughed.

Braysel threw both of his arms into the air. My value system is shot to Andromeda, and all you can do is laugh? He shook his head in amazement. Your little girlfriend must really see something great in him. Either that, or she's an ocean of insecurity. Or maybe she's an enchantress.

Braysel stopped and gazed thoughtfully at Maurek, who was now laughing harder than ever. An enchantress . . . yes . . . that has to be it. That also explains how a colonel's daughter, one of those mistresses of Perdition in the flesh, was able to corrupt all of those poor, innocent Mautysian boys.

Maurek laughed so ecstatically he could barely breathe.

Oh! The mere thought of it makes me shiver with the thrill of scandal!

Maurek leaned his arm on Braysel's shoulder, attempting to catch his breath. Only . . . you . . . would recognize . . . the absurdity . . . of the exchange between Miaundea and that Earthon about the hair-setting lotion.

You know, don't you, that if she's a true enchantress, he's in her power, not the other way around, which means that she'll undoubtedly transform him into her perfect husband!

Maurek suddenly stopped laughing, his face bloodless.

Braysel smiled deviously. I had to get your attention somehow.

Well, you didn't have to be so brutal about it!

Now that Braysel had Maurek's attention, perhaps he could get him to see reason. Don't let her fool you, Maurek. She's a little fake, a very convincing little fake. She's just as insecure as the rest of us, and I have a feeling she was just as hurt by what happened between you two that night as you were, and that she would give anything to know how you really feel.

Maurek shook his head slowly. I don't know if I can believe that, Bray, I just don't know.

Braysel smacked Maurek's back and led him to the automated taxi that was waiting for them, his heart pounding with the anticipation of competition. It's time to do the Run. You think Miaundea Quautar is the source of your torture? Let me show you the meaning of torture!

They took the taxi to the entrance building of the mammoth VisionRun complex in Auyval Beach, quickly went to the locker room to change into their running clothes, then rode in a transport pod to the court area. Braysel and Maurek emerged from the transport pod in the start-finish corridor at one end of the fifty adjoining twenty-meter wide, one kilometer-long white rooms. They jogged to separate lanes, deciding between themselves the limits of their game.

Let's make it interesting, Braysel communicated. Eight obstacles. Setting?

Beach. No duplications.

The wall dissolved in front of them, and they ran as fast as they could into separate rooms, completely opening their minds to each other. Immediately upon stepping into the rooms, they perceived themselves running on separate versions of a beach.

A headwind suddenly slammed Braysel with sand. Braysel spit and covered his eyes with his arm, bending over and struggling against the wind as well as possible.

As Maurek ran, a beautiful sunbathing woman appeared in front of him. He leaped over her, she suddenly turned to her back, and his foot came down hard on her stomach, causing her to shriek with pain. He stumbled and fell face down into the sand. He spit sand out of his mouth, scrambled to his feet, and began running for the horizon.

The wind dissipated, and Braysel's vision cleared, and he nearly ran into a massive boulder. He lunged to the side and encountered another one, and another. Finally he gave up and began climbing. Had Maurek truly possessed no imagination, Braysel might never have forgiven him, but Maurek chose physical obstacles opposed to mental ones because he knew Braysel wasn't as good at them as he was the others.

A wall of seashells suddenly appeared in front of Maurek to block his path, and hanging on his arm was a basket of shells. Maurek halted, delighted and vexed. He dropped the basket of shells and frantically began trying to match the shells in the basket to the shells on the wall, frustrated that they all looked the same and wouldn't match. After matching only two, he gave up and began climbing the wall, climbing, climbing, until he had climbed five meters and still couldn't see the top. The wall disappeared under him and again he was spitting sand out of his mouth.

Braysel jumped off of the top of the boulder into a patch of seaweed that coiled around his legs like snakes, pulled him to the ground, and wrapped around his body too. He struggled to free himself, becoming more tangled every time he moved. Braysel lay as still as he could and gently unwound the seaweed from his body, then stood up and ran.

Maurek ran, dodging the fish that were swarming in the air around him. The air reeked with the smell of fish and blood. A shark flew straight at him, his teeth sunk into a quivering thing that looked like Maurek's own leg. Maurek threw his arms over his head and screamed. Braysel's laughter rippled through both of their minds.

Suddenly the ocean leaped toward Braysel from the side, violently swirled around his ankles, and pulled him into the water. Braysel swam vigorously against the waves, feeling as if his lungs would burst from lack of air. A minute and a half later, he was running again.

