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Thread: S. Lukyanenko. The Dreamline . Proofreaders are welcome )))

  1. #61
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    Thanks. I'll try )))

    12

    Kay indulged himself with a glass of Terran wine in the bar (a huge screen with a false view on the space, three tables and a polite guy behind the counter). The wine turned out to be a little bit too weak and too sour to his taste, nevertheless, he drank it all.
    The lighting was dim here and there was some unobtrusive music so Kay intended to spend some time in the bar, but in a few minutes he was joined by a couple of emigrants from Incedios, either newlyweds or simply sweethearts. They wanted to talk and judging Kay wasn’t a local they plopped nearby. The conversation was interesting even for the first ten minutes or so. Then Kay got bored and left. He had a dim feeling that the couple wanted to complete their getting to know in a bed but never dared to get it out in the open.
    Kay bought a capacious bag in the liner’s store, some clothing for him and Arthur, a stunner and a ‘Convoy’ to replace those which the Service had confiscated on the planet. They didn’t allow him to take the weapons though – it was possible only after he was off the ship. Kay knew that if Arthur’s presentiments were true the whole pack of patrols would be waiting for the ship upon its exit from the hyperspace and none of the pop-guns of his would help, but he felt naked without weapon.
    Kay’s mood started to turn to worse. Kay had long since grown out of habit to worry about forthcoming trouble… but something was grating on his nerve. By the time he got near their cabin he finally isolated the problem.
    He was stopping thinking of Arthur as of a client. He was breaking the fundamental rule – you don’t guard your friends.
    Kay Altos allowed himself sympathy towards the boy. He didn’t think of the carrot and the stick anymore, he just didn’t want Curtis junior to die for yet another time.
    This was catastrophic…
    The ship’s television network was broadcasting some local soap opera. Its heroine, a young girl from a poor but honest family was stealing fruits in the garden of a rich fertilizers dealer. Having caught her in the act he was stunned by her beauty and took her to work at a store. An owner of the store was struck to his very heart and helped her to enroll onboard a passenger ship. A ship’s captain…
    …The most disgusting thing was not even the fact that numerous love scenes were performed all in the same key and with absolute lack of taste. Looking at young diva’s broad face with widely set eyes Kay couldn’t imagine who in his right mind would put an eye on her with possible exception of a convict having just served a ten years sentence. Could it be true that this was considered an ideal of beauty on Incedios?
    He ordered the last, ninety sixth episode and had fully grasped the main point of the plot. The diva was working at the central office of aThan on Terra and at the same time looking for his little son that had been born in the tenth episode and kidnapped in eleventh. When Arthur had returned to their cabin Kay informed him with amusement in his voice:
    “Look, it’s Curtis Van Curtis.”
    “Really?” Arthur looked at the slim white haired fellow who was seducing the beauty without any success and said, “Who was her first lover?”
    “A fertilizers dealer.”
    “She’ll return to him then.”
    Arthur was right. The diva returned to Incedius and incidentally recognized a gallant lieutenant of the Imperial military as her kidnapped son. The trader who had lost his memory and wealth somewhere in the middle of the serial immediately healed after looking at his girlfriend of youth, must be due to a shock from fright.
    “I understood this people.” said Kay as he turned the screen off, “They’re hopeless. And absolutely invulnerable.”
    “Oh, come on.” said Arthur as he was unmaking his bed, “This film was paid by aThan. All movies where Curtis Van Curtis is a white-haired retard that falls in love with a total dumbass are paid by aThan. This lowers envy and aggression.”
    Kay didn’t understand whether Arthur was speaking seriously. He was, judging his tone.
    “Have you showed the ship to the lady?”
    “Yes, everywhere they allowed us to. Then we had some tea with her mother.
    “A nice woman.”
    “Kay…” Arthur sat on his bed and started unlacing his boots, “I talked a lot today, forget it. Or no, not everything. Because I want to ask you…”
    “Speak.”
    “Don’t kill me. Never kill me whatever happens. Or I wouldn’t be able to remain your friend.”
    “Do you think it’s more important for me than Curtis’s order?”
    “Yes.”
    An eternity of pain.
    “I wouldn’t kill you.”
    “Thanks.”
    Kay sat on his bed and turned off the light.
    Whom would become a man who had been killing since his early childhood? A bodyguard. Whom would become a man who had been dying since his early childhood?
    “Good night, Arhty.”
    Arthur was silent for a very long time. Then he said:
    “Good night, Kay. And remember you gave me your word.”
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  2. #62
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    PART THREE. THE SLIPPERY FRIENDS

    1

    Days followed days and rest was the only notable thing. The liner flew through the hyperspace encapsulated within itself. Even if an interstellar war started or every single planet was burned out, here, in a fragile metal shell, an isolated and transient life of its own would continue on.
    Arthur aired the girl from the next cabin like a well-bred boy. Kay encountered the newlyweds again in the bar but this time too they weren’t any bolder. It was easy to nudge them a bit… but Kay’s thoughts were occupied by the people from the Service that were awaiting them at their destination. He didn’t notice when he had believed and grown accustomed to this thought. It was simply with him now – a short skirmish at the end of the flight. Kay didn’t want to multiply the number of people who would grieve upon his death.
    Finally he found comfort in the arms of a girl from liner’s service staff. She didn’t need anything except a little bit of healthy instincts and quite a bit more money. It was Curtis’s money anyway so he didn’t feel any regrets.
    It was Arthur who interrupted his stasis.
    “Vera’s mother thanked me” he blurted out as he broke in the cabin. Kay was browsing through an advertising brochure of Volantis yet again thinking over whether it was possible to hijack the liner by oneself. Everything appeared against it…
    “And this made you so excited?” he was surprised.
    “They said goodbye. Tonight they’re getting off the ship.”
    Volantis was still three days ahead and there had been no planned exits from the hyperspace. Kay told that to Arthur and he smiled triumphantly:
    “The liner drops a shuttle in the Dogar star system. A whole bunch of passengers are flying there.”
    Kay cursed and bolted from the cabin. He should have considered such a possibility instead of preparing for an imminent death.
    Kay found the third co-pilot who was responsible for passenger disembarkation on the cargo deck. An unprepossessing man whom the uniform wasn’t adding any solidity listened to him patiently. Then he carefully checked his documents and asked:
    “Are you aware of the fact that a shuttle drop bears a certain risk?”
    “Of course.” Kay was eyeing the man who was smoothing over his moustache and couldn’t understand where he was getting at.
    “Do you have the aThan?”
    “Yes, but it’s unpaid.”
    Strangely enough this remark satisfied the third co-pilot. He produced a ruled sheet of paper from his pocket and said:
    “There is only one seat. You can send your son … or go for yourself.”
    “Give me the list.” asked Kay.
    …He finally managed to persuade Hertrude Teffer to fly to Volantis. He described the luxury of stores to her, and free and easy morals of the young, and gave her enough money for each of the above. Hertrude agreed to deliver her berth in favor of Kay.
    One could think that god himself watched over her. Nevertheless, she met her second dawn on Volantis naked and tied to a stone table in the garden of a luxurious estate. A hospitable host was standing by with a knife in his hand and waiting for the sunrise. The morals of the young people on Volantis were even more free and easier than Kay thought, and the cult of Sun the Protector became quite popular during recent years.
    When the sun rose the god had turned away from Hertrude Teffer.
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  3. #63
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    A patrol ship of the Imperial Security Service had weak armament but very high speed. It appeared in the Volantis star system at the moment when vividly chatting passengers of the liner were embarking the shuttle.
    There were two non humans onboard the corvette if one, of course, wouldn’t count T/san human which he sometimes insisted on denying any logic and four humans, if one would relate Marjan to humans, which was disputed on some planets.
    “The liner is still en route.” said Luis while browsing through the situation report, “The Empire is still in one piece.”
    The planet was turning below them – an ideal globe with absolutely no clouds and nearly no water at all. A laced framework of the stellar shield drifted between the planet and the star thus lowering deadly radiation.
    “Don’t get too close to the shield, Cadar.” reminded Isabelle to the pilot, “They would burn us without any warning.”
    “I know, my superior.” replied Cadar with no particular respect. He was even older than Isabelle, but renewed his aThan only occasionally and his prolonged living could only be explained by his luck. Cadar didn’t give a damn on regulations, subordination and his career. He participated in the most risky ventures and remained unhurt. Kahl took him along partly because of his luck. A man who had gone through the Toucano conflict without a scratch was a worthy opponent for Kay Ovald who liked driving harvesters so much.
    “Did you get any results, Luis?” asked Kahl in a softer voice. They had an intercourse during their flight and there was some hint at sympathy in their relations. They had plenty of intimacy even without it though – Arthur Curtis had cemented their alliance.
    “Yes, I did.” Nomachi didn’t look very enthusiastic though, “No registers including the civil one contain a record about this man. He must have changed his body …”
    “No.” Isabelle cut it short.
    “But there are no Kay Ovald among the living!”
    “Then look for him among the dead.” Kahl gave this advice and went out of the cockpit. She liked working with Nomachi – he needed only general directions to start working. After that he carried it through with a patience of a silicoid. It was a pity Luis would have to be removed… he had persistence she was lacking herself.

    The shuttle dropped into a real space. There were slight vibration of the hull and gravity changes, and then the pilot announced from his cockpit cheerfully:
    “Citizens of the Empire, we are in the Dogar space. The flight to the orbital base will take about six to seven hours. Please, relax and enjoy the view.”
    There was nothing to enjoy except for the orange disk of the star on the screen. But Kay and Arthur were in the back of the cabin thus even this questionable pleasure was off by twenty rows of seats in front of them.
    “Is everything all right now, son?” asked Kay. Arthur shook his head.
    The shuttle was decelerating as it approached the planet. Someone got up from his seat and headed towards the automatic bar looking for a drink. Kay eyed the safe door which was located near the airlock gates. Passengers’ weapons were kept there… unavailable still. The safe looked rather easy.
    Kay Ovald patted Arthur’s shoulder and walked to the safe. Some people cast surprised glances at him but didn’t say anything. The only pilot was too busy with the controls in his cockpit to see anything happening in the cabin.

    “I found him.” said Nomachi, “His name is Kay… Kay Altos. He’s a professional bodyguard, had a license and the citizenship of the Empire. He died two weeks ago on Cailis. He didn’t renew the aThan and someone nailed him down in a hotel room.”
    “Not very impressing.”
    “He was in the first hundred two years ago. Moved down a bit later…”
    “That’s odd. Van Curtis could find a better bodyguard for his son. And why does he have a citizenship of the Empire? Some distinguished services?”
    “No, Althos is from the Three Sisters.”
    “Ah, just a vagabond…”
    Isabelle walked across her cabin and sat on a bed.
    “We’re missing something here, Nomachi. It’s not so simple… either with Kay or with Arthur.”
    “Van Curtis’s whelp can’t be simple.”
    “I wish I could look at him when he’s grown up.” Kahl smiled, “It’s a pity he wouldn’t make it…” she shifted her gaze to Luis, “Come here.”

