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Vejhon by Ty Estus Narada
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Witch Hunt -- Chapter 23

1.  "This is unreal," Ireana thought.  The Theites were abrasive, but not cruel.

2.  They were intuitive, but not psionic which worked in her favor.  The last hour had contained the emotional content of a lifetime and pushed the limits of her tolerance.  "I survived M'tro-1 -- I can survive anything," she reminded herself, then she quietly prayed, "Come on, Corlos -- any time!  I was supposed to be an evaluator, not a hostage!" 

3.  Onimex was invisible and taking notes; this was the first time that a Constitutional asset had ever set foot aboard an Elite destroyer.  Since the Theites had it -- they might as well figure out how it works.  The problem with a battalion of SJ's is lack of specialists.  They are awesome pilots -- but reverse engineering is not a job requirement.  Networked saucers are a tremendous resource, but without avatars, are insufficient for the task.

4.  The comedy of errors reached it's apex when she was brigged with none other than Dal El.  She had seen posters of him and didn't know quite how to react... the dreaded 'Vice-Elite' brigged aboard his own ship... with her.   When the reality set in, she stopped trying to second guess things, "We're in for a wild ride," she realized.

5. Dal El intuitively interpreted her grin; possibly a reaction to the dark comedy of errors that he experienced too.  He wasn't without his own dark sense of humor, and being brigged aboard his own ship was the first item on the list.  Her uniform was unique -- one he had never seen before.  SJ's on foot, are fully trained shock troops who thoroughly enjoy rare departures from routein.  The Kor Youth aboard simply didn't know what hit them; a ship invasion had never been considered a realistic defense scenario:  Not against 100-to-1 odds with no notice or even a clue.          

6. He rendered an inquisitive facial salute, that one might expect the "Number Two" personage in Kor's Universe to render.  His rank was unchanged, despite the circumstance.    

7. Ireana acknowledged Dal El's non-verbal gesture and returned one of her own.  He accepted it but didn't understand the symbolism; possibly a new Kor Youth salute.     

8. "She must have been really bad," he thought, "to brig her with me?"   He had no other cellmates, and the crew was incarcerated elsewhere. 

9.  Ireana was tuned-in, but maintained a rigid indifference since it seemed to reduce Dal El's suspicions.  Had she been any less poised, it might have weakened her tactical advantage.          

10.  "She must have been quartered someplace where I never go," he was surmising, "I would have given her a second glance if I had seen her before.  She's not one of the natives?"  It made sense that the Theites would isolate Dal, since he was wanted, "but who is this vixen, femme fatale?" he wondered.  He knew SJ SOP because he used to be one -- when he saw the number of B'lines, he told the Captain, "There is no defense against this -- tell the Kids to stand down."  He knew the SJ's would shoot first and ask questions later, and Elite destroyers were not equipped for expeditionary service or pirate contingencies -- there had never been a need.  "We're the ones who are supposed to be feared -- not the other way around!" 

11.  He returned his attention to her, "She's awefully attractive."  Everything about her was alluringly curious, "How did this get by me?" he asked himself. 

12. "Guards!," Ireana thought, "Is he really that taken by me?"  She felt like a school yard whore being sized up by the alpha dog.  "I hope this scene has an end, soon!" 

13.  Dal wasn't psionic by a Vejhonian standard, but that didn't mean he was completely inept.  He could not detect a psionic imprint or her implant-link to Onimex.  The Thite occupation was a pretty good cover.  Ireana, on the other hand, saw through him like a spotless glass window.  She had never attempted to 'think' from a 'Kor' perspective, but from what little she knew about Kor -- Dal El was a walking encyclopedia of everything she wasn't supposed to know.  "He loves him," she concluded.

14.  Strangely, the other Elite prisoners were her biological siblings; psychologically disfigured into something psionically unrecognizable.  Kor's hybreds were like machines whose only goal was to please Kor.  "This enemy occupation is killing them," she sensed, "They're almost terrorized:  Their armor has been chinked."  Dal was a lot more calming to her than she expected him to be.             

