Hand1.htm Hand of the Emperor

(formerly under the title The Baby-killer)

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"The Omnet was invented to distract me away from Shake'speare, ...
or a good Asgardian War Tale."

-Emperor Shadrach Farfel-Marcello VI, on the Omnet IGNM.

______________________________________________1_______________________________________________

The latches popped up.

My instruments were there. I caressed my hands over them like a lover's thigh. Sleek, cool, dangerous. The tools of curiosity. Tools of my trade
- Omnet news reporter, Somerset Ohio. I buckled the head-cam on; an older model. I never liked the velcro ones - too noisy in hot spots ...or funerals.
Adjusted the focus to my eye, retina feed calibrated, batteries checked. I released the Audio Butterflies. They floated about me at head level as I
programmed a tight orbit, set them to follow, then set the mic to a cardioid pickup pattern.

Sound Check.

"One ..two. One ...two." I had enough power for thirty minutes. I was granted five.

The cavern I was in was wet, cold, smelly. I wiped water off my lens. it dripped everywhere. About me giant Cormorants preened their feathers.
I got a good shot of their three meter pelican-like beaks. Great texture there. We could use it for atmosphere, or a good cut away. My Ghoiite
guide lost patience and gestured for me to follow. More darkness ahead. I had spent the last five hours in darkness, blindfolded by the Ghoiites
as they guide me to their lair, base - whatever you wanted to call it. I had gone through hell to get here.

It all started yesterday ...

______________________________________________________________________

"I work alone."

"Not today," said the Assassin-Guardian.

"Go to hell!"

I stood toe to toe with Jan Church. I'd know the 'Sin-Guardian for years and quickly recognized the firm resolve in his jaw. He shot back
with one of my own. The hum of the White filled the silence.

"I think we should trust him Jan," said Cambridge

"As far as I can throw him," replied Church

"Dems fightin' words!" I retorted.

Jan smiled at that, crossed his arms and turned away. Lord Warren Cambridge approached. The True-Dreamer looked older to me.
Something in his eyes, or maybe the cast on his arm. I had heard about his rescue, and wondered if the old Dreamer was mentally
ruined from the tramatic experience.

"Would you care for a drink Mr. Ohio?"

"After my own kidney, Cambridge? Yes, thank you."

While gesturing to an attendant-guard, I hoped he couldn't see the bead of sweat on my neck. Going toe to toe with an Imperial
'Sin-Guardian wasn't something I wanted to do again. The servant arrived with a shot of Noe Brandywine. Two gulps later I caught
Jan's staring eye.

"Okay, why?" asked the assassin.

I Shrugged.

"You requested confirmation of Lady O's safety. The Ghoiites requested me. Five minute interview,
I show you the footage, the Omnet keeps the broadcast rights."

Cambridge added "But there's more to it than that Jan. He is simply human. No enhanced abilities, psionics, shape changing,
nothing. Just a man."

"Hey, My mother thinks I'm special."

"So why alone, Somer?" asked Jan

"It's my style, everyone knows that. You come along and the Ghoiites are bound to know something's up."

"But won't know what hit them," leveled Church

"Come on, you're not that good,"

"Only one way to find out." His resolve was back.

I huffed, finished my Noe and turned to Cambridge.

"Talk to him Warren, tell him it's a rope of sand.".

The True-Dreamer looked at Jan. Unspoken words passed between them for several moments, then, with a faint nod,
the 'Sin-Guardian turned and left the room. I accepted a second glass from the servant, and stared into my drink deep in contemplation.

"He's taking it pretty hard, isn't he?" I asked.

"Blames himself completely for Lady Onia's abduction," said the True-Dreamer.

"Thought so. I'll try and talk to him later."

"Thank you. I was hoping you would."

I had read a copy of the mission report. Captain Whang had sabotaged everything right from the beginning. Surveillance reports,
Jan's own investigation into a traitor on the White. He threw suspicion to others, drew red herrings and bribed witnesses. Betrayal by one's
Second-in-Command has got to hurt.

*...and Jan probably blames himself for not seeing it coming. Last thing I need now, though, is a trigger happy 'Sin-guardian tagging
along for revenge.*

"I stand by my decision, Cambridge. I go alone, or the deal is off."

"I understand ...and reluctantly so will Jan."

"Good, glad that's over with. So, what's the Emperor's next move?"

Cambridge's features remained fixed and passive.

" ...Off the record," I add.

"Your word?"

"Truth!" I oathed. Cambridge was satisfied with that

"Nothing for now. He's waiting for your footage."