    The safe was really easy. If only Kay had a “Convoy” or a drill at least… But he didn’t have anything more impressive than a toothpick that he had got with his breakfast. He took a gin-tonic from the bar machine and returned to his seat.
    “We’ll be there soon.” he promised to Arthur but the loudspeaker came to life again as soon as he had said that.
    “Citizens of the Empire. A Dogar quarantine ship is approaching. The landing is delayed a bit… Small formalities, nothing more.”
    The pilot tried very hard to hide his surprise and he nearly succeeded. Only a little baby whom the tone was still more important than words started to cry somewhere in front of them. Kay put his hand on Arthur’s shoulder and closed his eyes.
    Big trouble often begins with small formalities.
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  4. #64
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    Marjan was praying on her knees. Isabelle stopped at the cabin door watching the ritual – her badge allowed her to open the door without sounding the signal.
    When dressed and from behind, Senior Service Operative Marjan Moohammadee looked very human. Her dark flowing hair covered her neck and her hands that were folded on her chest were invisible. Only a slight humming that accompanied her every move couldn’t be produced by a human being.
    “… for the flesh is weak and there’s no other way, and our way is for you…” Marjan stopped, “How can I be of help to you Deputy Commander Kahl?”
    “You were a bodyguard before you joined the Service, weren’t you, Marjan?”
    Mookhamadee stood up very smoothly as she was turning around at the same time like a flexible screw on its threading.
    “Yes, I was.”
    Now she stopped looking like a human. Her hands were too large and there was no more flesh in them as there it was in a Teflon pan. Her face resembled a stamped mask made of silver and cut glass… the mechanists always started altering the organism from their faces for some reason. Plastic wrap could be seen from under the dark metal rings that were forming her neck.
    “Marjan, does the name Kay Althos ring any bells to you?”
    “Many bells.” the soft human lips on her silver face opened. Moohamadee had not yet replaced her larynx with a speech synthesizer.
    Kahl felt inspired. A team-mate who knew the opponent was a big luck. Sometimes it meant more than a platoon of Imperial troopers.
    “He is the object of our operation.” Kahl decided not to say anything about the boy for the time being.
    “I understand.” even if Marjan was surprised her silver mask hid all emotions.
    “What can you say about him?”
    The crystal lenses darkened leaving Marjan alone with her memory.
    “Kay Althos… he was very interesting… I saw him three times. He had a good physique, excellent reactions, and constant self-control, high skills in Synthesis Yo-Do and Powerkilling. High… extremely high skills in languages, including non-human ones. As a consequence, he’s got the ability to establish contact with anyone, if he’s interested. Psychic powers are close to zero. He’s secretive and prefers to hide his abilities, although he can sometimes be open and let his hair down.”
    “It’s a perfect profile except for psychic powers.”
    “A bodyguard has no need for psychic powers” replied Moohamadee with contempt, “Some special but unstable skills only relax.”
    “Do you consider Althos a formidable opponent?” Kahl continued her questions.
    “No.” lenses on Marjan’s face lightened up, “He carries doom within.”
    “What?”
    “Some lameness, fatefulness” explained Moohamadee patiently “This is typical for people whose planets had died. Body alteration could have helped him but he prefers the aThan.”
    “Thank you, Marj. Prepare a report with your considerations. Tonight you’re going to tell everybody all you would remember about Kay.”
    Kahl shrugged her shoulders as she was walking out of the cabin. Ovald didn’t look all that fateful to her.
    Perhaps he had forgotten his planet?

    There was a jolt as the shuttle entered the docking field. The gravity changed a little – they were pulled to the quarantine ship. The screen still showed the space – magnificent and indifferent as usual. A strained silence hung in the cabin – the passengers were busy remembering their transgressions. Kay Ovald was thinking about Van Curtis and the eternity he was promised.
    Curtis Van Curtis usually kept his word.
    “Arthur…”
    “No” answered the boy without even turning around. He moved his shoulder shaking Kay’s hand off, “No, you promised.”
    There was a rattle from the airlock hatch. The baby from the front rows started crying again. A door of the piloting cockpit opened and a young man, holding his holster on his belt and maintaining a false smile ran to the airlock.
    “What’s happening here?” exclaimed a dark skinned girl hysterically. But the pilot had no time for her. The airlock had opened already and two men entered the shuttle. Contrary to Kay’s expectations their armor wasn’t decorated with badges of the Service. They had only three-colored chevrons of the Quarantine Service – a white circle in a red-black ring. One of them appeared unarmed; the other one had a Bumblebee.
    “Quarantine?” asked Arthur quietly. Kay shrugged his shoulders. The quarantine service could stop a shuttle from Incedios but why these men had their visors raised then?
    The pilot quietly exchanged a few phrases with the incomers then he looked at some paper, turned around and said aloud:
    “Everyone with active aThan, stand up.”
    There was a movement through the seats but nobody stood up. The pilot started arguing over something with the quarantine servicemen. The unarmed one waved him away negligently, turned to his companion and said:
    “Tell the commander… tisth-al arah zey jisthal…”
    And Arthur Curtis saw the face of his bodyguard convulsed as if he’d remembered something unpleasant.
    “Some minor formal procedures for everyone’s good.” the quarantine officer with a gun announced loudly, “Everyone remain on your seats until further notice.”
    Kay stood up and went to the airlock taking the documents from his pocket.
    “Gentlemen… I’ve got it written here, can you clarify this for me… there were no stops planned…”
    Ignoring the gun pointed at him he thrust his documents to the pilot.
    “What can I do?” he waved them off, “I don’t give orders to the quarantine service!”
    Kay directed his attention to the incomers then. The documents were passed into the hands of the unarmed quarantine serviceman. He browsed them through in puzzlement and said:
    “You are Kay Ovald from Endoria, so what does it mean?”
    “It means you’re dead.”
    Pilot’s gun miraculously appeared in Kay’s hands and made a whistling noise. Orange light flared on the armor of the quarantine guard and it clanked as it started swelling. The guard made an unhuman squealing noise and made a step. Boiling blood gushed from the armor joints.
    One has to be very proficient with guns in order to deliver a plasma charge between the segments and boil a man in his own armor. The guard with a Bumblebee understood that and chose not to test Kay’s reactions. Silently he dropped his gun and raised his hands in the air.
    “Wise choice.”
    The pilot who was trying to find something in his empty holster reeled aside hiding behind the seats when Kay waved his gun at him.
    “The shuttle won’t be able to undock from the cruiser.” informed the now disarmed quarantine man.
    “I understand” said Kay indifferently, “Zaar-so, thwiss? Darlok shee cero?”
    “Zaa Dar? Sheree seech hooman?”
    “No.” Kay shook his head, “You’re wrong here, I don’t work for you.”
    The serviceman dashed to the airlock. The first shot caught him in the air, blasted his armor leaving a smoking funnel in his back and throwing him to the floor.
    A man with a broken spine got up from the floor and staggered towards the airlock. A woman started screaming, then another one. Kay fired again and blew off the half of man’s head, but only the third shot between the shoulder blades made the man stop and fall on the floor.
    Screams made his ears ding. The smartest ones crooked in their seats, several men sat petrified unable to avert the eyes from the scene. The cabin, once neat, now resembled a trashed butcher’s shop. There were splashes of blood on the beige wall panels; the smell of burned protein turned one’s stomach. Imperturbable in the havoc he had caused, Kay was walking across the cabin to Arthur holding the gun at his hip. The boy clung to a seat and was looking at him in horror.
    “We have no other choice, Arthy…” Kay was nearly shouting, “Tell me I can do it!”
    Arthur waggled his head.
    “Kid, it’s not the Service, it is far worse!”
    Curtis junior looked into the gleaming funnel of the barrel. The gun radiated regular heat that could be felt even half yard away.
    “Arthur…” Kay looked back and added the pilot to his score with one shot. The Bumblebee he picked up fell on the floor again. A man who was sitting near the airlock rushed to the hatch crouching. Kay didn’t shoot at him.
    “Kid, believe me…” Kay sat on his seat while still pointing the gun at Arthur, “We must not allow them to take us alive… It’s Darlok!”
    Arthur was silent. His bodyguard, it appeared, had finally gone nuts since the only thing the species of the Darlok race and the humans had in common was the number of limbs. The quarantine officers killed by Kay resembled darloks no more they resembled silicoids.
    “Arthy…” Kay’s finger laid on the trigger. And Arthur saw his old friend death in his eyes. Kay was its extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador now, merciless and unstoppable. The Three Sisters, trampled by the Sakkras and burned by human bombs, underage tormentors of little Kay that couldn’t be a child, twenty years of working with a gun in his hands, Arthur himself torn apart by the ‘interphased drive’ explosion, rebels from Incedios – all of it was in his eyes. And they still had enough room to house the death of Arthur Van Curtis who was an immortal.
    “Don’t kill me.” said the boy that couldn’t become an adult.
    Kay Altos gave a cry as he stood up. The gun in his hand sprung to life willingly sending fiery death into the cabin. In painful consternation Arthur understood that Kay was killing children the first. He managed to shoot three times before squeaking of a stun bomb that was thrown from the airlock filled the cabin.
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  5. #65
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    ‘Volantis’ jumped out from the hyperspace near its home planet. Static sparks ran along the hull and died out absorbed by the metal. The liner began a slow turnaround entering the deceleration trajectory.
    At the same moment moment its sensors detected a tiny ship on approaching course.
    “The Incedios Service?” the second pilot checked decoded transmission again with distrust. “Gentlemen, who robbed Incedios? Was there really anything worth stealing?”
    The liner opened its docking port without waiting for request. The ship’s trajectory was fairly obvious, after all.

    “Akhar, remember the boy must be taken alive.” Kahl was already packed in a powered armor and giving last minute instructions. “He may try to kill himself – don’t let this happen.”
    A bulrathi mercenary who was one of the few non-humans who worked in the Incedios Service nodded. He accepted no armor and his only clothing was a short skirt made of hard silvery cloth. Akhar took a gun however. Decades of the Feud War had broken the habit of the Bulrathi to rely on physical strength alone.
    “Marjan, T/san you provide a fire support. I, Luis and Cadar will be covering you.”
    Isabelle Kahl lived through things many enough for not worrying about being considered a coward and she didn’t want to die at the moment of her triumph. She and Nomachi were the only ones wearing heavy armor. It limited one’s mobility but could withstand two or three blaster hits.
    “Let’s go.”
    Holding a stunner in his left hand – the Bulrathi always kept the right one free for close combat Akhar jumped into a short docking tunnel. Immediately after him with a grace of perfectly tuned mechanism rushed Marjan. T/san who was lying on the floor in the pose of rest waited for three seconds and started moving too. Its metal body which was an unachievable ideal for Moohamadee gleamed with specular anti-laser covering. Its articulate legs straightened thrusting T/san forwards and simultaneously an iridescent halo of a force field wrapped its head around. Head was the most vulnerable spot of the Meklonians. Its ancestors were organic species and its long reptilian neb still had some vulnerable tissues.

