arch2.htm Archaen Steel

(formerly under the title The baby-sitter)

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BETRAY

be-tray (bi tra') vt.[ult., L.tradere, delive]

1. to help the enemy of (one's country, etc.)

2. to expose treacherously

3. to fail to uphold [to betray a trust.]

-Excerpt form the Human Archaic Dictionary

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Cambridge MINDRACED his speech to the Alliance in Defence Conference, again, for the three hundredth time.

*I must be getting tired,* he thought to himself. *Either that or my links are getting old.*

Finally he stop. He found the mental link to a relevant passage of a Rhuk-D'kai poem; one with startling similarity to an Asgardian oath.
Opening his eyes, he began inputing the information into his pixel-pad, then stopped. Something was wrong. The Dreamer looked about;
his surroundings were the same, but there was a difference. A dimness.

Something thumped outside his room. Cambridge put his pad down and stood up. Suddenly, his head expanded with the building pressure
of a headrush. He griped his bunk for support while his heart hammered in his chest, and despite all his True-Dreamer discipline, he could not
slow it down. The thump returned, louder, and stronger this time. Cambridge struggled the short distance to the door between fits of bleariness,
and was successful in hitting the access stud.

A man stood in the door way. It took Cambridge a few seconds to recognize him. An eternity for a Dreamer.

*What's wrong with me?* At last it came to him. *Doyle, Second-in-command of the Retainers, assigned to protect me,* he thought.

Doyle pushed him - hard. "Get inside."

The man's breathing came in ragged gasp. His eyelids were half closed. He fumbled through the doorway, turned, tried to hit the access stud, failed
and fell to the floor. Cambridge saw the puncture wounds on his back, all profusely bleeding. The True-Dreamer tried to kneel by his side and found
the floor rising to meet him. Sitting up as best he could he said, "What's happening? "

"Sabotaged ...the air pumps ...he's ...he's ...coming!"

The Retainer pulled his Torpedo Blaster from his holster and aimed it through the doorway with wobbly hands. He strained as he tried to find the
last of his strength, the torque, necessary to pull the trigger.

Too late.

His chest exploded with the muffled impact of a torpedo shell. Blood splattered across the chamber, across Cambridge's face and clothes.
As the smoke settled, the Dreamer looked up with emotionless features. The assassin stood in the doorway, a smoking blaster in his hand.
Even with his breathing mask on, Cambridge recognized his eyes.

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"Now, what can you tell me about their ships interior defense systems? "

K'ran Korayalis sat up form the bar with a perplexed look upon her face.

"Hmmm. Let's ....seeeeee...." She stroked her chin with one hand and folded the other under her chest. Her eyebrows raised and
lowered many times in deep contemplation.

"Ship ...defense systems ...hmmmmmm."

Jan rolled his eyes. "Okay."

K'ran stopped, and caught his look.

"Okay, how much more?" said the 'Sin-Guardian's holographic form.

"Two boxes of your Emperor's Cubanos."

"His Cigars!" Jan was astonished! "Are-you-insane?!"

K'ran's grin broaden.

"Coleman will have my head for this!" Jan flushed.

"Who's Coleman?"

"Trust me, you'll find out."

Jan's brows creased suddenly. A stabbing headache was growing between his eyes.

"You okay? Something wrong?" asked K'ran. Something 'was' wrong. Jan blinked many times. The room became bleary.

"Not ...sure ...Hold on."

Jan touched his collar and disconnected his projection in the Jade Blade tavern. His view switched to where he was really standing - on
the deck of the Negotiator's holo-platform chamber. Only his view was now pitch black dark. Instantly he drew his Torpedo Blaster and
knelt in a crouch position. His right hand was held up, palms front, scanning with his Sensor-glove. Heat signatures, amplified sounds all
read as negatives, but the rooms oxygen content was down by forty percent.