Maurek removed his arms from his head and found himself on his knees in a dark tunnel. He crawled along, feeling eels writhing all over his body. He shuddered and continued ahead. He eventually crawled out of the tunnel and into a starlit night.

The beach opened beneath Braysel and he dropped into a hole, screaming. This time Maurek's laughter rippled through their minds.

Maurek raced into the starlight and ran painfully into an invisible wall. The stars all around him blinked in different patterns, blinking faster and in more complex patterns as he telepathically generated the same patterns with his mind. He held his temples and panted. Finally he generated the proper pattern with his mind and the wall dissolved.

Braysel climbed out of the hole and staggered across a spinning beach.

Maurek ran forward a few meters to see an enormous, rickety old sea-faring ship in front of him, shipwrecked on the beach. He ran up a rotting plank to the deck of the ship and found that the ship had no deck. The plank dissolved underneath him and he found himself sitting inside a dank, dark compartment holding a tattered note on brown parchment, written in black, blotchy ink:

 

"Awareness I give, your mind I set free

This ship is your brig, unless you find me!"

 

Maurek slumped over his knees. Give me some clues! Suddenly he was holding a fuzzy little gray kuka. Maurek set the animal on the old wood floor, jumped up, and followed the animal to its bed, where he found his first clue:

 

"I bob up and down till my survivor is found."

 

Maurek ran to the equipment room, finding his next clue on a flotation device, then hurried from clue to clue to find the arelada treasure.

Braysel flung himself out of the spinning beach, picked himself up, and ran like spirit energy toward the horizon. He stopped abruptly, nearly tumbling headfirst off a cliff. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead and assimilated his surroundings at a glance. There was only one way he could go and that was straight down at least fifteen meters into the ocean, where he could then swim to the next shore. Terror gripped him. Diving off cliffs was Maurek's demented obsession, not his. You're going to pay, Avenaunta! Then holding his nose, closing his eyes, and praying he wouldn't vomit in fright, Braysel dropped himself feet first off the cliff.

Maurek found the chest of arelada trinkets and the ship dissolved, leaving him horrified to see a sixteen-year-old Miaundea Quautar standing a few meters away, smiling seductively and wearing the shimmering, crimson party dress that bared so much of her beautiful neck and back and curved so harmoniously with her body. If you want to progress further, you have to kiss me. Maurek stepped back suspiciously, then suddenly sprinted past her. Scores more Miaundea-images appeared in front of him, all smiling tantalizingly, all blocking his way to the finish corridor. Maurek's heart pounded frantically as he stared at the Miaundea-image that was standing in front of him. She appeared so real, breathtakingly real, and as terrifyingly beautiful as she had been that night four years before when he had met her at her front door to take her to the Salyumala Ball. His hands trembled as he placed them on her waist and leaned to rest his lips on hers. She wrapped her arms passionately around him and drew him closer. He touched his lips to hers and she disappeared. "I'm going to kill you, Nalaurev!" Braysel laughed sadistically.

Braysel pulled himself out of the water and onto the beach below the cliff. He ran toward the nearing horizon and the finish corridor, only to be tackled to the ground by a runner coming from nowhere.

After the Miaundea-image dissolved, Maurek plunged himself into his final obstacle, a sand-wall maze.

Braysel wrestled himself away from his attacker and again ran for the finish corridor, dismayed to see seven more runners coming at him from nowhere. He dodged two successfully before being thrown to the ground again.

Maurek raced through the maze in frustration, coming to dead-end after dead-end.

Braysel blitzed through three attackers, went flying through the air and into the sand, lifted his battered body the best he could, and crawled into the finish corridor as another attacker dove at him from behind. Soaked with sweat, Braysel prostrated himself on the floor, laughing hysterically.

Maurek kicked the walls of the maze and threw sand wildly in what he believed was the direction of the finish corridor. You cheater! There isn't any way out! You slimy cheater!

The sand maze disappeared, and Maurek stepped forward through the white wall and into the finish corridor.

Maurek kicked Braysel in his side. Get up, you cheating snake!

Braysel, still laughing, lifted himself up on one knee. Maurek grabbed Braysel's shirt, lifted him, and threw him against the wall with such force that Braysel gasped. Maurek looked at Braysel threateningly and, with all of the innocence and false curiosity he could muster, asked the paradoxical question he always asked whenever Braysel did something outrageous, the one that always sent Braysel into convulsions: Were you a difficult child?

