closed, she hovered cross-legged about a meter above her bed,
concentrating on talking with her mentor in the distance...
it's not that I'm frightened of them. Not at all. We risked our
lives together out there and we made it together!
...Child, you're used to
our world of psi,
and now you have to face a world mostly of phi.
It's natural that that change disturbs you. Especially after an
incident in which you were at the mercy of phi... The silence
lasted until Ariel took the opportunity to confront her student
with the hidden messages behind Niko's own words. ...Niko, it's
not the mostly physical world you're living in now that confuses
you. What's bewildering you is one of its inhabitants. Am I
protegee's mental image carried a strong signal of discomfort.
Ariel hid her smile inside a crystal ball she sent dancing around
her psychic image. ...Tell me about him...
do you know that...
it's a man? Oh, girl! I'm old enough to know the games!... Ariel
had to strengthen the crystal ball to prevent the full-fledged
grin she was hiding in it from breaking out.
really annoyed with me. Ariel let her shrug take up residence
next to the hidden grin. What a pity. ...What is it,
...You told me the
cosmi of emotions of phi persons are mostly like
child. Usually their emotional cosmi are more rough than ours
since phi persons aren't able to feel mental wounds as keenly as
we do. But that's all...
he's totally different...
he an alien?...
...No, he seems
to be a human. At least as much a human as I am. But his emotions
are strange. Sometimes they seem almost not to exist and then
they erupt in a flame cascade...
mean he can't control them?...
and that's the frightening aspect. He can control them. I've felt
the control he used on his emotions almost instantaneously when
they were appearing and how it smothered them. The only sensation
I got afterwards was irritation. I don't understand what
...Strange, child. I
can't say anything for sure. Can you show me the whole event in
...You want to sense
my memories of it?...
it's all right with you. But give me the background
...It was on our second
mission. We were assigned to retrieve a datacrystal from a ship
that crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Terra. BETA would usually
have used deep sea rescue droids but the owner of the ship
and, of course, of the datacrystal is a big shot on the
Board and he feared that someone could hack into the droids'
control centers to steal the crystal. To make a long story short:
He insisted on human personnel to do the job and our commander
couldn't refuse the order. So we...
is we, child?...
Series-5 team, Ariel. Zachary, Doc, Goose, and I...
...So we went down into
the Marianas Trench with one of the new deep sea vehicles. It had
been a nasty crash. The ship was balanced on the edge of a cliff,
and some rocks had torn open its whole left side. The crew was
dead. I could sense it...
noticed the slight shiver in her student's mental voice. She
still can't cope with death emanations very well. ...Go
...We had to rescue the
datacrystal. Because of the senator's paranoia it was kept in the
cockpit in a small safe. Doc stayed in our sub while Zach,
Gooseman and I entered the wreck. Zach had to return prematurely
his high-pressure cocoon gave a malfunction warning after
he scraped along one of the torn walls. Gooseman and I continued
the search. It was pretty strange to...
...To be down
there, almost ten kilometers below the ocean's surface with
someone wearing a pressure cocoon but no wetsuit or breathing
...How did he
transform his body. He created gills...
was a fish at that moment?...
he only grew gills on his face and webbing on his hands and feet.
The pressure cocoon he used ensured that his form one made
for normal pressures worked at that
...We reached the cockpit
and he tore off the storage box seal. I took the datacrystal out
and turned for the lock. Then everything happened so
Niko began to transmit
deep crunching noise thundered through her ears just as the
wrecked vessel tipped and rolled over. A wall caved in and she
pushed herself off it, but she was too slow to escape the denting
ceiling. A brace slammed down and cut her air cylinder. The
compressed gas blew explosively out. It pushed her forward and
she heard her HPC
collapsing. She activated her badge, saved herself from being
crushed by the pressure of a thousand atmospheres with the
strongest psi field she could generate. But she couldn't replace
the lost oxygen...
had gone off when the ship had tumbled over. The makeshift
powerlines must have been cut. She had been almost at the lock
when the ceiling collapsed. She realized that the way out must be
closed by the plates that had come crashing down. She was
trapped. Invisible walls closed in on her. Darkness choked her.
