Terrilian #5: - The Warrior Victorious
The room was extremely clean, but also suffered from other sorts of extremes. For one thing, it was small and very bare and had no windows or closets or furniture except for the narrow bed.
I stopped pacing and sat on the edge of the high bed, putting a hand to my head. Ever since I'd awakened in that tiny cell of a room my mind had been acting strangely, flying in all directions trying to get a grip on the reality I'd been dropped into from somewhere. At least I thought it was reality, but I wouldn't have bet anything valuable on the possibility.
I'd never seen a room like that before, with nothing in it but a bed, stark white ceiling and walls, and a warmly resilient matching white floor. Even the bed frame was rounded and very soft, made of something other than metal, and there had to be a door somewhere even if I couldn't find it. The light was artificial and came from nowhere and everywhere, letting me see the thin white - garment - I'd awakened in.
The thing had a round neck and sleeves that almost reached my elbows, but didn't go down any farther than the middle of my thighs. It closed with a full-length frontal tab and didn't quite show my otherwise naked body through its thin fabric, but I didn't feel cold in it. The room was more than warm enough, no drafts and not stuffy and -
"Okay, enough of that," I told myself aloud, the faintest touch of annoyance easing the terrible fear that had gripped me as soon as I'd opened my eyes. "You don't know where you are or what's happening, but you should remember what went on before you reached this point. Start with that, and see if you can work your way up to the present."
I took a deep breath, realizing I'd given myself good advice, but bringing back the past might not prove to be done as easily as said. It somehow didn't feel as clear to me as it should have, and until then I'd been afraid to touch the fabric of it, half anticipating an immediate crumbling if I did. Right then I understood I really had no other choice than to try, so I lay down across the narrow bed and made the effort.
I had no trouble remembering I was Terrilian Reya, a Prime of the Centran Amalgamation who usually lived on Central. It had been quite some time since I'd been on Central, I knew that as well, which meant I must have been elsewhere Mediating for the Amalgamation. Being a Prime XenoMediator meant I traveled a lot, and I'd been doing it for a fair amount of years. Since the assignment was obviously over I must have been returned to Central, and that meant I was also turned off.
I lay very still as that thought came to me, a thought I couldn't remember ever having had before, but one I knew beyond doubt was true. I was - turned off - from the way I was supposed to be, all my abilities taken away, but once I'd been returned to Central without that having been done. I knew I had, could almost remember the time, could almost feel how unhappy I'd been even though almost no one else had known. It had been a special reward, a reward for having done particularly well, a reward for having accomplished -
I strained to remember, my body stiff as though the effort were a physical one, but I couldn't reach through. My hand closed on a fold of the very clean bed linen that refused to come free of the bed, the resulting fist trying to act as an anchor, but it was simply no good. The memory I was after seemed locked behind a door, and scratching frantically at the door with my fingernails wasn't doing anything to open it. I needed the key, and that was one thing I didn't have.
"One thing," I muttered with a snort, finding that the faint trace of annoyance was growing toward a better supply. I was missing a hell of a lot more than one thing, and I had the sudden conviction that my memory lapse wasn't anything other than induced. I could also remember having thoughts about conditioning, and who I'd been conditioned by. Those who ran Central and the Amalgamation wanted to make sure they had a tight grip on the empaths who worked for them, so they'd -
Empaths. This time I sat up slowly, knowing that that was what I was. An empath. Someone who could read the emotions of others and also soothe or intensify those emotions, and even pass them on from one person to the next. I was very important to the people of the Amalgamation, I'd worked long and hard for them, and now I was about to be given the highest reward possible. I didn't yet know what that would be, but I would know soon and would be extremely grateful and delighted.
I was so shocked I couldn't even curse, and without my wanting it to the fear flared again all along my backbone. The memory I'd just found was crystal clear, no effort of any sort needed to reach it, and that could mean only one thing: I was supposed to reach it, and also to believe it. It had been put in my mind with the same conditioning that had covered what someone didn't want me to remember, a body of knowledge that would conceivably do him or them harm. But who could I possibly be a danger to, that they would go to such lengths to confuse and restrain me?