Braysel burst into another fit of hysterics. Maurek released Braysel's tank top and leaned against the wall, attacked by sudden laughter. If only you could have seen yourself on that cliff . . . and you call yourself a man . . . Only a jellyfish of jellyfishes goes in feet-first . . . holding his nose!

Braysel shook his head and waved his hands in front of him, still laughing. No . . . you were generating so much heat in the arms of that girl that I was getting excited. Then . . . He snapped his fingers, then held his hands in the air. Poof! He laughed gleefully.

It's kind of funny, Bray, Maurek communicated, still laughing, but only a little. You had her all wrong.

Braysel looked at him in mock offense. Me? He who is Novaun's greatest fantasy master? What? Would you rather have had me put her in her more natural state of emotion and have her chop you up into little pieces and throw you over the Cliffs? He made vigorous chopping motions with his hands up and down Maurek's arm. I guess it is your fantasy.

Maurek chuckled and shook his head. No, you had what she looks like wrong. It's been nearly four years and she's changed. It isn't just that she's grown up, either. She's different. There's just something about her eyes . . . It was that two years she spent abroad, I think.

Braysel began walking toward the transport pod, not at all surprised that Maurek wanted to discuss Miaundea. Maurek walked at his side. Two years abroad? Where did she go?

Maurek shrugged. Anthropological fieldwork of some kind. My father might know. She works for the Agency.

They stepped into the transport pod. She's an anthropologist? How old is she?

She's almost twenty.

And she's already spent two years in anthropological fieldwork? She's a librarian too, I assume.

Maurek nodded.

"Whew . . ." She must have some kind of mind. They stepped out of the transport pod and went to the locker room to collect their bags.

She does. Maurek's face tightened in irritation. That was why it was so aggravating when that Earthon was so humiliated to have to publicly communicate that she is his intellectual superior. He had to do it to satisfy a wager he made with her, and it nearly killed him. Who does he think he is? She's a hundred times his intellectual superior! He may be naturally intelligent, I'll grant him that. Maybe he's even naturally strong in mind power, but he's an Earthon. He hasn't had an iota of the stringent mind training we've all had to have. I'm his intellectual superior. And you. You could smash his mind with a single thought!

Braysel laughed low and baitingly. Don't you wish I would. He added quickly, before Maurek could continue with his tirade, And I don't necessarily agree. We both know people who are extremely strong in mind power but who don't use it in intellectual pursuits. I think it's entirely possible that Ton Luciani may have spent his life using the meager mind tools available to him in maximum effort to develop an astounding intellect. I don't believe strong mind power necessarily translates into strong intellect or vice versa.

Maurek glared at Braysel.

I do believe, however, that Miaundea is, without a doubt, a hundred times his mental superior. As for you and me? Braysel shrugged. We're a thousand times his mental superiors.

Maurek laughed.

They left the building and waited many minutes for a taxi in communication silence. Realization seized Braysel. She went to Saharenper, I'm sure of it. What I would give to ask her about it! She probably couldn't tell me anything anyway. The details of its culture may still be classified.

Saharenper? Maurek communicated, baffled, as a taxi glided to a stop in front of them.

You don't know about Saharenper? Braysel slapped Maurek reprovingly on the back. You're slipping in your knowledge of current events, my friend.

No, your brain has gone nebula. Maurek sprang into the taxi. Whatever Saharenper is, it's not a major news item.

Oh no. Of course it isn't. Not yet anyway. Its existence was declassified to the Novaunian public two weeks ago, and only because the Earthons just discovered that the Gudyneans discovered it and that they and we are doing studies on it. Braysel tossed his duffel bag into the aircar and then followed it. Sometimes the most obscure pieces of information are the ones that are the most important.

It has arelada, doesn't it?

Braysel nodded as the taxi lifted into the air.

Where is it?

Trentanlia Cluster.

That means it's considerably more accessible to Earth than to the Alliance. Without a doubt, Earth will lay claim to it. Maurek seemed troubled.

The Earthons will try, but Saharenper is no uninhabited rock waiting to be raped by every galactic power as Erdean was centuries ago. There are people there, and whether the Earthons like it or not, the natural development of their society must be considered and respected.

The Saharenperans must not be space travelers, then. Otherwise we would have had contact with them long before now. What is their potential for space travel? Do they not attempt contact with other worlds because they don't wish to, or are they simply incapable?

The report seemed to indicate that they are incapable. It didn't state their actual technological progress or anything at all about their culture, and those are both things I'd like to know.

