Mind Warriors #1: Arrival
Chapter One

When the transfer slip picked us up to take us to the transport, we were told how lucky we were. Ship's time was just about the same as the planetary time we were leaving, which was late afternoon. My companions murmured something polite and amused when they heard the news, but I didn't bother. The trip I'd been told I had to make had already become boring, and we hadn't even reached the transport yet.

When we did get to the transport, we were assigned cabins where we could leave our personal possessions. The cabin was more than adequate, and once I put my bags down I went back out to the common area to find something to drink. Quite a few people sat at the tables or on chairs and couches, the quiet conversation the various groups exchanged filled with an undercurrent of suppressed excitement or nervousness. My fellow passengers were all headed for the same place I was, but only a couple of them shared my sense of boredom.

A small serving table in the center of the common area held a large insulated pitcher and a dozen cups, so I went over and used one of the cups to find out what the pitcher contained. The kimla was still warm and didn't seem to have been standing all that long, which let me turn away from the serving table to look for a place to sit down. That was when I saw the man and woman wave to me from a table only a few feet away, the man adding a gesture that offered me a seat at their table. There was no reason not to join the two, so I went over and took the chair the man had gestured toward.

"Welcome to the membership of the Less Than Powerful," the man said with a grin, bringing a smile to the girl. "I'm Arlo D'lan Hardt from Alderan, but as you can probably see I'm no Kabra. My companion is Glay Montiff from Medrin, and now it's your turn to add to the introductions."

I sipped the kimla before answering, studying Arlo D'lan Hardt. The man was just about my height with brown hair and blue eyes and a friendly expression, and the girl Glay Montiff had green-streaked blond hair and brown eyes. The girl also looked two steps beyond the proper weight for her own, lesser height, but she seemed just as friendly.

"I'm Jilin meern Khay from Dembris," I answered after swallowing the kimla. "What do you mean by the 'membership of the less than powerful'? Have we started to separate ourselves into groups already?"

"Arlo was just joking, but in a way he's right," Glay answered when the man Arlo simply chuckled. "Our fellow empaths took over the Amalgamation more than three months ago, and they immediately started to bring in the rest of us for 'advanced training.' But they started with the strongest of the rest of us, and only now are they getting around to us. Isn't it nice when your own people don't think much of the talent you have? I mean, I've gotten used to being treated like that by others, but when it's my own doing it…"

"Well, someone has to be last," I pointed out, quietly soothing the bitterness and pain filling Glay. "If you want the truth, I wouldn't have minded being overlooked entirely. I have better things to do with my time than travel to a planet I've never heard of for training that will probably bore me silly."

"You haven't heard about Rimilia?" Arlo asked in surprise as he leaned forward. "That's the world where the secret group of stronger empaths was hiding, and was also the place where the Prime Terrilian Reya found out just how strong it was possible for one of us to get. Most of the population of the world is really backward, I'm told, but the vast majority of them are also latents. There isn't another world in the Amalgamation with that many potential empaths."

"Which is why, they say, Central will no longer be the capitol world of the Amalgamation," Glay put in, her mind calmer now. "My own guess is that Central is too ruined to be used, ruined by the way almost no one on the planet has to work. You can't give people everything they need to live comfortably and expect not to turn those people into something less than human. The people of all the rest of the worlds work, so why should those on Central be treated any differently?"

"The people on Central are treated differently because they're more civilized and therefore better than the people of the rest of the Amalgamation."

The person making that statement was a woman who had come up to the table to sit down, a fairly tall woman wearing an Alderanean day suit that fit her slim but rounded figure considerably better than Glay's day suit fit her. The woman had red hair and the pale skin to match her hair color, along with gleaming green eyes and an outstandingly beautiful face. Arlo had been looking at me with heat in his thoughts, but as soon as the newcomer spoke the man's attention was hers alone.

"Jilin, this is Lancie Fredricks," Arlo said after a very brief hesitation to get his feelings under control as his hand unconsciously smoothed the jacket of his leisure suit. "Lancie feels the way she does about Central because that's where she comes from. Jilin is from Dembris, Lancie, and she only just joined us."

"Yes, I know that we've made the last pick-up this transport is scheduled for and now we're finally on our way to Rimilia," the woman Lancie drawled as she looked me over. "The captain has been kind enough to keep me informed of what's going on, but he never mentioned that the people of Dembris have no taste whatsoever. Don't you have any idea how ridiculous and backward you look wearing pants, boots, and a tunic, girl? I know Arlo probably invited you to join us at this table because your black hair and incredibly horrid violet eyes attracted him in some way, but surely there are limits to what civilized people can be asked to put up with."

