The mood on the Tellurian transport was grim. Throughout the three-week trip to Pellethra, the planet the humans had once called Earth, Jet Topeka could feel the dread mounting. Almost daily, he heard his jailers whisper about the latest Tellurian soldier to succumb to the bizarre nanobot plague.
The plague’s ability to transform proud Tellurian soldiers into meek humans, was disturbing enough. But the idea that the human nanotech had reached such a daunting peak of sophistication was extremely unnerving. Unfortunately for Jet, his captors had decided to take their intense frustration out on him.
“Where are the nanobots manufactured?” a large Tellurian interrogator demanded. “Tell me now and I might let you keep your thumbs.”
The former star ship Captain looked up at the interrogator’s yellow eyes, from the seat of an icy, metal chair.
“I don’t know what’s funnier,” he said. “That you think I know, or that you think I’d tell you.”
A searing electrical charge, delivered through the chair, made the Captain’s teeth clench and his eyes water. If he’d eaten anything in the past twelve hours, his bowels would have chimed in, too. The interrogator, known to his fellow soldiers as Dolalk, squeezed his face into a hideous sneer.
“If you know nothing,” said Dolalk, “you are nothing. So why should I keep you alive?”
Topeka answered through swollen lips.
“Last I heard,” he said, “only Telluria had that kind of nanotech. Maybe you have a traitor in your ranks.”
“Ridiculous,” said Dolalk. “Who’d wish a plague on their own people?”
“Good question,” said the human. “Let me free, give me a task force and a pair of pants and I’ll run a complete investigation.”
“You think this is a game?” asked Dolalk.
“My chair says it isn’t,” said Topeka. “But since neither of us knows who produced the nanobots, maybe we have a common enemy. I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty foolish right now.”
Dolalk scowled and raised a scaly hand to strike Topeka until his superior officer strolled into the interrogation room. A foot taller than the average Tellurian, he had the blasι air of a fool who fears no one. Was he destined to pay for his conduct? The bill had yet to come due.
“Hold on Sergeant,” said the officer. “Control wants a closer look at this fascinating prisoner. Word is, he has a direct link to The Setrillren.”
“Setrillren, Sir?” said the sergeant. “Thought that was a myth.”
“Well, it isn’t!” the officer shouted. “Control doesn’t deal in mythology. It does, however, have an appalling way of dealing with insubordination.”
“Sorry Sir,” said his subordinate. “Shall I release the prisoner?”
“Not yet,” said the officer. “My team is preparing an exquisite mental probe that will settle the matter of what this ape knows about the Entity. Or he could tell me right now, couldn’t you Captain and spare yourself hours of agony? But where are my manners? I am Lieutenant-Colonel Loodral. Think of me as your confessor, if it helps you. I’m nothing if not sympathetic.” Under different conditions, Topeka would have laughed at this preening creature. As it was, he kept his own counsel and tried to assess his chances for escape.
“Can’t help you,” he said. “No one knows anything about The Setrillren. It just is.”
Loodral cupped Topeka’s square jaw in his gloved right hand in a way that told the human that the Tellurian officer could snap his neck in a second.
“’It just is,’ he said. “That’s poetic. Actually, pain is a lot like that, too. You can’t understand it, it just is until it breaks you down to your quivering soul and makes you grasp the true meaning of existence. Tell me Captain, is The Setrillren anything like that?”
The Tellurian officer released Topeka’s jaw and wiped his hands on a towel the trembling sergeant held out to him.
“If If I called for the Entity now,” said the human, “you could find out for yourself. Oh, but too bad it told me just yesterday that the Tellurians are ‘comical.’ So maybe that isn’t such a great .”
“You worm,” Loodral hissed. “And to think you might have left this room with all your teeth. Sergeant?”
Several minutes later, a chastened human found himself strapped to a gurney on his way to an uncertain future. He was tempted to summon The Setrillren then and there.
“Not yet, Fragile One,” said a voice in his mind. “The time is not yet aligned.”
(To be continued)
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