Mind Warriors #5: War
Chapter One

The slip pilot wasn't very happy over the idea of having a seetar on her slip, but Ranger's calm seemed to reassure her in some way. After a moment she just shrugged before closing up the ramp, and then we were on our way to the community where I intended to leave Ranger. He'd be safe in the community, and I'd be able to leave him behind with a much easier mind … until I found a place he and I could live without hassle.

Hall, Tanial, and I took seats as the ramp was being withdrawn, and as soon as the slip lifted from the ground Tanial kind of cleared her throat.

"Jilin, I don't mean to pry, but I've just got to ask this," she said, her tone as apologetic as her words. "Considering the way you looked when we left you in the community only a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting to see some kind of scarring or even still-healing wounds. It just came to me that there's nothing left to show how badly you were… "

"Disfigured," I finished when she didn't, smiling with very little amusement. "Yes, I was a wreck, all right, and all those drugs that maniac had me fed kept me from healing the damage sooner. Until now I've pretty much kept the matter quiet, but the time has obviously come to tell you what Hall already knows."

"I may have known, but I didn't know," Hall put in, now staring at my face the way Tanial was doing. "Seeing a cut stop bleeding so hard isn't anything like seeing you look untouched after what you went through. I had no idea your new healing method was that good."

"It's better than that good, and I've just gotten an idea," I said, aware of the incredibly surprised look on Tanial's face without saying anything about it. "While I was in the community I tried teaching my method to Reldis, who isn't as strong as I am but who is a healer. She had no trouble learning the technique, so why don't we borrow her for a little while before we leave this planet. Once we also teach Needir the new way, the three of us ought to be able to apply the technique to everyone on the team. After all, Needir is our team's healer, so what do you say?"

"I don't think I'm following this," Tanial protested while Hall just looked confused. "If there isn't anything wrong with us, and there really isn't, how can we be healed?"

"Since I'm not a healer, I had to find something small on Reldis in order to teach her the method, but maybe she's gotten around that need by now," I suggested, trying to explain something that wasn't easy to put into words. "The new technique doesn't do healing because it's needed, the technique teaches your body to do the healing when it's called for. It's kind of an automatic thing, where the healing kicks in if you're hurt or drugged and maybe even poisoned. I haven't tested that last part, and very frankly I'll be happier if I never do."

"You and me both," Hall agreed fervently. "But that must be why you were able to pull out of the fog back on New Dawn when those idiots drugged some of us. And you think you can give the rest of us the same kind of healing ability you have? Even if we aren't as strong as you?"

"Reldis isn't as strong, and neither is Vennias," I pointed out. "If the technique can be used on them, and it was, why shouldn't we be able to use it on the team?"

"As long as we don't get an unexpected answer to that question, this has to be the best news we've had in a very long time," Tanial said with a wide smile, no longer looking confused. "Taking people into a combat situation isn't ever pleasant, but knowing your people can heal anything but a death wound … We won't be able to heal death wounds, will we?"

"That's something else I'd rather not test," I told her dryly when I saw that she was serious. "I'm assuming that if your body stops working the technique will too, so you'll have to stress to the team that being protected from the results of really bad wounds isn't a reason to get sloppy. If someone does something stupid they won't get away with it, and that's not the best way to learn the lesson."

"At first I felt like a fool for mentioning the point, but now I don't," Tanial said, her nod on the distracted side. "The same thing is bound to occur to members of the team, and discussing the matter should help to save lives. I'll also mention that if they get sloppy they'll have to live with pain for a while, which ought to keep most of them from getting crazy."

"Just remind them what Jilin looked like when we got her back from that former ambassador madman," Hall put in, speaking as dryly as I had. "If that doesn't give them the chills, nothing will. And look, we're coming in for a landing at the community."

Turning my head showed that we certainly were, so we shelved the conversation and got ready to leave the slip. I went over and detached my shoulder pack from Ranger's saddle, then put it down to be left in the slip. It amused me that Ranger was also looking out of one of the observation ports, but Tanial and Hall were more amazed than amused. They seemed to be having a little trouble getting over the fact that Ranger wasn't a "dumb animal" in any sense of the words, but at least they were more delighted than disturbed.

