Arch1.htm Archaen Steel

(formerly under the title The Baby-sitter )

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NEGOTIATOR

ne-go'ti-a'tor n.

1. one who negotiates. 2. a guide in foreign territory. 3. the first Diplomatic Imperial ship commissioned by Emperor Peter Farfel Marcello
after first contact with a sentient alien species in 3320. 4. a class of Archaen cruiser's commissioned for diplomatic missions.

-Excerpt from the Human Archaic Dictionary

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"Picture the cube. The volume inside, and the space it displaces out. Now, solidify it. Make it stone ...Knosqua'locay bedrock."

Cambridge narrowed his eyes against the Dream-sun. It was hot. As it should be. He was pleased with his reality. Around the ruins stretched a
sandy, scorched plain for kilometers in each direction, ending in a smudged horizon of tropical jungle growth. Everything was nearly perfect for
the test ...Nearly.

A scarab-fly formed out of thin air. Instantly it flew around the young girl standing a few paces away from him, her face a mask of focus.
Circling twice, the insect landed upon her neck and stung her. Calmly, she brushed it aside with her hand. Her face remained unchanged,
her eyes closed in tranquil concentration.

"Very good, wisechild. Continue."

Five meters above her floated what appeared to be a massive twenty ton cube of stone. Had the child's concentration slipped, even for a moment,
the stone would have drop, killing her instantly. On the Mindplane, Dreams could kill.

"Now, imagine Knosqua'locay storms. Ten thousand years of them, weathering the
Titan rock, eroding it ...good ...very good."

The block's edges soften. Grooves and depressions appeared upon its sides. A deep crack grew down one face.

"No your Highness, too far. MINDRACE Solce Titan ruins block number four. Find the correct link and adjust."

Within her consciousness, the young child's thoughts 'raced' to retreived the exact memory with a speed and clarity twenty times faster
than a normal humans. Her brows slightly forrowed. The stone began to waver.

"Maintain Alpha R.E.M., wisechild."

A few moments passed and the stone began to steady. The crack disappeared.

"Very good. Now, place the block with the rest of the ruins."

The girl turned and the block followed. With a slight mental command she pushed it away and settled it down next to three others of
similar shape. A third of its mass settled into the foundation pit she spent the last three mornings mentally digging. Cambridge carefully watched
her work, approval growing in his mind. When the dust finally settled he closed his eyes and MINDRACED the image. Lady Onia watched
him patiently.

"Excellent, your Highness. I see you even placed the stone at a slight obtuse angle
due to its shift from last season's hurricanes. Our trip to Solce Providence was not ... "

The True-Dreamer's face grimaced.

"Master Cambridge ...is something wrong?"

Cambridge open his eyes and regarded his student.

"Something has rocked the Dream Chamber ...the very ship itself, I think ...and ...we have a visitor."

A man phased out of the air. He hovered several feet above them.

"Is this a private dream, or can anyone enter?"

"Hello Jan," said Onia.

The Assassin-Guardian smiled down upon his charge. A handsome man, his thick brown hair was cut just short above his ears. Below his
sharp brows, flashed blue eyes that seemed to tinkle with a light of their own. His square chin, soften with a stylish goatee, made it difficult
for one to guess his age. The rest of him wore the business attire of an Imperial Assassin-Guardian. A Warsaw was sheathed across his back,
two Sabersaws crossed his waist, a Torpedo Blaster holstered to his left thigh and his feet, braced in the traditional sickle-shoes of his order.
His left arm hung by his blaster with feigned casualness.

"Your Highness." Jan courtly bowed with both fist crossed over his chest.

"Lord Cambridge." He nodded to the Dream-Engineer.

"Problem?" asked Cambridge.

"We've been spotted," answered Jan.

"Already?" The True-Dreamer arched a brow.

"Bound to happen sooner or later." Jan shrugged and continued. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to cancel your Mindplane session, and escort
you both to an Imperial Ward."

Cambridge winced slightly again. On the Material plane the Dream Chamber shook. He tried to imagine the fighting outside the ship.

