The Warriors of Silence by Pierre Bordage
No one knows how the Scaythes of Hyponeros managed to secure so much influence on the planet Bella Syracusa, the Queen of the Arts.
Or how they infiltrated the entourage of the Ang family, the dynasty that had ruled uninterrupted for 15 standard centuries.
Or how they progressively got hold of key positions within the Empire. Or how they managed to make themselves indispensable by creating the functions of thought detector and protector. Or how, feared because of their extraordinary mental abilities, they gradually created a reign of terror.
Who were they?
No one knew anything about Hyponeros, or had even heard of this distant world, so distant that it may only have existed in people's imaginations. But, it turned out that one of its offspring, Pamynx, was given the supreme dignity of being named Chancellor, an honor which had, up until then, been reserved for the sons of Syracusa's leading families.
This event took place during the reign of Lord Arghetti Ang. At the time, few were offended by it.
What had become of the proud Syracusans of the days of the conquest?
Were they empty shells, shadows, or just puppets of illusion?
Woe to he by whom the offence cometh.
Excerpt from an apocryphal mental text, received during his wanderings by Messaodyne Jhu-Piet, a Syracusan poet of the first post-Ang period. Some scholars think it may have come from stray thoughts of Naia Phytik, of Syracusan origin herself.
Pamynx the Chancellor, his face shrouded in the hood of his blue acaba, appeared from the darkness and joined the Lord Ranti Ang and his young protege Spergus, who were awaiting him, with their thought protectors, on the stationary gravitational platform.
"If my lordship would be so kind as to follow me," said Pamynx, bowing.
"And none too soon," scolded Ranti Ang. "Are you coming, Spergus?"
With their thought protectors following them like shadows, they stepped into a dark narrow tunnel. They soon came to a heavy wooden door that was incredibly ancient, blocked by thick metallic bars. After a short while, which seemed interminable to Spergus, the bars slid along their rails, which were sealed inside the walls of the tunnel. The damp, close air made the young Osgorite feel uncomfortable. He had the unpleasant feeling that the mold in the rank air was penetrating every pore of his skin.
The door opened onto a wide balcony, lit by two floating light-bubbles, where a small group of men were waiting, their faces hidden behind white masks. Three crossed silver triangles glimmered on the stiff breastplates of their gray uniforms.
Ranti Ang looked at Pamynx with wrath in his eyes.
"You are the high protector of the law, Chancellor! You are therefore aware that Pritivian mercenaries are forbidden to set foot on Syracusa!"
The restrained impatience that pervaded his words showed that he was on the brink of losing control.
"At least do me the honor of answering! Was it really necessary, for the public good, to retain these adventurers?"
"You will understand why they are here in good time, my Lord," answered Pamynx in a dispassionate tone of voice.
The balcony overhung a huge empty round chamber; in the middle stood a figure, draped in the folds of a jet-black acaba.
"This place is sinister, my Lord!"
Spergus suppressed a shiver. The spectacle of this ghostly figure, standing as still as a statue on the floor below, dimly lit by underground water lamps, exuded a venom of anxiety in his young, impressionable mind. The smell of death wafted through the close air.
"Is that one of your students that you have told me about, Chancellor?" asked Ranti Ang.
Pamynx nodded in agreement.
"May I not see his face?"
"Not for the moment, your highness. But this is not out of a lack of respect for you. The hood of his acaba will cover his head during the experiment, to prevent our thoughts from focussing on his image, which could weaken his psychic potential."
"Good gracious! And he really possesses this... this power that you have told me about?"
Pamynx did not reply to Ranti Ang's mocking disbelief. He removed a tiny ring of golden optalium from within the folds of his acaba, and rang it with a rock crystal. A part of the wall slid away, as if changed by the lingering sound, and let in a flood of harsh light.
Three new figures were seen entering the room: two Pritivian mercenaries and a man whose coarse canvas clothes gave off a stench that was almost that of an animal. His simian face was ashen with fear.
Ranti Ang's face showed a faint expression of disgust. "It looks like a Mikat."
"A Mikat from the satellite Julius, your highness," confirmed Pamynx. "He was put on the index and declared raskatta. I thought that... for our experiment..."