She had to reach the surface. She
grabbed her ankle, pulled her close. Barbed claws cut through her
wetsuit, dug into her leg. She twisted, struggled to free
herself. Another hand clawed at her hip. She punched at it to no
effect, her powers occupied with defeating the pressure. The psi
field started to glow slightly as it adjusted to her physical
struggle. In its dim light she saw what had grabbed her a
creature. Reinforcing metal bulges ran all over its body between
dark iron scales. Metal struts held two gauze-like gill fans on
either side of the head open against the deadly pressure. It
moved too fast, far too fast... The next grab caught her arms,
pressed them to her body while the creature leaped higher, clawed
for her face. Its legs embraced her lower body, squeezed her
thighs, stopped her desperate kicking. It pulled her arms down
behind her and bent back her body. It ripped off her helmet. Salt
water burned in her eyes, streamed in her nostrils. She felt
claws scraping over her face, trying to open her mouth. The
creature's face closed in, showed sharp silvery fangs between
iron-scaled lips. The claws cut into her cheeks, forced her jaws
open. Her muscles gave way and water rushed in. She smelled salt
and the blood from her tortured face, felt the creature's fangs
between her teeth, penetrating her, shattering the last trace of
her strength. More blood from her torn lips, ripped open by the
metallic scales, filled her mouth, and...
A precious bubble of oxygen was blown into her throat, easing her
panic. The used air bubbled out of her nostrils. The gill fans
next to her face flapped hastily in the dark water. A new bubble
of oxygen appeared in her mouth...
tried to sense something besides the pain, but there was only
coldness, icy coldness both in temperature and emotions, a
self-control as hard as the limbs that enclosed her, as the fangs
that held open her mouth as metal scales cut her lips. She
concentrated on the psi field, avoided thinking about the pain,
the decreasing energy supply of her badge and the deep sea
creature that Gooseman. That must be
fire cut through the upper wall, lit up the wrecked cockpit. Her
heart pounded in relief. Another oxygen bubble. And as Zachary
wrapped them in a new high-pressure cocoon with an oxygen bottle
inside, a cascade of emotions rushed suddenly through her mind
fury, rage, fear, determination, desire, bewilderment, lust,
bewilderment and was erased, replaced by the cold, leaving
only a slight tremor of irritation behind.
what I don't understand is why he had these intense feelings
after staying that cold when he injured me...
said there was a shiver of irritation after the emotional
eruption. Maybe he isn't used to sudden emotional outbreaks like
that. You mentioned bewilderment twice...
thought it was because he had wounded me...
were sexual feelings, right?...
now that you mention it strange. Do you think he's
one of those who become aroused by hurting others?...
bewilderment argues against that. Did you discuss the incident
...Yes, of course.
Zach wanted a report...
was going to drown, Sir. I saw that she was able to protect
herself from the pressure but it was obvious that she couldn't
generate oxygen to breathe. I had to help her. So I activated my
implant and destroyed my HPC. My body adjusted to the
environmental conditions and I altered the transformation so that
I was able to collect the oxygen my gills took in from the water
and pass it to Niko."
You have injured her. Her cheeks and mouth need intensive medical
treatment to prevent scars. And the marks on her arms and legs
indicate near-brutality. I can't overlook that."
The deep sea is a new territory for me. Before the accident I had
adjusted only to standard aquatic conditions that's the
transformation I used inside my pressure cocoon. I call an
emergency reaction like the one I used in the wreck an 'ad
hoc-adaption,' and those are never smooth and elegant. The body
simply used the first adequate form it could muster, since there
was no time to search for a better or softer one. Sir, I'm
sorry that she suffered wounds, but if I hadn't done it, she
would be dead now."
body adapts to every possible environment that way?"