    The liner’s captain entered the dock himself. His body was too young for so high a rank – a clear indication of him practicing aThan. A sophisticated tattoo on his left cheek and long red hair gave no less clear an indication of him belonging to Volanis’s elite. The Service rarely stopped ships of such class so the captain felt obliged to have done with this misunderstanding personally. Several of the crewmembers free of duties were standing behind his back equally ready for either a routine check or a thorough checking of the liner. Nearly all of them were carrying some things from Incedios which might be considered contraband but there were so many secluded spaces onboard a huge ship.
    When a huge barefanged bulrathi ready for a fight jumped out of the docking tunnel holding a stunner that looked like a toy in his furry paw the captain reeled back. The old fears came to life again… a sudden thought flashed in his head that the most fearsome adversaries of the mankind were once again walking the path of war.
    Akhar regarded the meeting party with only one look and froze in a combat stance. The Service badge that was gleaming through the fur stopped the crewmembers from drawing their weapons.
    He was followed by two other creatures. One was a Meklon cyborg in a combat transformation the other one who looked like a parody to the former one was born as a woman. After them, there were two men who were dramatically different in appearance. One was a squab who was smiling amiably and waving his “Bumblebee” as if it was a swagger stick, the other one was gaunt, withy, and resembled a walking bipod for his “Argument-36”.
    The last who entered the dock was a white haired woman also wearing a powered armor. A golden badge of the service hung on a chain over her armor – the woman belonged to high ranking command staff.
    “We need two humans known as Kay and Arthur Ovalds.” she said.
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  6. #66
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    Kay returned to his senses. The stun bomb served its purpose so he didn’t remember as he was taken prisoner.
    He had no gun already and his hands were tied by a flexible wristband behind his back.
    He was lying on the floor in a large room, apparently a gym of the cruiser. There were people lying about with their hands also tied. Kay didn’t see Arthur. Instead a sickly looking white haired man with thin lips in a military uniform of Dogar was waiting for his awakening. An injector in his hands quickened Kay’s coming around apparently.
    “You have committed a crime” said the thin-lipped man.
    “I caused losses, ress tith-al” replied Kay straining his throat into an alien language.
    The man was silent for some time. Then he asked:
    “How it can be that you know the second layer of truth of the Darlok language?”
    “This wasn’t a business of yours before me and it won’t be yours after.” Kay pulled his knees to his stomach and straightened in awkward albeit still sitting a pose.
    “You will have to die.” informed the Dogarian.
    “And to take the knowledge with me.” agreed Kay.
    The Dogarian stood up looking around the hall filled with stunned and slowly returning to their senses people and said:
    “There is a lot of knowledge which will become ours. Why yours would be more valuable, illyth?”
    “Because I know the Darlok language up to the third layer of truth, nes tcik.”
    The man hesitated. Kay even laughed with heavy and unhopeful laughter of the doomed. Then he asked:
    “Will it help if I say teesh-Darlok zenth aal foz?”
    The thin-lipped man thought for a few moments then he shook his head:
    “No. You have fallen too deeply for going up the stem of the grass.”
    “And if I hadn’t started shooting in the shuttle?”
    “It’s all the same. No.”
    “Thank you. I’ve been worrying about that.”
    The Dogarian moved his head. It was a strange move as if he wasn’t satisfied with the fact that his neck was flexible. Then he inquired:
    “Whom would you talk freely?”
    “His name was Bart Paolini, he was convicted for espionage on Rhylus.
    “Insufficient information.”
    “I called him Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo.”
    The man winced:
    “Repeat.”
    Kay repeated.
    “We’ll try.” decided the Dogarian. “Do you have any reasonable requests?”
    “My son… we were nearby when you took over the shuttle. Our fates must be interwoven.”
    “All right” the Dogarian turned away and walked towards the door carefully stepping the writhing and moaning bodies over. Kay waited until the door had closed and struggled to his feet, trying hard to maintain equilibrium. The body was aching and there was ringing in his ears after the stun. But he continued walking until he saw Arthur lying on his back.
    “Hi” said Arthur.
    “Hi” Kay agreed and sat beside on the floor. “What are you smiling at, you fool?”
    “You didn’t kill me.”
    “If the man whom we may call King Pendragon gets his hands on me I wouldn’t be able to find any words for an excuse. I cannot even find them before myself.” Kay lay on the floor and wiggled a bit making himself comfortable. “Stretch your fingers, Arthy, or your hands would go numb.”
    “Okay.”
    A woman that was lying nearby opened her eyes. One of her cheeks was burnt purple-red. When her eyes became alert she shuddered and cried:
    “You bastard! You murdered Riki! You mean freak!”
    Her tied hands prevented her from reaching Kay. Then she spat in his face. Kay turned his head wiping her spit and simply said:
    “You would understand how much I did for him. And now shut up or I’ll kill you too.”
    But woman didn’t shut up at his words. She continued writhing in hysterics until a stunner charge flaring from under the ceiling calmed her down.
    After this, even moaning became quieter.
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    “You let them get away.” said Isabelle. Those who knew her well were aware that this calmness of her tone was nothing more than a sign of a storm comin. Akhar walked closer.
    “I allowed the passengers whom you had permitted to leave the planet to take free seats in the shuttle.” the captain of the liner didn’t have any particular desire to confess in non-existent crimes. “That’s my right to do so…”
    Akhar made a slight move and the doubling over captain was sent flying under the feet of his men.
    “Here’s your right.” informed Kahl. “Why didn’t you notify us about the shuttle drop on Incedios?”
    The captain was coughing violently unable to continue the discussion.
    “Answer!” roared the bulrathi. He loved his job – it gave him power to order humans around. Sometimes they were the same people who had crushed his civilization during the Feud War.
    “This… this is not required by the regulations…”
    Isabelle leaned over the gasping man:
    “You’re not that na
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    They were untied and fed in small groups twice a day under close watch. The food was as simple and balanced as possible. The Dogarians (although Kay continued stubbornly to call them Darlok’s people) were only worried about health of the prisoners and not their gastronomic preferences. Three times a day, they were taken to a lavatory under close watch too. At first this made several young women go into hysterics and led to the weirdest form of protest possible. By the evening though, they were answering the call of nature without unnecessary noise.
    They were permitted to talk to each other, but two attempts of starting a fight, with Kay being the subject of aggression both times, were suppressed by stunner shots. Kay didn’t attribute it to any special importance of his – any disturbance would have been suppressed the same way. But he was the only inner enemy for the shuttle passengers. His actions led to this bitter imprisonment, his shooting killed three innocent children not to mention the pilot and the quarantine officers… everyone thought so. He should have died.
    The Dogarians who were standing guard by the hatch didn’t share the common opinion, however. In the evening, when light was switched off and assorted vigilantes started creeping in, the guards reminded of the existence of night vision goggles. After this the hatred for Kay was expressed in words only.
    Kay ignored the insults. The only thing he was interested in was Arthur’s condition. The boy talked to him if Kay started the conversation and turned away if some passenger started cursing at the murderer of his son. And he was thinking… thinking of something.
    “Can you kill yourself?” asked Kay one day.
    Arthur nodded as Kay expected. Tied hands had never been an obstacle for suicide.
    “Do it, Arthur.”
    The boy shook his head. This too wasn’t unexpected for Kay. He said no more and looked at the ceiling tiled with soft plates and feeling with his whole body as the cruiser was flying through the space… a usual cruiser with ordinary human crew who knew the language of Darlok.
    On the evening of the third day of flight a young man half crept half rolled to Kay. His suit looked well ironed still – expensive fabric resisted their imprisonment for all its worth, but his unshaved face and his shirt hanging out of his trousers left no trace of elegancy at all.
    “My name is Vyacheslav” he began in whisper, “I am a doctor, forensic examiner. You don’t appear sick.”
    “I am well.” Kay agreed.
    “Why did you start shooting? I heard as you told your son about the Darlok…”
    “We were captured by Darlok hirelings.”
    “Well, let’s suppose so, but why?”
    “Do you remember the Feud War?”
    “I was born much later.”
    “Have you studied history then? Humans had been fighting with the Darloks for only two years and after this Emperor forged peace on very hard terms. We even lost a couple of planets. But we couldn’t afford to fight any further. There was sabotage at factories and missile bases, constant espionage caused the loss of the most advanced technologies. Darlok agents were everywhere – no race could hook so many traitors. Once discovered they died shouting “Darlok!”.
    Vyacheslav frowned.
    “Any race had its own traitors…”
    “But not in such numbers and not so fanatical… They killed themselves during interrogations without saying a word. And autopsies…”
    The doctor started nodding. A lying and nodding man looked rather ridiculously.
    “I remember. A neural destruction syndrome! Their brains rotted within minutes after death.”
    “Aha.” Kay confirmed it with bleak satisfaction, “They possess a psy-control technique that turns a man into a puppet. All they need is prisoners… and the Darloks get them. When those two entered the shuttle they exchanged a phase in Darlok. Do you know what did they say? ‘Report that we have about hundred sub products here.”
    Vyacheslav was lying in silence for a minute. Kay couldn’t understand whether he had believed him or not until the doctor asked him:
    “So that’s why you started killing children?”
    “I decided to start with them. A child that works for the Darloks is far more dangerous than an adult – that bunch of emigrants of yours wouldn’t attain high positions, but a child would strive upwards… and with the whole race supporting him he would make his career in the army, in the Service or in some planetary administration.”
    “You speak so as if children are guilty in advance.”
    “Of course,” Kay agreed, “you are very cold-blooded person, you know.”
    “I am a forensic examiner from Incedios… and I’ve been playing a role of a sub product since my childhood.”
    “I am used to it too.”
    A dogaian who stood watch on the upper deck watched as two men were talking for a long time. The supervision hatch was a slapdash piece of work – just a hole in the floor. The inconvenient pose made the watchman feel his whole body numb. When the men started laughing he sent one stunner charge to each.
    He didn’t like watching human laughter that he had been imitating for so many years.
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  9. #69
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    Небольшой простительный оффтоп)
    Ramil, думаю, тебе будет интересна статья о трудностях перевода Лукьяненко на английский
    http://www.bakanov.org/default.php?rubrica=90&id=547

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    PART TWO. THE BODYGUARD

    1

    That day Vladimir Chen was on a stand-by duty in an aThan branch office on Incedius. He was the youngest employee – he had not even turned thirty. Moreover, he had never died yet.
    The night was coming, a feast of death. It was the third hour of his duty. The old people were dying from illnesses, the young ones were dying from wounds, and the neurotics were committing suicide having forgotten about the immortality they had bought. This was the time of the most intense work on any planet. Incedius, however, was too poor a world, and many aThan clients had exhausted their immortality during that month.
    “A signal” Chen said and pushed a button of overall readiness/the ready button. Lines of text were appearing on the screen before him. The neural grid transmitted the information instantly, yet, its decoding needed time. Ann Horn, Vladimir’s workmate took her eyes from a magazine.
    “Gertrude Khai… human… female…”
    “Oh really?” inquired Horn.
    “Citizenship… Incedious. Real age… forty two, the matrix was taken at forty one, resuscitations… once. Stand down, her aThan is unpaid.”
    By pushing a button Chen deleted the half-decoded signal.
    “Prepare a report.” said Horn returning to her reading.
    “I’m doing it…” Vladimir’s fingers started dancing on the keyboard. “Isn’t it sad, is/isn't it? There was a life and now there is no more.”
    “Many are no more.” Ann had stopped even being tired from such conversations. Her body breathed with the maturity of a woman in her mid-thirties. But she had been living nearly for ninety years and had gotten used to viewing the philosophy of novices as a light and unavoidable nuisance.
    “After shifts like this, one regards differently such things as life, love, beauty…” Vladimir squinted.
    Ann sighed and crossed her legs. A low seat presented her in the most appealing aspect. Unfortunately it had not yet occurred to Chen that Ann’s attitude towards him was not even maternal. Her eldest grandson could have been a father to Vladimir… besides she preferred having sex with women in recent years.
    “You know, our work is not just for a discount for/on aThan and good money for me.” Chen continued reassured by Horn’s silence. “You start to perceive life. And I made friends… I got to know you…”
    Horn put the magazine away. It appeared to her suddenly that the only way to calm the guy down would be giving it up/would be putting out. Perhaps it would be less tiresome.
    Chen had bad luck.
    “You have a signal.” said Ann rising from her seat. “There is the second one…”
    Vladimir turned to the screen. The work interested him still and his irritation went away quickly.
    “Arthur Ovald… human… male… Citizenship… Endoria… Endoria!”
    “He’s far from home.” Ann sat by a parallel control panel. “Some blotter perhaps. A journalist.”
    “Many birds are flying in” agreed Chen readily. “Real age… twelve…”
    “A kid.” Horn allowed herself a slight smile.
    “The matrix was taken… ha… at twelve, resuscitations… none… aThan is paid.”
    “A lucky one.” Horn even smacked her lips. “I may even cut a strand of his hair. For luck.”
    Chen strained and made a vulgar/dirty joke. Horn winced. Scabrous (Scandalous ?) sayings didn’t suit Vladimir, the more it was so when they concerned/involved children.
    “Another signal” jabbered Chen getting the feeling that his chances for a midnight sex rendezvous were minimal now. “Kay Ovald… human… male… citizenship… Endoria. I bet a cup a coffee it’s his brother.”
    “Go bring one. The real age is thirty five… the matrix was taken at thirty five… there were no resuscitations, aThan is paid. It appears their ship cracked up. It’s his father, Chen.”
    “Not necessarily.” replied Vladimir without much confidence. “Ann, would you see to the reanimators?”
    Horn looked at him preparing to say some things about certain negligent employees that risk losing both the discount for aThan and good money, but decided against it. Vladimir was so young and so fervently silly…
    “Curiousity made a cat perish/Curiousity killed the cat, Vlad” she said rising/as she stood up. Later when she was walking down the corridor to the molecular replicators module, Ann thought that everyone had undergone this stage. It’s rather interesting to watch the first thousand deaths. Later you understand that they are all alike…