"I understand," said True-Dreamer.

He turned to his student. Lady Onia Onnetta Farfel-Marcello, the youngest daughter to the Emperor of the Archaen Empire, was calm.
Only her nostrils flared slightly, but to a Dreamer, that lack of control was a near indication to wide spread terror. Emotions; the bane of all Dreamers.

Cambridge furrowed. Jan noticed it too. He hovered to the ground and knelt next to his charge.

"We don't have to do this if you don't want, your Highness. The Wights can give us one more surge to out distance the pirates,
but time is short. Personally, I'd feel better if we just attended the Treaty Conference."

"Liar, Jan Church. You've been looking forward to this for weeks."

Onia closed her eyes. She inhaled softly through her nose and slowed her heart rate to twenty beats per minute. Her mind entered
Alpha R.E.M. The trembling stopped. She opened her eyes and Jan was met with a startling likeness to her father's. Strong eyes,
stone gray, capable of leading men into battle. Eyes that he vowed his sword and soul to protect and to serve. He was satisfied.

"Our duty is clear to the Empire. We will continue with this operation."

"Aye that your Majesty, by your word." Jan began to stand.

"One more thing, Jan Church," continued the eight year old. "You are my Hand and my Shield ...and my friend. I do not wish to lose you this day."

*High praise from a Dreamer,* Cambridge thought. Did he detected a slight blush between Jan's eyes?

"Not a scratch, your Highness," said Jan. Onia looked at him fully, her brows arched in a Dreamer's smile.

"Liar."

The Mind projections of the three phased out of the air, leaving the Dream-world in silence. The plains of Knosqua'locay evaporated like water.

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Captain Whang of Lady Onia's Retainers pressed himself against the wall as two squads of fully armed Imperial Marines ran by in double time march.
The Sergeant-of-Arms called out,

"Red alert! ...Clear this hall!"

"Yeah-yeah ...ya swabie!" retorted Whang. He regarded his Second in Command. "No respect for our order," he said.

"It is their ship, sir," answered his Second.

"Yeah, there is that."

The ship suddenly lurched, the lights flickered, but his men regained their balance. Next to them stood the massive doors to the Imperial Dream
Chamber. A familiar tingle played across Whang's wrist via his Sensor-Glove.

"Here! Here! her Highness! her Highness!"

The men came to attention moments before the doors slide open. Jan Church stood before them. His eyes swept the hall environment before
resting on Whang's. The Captain recognized that look. A few paces behind him Lady Onia and Cambridge patiently waited. The 'Sin-Guardian pulled
his Captian aside.

"Take Lady O, and Cambridge to the Imperial Ward. Guard them yourself."

The ship violently shook again. Jan could hear the hull groan with stress.

"Ishtar! We're taking a beating," said the 'Sin-Guardian, perhaps more to himself than anyone.

"Yaacov wants to fight. Doesn't like this idea of running," answered Whang.

"That's not the plan," said Church. Whang shrugged again.

Removing his Warsaw, and left Sabersaw he passed them to his Captain. The symbolism wasn't missed. Whang was to protect the Princess with Jan's blade.

"Where will you be sir,?" inquired the Head Retainer as he shouldered the weapons.

"The bridge. 'Fraid I'm going to have to pull rank."

Whang pulled a sly grin. One of the perks of the 'Sin-Guardian Order was under some situations they nearly outranked any military officer.
Fortunately for Jan, this happened to be one of them.

"Do you believe we have a traitor on board sir?"

"I do now," answered the assassin.

" ...Understood sir. Your back is watched."

"Yours too."

Jan turned and jogged down the corridor in the direction of the Imperial Marines. Whang called orders to his troops. Lady Onia and Cambridge
entered the hall, were encircled by a protective cocoon of retainers, and escorted down the corridor in the opposite direction. Whang threw back a
nervous look in the direction of his superior.

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"No! ...closer! ...as close as you can get."

Jan looked over the shoulder of the Wight-Spector pilot and watched the growing image on the H.M.S. Negotiator's bridge screen. E'Bok Tan,
a medium blue sun off the shoulder of the Rhuk-D'kai Empire drew closer.