"And the Ghoiite Non-aggression Treaty?"

"It's being considered. "

"Janus! Is it really that bad? "

Cambridge nodded.

"Actually, it's lady Onia that we are all worried about. If for a moment she believes that she is a serious detriment to the Empire,
...she will kill herself."

"What!? ...but ...but how?"

Self-induced stroke. She's a Dreamer. She can do it," said Cambridge.

I openly looked at the True-Dreamer in disbelief.

"Janus..," I whispered, and finished my drink.

"...And Ishtar," said the Dreamer

______________________________________________________________________

I followed the afterglow of my guides phosphorescent tattoos. It was nearly the only light source in the dark. The footing was treacherous.
The smell worse. He lead us down, ever down. My least favorite direction.

My thoughts wandered again back to the past ...

______________________________________________________________________

A voice in the dark spoke.

"Prepare yourself Omnet. We are going down."

"Well, that explains my stomach. I thought it was your food."

" ...You joke?" asked the voice with the Ghoiite accent.

"I wish. Hey! you mind removing my blindfold? You know, grant me a '..and the last thing I saw before we crashed' experience?
.... hello? ...anyone there?"

I clamped down on the maelstrom in my stomach. Ordinarily I hate shuttle landings, imagine how I felt cuffed and blindfolded. It had been that
way for the last three hours since I met the Ghoiites at our agreed rendezvous spot. Omnet reporters are use to body searches, but a blindfold,
that's down right humiliating.

Contact.

Terra-firma. My stomach had doubts, but I was happy. Someone pulled me to my feet and lead me down the isle.

"My gear."

"We have it, Omnet."

A hatch door opened and I walked into a sauna. Instantly sweat smeared my back, and my lungs protested against the alien atmosphere.

"Move, Omnet."

Someone held my arm and guided me down the ramp. The surface was spongy, yet stiff. Grass brushed my ankles. We stopped and a strong hand
pushed me to my knees.

"Stay."

"Spot says 'Yes!'"

I sensed movement away from me. In the distance a voice of authority spoke.

"Praise Gho for returning us to you my brothers and sisters!"

Voices replied in unison falsetto. My orthodox Ghoiite was a little rusty, but I caught the tone. They were all children.

Now, any veteran reported could spot your classic 'spin' when they saw one. I wasn't surprised when they took off the blindfold. I was in what
appeared to be some kind of a work camp. Neatly section off fields dominated the landscape. Crops ready for harvesting, tool sheds, silos of
grain and healthy livestock. Everything in neat apple-pie order. Ghoiite children greeted me with smiling faces. Cute, but I had seen reports on
some of their young warrior training rites. The Ghoiites weren't farmers.

They gave me free reign of the camp, so I stretched my legs, had a smoke, ate and slept a little. All around me men, women and children
peacefully labored. Despite the heat it was actually beautiful. If I had paid vacation time I would consider coming back here, where ever 'here' was.

All too soon a Ghoiite lad woke me up. We had visitors. They arrived in a hover craft. Six aliens, a couple of species I didn't recognize.

I spoke to the lad. "Dinner with the neighbors?"

"Come Omnet." He lead me to them.

We joined a gathering around the craft. Ghoiite farmers came running with Ul'ek robes forming body armor, sickles and plows grew into
swords in their hands. I didn't like this. The warriors formed a tight phalanx around the craft, even the children. Military efficiency, so much
for farming.

Two young men stepped out of the driver side door. None of them matched the descriptions of the brass hats Jan had given me.
They were barely men. Their turquoise colored skin was clear - scarless,with the purity of youth, but spouting facial hair, elongated ear
lobes and new tattoos demanded they be recognized as men. Two young Ghoiite boys came to me dressed in body armor, their gloves
were formed into serrated knives, suddenly, they didn't seem so cute. They escorted me to their young leaders. I recalled my R'huk-Dkai
protocols and avoided eye contact until properly addressed.

Somebody pushed me to my knees and I played 'Spot' again. Footsteps approached and two shadows fell over me. My stomach began to think
I was back in the shuttle, and I actually began to think that wasn't such a bad place to be. Everything drew quiet. This was one way to find out
that there were no crickets on this world. It was stone quiet.

"I am Ra'suk O'mar, eldest son of our tribal leader Suk O'mar of the holy tribe Rh'marse. How may I address you, Omnet?"