    … Having been left alone Chen took a tiny chip from his pocket. After half a minute of fumbling he wired it to the central computer. The only thing that remained to be done was to decide whom to begin the browsing with/whom to begin browsing
    The technology (at least the one that had been available to him) allowed reading the data of visual and acoustical analyzers of a person that had died. It resulted in some kind of a film, a little bit strange, but fascinating. Vladimir was not troubled by scruples. He was resurrecting these people, after all! What would happen if they shared a little bit of their memory?
    ‘Let’s begin with the father’ he decided.
    Athwart/Contrary to Curtis Van Curtis’s notion/policy his employees widely practiced ‘peeping’; it was an old and innocent term. They were sometimes interested in not only the last minutes of people/of people's lives.
    Chen picked the three last days from Kay Ovald’s life from the whole array of data and turned the screen on at a random moment.
    The picture was confused as usual. Some individual details were very vivid and contrasting; everything else was static and blurry. The peculiarities of memory…
    Kay Ovald was walking in the forest with someone. Then, very abruptly, he came out to the sea, and then he was by a live fence of sick bush. Endoria appeared to be a diverse planet… Kay’s companion was out of his field of view they didn’t talk much and Vladimir switched to the events of the last day. The fight with the bulrathi and many other events remained unseen.
    “Let’s go to sleep. We’ve already checked the cargo, so…” said a dark haired boy looking into Kay’s face. Must be his son, of course. Chen imagined the long hours filled with the inventory of boxes and containers and even wanted to turn the screen off. Nevertheless, he scrupulously checked if the boy and the man went to different beds then switched over to replay the last minutes.
    His curiosity was richly rewarded here. Curtis’s stage managers would be pleased. Vladimir Chen watched the catastrophe in space three times in a row. He also replayed the same events from Arthur’s eyes twice. This record, however, was shorter and thus, less interesting.
    Speculating over the horrors of space, Vladimir decided to keep the record of Kay Ovald’s three last days. The death in space was a spectacular show and Endoria too was worth seeing. He didn’t copy Arthur’s memory.
    Curiousity made a cat perish/Curiousity killed the cat, but not a cat alone/but not only cats. Vladimir Chen was steadily walking on the same path.

  11. #71
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    Kahl didn’t have any problems with the Service on Volantis. She gave them too big a cut – the Darlok associates so no one took any particular interest in her minor infringements.
    Nomachi thought that Isabelle was wrong. If Curtis junior had slipped away they should have investigated the band of slavers. This too would have promised new ranks and big bonuses, but Kahl appeared as if she’d gone mad so Luis left his considerations to himself.
    Obeying Isabelle’s order their small ship jumped to the Dogar system. A heavy flywheel of the Service had been gaining momentum already, crushing corrupt officials and numerous pawns. It appeared that cruise liner ‘Volantis’ dropped shuttles in the Dogar star system on a regular basis. They’ve been reaching the planet with astonishing speed – only a month or a month and a half later. Now the Service was busy routing people who had undergone the Darlok imprisonment throughout the Empire. This was not a pleasant occupation but about twenty years before a similar operation had already taken place.
    Kalh visited the directorate of the Dogar Service. She had a polite welcome, strange it might seem, but Isabelle became a heroine of the day. Kahl’s revealing of a spy network and keeping aloof from the pie worked to her popularity.
    Her speeches about the criminals that were onboard the shuttle raised some eyebrows, however. Having gotten in the hands of the Darloksians they were punished already. Whatever means the Darloks used to brainwash their victims the original personality got ruined anyway.
    Isabelle was nodding and agreeing, and waiting for the return of the hijacked shuttle. She was preparing for the capture of Darlok agents and even impassive T/san tried not to get on her way.

    They were awakened in the middle of the night. The Dogarians got people up from the floor and dragged them along the corridor being neither excessively rude nor indulgent. The flow of stumbling and falling to each other’s hands people leaked through the corridor and filled the huge cargo bay.
    Kay and Arthur were separated by the crowd. Vyacheslav managed to keep near Althos. The Dogarians loosely encircled the crowd waiting for the hatch to open.
    “We’re going to see now whether you were right.” said the doctor, shouting over the crying children and sobbing women.
    “I like your style.” replied Kay trying very hard to maintain equilibrium.
    The hatch disappeared in the floor and the sunlight smote their eyes. It seemed very bright after ship’s lighting. The air of other world filled with sharp spicy odor besotted like a light wine. Sparkling glassy mass which the ship rested on was stretching to the horizon. There were several vehicles of unusual appearance standing at some distance and an ungainly figure wrapped in a free cloak.
    “Score one for you, Kay…” the doctor said shivering.
    The darloksian slowly entered the airlock. Kay squinted at the guards hoping to see traces of fright, disgust or respect. But the agents of Darlok looked upon the incomer as equals.
    Kay didn’t like it for some reason.
    The alien resembled a human by his constitution. Only his shoulders were too narrow and his hands folded on the stomach bent in unnatural smooth arcs. Thin gloves covered his fingers and two gleaming eyes could only be seen under the hood.
    Everybody, even the children who were looking for their parents in the crowd, went quiet.
    “People of the Empire,” said the darloksian in a low voice, “I welcome you in the space of the Darlok Unity.”
    Somebody cursed but the cloaked creature ignored that.
    “You will be given a chance to share the ideas of Darlok.” he continued, “You will serve the future of the galaxy… the future that will have a place for the humans too. Bithse.”
    The guards started pushing the crown to the exit past the cloaked figure that stood aside.
    “Kay Ovald, come to me.” the dark gap of the hood turned to Kay. He stopped allowing people to pass further. Vyacheslav swayed and slightly pushed him with his shoulder thus wishing him luck.
    They remained alone.
    “Kay Ovald, you deprived the Darlok of its six servants.”
    “I’ve been on my path.”
    “You got unlucky.”
    “Indeed.” Kay agreed.
    “By what name did Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo know you?”
    “Kay Altos.”
    “Good. He’ll arrive for a conversation, but this isn’t going to change your fate.”
    Obeying the darloksian’s gesture Kay exited and looked back at the ship. It had a low profile – a usual quarantine cruiser plagued by treason. The darloksian was talking with the dogarian officer in the airlock.
    The prisoners were loaded onto an open platform that was hovering in the air. Darlok guards replaced the dogarians and the platform started floating over the glassy field towards buildings that slowly appeared in the distance. A tiny white sun was very hot and even the head wind didn’t bring any relief. Kay found Arthur in the crowd and stood behind allowing the boy to lean against him.
    “Are we going to die?” asked Arthur.
    “We will cease having independent personalities.” answered Kay, “It is much worse, Arthy. Even aThan wouldn’t help since the neural grid wouldn’t have any reason to activate.”
    Arthur thought it over and said:
    “So, there is no chance?”
    “One in a million” Kay chose not to spare him.
    “It’s what I’ve been waiting for.” said Arthur Van Curtis and smiled.
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  12. #72
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    Quote Originally Posted by Indra
    Небольшой простительный оффтоп)
    Ramil, думаю, тебе будет интересна статья о трудностях перевода Лукьяненко на английский
    http://www.bakanov.org/default.php?rubrica=90&id=547
    Да, Ночной Дозор был бы гораздо труднее. Но этот роман, к счастью, не сильно изобилует подобными нюансами. Трудностей, описанных в статье, я пока не встречал, хотя находятся трудные предложения, над которыми приходится долго думать.

    Но я ещё никогда не получал такого кайфа от перевода. )))

    Буду продолжать потихонечку.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    2

    Kay’s first thought after his resurrection was that he wouldn’t forgive Curtis for this death. It was not about pain, an algopistol killed more painfully being what it was. It was simply a disgusting death, disgusting and perfectly staged throughout.
    “Name?” asked a soft woman’s voice.
    This is my first aThan…
    “Oh, where am I?” Kay started to stir on the replicator disk; its hard surface was familiar and friendly. The indicator on the wall displayed ‘Incedius’.
    “Everything is all right, mister. You are alive. What is your name?”
    “Kay… Kay Ovald… Where am I?”
    “Your citizenship?”
    “Endoria… I am a citizen of Endoria and I demand that… is this aThan?”
    “Yes, you were saved. You’ve been granted a new life. Tell me your code. This was a very patient woman, an old woman with a young face. Kay told her the code. Then he played embarrassment having noticed that he was naked. He put on aThan’s free clothing that was only suitable perhaps for mopping the floor and exclaimed:
    “Oh my god, my son! He’s dead!”
    “Arthur Ovald is here, nearby.” said the woman reassuringly. “The both of you have been returned to life.”
    Kay beamed with a smile and said in half-whisper:
    “It appears the aThan was a lucky catch after all! Didn’t/Doesn't it?”
    “We hope we will make a long standing partnership” the happiness on the woman’s face was almost sincere. A medic on duty quietly moved to the corner behind Kay’s back. He was hiding a syringe with a sedative that he was holding in his fist.
    “You are carrying it out quite well… for a novice.” the woman noted.
    Jackass!
    “We, the Ovalds are not so easy to break.” assured Kay. “Miss, can I see my son?”
    She hesitated.
    “Our rules… well, never mind, follow me.”
    “Can you tell me, where have we ended it up?”
    “Incedius.”
    “I heard something about it…”
    “Yes, they say a lot about our planet right now. Right here, mister Ovald, you may come in.”
    Arthur was sitting on the edge of the replicator. He had already put on his free pants and he was putting on a t-shirt. His movements were slow, it appeared that the medic had to work here for a change.
    It was unclear whether he was just playing or he had really panicked.
    “The old geezer Curtis didn’t lie in his adverts!” shouted Kay. “We’re alive, Arthur!”
    Arthur Curtis raised his eyes. He didn’t look any younger; at least not younger enough for noticing it/not enough younger to notice it, still the semblance with the boy that had killed Kay on Cailis dissipated a little.
    “Father.” he said with a trembling voice.
    “My boy.” Kay picked Arthur up in his arms.
    Quite suddenly Curtis junior saw fit to start crying.
    Even standing with the kid in his arms with his eyes half-closed Kay didn’t stop monitoring the situation. There were seven people crowding in the reanimation module, apparently the whole/all the personnel that was on duty. There were two women in white coveralls – the replicator operators, two men in pale green suits – the doctors. Some swarthy and golden haired young creature of indeterminate gender– a girl most likely. Two very sturdy men – the guards.
    The whole staff of aThan came to get moral satisfaction.
    Yes, it must have looked very touching to onlookers – a self-satisfied provincial merchant and his teenage son having only just purchased the aThan who had survived a catastrophe.
    Hip, hip, hurrah!
    Who’s slandering aThan? Simple people, the backbone of the Empire, rise from ashes for a new life! Only the most dangerous criminals are deprived of the aThan. Work for your immortality, work for yourself, work for Curtis Van Curtis!
    AThan was only available to three races in the galaxy. Only the humans imposed no restrictions on immortality. Pay and live…
    For a short and elusive moment Kay Altos saw himself with the eyes of the aThan personnel. He saw a man who got lucky. He saw a stiff merchant that softened after seeing his resurrected son.
    For a moment Kay Altos was very glad for himself…
    A young creature approached them and said with/in a velvety voice:
    “I am a thanatologist of/with the company. Let me congratulate you with your first aThan and give you several recommendations.”
    Kay nodded. Arthur was still in his arms clutching at him.
    “You have a right for one recovery day. I recommend you to make use of our service. Remember you have a temporary aThan within the company’s office. Have a rest and consider the renewing of your immortality.”
    Kay started nodding obediently.
    “There is a store and a bar at your disposal. Do you have a credit in aThan?”
    “Yes, the card… It remained there!”
    “Do not worry we’ll give you a new one.”
    The young creature lowered its voice:
    “We can render any service that may help in overcoming the stress.”
    Kay pointed at Arthur with his eyes. The thanatologist nodded with understanding.
    “May we have your permission to publish the information about you? It is such a remarkable incident.”
    “Dad, don’t! Mom will w-worry!” mumbled Arthur.
    “No, I think we shouldn’t at that.” Kay expressed a vivid worry.
    “As you wish” the thanatologist was politeness itself. “If you have a desire to speak… to tell about what had happened, to take a load off your mind – I am at your service.”
    “Yes, damn it… It was the goddamned interphaser. It has a focusing field which controls/prevents the delta-space from appearing within the ship, but either it was due to wear or due to a bug in the program, this field became unsteady…”
    The thanatologist’s little/small face faded out.

