Terrilian #2: - The Warrior Enchained
The day was sunny, bright and fresh after two days of rain. I stepped out of my house onto the Neighborhood lawn, still wondering if I'd been wise letting myself be talked into attending the Neighborhood party. After a week and a half of being back on Central, I still wasn't in a party mood.
The blue, blue sky stretched far and wide above me as I walked, a small breeze chased around here and there, stirring my hair; the lawn was cool and green and thick as far as the eye could see. I wore a dress of pale yellow that billowed around me to the ground, making me feel as if I were floating, and my neighbors turned where they stood or sat, smiling and waving and waiting for me to join them. The success of my assignment had been made public three days earlier, but the rain had kept me from being mobbed by admirers right from the beginning. I'd had to turn the call off to save my sanity, and that in itself was a new experience. But then, one of my rewards was that I saw everything in a new light.
"Terry, come sit over here," Leebril Conrad called, her face animated behind the alternating pink and orange diagonal stripes of her face makeup. "I'm so excited I may burst!"
"Not on a Neighborhood chair, if you please, Lee," Sam Raymond put in dryly. "Save it for your own furniture."
"Samprey Raymond, you stop teasing me!" Lee pouted as everyone within hearing laughed. "Just because you're Neighborhood Chairman doesn't mean you can tease everyone - isn't that right, Terry?"
A large number of eyes turned in my direction, and I could feel the sudden wall of expectation arising from each mind behind those eyes. I was supposed to say something monumental and historic, something legend would some day be built on.
"What suddenly makes me an expert on Neighborhood Chairmen?" I asked, watching Lee tug at the skirt of the Alderanean leisure suit she wore. She was short and plump and the brief leisure suit looked terrible on her, but she'd worn leisure suits before without caring how she looked as long as she was dressed in the height of fashion.
"Notoriety makes the acclaimed an expert on everything." Sam grinned, stepping back to give me access to a chair if I wanted it. "If you plan on staying home for a while, I'll probably end up losing the Chairmanship to you."
"Not to me," I denied with a headshake. "I'm not Chairman material. And even if I were, tomorrow I'm off on another assignment so your position is safe."
Sam echoed everyone else's disappointment at hearing the news, but he seemed relieved even as he protested his displeasure. It was the main reason I'd said what I had, even though I hadn't originally intended making an announcement of it. His original words had been lighthearted, but he'd been seriously worried.
"Terry, that's not fair!" Lee protested, getting to her feet once she was sure I wouldn't be sitting. "You only just got back from talking those savages into letting us build our complex on their silly planet. How can they give you another assignment so soon?"
"Possibly it happened because I asked for one." I shrugged, ignoring Lee's resentment. "I'm feeling very restless these days, and work is the best cure for that."
"It certainly is," Ted Rohman agreed, putting an arm around my shoulders. Tedlor Rohman was a newcomer to the Neighborhood, as tall and good-looking as Sam, but five or six years younger. "But don't forget, Terry, work is also the best thing to make us appreciate relaxation. I've been looking forward to asking you to a real, but you've left me very little time. You'll have to tell me what time to pick you up tonight."
pick her up?" Sam frowned, moving a step closer. "What makes you think she's going out with
intended asking Terry out myself tonight."
"Neighborhood Chairmen and diplomats don't have every privilege." Ray Ladiff interrupted the argument. "I've known Terry longer than both of you, and it so happens
was going to-"
"You're not a Mediator, Ray," Sam interrupted with a gesture of his hand. "Just working in Terry's department doesn't entitle you to special consideration. As far as knowing her the longest goes, longest doesn't mean best. I can remember - "
"That's right, longest doesn't mean best," Ted agreed, interrupting in turn. "It seems to me this can be taken care of by - "
His words trailed off as I moved out of hearing range, disgusted by the way the three of them were acting. They didn't want to take me out, they just wanted to be seen with me, showing everyone what big, important men they were. I could feel everything they felt when they looked at me, no matter how they tried to hide it.