Sir. It will take a form that's capable of surviving in the
current environment, preferably a form I've been trained in. If
no such form exists my bio defenses create a new one, but that's
a rough adaption which often needs to be refined later. But I
didn't have the time to do that. Drowning kills quickly."
that moment Niko shoved a short handwritten note across the
table; her mouth hurt too much to speak. "Zach: He wouldn't
have held me that hard if I hadn't fought against him. I
panicked. Goose: Thank you."
frowned at the note, thought about it and added it to his file.
isn't what I meant, student. I meant, did you discuss the
emotional aspect of the incident later with
...After our return
to BETA, when my injuries were treated and gone...
did he say? Especially about the feelings that caused his
them. When I pressed him on it, naming the feelings in order of
appearance, he interrupted me...
know what fear is, Niko, and panic. How intense it is, how scary,
how confusing." He nearly spat the words at her, and she
took a frightened step back. "How do you think these
abilities," he ran his fingers in a circular motion while
changing the nails into silvery claws, "are trained? In a
you nearly drowned in forcing your body to adapt to underwater
conditions?" she said flatly. "What would have happened
if your body didn't react fast or well enough?"
be dead." His voice was emotionless and cold again. "Who
can't adapt sufficiently, dies."
can be!" he snapped. "It's always that simple
make it or die."
that's your philosophy, then why did you help me?"
accept a loss of lives." A cynical grin flashed over one
corner of his mouth. "That's my fundamental
He was gone
before she could answer.
must have lived in a very cruel world before he joined your team,
Niko. How old is he?...
to his file he's seventeen. But he seems older to
...That fits. I think you
should be very careful when dealing with him. He's fairly far
from having usual human emotions...
that your advice, mentor?...
smiled. Whatever I say, she won't listen. A lip twitch of
fatalism joined smile, grin, and shrug in the crystal ball the
mentor used to hide the expressions her student was not to
notice. ...What I told you about the emotional cosmi of phi
people is true. But your teammate Gooseman seems to have been
altered. I can't say why, but the reasons must lie in his past.
If he doesn't want to share it, none of us can force him to do
it. And student...
...I don't believe
that he had any influence on what happened to him. I know quite a
bit about what the Terran military did to telepaths to use them
for their purposes... Especially to your mother. The image
of Niko's mother blurred by sorrow and guilt, joined the
expressions Ariel hid from her protegee inside the dancing ball.
Niko must never know that I didn't simply find her there but
rather that I arrived too late to save her mother. ...After
what you've told me about his abilities I wouldn't wonder if the
government 'worked' on him in the same way...
do you mean?...
a long time telepaths on Earth were forced to take drugs to make
them more obedient or to erase their abilities if they refused to
obey... Your mother couldn't stand the loss of her powers. But
she wasn't obedient enough either. When they threatened to
separate you from her she took her baby girl and fled.
...It's likely that they have drugs for other aspects of
Galaxy Ranger. We aren't allowed to use drugs. We are even tested
every month during our routine medical examination...
if he was given them as a child it's possible that there are
emotional structures he now has but which he isn't used to. So be
careful. I think he could easily harm you not only
physically without intending or even noticing
...But he can be harmed
himself as easily... Niko's mental image carried a soft vibration
of sympathy ...and he doesn't even know it...
careful, student. He seems to be a man who will defend himself
very aggressively if he feels attacked. Be careful...
will be, mentor...
opened her eyes in her apartment at BETA and lowered herself onto
her bed. She lay back, arms under her head, and gazed at the
ceiling. The pain from her wounds was gone, and the medical
treatment had left no marks behind. But the memories of darkness,
pain, and something she couldn't quite name danced in her mind.
And her bewilderment was still there.
an amused note by the author:
first exploration of the Marianas Trench was done on January 23,
1960 by a U.S. Navy officer named Donald Walsh (!) and Jacques
Piccard (a deep sea explorer from Switzerland), who dived down to
10,893 meters in a specially built deep-sea vehicle, performing
the top event in manned deep sea exploration (still unbeaten
branch from a certain commander's family tree? Maybe his
to his papers, 1643453-BDC Shane Gooseman is 17 years old at the
time of this story but the dates are based on y.o.v. ( =
years of viability) dates. His physical age is 19 y.a.d. ( =
years after decant).