The bald Spector turned towards the 'Sin-Guardian. The Wight- symbiotic suspended in the left lens of his golden spectacles shimmered a faint
prismatic gray: signs of worry. The hull temperature was nearly eight thousand degrees.

"Don't worry, Chase, the shields will hold. The Wights can do it."

"You sound as if you know this ship." The voice came from behind him. Jan turned. Fleet Captain Yaacov stood with his hands behind his back,
clenching and unclenching them in white knuckled tension. The ship shook again.

"I don't. But I know the Wights."

Yaacov sat down in his command chair, and helped himself to his cup of Tur'kesh coffee.

"What are you planning to do to my ship Mr. Church?" asked the stout Captain. His head was cocked in a measuring stare.

"What's our status?" asked the 'Sin-Guardian.

"We are down to our last Mag-shield. Shield One we dropped when the pirates first opened fire to play the wounded ship."

Yaacov sipped his beverage.

"And? ..."asked Jan.

"They must have bought it,"replied the Fleet Captain. "They opened up with a full volley. By your plan we would have
dropped Shield Two to complete the masquerade, but they actually took that out. Their weapons are quite powerful."

Jan nodded in agreement. "And we returned fire?"

"With everything. Their first and second ships were moderately damaged. Their third, smaller vessel hung back."

Jan didn't like that, but supposed there wasn't much he could do.

"The Wights have compensated by augmenting Shield Three, but at the expense of our FTL speed. And now, Mr. Church,
you are flying the Negotiator into a sun. I hope you realize that there is a limit to what our probability warping citizens can do."

"Yes, I do, but not into, just close. What's happening with the pirates?"

"Their pursuing of course, but ...ahhh I see."And the Fleet captain cocked his head again. "You've leveled the playing field." He put down his cup.

"Well done, Mr. church. The Ghoiites will likewise have to increase power to their shields and engines to resist the increase gravity and heat,
slowing them down and ..."

Yaacov thought about it some more, a gleam shone in his eyes.

"...And perhaps degrading their weapons as well."

Jan smiled.

"So you'll bury the hatchet?"

Yaacov laughed, a good deep sound.

"Yes, yes I approve of these tactics, Mr. Church. Tell me, have you ever thought about a career in the Imperial Fleet?"

"No thanks. Too dangerous for me."

Yaacov roared again. Alarms went off throughout the bridge. The Operations Officer sent commands to fireteams shipwide. The Captain stood up,
and picked up his cup.

"Whatever you plan next, I hope it's soon."

Jan turn to the Spector pilot.

"Have you identified the Ghoiite ships, Chase?"

"Yes sir. We have them here."

Jan read the names off the screen and committed them to memory. He turned back to the Captain.

"Actually sir, I'd like permission to leave the ship."

Yaacov looked at him in disbelief.

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The shimmering image of an Imperial 'Sin-Guardian suddenly appeared under the leafy canopy of the Jade Blade - Interstellar Tavern of
Dreamworld 6, and familiar watering hole to much of the Greater Galaxy. The unexpected appearance startled two Nos' Traulian Hullers
so much that they jumped from their chairs, cracking their carapaces in several places.

Jan's image flickered before solidifying into a solid, smokey gray; about ninety percent opacity. He adjusted several slidebars on the collar device
about his neck, but his image remained the same.

The holo-kinetic Field-Sculptor, on loan from the Rhuk-D'kai Embassy, was successful in breaking through the Ghoiite's communication jam,
weaken by the suns radiation, but Jan wasn't all there. As his visual input came into focus he noticed, much to his chagrin, that his crotch area
and left knee were missing. Mentally he shrugged. He'd have to be satisfied with what he had. Looking up he noticed the two Nos'Traulians
staring at him. He smiled.

"Greetings fellow sentients. Jan Church of the August Empire of Archaen."

The Archaen crossed his arms in a tight fisted 'x' and courtly bowed

"Mmmmeex ddDDDRREeee' qqqQQQ'RRRrroooOOMMmm GLAX'Ta'ck!" said the Hullers.

