Monday, November 2, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 43

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each. Also, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can now read all three books as part of their subscription.
< Chapter 42                                                                                                       Chapter 44 >
Our heroes have made good their escape from Federation space.

Nancy Martin met us when we touched down on Ark’s Landing and brought along a group she introduced as her extended family. Milla and Michelle—as formidable a pair of blonde beauties as I’ve ever seen—carefully appraised each other for an entire second. Nancy actually held her breath until the two women smiled broadly and hugged like old friends.

“Ah, it appears we are going to be fast friends,” Milla’s husband Raal said to me as our wives pulled Nancy into a big hug. “Thank God. I don’t know what Nancy would do if our wives didn’t get along.”

“Nancy told us all about your trials on the Ark 2,” I replied. “I couldn’t imagine Milla and Michelle not liking each other.”

Raal regarded me for a couple of seconds. “You know, most people who meet us for the first time talk about our adventures on the Ark 2.”

“Adventures happen to other people and can be enjoyed on a big vid screen from the comfort of your own living room,” I responded. “Trials are what happen to the terrified people actually living through those same events.”

Raal’s polite smile widened to a friendly grin. “I must warn you, Nancy has told our two boys all about your trials rescuing your parents. They think you’ve had grand adventures and are going to pester you for stories.”

“The stories about you and Milla aren’t enough?”

“We never fought hundreds of space pirates,” Raal said. “By the logic of my eight-year-old son, defeating a computer and a handful of mercenaries just can’t compare with that.”

At that point, Michelle and Milla drew Raal and me into their conversation. A few minutes later, colony officials guided everyone off of the ship and into housing the colony built specifically for newly arrived colonists. We settled in as best we could while waiting for the Colony Council to rule on our request for asylum.

To my considerable relief, the government of Ark’s Landing granted us temporary asylum while they considered our case. Archibald Bransen, the Terran Federation ambassador, immediately applied heavy pressure on the little colony’s government, insisting they extradite the whole lot of us back to the Federation. I expected no less from the ambassador.

Following the protocol established in the Ark’s Landing Articles of Colonization, our asylum hearing should be open to the public and broadcast live across the colony. Ambassador Bransen immediately protested, insisting a closed hearing was in everyone’s best interests. The man looked well on his way to convincing the Colony Council before Nancy shot it all down with one simple question.

When asked for her opinion of the ambassador’s request by a local newsie, Nancy asked, “What is the ambassador trying to hide from us?”

If Michelle or I asked the same question, it wouldn’t have gotten much play. But it was Nancy Martin—the heroine of the Ark 2, the woman the colonists called ‘Our Captain’—asking the question. The quote dominated the news cycle and the colonists responded, bringing their own pressure to bear on their council representatives. The morning after Nancy asked her simple question, the Council refused Ambassador Bransen's request. With the whole colony watching, our hearing began the very next morning.

The ambassador opened the hearing, discussing at length the dangers psychics pose to society and individuals. He gave graphic accounts of the Cairo Catastrophe and the aftermath, dwelling on the lives lost and ruined when an empath of vast power went insane. He followed those stories with a surprisingly accurate description of our arrival at the Psi Corps office along with everything which happened afterward. Piscain Station officials must have launched a drone with the details once our destination was known.

Jabbing a finger at me, Bransen thundered, “The most powerful empath discovered in the last four hundred years sits right over there. Do you truly want the ticking time bomb named Matthew Connaught free among your colonists? Do you truly want him reading and warping your emotions? Do you truly want another Cairo Catastrophe and the resulting death, destruction, and insanity that comes with it?”

Next Bransen swept his arm to encompass all of the psychics who came with us. “Do you want highly-trained psychics unleashing their powers on your people when Matt Connaught drives them insane? Should you be among the unfortunate survivors of such a psychic onslaught, will you be able to live with the knowledge you could have prevented it all by simply refusing their request for asylum?”

Bransen’s voice softened and he smiled sadly at the council and us. “I hold no animosity toward psychics. These unfortunate people did not ask for this curse. But they are simply too dangerous to let roam free. The Federation has successfully contained the psychic threat for centuries. We can train them. We can protect you from them. We can make them safe, sane, productive members of our society. For the good of Ark’s Landing and these psychics, let us take them back to the Federation. Let us take them back to our protective embrace.”

Bransen gave a firm nod to the Colony Council, most of whom were nodding as if in general agreement with everything he said. Bransen’s presentation was masterful and emotionally persuasive, one which resonated with many on the council and among the spectators. My heart sank as my gaze swept over all of the thoughtful expressions around me. Then my eyes returned to my companions and my heart all but stopped beating.

Raal and Milla wore contemplative expressions. Nancy nodded, deep in thought. As did Michelle. My vision blurred as my life lost all meaning. Gently, I took Michelle’s hand and brought it to my lips.

In a low voice, I said, “I’ll surrender myself to the Federation if that’s what you think is best, Michelle. But only if they’ll agree to leave Cassie and the other kids behind. Please tell me you’ll take care of them and I’ll go without complaint.”

“What?” Michelle gasped, focus returning to her eyes. “Oh my God, Matt, no! Not in a million years will I let you do that!”

“But you were nodding just now,” I insisted. “You were agreeing with Bransen.”

The council chair roused herself from her thoughts and said, “Mr. Connaught? Please rise and present your case for asylum.”