"From what I see, or should I say from what I hear, you are trying to vindicate yourself again, Chancellor!" said Ranti Ang, mockingly. "In fact, don't you spend most of your time trying to vindicate yourself? For everything and especially for nothing!"
Spergus' bright laughter punctuated the Lord of Syracusa's comments.
"The Kreuzian Church considers that the Mikats are endowed with souls," argued the Chancellor. "However, the..."
Ranti Ang cut him off curtly.
"Unfortunately for you, Sir, I am not Arghetti Ang but his elder son. My father thought he was doing the right thing when he appointed you to this position of great responsibility, and so be it. But if I must respect his choice, as he made me promise, nothing requires me to give my esteem to the beneficiary of his choice! Do be so kind as to not bring the Church of Kreuz into your sordid schemes! After all, isn't this Mikat one of my subjects? Isn't it up to me, and me alone, to decide if his life should be sacrificed for the common good?"
Pamynx held his resentment hidden behind the impassiveness of his face, and bowed ceremoniously. His day of revenge would soon come. This perspective helped him remain patient in spite of this constant harassment, these daily humiliations.
While this was going on, the two Pritivian mercenaries dragged the terrified Mikat a few feet away from the motionless black acaba.
"Spergus?" Ranti Ang's voice was suddenly more gentle. "Would it please you to know what this Mikat is thinking about, at this very instant?"
"That... would greatly amuse me, my lord." mumbled the young Osgorite.
A vague smile showed on his painted lips. He tried to hide the intense fear that this gloomy vault aroused in him.
Pamynx was annoyed by Spergus' presence. Lord Ranti Ang thought it was a good idea to have his young protege present to witness the key experiment that was about to take place. But it was dangerous to bring affective elements into this first public trial, which required a psychically neutral environment.
"Well, what are you waiting for to reveal to our dear Spergus what is going through the Mikat's mind? If something is going through it, of course! Is it fear that is causing this horrendous stench?"
Pamynx stared at the Mikat, whose greasy black hair was cut in the traditional manner of the Mikatun of Julius: very short, straight on the neck, and shaved on the sides. Under his protruding eyebrows, the poor man's bulging eyes flitted back and forth around the chamber like crazy butterflies. From the balcony to the dark threatening figure; from the dark figure to the two Pritivian mercenaries, anonymous behind their white masks.
"His skin is all black!" whispered Spergus.
"That is because he works outdoors each day that Kreuz gives us with his kindness, under the rays of the fire-star Ahkit," explained Ranti Ang.
The disgust that Spergus felt, induced by this creature from another world and another time, welled up within him like nausea. But he could not take his eyes off that thick neck, those strong arms, wide hands, and stubby fingers with their dust-encrusted nails.
Spergus' wild uncontrolled thoughts perturbed his concentration and interfered with Pamynx's mental investigation. The two protectors assigned to Spergus' security turned out to be incapable of holding back the reckless torrents emanating from his mind. The Chancellor decided to not let anything show - it would be the wrong time to cast doubts on the Scaythes' efficiency.
Pamynx was, like the thought protectors, a Scaythe from Hyponeros, a paritole, and his origin could bring up the question of the constitutional immunity that his high rank was supposed to confer on him. The great Arghetti Ang had had to stifle the anger of the Syracusan dignitaries to impose him as the Chancellor, and his position was becoming increasingly insecure as time went by, and as the memories of the current ruler's father faded away.
But for now, Pamynx needed Ranti Ang's support: this would guarantee the capital needed for the structure of the Great Project; for the fulfillment of the tremendous secret task he had been given by his masters, the Master Embryos of the Hyponeriate. He would soon have a chance to wipe the grin off the Lord of Syracusa's face.
"We are still waiting, sir. Could it be that you have lost your so-called powers in a room in one of the brothels of Salaun? Yet, you are sexless, are you not?"
Spergus's mischievous laugh broke out a second time.
"Fear paralyses the Mikat's mental potential," the Chancellor finally declared. "He is incapable of formulating the slightest coherent thought. I can tell you, however, that he is trying to recall the face and the body of a woman from Mikatun. Probably his own wife..."