"If you don't like what you see, 'girl,' look in another direction," I answered with all the amusement I actually did feel. "I've met people from Central before, and the one thing they all have in common is a terrible fear of anyone who can think for herself. The bunch of you aren't capable of that, so you try to turn everyone into the same kind of drone that you are. I wear what I like, which is more than can be said for you."

Total outrage and fury filled the woman's mind as she shot to her feet, so thoroughly insulted that anyone would dare to speak to her the way I had that she was beyond speaking herself. She choked for an instant as she sent a killing glare in my direction, and then she turned and stalked away toward another table. Arlo made a small sound of pain, then got up and hurried after the woman he wanted so badly.

"I hope you know you've just made an enemy for life," Glay said to me, her mind filled with private amusement. "Lancie has most of the others in the palm of her hand, the men because of their dragging tongues, the women because they feel more important when they're part of her inner group. Lancie expects to be very powerful in the new government no matter what strength her ability turns out to be after training, so she won't be an unimportant enemy."

"If you're that convinced I made a bad mistake, why are you still sitting here instead of following after Arlo?" I asked, already suspecting the answer. "Staying behind will just get you put on the same 'destroy on sight' list that already has my name."

"Lancie has made it very clear that I'm not important enough to be on anyone's 'destroy' list," Glay answered with a wry smile. "I'm not even on her 'deign to notice once a week' list, so following Arlo would be a waste of time. Besides, I've always wanted to get to know someone with 'horrid' violet eyes."

I joined Glay in laughing at her comment, wondering if Lancie was thick-headed enough to think I'd be bothered by her assessment of my looks. Her nastiness probably meant she considered me a rival, but I had no interest in competing for the attention of Arlo or the other men on the transport. All I wanted to do was get through that "training" we were told we had to have, and then go back to where I belonged.

"I wonder what we'll be assigned to do once the training is over," Glay mused, now partially distracted by her thoughts. "They'll probably use the strongest of us to settle down all those male Primes once they bring them out of stasis, but what about the rest of us? Will we be expected to take over the governmental jobs that the untalented have been doing until now?"

"What Primes in stasis?" I asked, having no idea what she was talking about. "And what makes you think we won't just go back home to do what we've always done?"

"What we've always done was live half lives among the untalented," Glay said, her faint smile having no amusement behind it. "Some of the worlds, Central not included, let their empaths stay awakened, but most of them kept us shut down and even unable to remember what being awakened was like. They were too afraid to have us around them with our abilities intact, so they crippled us before graciously allowing us to live and work among them. Is that the kind of life you want to go back to?"

Her question wasn't looking for a serious answer so I didn't make one. The people on my own world of Dembris were apparently like the people on Medrin, refusing to let empaths be awakened any longer than it took for us to do whatever job they had for us. And when we were awakened, stepping out of the area of work we'd been assigned could well have meant our lives…

"Well, those days are over with for good," Glay said, reaching over to pat my hand to ease what she thought I felt. "Empaths are in charge of the Amalgamation now, and once we're awakened on Rimilia we'll never be turned off again. Or kidnapped by the untalented and bred by them, which is what happened to almost every Prime around. The slime running the Amalgamation didn't want a bunch of independent worlds they didn't have complete control over, so they bred and trained male Primes they intended to use to take over everywhere. Once the Prime was completely trained, they put him in stasis."

"They just trained male Primes?" I said, not very surprised at the news, just a little bit disbelieving of the stupidity involved. "What about the women? Didn't they know women can be just as strong as men in their talent?"

"The women were the ones who were being bred, so the slime weren't about to take any unnecessary chances," Glay answered with a snort. "And they didn't believe that a woman could be as strong as a man, not to mention stronger. Imagine their shock when Terrilian taught them better. I heard that she defeated their best male Primes without even breaking a sweat, and then she went after the ones running the facility. By then the rest of the attack force had broken in, so she was able to give all her attention to the vermin she'd caught."

"I wish I could have been there with her," I muttered, for a very brief moment almost tasting what that kind of freedom would feel like. Then I had control of myself again and was able to laugh silently at the urge in a ridiculing way. Anyone with strength can take "revenge" against those who are weaker; the trick is to first make sure that the ones you're revenging yourself against actually deserve to be treated like that.