Michelle rose, one hand pressing me back into my seat. “I will speak on behalf of those seeking asylum.”

“Michelle, are you sure this is-” I began.

Her blue eyes bright with excitement, her smile wide and confident, Michelle whispered, “I’ve got this, babe. Trust me.”

The council chair waved a hand. “Very well. Proceed.”

“I’m speaking instead of my husband because I don’t want anyone leveling accusations that Matt used his empathic abilities to sway the Colony Council. Even so, when I finish speaking I have complete confidence you’ll grant our request.” Michelle faced the ambassador, a patronizing smile plastered across his face. “When I finish speaking, I also have complete confidence Ambassador Bransen will retract his objection.”

“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, Mrs. Connaught,” Bransen said with absolute confidence. “I stand by everything I said.”

“And I think you’re going to change your mind with remarkable rapidity, Ambassador,” Michelle replied. “Think back on what the ambassador said to us. His speech was rhetorically excellent, evoking all the right emotions at all the right moments. When he sat down, most everyone in the room was nodding in thoughtful agreement.”

Michelle faced the council. “You on the council were nodding.”

She spun to face the spectators. “You in the crowd were nodding.”

She stepped in front of Raal and Milla. “Both of you were nodding.”

She turned to Nancy. “Nancy was nodding.”

Michelle drew in a deep breath and let her eyes sweep across everyone, from the spectators to the council. “I was nodding.”

A murmur ran through the crowd at that. Michelle’s voice rose over it. “Yes, I seriously considered Ambassador Bransen’s words. I, who have intimate experience with Matt’s ability, was nodding. I, who gladly abandoned a life of luxury on Draconis rather than see him taken by Federation officials, was nodding. I, who put my life in jeopardy to stay with Matt, was nodding. I, who would die rather than lose my husband, was nodding!”

Tears flowed freely down Michelle’s cheeks at this admission. “What kind of woman would turn against her husband, the love of her life, the center of her universe, because of an ambassador’s speech?”

“I’ll tell you what kind of woman would do that.” Michelle wiped her eyes and turned toward Bransen. “A woman whose emotions were being manipulated by an empath.”

The room was absolutely silent for a few seconds as everyone absorbed Michelle’s words. Then Bransen jumped to his feet, shouting, “That’s a lie!”

“Is it?” Michelle asked. “Have you ever been tested for psychic abilities?”

Face red and eyes bulging, Bransen sputtered, “Of course not!”

“But you wouldn’t object to being tested, would you?” Michelle asked.

With a force of will, Bransen regained his composure. “Alas, there is no psychic testing machine on Ark’s Landing.”

Michelle sighed in resignation. “So much for that idea… Just so we’re clear, though, you’d allow testing for psychic abilities if it was possible?”

A self-satisfied expression on his face, Bransen said, “Absolutely and without reservation.”

What can only be called a devilish smile spread across Michelle’s face. “Are you aware, Ambassador Bransen, that telepathy and empathy are incompatible powers?”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Bransen asked, his composure slipping a bit.

“Telepaths cannot read empaths—at least not beyond a few surface thoughts—and empaths cannot read or sway the emotions of telepaths.” Michelle turned to the one man on the council who wasn’t nodding after Bransen’s speech. “Sir, that means you’re either a psychic null—someone who isn’t affected by mental abilities—or are a low-level telepath yourself.”

Bransen fought to regain the upper hand. “This is all very interesting, young lady, but I don’t see how it applies here and now.”

“Don’t you, Ambassador Bransen? We’ve got a dozen or more telepaths in this very room.” Michelle looked at the teenage boy sitting next to Zav. “Gene, can you read the ambassador beyond his surface thoughts?”

Bransen leapt to his feet. “I protest this abuse most vigorously!”

“Did you not just say you would agree to a test were one possible?” Michelle asked in the sweetest, most innocent voice she could manage. “I believe ‘Absolutely and without reservation’ is the exact quote. Are you a man of your word, Ambassador Bransen?”

With that last question, Michelle had Bransen and he knew it. He could either refuse Gene’s test and watch his career as a diplomat come crashing to an end or allow it and deal with the consequences. Bransen’s shoulders slumped and, his voice barely audible, said, “I am, of course, a man of my word. Proceed with the test.”

All eyes turned to Gene as the teenager’s gaze turned inward. He knit his brow as his concentration deepened. Gene broke into a sweat as he pushed himself harder. After half a minute Gene’s expression softened and his eyes focused on the outside world again.

“I can’t read him.”

Pandemonium broke out among the spectators as Bransen’s composure broke. As the council chair banged her gavel and demanded a restoration of order, the ambassador buried his hands in his face.

It took the council chair nearly a minute to restore order. When she did, the woman asked, “Do you have anything further to say, Mrs. Connaught?”

“I do, ma’am.” Michelle met the eyes of each of the council members. “Consider what you’ve seen today and think about how many other psychics you may know—good people with some minor ability who have no idea they are different from you and me in any way. My friends are no different simply because you know they have abilities. Consider that when you make your decision today.”

The chair nodded and then said, “Ambassador Bransen, do you have anything you wish to say?”

“Yes,” Bransen replied, his voice thick with emotion. “I hereby retract my protest to the request for asylum.”

By unanimous vote, the council approved our request for asylum.

Safe on Ark’s Landing, what will our heroes do now? Find out in Chapter 44, the final chapter of The Fugitive Pair.