15. "Could she be one of Kor's special agents?" he wondered.  State Security Agents were never rostered on ship manifests per SOP, and Dal wrote the SOP. 

16. As he tortured himself with the many possibilities, he deduced, "She has to be one of His special agents."  Kor planted an agent aboard each ship to report back to him, and nobody knew who it was.  "After eliminating all other possibilities, the one remaining, no matter how unlikely, must be the truth:" It had to be her. 

17. "So that's it then," she thought privately, "That's my cover."  If he was preceiving her in that capacity, then she would play along, "Now... how do I do this?"  

18. On M'trol-1, it was said that Dal El was the shadow architect behind Kor's revolution; that he was in fact, more responsible for the atrocities committed in Kor's name, than Kor was.   

19.  He was brilliant and faultlessly loyal, "Who wouldn't want... such an evil genius?"

20.  Ireana felt relaxed enough to probe some of the Theite occupation personnel.  They were having problems with the ship.  Thousands of expert pilots and navigators were on hand, but no engineers.  They were fumbling with the equipment and discussing whether or not they were going to 'push' the destroyer back into Theite space.  They were attempting to tractor the ship away from Earth's early warning grid while the saucers distracted native first responders, "Figure out how to say 'it's a solar flare' in their language, and shut down their electronics," O'Helno ordered.  The natives couldn't see the B'lines, so a "solar flare warning" in any Earth language might explain EMF-related malfunctions and sensor ghosts.  "DON'T hurt the non-combatants," O'Helno insisted.

21.  "Guards!" Ireana realized, "The acceleration wave is off and all of this is happening in plain view... above..."  She held short of saying the name.   The Theites didn't name it.  The Cacci Dai chart referred to it as, "Dirt."  The Elite prisoners called it, "718."  She turned her face away from Dal El, "What conquest number was M'tro-1?"  Her mind translated the psionic symbol for Sol III into Earth, but the transliteration was meaningless.  Nobody knew Earth's proper name except her, because she had visited the shell's surface.  Mother felt no urgent need to teach her compliment the shell's proper name.  "Dirt," as it was written on the nav chart, was sufficient.          

22.  Nobody knew M'tro-1's name either.  Elite conquests had 'numbers;' "Why name a condemned shell?  What are they afraid of?" she wondered, "What compels a species to annihilate its own?"     

23.  She returned her gaze upon Dal El who made a charming first impression, "How does someone like that, end up in a place like this?  He doesn't fit the monster stereotype," she reasoned.  Then she remanded herself, "I'm trying to shellanize someone who isn't even shellan:  He is what he is.  But at least he's consistent."

24. Dal didn't wear anything on his sleeve.  In an altruist manner of speaking, his faultless devotion to Kor made him a Saint.  She could see that Kor appointed an Elite guard to protect Dal when he was away.  Most of the psionic details Dal had only a vague inkling of.        

25. He had intimate conversations with Kor and a computer-like memory:  An intelligence gold mine!  "Am I starting to like him?" she checked herself.  She understood why Corlos didn't abduct him in the first place:  His mind was too precise and lacked sufficient abstract for extra-cognitive extrapolation; a virtual antithesis of Dayton's mind.  Everything known about Kor's regime was Dal El's propaganda first:  There was little to glean in that area.  Dayton, on the other hand, was entirely abstract and answered all of the unknowns. Ireana had to pinch herself.             

26. "This...defrocked Theite destroyed M'trol-1!  Maybe he didn't command of the attack, but he and Kor are one and the same."

27. "What's taking Corlos so long?" she asked impatiently.  

28.  "There's no off switch on the scrambler," she psionically heard a Theite technician report to his boss.  "Maybe I'm safer right here," she reconsidered.