"But what about the women they … bred?" I asked after almost no hesitation at all. "They must have been out of their minds by the time they were rescued."

"The women had been … adjusted to think they were being honored," Glay said with a grimace of distaste. "Or at least most of them had been adjusted to think that way. I heard that bringing the adjusted ones out of the fog was ghastly, with half of them breaking down in hysterics and the other half screaming for blood. And that doesn't even count what was done with any child who wasn't born a Prime the way they wanted it to be. There were tribes of 'ejects' living in the wild around the facility, all of them empaths but all of them complete savages. They managed to rescue all those poor souls, but they still don't know what to do with them."

I put my fingers over my eyes and rubbed, hating what I'd heard even more than I'd thought I would. People like to sneer at and look down on those who are different, but if those who are different have abilities others don't then what the people do is fear and hate them instead. If the ones doing the fearing and hating have power over the world they all live in, those who are different don't have much of a choice. Either they let themselves be enslaved, or they end up dead.

"And that's why the leaders of the rebellion won't let the untalented have power ever again," Glay said, almost reading my mind. "It's also why they'll probably need all of us to help straighten out the horrible messes that have been made. I still don't like the idea that they waited so long to get around to adding the help of people like us, but I suppose they couldn't bring everyone in for retraining at the same time. Being touchy about things like that is usually a waste of effort, but if anyone should know how some of us feel it's them."

"There are two possibilities surrounding that statement you just made," I said, taking my hands away from my eyes. "Either our powerful new leaders haven't had the time to notice that some people are feeling left out, or else they simply don't care. Just because people are empaths doesn't mean they're better than those without the ability. If you don't agree with the contention, take another look at Lancie and then tell me I'm wrong."

Glay had opened her mouth, probably to say just that, but my final words had ruined her intentions. Lancie Fredricks was just the nearest horrible example I was able to point to, not the only one.

After a minute Glay continued with filling me in about what had been going on, and then we distracted ourselves with guesswork about how many empaths there could be in the Amalgamation. Whether or not there really were enough of us to take over all the positions formerly held by untalented manipulators wasn't clear, and even if there were enough of us the question remained about how the rest of the people in the Amalgamation would accept the news of our takeover.

"You know, I just thought of something that's ruined my appetite," Glay said at last after glancing at the stewards who were beginning to serve the evening meal. "I believed that we were being taken to Rimilia to get more training, but what if we're being taken there instead to make sure we aren't killed out of hand? I didn't hear any kind of details about what our people had done until I boarded this transport, so they've somehow managed to keep the word from spreading. I'm afraid to wonder what will happen when everyone finds out."

"And everyone will find out," I agreed, beginning to feel faintly depressed. "That means we can forget about going home anytime in the near future even if there aren't essential jobs that can't be done without us. Once our 'new leaders' made the first move against the untalented in power, the rest of us were trapped whether we wanted to be or not. Well, I guess it had to be done, so there's no sense in complaining that I wasn't consulted. I can't see myself telling them to leave things as they were because I didn't want to be discomfited."

"Yes, there's that, isn't there," Glay said, obviously thinking seriously about what I'd said. "Our people have had no choice about what they did for a very long time, so it isn't surprising that that situation hasn't changed. The only difference now is that we may get the choice, and that's worth a little inconvenience. Mmm, that food smells good."

I didn't point out that Glay's lack of appetite hadn't lasted very long, especially not when other people came out of their cabins to join the rest of us for the meal. The only ones who sat at our table were people who hadn't been around when Lancie and I had exchanged words, but by the next ship's day that had been taken care of. People avoided our table even if they had to take the meal on a couch or in a chair, but by the end of the three day trip Glay and I had our own small group. Lancie loved the idea that the people she'd rejected were now gathering around me, but Lancie's attitudes were the least of my concerns.

We were only a few hours away from reaching our destination when we were all called into the common area by the stewards. The captain waited there with a woman standing next to him, a woman who was dressed in an odd-looking blouse and skirt outfit in light green. The only jewelry the woman wore were two small-linked bronze bracelets and a matching bronze choker around her neck, and once we were all seated in the area she smiled around at us.

"Since we'll be arriving at Rimilia in a little while, I'd like to welcome you all to my newly adopted home world," she said. "My name used to be something else, but now I'm called Minia."