"They did a really good job on you, didn't they?" I muttered to myself, the annoyance beginning to return in the company of disgust. If it was the wonderful Amalgamation I was going to be all that grateful to, who else could possibly be responsible? I still didn't know why they considered me dangerous, but that was really a very minor point.
A much more major one was that I shouldn't have known what they were up to, but somehow I did. Maybe that's why I was dangerous to them, because their conditioning was beginning not to work on me, and I was able to see behind the imposed facade to get a hint of the truth. Once I got all of it, the game would be over.
But that couldn't be it. I folded my legs under me and leaned my forearms on my knees, immediately seeing how wrong that was. If they'd known their conditioning wasn't working properly they wouldn't have tried using it again, not with any hope of success. And they did expect it to be a success, the very simplicity of my brand new conviction told me that.
There was nothing in it that suggested any possibility of resistance or non-acceptance, nothing that commanded obedience which might not be forthcoming. I was supposed to believe without question everything I'd been told, even the part that wasn't completely accurate. I was an empath, all right, but empaths were able to do much more than the few trifling things listed in the suggestion. Or, at least,
I straightened as another thought came to me, one that went quite a distance toward clearing up some of the confusion. I'd noticed in the first place that my memories weren't complete because of the half-memories remaining, ones that dangled without support. I'd also become aware of the conviction because it wasn't entirely true, just the way you'd notice on a chilly night a blanket that covered you only from the knees down.
It was there but not complete, present but not right. It wasn't enough to keep you warm, not enough to make you believe nothing was missing. If the entire blanket had been taken you might not have known anything was gone, but with the small bit you still had - as though whoever had taken the rest of the blanket wasn't aware of the lower part -
Didn't know it was there, and therefore hadn't taken it! The realization wasn't anything like triumph, but it was enough to give me more than a dash of hope. The ones in charge of conditioning me hadn't known I wasn't turned off on my last visit home, so they hadn't suppressed the memory of the time.
They also obviously didn't know I was able to do more than they thought I could, or the conviction/suggestion would have been complete enough for me to be able to accept it. All I had to do was figure out what I could remember, make a list of the blanks, and try to use the list to batter down the door to memory.
"Oh, is that all you have to do?" I muttered, unfolding my legs so that I could let myself fall back flat onto the bed. Since I knew I hadn't been turned off on my last visit back to Central as a reward but couldn't remember what the reward was for, that and where I'd been since were two heavy candidates for the list. With those for starters I should have been nicely on the way to remembering it all, but all I could find in my path was the thick frustration of a dead end. The memories hadn't simply slipped my mind, they'd been conditioned away, and it was going to take more than finding empty spaces to bring them back.
"So you're finally back among the living," a voice said suddenly, a female voice that sounded more arrogant than interested, more imposed upon than concerned. "I don't want a thousand questions from you, and I certainly won't allow any crying fits. You'll be told why you're here in due course, and until then you're to behave yourself. And don't bother putting on any airs, either. You'll find I couldn't possibly be less impressed with you."
I sat up and turned my head toward the spot the voice was coming from, finally discovering where the door to that room was hidden. Part of the right-hand wall had slid back to show something of a corridor beyond, and the woman who had spoken to me stood directly in the middle of what was now a doorway.
She was my height or possibly a bit smaller, had dark hair tinted with orange, and wore an expensive Alderanean day suit and short boots of a matching orange. The makeup on her face was impeccably done, a thick peach with orangey highlights and black emphasis lines, but I found myself almost as repelled by that as by her attitude. It was hate at first sight between us, but somehow that didn't bother me as much as it once would have.
"Of course you could be less impressed with me," I answered, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and getting to my bare feet. "You could be as impressed with me as I am with you. If a thousand questions are too many for you to handle, how about just one: where am I?"