29.  After Dal had undressed Ireana for the 40th time, the magic moment finally came.  "They know who I am," he said in perfect Vejhonian, "but what are you doing in here?" There was a long pause, "with me?"  It wasn't an intentional stab at romance; it just sounded that way.       

30.  "Oh really?" Ireana thought, "Is that a pick-up line or a real question?"  

31.  Onimex interrupted, "Just maintain the charade:  Corlos knows our situation and will retrieve us once the Theites figure out how to get the scrambler off-line."

32.  "I almost forget you were still here," Ireana complained, "which is where?"  "I'm outside your cell," Onimex answered, "I've been to all kinds of places." 

33.  "So, can you disable the scrambler so that we can leave?" she asked.  "It's hard-wired and passive, just like a Cardship," he replied, "It doesn't have an off switch.  But that hasn't stopped them from looking for it." 

34.  "Like a Cardship," she repeated.  "Like a Cardship," he confirmed.  "You're in contact with Corlos?" she asked.  "The scrambler and the comm line are different," Onimex clarified, "They won't take the chance."  Ireana knew that -- she was just anxious to leave.  "The mess in this system has not diminished either," he added, referring to the convergence of energies at that point in space, that Dayton was sent to investigate in the first place.   Onimex concluded that the Cardship's time displacement was the principle dynamic that triggered the alarm at Corlos.

35. Onimex’s voice came back, "Your orders have been amended by Daniel: You are to assist Dal El in an escape and I am to assist you.  It is imperative that your escape appear as though your psionic abilities alone are responsible.  Corlos calculates a 98% chance that Dal El will assume that you are an Elite Covert Operations agent assigned to his ship.  Elite SOP.  ECO's report directly to Kor.  Dal El is not in their chain-of-command and he knows that.  Daniel says, 'If you assume the role -- he'll believe it.'"

36.  "Somehow, I feel like I knew that was going to happen," Ireana sighed, "but thanks for the confirmation.  So Daniel's involved too?" 

37.  "Corlos knew that a set of anomalies would converge at this point in space, but they didn't have precise details," Onimex answered.  "And we can't just go back and start over," Ireana said.  Corlos is chartered to intercept and correct unnatural deviations per se, but not to change time itself. "It's always the right time -- it's never the right time," they both could hear Alma saying in jest.  

38. "It's just getting better by the minute," she resigned.  "Don't stress over this," Onimex suggested, "let me do the thinking -- all you have to do is follow my lead.  Trust me -- I'm a machine."  

39.  "I'm probably going to smack you when I see you again," she said.  She admired his biocybergenic balls, "Is that an Ellipsis thing?" she asked.  "You're on..." he interrupted.  "OK," she warned him psionically, "Let's do this!"

40. "Vice Elite Dal El," Ireana said with the cold, calculated elocution of any well-trained Kor Youth, "I am to remove you from this contingency."

41. Her tacit self confidence confirmed that she was indeed one of Kor’s super offspring and Dal was immediately taken by her.  His suspicion was confirmed.  He let his breath out while she read his thoughts:  He bought it, hook, line and sinker, beyond any shadow of doubt.   

42. "Of course," he accepted cordially; flattered to hear her voice.  Finally, a project that he had personally overseen, was actually helping him in an urgent time of need.  This time, he looked forward to being led off the ship, rather than moved liked a potted plant. 

43.  Dal was fully aware of what Kor's hybreds could do, so he had implicit confidence in her abilities.  His goal was to try not to fall in love, "Let me guess; if you tell me -- you have to kill me?" he said facetiously.  "If you only knew," Ireana thought.  She let her glacial stare serve as an answer, because she would have done a lot more than simply set him inside a docking collar like a potted plant, if set at liberty.   

44.  "Vice Elite Dal El," she said, “You must do exactly as I say until we are clear of this ship.”  "By all means," he cordially shrugged.   

45.  "I think I'm beginning to see the humor in this," Onimex injected; amid the many streams of hyper-data, he could hear Dayton's voice admonishing him to 'appologize at once.'  Sometimes he felt haunted by his own co-located ghosts. 