"That sounds so formal. Really, what do your friends call you?".

The Nos'Traulians looked at each other, then waved three dozen or so feelers through Jan's holo-form.

"Mmmmeex ddDDDRREeee' qqqQQQ'RRRrroooOOMMmm GLAX'Ta'ck!"

"Gottcha" Jan nodded respectfully with his hands upon his chest. The Nos'Traulians returned the gesture with their twenty or so arms,
and returned to their table and drinks. The Archaen turned to the bar.

The tree was an undeniable presence in the room. Standing six meters high, its dense canopy spread twice that distance. Encircled around
the trunk,like a wide marble halo, floated the bar's counter top. Chairs for various species were congregated about the bar like an eclectic
furniture collection that, oddly enough, seemed quite natural in their present environment. The floor was sand (or appeared to be) stretching
all the way to the horizon of a vast desert. Jan surmised that to be the daily holo-mural. Scattered about the desert terrain were two-dimensional
portals leading to different sections of the bar environment, and scattered between them were about half a dozen patrons.

The 'Sin-Guardian's holo-form walked to the bar. On the other side was a magnificent oval porthole ten meters at its narrowest part. As always,
Jan was mesmerized. Beyond was the breathtaking spacescape of Taarkhul Prime, the Rhuk-D'kai Homeworld. Various ships scuttled by, and
the assassin recognized a few deepspace Archaen vessels.

Dreamworld.

The cross road of the Tri-sector area. Neutral trading ground for over a hundred Minor Empires. All could be found here. Technology, magical items.
entertainment ...and especially information

"For the view, you come?"

Despite being a projected hologram Jan suppressed his Kill-reflexes as the approaching figure came too close. Shifting, he locked his eyes on the bartender.

"Just for a visit. Tell K'ran Koreyalis that Jan Church has dropped by."

She was a D'kai. Her two meter high crab-like body was engraved with several striking marks that Jan found difficult look away from.
The pupils of her eye stalks widen and shimmered - her smile, and with a body nod she quickly departed down an archway.

Outwardly Jan feigned a casual stance. Inward, his mind replayed the events that had brought him to this moment. It began two weeks ago ...

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"Really your Highness, this is beyond the call of duty."

Cambridge stood on the open terrace. His form eclipsed the sun shinning through the massive xallocite clear domes of the White - the interstellar
fortress and palace of the Archaen Empire.

"Wouldn't you agree, Ambassador Jai'Kai?"

The Rhuk-D'Kai Ambassador to the Archaen throne sat at the end of a large chestnut dinning table. A finished bowl of 'nke-nke root stew lay at
his side. Near the other end sat Lady Onia, aimlessly stirring her own fruit salad. Jan stood in her shadow. The Ambassador cleared his throat,
gathered his thoughts and spoke in clear Archaic.

"Though your proposition is both bold and ambitious, your Highness, I believe your attending the conference and signing the AiD Pact treaty
is all that is required in this matter."

The Elder Shiaiimite's dark blue features remained diplomatic. His young host replied,

"On the contrary, Lord Jai'Kai, In the past two months five Archaen vessels leaving the White have been hijacked, or attacked by Ghoiite
pirates. In each case an important Archaen dignitary was on board. These facts seem to indicate an informant on the White working
for the pirates. A traitor. My father has instructed me to represent himself and the Empire in the signing of the AiD Pact treaty. I believe
we can all agree that this automatically makes me an ideal target. Ambassador Jai'Kai, I would rather be predator than prey."

The young Dreamer turned to her protector. "Jan ..." The Imperial Assassin-Guardian stepped forward.

"Our plan is simple, your Lordships. At some point during our journey we will unexpectantly altar our course. If the pirates show up
this will tip us off to the presence of the traitor on board. When the Ghoiites arrive we'll play a wounded ship, then spring our own trap."

The Ambassador nodded with interest. "Which will be? "

"We'll create a situation that will reduce the pirate's offensive and defensive capabilities. Next, we'll launch our own boarding
parties to rescue any hostages they may have on board."