"Terry, wait a minute," Lee called, hurrying after me. I stopped where I was until she reached me, and she gave me a broad, friendly smile and asked, "Aren't they disgusting? Can you imagine men fighting over a woman in this day and age?"
I looked back at the three men engrossed in calm conversation and saw, in a flash of memory, three other men facing one another in the rain. All three carried swords and all three had wanted me, and only one had walked away from the disagreement.
"I don't know if I can stand the excitement," I commented, again ignoring Lee. This time she was jealous, even though it was common knowledge that she'd already had all three men in her bed at least once each.
"Well, you can teach them all a lesson." She smiled, smoothing her straight orange hair. "If you come to the party I'm giving tonight, they'll all be left feeling foolish - especially if you stay over as my house guest until it's time for you to leave."
I looked at her easy smile, seeing nothing but warmth in it, wondering why I never realized before how shallow she was. Lee wanted me at her party and as her house guest, but only for the prestige my presence would bring. It was easy to feel that she didn't like me, that she resented my height, my slender build, my un-made-up face, my plain, long brown hair. The only thing she did like about me was my reputation as a Prime XenoMediator, a reputation she could use to advance her own cause.
"Lee, I'm crushed but I can't make it," I said, projecting the least amount of honesty and regret. "There are still dozens of things to be taken care of before I leave, not to mention all those reports on my new assignment. I'll be spending the rest of the day and night on them."
"That's too bad," she pouted. "I guess I was looking forward to having you come more than I should have." She hesitated briefly. "Well, you'll just have to promise to be my guest as soon as you're home again. You will promise, won't you, Terry?"
"Of course I promise," I assured her at once, patting her hand. "You can give me a homecoming party."
"How lovely!" she squealed, clapping her hands in delight. "No one has ever given you a homecoming party, and I'll be the first!"
She turned around and hurried away toward another group of our neighbors, anxious to pass on the word about how important she was going to be. I watched until she reached the nearest group, then turned away and headed back to my house. The party had definitely been a mistake, but now I knew it as a fact.
Once I got the front door closed I leaned against it, automatically clearing my mind of all the emotions that had been prodding at me. I took a deep breath and went upramp to my living quarters, heading directly for the bathroom. I'd already had one bath that day, but I felt the need for another. I'd been bathing a lot since I got back from Rimilia, but whatever I'd been trying to wash away still wasn't gone.
I dialed a hot bath, and by the time I was out of the long yellow dress, the tub was filled. I stepped into the water and sat down, letting my mind go back over the last two weeks and beyond. It was hard to think about, and the passage of time wasn't making it any easier.
I'd gone to Rimilia to help convince its natives to allow the Centran Amalgamation to build a complex on their planet, and everything had gone according to plan - with one unexpected addition. I'd fallen in love with the man I'd been sent to help, making the mistake of thinking he loved me, too. I'd given him everything within my power to give and he had given me his child - and then he had sent me back to the embassy we had on the planet, my assignment completed, my talents no longer needed. I was an empath, a Prime XenoMediator, and feelings are impossible to hide from an empath. Tammad, my beloved, the man I had been willing to give my life for, felt no regret or sense of loss when he sent me away from him. This I knew better than any other fact of my life, and the pain continued to plague me both asleep and awake.
I stirred in the warm bath water, thinking about transparenting the walls around me then rejecting the idea. I no longer felt the need to reach out in some vague way, groping for something I couldn't explain even to myself. Empaths usually lived half lives when on Central, their gifts and the very memory of those gifts suppressed until the need to use them came along again. Then, once they'd reached their destinations, the triggering word would be spoken to awaken them and let them do their jobs, the countertrigger coming only when the assignment was complete. This time, as a reward for the work I'd done for the Amalgamation, the countertrigger hadn't been spoken to me and I still retained my talent, although I'd been forbidden to tell anyone. I stirred again in the water, wondering just how much of a reward I'd been given. All the people I'd thought of as friends had turned out to be something else entirely.