"Ishtar take me for a fool," he whispered. The 'Sin-Guardian executed a series of hand signals -Battle Language - that sent a series of
coded messages to his men via his Sensor-glove. The signal on the other end was dead, and that scared the hell out of him. Oxygen was
down by sixty percent now.

Jan breathed in smoothly and held his breath. Removing the collar device from his neck he tucked it away in a hidden fold under his vest,
followed by his Sabersaw, a shorter blade, only about twenty centimeters in length.

Next, he set his gunscope to wide beam and illuminated his way to the door. It was locked. Switching his blaster to dumbloads, he took a
step back and blew the access stud off. No sparks shot out. As he suspected the power was out. His lungs began to burn.

Switching back to torpedo shells he walked to the other end of the small room, took aim and squeezed off two concussive shots.
The muffled explosions shook the room and buckled the doors considerably, but they still held. The concussion nearly pushed the
remaining air form him. His lungs were now on fire. Pressure grew in his head. Raising his arm he took aim again and fired twice more.
The doors blew off their latches, and soundlessly fell to the floor. The shockwave crushed him against the wall and he saw his gun fall away
as the floor rose up to meet him. He opened his mouth and found no air to breath.

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"Thank Ishtar!...He's coming to."

Yaacov's face was a blurry cloud above Jan's. Wisely the Fleet Captain did not touch the awaking 'Sin-Guardian, least he trigger
a kill reflex. Jan's head throbbed. The room came into focus despite two thousand dots in front of his eyes. They were on the bridge
of the Negotiator. Most of the bridge crew were present. Behind them he caught the stoic form of Cambridge standing protectively
in front of Lady Onia. Jan whispered a silent prayer of thanks. His blaster had been removed along with the blades on his shoes,
but he could still feel the weight of his sabersaw and holo-collar tucked in his vest.

Four Ghoiite pirates stood guard in the room, their blue skin was nearly black in the dim bridge light. About their bodies their mercury
like Ul'ek robes were formed into an impressive array of multi-plated body armor ending in long, double edged blades emanating from
the ends of their index and middle fingers.

Jan stood up.

More Ghoiites came in from the fore and aft lifts, dragging the unconscious forms of the Negotiators crewmen. Officers, Jan noted,
but no Imperial Marines or any of Lady O's 'Sin-Guardian Retainers. Jan caught Yaacovs eyes, he noted the same thing.

As if by silent command the Ghoiite guards stood to attention and crossed their arms over their chest.

"Blessed be the command of the Prophet!" they shouted in unison

Three distinguished Ghoiites entered the bridge from the fore lift. The 'Sin-Guardian recognized the small one as the tribal cleric
from the distinguished markings on her Ul'ek robe.

The man next to her held himself with the authority of a tribal Chieftian. There was no mistaking the tall Ghoite next to him.
The seven foot pirate was undoubedly the tribal 'Arm' - The Clan Executioner. Jan began to unbutton his vest.

"Blessed be the Wandering Prophet!" wheezed the cleric.

The Chief fell into a series of coughing fits. His body heaved for a few moments before regaining composure. Now standing straight
he outstretched his right hand. The pinkie and ring finger were missing.

"May Gho accept the gift of this ship," he said

The greenish, root like growth, encircling his neck to his ear and jaw, was a clear indication of a loosing battle with psionic-cancer.
He lowered his arm and spat something to the floor.

"I am Suk O'mar of the holy tribe Rh'Marse. How may I address your leader?"

Captain Yaacov pushed forward. Jan drifted in his direction.

"I am Fleet Captain Ya..."

"Your Ar-chaen leader," said the Ghoiite leader in firm tones.

Yaacov blinked several times as the weight of those words sunk in. The bridge drew quiet. Suk awaited with crossed arms.
Outside, a blue sun burned as it had done for over two billion years.

"UL-Um'ba...kill him."

The giants right arm lifted and his Ul'ek robed arm reformed itself into a wicked, jagged-edged schimatar. Yaacov's hands balled
into fist. Defiantly he faced his killer. Jan readied himself.