"Are you saying that we'll be expected to change our names as well?" Lancie demanded from where she sat, having grown annoyed that she wasn't the center of interest in the gathering. "If so, I can tell you right now - "

"No, no, you won't be asked to change your names," the woman Minia denied with a laugh. "I was happy to change mine when I was asked to by the man who claimed me, but the rest of you ladies won't have to do the same unless and until you find yourself in the same position. You men, of course, won't have to do it at all, but that's only a small part of why I asked the captain to bring you all together. There are things you have to know before you set foot on Rimilia."

"You're making a simple arrival sound ominous," Glay observed from where she sat beside me on a couch, her concern echoed in more minds than just hers. "I thought Rimilia was going to be the new seat of government."

"It is the new seat of government, or at least the seat of our government," Minia said, immediately reaching out to soothe the disturbance in those who felt it. "I can imagine the sort of rumors you've all heard, but the truth is we don't intend to take over every planet in the Amalgamation. We just intend to make sure that our people are never again used the way they've been used - and abused - until now."

Some muttering broke out here and there, most of it surprised and relieved, and Minia held up her hands.

"You'll hear all the details of our plans - and then some - once you get to Rimilia," she said, quieting the talk. "Right now there are things you need to be told that are more … currently necessary, so let's get to them. To begin with, you men will be asked to retain the clothing you're now wearing, but if you ladies want to venture out of the small area we've built for newcomers you'll have to wear the same thing I am. And in any event you ladies need to be banded."

A dozen questions were thrown at the woman from twice as many directions, the noise covering over Lancie's indignant exclamations. If the captain hadn't been standing next to Minia she probably would have been mobbed, but with the big man very much there all she had to do was hold up her hands again to regain the previous quiet.

"Most of you are asking the same things so I'll just continue with my explanations, which ought to answer those questions," she said, showing nothing of the amusement she felt. "You men will continue to wear the same clothing because that clothing will mark you as non-combatants. The men of Rimilia are easily insulted and tend to answer any insults with swords, but the men of the city in which we've built your training facilities know that off-planet men can't face them - and usually don't mean any insult they might seem to be giving. If you do insult someone you'll be given the chance to apologize, and that will be the end of the matter."

It wasn't just the men who muttered at what they'd heard, but the muttering petered out when Minia continued speaking.

"You ladies will be in a different situation, though," Minia said, her tone a lot more solemn than her thoughts. "Rimilian men consider any unbanded woman free for the taking, and what they take they usually intend to keep. To avoid that we have certain Rimilians who have volunteered to be … foster fathers to you, standing behind the single band you'll be wearing. Seeing that band will tell the men that you do have a father who has to be spoken to before the men involved can carry off any of you, and your 'father' isn't likely to accept the petition of any man you haven't decided you can't live without."

This time a stunned silence greeted Minia's words, but the mental static was another matter entirely. Half the women were speechless because they were terrified, and the other half were so indignant they couldn't find the words to express themselves. I had to work at it to keep from laughing, the only response it was really possible to make. If even half of what Minia had said was true, whatever time I spent on Rimilia ought to be a lot less boring than I'd expected it to be.

"Now, now, no need to be upset," Minia said gently as she looked around again. "Most of you won't stay on Rimilia any longer than it takes to give you the advanced training, and if you obey the volunteer 'fathers' about what you can and can't do you won't have any problems. The captain has kindly agreed to help me hand out bands, and once you have yours you can get your possessions together for the landing. You gentlemen can feel free to go for your bags right now."

There were thirty or so people in our crowd, and slightly more than half of them were male. Most of the male half knew they'd been dismissed so they headed back to their cabins, but a couple of them continued to hang around to satisfy their curiosity. Since no one had said they couldn't hang around, an equal no one tried to make them leave.

"All right, ladies, we have your bands right here," Minia said, gesturing to a pile of snarled bronze links held by one of the stewards as she looked around again. "The band will be worn on your left ankle, and in no time at all you won't even notice that it's there. Who wants to be first?"

Since Lancie made no effort to raise her hand, none of her devoted followers did either. The silence and non-motion gave me a chance to notice that Minia had two ankle bracelets rather than just one, and then Glay raised her hand.

"If it's got to be done, there's no sense in putting it off," Glay said after sending me an amused glance. "I don't mind being first."