Abruptly I felt bored with sitting in a tub of water, and rose to my feet without even washing. I'd felt the same sort of impatience on Rimilia - the impatience to do rather than sit - and had been lucky enough to be able to take over Murdock McKenzie's transport back to Central. Murdock McKenzie was in charge of Central's Diplomacy Bureau - and considerably more, I was beginning to suspect - and he had decided he and his people could wait for the transport to return for them. I'd left the very next day after I'd been returned to the embassy, and as soon as I'd grounded at Tallion City Outer Port, had gone directly to the medical center. The tiny speck that was Tammad's child and mine now lay in stasis, waiting for me to decide what to do with it, and my body was protected again. I didn't plan on needing the protection, but I was protected.
I toweled the water off myself, then picked up the yellow dress and carried it back into the bedroom with me. It had come to me that I'd worn it only because Tammad wouldn't have approved of a shorter dress, and in spite of everything I was still dressing to please him. A man who beat me when I disobeyed him, who ignored my wishes when his own failed to coincide, who used me and then sent me away - and I was still trying to please him.
I took out a gray one-piece body suit and got into it, but didn't bother with shoes. I'd gotten so used to going barefoot on Rimilia that shoes now seemed a burden rather than an aid. I hadn't been lying to Lee when I said I had reports to go over, but somehow I wasn't in the mood for reading reports. I remembered the last time I'd had reports to read, reports on Rimilia, but it hadn't mattered then whether or not I was in the mood to read them. That barbarian had been there and he'd forced me to read them, just as he'd forced me to do everything his way.
I was still standing in the middle of the floor, dwelling on the past, when my visitor call sounded, telling me someone was in my entrance hall. I felt annoyed at being disturbed and almost decided against seeing who it was, but I really didn't want to read those reports. I wavered briefly, my annoyance against everything growing, then resolutely headed downramp.
Sandy Kemper looked around when I reached the hall, his long, thin face as serious as ever. He'd been standing and staring at a wall, and my appearance seemed to bring him out of introspection.
"Terry, how are you?" he asked, coming forward to look down at me. "I didn't have the nerve to come and see you when you first got back, but now that you're leaving again I couldn't stay away. Are you all right?"
His brown eyes were concerned, but more than that, his emotions agreed with his words. I was startled that he really was concerned about me, and the sarcastic retort I'd been about to speak died in my throat.
"I'm fine, Sandy," I assured him, dredging up something of a smile. "How have you been doing?"
"Possibly better, possibly worse," he sighed, returning my smile. "Murdock paid quite a bit of attention to me before he left for Rimilia. 'Sandros, I foresee a great deal of difficulty for you should you be unable to overcome your aversion to dissembling. The tree of Diplomacy is nurtured with evasions grown to look like certainties.' You know how he is."
"I certainly do," I laughed, hearing Murdock McKenzie's dry tones in Sandy's mimicry. "How's your quadriwagon behaving? Any more problems?"
The brown eyes came to me with pain in them, making me realize I'd said the wrong thing. Sandy blamed himself for what Tammad had done to me, but only after I'd blamed him first.
"Terry, I can't tell you how sorry I am!" he blurted, reaching out to take my hand. "What happened was all my fault, and the thought's been haunting me ever since! Is there anything I can do, anything I can say…?"
"Sandy, you can forget about it," I interrupted, resisting the urge to pull my hand away from him. "Once we were on Rimilia, Tammad admitted he knew I hadn't been given to him as a housegift. He wanted to use me so he did; it was as simple as that. Nothing you could have said or done would have stopped him."
"But that's barbaric!" he gasped, his mind filled with shock. "To rape and beat a Prime - to subject her to indignities and cruelties… Aren't they going to punish him?"
"Of course they are," I said, suddenly giving in to the desire to take my hand back. "They're going to punish him by giving him everything he asks for, up to and including whatever he needs to make himself supreme leader of his people. Don't you remember, Sandy? It's called political expedience. Now if you'll excuse me, I have reports to go over before I leave for Alderan. Give my best to Murdock when you see him."