"An interesting plan, Mr. Church, but do not underestimate the fighting capabilities of the Ghoiite separtist. Though your
'Sin-Guardian Order is perhaps more highly skilled in warfare and tactics, our force field and hologram technology is still more
advanced than yours. By blood they are Shiaiimite, like me, born to the ways of Ul'ek fighting and psionic deception."

"Understood, Mr. Ambassador. That's where you, and Lord Cambridge come in."

"The Nano-virus you mean," asked the Shaiimite.

"Exactly. If introduced properly into their Ul'ek fighting robes, it should give us the edge we need to make this mission successful."

The Ambassador thought for a moment, then turned to his fellow engineer with raised brows.

"I still have grave doubts Jan. The virus has never been field tested," said Cambridge.

"What better opportunity," replied Onia.

"Even still, if functioning properly it will only be effective for an hour at best," answered the Dream-Engineer.

"That's all I'll need," leveled the 'Sin-Guardian.

The room drew quiet save for the hum of the White. Cambridge returned to the table and took his seat.

"It's still a risky venture, your Highness."

"Certainly worth it if we rescue any Archaen or foreign dignitaries," said Onia.

"And arrive to the conference with a properly working nano- virus as a gift to the Pact," finished Jan.

Cambridge bowed his head and touched his hands together. With closed eyes he MINDRACED the situation. When done he turned to his student.

"I'm sorry your Highness, but I won't agree unless we have the approval of your father."

"I would not have it any other way," said the Princess. The True-Dreamer studied his student's features for control and was satisfied with
what he saw.

"If I may ask..," replied the Ambassador. "This operation could be handled by your Imperial Fleet. Why do you wish to place yourself at
personal risk?"

"We have a saying on my world, Lord Jai'Kai," said Onia."Powerful men are made by powerful enemies."

"Ah, you are seeking glory."

As a Elder Warrior, Jai'Kai could relate to that. Onia lightly shook her head.

"Just giving them a taste of Archaen cunning, then allow them to return to their brethren and spread the word."

"Ah!... You plan to do more harm through your reputation. Very diplomatic. You create a system of checks and balances."

"Something like that. Let us just say that we wish to give them something to think about."

Inward, the Ambassador's admiration for the young Archaen grew. He was pleased and smiled, then remembered that Dreamers do not.

"Please, keep me appraised of the situation."

He stood up and his retainers, standing out or earshot, snapped to attention. Approaching their lord they ceremonially placed his shimmering Ul'ek
robe on his shoulders. Onia stood as Jan came to her side. His arm rested casually by his left blaster.

"You have my word, Ambassador." The Archaen Princess crossed her palms to her chest and courtly bowed. The Rhuk-D'kians moved to
exit until The Ambassador suddenly stopped. Turning, he regarded her 'Sin-Guardian.

"One more thing, Mr. Church. When it comes time to engage the Ghoiites, how will you know what you are up against? Each pirate ship is
run by a different tribe. Each tribe is endowed with a different psionic ability: telekinesis, illusions, clairvoyance. You must admit that is quite
an considerable x-factor."

Jan nodded in agreement.

"I understand, Ambassador. Trust me, when the time comes, I'll be fully prepared."

The Ambassador accepted that with a fragile smile. With a hand signal he departed his Ul'ek robe hiss as he left ...

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"Hello Jan. I see you forgot to bring your brains."

K'ran Koreyalis, Shiaiimite bartender and owner of the Jade Blade, stared at the missing section below Jan's belt. Despite himself, the Archaen
had to laugh.

"Come to pay off your gambling debts?" she asked.

"My debts! If I remember right you owe ..." but he waved his hand through the air. "Tell you what. I'm willing to forget the whole thing in
exchange for information. I want you to tell me everything you know about three Ghoiite ships ...and their tribes. Percise information,"
said the assassin.

K'ran rested her elbows on the bar and placed her hand in her palms. She smiled.

"I'm listening ..." she said.

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