I locked eyes with the boy, and for an instant their was a struggle for dominance between us. His eyes were strong, showing a promise of
leadership, yet something else ...a loathing beneath, a fear, shame, doubt? I couldn't be sure. Then it was gone between us and before I
knew it I spoke my name.

"Somerset Ohio, freelance Omnet news reporter. Address me as you like."

"I do not ...'like' you, Omnet, but you have business to do here."

He gestured to the aliens being helped off the craft. They were all cuffed behind their backs.

"I don't follow?" I said

"Then come, and I will show you."

______________________________________________________________________

TRANSCRIPT FORM OMNET IGNM FILE 00061-1
SOMERSET OHIO FDRP #3-898479. AUDIO ONLY. TIME: 016:20

SO: STATE YOUR NAME, SIR.
MI: IS THIS LIVE?
SO: 'FRAID NOT, BUT IT'LL BE SENT BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONES SO THEY'LL KNOW YOU'RE ALIVE
AND WELL.
MI: I UNDERSTAND. MYLISS IB, SALVAGE TRADER. DON'T BOTHER SENDING, THEY'RE GOING TO KI
...bzzzzzchhk ....OWWWW!!!
SO: HEY!!!WATCH THE PIKE! [CENSORED]. DON'T YOU [CENSORED] ....BEEP*

TRANSCRIPT FORM OMNET IGNM FILE 00061-2
SOMERSET OHIO FDRP #3-898479. AUDIO ONLY. TIME: 016:35

SO: STATE YOUR NAME.
PF: POWWOE OF FENN. DRIVE ENGINEER ....WHAT?...OH, SORRY.
SO: UM...POWWOE OF FENN, H0W WOULD YOU SAY THE GHOIITES ARE
TREATING YOU?
PF: MY-TREATMENT-BY-THE-GHOIITES-HAS-BEEN-FAIR-AN...DE..DE...
OH, BLOODY HELL!, HOLD THE DAMN THING STILL, WILL YA, I CAN'T READ ....
SO: CUT! THAT'S IT!..I DON'T WORK FROM CUE CARDS. DON'T POINT THAT AT ME JUNIOR
...HEY STOP...SON OF A [CENSOR]. BEEP*

TRANSCRIPT FORM OMNET IGNM FILE 00061-3
SOMERSET OHIO FDRP #3-898479. AUDIO ONLY. TIME: 016:55

SO: NAME, SIR. ....SIR?
US: UTHER SIEGFREID OF NEW ASGUARD ...bastards.
SO: SORRY, DIDN'T CATCH THAT LAST PART.
US: I SAID, BASTARDS!! ALL OF YOU GHOIITE SAVAGES! CUT ME
LOOSE AND I'LL SHOW YOU A 'WARRIOR'!! YOU SUCKIN' [CENSOR]
SONS OF [CENSOR] MOTHERLESS [CENSOR]!! COME ON!!!
SO: STOP HITTING HIM! HEY!....
US: IS THAT ALL YOU GOT? ...YOU [CENSOR] TURD IN THE SAND.......
SO: JANUS!!! .....BEEP*

TRANSCRIPT FORM OMNET IGNM FILE 00061-4
SOMERSET OHIO FDRP #3-898479. AUDIO ONLY. TIME: 017:12

SO: NAME.
C: CALUM.
SO: WHERE YOU FROM CALUM?
C: YOU'RE OMNET ARN'T YOU? ARE WE GOING TO BE RELEASED
SOON?
SO: 'FRAID NOT SON. I'M JUST HERE AS AN OFFICIAL WITNESS.
C: CAN I SAY SOMETHING TO MY WIFE?
SO: ABSOLUTELY.
C: ...ONNI, ....I'M ALL RIGHT. THE GHOIITES DON'T KNOW CHALK FROM CHEESE,
BUT DON'T WORRY, I'M COOPERATING, AND I HOPE TO BE HOME IN FOUR SHAKES.
I ...I MISS YOU ONNI. I GUESS THAT'S ALL I WANTED TO SAY.
SO: YOU DID FINE SON. I'LL SEE THAT SHE GETS IT.
C: THANKS.
SO: HAPPY NOW? FINE, I'M LOGGING OFF.

END FILE 00061-4 CC: OS.ONNA 68600 686IQ:NNT. END TRANSIT.*

______________________________________________________


Being the hand of propaganda can only leave one feeling soiled. There wasn't enough soap in the system to wash my hands clean,
but Ra'Suk threaten to cancel my interview with Lady O unless I did this.