We thanked the slip pilot before asking her to wait for us, then Tanial and Hall led the way down the ramp and off the slip. Ranger and I followed them, and once we were on the ground we went looking for Reldis. Or, to be more accurate, I went looking for Reldis with my mind. I found her easily, in the midst of a group of others who seemed familiar, so I led the way toward the house she and the others were sitting in.

There were quite a few people out and around, moving through the torchlit darkness, more than I'd expected to see. Those people stared as we went past, most of them looking at Ranger and the fact that he wasn't being led by bridle reins, but we managed to reach our objective without being stopped. When I knocked on the door of the house, it was opened by a woman I'd never seen before.

"Please tell Reldis that I need to speak to her for a minute or two," I said to the woman with a smile. "Since the question will certainly come up, tell her it's Jilin."

"Oh, you're Jilin!" the woman exclaimed, suddenly looking less neutral and more … impressed, I guess it would be most accurate to say. "Would you like to come in instead of standing out here in the dark?"

"I think it would be better if Reldis came out here," I answered, giving her something of a shrug. "This seetar standing behind me is one of the things I want to talk about, and bringing him inside would be kind of … awkward."

The woman's eyes widened in a different way when she looked at Ranger, and then she nodded fast before turning and hurrying away. Ranger was amused when he let me know he probably could stuff himself through the doorway, but was glad he didn't have to try. The fit would be on the tight side, and the halls leading off from the entrance area would be even more difficult for him to fit through. I let him know I was glad he didn't want to try, and that made him even more amused.

Two minutes later there was an … explosion of people coming out of one of the halls, Reldis leading the pack. Behind her I could see the group she'd brought to the transport to talk to me, with the man Denrin trailing along behind everyone else. Denrin had been more than eager to show I was … exaggerating about what I'd learned to do, but once he'd gotten a taste of how real my illusions could be he hadn't said another word to me.

"Jilin, we heard that you and the others were able to take over the city of the Revanas without much trouble," Reldis said as she came closer. "Is there a problem after all?"

"Not one that has anything to do with the Revanas," I assured her with a smile. "One of the reasons for my visit here is that I want to leave my seetar in a place where he won't have to fight off being kidnapped. He and I are friends, and abandoning a friend when you don't have to isn't very nice."

"Friends," Reldis echoed, staring past my shoulder at the giant form standing not far behind me. "Why am I not surprised to see you have friends like that?"

"Have you no sense of the proper whatsoever, wenda?" Denrin demanded as he came up to the back of the group, a bit more outraged than what seemed to be usual with him. "That seetar should not be without a bridle with which it may be controlled in a proper manner, a truth even one such as you should be aware of."

"For someone who's so very concerned about what's proper, Denrin, I've never yet seen you actually search for what that is," I countered before Reldis tried to smooth things over … again. "A man of true intelligence would have asked why Ranger isn't wearing a bridle, not immediately decided that the seetar ought to have one. If you aren't even the least bit curious, you have no business being with the rest of these people."

Almost everyone seemed upset that I'd spoken like that to the man, but I really had no patience left for fools. It's one thing to be skeptical, but something else entirely to be completely close-minded.

"You continually forget, Denrin, what sort of w'wenda stands before you," one of the other men put in before Denrin could explode … as he seemed on the verge of doing. "If you find it impossible to control reactions which must now be discarded, perhaps it would indeed be best if you were to find others to labor with."

That flat-voiced comment from another Rimilian male like himself made Denrin frown, and I could almost hear the disbelief in his mind that now echoed in his blue eyes. It actually had never occurred to him that all the changes going on around him meant he would have to change as well, not when the women of the group usually made it a point not to argue with him about anything but the new abilities showing up.

"I'm sure the rest of you are curious about why I'm bringing a seetar to you, so let me show you," I said, now ignoring the man at the back of the group. "Ranger and I started to be friends the last time I was on this world, and now the friendship has grown into … something more. You really need to experience it yourself to fully understand…"

I made the partial apology before gathering up all their minds, and then I showed them how to get closer to Ranger's mind. There was a chorus of gasps which really amused my giant friend, and then everyone seemed to be talking at once.

"He's incredible!" Reldis exclaimed in the midst of the comments of the others, comments that were just like hers. "It never even occurred to us - ! Are the rest of the seetarr like Ranger?"