  14. #74
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    The dogarian quarantine ship exited the hyperspace. Fifty men that knew the Darlok language but couldn’t laugh were coming home. Everything went fine – the shuttle filled with the sub products was delivered to base… they only needed to find a suitable excuse for two missing men. But the space was cruel and people died often.
    The ship flew to Dogar. There were dozens of ships circling around its orbit – freighters and passenger liners, private yachts and military cruisers… A border world was frequently visited by the imperial military.
    Only they were a bit more numerous than usual this time.
    The orbital base was waiting for the ship. Everyone onboard was waiting also – dozens of officers and hundreds of armor clad soldiers, personnel of the Service in interrogation chambers that were prepared in a hurry, reprogrammed security droids and a handful of bulrathi mercenaries. The leakage of information to their race was authorized by the command staff…
    The ship was adjusting its course approaching the docking ports.
    Obeying an imperial officer’s gesture the flight control master (a deep personality check had been performed three days before, the loyalty index is 0.93, he was authorized for participating in the operation) turned on the microphone. He winked at the officer and said:
    “Q-S, you are cleared to land on the pad two.”
    “Roger that, the second pad.” responded the ship.
    “How’s your work?” inquired the flight master.
    “The pay is lousy, so is the work.”
    “Indeed… Achi!”
    The officer raised a stunner.
    The flight control master (loyalty index is 0.93; only the Emperor himself has the loyalty index of 1.00) jumped out from the seat. He rolled on the floor and sprang to his feet before a soldier in a powered armor.
    Reflexes were quicker than reason. The soldier raised his left arm and the “Guardian” fixed on his forearm made a scorched four inch hole in the flight master.
    “Darlo…” whispered the flight master as he was falling at the soldier’s feet.
    The quarantine ship started turning around awkwardly moving away from the base. But the Service boats, assault capsules of the imperial military and tiny figures in mobile spacesuits were already approaching it. Base defense systems opened fire turning the hyperdrive resonators into molten metal.
    The Service never let suspects go.
    Agents of Darlok never surrendered.
    A grey hull of the quarantine ship trembled losing its shape. Flames touched the approaching marines and subsided revealing scattering debris.
    Even if some quarantine officer had time to shout ‘Darlok!’ there was nobody to hear it.

    They were driven into a tunnel through a whole series of diaphragm hatches. Then there was a long walk in a dim yellow light that was lovely after the flaming white sun. Vyacheslav was looking about – he looked more like a tourist on an excursion rather than a doomed to death prisoner.
    The people were left alone in a small hall divided by the grating into two parts. Nobody paid attention to Kay anymore, not even the parents of the children he had killed. Somebody was praying, somebody simply stood by the grating staring at the darloksians. One of them who looked like an ancient monk in his cloak was sitting by a control panel near the wall. Another three were talking quietly. Try as he might, Kay couldn’t make out anything.
    “What do you think is it going to start right now?” the doctor asked Kay.
    “I don’t know.” Kay looked in Vyacheslav’s face, “You know, aThan is triggered when a man dies and they still keep us in one piece.”
    The doctor made a stiff smile:
    “I’ve undergone the Jen self-control school.”
    “Even with your heart stopped you would drag on for three or four minutes. You’d better leave now… while the crowd is covering you.”
    The man that had his aThan paid up hesitated.
    “The more I see…”
    “Forget about the rewards.” advised Kay.
    “I’m thinking of the Empire.”
    “Do it a service, don’t take risks.”
    The doctor didn’t answer. Having the aThan and a guaranteed way to kill himself he felt invulnerable.
    The grating bent forming a short passage to the middle of the hall. A glowing field of a local hypertunnel appeared at the far end of the passage.
    “File in.” commanded an escort guard. People didn’t move. The darloksian raised a weapon and spasms of pain rolled over the crowd, “I will increase the intensity.” said the creature in a dark cloak.
    Somebody staggered along the passage then stepped into the field and disappeared. This broke the will of others. The crowd slowly started entering the tunnel that led to the unknown.
    “We were promised our fates be interwoven.” shouted Kay drawing Arthur close.
    “You all share the same fate.” replied the darloksian.
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    Kay had not seen more strange a place than this. The darloksians’s prison was made out of glass.
    Cells surrounded him everywhere – the small transparent cubicles with six foot edges. Some of them were empty; some had people in them – his recent companions that were simply standing there, pacing back and forth, or lying on the floor. Each cell had a tiny transparent toilet bowl, a tiny washstand, also transparent, and no doors whatsoever. Apparently all communications were carried out via hypertunnels. Somewhere deep below, several transparent stories down, there was a dark floor. Light came from above – uniform, cold, and pale-yellow.
    Kay looked up, turned around looking at his neighbors. Above him, a young dark-skinned girl was lying and looking at Kay with mad eyes. Two adjacent cells were empty. In the third one, there stood the doctor from Incedios moodily looking around. He waved his hand at Kay and he waved back. Arthur was sitting on the floor in the fourth cell.
    Kay slowly walked to the transparent wall and put his forehead against it. Arthur was looking at him and didn’t move.
    The boy had been broken down…
    His wristbands suddenly weakened and slipped down – they appeared to have a remote controlled lock. Kay rubbed his wrists – there were broad red indents on them that would remain a long time. He crouched and put his palm on the glass. Arthur did the same from the other side.
    “What are you waiting for, kid…” Kay said to himself.
    “A miracle.” quietly replied Curtis junior. Sound passed perfectly through ‘the glass’.

    … Isabelle Kahl was sitting before Admiral Lemach. The admiral had long since had turned one hundred and fifty, but his first aThan that he had purchased in the long forgotten past was still unused. People were saying he was lucky. Kalh changed this characterization to ‘cautious’ with no hesitation.
    “Your eagerness does you credit…” Lemach walked across the cabin that was too luxurious and too outstanding among austere interiors of the imperial orbital base. He stopped by the panoramic window which could be even real and looked at Dogar that was floating under them – it was white on blue, all snow and oceans.
    “I joined the Service to work.” replied Kahl sharply.
    “You sound as if we do nothing here.” the admiral lifted his hands in the air, “We are obeying Emperor’s orders and stand unprovoked…”
    “But my Lord Admiral…”
    “Skip the formalities, Kahl. I don’t demand it from my captains and your rank is equal to theirs. Let’s not stir old grudges… for now. What do you want?”
    “To punish the Darlok.”
    “Whom else? The Darlok is allied with the Alkaris and has a pact of mutual assistance with the Psilonians. We can only fight for their total extermination… and other races have not yet forgiven us for the Sakkra.”
    “I am not talking about war… or genocide…” Kahl started cautiously.
    “And what do you think would happen after the raid of the Imperial forces into the Darlok space?” the admiral turned away from the window. He was small and skinny, and looked like a parody to that brave officer whom Kahl had remembered since her childhood from the CNB news, magazine covers, and patriotic posters on the walls. She would have never believed it if somebody had told her then that one day she would be sitting in his cabin being still young as before… having young body at least… and pushing, pushing the hero of the Toucano conflict.
    “There is no need for a raid, admiral. The Empire is not responsible for actions of individual citizens who may wish to rescue their relatives or friends, for example.”
    “You plan to form an assault group out of civilians?” Lemach was interested. “What a novel approach… very productive.”
    “I have an assault group. We are going with the mort-bombs, so there wouldn’t be a molecule left after us. No proof, no evidence whatsoever.”
    “Perhaps. What do you want from me then?”
    “A ship with a ‘hot-tracks’ detector.” Isabelle held her breath. She played ‘all or bust’.
    The admiral theatrically clutched at his head.
    “What is happening, miss… Has the Service been watching us too?”
    “Of course not, Lemach. At any rate I am unaware of this…” Kahl made a pacifying smile, “But we do control military research and development… and it would be only logical that such a legendary fleet as yours had gotten the new equipment.”
    “Legenday huh…” Lemach grunted and Kahl understood that she had touched a sore spot, “It’s not a fleet anymore. It’s a bunch of bureaucrats and parade boys… never mind… a ‘hot-tracks’ detector, what else?”
    Isabelle shrugged her shoulders:
    “Well… some heavy weaponry: Ultimatum, Blitz-D, Chance, Condor…”
    “Excalibur maybe?” asked Lemach with irony in his voice.
    “I am unfamiliar with this model.” said Isabelle firmly, “But we’ll take it if you’d recommend.”
    Lemach went silent.
    “… and an electronic warfare support ship,” Kahl continued, “something like the ‘Silence circle’ with a planetary nullifier. We would have to suppress their planetary defense bases.”
    “Well you’re quite serious, aren’t you.” Lemach sat in his armchair, rested his chin on his hands eyeing Kahl. “You’re a pretty girl…”
    “I am at your service, Lemach.”
    The admiral burst in dry coughing laughter.
    “Let it drop, Kahl… I have no illusions about myself. When my last apoplexy strikes though then you are welcome. I will be that stout fifty years old man like I was on those pictures you hanged on the wall above your bed. You did hang them didn’t you? Kahl, what is driving you at it?”
    Isabelle didn’t answer, but it wasn’t necessary though since Lemach was thinking aloud:
    “Patriotism? Nonsense… you’re not of that sort. Career? The whole Incedios of yours isn’t worth the risk. The Darloksians can capture people with aThan and you know it. Revenge? Perhaps… but what’s the point to administer revenge upon the dead? Love? … Well, Kahl? Was there someone on the shuttle? You’re not that romantic, are you?”
    “I am.” said Isabelle and was surprised on how sincere her words sounded.
    “I’ll give you a ship with a ‘hot-tracks’ detector, the ‘Silence circle’, two destroyers, and heavy weaponry,” Lemach rubbed his hands, “and a couple dozen volunteers. Those whom I could trust my own life. You don’t assault planets when you are only six, Kahl. You were taught different things but I know it.”
    Isabelle stood up and made a polite bow.
    “And another thing, Kahl… a bulrathi and a meklonian are a good addition to the assault group. But is it worth taking them into this kind of action?”
    “They don’t practice aThan, admiral” simply replied Isabelle.
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  16. #76
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    3