If the planet is incapable of space travel and at the same time saturated with arelada, then it will need to be protected, and that would be virtually impossible for the Alliance to do successfully without abandoning its own territories.

Braysel nodded. Within a year or two, Saharenper will be the cause of a massive conflict between Earth and the Alliance, and it may be a conflict we have no hope of winning.

Oh we could win it all right. Easily. We could annihilate those Earthons to atoms if we wanted to, and we wouldn't even have to use any weapons!

The Council of Prophets has forbidden us to use mind-altering tactics. It would be immoral.

And killing isn't?

Braysel smirked. Now you're beginning to communicate like my parents.

God gives us the right to kill in self-defense, so why is it so immoral to break into someone's mind in self-defense?

Because there would be no challenge and making war wouldn't be nearly so much fun.

Be serious, Bray. I don't understand it. The Dirons, in their three centuries of decay, have never had the arelada supply to engage us in a telepathic war, but their mind powers are still exquisitely sophisticated and telepathic tactics would never work on them. The majority of Earthons, though, are telepathic midgets. It's infuriating to have to grovel to them.

I disagree that telepathic tactics wouldn't work on the Dirons. They are so addicted to their fantasy that their minds are always open, and they may use all of the arelada they seize to maintain their vision abilities. It's possible they don't reserve the arelada that would be necessary to generate mind shields strong enough to protect themselves as we do, not to mention the fact that we are considerably stronger than they in sheer numbers.

So why grovel! Maurek demanded.

Because it is immoral.

Maurek shook his head in reprimand as the taxi came to a stop on his neighborhood landing platform. Don't be a jellyfish, Bray. Of course we know it's immoral. The question is: Why is it immoral? The only reason you have such an aversion to trying to understand what makes mind tampering in self-defense so immoral is because you're afraid you'll discover that the things that make it immoral are the very things that make killing in self-defense supposedly immoral, and if you do, you'll have to admit that your parents and all of your pacifist kinsmen and countrymen are right and that you are wrong.

Braysel clamped his teeth together in outrage. You, of all people, know me better than that.

Maurek smiled gravely. I had to get your attention somehow.

They telepathically authorized their banks to pay the taxi fare and unloaded in silence. Braysel sent his duffel bag to Maurek's house in the transport pod. Braysel and Maurek had walked many meters down the palm-lined trail before Braysel allowed himself to relax a little and reply, Well, you didn't have to be so brutal about it.

I'm sorry, Bray, but this war with Earth really disturbed me. It disturbed a lot of us. I can't help but question our policy against using mind-altering tactics. You can't expect me to believe that you've never tried to understand the Order's stand on telepathic warfare.

Perhaps Maurek really didn't comprehend the reasons behind the Order's stand. Perhaps none of his Fleet comrades did. The thought surprised Braysel. It was so simple. Had he never discussed this issue with any of them?

Well? Maurek pressed.

I've spent most of my conscious life trying to understand the immorality of war in all of its aspects. Braysel paused, mentally formulating an explanation. We know that as God teaches us, as mortals, the laws of the universe He sometimes gives a more restrictive, modified version of certain laws at times, sometimes because He wants us to make some decisions on our own, sometimes because mortal circumstances won't allow living the higher laws, and sometimes because if we were allowed to live the laws in their ultimate forms, we would destroy ourselves.

Maurek nodded thoughtfully.

My parents and my grandparents and all of their pacifist counterparts believe that in the ultimate version of universal law, there is nothing whatsoever that takes priority over the sanctity of the human life and human mind of another person, that only God has the right to take a life or tamper with a mind, regardless of the circumstances. They believe that this is the higher, ultimate law of the universe and that God allows us to kill in self-defense and to protect our culture and our freedom, therefore greatly restricting our spiritual growth, because the majority of us are weak and lack the spiritual strength and faith that God will by His own methods protect us. They believe that we, as a union of planets, are not ready to live the higher law because we don't want to live it.

They really believe that? Maurek communicated in amazement.

Braysel nodded. That's the core of Novaunian pacifism.

As much as you've told me about your heritage, I don't think I ever knew that.

That's only because you've never thought about it. You and I and every Novaunian who supports the Fleet in ideology, whether we realize it or not, believe that freedom of thought and expression of conscience is the ultimate law of the universe, that we have the right and the responsibility to defend our freedom and the integrity of our culture, even if that means killing in defense of ourselves. If we believe that freedom of thought and expression of conscience is the ultimate law of the universe, than it is inconceivable that we could ever knowingly deny members of any other race, no matter how hostile they may be to us, that same right. By using mind-altering tactics, we would be seizing freedom of thought and expression of conscience from others and denying them the very right we are fighting so hard to protect for ourselves.