"What an extraordinary discovery!" chuckled Ranti Ang. "You don't need to be learned in the sciences of the mind to figure out that he is thinking of his wife!"
"Why do you say that, my Lord?" Spergus asked naively. The Lord of Syracusa let out a little sarcastic laugh.
"Before Julius was annexed to Syracusa, these animals, the Mikats, did not marry, and the women of the tribe belonged to all the men of the rural communities. For the last two centuries, the law and the church have required them to take just one spouse. This is the first law of the moral-genetic code governing the satellites. That is why, Chancellor, you are not revealing any wonders by stating that this sub-human is thinking of his wife!"
Impassive, Pamynx ignored Ranti Ang's mockery and went on: "I also see the faces of some children. Three boys and two girls..."
Subjugated by the importance of the people that were watching him from the balcony, terrorized by the Chancellor's words, which were the faithful transcription of the few images that were going through his mind, the Mikat let out a scream like a hunted animal and fell on his knees on the cold tiled floor.
"He has a very crude brain," added Pamynx flatly. "If his brain were as simple as you are suggesting, what would be the value of this experiment applied to superior intelligences? We don't have to bother with this muddle of cheap witchcraft to subdue the Mikatun of Julius! Our ancestors have already taken care of that without violating the precepts of our holy Church!"
Suddenly, Pamynx realized how delicate his situation was. Occupied by so many different things, he had not paid attention to the rumors that suggested that he had fallen into disgrace. He did not need to slip into Ranti Ang's mind - a sacrilegious action, which could be punished by death - to understand the deadly intentions that his tone of voice implied. The Chancellor had underestimated the importance of the conspiracy that had been orchestrated against him by Tist of Argolon, the renowned bard of the Syracusan tradition. Even though he had intercepted some thoughts about the underground actions of his Syracusan rival, Pamynx had not deemed it worth his getting involved, thinking that the quality of his relations with the great Arghetti Ang and the length of his service puthim above all of these palace schemes. In fact, his behavior was irresponsible, unworthy of a higher level Scaythe, of a superior transceiver. This carelessness could compromise the Great Project, the universal plan that had been prepared over centuries by the Master Embryos of Hyponeros. He now realized that he had much less room to maneuver. The future of the entire project now rested on the success of this one experiment.
"Well, sir, this is no time for daydreaming!"
"My students will not be operational right away," argued the Chancellor. "This demonstration is only designed to show you the current state of their progress. After this is finished, you will realize that the budget that has been allocated to mental research, which has been disparaged by so many of your counselors, has not been squandered in vain. In the future, we will continue our experiments on complex, refined brains and forge ahead until the technique is fully mastered."
"What has this Mikat done to be put on the index and declared a raskatta?" Spergus' airy voice was a striking contrast to the rich metallic sound of the Chancellor's voice.
"For goodness sake, Chancellor! Answer his question!"
Ranti Ang's increasing irritation was slowly breaking through the fragile barrier of his mental control. He was having a terrible time complying with the rigorous code of sycophantic emotion, which was followed at the court of Syracusa. Pamynx remained calm and found that his noble interlocutor's anger gave him a new source of motivation.
"May I please request that you be patient for just a moment, my Lord? The data about raskattas from your territory has been entrusted to the Scaythe Markyat, who is the archiver of justice. It will just take a moment for me to enter into contact with him..."
"Hurry up! We would like to return to daylight soon. We feel like rats wallowing in a squalid sewer!"
Heavy greenish eyelids, furrowed with dark veinlets, fell over Pamynx's uniformly yellow eyes. The hood of his acaba hung on his shoulders, uncovering a deformed face, a long bald head, and rough cracked skin. He looked like one of the monsters from the Osgorite legends, at least the idea that Spergus had of them. A chill went up his spine. The crimson circle of the Round Rouque Moon cut through the haze of his memories. For a brief moment, he was carried away to Osgos, the industrial mother, the largest of Syracusa's satellites. He was running, naked and free, among the dried grass and the scalding stones of the abandoned gardens, chased by happy, noisy brown shapes that danced in the waves of heat. He breathed in the heavy smells of budding bucanas, and the heady sap of fruit fountains.