"You may address me as Lady Onia. I am the youngest daughter to our Emperor, Shadrach Farfel Marcello VI."

Onia walked through the parting crowd, stopping ten paces from Suk. UL-Um'ba hesitated, awaiting his chief's word.

The Ghoiite looked down at the eight year old girl. "You Joke?"

"I don't Joke."

"She doesn't joke." Cambridge came up behind her. Jan drifted her way.

"My body is eight. My mind-age is eighteen. Why have you taken this ship?"

Suk locked eyes on Onia, on Cambridge. He studied both Dreamers until finally, he said:

"Where is your 'Sin-Guardian? "

Jan Stopped. The last button of his vest fell away. No one answered.

"UL-Um'ba ...Kill her."

Instantly the Ul'ek 'Arm' shot out, thinning itself into a needle like pike.

Jan's heels left the ground.

A blur came between her and the point, a glint of steel, and the sound of snapping Ul'ek. Jan's form hit the floor, and slid into
the bulkhead wall. UL-Um'ba spun and fell to one knee. The pike tip was missing. His Ul'ek reformed itself into his sleeve.

Suk was impressed. He didn't think anything Human could move that fast. Onia's features remained unchanged.

"Why have you taken this ship? "

Yaacov came to Jan's side. He didn't know if he should touch the 'Sin-Guardian or not. Jan wasn't moving.

"MINDRACE the answer, your Highness. It should be obvious."

The voice came from over Suk's shoulder. Captain Whang entered the room with Jan's Warsaw slung over his shoulder in a cavalier way.
A Torpedo Blaster was holstered to his side.

"We're here to take you, this ship, whatever we want." Whang nodded in the direction of Jan, then looked at Suk.

"I thought we agreed not to kill him."

Suk shrugged. "It is the will of the Prophet."

Yaacov decided to risk it. He touched Jan. Nothing happened. He turned the 'Sin-Guardian over and gasped. The flat of his Sabersaw was
pressed against his chest, a dent was pinned into the blade. Some how Jan had managed to deflect the Ul'ek strike with his weapon. Yaacov
shot a look to UL-Um'ba. The giants weapon had finished reforming itself, yet somehow it seemed slightly diminished. He turned back to Jan.

"Mr. Church ...are you well?"

"stwrung....like...wulf...," came a feeble reply.

Inside, the 'Sin-Guardian had two fractured ribs and a bruised lung.

"Listen up ya swabbies! Yer lives will all be spared provided you follow our orders and do nothing stupid! When our business
here is complete we have only one final request. Take word back to our Em..." and Whang smiled as he caught himself.
As a traitor he could no longer be considered an Archaen citizen.

"...Your Emperor. Keep out of the AiD Pact ...or you'll never see her Highness again."

"Why'd you do it Whang?" The assassin spun around.

Jan slowly rose to his feet, his Sabersaw was held expertly in his left hand. Whang registerd about three seconds of shock, then smiled.

"Jan, Jan ...Jan. You never disappoint me, do you. Drop the weapon."

"Drop me first."

Whang loudly clicked his teeth several times. Around them Ghoiite pirates reformed new weapons and other things. They closed in.

"No respect for the Order, Jan. You alone should know that. Do you know what they call us behind our backs?
Other Retainers, Marines, ...'Sin-Guardians?! BABY-SITTERS! Jan, Screwin' baby-sitters!. I didn't join the Order
to watch some cold, heartless child. I want more!"

"With fanatics and butchers? "

"I didn't expect you to understand."

"Try me." Jan edged closer. Whang shook his head.

"I know you Jan. Keep me busy and make your move. Drop the saber or her Highness dies, here, and now!"

Jan could sense the Ghiiotes behind him. UL-Um'ba edged closer to Onia. Dropping into an En Garde stance he raised and pointed
the blade at Whang's heart.

"Try it.".

Whang tried to read what was in Jan's eyes. He didn't like what he saw.