46.  Onimex had downloaded the ship's schematic and determined the most logical escape route, "Approach the forcefield and gesture as though you are deactivating the field with your... 'amazing prowess,'" he said.      

47.  Ireana motioned for Dal El to hold fast while she approached the forcefield.  She performed a Tai Chi motion and the forcefield deactivated.  Dal nodded in approval.  It was always impressive to see the SuperKids in action. 

48. "It's not really deactivated," she explained, "I've only made a hole so that we can pass through without alarming the guards."

49. "Cleaver," he agreed.  'And smart too.'  She led him to an exterior corridor and then turned left, as directed by Onimex.

50. The maze through the ship practically required a computer to navigate, which proved that she had been aboard all along.  She led them on the least traveled, most direct path to a utility bay and evaded all notice enroute.  The odds were staggering -- a testament to her training.   She made it look easy.  The incarcerated Kids, being psionists, knew the SJ's would kill them if they even twitched:  It was suicide to escape confinement with nowhere to go.    

51.  The utility bay was a revamped maintenance hangar occupied by two close-range reconnaissance ships.  There was a long-range passenger sled and a messenger ship tethered to the upper deck by a wench.  The hanger was not inspection ready, with disassembled appliances and minor works in-progress cluttering up the deck space, so the Theites ignored it as a room with no believable importance.    

52.  The messenger ship was the fastest ship in the Elite inventory.  Since it had no tactical purpose, it was tied to the ceiling because SOP required one to be aboard.  It had no weapons, frills or amenities, but it could close the gap between points very quickly.  Not as fast as a B'line, but fast enough for Elite purposes. 

53.  Onimex disconnected the messenger ship's reporting system and lowered the ship.  He completed the pre-flight, powered up and severed the umbilical before the landing struts touched down.  The wench hook disconnected and the hatch opened, all of which seemed like a deft demonstration of Ireana's suave psionic prowess.  Dal El was simply dazed by her abilities.  He had seen Kor walk through walls and knew for certain that she was one of His.  

54.  With the grace and formality of an Elite perfunctionary, Ireana extended her arm and invited Dal El to board first, as was customary ever since the docking collar episode.  He was so convinced of her authenticity that he never once considered that his escape was staged.  An enemy would not go through such elaborate theatre when they already had him in the brig to begin with.  There was nothing to question regarding the motive.       

55. While the Theites were still learning how to read the destroyers systems and schematics, Onimex disconnected the messenger ship's transponder and initiated the 2nd phase of his escape plan.  Technically, they were off the grid now.  If a disconnect warning alerted a console somewhere, it would join a myriad of other system warnings that were being ignored.  Fortunately, Onimex knew exactly which console to disconnect, and made a young navigator think that he had plugged a reader into the wrong port.         

56. The B'lines outside had thinned down to normal patrol formations which meant that nobody could see them.  Earth was a feint speck in the distance dealing with thousands of UFO reports.  The SJ's were having some fun.  Earth's meteorologists attributed the unusual excitement in the ionosphere to a solar flare.   The shimmering specs were weather balloons. 

57.  Onimex sent a message to flight ops, "We're testing an Elite sled for evidence of industrial espionage; and to bring additional charges against Dal El."

58.  He used O'Helno's transmission code which nobody would argue with since he was the CO and IC both.      

59.  Onimex engaged interdimensional velocity before the ship cleared the utility bay; a plausible error in an unfamiliar craft.  A career ending error otherwise. 

