Political Constraints & Chemical Floods

Chapter 3


The ship made him eagerly await the introduction of its leader. Neither the powerful glory of a Command Carrier, nor the brute violence of a Dreadnought from the Scarren Empire, the ship floating above a part-desert, part-ocean world looked calm and softly royal. It had power, all right, but unlike most others in the galaxy it wasn't inclined to show it.

Scorpius could sympathize.

The ship looked smooth, and could probably shine with a beautiful sheen against a colorful environment. He wasn't quite certain what color covered its hull, and he found himself busy enough pondering its structure. The ship's bow was round and the guns, cannons and turrets were miniature spheres that resembled the bridge. At the rear of the ship, its engines were giant, maybe a fourth the size of the ship. Nothing else showed the potential power.

It was powerful, certainly, and could probably force a single Command Carrier to retreat. More than one could annihilate it.

"I like this ship," Scorpius said. "Do you know the model?"

"I'm only a servant," the Sheyang replied. "You'll have to ask one of the crew."

"We're being led to your Mistress?" Sikozu said.

"Yes," the Sheyang said. "She wants to talk to Scorpius."

"And my woman," Scorpius said.

"Ask her about that," the Sheyang said.

Scorpius sighed and peered at the ship as they came further toward the bay. "Yes, quite. You're only the servant."

"A servant," the Sheyang said.

"Mr. Sheyang," Scorpius said.

Sikozu touched the Sheyang's forearm. The white flesh, between the black rubber, made him gaze. She smiled and Scorpius glanced away. "Scorpius cares about what he says, and you should be more cautious what you say around him."

"Control?" asked the Sheyang.

"Yes?" asked an electronic voice.

"Shuttle G1N bringing in Scorpius and his woman," the Sheyang said. "They ask me what her name is."

"Gojira," Scorpius said.

Sikozu stared at him underneath her red hair. Scorpius smiled.

"Gojira," the Sheyang said. "All right. We're docking. Watch out for their weapons, and you should be okay."

"I'm very familiar with weapons aimed at me," Scorpius said. "They should not be a problem, am I right?"

"Very much, sir," Sikozu said.

Scorpius smiled and walked to the back of the shuttle. His woman chased him, and the doors of the ship opened. He raised his hands, smiling, and Sikozu copied his gestures. Unusually, she looked scared. His wits were as together as they could be, and maybe he could help her.

Around a dozen soldiers came to the hangar for the introductions. Four of them wore black helmets from the most populous Sebacean military in the galaxy. One of them wore armor that had silver studs on it, a common Scarren tradition. The other eight looked like they had been created in a oceanic environment, with wide ears, smooth frames and gills on their faces.

Two of the fish people, the first a stocky green fish who looked queasy and about to puke, the second a giant yellow fish whose awkward walking suggested that he had not originally had legs, walked toward them and gave them a good glance. The first fish shoved him facefirst against the hatch, and Scorpius gazed firmly forward.

Scorpius browbeat his interrogator with a glare at the completion of the search. The creature's eyes, as much as they could look at one thing for any amount of time, glared back at him but then glanced away. The giant had Sikozu busy, still. While Scorpius peered at them, the guard, tiny, white and half the size of Sikozu, toppled onto the floor and yelled. Some wet substance had stuck to his eyes, and it appeared as though it hurt.

Then he realised the source. Sikozu's rubber bodice had been zipped so that the top outline of her breasts seeped through. Some gelatinous substance glowed on them. Sikozu had never been worried about her chastity when he had known her. She had really changed, somehow. Had she become wiser?

Sikozu zipped up the bodice and stepped on the chest of the tiny guard. "Learn, and learn now. You only look when I say you can look."

"Yes," the guard said. "Yes."

Sikozu pursed her lips together, nodded, and kicked his chin. The fish moaned and writhed.

"The same message applies for all of you," Sikozu said. "That is what you get when you make moves on me. Understood?"

Sikozu met Scorpius's eyes, but he simply smiled. The woman startled and glanced away. Obviously, she had changed. She hadn't admitted dominance to anyone, even himself, in or out of a scene. He had always liked that part of her, and it had even brought him to a powerful attraction.

He wondered what had precisely created that change. His anger toward her for the Scarren conspiracy hadn't done it by itself, had it? Sikozu's arrogance was too powerful to be pierced with that simple of a reaction? No, the answer had to be more complex. Sikozu had become distant. She had become submissive, and had been silent. She rarely talked, she rarely questioned, she rarely sought answers.

Sikozu had become a combat soldier when the Wars had begun. Even then, she hadn't been like this. She acted as though her environment had shown her it didn't like her, and had become something she wasn't a part of. It wanted her to leave, and she had to find out who, or what, wanted her. And to do that, she had to hide.

She acted like her lover, maybe her absolute love, had betrayed her. That made Scorpius chuckle, and remember how much he couldn't understand. In his mind, true love had never been. John and Officer Sun had simply been people in a place at the same time, and learned that they loved each other.