"Most of them," I confirmed, aware that Tanial and Hall were just as amused … even though they still pretty much felt what the group did. "There are some seetarr that are too … mentally defective to be like the rest, but the others are very interested in learning more about us. They enjoy the partnership they have with people, but would like to share even more."

"Oh, we'll love getting to know Ranger and the rest of the seetarr here in the community," Reldis burbled, reaching out to touch Ranger's nose as he lowered it for her. She'd first sent a thought to find out if he'd mind her doing that, and when he assured her he didn't mind her delight was even stronger.

"I think now would be a good time to mention the second reason I'm here," I said, trying to get the woman's attention back before she committed her entire self to what she thought would be her next project. "Have you been able to make any progress with that healing technique I showed you a few weeks ago?"

"What do you mean by progress?" Reldis asked at once, her hand now stroking Ranger automatically. "The other healers here learned the technique as quickly as I did, and we've been working on all our people to give them the protection."

"Does that mean you can use the technique on people who aren't hurt in some way?" I asked. "I've always had to have an actual wound to work on, and the progress I mean is being able to do the same without needing the wound."

"Well, of course you don't need a wound," Reldis said with a small laugh. "Or at least a healer doesn't need the wound. If you like, I'll show you what I mean on someone who hasn't yet had the technique used on them."

"Actually, that's pretty much what I had in mind, only not around here," I said, my smile on the wry side. "It's come to me that the team needs to have the technique used on them, especially since we'll be going back to work in just a little while."

"Why, of course they need the technique!" Reldis said, back to exclaiming. "Even more than we do here! We should have thought of that ourselves, and I'm ashamed that we didn't. Your team as well as all the others, and since all the teams will be here in the next few days we'll have to take care of the matter."

"Why are the other teams coming here?" I asked, feeling as if I'd been out of touch for months instead of weeks. "I thought we all had to be somewhere else in a few days."

"Yes, you do have to be in your assigned places before the grand announcement is made, but first the teams need to be added to," Reldis told me. "Very often trouble can be averted simply by having the right people in the right place, or possibly I should say large enough people who don't mind the idea of a fight. Every team will have its compliment of l'lendaa to take along, and when people see them there should be a lot less trouble."

"Less trouble for us," Tanial put in, obviously knowing what Reldis meant. "How many mobs are going to form when we'll have those giant monsters that the mob will have to attack? Having l'lendaa there will allow the rest of us to look around for puppets, and once the puppets are taken out there should be even less trouble."

"Damn, I don't believe I forgot to mention something important," I said, Tanial's reference to puppets triggering the memory. "There was a puppet among the Revanas, a woman who was manipulating the chama into starting her war. Somehow I managed to dissolve the webwork in the puppet's mind, so she needs to be brought here and worked on by you folks. If you can save her sanity, she should be able to give us some help in finding where the enemy is hiding."

"Are you serious?" Reldis said, a widening grin now showing on her face. "You actually got us an ex-puppet to work on? The mind healers will probably nominate you for godhood for that alone! But we need to know how you did it. I thought the webwork was too small for you to do anything at all with it."

"I think there were two factors that let me figure out what to do," I said, having thought about the matter as I rode, before the transfer slip found me. "On the way to finding the Hamarda, we ran across a yahoo who was not only awake but had learned to use his talent. Unfortunately for the people around him, he used that talent to enslave every l'lenda and woman who came into range. I had to look closely at how he was holding his victims to keep from killing them when we took the yahoo down, and that gave me the first clue."

"We'll want some details about that, but you can tell us later," Reldis said, her head to one side. "What was the second factor involved?"

"The second factor is the way I approached the puppet," I said with something of a sigh. "I wanted the chama Riamon to see the kind of person she was working with, so I gathered up her mind and Vennias's and took them with me. The strength involved in that meld was more than I've been able to get by using the entire team, most probably because Riamon is at least as strong as I am, maybe even stronger. I think the strength of each individual counts more than the number of individuals you use."

"Now, that hadn't occurred to us," one of the other women said while the entire group looked disturbed. "The fact that individual strength could be more important than linked strength. Or more effective rather than important. It's all important, so I think I'm going to see if I can give up sleeping for a while and look into the matter."