"They've won this round Jan. Concede," said Onia.

"I can't do that your Highness."

The room grew tense. Suk watched it all with patient amusement.

"Captain Whang, let me speak to him," said the young Dreamer

"Give me your word. No tricks your Highness."

"You have it."

Never taking his eyes off his quarry, Whang stepped aside and allowed Onia to walk past. The 'Sin-Guardian and his charge spoke
quietly to each other. Jan kept his stance and his eyes upon Whang. From time to time he vigorously shook his head. Finally, Onia
reached up and placed her hand on Jan's blade and guided the point down. Jan shot her a look. Onia pressed closer and spoke some
more at length.

Jan listened.

Whang could see Jan's resolve weakening. Suddenly, he broke his stance, shot a chilly look at Whang, and threw his blade to the ground.
Whang smiled. It was over.

They had won.

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Two hours later Onia watched the receding image of the H.M.S Negotiator through the Ghoiite shuttle's porthole. Whang stood across from
her in the cramped chamber feigning a casual stance. In a corner laid Jan's Warsaw. Two Ghoiite pirates stood guard by the compartment door.
The door opened. Onia turned and saw the tribal cleric enter. The Elder woman studied her.

Onia turned back. A second Ghoite shuttle came into view. She knew on board was Cambridge, his equipment and the nano-virus prototype.
She knew that the Negotiator's crew were spared and that most of her Retainers were dead, save Jan. He was to return to the Emperor - dishonored.
Whang's revenge.

She knew the Ghoiites had tried to breech the Wight's Chamber and had failed. Four Ghoites had walked into a defensive probability field
and were instantly pulled inside out. Their cleric placed a curse on the ship and the Ghoiites left.

Behind Cambridge's shuttle a spark of light grew in the distance.

"That was a smart thing you did back there, your Highness."

Onia caught Whang's reflection in the window.

"I told Jan not to rescue me," she said.

"Even smarter." He crossed his arms.

"I told him to rescue Cambridge instead."

"What?!"

Onia turned around.

"Lord Cambridge has over two hundred years of engineering experience on the Mindplane. He knows many things.
The specs of the nano-virus, Ghoiite and Archaen technologies. You need him more than you need me."

"Impossible. We disabled their weapons, their Stellar Marauders and Warbarges. The Negotiator barely has enough power
to stay in orbit."

"What about the life-pods?"

"What?..." Whang's heart began to hammer. Something was wrong.

"Did you disable the life-pods?"

"No ...but ...they're useless. They haven't the speed to overtake us, nor any weapons."

Onia shrugged. "You're a 'Sin-guardian. What would you do?"

Whang stepped closer. He studied the view through the porthole. E'Bok Tan burned in the distance behind the other shuttle.
Suddenly he turned back to Onia. Fear filled his eyes. Onia nodded and continued.

"Sling-shot effect around the sun and ram the shuttle with the life-pods. They have extra shielding, good maneuverability
and are designed for high impact crashes as you know. About half a squad of Imperial Marines could fit inside one.
That's all Jan would need."

Whang's mouth dropped open. "No ...insane. Cambridge could be killed."

"Perhaps."

Suddenly, alarms went off throughout the shuttle. Whang flinched, sweat dampened his forehead. He backed away from Onia.

"Watch her ...watch HER!" Picking up Jan's Warsaw, he ran from the room. Onia locked eyes on the tribal cleric. The old
woman hobbled closer to her.

"You're an Archaen witch. We should kill you."

"Don't talk to me. Your breath is horrible."

The old women's face flushed purple. A torrid of Ghoiite swears spilled from her mouth. Onia shut her out and studied her face,
became fascinated with her complexion instead. She MINDRACED an obscure line from a Jack Gilbert poem.

* ...Purple is black blooming.*

She MINDRACED many things - anything, to keep her emotions out. To keep her free of her one, true, thought.
- that she was alone now, and would never see her family or home ...ever again.

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