60.  "Does Kor have anything that fast?" a navigator asked, "Power up!"  "Where's it going?" the weapons officer asked.  "Says it's O'Helno," the pilot replied, "Should we?" he asked.  "A'zoth," the weapons officer sighed, "I don't think he wants to race." O'Helno was famous for testing new designs, so it wasn't out of the ordinary, just curious.  "Call him to be sure!," the pilot ordered, "Outta range," nav replied.  "Frack!" the pilot shout-whispered.  "We didn't see anything!" the weapons officer suggested.  Everybody sighed, "Yeah, so stand down... what's the matter with you?" the pilot rebuked facetiously.  "Your girlfriend!" nav relied.    
61.  Just before departure, Onimex summoned O'Helno for his technical expertise to a part of the destroyer that did not exist.  O'Helno had once claimed that he could navigate the entire Universe blind-folded, so it was not likely that he would stop to ask anyone for directions.  

62.  With no evidence of a pursuit, Dal El was confident that Ireana had succeeded, "You do know how to make an exit," he quipped.  He was happy about the escape, but dreaded explaining to Kor how he lost a destroyer and the personnel.  Especially one of the new ones.   Where chivalry goes, it would have been better if his ship had been destroyed, rather than captured fully intact.  To his credit, he would accept full responsibility for the loss since he gave the order to pursue.  

63.  Ireana respected him more for accepting responsibility, and then censored herself for thinking from an Elite perspective; she was playing the part a little too well.   

64. "How's Kor going to react?" he wondered, "All of the classified systems were taken intact."  This was a catastrophic loss, and he was in charge when it happened.  He turned his attention back to Ireana to get his mind off of the unknown.

65. "I will beseech the Master to decorate you highly for this unprecedented performance," he said, "if He doesn't kill me for losing His ship."

66.  "A true statesman," Ireana thought privately although Kor wasn't likely to kill him.  She would never forgive him for destroying M'tro-1, but she could pity his current plight:  He was not a villain in his own eyes. 

67.  The very idea of thinking like an Elite operative forced her to re-check her premises:  "I stay alive by following orders," she reassured herself. 

68. "And with a little improvisation," Onimex injected.  She ignored Onimex and checked for any trace of a B'line pursuit.  All clear... "Like I would know if B'lines were behind me." 

69.  "Vice Elite Dal El," Ireana said, feeling much more proficient, "It appears that the enemy is not in pursuit.  My authority terminates once you are safe from all contingencies.  We may proceed to a location of your choice."

70.  Dal El replied, "217 013 224."

71.  Ireana's hand reached toward the coordinate console and Onimex keyed in the coordinates for her, giving the illusion that her psionic prowess did it.  Voice interaction was still standard on civilian vessles, but the military preferred buttons to avoid course deviations from idle jock talk during critical maneuvers. 

72.  "I'm extremely impressed with your abilities," Dal said.   Ireana returned a courteous nod, but said nothing more.  She was a natural.  "You must have been an incredible find for Him," he said to the forward window.  He was not soliciting a response, "a well-trained masterpiece."  Dal was accustomed to one-sided conversations with hybrids, so the absence of dialogue did not disturb him.  

73.  The new coordinates caused an asteroid collision warning to activate while an onboard computer plotted an evasive course to skirt the debris.   

74.  The coordinates pointed to an area in the center of the belt, but nothing was there. "Vice Elite Dal El," came a harsh voice; one practiced in cold formality, "The Master will meet you shortly after your arrival."   "Acknowledged," Dal El replied.  He grew more pensive as the ship neared the rendezvous point.  Not that she ever wanted to be... but she was glad that she wasn't him.   

75.  "I can't answer your questions right now," Onimex said, "but Kor knows who I am.  We'll be in more danger if I remain."  The concept of meeting Kor alone petrified her, "I'm sure we're beyond the converged anomalies," she reasoned, "why can't I be evacuated?"      

76.  "Daniel wants you to stay here," Onimex replied, "This is the closest we'll ever get to Kor.  He says, 'keep doing what you're doing and you'll be OK.'  I have to get off this ship."  His future self had tipped him off.    

77.  Onimex increased his dimensional shift and passed through the vessel's hull into free space.  Corlos locked onto him and accelerated his trip home.   "Goodbye," Ireana said meekly.  He didn't hear her.  The next Act rested entirely upon her, and her alone.