Funny thing, The kid seem to distance himself the whole time from the interview affair. He had a look of contempt on his face, and yet,
some how I don't think it was directed towards us.

It was time to move on.

The Ghoiites began packing my stuff. I delayed our departure long enough to see that Uther got proper medical attention. Fortunately,
Dwarf's have thick skulls as well as pride. Nothing more than a fracture I'm sure. All the aliens were loaded back into the hovercraft
except two. I thought that was odd.

"What's going on?"

"None of your concern, Omnet."

That was my guide, and Ra'Suk's 'Arm' or bodyguard. He didn't give his name, and I didn't ask. He was heavy as Ghoiites go,
but looked like he could play in the band as well as perform.

The children formed a corridor around the two aliens. I caught sight of one. It was Calum.

Chanting broke out, and the children's Ul'ek rippled like rapids in the template of a robe. I could feel my guide waiting, so I got
in our hover car. Inside, I craned my neck over the back of the seat and watched the scene as we pulled away. Some silent signal
must have been given, because Calum and the other alien ran like the devil was loose.

They jumped a fence and sprinted full stride across a field. On the other end of the corridor two young boys stood, they couldn't
have been more than ten. They were naked, save for their body paint. Ra'Suk presented them both with two Ul'ek robes. They
allowed themselves to be dressed and instantly formed the material into body armor and weapons.

One boys arms ended in wicked looking sickles, the other formed something cruel. A dentist patient's worse nightmare times seven.
Ra'Suk signaled and the boys ran off. The feet of youths have the speed of the wind, they say. I'd say Calum and the alien had about
a fifteen second head start.

I scanned the field and caught sight of them. The one alien was insectoid and was well ahead. Calum lagged behind. Two weeks of
malnutrition will do that to your stamina. Suddenly he fell.

The boys were closing in.

Quickly he got back up, and looked, not at his pursuers, but ...at me! If not for the great distance I'd swear we would have made eye contact.

*Run!* my mind screamed. *Run!!* But Calum kept watching with death ten seconds away. Suddenly, we crested the top of a hill,
went over and the view was lost from sight.

______________________________________________________________________

"Would you mind. You're in my light," I said.

My Ghoiite guide stepped aside, and my light fell fully on Princess Onia. She sat on a high stool, dressed in a white, dirty robe two sizes
too big. The right side of her cheek, bruised, was covered with Ghoiite make up. Not a very good job.

I sat on my stool across from her, and got my composition just right.

"Hurry up, Somerset. Make this quick."

Captain Whang, ex-'Sin-Guardian and betrayer of the Archaen Empire stood behind me.

"Got something against professionalism, traitor?"

"I got something against you, Somerset."

"Hey, love me, love my dog."

I ignored him and concentrated on the task at hand. Somehow I knew behind me Whang's hand was gripping the pommel of
Jan's Warsaw. We were in a small cave, one of hundreds in this underground labyrinth. The entrance to this particular cave was covered
with an Ul'ek wall.

The wall irised open and more brass hats walked in.

Suk O'mar coughed violently. The air down here didn't seem to agree with his Psionic-cancer. The tallest Ghoiite I had ever seen
closely followed. That was UL-Um'ba, the tribal 'Arm' and Clan Executioner.

An elderly woman followed next. Based on Jan's description of her oily black liverspots, she had to be the tribal cleric.

"If you all could be quiet, I'd like to start," I said.

Suk coughed some more and spat something out of his throat. Lady Onia watched us patiently. I couldn't read a single
expression on her face.

"Ready to roll. Camera ...Quiet!! ..Speed ...Ready when you are your Highness."

"To the people of the Archaen Empire. My father, Emperor Shadrach Farfel Marcello VI, my mother, family and friends, I
would like to offer my sincerest apologizes to any anguish or worry I have caused. My imprisonment is a result of my own
actions, and not the failure of others, most especially my faithful 'Sin-Guardian, Jan Church. Therefore, I personally
assume all responsibilities for any actions and transgressions that befall me, now, or in the future. However, the true crime
here is that of betrayal, and not of an open conflict between the Archaen and Ghoiite people. I believe peaceful co-existence may
exist among our people through open discussion and negotiation, and that the time has not passed for such events to occur. This
situation is an affront to the intelligence of both our people and that our time and resources can best be spent elsewhere to more
benevolent and profitable ends."

I could feel Whang stiffen behind me. That betrayal part really hit home, I bet.

"Your Highness, would you care to say anything directly to your family?"