All of a sudden, he felt cramped in his bodstocking, the Syracusans' usual undergarment, the second skin that covered them from head to foot. His mauve head cover and its light-band held his hair, his forehead, his cheeks and his chin all tightly together. His two braided blond locks of hair, the only extravagance allowed, stuck out under the edge, near his temples, and framed his effeminate face.
Spergus' skin begged to feel the fervent caresses of the Round Rouque Moon. Getting back his self-control, he angrily fought off the melancholy that was coming over him. He was not allowed to have regrets: he, the son of humble Osgorite merchants, who was treated more considerately than the great courtiers, than the descendants of the old, illustrious Syracusan families. Even though this preference sometime became a heavy burden; even though he had to put up with the looks and the wounding words of Lady Sibrit, Ranti Ang's wife; even though he was hardly comfortable among the never-ending schemes and intrigues of the court; even though he was never allowed to go any place without his thought protectors, hidden in the red and white acabas of the Royal Protection Corps, those ever-present shadows, silent and intriguing: he tried to push the nostalgic memories of his youth mercilessly from his mind. He accepted the obligations and the annoyances of the court for the love of his Lord. For the love of the absolute master of the most famous of all the planets of the Naflin Federation, for the love of this century-old man with such extraordinarily delicate features, whose eyes were limpid blue, whose blue gray locks of hair lay on the shimmering cloth of his hood. For the love of a man who was the living expression of nobility, of grace, of refinement, the cardinal virtues of the Syracusan etiquette and tradition.
The Mikat was in convulsions. The rhythmic banging of his knees on the tiles broke the silence that had become oppressive.
"He is a follower of the religions of the index," said Pamynx suddenly, turning toward Spergus.
Spergus shuddered in surprise. He could not stand looking into the sharp impenetrable eyes of the Chancellor. He was terrified of the Scaythes' telepathic powers, and particularly those of Pamynx. An instinctive reflex forced him to turn away, to seek the reassuring presence of his thought protectors.
"Those centers of abomination!" scolded Ranti Ang. "They should be destroyed once and for all!"
The Lord of Syracusa's slender fingers, covered with rings of white optalium, were nervously twisting the silvery lock of hair which ran along the black edge of his hood. This tick was a forewarning that he was about to lose his control.
"This Mikat is a member of the Gudurayam heresy," specified Pamynx. "He adores the effigy of Gudur, a false prophet that was burned on the crucifire three hundred standard years ago. He is venerated now like a martyr."
"Animals! Stupid fanatics that do not hesitate to sacrifice humans!"
"And where do they hide?" asked Spergus; this information seemed to captivate him.
This question had the unexpected consequence of defusing Ranti Ang's anger.
"Imagine, my friend, that some of them are found even on Syracusa! In the mountains of Taheu'ing and in Mesgomia, countries that are very difficult to get to and where it is not easy to clear them out. All the same, it is on Julius that the Gudurayam heresy is the most present, even though the number of his followers has been greatly reduced since reprisals have been stepped up and crucifires have been used more regularly."
"Two details, if you will allow me to say so, my Lord," added the Chancellor. "The first is that the parents of this Mikat were burned on a crucifire during your father, Arghetti Ang's visit to Julius. The second, more picturesque, is that the person who turned him in is none other than his own wife, the one whose memory he is recalling at this very instant. And all this for the measly sum of one hundred Julian Keulis, the equivalent of a handful of standard units. This insignificant amount of money turned out to be more attractive than the love of her husband!"
The hint of a smile came across Ranti Ang's face. The Mikat, lying on the floor prostrated, was hit head-on by the force of Pamynx's words, harrowed by this final, hideous revelation. He stopped trembling. Large tears rolled down his unshaven cheeks.
"But... but he is crying! Do you see, my Lord? He's crying!"
"Yes, my friend, he is crying!" mocked Ranti Ang. "He does not, like you or I, have a means of controlling his thoughts. This is how some creatures show their emotions, as unbelievable as that may seem!"