That may be true, but killing a person takes away his or her freedom as well, perhaps even more ruthlessly than a simple mind adjustment would.

A minute ago, you weren't advocating simple mind adjustments. You were suggesting annihilating to atoms.

Yes I did, but now we're discussing mere mind adjustments, all right?

Two years ago, Maurek's attitude would have depressed Braysel. Maurek was a competent, traditional, and patriotic officer, but he was like most of the others Braysel had met and been somewhat disillusioned by during his three and a half years in the Fleet. Most of them hadn't the faintest idea what they were fighting for. To them, freedom was a word, an idea. It wasn't real. To most of them, Novaun's enemies were monsters, not real people, and certainly not their brothers and sisters in humanity. Even killing wasn't real.

All right. Your argument that killing takes a person's freedom away more ruthlessly than mind adjustment is the same one my parents use, but in all honesty, it is ludicrous. When an enemy warrior comes against me in some fashion and tries to kill me, he knows there will be a fight, and he knows one of us will be hurt or die. He has already made his choice, and whether he lives or dies, his mind will be the same as when he initiated the attack. Even in prison, a person retains freedom of thought. Earth's Eslavu are alive, but they have no freedom of thought. Death would be an escape for them. Our current policy of simply defending ourselves, our territories and trade, and giving reasonable help to our allies is a policy of defending freedom. Your suggestion of mind adjustment would make our enemies our Eslavu on some level, and we wouldn't be defenders of freedom anymore, but conquerors.

So it's ultimately the same old conflict, Maurek communicated thoughtfully. Which is more important, life or freedom? Is freedom worth giving our lives for, and is it worth killing for? Then if freedom is the most important, which is the greater sin against freedom? Taking someone's life or adjusting his mind?

Right. And when you look at it that way, the answer is obvious. Killing someone by crushing his mind is the most intolerable of all. From both the pacifist and the Fleet points of view, telepathic warfare is immoral.

There is still one question. In the end, whose freedom is more important? Mine or his? He can exercise his freedom and in the process assault mine. That doesn't mean he has the freedom to choose the consequences of that assault. There could come a time when our freedom is in such danger that we would be justified in using our telepathic powers.

And that is the only time that God would ever allow us to use them. Braysel shook his head. I don't know, Maurek. If we ever do come to the brink of destruction as a people, then I will be the first member of the Fleet to renounce telepathic warfare and support the pacifist position. Our only hope would be to isolate and rely solely on the power of God. With the entire galaxy against us like that, none of us would want to be a part of it anyway. And under those circumstances, I doubt even telepathic tactics would do much more than merely delay the inevitable. Besides, the thought of marring someone's mind in any way revolts me. Those poor jellyfishes on Earth are already victims enough to their own government, as are the few remaining Dirons to their fantasy and those savage warring admirals with their broken-down fleets. He felt ill. It's shameful enough that they make us have to kill them.

The two stopped in front of the home of Maurek's parents. Braysel communicated numbly, I'm going to have to pass on the surfing today. May I get a shower?

Maurek gaped at him. You aren't . . .

It's been three and a half years, Maurek.

Have you had any contact with them at all?

Braysel shook his head slowly. But Earth's invasion of Senlana and the murderous actions of Jovem Doshyr have made me even more certain that what I'm doing in the Fleet is right. I have to try and make them understand.

Maurek led Braysel somberly into the house and showed him where he could take a shower and dress. Maurek seemed relieved that no one was home.

When Braysel emerged from the bath lounge, Maurek exclaimed, Are you insane? You can't go to Mautysia dressed like that!

What? Is wearing a Fleet uniform a capital crime? What are they going to do? Execute me?

Still, Bray, it wouldn't hurt your position any to be a little discreet.

I'm not ashamed of what I am. If the Mautysian people don't like it, that's their problem.

Maurek walked Braysel out of the house. Just be back before tomorrow afternoon, if you can. Teren and Deia Zaurvau are having a wedding reception. Colonel Quautar will be there, I'm sure, and he loves to discuss politics. He just may let something slip about Saharenper.

Braysel looked at Maurek keenly. You don't have much faith in my success.

I don't mean to offend you, but not even faith is going to change your parents' position.