    For the third time during this day Kay went to sleep. Curtis Van Curtis assured/made sure that the recreational premises of aThan weren’t equipped with surveillance systems. Nevertheless Kay sprawled on the floor and had been giving thanks for his salvation to the One Will for half an hour. Then he was explaining for several minutes to the dozing/nodding off/the sleepy Arthur that what had happened was a valuable lesson of life. Only then he allowed himself and Arthur to sleep their fill/to their heart's content.
    It was morning according to clocks but the windows were shielded by a force field. Kay searched for a switch without success and went to the bathroom. He scraped off his bristle with a one-off/single use razor and took a shower. Then he drove/told/directed Arthur to wash.
    They were served a breakfast: two sausages with mashed potatoes, a salad, a couple of toasts, jam in tiny cans and coffee. They ate in silence – the comedy had finished and the work began.
    “There’s something wrong…” said Arhtur while finishing his coffee. Kay looked at him strictly and Arthur went silent.
    At the aThan’s store that was two levels below their recreation room, they bought normal clothing. Smiling placidly Kay permitted his ‘son’ to buy expensive jeans and shoes but when business got down to shirts, socks and underwear he inclined/told/directed him to choose the cheapest ones. Kay was choosing his suit for nearly half an hour. He wasn’t satisfied with the price, the cut, the fabric, nor the planet where it had been manufactured…
    “It’s cold outside and raining. It is autumn.” noted the assistant who had seen worse sorts of characters.
    Kay gave up and bought Arthur a good jacket. For himself he chose a dark raincoat and a cap of local fashion. Then he smiled ingratiatingly:
    “I sometimes smoke trab…”
    “Are you a registered drug consumer?”
    “Of course!” Mister/Mr. Ovald was exasperated/said Mr. Ovald exasperatedly.
    “Then you have a twenty percent discount… Do you prefer the green or black sorts/kind?”
    “Green.” Kay decided.
    Arthur frowned.
    “Well, and the weapons, of course…” Kay started towards the showcase he had taken a fancy to right from the start.
    “Please choose only within the yellow sector.” warned the attendant. “Red is for imperial servicemen and professional bodyguards only.”
    Kay froze, having had already taken an aim to/already reached for the ‘Bumblebee’ he had grown accustomed to. He completely forgot about this detail.
    The yellow sector included low energy weapons that were only suitable for self-defense against street ruffians and not much else. There were about ten modifications of stunners that were differing essentially by design only/that differed essentialy only in design, needle pistols that were unable to pierce through any armor, gravity batons, ultrasonic shock grenades…
    Arthur and Kay exchanged glances. Their mission was near failure. A professional could use any weapon but grew accustomed to two or three of his favorite models.
    “I’m sorry, can you tell me which sector does the ‘Convoy’ belong to?” inquired Kay carefully.
    ‘Convoy’ was a low energy laser pistol. Its shot caused only a painful but shallow burn that could stop an enemy. The fact that this pistol had a substantial energy reserve and a high rate of fire was delicately ignored by the law. In automatic fire mode a series of laser impulses could burn a man through in two seconds.
    “The ‘Convoy’?” the girl looked in the list. “The yellow sector.”
    They bought two ‘Convoys’, additional magazines, several shock-grenades, a needle pistol for Arthur, and a gravity baton for Kay. For some reason, the attendant wasn’t surprised at this unexpected warlike/martial behavior.
    Near the exit to the city they were caught up to by the young thanatologist.
    “Wouldn’t you like to/Won't you renew your aThan?”
    “Not yet, our finances…” Kay lifted his hands.
    “You will get your documents and the facts about the planet from a security officer.” said the creature/the thanatologist coldly leaving them alone/who then coldly left them alone. “The languages on the planet are: Standard, Russian, German, and Korean. The aThan company wishes you good luck and good health.”
    They took their documents and thin grey leaflets with the description of the planet. The guards opened the armor plated doors and Kay with Arthur entered a long dark corridor leading from the underground office of the company onto the surface. The dull sun could be seen somewhere ahead.
    “I think I understood what’s been wrong” suddenly said Arthur/said Arthur suddenly. “The breakfast should have consisted of local food. Unless…”
    “Unless what?”
    “Unless it was dangerous.”
    “Look in the leaflet.” Kay took out his “Convoy” and shifted the safety switch to the automatic fire mode. “I know nearly nothing of Incedius.”
    “I know” Arthur stopped. “You should have asked me… daddy. There is a civil war that has been going on here for three months already. And they’ve been using biological weapons.”

  17. #77
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramil
    4

    The tunnel ended up/The tunnel exited on a flat stone plain. A landing pad for flyers was empty and a low decorative fence was stuck over with wet leaves/had wet leaves sticking on it. An opened/open door to the flight-control cabin was swinging silently back and forth in the wind. It was drizzling even though a pale yellow sun which was giving nearly no warmth at all was seen over the horizon. Straight rows of cottages were seen in the distance. They looked bad… deserted.
    “What a wonderful morning.” Kay said to the rain holding the ‘Convoy’ by his hip. “Why didn’t these bastards warn us?”
    “You didn’t ask?” Arthur pulled the hood of his jacket up and put his hands in the/his pockets. “They were offended that we didn’t renew the aThan having so much/because we had more than enough money. They gave us leaflets with information… gave us breakfast. Well, would it have changed anything? We can return even now and renew our contracts. They count on it.”
    “We don’t need it, do we…” Kay breathed out noisily. “It looks quiet. Read the last section to me.”
    “Right now, daddy.” replied Arthur fooling around. “Planetology, economics, politics, culture… here it is... the current situation.”
    “Give me a brief summary.”
    “The conflict between two population groups of Velikorossia… it occupies this whole continent. One side stands for the forced return of the Azure islands also known as Jeng Shi which was occupied seventeen years ago by the Sagun principality. The other side stands for continuing/the continuation of peaceful negotiations on the territorial problem. The former are supported by Kaiserland, the latter naturally get support from Sagun. The war is going on over the whole territory… A month ago both sides started resorting to the doom virus and bio-terminator. The estimated number of victims is about four million. The forecast on the outcome is unclear. Imperial authorities maintain neutrality. Currently skirmishes are going on for control over Kitezh… it’s the capital.
    “My congratulations, Arthur” Kay took a map from his leaflet and unfolded it. “We’re very close, it’s thirty kilometers to the city.”
    “And the imperial spaceport?”
    “It’s located symmetrically to us in relation to Kitezh.”
    “Aha…”
    They exchanged glances and Kay felt sympathy to Curtis junior for a moment. The boy turned out to be a better client than many of his former ones. Many adult men would have cursed at everything and demanded guarantees of safety.
    “Well, how are we going to go, straight or circling around?”
    “God only knows…” Kay looked around again. “Kitezh is somewhere there… how far would it be if we circle around?”
    “Ninety four kilometers” answered Arthur after a second.
    Rounding up… Say a hundred. And half of it would be off the roads.” Kay put the pistol into the pocket of his raincoat and raised his head. The air smelled only with rain and damp foliage… but then the doom-virus had to have no smell.
    “Nevertheless it’s safer to circle around the city.” Arthur began.
    “Of course, it is three days of walking at least. There’s no food. Are you vaccinated against the doom-virus?”
    “Sure.”
    “I’ve been vaccinated too” Kay took a pause “but not in this body.”
    Arthur shrugged his shoulders – it’s your problem, then he asked:
    “So shall we circle around?”
    “Depends… Get down!”
    Curtis junior dropped down so quickly as if he’d been pushed under his knees. Kay dropped on one knee over him, grabbed his pistol and froze.
    Arthur was lying still for a minute then he turned his muddy face and looked at Kay in perplexity.
    “I think I saw something” said Kay without lowering his pistol.
    “You, idiot…” shouted Arthur with his voice rising to a shrill.
    “No, I’m not mistaken.” said Kay with relief. And a fan of violet flashes from the ‘Convoy’ passed over the back of Curtis junior that made him duck down to the dirt again. For the next several moments they were half rolling and half creeping on all fours and the bullets were smacking in the puddles behind them. At last Kay dumped Arthur in the concrete ditch of a gutter that was encircling the landing pad, then Kay jumped after him and started to laugh.
    “What is it with you?” asked Arthur rising up on his elbows. He was lying in muddy ditch water, wet to the bone and shivering with cold. A crazy bodyguard on top of all this was too much.
    Still laughing, Kay switched his pistol to fire in single shots and explained:
    “It was clear as day that there had been an ambush. I thought that if we just stand there for a little they would break and try to get closer. They’ve lost the element of surprise now.”
    “I thought you killed them all.”
    “No, I didn’t kill anyone. A couple of burns that’s all.”
    Kay took off his cap and put it on Arthur’s head then crept a couple of meters further along the ditch. Then he turned to Arthur and made a strange gesture – he threw his hand upwards and quickly lowered it back.
    Arthur understood it in his own way. He turned over on his belly stood on his fours and looked out of the ditch for a moment.
    There were splashes of bullets again. At this moment Kay leaped up giving Arthur a momentary spiteful glance. His pistol spat fire twice and someone screamed through the shots. Before their opponents could shift their aim Kay disappeared back into the concrete ditch and crept over to Arthur.
    “What are you doing kid?”
    “But you…”
    “I asked you to put the cap onto the barrel or onto your hand and lift it. Remember, I will never ask you to risk your life. You’ve got me for such things, understand?”
    “I will.” promised Arthur breathing heavily.
    Kay drew the cap over his eyes and turned away. Still Arthur could see him through a neat bullet hole with parched edges.
    The shooting stopped.
    “Hey!” shouted Kay folding his palms/holding his hands around his mouth. “Who’s your leader?”
    There was a single shot then there was a reply.
    “I am. What do you want?”
    “How about a temporary truce? Let’s talk.”
    “What damn truce are you talking about? Raise your hands and come out. I’ve got thirty men over here.”
    “And do you want to get half of them killed?”
    “What do you propose?” the man replied. He was calmer this time.
    “I will get up and make ten steps forward. There won’t be any weapon in my hands. Come to me and let’s have a talk.”
    “Get up!”
    “Do I have your word that I won’t be shot at?”
    “All right” a reply followed after a short pause.
    Kay searched through his pocket and produced a shock grenade in a small metallic case and handed it to Arthur.
    “Do you know how to use it?”
    “Yes”
    “If I get shot, put it on your forehead and activate. You don’t/Don't you understand? You won’t be able either to kill yourself with the ‘Convoy’ or get out of this mess without me.”
    “Okay.” Arthur took the grenade.
    “My regards to your father.” Kay rose up.
    He stood for a second expecting a shot. Then he shrugged his shoulders and made several steps forward. A figure appeared in the door of the flight-control cabin. They met in the middle, Kay and a man of medium height in light armor. They looked at each other critically.
    “Who are you?”
    “Traders from Endoria. I was flying with my son… our ship blew up.”
    “Where were you going to?”
    “To Cailis.”
    “Bad luck.”
    “Indeed.”
    The man was feeling uncomfortable. Kay carried himself too freely and too friendly.
    “What do you think of our local problems?”
    “Couldn’t care less, to be honest.” Kay answered in Russian.
    “Are you Russian?” the man inquired.
    “A very little/A little bit.”
    “Will you go with us?”
    “We need to get to the spaceport. We don’t/won't fight.”
    “I saw it how you didn’t fight… All right, give up your weapons, documents and money, and get lost.”
    “You will have nothing with aThan cards and you cannot falsify imperial documents.”
    “We have a war here, haggler. And if your piece of junk blew itself up nearby then go and blame your fate. Give up your weapons.”
    “We’re not going to make it through without them. Take one pistol and one stunner.”
    “Are you going to haggle with me here?” the armored man was dumbfounded.
    “You have twenty two, maybe twenty three men” Kay began “only two have armor, including you. Your weapons are hunting rifles with ordinary and fragmentation bullets, a couple of shotguns, and three stunners that didn’t even fire. No ammo?”
    The bandit leader was silent.
    “I may have burned the hands of three of your guys; one other has a burn on his belly. Another one won’t be able to see with his right eye, I’m afraid. And listen now, I didn’t shoot to kill. I was just cooling them down a little. That whole band of yours will be able to get us, granted, but only half of them, no more, would/will live to see it.”
    The man unclenched his fist. A short tube could be a one-shot pistol… could not be.
    “If you’re that tough tell me what are you going to do with a bullet in your belly?”
    “I will spit it to/at your face and tell you that Russians never kill each other.”
    “Are you hoping for the aThan?”
    “My immortality has expired. But my son still has it. He’ll get back and revenge me/and take revenge.”
    The man looked at the ditch. It was very close and he was in full view. He clenched his fist again hiding the pistol.
    “How do you propose to do it?”
    “It’s easy. Take the stunner from the holster. Take it yourself; I don’t need any bullets in my back. There is a pistol in the pocket of my raincoat. There is also cash, not much but I’m sure you will find uses for it. I’ll return to my son. When you all leave so that we can see it we will run away from here.
    The man chuckled, took the pistol and money and quickly put it under the breastplate of his armor.
    “You’re lucky you’re Russian. You’re not lying to me, are you?”
    “Check it for yourself.” Kay was politeness itself.
    “Do you speak our tongue?”
    “I speak badly but I do understand” answered Kay with a slight hesitation.
    “Get back to your ditch.”