Spergus was leaning over the solid guardrail that ran along the edge of the balcony. His eyes were wide open, he was trying to look more closely at the shiny rivulets which flowed from the Mikat's eyes.
In response to a discreet sign from the Chancellor, the Scaythe in the black acaba came closer to the prostrated body. Deep within his hood, Spergus got a quick glance of two flaming red embers, full of energy. Two evil stars in a pitch black sky.
"We are ready, my Lord."
"Ready? But for what?"
The Mikat, very worried, picked his head up. Seeing the rough, black cloth coming closer, so close that it was brushing against his skin, his eyes opened wide in terror. His arms and legs shook violently.
"This is a great wonderful deed!" said Ranti Ang ironically. "Don't tell me that you have prepared this grandiose presentation with the only goal of terrorizing a bumpkin!"
"If my Lord would please have a little bit of patience..."
The Chancellor's mind was infiltrated by a pernicious doubt, a slow poison that he could not keep under check. But he had carefully chosen Harkot, the Scaythe doing the experiment, among a hundred handpicked postulants, all of them gifted with extraordinary mental capacities. He himself had overseen the selected student's training, had carried out animal testing, and then the testing on the manimals of Getablan. However, he had not yet had the time to start working on complex minds, higher up on the evolutionary scale. There was therefore a chance that this experiment would fail. But Pamynx would not be allowed a single failure. He regretted this haste, which was not his usual way of doing things, but the race between his many critics and his few partisans had made it inevitable.
A plaintive gurgling escaped from the Mikat's throat. Trickles of drool flowed from the corners of his mouth and dripped onto his slightly protruding chin.
"If you will please now remain totally silent," whispered the Chancellor, who noted with relief the first signs of the Scaythe's mental actions.
The Mikat's convulsions got progressively further and further apart. His breathing turned into panting, then wheezing. Instinctively, he raised his large hands to his neck. Then, in a desperate jump, he tried to grab hold of the black acaba, but his curled up fingers only grabbed the air. There was a death rattle, a final spasm, and he fell, motionless on the floor.
The room was shrouded in a mortal silence. It was Spergus, who was still leaning over the guardrail, who broke the silence.
"What what happened to the Mikat? He's not moving!"
"He... is... dead," answered Pamynx, separating his words very carefully in order to highlight their terrible simplicity.
"Dead, my Lord."
"How is this possible?"
The Chancellor, who had now recovered his serenity, took a perverse pleasure baiting the curiosity of his listeners. He paused for a long while before answering.
"This Mikat was killed merely by the will of Harkot, our Scaythe experimenter. You have just witnessed the first mental execution, my Lord."
He said these words with an indifferent tone of voice, as if he was talking about a banal, trivial incident. The Scaythe in the black acaba made a slight bow, to which Ranti Ang answered with a brief nod of his head.
"Do you think you can lead us to believe something that ridiculous, Chancellor?"
"Belief is not allowed in my laboratory, my Lord. I leave that to our holy Church. As a scientist, the only thing that convinces me is certainty. Harkot has just imploded this guinea pig's brain, so to speak."
"Do you mean that he can kill from a distance with his thoughts?" mumbled Spergus weakly.
"As long as this distance is not too far. At least for now. Interference from other thoughts may reduce, even staunch the efficiency of the mental intentions of death. But let us say that Harkot has effectively, to use your words, killed at a distance, without the help of a weapon. Right now, of course, this process is only effective on very simple types of brains, such as that of this Mikat. However, we have no worries about soon being operational with more evolved brains. And even those that are very highly evolved."
The Chancellor's self-confidence had come back to him. In spite of the thought protectors, those black and white wraiths whose job was to maintain psychic screens, he picked up some raw fragments of feelings from Ranti Ang, and he did not detect the slightest hint of resentment. The perspectives that had been opened by this extraordinary experiment, which had just been carried out under his eyes, were filling the Lord of Syracusa's mind completely.
"And do all Scaythes have this ability?"
"Only those who have above average mental faculties."
"This... this is witchcraft!" cried Ranti Ang.
He uttered this accusation without any conviction, as if he had already guessed the answer.