"I told you your questions would be answered later," she came back, a graceful frown denting her makeup, something like faintly outraged shock in her dark eyes. "And don't you dare try taking that tone with me, not unless you want to find yourself in more trouble than you can imagine. I happen to be very important around here, and
one talks to me that way."
"If you don't even know where we are, how important can you be?" I countered, moving closer to where she stood. She
shorter than I, by two or three inches, and for some reason that felt very, very strange.
"Of course I know where we are," she retorted with a snort, raising her head in a superior sort of way. "We're on New Dawn, and - " Her mouth closed again with a snap, furious annoyance twisting her face, the darkening of her skin obvious even under all that makeup. By trying to show how important she was she'd told me something she wasn't supposed to have, not that it did me any particular good. I'd never heard of a planet named New Dawn, and had no idea what it had to do with Central or the Amalgamation.
"So, we have one who thinks she's really smart," the woman said with a good deal of fury in her sneer, her right hand closed into a fist, her eyes smoldering. "We'll see how much good being smart does you once you're transferred out of here to the main complex. I know all about you, you - Prime, and once you're with the others you'll spend most of your time trying to attract the attention you'll need. If you don't attract it you'll spend your time crying, just the way the other oh-so-smart ones do. Just wait, you'll get yours."
"Others?" I said, beginning to get really confused again. "What others are you talking about? What is going on here?"
"I thought I told you not to bother me with questions," she replied with a smug, vindictive look, then took a step back, out into the corridor partially visible behind her. "The director has time for you now, and maybe
feel like telling you things. If you behave yourself and ask him nicely. Or maybe not, after I tell him how
feel about it. Probably not, since he usually listens to me, but you'll see that for yourself. Come along right now, you've wasted enough of my time."
She took her self-satisfied smirk up the corridor to the left, apparently not caring whether I followed or not. I had the oddest feeling I'd been treated that way before, by another woman in another place who had expected me to follow just because she told me to, and the memory wasn't one I enjoyed.
I looked down at myself and the thing I was wearing, compared it to what the woman had on, and the odd feeling hadn't changed. The situations weren't the same, only somewhat alike, but were enough like one another that I walked out into the corridor filled with a very unusual, unexpected anger.
My new surroundings weren't much like the room I'd awakened in; the corridor was a very pale green instead of white, and there were no beds in sight. Aside from those things, however, there was a distinct similarity in that there were still no windows and artificial light lit our way. The woman led me past quite a few closed and silent doors, her pace rather slow where she walked about ten or fifteen feet ahead of me, but she wasn't taking it easy for my benefit.
Someone seemed to have taught her that one must undulate when one walked, even though undulation doubled the time it took you to get somewhere. Due to that I was able to close the lead shed started with, so that I was only just behind her when she got to a blank wall at the end of the corridor. She paused to touch her fingers to the wall on her right at about mid-body height, the movement indicating a combination of sorts rather than print identification, and then, when the wall slid aside to make a doorway, walked on through. She knew well enough that I was behind her, but still couldn't be bothered with acknowledging the fact.
The other side of the doorway brought a considerable change in my surroundings, all of it plush and luxurious. The resilient floor changed to thick carpeting, the walls now shimmered with tasteful, shifting color, works of art hung in the midst of the shimmering, and starbursts lit the tessellated ceiling with purely decorative light. True daylight came in from the window wall on the right that was designed to match the ceiling, but most of its squares were closed to top-of-head height.
I would have enjoyed opening one of the large squares and looking out, but my guide was moving off to the left, toward a door of gently glowing red. To the right of that door and about thirty feet away was a second door of pink, but the glow of that one had been turned off. In common usage that meant the red door was closed on someone who was in and available to visitors, but whoever belonged to the pink door was gone off somewhere.
It would have taken a lot of really deep thought to figure out who belonged to the pink door, but the woman I followed didn't give me the two or three seconds necessary for consideration of the matter. She walked to the red door, stroked her hand through the air in front of it, then stepped forward to enter the room beyond.