Sikozu hadn't realised that. If she had a lover, he wasn't the man.

However, that didn't keep him from a business relationship, and maybe even some bits to add to it. He had so many of those he couldn't remember all of them. Some of them had brought him around his limits, and those he still sought out sometimes. Phrixari's penchant for the scalding water especially stalked his thoughts.

"Might we continue on with the introduction?" Scorpius asked. "The Mistress waits for me, the Sheyang said."

"The Sheyang around here adore her," the queasy fish said.

The queasy fish had a bubbling noise in its voice that made Scorpius's own chemicals, unstable anyway, roil with discomfort. He might require a new cooling rod quite often on this ship, if that bastard was any example. Sheyangs were disgusting enough. Scorpius long ago had achieved the ability to hide his feelings, though, and asked, "Oh? Could you present me with details on that?"

"They think she's their mistress, as she has often uses them for practice. And she is everyone's, sort of. Her name is Harwalan. She prefers either Mistress or Malahati in front of her real name," said the guard.

Sikozu hmmed. "Malahati. That's Delvian for 'Leader'?"

"Really?" asked the guard.

Sikozu smiled. "Learn something new?"

"Yeah," the guard said. "Thank you."

Scorpius peered at Sikozu. "My bodyguard has surprising abilities."

"Not sure if I remember, but we might have a Delvian in the brig," the guard said. "If you might want to help us."

"I want to see the Malahari," Scorpius said.

"We're getting to her," the guard said. "You're eager, aren't you."

Scorpius gulped. "Eager to get on with the journey."

"Sure," the guard said. "Everyone's always eager to see the Malahari."

Scorpius glanced around the starship as they walked, and the journey wasn't all that far. The ship was maybe a mile from side to side, and the engines were a good chunk of it. The soft hum of a Leviathan wasn't within it, which made him feel barely more comfortable. He had never liked Moya, and though they had rarely talked he suspected she didn't like him, either. She was a puzzle he had wrestled with, and how Crichton had grown to like her he never could figure out.

Strange lights glowed within the metal walkways, and he had the eerie feeling they were cameras. The metal struts were a blue color that probably reflected the amphibious source of the fish he had seen. Were there more sea aliens on the ship? He hoped not. The paths were wide, and he guessed that five people were able to walk if they shoved their shoulders together. All said, the ship was simple on the inside, if not as appealing.

Then the guard spun a wheel and gestured inside a room. "She's in there. Don't worry. She's quite watched, and I'm standing here waiting to bring you out again."

Scorpius simply walked into the room without a reply and saw Harwalan. He found himself fascinated by the texture of the flesh on the woman's face and, he noticed by his peripheral sight, her fingers. Harwalan, for this woman was certainly the woman who held all of the power within this starship, smiled as he looked her over, and shared the same interest of his own form. He thought he had by far the better position in that deal, because this woman was chilling and beautiful.

Only the flesh of her face and fingers had been exposed to the entropic dangers of the air around them. Malahati Harwalan appeared like an alien lifeform from the very bottom of an ocean. She was white, amazingly white, and seemed like she was smooth enough that she had never been touched in her history. Like a newly created statue, perhaps.

She wore a white suit which puzzled him. Like the walls inside the starship, a light glittered from inside it, the reason or source he couldn't begin to comprehend. Its sleeves and legs stretched down and connected with small silver rings at the tops of black gloves, minus the fingers, and boots with stiletto heels. They were rubber, but the suit appeared as smooth as suede.

"You're the great Scorpius?" Harwalan asked.

Scorpius found that his voice was hoarse. "And you are the Malahati."

Harwalan stood aside and gestured Scorpius and his bodyguard into the chamber on the other side of the door. Sikozu stepped calmly first, and looked around the position. She nodded, satisfied. So the woman was getting into her role.

"My achievements haven't matched yours," Harwalan said. "I have heard the treaty was not to your satisfaction?"

This woman was fast, Scorpius thought. "What might bring you to think that?"

"Peacekeeper news reports," Harwalan replied.

She paused for a time. In the silence, Scorpius analyzed the hall she had brought them into. Data flowed down the walls, the colors resembling that which a person might find when walking behind a waterfall. The lounge's walls looked similar, though with more illustrations of long, grasslike plants. The five chairs and square table within the lounge resembled the plants.

Harwalan walked forward and sat down in a seat. She gestured at the others. "Please, have a seat."

Sikozu sat down first. No negative traits appeared. Scorpius sat on another and leaned forward. The room's temperature was maybe forty on the sereit scale, and he didn't feel quite comfortable without some tension on his coolant suit. The snipers probably standing above them didn't help his nerves, either.

"The Peacekeeper news never talked about me very much," Scorpius said. "Mostly, they were embarrassed that a half-breed had joined them as a researcher."