"You have nothing to fear from the Muffi of the Kreuzian Church, my Lord. These techniques are, I repeat, scientific, developed by our physicists specialized in the field of subtle waves, and not by some village witch or wizard. Witchcraft is a synonym of obscure, subjective practices. It is the exact opposite of our technology, which remains objective, provable and verifiable. In addition, if you so wish, my Lord, our scientists would be delighted to give you a more detailed explanation of the mental mechanisms used by our students. It is therefore out of the question" - and the Chancellor's tone of voice here was very firm - "that our holy Church class the future mental killers on the index. It goes without saying that we would not have presented this new technique to you if it was found to go against Kreuzian principles."
Pamynx was not taking too many risks in betting that the clergy would support him: Barrofill the Twenty-Fourth, the Muffi of the Kreuzian Church, had been informed about what was brewing in the Chancellor's secret laboratory a long time ago.
"I would like you to tell us more about this technique, sir," suggested Spergus.
"Oh, I am afraid that this might bore you," answered Pamynx, who did not mind getting a small amount of revenge by being begged to continue.
"Go on, Chancellor, please grant our dear Spergus' request," interrupted Ranti Ang, in a wily tone of voice.
Even though he avoided showing it, Pamynx was jubilating. His lack of foresight could have fatal consequences for the realization of the Project, but he had managed to turn the situation around, as could be seen by Ranti Ang's change of attitude and tone of voice. He had just won what he needed most: time. In addition, he now held the courtier Tist of Argolon and his accomplices in the palm of his hand, and this perspective filled him with boundless joy.
"These techniques come from a forgotten science that dates back thousands of years before Naflin. The only ancient science that ever really examined the potentials of the mind: Inddic science. We have found traces of it on Terra Mater, a very tiny planet in a solar system on the edge of the Milky Way. It also seems, as astonishing as this may be, that Inddic science originated on Terra Mater. To sum up briefly, two Scaythe ethnologists learned totally by accident that the religious hymns of a tribe of Terra Mater, the Amerynes, were sung in an Inddic dialect, even though this vernacular language had not been spoken for six thousand standard years. Our ethnologists went to Terra Mater, where they discovered a strange phenomenon: these hymns seemed to have geoclimactic repercussions on the environment, and they could cause seasonal upheavals, such as sudden blizzards in summer. When they collated their observations, they discovered the unbelievable properties of certain Inddic sounds, which are called uctras or antras.
"Good heavens, get to the point!" exclaimed Ranti Ang who had noticed that Spergus was no longer paying attention.
He, too, was in a hurry to escape from the macabre atmosphere of this cellar.
"I'm getting to the point, my Lord. It was necessary to give you some context in order to help you and Master Spergus understand a little bit more clearly. We quickly realized that the Amerynes were using very specific sounds for ritual animal sacrifices or for punishments given to those who broke the law. A concrete example: adultery. The guilty party, or both parties together, were tied together in the middle of a sacred circle. Four Amphanes, the Ameryne priests, would sit at the four cardinal points, singing the death chant, a succession of uctras, which would end up causing irreparable brain damage and bring about death in a few minutes. But one of our physicists recently discovered that these same uctras proved to be more effective, more powerful when they are given out at a subtle level."
Spergus was once again paying unflagging attention to the Chancellor's explanations.
"We based our work on the following theory: the destructive power of the Inddic uctras depends on the quality of the silence in which they are used. Little by little, the Amerynes forgot this basic principle. Instead of internalizing the uctras, they exteriorized them by chanting them and, because of that, reduced their power. One of the essential qualities of the Scaythes of Hyponeros is that they can attain levels of inner silence that no other living creatures in the universe can reach. Excited, superficial minds would not be able to use these uctras correctly. However, our students were trained in the greatest of secret, which is what called for the unpleasant but necessary presence of the Pritivian mercenaries, and they have managed to master them by stabilizing calm states of mind. They first tried them out on embryonic brains, then on mammals, then on the manimals of Getablan, and finally on this Mikat. By the way, I beg you to please clear up the concerns of some Kreuzian missionaries from the satellite Getablan. We had to..."