"Director Gearing, I have the newest one," she began with a sniff of distaste, standing a few steps into the room with her hand on the oblong extrusion of the door dial. "She's really quite impossible, and should be sent to the main complex immediately for strict reorientation. She actually had the nerve to insult me!"
"Now, now, Resson, you know our guests are upset when they first get here," a man's voice came, and I stepped past the woman to see him where he was just rising from behind a large, ornate desk that held nothing whatsoever. Even the woman I'd followed was taller than he, and she and I together might have made up most of his weight. He wore a conservative, well-tailored leisure suit of red with hints of gray, and despite the air conditioning of the room his round, pudgy face was sweating.
It was also wearing a look of upper-class condescension, the superiority in his dark eyes turning his smooth smile into an outright lie. His brown hair was thinning quite a bit, but that didn't stop him from brushing at it with a swollen hand as he came to a stop beside the desk to stare at me.
"She wasn't upset, Director Gearing, she was rude!" the woman insisted with sullen belligerence, sending a glare of hatred in my direction. "She tried to treat me like an Eject, and I want her punished for it!"
"Calm yourself, Resson, I'll see to the matter personally," the man Gearing assured her in firm tones of authority, his tongue wetting his lips as he looked at me. "I have the situation well in hand, so you may leave us now."
The woman Resson couldn't have missed his reaction to the sight of me, and she didn't miss it. What she did more than that, however, was resent it, and her frustrated anger quickly found the outlet it wanted so badly. Without realizing it I'd stopped in a place that kept her from closing the door and leaving the way she'd been ordered to do, and rather than asking me to move she chose a more satisfying method of accomplishing the same end.
Her hand hit the middle of my back, shoving me forward, the blow so hard that I nearly went down on my face. I caught my balance with a couple of quick running steps then turned furiously to face her, the anger I'd been feeling suddenly boiling up and over. If the woman had been smart she would have left as soon as she'd accomplished her revenge, but she'd already proven that smart wasn't a word in her vocabulary.
She was standing there smirking when I first turned toward her, but the smirk lasted only until I reached her. Without thinking about it I put my own hands to her shoulders and pushed, hard enough to send her flying backward and down to that plush carpeting we'd crossed so recently. She screamed in shock and fear until she hit the floor, then sat there making appalled noises of utter disbelief.
"Here now, here now, we'll have no more of that!" the man Gearing said with outraged sternness, waddling forward to break up a confrontation that was already done. "Young woman, you take yourself over to my desk right now, and Resson, you get off that floor. As soon as I'm through with the Prime, we'll have a long talk about your inexcusable behavior. I don't intend seeing anything like this ever again."
With that he closed the door on the woman who was still sprawled on the carpeting, and waddled back behind his desk to sit again. I'd been looking around in the moment or two I had until then, and had noticed that despite the richness of the furnishings and decorations in the office, the only chair it held was the one that now held the director. I was just coming to the conclusion that their hospitality toward their "guests" was the least bit on the lean side, when Gearing cleared his throat.
"Now then, young woman, I believe a word or two with you is in order, " he said, his voice and eyes still deliberately stern. "I have seldom seen such disgraceful behavior, and I certainly have no intentions of seeing it again. When you and I are through here you will apologize to Resson, asking her to excuse your barbaric behavior. Is that clearly understood?"
"If I apologize to her she'll only do the same thing to someone else at another time," I answered, wondering why the man was so dense that he couldn't see that. "Since I was able to stop her it was my job to do it, to protect others who might not be able to do the same thing. She doesn't deserve an apology, so she won't be getting one."
"My dear Prime, it happens to be
place to remonstrate with and discipline my underlings," he came back with a rumble of incensed anger, a heavy air of territorial protection about him. "If one of them offers you affront you report it to me, and then
take care of the matter. I am in charge here, and no one else has the authority to do the same."