Harwalan's eyes were wide, like the Asians Scorpius had seen on Crichton's homeworld. Unlike their epicanthic folds, her eyes were shadowed. "Because of that, that made you different from them."

Scorpius smiled. He understood exactly what that meant. He had said the same to John Crichton quite often.

"That was before you learned of John Crichton, and his knowledge." Harwalan gestured with a hand, a horizontal whoosh through the air. "Now, his name is associated with the weapons that you sought to create. Your glory is his."

"The wormhole weapons are evil," Scorpius said.

"They finished the war," Harwalan said softly.

"They could have destroyed the galaxy," Scorpius said. "They should never be created again, especially in war."

"Were they really that powerful?" Harwalan said.

Scorpius stared at his hands and nodded.

"Then that might be what I need," Harwalan said.

Scorpius looked up again. Harwalan smiled and showed her small and piercing teeth.

"You don't realise how interesting you are," Harwalan said.

Scorpius felt young and inexperienced in the presence of the Malahati, and realised how this woman had dominated the fifth sector. "I don't?"

Harwalan snipped a piece of the armrest and began to eat it. He hadn't realised the chairs were edible. "I usually talk to guests with a bureaucratic system. Most people don't get to have a conversation with me, personally. You, Scorpius, are not a common man."

Harwalan paused.

Creating a silence at enigmatic times kept the opponent unbalanced. Scorpius was familiar with that tactic, and it was so much a part of the personality he had built that he often didn't realise he was doing it. Crichton's commentary, a reaction to his situation in the galaxy, had rarely been bothered by it.

Scorpius hadn't often been on the other side of such a thing. Neither Sikozu nor many of his lovers had been immune to the idea, and had often joined right along with it. Silences, and the precision of careful phrases, amused him with people who didn't comprehend, and a game with those who realised what made him work.

This woman, this strange Malahati, realised how much he wanted her, and apparently wanted to play with him. What was her motive? Where did she want this flirtation to lead? If this was strictly business, why was she playing the seductive angle? Scorpius didn't leap at women without learning a little more about them, and obviously he had only seen the tip of Harwalan's mystery.

"What are you thinking?" Harwalan asked.

"I'm wondering why you brought us to your lounge," Sikozu said.

Scorpius stared at her.

Harwalan crossed her hands on her lap. "Could you explain?"

"I don't see why my client interests you so much," Sikozu said. "What is it about Scorpius? His research? His wormhole technology?"

Harwalan smiled. Finally, someone had asked what she wanted. She kept her attention on Sikozu. "Well, I saw he was in the sector. I could obtain the wormhole information through some other source, certainly. No, he, personally, interests me. He might be able to help me with a problem I've been having with a Sebacean."

"Not a Peacekeeper?" Scorpius asked.

"Former Peacekeeper," Harwalan said. "His dossier says little about his career other than the traditional whitewashing, but undoubtedly there's a fascinating tale there. Sebacean soldiers usually stay in the armed forces, am I correct?"

"Once a Peacekeeper, always a Peacekeeper," Scorpius said. "Unless a superior officer wants you as an example. Tell me the name of this man."

"Captain Declan Banikstan. Have you heard of him?"

Scorpius hadn't.

Harwalan shrugged. If she felt disappointment at Scorpius's lack of knowledge, and lack of questioning, she didn't express the emotion. "Captain Banikstan likens himself the policeman of this sector, and he is quite talented at his job."

"I have insider knowledge of the Peacekeepers," Scorpius said.

"Quite," Harwalan said. "You might ascertain an opening."

The Captain's surname worried him. Scorpius's dealings with Baniks had never been pleasant. "Tell me more about this man," Scorpius said. "Tell me about your problems with him."

Harwalan leaned in the edible chair and her thin lips tightened. Her physique changed from that one small expression. She looked restricted and uncomfortable, and slightly older, and he wondered at her actual age. He had guessed that she was in her mid fifties, but now he was not certain.

"My enterprises are not, as you might think, on the up and up. I work underneath the radar in most of the senses. I smuggle hallucinogenic drugs around this sector, and have made a strong financial business for it. I even have a fleet... and personal protectors." Harwalan gestured with a finger toward the ceiling. "They follow me."

"You are powerful," Scorpius said. "And Captain Banikstan?"

"The fifth sector has always been chaotic. I was able to use that for my advantage, and it's the strongest trade sector in Tormented Space. Then Banikstan set up his station." Harwalan bit hard on the root and grabbed a longer stalk from the chair. "We have been at war for maybe a decade now. I'm not sure when we began our war, but I'm becoming very tired of him."

"I need more details," Scorpius said. "Soldiers. Trade. Planets. Space."

"Cultures," Sikozu said. "What species are in this sector?"

Scorpius spun toward Harwalan. "So?"

Harwalan showed the sharp teeth. "Now we're on the real subject here."