"Already having problems with the Church, Chancellor?" interrupted Ranti Ang. "I thought these experiments were kept totally secret! I imagine, in fact, that if the other member states of the Federation learn that you have been using the services from the mercenaries from Pritiv, we will not have any more credibility during the next Asma on Issigor."
"The five-year assembly will not take place, as planned, on the planet Issigor."
"How? And why?"
The Chancellor's yellow eyes locked on those of Spergus.
"I will explain that to you later, my Lord. In private. May I continue? In order to have enough guinea pigs, we had to promise the missionaries that we would return these manimals unharmed. But..."
"A white lie, but a lie, Chancellor!" declaimed Ranti Ang, making fun of the bombastic tone of the people of the church.
"I thought that for the good of..."
"Don't think anymore, if you please! The noble goal of these experiments was to serve science, was it not? And the fact that a few manimals have disappeared as a result of it does not shock my Kreuzian convictions. I will take care of all that with the Muffi Barrofill. Am I not, after all, his appointed protector and personal friend? But are you absolutely sure that no one else has found out about your experiments?"
"Absolutely sure. The only person who could impede us has been banished from Syracusa. By you, my Lord."
"I am sure that you still remember the trial of Sri Mitsu, the Mustah.
"Sri Mitsu? What does he have to do with this?"
Even though Ranti Ang was using all the resources of his mental control to let nothing come through, he clearly loathed recalling this memory.
"Quite a bit, my Lord," answered Pamynx; who could almost feel this discomfort - he knew exactly where it was coming from. "Inddic science had come through space and time, and there are three great masters who are still alive: Sri Mitsu is one of them."
"If this were so, we would have known!" protested Ranti Ang. "Sri Mitsu has always refused mental protection: our inquisitors could read his thoughts as easily as they could read a light-book!"
"The exceptional psychic capabilities he had developed through practicing Inddic science exempted him from protection, my Lord. That, and the fact that he belonged to the brotherhood of Smellas, could have proved to have disastrous consequences for our projects. For that reason, and only for that reason, I insisted to you and to his Holiness the Muffi that he be tried in a sensational public forum. The accusations against him, unnatural sexual practices, were just a pretext, as I am sure you understood. He had to be removed. Fortunately, everything went as planned: his aura as a Smella, his influence on the other member states, his overall good reputation, all these things were turned against him during the trial and he was condemned to perpetual banishment."
"Why have you hidden these true reasons from me, sir? Do you have such little esteem for me?" Ranti Ang's voice was bitter. Pamynx refrained from showing the contempt that he had for the Lord of Syracusa. He thought he was superficial, frivolous, fickle, incapable of handling the heritage that had been left to him by the great Arghetti Ang. Behind the scenes, the Chancellor constantly worked for a more expeditious succession than that which was a part of Syracusan tradition.
"I did not wish to overload your already busy schedule, my Lord." "Who are the other two masters of this Inddic science?" asked Spergus. "You said a minute ago that there were three of them and we have only heard the name of one."
"Another Syracusan: Sri Alexu, a very discreet man that we never see in the court. But he lives right here, near Venicia. He is not involved in State affairs. He is only known to have two interests: his daughter, a young beauty named Aphykit, and flowers. He is under constant surveillance."
"And the third one?" Spergus' insistence bothered the Chancellor. Had he underestimated the role of the Syracusan Lord's protege? Perhaps this disarming naivete hid some precise calculated intentions.
"Seqoram the Mahdi." Ranti Ang gave an exclamation of surprise, an uncalled-for, indecent showing of his emotions, contrary to the code of sycophantic emotion.
"Good Lord! Do you realize what you are saying, Chancellor?"
"Why? What is it? What has he done?"
"The Grand Master of the Absurate Order. But don't worry yourself, Spergus: we have compromised the Absurate knights and we have made sure to lead them down the wrong paths. And we go over their reports with a fine-toothed comb."
"Perhaps! However, attacking the Absurate Order is attacking the very foundations of the Naflin Federation!" objected Ranti Ang. "The knighthood has devoted itself to the study of the arts of war for centuries. No lord, however powerful he may be, would have the recklessness to defy it! Have you lost your mind, Chancellor?"