I kept my own amusement on the inside, but that doesn't mean I couldn't feel Lancie's instant flare of anger. The redhead had meant to wait until Minia said please, and then she would have deigned to be first. Glay was a lot more clever and observant than most people gave her credit for, and she'd obviously decided to ruin Lancie's ploy. Minia and the captain and the steward with the snarl of chain came over to Glay, and the captain took one of the slender ankle bracelets and closed it around Glay's left ankle.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to take off that boot," Minia said, and I looked up to see that she was talking to me. "Even if the band was able to close around the leather, you'd then find it impossible to take the boot off."

"What good will it do to have her wear the band under the boot?" the captain put in before I could say the same thing. "If no one can see the band, she might as well not be wearing it. And if those trousers come down as far as most trousers do, they'll probably hide the band even if she goes barefoot. It looks like she'll be the first to change into an imad and caldin."

"I'm not changing into the kind of blouse and skirt she's wearing," I said before Minia could do more than nod her agreement, finally able to put names to the woman's outfit. We'd been given the Rimilian language before leaving Dembris, but sometimes it's hard to match a word to what the word represents. "I don't like skirts in general, and I certainly don't like blouses that are held together by nothing more than some strips of material or leather. I'll be wearing my own clothes for as long as I'm on that planet."

"Please, my dear, don't make this more difficult than it has to be," Minia said with a sigh as the captain went instantly annoyed. "You'll end up wearing what you have to anyway, so why make a fuss? Isn't it better to simply accept the inevitable with your dignity intact?"

"My dignity is fine, thanks," I answered with some of the amusement I couldn't keep covered. "That … band of yours can be taped to the outside of my boot if you consider the thing all that necessary, but the boots stay and so do the rest of my clothes. If you don't like that idea I can always go back to where I came from. Coming here wasn't my idea or choice, but whether or not I stay is."

"You don't have anything like the kind of choice you think you do and you'd better learn that right now," the captain said, speaking before Minia could be "reasonable" again. "The men on Rimilia will be a lot less patient with nonsense than I am, and I've already used up whatever patience I had. You had your chance to change clothes quietly and by yourself, and you turned your nose up at the courtesy. Now you get to do it with my help."

The fact that he began to lean down to grab my arm came as a shock to the women - and men - in the area, but I'm not that easily shocked. I lifted one booted foot and kicked him in the knee before his hand could close on me, and when he shouted with the pain and staggered back a couple of steps I rose quickly to my feet. A heartbeat later I had him by the juncture of neck and shoulder, and my left hand didn't have to close very tight to make the man gasp with the pain and freeze where he stood still bent over.

"I have all the choices I'll ever need," I told the man I held, then turned my head to include a frightened Minia in on the statement. She was as small as Glay and most of the others, which is why I usually stayed seated. "Right now you people have a choice to make, and you'd better do it fast before I get annoyed. You can play all the games you like with those others, but I don't have much patience for other people's games. If all we're here for is training, it shouldn't matter what I wear and don't wear. With that in mind, here's your choice: either you tape that ankle bracelet to my boot, or I go back where I came from. Which will it be?"

"But what if the tape comes off and you lose the band?" Minia protested, almost begging. "You have no idea how much trouble there will be if that happens, but I do! Oh, please let him go, you're hurting him!"

"He isn't being hurt as long as he doesn't move," I pointed out mildly. "And if that's your final answer, I accept. Once the rest of these people are off the transport it can then take me home."

"Let her do it her own way," the captain said, his voice hoarse with the effort to remain unmoving. "If anyone deserves to find things out the hard way, she has to be it."

"All right, we accept your terms!" Minia said at once, even though her mind wasn't happy about having to say the words. "The band will be taped to your boot."

I toyed with the idea of insisting that I be returned home, but I did have to be able to claim truthfully that I'd been given no choice but to return. My people hadn't wanted me to go, but some things in life are required and answering the summons of my mental kin was one of those things. If I went back I'd have to be able to say that I'd given them every chance and they'd refused to cooperate, and right now I couldn't say that without lying.

"Thank you for being reasonable," I said instead, finally releasing the captain and taking a short step back. "I really appreciate it."

"And I'll appreciate what happens later," the captain muttered as he straightened and began to rub at the place he'd been held. His mind was filled with grimly delighted anticipation, but Minia's mind wasn't the same. She felt very sorry for me, but the main point was that neither of them meant to go back on what they'd said. If I'd had any real choice I would have told them to keep their deal before making the captain take me home; why do nonphysical ties have to bind tighter than material ones…?