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The Hostile Stars

X. Perception

Arkadian floated in the dim light of the storage closet.

Gravity had long since stopped working in this part of Rhylanor. He sat cross-legged in free fall, nearly motionless, only occasionally brushing a wall.

He felt his emergency suit begin to contract around him. The air pressure was dropping, forcing the skintight fabric of his spacesuit to tighten up. He changed his breathing routine slightly to compensate.

His mind was filled with the disorder of the stricken warship.

Most of the Imperial crew that he could detect had been taken prisoner. He could sense their fear and despair. There were dead spots, places where his mental image seemed to flicker-probably the psionic shields of the remaining Imperials. He had to concentrate to detect them.

He couldn't detect the Zhodani nobles at all-not directly. But there were other ways to approach the problem. Part of him smiled, although the expression of his face did not change.

Orders went out to all parts of the ship. He knew when one was received, though not the order itself was. But he could feel the change in its recipient.

Zhodani troopers did not know how to close their minds.

He probed them, gently. They would recognize an unfamiliar touch.

Already he knew much about their master. Knew the power of his mind. The soldiers could not mask the impression he made on them.

He felt ambushes coagulate along the corridors of Rhylanor. Felt the sudden terror in the minds of the captured Imperials as the Zhodani stripped away their psionic shields.

Information goes out, comes back in. A feedback system, vast and organic. He couldn't know the individual orders. But he could observe the system as a whole, like a biologist with an unfamiliar organism.

In his mind, he floated outside Rhylanor. To some of his senses it was transparent. He focused on the engineering center.

Violent thoughts, images. Revenge. My fangs dripping your throat's blood, you hairless ape-Lloergrez. The Vargr engineer's mind was taut as a bow, looking for a chance to attack. The Zhodani in the area must be able to feel it, like the heat from a bonfire. Even without sensing their thoughts, Arkadian could feel how their patterns were distorted, sought a new stability.

Interesting. And possibly valuable.

His mind swept forward from the ship's drive section. A heavy concentration of dead space amidships port. Probably the remaining Imperial officers. He doubted the Zhodani knew that; they had not had the experience with Imperial psi shields he had.

Near the forward sickbay-ah!

There was nothing different about the region initially. He sensed no other psionic minds. But an electric thrill of command and obedience radiated out from the area. He could feel it in the minds of the troopers standing guard. In the prisoners gathered there.

No doubt about it. The Zhodani commander was there. It was worth the risk of further investigation.
He lightly touched the minds of the prisoners, careful not to leave any trace that the Zhodani could follow. Most were too terrified to give him any information. Some were calm though, with an almost crystalline serenity. They had already been reeducated. He remembered the feel of their minds and filed it in his memory. If they survived, he would know who they were.

(His memory resolved itself in his mind, a vast frozen structure of parallel stacked blocks. He flowed easily into the semantic patterns he had been taught, freezing his impression of events. Years had gone into his training. He could not remember what he had been like before it.)

One mind, stunned...Raini Luzammi was deep in the autohypnosis taught to all Naval officers. The trance state was designed to keep her knowledge buried from probing minds. Arkadian delved deeper, cautiously...it was possible to get trapped in her own hypnosis, he knew.

She was in shock. She might not hold out, the next time. He began to adjust her mind, brought her to just below consciousness, reinforced her trance state. Much better....

There was a fight going on in the corridor outside.
Vibrations from explosions shook the walls. He shifted his image of Rhylanor. Streams of orders, troops, moving through the corridors like blood through arteries. Like flows of current down a wire.

There were patterns. They were collapsing around what seemed to be a single point source. Its retreat would soon be cut off.

Even the most complex pattern can have simple origins. Little changes at the beginning can have great effects in time. Look. Find out where to place the pressure, twist just a little bit-

Months of scanning Rhylanor with his clairvoyant senses made him familiar with every centimeter of it. There, he flicked out with his mind, pressing a button. An emergency door slid down, closing off a corridor and sealing several troopers behind it.

The fighting was in front of his door now. Arkadian gathered up his tools and slipped them into a bag, preparing to leave.

Abruptly, the combat stopped. He reached out again. There was a dead spot, just outside, hiding-the force of the man's emotions! Hatred, battle lust, fear, over all of it an iron discipline-just a little leaked around the shielding, but Arkadian recoiled from it.

The doorway dilated, and the man stepped through. He was wearing heavy powered armor, and carrying a large laser rifle with a grenade launcher mounted underneath. He scanned the room quickly, then spoke over their helmet radio band: "Are you Olivetti?"

Arkadian laughed. "No point in that pretense anymore. Call me Arkadian."

"We have to leave."

"I know. I think I can help us get away."


"Link computers with me." Arkadian waited while the machines established communications. "I'm retuning your psi shield-"

"What? Don't even think-"

"Relax, General. It won't affect normal function."

"How did you know who I am?"

"It's hard to keep your guard up during a fight. I congratulate you; you must have learned some impressive meditation techniques to keep your mind so calm. But even with your shield, I could get a little bit. It's not dangerous; a Zhodani probably wouldn't notice. But I know you better than they do."

He looked up, finished with the computer. "There. Now I have a narrow window."

"To do what?"

Arkadian reached out and touched Darrell's mind. The Marine staggered back, physically shocked. His anger nearly overwhelmed Arkadian. But he kept the link long enough to implant in the other man's consciousness his image of the Zhodani positions.

Darrell had regained his composure. "Don't do that again," he said. The laser was leveled at Arkadian's chest.

"All right. Do you understand?"

"Yes." The Marine unconsciously reached up and stroked his helmet with a gauntleted hand. Arkadian tried not to smile. "That's very impressive. How do you do it?"


"It's like I can understand everything...not just where they are, but where they will be..." Darrell looked back at Arkadian. "I know where to go now. Are you armed?"


"Take my sidearm."

"Not necessary."

"Take it anyway. I don't trust your powers."

"I do," said Arkadian. But he took the pistol.

They stepped into the corridor and began to walk down it. "Don't worry, we'll make it," said Arkadian.

"Can you see the future as well?" The tone was mocking, but was there just a little fear behind it?

"No. I was just trying to build up your confidence."
Anton snorted. He stopped in front of a maintenance hatch and opened it. He motioned Arkadian through the opening, and then stepped inside himself. The hatch closed behind them, leaving the corridor empty.

Previous: IX. Communication     Next: XI. Presence