  18. #78
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    Lights went off in the evening. Kay was lying on the floor and it seemed convenient and even natural when his hands weren’t tied. Arthur was tumbling behind the thin transparent wall, and the girl was tumbling above. She finally ventured into using the sanitary facilities when it became dark.
    “What miracle the King is waiting for?” Kay asked quietly.
    Arthur was silent for a very long time as if he hadn’t heard the question, then he said:
    “Seventy three times… I should have gotten there by chance if nothing else.”
    “I agree.”
    “Kay, I’m tired. I don’t want to knock at that door forever. If there’s something in me that prevents me from getting there then let my path end. But if I can, if I have the right, then let it be a sign, a miracle. Let it be so that we escape.”
    “Arthy, there was a chain of random events that failed us. Let us try again and I’ll get you through.”
    “No” Arthur cut it short. In a minute, he added with a much softer voice: “They are random events for you, Kay, maybe, but I have grown accustomed to them already.”
    The glass ant-hive became quieter. Shy people had ended their evening procedures, those who believed had finished praying and the desperate ones grew tired of tears. Kay Althos and Arthur Curtis were talking separated by the thin and cold wall.
    “Arthy, tell me, the god… is he good or evil?”
    “He’s the God.”
    “Even if he is from machine?”
    Even through the glass Kay felt that the boy had stiffened.
    “It’s even more so, Kay.”
    “That’s good…”
    Somewhere, many rows of glassy cubicles away from them, someone screamed. It was a terrible and desperate scream. Kay strained, but the screaming continued on and on, born by solitude and desperation rather than pain. Then there was a stunner flash and the screaming ceased. Instead a baby started crying but this cry was very quiet as if it came only in a dream.
    “Tell me a story, dad.” Arthur asked suddenly.
    “What?”
    “Parents always tell stories to children before they go to sleep.” Arthur said. His voice was not very confident, “Tell me something.”
    “I have no children… that I know of.”
    “But now you have a son.”
    Althos didn’t answer.
    “Kay!”
    “A long time ago…” Kay heard his voice with surprise. He wasn’t afraid of inevitable listening… he didn’t want to look like an idiot.”
    Still, children are always told bedtime stories. Why wouldn’t somebody tell a story to that girl that is crying alone in her cell?
    “…when people lived only on Terra and called it Earth, when they couldn’t fly to other stars, on a small island, there lived a boy who had to become a king…” Kay continued as he closed his eyes. He was tired of seeing darkness.
    But darkness remained.
    “… and he sent his knights to look for the god, not for the sake of finding him, but to find out who was the best. But nobody ever asked the king a question why wouldn’t he go for himself? And he was glad he wasn’t asked because he knew that the one who ruled over the best didn’t have to be the best himself. He simply had to be a king…”
    “… they all returned save the worst who had died on their way and the best who had found the god. And the king who only wanted to see who was whom regretted that he was a king. One dark night, when even guards were weary, he took off his crown and exited his palace.”
    “He didn’t really.” Arthur said in a sleepy voice.
    “He did in the story. The king exited his palace, saddled his horse and girt his ancient sword, and took to the road. He rode and there were no dangers on his path because his knights had passed it three hundred times before. His sword rusted in its sheath and his horse started stumbling because of its age. And then he found the god.
    The king stood in silence and didn’t avert his eyes and the god broke the silence first. He asked, ‘What do you want? Your knights came to me and I accepted them. So why did you come yourself?’ And the king answered as he lowered his eyes since he had gotten blind anyway, ‘I only wanted to know if there is a god for the kings.’ And the god laughed, because then the gods had been like men. ‘Now you do know?’ he asked.
    The king shook his head and replied, ‘No, still I don’t know, because I didn’t see the god when I was a king. And now, when I see at last, I’ve stopped being a king.’
    “He also stopped seeing things” Arthur said suddenly in a clear voice.
    “What else he was supposed to look at?”

    Light that was reflecting in the glass surfaces woke them up in the morning. Kay was lying on his back and looking as Arthur was washing up several steps away. The water was icy but still he stripped to the waist and washed. Then he turned to Kay and tapped his finger against the wall:
    “I think I understood what was wrong with your story.”
    “Well?”
    “The king didn’t stop being a king after he saw the god. He only saw the god after he stopped being a king!”
    Kay could only throw his hands in the air. Arthur smiled… then lowered his eyes and said:
    “But your story doesn’t tell about how he stopped being a king.”
    At noon, containers with food appeared on the floor of each cell. It was standard rations of the Imperial military. Kay ate with appetite and made Arthur eat too with mere a stern look.
    Then cloaked figures appeared in several cells. They took with them three men, a woman, Arthur’s friend Vera, and that girl that had been crying that whole night.
    Nobody came back.
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  19. #79
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    Neither the crew nor even the captains of both destroyers knew about the objective of their flight. They simply followed the ‘Foxhound’ – a tiny ship with enormously big a propulsion module. The ‘Foxhound’ was following the hyperspace trail that the quarantine ship had left in the Dogar system. It remained a mystery how it was done even for the personnel that was attending to the ‘hot-tracks’ detector. They had to alter their watches and ask what day it was after each shift, however.
    A corvette of the Imperial Security Service followed them carrying fifteen troopers.
    The “Silence circle” brought up the rear of the task force. This ship was once a tanker and seemed a surprisingly easy target. Its huge tanks which were designed to carry liquids were filled now with miles of wires, electronic parts and additional power sources. Its five hundred meter antenna fixed on lattice girders had to be equipped with its own engine otherwise the ship would have been torn apart at its first maneuver.
    The path that the ‘Foxhound’ was seeking out in the ocean of the past time led their task force into the Darlok space to a small white star called Layon which the Human Empire fought for three unsuccessful battles a hundred years before.
    Kahl was roaming the corvette, silent and happy. Nomachi tried to avoid her – even his temper had been growing shorter and shorter recently.