"The Order knows nothing of the weapon that we are preparing, my Lord."
Pamynx froze suddenly in a solemn attitude.
"My Lord, the time has finally come to carry out your father's visionary dream. All of the conditions are right: the federal army, the Interlice, is under the command of your brother Menati, and this until the next five-year Asma. We are making sure that this will take place on Syracusa and not on Issigor. In accordance with our advice, Menati has managed to bring the
senior officers around to our cause with promises of titles and territorial concessions. Pritivian mercenaries are prepared to grant us unequivocal support, because they long to battle with the Absurate Order that their founders, the knights who broke away from the Order, came from. The Kreuzian Church is expanding thanks to the indefatigable activity of missionaries in the farthest corners of the Federation. Its crucifires and mental inquisitors are already a very useful repressive apparatus. There was only one thing we needed, my Lord, and this thing is what you have just seen materialized in front of your eyes."
He stopped talking and watched the effects of his words on those in front of him. Spergus, his mouth hanging open, his eyes wide, looked like a holographic mannequin from the pre-Naflin museums. The only thing that made him look alive were his two blond locks of hair, moving lightly in the air. This young and exuberant boy, who was a victim of his curiosity and of Ranti Ang's feelings, already knew too much. Whatever part he was playing, whether it had two sides or one, he was a danger. His wheel of fate, the rota individua of the Kreuzians, would soon stop turning.
As for the lord of Syracusa, he was rubbing his lips absentmindedly with his right index finger. His blue eyes wandered over to the body of the Mikat and the black acaba of his torturer. Fleeting bright sparkles came from the ephemeral gems, set by dozens in the long scarlet cape that covered his white bodstocking.
"We must now act very quickly," continued the Chancellor. "We must definitively eliminate Sri Mitsu, who is still dangerous in spite of being in exile. The Pritivian mercenaries will take care of that. We must also eliminate Sri Alexu and his daughter. They don't look dangerous but this is probably just to deceive us. You must use your discretionary power, my Lord, to obtain additional credits which will allow us to perfect our technology of mental execution. Then the Absurate Order must be attacked and destroyed, as well as the obsolete relic of the Federation, the final traces of Inddic civilization. In order to ensure that this is so, the Amerynes of Terra Mater should also be reduced to silence."
"Do you realize, Chancellor, that if this genocide - because you are suggesting genocide - if this got out, we would be under a direct menace from the Absurate knights!" exclaimed Ranti Ang. "And it will get out, because the main member states have eyes and ears all around!"
"We need to learn that the Order is no longer an insurmountable obstacle. Our chances of success rest on speed and precision, on the element of surprise. All we need now is your formal agreement, my Lord. It is up to you to now become the first ruler of a post-Naflin empire."
As he said this, he was thinking that Ranti Ang would never have this privilege. In the fifth stage of the Great Project, the masters of Hyponeros had planned for the Naflin Federation to be broken up and for power to be taken by a wise tyrant, a unifier. A man of a much different caliber than the current lord of Syracusa.
The four Scaythe thought protectors had slackened their watchfulness. The light from their half-closed eyes, coming from within the darkness of their red and white hoods, was less intense. They were violating the first law of the treaty of the Honorable Code of Protection: At all times day and night, I will be a zealous guardian of the mind of my Lord, because he alone has the right to follow the flow of his thoughts.
Pamynx noticed this inattention. He could have slipped for just a second into Ranti Ang's mind, which was momentarily unscreened. He preferred to wait for his fellow Hyponerians to realize their unforgivable negligence. Today, the Chancellor would ask for no additional heads to fall. The most important ones would soon be rolling at his feet, and this perspective was more than enough to make him happy.
"My Lord, I would like to discuss the next steps of our undertaking," he said softly, as if he did not want to awaken Ranti Ang from his daydreaming too suddenly. "Young Spergus should be allowed to avoid this tiresome chore. Send him someplace which is more in accordance with the concerns of his young age."
Without waiting for Ranti Ang to answer and without paying any attention to the deadly look from Spergus, he walked off into the dark underground corridor with a firm step.
Translated from the French by Kirk McElhearn