More than a few of the group agreed with that last comment, their laughter and words more wry than amused. Reldis was the only one who didn't join in the general reaction.

"All right, we all now have more to think about and do than we did just a few minutes ago," she said, the words, like her attitude, brisk. "And we can't do it all ourselves so we'll need to recruit some help. We'll do that recruiting tonight, and then we'll be able to get started in the morning. Golsin, may I ask your assistance in finding a place for Ranger to stay? Those of us who will be working with him tomorrow will need to know where he is."

"I shall consider the effort an honor," the man Golsin answered with a grin, his mind sending the sense of his words to Ranger as well. "There is a place for Ranger beside my own seetar, and while there I mean to see if I am able to speak with my seetar as I do with this one. Perhaps Ranger will assist me?"

Ranger's amused agreement seemed to reach every member of the group, and that put smiles on all the faces. Golsin was the one who had spoken sharply to the loudmouth Denrin, and that was when I noticed Denrin had disappeared. I'd included the fool in on the merge I'd done to introduce Ranger to everyone, and that was the last I'd seen of him.

I let Ranger know that I'd definitely see him again once all the nonsense was over, and after something of a hesitation my large friend agreed to wait patiently. I could tell that Ranger would have preferred to go along with me, especially since he knew there would probably be trouble, but he also knew he couldn't go along. He used his head to push me close to his body while I hugged him, letting me know he would miss me, and then he calmly walked off behind Golsin.

"Ranger really is incredible," Reldis said with a sigh once man and seetar had merged with the night. "I can't wait until I can work with him and our own seetarr, but there are things I have to do before I can indulge myself. Tonight has to be used for recruiting, but tomorrow I can go up to the transport and get started with using the healing technique on your team. Are you people staying here for the night, or going up yourselves right now?"

"Hall and I need to get back, but Jilin can stay the night if she wants to," Tanial said, dividing her attention between Reldis and me. "It's up to you, Jilin."

"I've been looking forward to soaking in a bath, using a wall cleaner, and sleeping in a real bed," I said without hesitation. "That means I'm also going up, but before we go to our transport I have to stop at the one in orbit around this world. The rest of my possessions are still in the cabin I used."

"No, they're not," Hall disagreed happily, just about the first words he'd spoken since we'd arrived. "When we heard you were well enough to be down on the planet, we had your stuff moved back to your old cabin on our transport. In case you were wondering, we had no intention of leaving you behind again."

I put my hand to his arm in thanks while I smiled, two things that let him know how grateful I was without using the words. There's nothing like actually feeling yourself a part of something, a part of the people you very much want to be with.

"Then we'd better get going so Reldis and the others can do what they have to," Tanial said, my smile in her direction telling her what it had told Hall. "We'll see you tomorrow, Reldis."

The healer nodded, but the smile she showed had a lot of sadness in it. She seemed to know that the reasons I'd given for leaving were only partially true, getting off this world actually being at the top of the list. My visit this time had been less … traumatic than the other visits I'd made, but there was still nothing about the world that made me want to stay here.

So Hall, Tanial, and I walked back to the transfer slip and climbed the ramp. My shoulder pack was right where I'd left it, which meant we could all sit down while the ramp was being withdrawn and then relax on the ride up. As soon as we got in range of the transport I checked it over to make sure there were no puppets waiting, and the fact that I didn't find a puppet was only partially satisfying. Now that I knew there was a "thread" behind the webwork that could be pulled, I wondered if I could do the pulling without the extra help I'd had…

As soon as we left the slip aboard the transport, I thought we were under attack. The entire team had shown up to welcome me back, but when they got a good look at me there was a sudden silence that Tanial had no trouble interpreting.

"Yes, that's right, she's completely back to the way she was," Tanial announced with a wide smile. "It seems that there's a new method of healing going around, a method that's used before you get hurt to make sure the hurt doesn't last as long or leave traces behind. Tomorrow morning there will be healers coming up to use the technique on all of us, and then we can all be as sexy and gorgeous as Jilin here."

The last of that made everyone … including me - laugh out loud, and then all the previous tension was gone behind an avalanche of questions. Everyone was pretty much asking the same thing in different words, so Tanial held up her hands.