"But that just means that anyone who enjoys tormenting people has only to stay out of
way in order to continue with the practice," I pointed out, trying to be reasonable and show him how wrong he was. "On the other hand, if they try it with someone who bounces them on their head for their trouble, they'll probably hesitate the next time before doing the same thing. They won't know, you see, if they'll be bounced again, so that will make them cautious - not to mention help to keep innocent people safe. Don't you want your - guests - here to be safe?"
He opened and closed his mouth a few times, looking like a fish trying to learn how to breathe air, and then he ended the fumbling by snapping his lips closed with a frown.
"Where in the world could you have picked up such outlandish ideas?" he demanded, close to total outrage. "I've never heard such barbaric nonsense, and I'll listen to no more of it. All you need remember is that I am in charge, and our future association will be an extremely pleasant one. Now then, let's get on to the reason you were summoned to my office."
"Is our conversation going to be so short that it isn't worth sitting down for?" I interrupted to ask, giving up on trying to teach him anything. He was obviously too concerned with privilege to understand right and responsibility, but I wondered fleetingly just where I
gotten such ideas. As soon as I had a moment, I would have to think about that. "What I mean, Director, is that if it is going to be that short, why are
"I am sitting, my dear, because I am director," he answered in very careful and overly sweet tones, back to giving me that condescending smile. "If you consider the matter carefully, you'll find it's quite proper for you to be standing there before me, waiting for great honor to be bestowed on you. Honor must be balanced with humility, you know, and so it shall be. The arrogance of a Prime must be left behind as you travel the road to meaningful immortality."
By the time he was through speaking, the words were echoing in my head rather than simply being picked up by my ears, and I was definitely feeling dizzy. I put a hand up to the echo, having no understanding as to why it was happening, having no idea how to make it stop. What he'd said - leaving arrogance behind and being suitably humble - humble and grateful - yes, that was the way it had to be. It was so obvious I was surprised I hadn't seen it sooner, and I suddenly couldn't wait to be given my honor.
"Yes, of course you're right," I answered, looking up at him with a smile that felt as shy as I did. "I'm sorry, Director Gearing, I must have forgotten that for a moment. Did you say - immortality?"
"I most certainly did," he agreed with a broader, warmer smile, the expansiveness of his generosity coming through clearly as he sat back in his chair. "What lesser thing might be given to one who has served the Amalgamation so well, a Prime of your quality and caliber? You've earned immortality, my dear, and that is what you will have."
"Oh, I can't possibly be worthy of that great an honor," I protested, needing to speak the truth I felt, feeling the blush in my cheeks as my fingers twisted together. "Really, Director Gearing, it's too much…"
"Nonsense, my dear, and do call me Johnston for the moment," he came back, a sleek smoothness coating his assurance, his eyes heavy-lidded. "I have the pleasure to inform you that you've been chosen as one of those few who are permitted to pass on your qualities and abilities to those who will come after you, those who will attempt to equal your service to the Amalgamation. We bestow this honor with glad pleasure, but also ask that you accept it as another of the many indications you've given of loyalty and dedication and selflessness. Will you accept the honor in such a way, with eagerness and gladness?"
"Eagerness and gladness, yes," I breathed, my hand to my head again as the words echoed a second time, the privilege so great that it made me dizzy. "I can't believe that I've been chosen for this, Johnston, I just can't, but I'll do everything in my power to be worthy of it. What must I do?"
"Quite simply, Terrilian, you must be a woman," he said, his expression now sober as he rose again and came around the desk to take my hand. "In the main complex we have quite a large number of male Primes, and it will be your duty to interest as many of them as possible in you. Without them you won't be able to fulfill your destiny, you know, but there are other female Primes already there, already attempting to fulfill their own destinies. You must be more attractive than they are, more beautiful and desirable to the only men who can help you achieve immortality. You must do everything and anything to attract and please them, but then, you don't have to be told that, do you? You already know that and mean to succeed, don't you?"
My head swam for a third time, but although I agreed with just about everything that had been said to me, some parts of it confused me more than others. People had always been told that there weren't many male Primes, so how could that complex have quite a large number of them? I wanted to ask where they could have come from, but the director was stroking my hand and then he raised it to his lips.