    The day dragged as a continuing nightmare. Time after time the darloksians took people from their cells, by twos, by threes. This had worn off people’s morale. Kay saw as some elderly man was trying to smash his head against the wall. The transparent material was springy, but after the third hit it was colored with red. Then a stunner beam stroke from above, and the paralyzed man was taken away.
    Kay, Arthur and the doctor from Incedios remained in their cells. They had waited till the evening when they were fed and then the lights went off again.
    “Good night, Kay” Arthur said from behind the wall. He was still waiting for a miracle, a little king in his search of god.
    “Good night.” Kay agreed. Fortunately, this time Arthur didn’t ask for a story. Althos’s nerve was at its limit.
    They lay for several hours making futile attempts to fall asleep. The silence was overpowering, the dead silence of the darloksian prison. A torment by silence. Kay wondered whether the humans used this one. Perhaps. The human race has always been famous for finding new ways of humiliating their like.
    The Darlok as compared to the Humans was not cruel. How one can call cruel a conversion of potential enemies? Once to be a man who worked for the Darlok called prisoners ‘sub products’. One cannot hate a sub product.
    Kay Althos didn’t hate the Darloksians either. He would be perfectly content with merely a slow and painful death of all species of this race.
    Somewhere deep in his heart Kay hoped that this would happen eventually.
    When Kay Althod had finally started dozing off a dark figure that was rather perceptible than seen appeared in the center of his cell. It came after him.
    “Kay?” asked the visitor for some reason, then he spoke in Darlok, “Follow me without resorting to violence.”
    The pronunciation was perfect – a human being couldn’t imitate the whistling voice of the Darloksians. But there was something familiar in the way his guest had formed this phrase. Kay stood up without saying a word and glanced at Arthur. Then he stepped into the hypertunnel.
    The transition from the darkness into the light was unpleasant. They appeared in a small oval room – the Darloksian in his dark cloak and Kay Althos, unshaven, and in the wrinkled and dirty suit of his. There were two chairs suitable for both humans and darloksians, and a low table with a vase that was filled with fruits. The fruits exhaled a faint delicate odor.
    “We were promised the interweaving of our fates.” Kay said.
    “This is only a conversation, Kay” the darloksian continued in Standard, “You did want to talk.”
    “I will only speak with Bart Paolini… His Darlok name is Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo.”
    “So speak.”
    Kay’s laugh was sincere and long. Then he said:
    “What are you hoping for, alien? Bart worked for you but he was a human. Remove your hood!”
    The darloksian raised his hands and slowly removed the fabric from his head. Kay saw something like a lump of bluish grey quivering tentacles with their thin tips moving back and forth. Two round and unblinking eyes glared through them.
    “Kay, it’s me.” said the darloksian. The voice was coming from within the tentacle entanglement, from the invisible mouth or whatever served as such, “You cannot see the principal things with your eyes… do you remember how you told me that story?”
    Althos sunk into the chair and the alien followed his example. The tentacles started moving faster, some of them were reaching out for Kay and some were reaching out for the vase. The alien took a small fruit and held it against the tentacles. Thin stings sank into it and the fruit started to shrink.
    “This is impossible…” was the only thing Kay could say, “Bart was a human…”
    “The truth would seem even less pleasant than your wildest guess.” the darloksian replied, “what would make you believe? We were mining thzot crystals and we had to work at nights. You got me out from under the rock fall… and I smashed the head of fat Hem when he decided to finish you. When I had fever you slopped out my shit… risking getting infected. You were convicted for exceeding the bodyguard rights and your aThan was unpaid…”
    “You were a human!” Kay said.
    “No, Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo was in the body of Bart Paolini.” the alien said patiently, “What’s so surprising? I left the fieldwork so I no longer need a human body.”
    “So you overwrite the mind completely?”
    “One may say it this way too.” replied the alien after slight hesitation, “The remnants of former memory remain… but they are few. The one who occupies your body would know little of you. That’s why I came – to know.”
    “Only for this?”
    “Generally yes, Kay Althos.”
    “I see.” Kay made a helpless gesture, “I’m a fool, Kree.”
    “You were thinking that we would put love for the Darlok into your head give you our name and send you back? No, Kay. Not so easy.” said the alien mildly.
    “Do you remember, Kree… when you told me that you worked for the Darlok… you promised protection.”
    “You know too much truth, Kay.”
    “I see.” repeated Althos.
    The human and the alien were sitting one in front of the other. Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo was waiting patiently.
    “How will it be?” Kay asked.
    “Painless. You’ll be rendered unconscious before the procedure.”
    “Can I ask you not to do it?”
    “Why?”
    “Curiosity, Kree.”
    “Then you’ll feel pain.”
    “I don’t care.”
    “This will look disgusting for a human.”
    “I suspected as much.”
    “I will do it for you, Kay.”
    “Thanks. That’s something at least.” Althos yawned, “Now you wouldn’t drag it for too long?”
    “It will happen in the morning. Do you want to tell me something?”
    “No, I don’t.”
    “I understand… I have permission for torments, but I wouldn’t exercise it. You endure pain too well.”
    “Take me back, Kree, I want to get some sleep.”
    The darloksian rose up but was not in a hurry to activate the hypertunnel yet.
    “Kay Althos, why do you ask to leave you conscious till the end?”
    Althos picked the biggest fruit and came closer. The alien stepped away. Then Kay held the fruit near the tentacles and they started twitching in expectation of food.
    “I would like to see the true appearance of the darloksians, Kree.”
    “How did you know?” the voice of the alien rose for the first time. Althos carefully handed the fruit to the tentacles and wiped his hand against his trousers with disgust.
    “These bodies of yours had always seemed too independent… too spontaneous. Conscious beings don’t have that many instincts. If you transplant the mind completely then the conclusion suggests itself.”
    “You know too much, Kay” the creature whose tentacles were ravenously consuming unexpected food raised its hand, wrested the fruit out and threw it on the floor, “I grieve that your mind has to die… but imagine what the Empire would do if it knew the truth about us?”
    “It will do it, Kree. We’re not going to avoid the second accusation of genocide.”
    The darloksian came close to Kay and put his hand on Kay’s shoulder. Althos didn’t back off.
    “You saved my life, Kay, when I was human. AThan is unavailable to us and for that I am grateful.”
    “The feeling’s mutual…”
    “Will you give me your word that while being conscious, you wouldn’t resist? You have caused us harm already.”
    “I give you my word up to the seventh layer of truth that I won’t resist.” Kay promised looking straight into the face of the alien.
    “Go.”

    Kay slept through the rest of the night. But sleeping brought him neither rest nor strength. Having been woken up by the light, Kay washed his face and sat down by the wall looking at Arthur who was still asleep.
    Kay found some comfort in thinking that he wouldn’t die alone.
    Send me a PM if you need me.

  20. #80
    Завсегдатай Ramil's Avatar
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    Marjan Moohammadee got along with imperial troopers very well. Perhaps it was due to the fact that they had gotten used to rely on quasi-intelligent mechanisms in their work and many of them had body parts that weren’t there when they was born.
    Isabelle Kahl looked calmly upon this. She didn’t like the mechanists and their preachments about total cyborgization of the mankind drove her wild. But it wasn’t important this time…. since all the raiders save her and Luis would have to die. The troopers could believe in the aThan and anticipate a fierce fight but Kahl had already sealed their fate. Arthur Curtis and the secret of immortality will be her trump ace on her way up. She wouldn’t share even a shadow of this secret.
    Time was essential. The Darloks in their constant search for new agents could destroy Arthur’s mind –could use a precious gem as a paving stone. Never before, Kahl had experienced so great a hatred towards the aliens. She would reduce them to dust; she would ban them from the galaxy… if Arthur Curtis allowed her to climb the pyramid of power.
    The Empire needed a good rousing.

    At first they came after Vyacheslav. He made a wry smile at Kay and disappeared with his convoy guard. Then, nearly simultaneously, the darloks appeared in cells of Arthur and Kay.
    The Darloks took the term ‘interweaving of fates’ very seriously.
    The hypertunnel delivered them into a roomy hall. Its white plastic walls looked freshly washed and the air was filled with odors of chemistry and fresh blood. Four metal tables in the middle of the hall looked as if they had been borrowed from an operating room.
    But Kay would sooner call this place a morgue.
    One darlok stood in the farther corner nearby a small plastic container and held a weapon that resembled a stunner by its design. The container was left ajar and there could be seen a sleeve of a sweater under its cover. The sleeve was small – the clothing was taken off from a woman or a child.
    The four darloks that brought them here looked unarmed. The other two were standing beside Kay and Vuacheslav. One of them was holding Arthur’s shoulder. The last darlok was holding a young red haired woman. Her eyes were mad and her legs were failing.
    “Kay Althos, do you want to see it all?” asked the darlok with a stunner. His voice was familiar.
    “Yes, Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo” Kay replied.
    The darlok who was holding the girl started undressing her. She didn’t resist. Kay stood listening to the measured breathing of the alien behind his back. What was happening looked like a scene from a shoddy old movie – the aliens were going to dishonor a girl.
    But her fate was far worse.
    “You did want to see it all” said the one whom Althos knew as Bart Paolini when they had laid the naked girl onto a table her face down. Kay was silent. He tried to understand where the equipment that transplanted consciousnesses was hidden.
    He understood that there were no apparatus and that is had never existed only when through an opened door had entered yet another darlok. He was carrying a small disgusting creature in his hands.
    It was a snake. Just a snake about a foot length with a thin body covered with greenish scales. Its tiny head ended with a short tentacle crown.
    This was the true appearance of the Darlok race.
    The little body couldn’t hold a fully developed brain, of course. The Darloks didn’t have it. Born parasites they had developed into creatures that not only used the body of a host but its mind also. Similarly, a tiny spy microchip rebuilds a computer turning it into something very different from the original design of its maker.
    “Your race must die.” Kay said. The alien behind his back stiffened but there was no reply. The darloks were too preoccupied with what was happening.
    The incomer put the snake onto the girl’s back. She shivered but didn’t make other moves. She had sunk into her fear, into the only sanctum left to her by the fate. The snake made a short move and its tentacle crown leeched in between her shoulder blades. There was a spatter of blood.
    Arthur cried out turning away and struggling from the darlok’s hands. At the moment Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo dashed to the boy Kay jumped.
    He managed to knock his convoy down but fell himself. Then he rolled to the Kree’s feet and when the stunner started its move towards him he kicked the darlok in the groin.
    Anatomies of humans and of the creatures which the Darloks generally used as hosts were similar in this matter. The alien made a croaking sound and released Arthur.
    Struggling with Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo, Kay looked over his shoulder for a second. His convoy guard had not yet risen up. The girl’s guard and the one who brought a snake didn’t engage in the fight. They froze by the table which the girls was writhing on and pressed her against it with all their strength preventing her from flipping over on her back and squash the parasite. Vuacheslav’s convoy had enough problems of his own. The doctor from Incedios was striking him with short and precise blows of a professional. During these seconds the body of the alien had been broken in several places but still he continued fighting.
    Finally Kay managed to wrestle the stunner out and leaped onto his feet. Eszanti Kree Chethsiafo reached out for him. His hood fell off his ugly head exposing the twinkling tentacles. Two oval eyes covered with networks of brown veins were hanging out from the entanglement of tentacles on elastic stems.
    “You promised!” cried out the former friend of Kay Althos.
    “Consider me a foul liar.” Kay agreed and pulled the trigger. The alien’s body softened. Althos kicked with his heel at what was considered head. The tentacles turned out to be very soft – they burst with squelching sound as he kicked. Leaving his foot in the sticky mess Kay turned over his shoulder.
    Vyacheslav’s opponent was lying on the floor – a twitching, formless pile covered with a cloak. The doctor had already been busy with Arthur’s guard – holding him by the head tentacles he kept striking blows somewhere in the chest. The alien jerked spasmodically with each blow.
    Kay fired at the darloks who were holding the girl. They sank upon the floor but their victim wasn’t moving already. There was no snake on her back, but only its empty skin between the shoulder blades. What comprised the body of a true darlok had entered her body, slipped into the spinal column and embedded in human flesh.
    Arthur stood up with an effort, looked at the girl and doubled over, vomiting. Kay didn’t move – he was holding the stunner at ready and watched the doors and the spot they had appeared from the hypertunnel.
    “So that’s how they do it.” said Vyacheslav leaning over the naked body.
    “Who are you?” asked Kay spitting the blood. His lips were hurt in the fight and were burning now.
    “The ‘Shield’. A special force of the Emperor.” the ‘doctor’ looked at Kay critically, “Have you got the aThan?”
    “Yes.”
    “Glad to hear that. Cover me for the next four minutes. The brain must die. I hope we’ll meet again.”
    For a moment Vyacheslav’s face was concentrated, looking somewhere inside. Then he slowly sank upon the floor. The ‘Jen’ technique allowed killing oneself almost instantly.
    Kay reached Arthur in two steps and raised him by his armpits ignoring the fact that he was still sick. He retreated to the corner where he could see the whole room. His guard started moving finally and Kay gave him another charge from his stunner.
    “Kay…” Arthur was half whispering and half moaning.
    “Happy?” inquired Kay moving his gun form right to left. “Will it count for a miracle?”
    “No, but … doesn’t matter…” Arthur left the phrase unfinished.
    Kay put his hand on the thin neck that stiffened immediately. He didn’t have a weapon so he had no choice in the way he could kill. The girl on the table suddenly stretched and raised her head looking at the battlefield. Kay fired at her.
    “Kay, hurry up.” Arthur wept, “I don’t want … like this. Kay!”
    Althos tightened his fingers a little clamping the hot, pulsating arteries and … removed his hand.
    “Wait, Arthy…”
    “What?”
    “They could take us several times already. There’s bound to be monitors and a stationary stunner here.”
    “So what?!”
    “Be silent.” said Kay mildly. “Be silent. I started to believe in a miracle.”
    Arthur went silent and squeezed up against Althos. In silence they felt as the floor was vibrating slightly. They heard a distant rumble that was coming in waves as if it had no source and came from all directions at once…
    “It’s an orbital bombardment, Arthy” said Kay still unbelieving.
    “Someone is bombarding the planet by circle around this place. I didn’t know that the Darlok was at war with somebody.”
    He went silent as stroked the boy’s head with that very hand he was about to have him strangled with.
    His stunner was still pointed in front of him.
    “The only thing I still don’t understand is whether we should be glad about it.” Kay finally said.
    Send me a PM if you need me.

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