"Please, people, give me a break," she complained. "I know as little about the whole thing as you do, so I'll be joining you when you grill the healers as soon as they arrive. And since Jilin was the one who came up with the technique in the first place, you can pester her about it right now."

To say I flinched at the uproar is to understate the matter by quite a lot, and my glaring at Tanial did nothing to dent her grin of satisfaction. She'd thrown me to the wild beasts of curiosity without hesitation, and only distantly and grudgingly did I admit I'd probably have done the same in her place.

The group, led by an irate Needir, dragged me to a chair in the common area, supplied me with kimla, then began the questioning … in a manner of speaking.

"I'm really disappointed in you, Jilin," Needir said with more narrow-eyed accusation than disappointment. "It's perfectly obvious that you knew about this for some time, so why didn't you tell me? Did you think I couldn't be trusted to do things right?"

"I thought you didn't have the necessary strength, Needir," I said after sipping at the kimla. "If I'd told you about the technique and you weren't able to use it yourself, wouldn't that have been worse for you?"

"Well, maybe," Needir grudged, the accusation finally fading from his stare. "Are you saying now that I do have the necessary strength?"

"Strength, no, talent, yes," I said, knowing he was all but holding his breath waiting for the answer. "I taught the technique to a healer in the community, and she doesn't have any more strength than you do, maybe even less. She had no trouble learning the technique, and has even found the way to do it right. Meaning she can use the technique without needing a wound to work on, but I can't. Not yet, anyway."

"Then how about demonstrating on someone who does have a wound of sorts," Hilman put in, using his good hand to point to his arm in its sling. "Needir's healing brought me more than half way to complete use of the arm, but I made the mistake of trying to use the arm too soon and set back the healing it had done. The second time the arm didn't take to Needir's healing as well, and I'd rather not wait to go the rest of the way on my own if I don't have to."

Everyone, especially Needir, agreed that that was a good idea, so I gathered up Needir's mind … along with everyone else's … and went to work on Hilman. It only took a moment, and when I released the minds I held Needir wasn't the only one who looked stunned.

"But … that's so easy," Needir finally got out, looking at me in the same way Reldis had when I'd first taught her. "And it's also something I seem to have been … approaching, I guess you could say. I've been getting hints about using my talent differently, and now I know what the hints were aiming toward."

"I'm glad somebody knows," Hall said from the chair he'd taken at the table I sat near. "I saw everything you did, Jilin, but I probably couldn't do it myself even if my life depended on it. Did anybody here do better?"

We all looked around to see a lot of head-shaking to show that Hall wasn't the only one who hadn't followed what was going on, but there was one exception.

"I saw exactly what she did, and I could do it myself if I had to," Hilman disagreed, still looking kind of dazed. "Why are Needir and I the only ones? Can I possibly be a latent healer?"

"It's more likely another case of need," I said after thinking about the question for a moment. "I was in a position to really need a better healing technique when we freed a small group of women who had been prisoners of the savages on Rimilia. You, Hilman, need to be completely free of pain and have the use of your arm back, and that's why you were able to follow what I did. And by the way, you probably won't need that sling by the time you wake up in the morning."

A wide smile spread across Hilman's face, and then he joined some of the others who drifted over to other tables to discuss what they'd just found out. Needir sat at my table with his own smile in place, but his mind had turned inward and was busy with examining the technique he'd just learned.

"I think you've lost your audience," Hall observed with amusement. "Are you in the mood for company, or would you rather go for that bath you were talking about?"

"I love you like a brother, Hall, but even brothers have to take second place to a bath," I pointed out as I got to my feet. "Now that I don't have to worry about pursuit, my shoulder pack and I are heading for my cabin."

I first refilled my cup with kimla, then waved to a grinning Hall and walked off. My possessions really were waiting for me when I opened the cabin door, all packed up in their bags but definitely there. I started the bath before putting my dirty clothes in the wall cleaner, took the kimla to the bath with me, then soaked for a delightfully long time. By the time I got out and dried off the kimla was gone, and I was more than ready for bed.

But apparently not for sleep. I lay in the dark between clean sheets, struggling not to think about what I'd left behind, and finally managed to fall into peaceful, unthinking, temporary oblivion.