"It's my personal opinion that you'll have very little trouble being attractive, my dear," he said in a husky voice, my hand still held in both of his. "I know you're somewhat unsure of yourself, however, so I'm prepared to assist you even further. Although I have almost no spare time in my very busy schedule, I'm going to take some anyway just to find out how pleased the men will be with you. No, no, you needn't thank me, it can easily be considered part of my job, and you do deserve help with the honor you've been given. Just come this way."
He led me by the hand he held to the wall to the left of his desk, where he pressed a small recess which caused the wall to slide noiselessly back. Behind it was an area with low lighting, soft music, faintly perfumed air - and a very wide square of a couch draped with silk. The couch had no back to it, only seat flanked by armrests, and the man's left arm went around my waist as he urged me forward toward it.
At first everything felt as right and proper as it had all along, nothing out of the ordinary except that I was about to be done a rather large favor, but then we crossed the threshold into the small, cozy room - and the director's right hand came to squeeze my breast through the thin material that covered it - and something inside me screamed that he had no right - that I couldn't let him - that I damned well
let him - and then I was pulling away and shoving at him, slapping and scratching -
When the dizziness and confusion finally receded to a point where I could look around me with some measure of sanity again, I was sitting on the carpeting of the director's office, my back against a wall that was staying solidly closed.
Low, moaning sounds were coming from the desk to my left, and I turned my head to see Gearing in his chair, what must have been a mirror raised up from the side of the desk. He was staring into the mirror as he dabbed at long, bleeding scratches on his cheek with a wet cloth, and the eye toward me was blackened and almost closed.
I could see that the battle in my mind hadn't been the only one I'd fought, and for a moment I was confused all over again. The struggle I'd put up didn't seem all that strange, but the results of my efforts didn't feel in any way familiar.
"Oh, I should have known you'd be one of those, I should have known," Gearing moaned, talking to me without taking his eyes from the mirror. "After what you did to Resson I should have called security immediately, but instead I relied on the conditioning holding. Now that you've broken out of it you think you've won something, but what you've really done is lost. You'll still serve the program just as you're meant to, but without the comfort of believing you're being honored. And I'm glad you'll be suffering, do you hear me? I'll come and visit where they have you and I'll laugh!"
He ended his outburst with another moan instead of a laugh, but it didn't make that much of a difference. I put my hand up to my head as I leaned back against the wall, shivering on the inside at how close I'd come to doing and believing exactly what they'd wanted. Even after I'd found part of the conditioning myself, I'd still fallen prey to the rest of it without a murmur.
I'd been so terribly eager to accept that "honor," so willing to do everything I could! The second time I shivered on the outside, but not only at what had almost been done to me. They were still going to try doing things to me, and when they did I'd have no fantasies to hide behind. I'd have to face it knowing exactly what was happening, and that was the part that made me tremble. I'd have to find the courage to be strong, and I didn't know if I could.
A moment later the door to the office opened, but instead of it being the woman Resson, two big men walked in. They both had dark hair and eyes and were dressed in identical white uniforms, but the part that made me wish I could get closer to the wall was the expression on their faces. Or, more accurately, the lack of expression. Totally uncaring is too weak a descriptive phrase, but when they saw the director they actually smiled.
"You called for security men, Director Gearing?" one of them said, his tone showing very little in the way of respect for a superior. He and the other were silently laughing at Gearing, and the way the fat man stiffened showed he knew it.
"Get her out of here," he said, still looking at nothing but the mirror, briefly waving one pudgy hand in my general direction. "Tell them she's broken through the conditioning, but that isn't to exempt her from the program. Take her to the main complex, and don't bring her back until she has to be here. By then there won't be any fight left in her."
The eyes of the two men came to me, still filled with faint amusement, and then it was they who came to me, reaching down to pull me to my feet. I tried to resist but they weren't Gearing, and then I was going through the door, on my way to what was called the main complex.