"Yes. To my father and mother, thank you for all your wisdom, teaching and guidance. Without your care I would be
ruined by now. To my brothers, if you where here I know you would do all you could to protect me now. And, to my older and
only sister Syona, ...don't touch my jazz collection."

I had to smile at that. She was really grace under fire.

"And lastly...to my mentor and teacher, Master Cambridge. I have not forgotten our test. Solce Titan ruins block number
five is..."

Suddenly, the room shook. Rock and dust crumbled from the above. I do things without thinking. This was one
of those times. Part of the roof suddenly caved in, and in an instant I had Lady O out of harms way and gently back on
her feet. Then something hit me, a bull in the shape of a man. I hit the wall and then the floor, or maybe the other way around.
Finally the floor stopped dancing, and light fumes of gas filled the room, but, all in all, it was quite on the Po'tomac.

Something steped between me and Lady Onia. I looked up to the dusty form of Captain Whang with Jan's Warsaw half pulled from its sheath.

"DON'T TOUCH LADY ONIA!" he sneered

There wasn't enough room to swing a cat between us, but I stood up anyway.

"My mistake, I thought You quit the bodyguard business. Heard you couldn't hack the work."

The look on Whang's face was worth it. Now I was ready to die.

"Whang, STOP!"

Suk stood behind the assassin, supporting his weight against a wall. Their cleric didn't look any better either. UL-Um'ba
was advancing, his Ul'ek arm throbbing ...shifting. I'd never been so relieved to see anyone so big before. I had made it a
bad habbit of going toe to toe with 'Sin-Guardians lately.

Whang got the message. He stood down.

"What the hell was that, Suk ?" he shot at the Ghoiite leader

"I do not know ...ah."

The Ul'ek wall irised and two Ghoiite warriors entered.

"Cheftian are you all right?" Suk waved his two fingered hand through the air.

"Report," he ordered

"Sir, a flashstorm has hit the surface. All the upper caverns are flooding. We sealed the portals, but there has been a number
of cave-ins. "

"Reseal all the exits. Start the pumps."

"Yes Sir." The warriors quickly exited.

Suk leveled me a strong look.

"It seems your stay with us will be a bit prolonged, Mr. Ohio"

"Hey, don't break out the good china on my account."

"Archaen child, do you have anything else to say?" asked the Chieftian.

Onia shook her head.

"Then our business here is done. Whang, Bring them!"

Whang allowed her Highness to proceed first then nearly picked me up like a bear with a sore head. We took up the end of
the procession and moved through the irised Ul'ek wall. The tunnel ahead was also filled with fumes, rocks and debris.
We pick our way through that for sometime then entered a wide cavern. The ceiling was about thirty meters up, and things
flew about in the dark. The air was cold.

Taking up most of the ground space was a sheer ravine. We skirted the edge of it and headed for a far tunnel on the otherside.
Glow lights floated about the cavern. I ventured a look over the abyss. Cold darkness flowed up. Whang pressed behind me.

"Don't tempt me Somerset."

"Anything to get away from you, Whang," I shot back.

The deep was all embracing, like looking into the Jerico's soul. Somewhere inside me I began to laugh. I realized how upside
down my world suddenly had become.

Boys who kill men, men who kidnap children, and a innocent child contemplatiing suicide. Suddenly the word 'babykiller'
had a strange, twisted, ironic meaning.

Who was the killer? I couldn't say. But I know all bad things have dark endings. I moved away from the pit. In a nutshell we
arrived at another Ul'ek door further down the tunnel. It irised open and Onia walked in. I could see it was her holding cell.

"You too Somerset"

I began to protest, but Suk intervened.

"Until the flood subsides, then you are free to go."

I nodded at that and began to step through.

"Hold it ...your gear," said Whang

"The hell you say!" I roared

Suk gave Whang a questioning look.

"We checked his equipment Captain. It's just a camera."

Whang shook his head.

"You forget who I used to work for. I want to check the disk tapes of Lady Onia's speech - her eyeblinks, body language,
there could be encoded messages."

Suk's brows raised at that. He then looked at me and waited. I lost my ally.

Relunctenly, I unbuckled my head-cam, reeled in the audio butterflies and handed over my gear over. There are somethings you
just don't do to an Omnet reporter. This was one of them. Whatever had been between Whang and me before was nothing.
Now it was personal.

I stepped through and turned around. Whang and I made eye contact. The ex-'Sin-Guardian's eyes were cold and heartless.
A lecherous grin grew on his face. For once, I had nothing to say.

The Ul'ek doors closed.

______________________________________________________________________