I turned away from Sandy and headed back upramp, pretending I didn't see or feel his unspoken protest or his outstretched hand. What had been done to me had been terrible, but only because I was a Prime - or at least so Sandy felt. Everyone on the planet had been conditioned to pity an empath, but Sandy's concern went deeper than most, surfacing as a need to hover nervously, hoping for some sort of notice. His touching my hand had produced a flash of intense desire in him, a heat I could almost feel from the echoing flash in his mind. Sandy ached to have me - but probably only because I was a Prime.
I went back into my bedroom and closed and locked the door, then paced back and forth to help myself calm down. The fifth time I passed the door I paused to stare at it, then went over and unlocked it again. There'd been no need to lock it in the first place, not against someone like Sandy. Sandy Kemper would no more come uninvited into my living quarters than - than Tammad had allowed a locked door to stand between us. He'd broken the door down immediately, striding angrily through the wreckage, then had -
I stopped the train of thought and put my hands to my head, appalled at what was happening to me. Could I actually be blaming men for rationally discussing their differences rather than spilling each other's blood, for accepting a refusal of disinterest rather than taking me against my will? The men of Central were civilized and sensible, not barbarians who needed to be criticized and sneered at! Then why was I -
I cut off that thought too, closing my eyes against the anger building inside me. It was all that barbarian's fault, all part of what he had done to me. Wrong looked right and right looked wrong, and everything had to be thought of and done according to
beliefs and preconceptions! He had forced
me, a Prime, into fulfilling his every desire, obeying his every wish - and then had thrown me away, my usefulness over. I hated him, hated everything about him - and hated myself for wishing he had kept me.
I went to my bed and sank down onto it, then stretched out beside the reports I'd left there. I was going to have to force myself to forget what had gone on during my time on Rimilia, and burying myself in work would be the first step toward doing that. I was a Prime, one of the best; even if
didn't want me, everyone else did.
I pulled the first report to me and thumbed through it quickly, verifying that it held nothing but details about Alderan. Everyone in the Amalgamation knew about Alderan, how it was one of the greatest fashion centers, one of the first planets settled by Central, one of the first to break away into independence. Its main claim to fame, of course, was being the home planet of the Kabras, but that need hardly be pointed out. Mediation assignments on Alderan invariably involved the Kabras, which never failed to amuse me. In my opinion, the doings of the largest group of professional soldiers in the Amalgamation should not require the services of a Mediator to settle its differences.
The second report described the disagreement one contingent of Kabras were currently involved in. They had hired themselves out to a merchant on the planet Defflore to protect his interests against a rival merchant - and incidentally take as much land and goods from the other merchant as possible, but the second merchant had also hired a contingent of Kabras equal to the first merchant's force. Such a situation had come to mean a standoff as it would be foolish to expect two equal groups of Kabras to fight, and the only alternative at that point was for the two merchants to come to a peaceful understanding, or for one of them to hire an additional Kabra fighting force.
The presence of the additional force would give the merchant who had it immediate victory - after all, a fight between two unequal Kabra groups is a certainty in outcome without needing a single blow to be struck - and reparations could then be claimed against the defeated merchant. In this instance, however, neither merchant could spare the expense of an additional force, and the agreement between them was quickly concluded.
Not quite as quickly concluded was the fulfillment of payment to the forces of the first merchant, the one who had begun all the difficulty. He insisted he had been expecting acquisitions from the efforts of the Kabras and would have paid them from those. Without the acquisitions he was totally unable to live up to his end of the bargain, and demanded that the Kabras remove themselves from his property and return to their home world. The Kabras, of course, refused to stir until their fees were paid in full.
I sighed deeply and put the report aside, then stretched the weariness out of my body. The Mediation would be dull and unimportant, but sending anyone but a Prime to Alderan would be considered an insult by the Kabras. I'd been to Alderan a number of times before, and had disliked being there each of the times. If any other assignment had been available I would have refused this one, but even Alderan was better than staying on Central. I looked again at the third folder - which gave details on my transportation and time of departure - then put it all aside and went into my kitchen to dial a meal from my chef. Going to bed early would take care of the rest of the night, and tomorrow I would be on my way - hopefully, to forgetfulness.