Truth, Justice, Honour and Loyalty by Jonathan J. Prideaux
The city of New Lunis lay on the edge of a cliff, near the Fire Rock Mountains on the little planet known as Third Earth. The city had been founded, largely through legal means, by the Lunataks, denizens of the Moons of Plundarr. The city was new, scarcely four months old, but the work was moving along at a reasonable pace. Old spaceships, including the fortress known as Sky Tomb, were put to use as homes, offices, shops, and other facilities. Surrounding the city, were the defences. Walls had been built and turrets installed. The Lunataks were not a peaceful people, despite the exceptions to the rule, and the region had known conflict a scant two months after its founding.
Luna, queen of the Lunataks, had appointed Tycho, next in line to the throne, to establish the city until such time as a more suitable replacement could be found. He had done well, bridging the gaps between his people and the Thunderians who inhabited the planet. Together they had managed to vanquish Mumm-Ra the ever living.
Unfortunately Tycho's successor, his old rival Aristarchus, had managed to undo the work. Relations with the Thundercats deteriorated, and eventually dissolved into war. Cat's Lair was badly damaged, and the Cats retaliated. They massed the people of Third Earth against the Lunataks, intent on driving them from the surface, even as Control intervened. The Interplanetary Control Force watched, horrified, as Aristarchus' lust for power and fragile psyche drove him to sentence Mandora to death, burned alive at the stake. Only an internal revolt had saved her life.
With Aristarchus in custody, the Thundercats and their allies had retreated back to their homes, or what was left of them, and Tycho found himself governor again. It was, he reflected, nice to be back. All he wanted out of life was to live quietly with Darius, a changeling who acted as his guardian and closest friend, but he'd never trusted Aristarchus with the role he'd been given, a role he was sure Luna had given him to spur Tycho into accepting that he was the best candidate for the position.
It was growing dark in this corner of Third Earth, and he watched from his little bedroom window in Sky Tomb as a family of Darklings rushed to their home. The child stumbled and the mother fussed over him. A warm feeling came over him, watching the interaction.
All races were, at their core, the same. He wished the Thunderians could see that. They felt love and anger, they raised families, they mourned the dead. The Lunataks might be more violent, but they were fighting for what they believed in. They believed that they were the superior people and everyone should bow to their wills. Were the Thundercats that much different? They forced others to hear their philosophy, they appointed themselves law enforcers and ruled through peace and friendship, they took a different route than the Lunataks.
Men like Aristarchus would never understand that kind of attitude. The man with the biggest gun should rule. Diplomacy won many more conflicts, Tycho felt, and he was feeling hard pressed in getting his countrymen to see it that way. He watched the Darklings continue on their way and turned back to the bed, where Darius lay reclined, his green leathery skin shining in the pale light. "A rare quiet night," his companion murmured, seeing his ward approach. Documents were scattered in front of him. Reports on various building projects, and the latest news from the Moons.
"It's refreshing," Tycho agreed, sitting on the edge of the bed. He'd often wondered what he would do without Darius. When all the world was a storm of chaos, Darius was there, a beacon of calm in the heart of it all. He was always there to listen, to say the right thing, or just cradle him in his darkest hours. But he did so much more behind the scenes, organizing his day, ensuring everything was safe, and handling all those picky details that would just bog him down. And he didn't ask for anything in return save the love of his partner.
Darius' wings twitched and Tycho caught a gleam of something mischievous in his eye. "It won't last. We should enjoy it while we can."
He arched an eyebrow. "Oh really, what did you have in mind?"
"Come here and find out."
* * *
The halls of Sky Tomb were quiet, several hours later, as a set of feet padded quietly down them. All the important persons, Tycho's council mostly, had been assigned rooms here. Getting into Sky Tomb had been tricky, admittedly, but not impossible. Knave's grandmother, Chilla, lived here and it wasn't implausible that he would need to speak to her. That wasn't why he was there, because he had other family he needed to see.
He knew the consequences of his actions would be severe, but he didn't care. Almost a year ago now he and a Psion woman named Zanaya had become intimate, through mutual manipulation. She had been interested in the secrets he knew, he was interested her body. Their initial coupling had been about possessing her through sheer force, but he had fallen in love with her. That lasted until she had what she wanted and bluntly told him what she really thought of him. That would have been the end of one of their lives if it wasn't for one little fact. The product of their union, a baby girl named Krystalin that she was keeping from him. That would change after tonight.
Knave walked with the confidence of one who is supposed to be there, scowling at anyone he met along the way. It only enhanced his reputation and their disgust. He was half Cheetah, his father having kept a number of Thunderian women captive for his pleasure. He didn't care, or tried not to. All his life he had been taught that Thunderians were weak, and he had tried to suppress that side. It crept out once in a while, but he tried to stifle it.
That Thunderian side wouldn't be at this door, he thought with a smile. It was unlocked, surprisingly, but he chose not to question it. It was simply good fortune, sloppiness on her part, or a mixture of both. Zanaya shared her home with her uncle, the high priest Mystan, and his acolyte Lura. A quick look around, his eyes adjusting to the thin light, showed that their home was like many in Sky Tomb. A central room with two bedrooms on either side. Mystan would be in one, no doubt, Zanaya in the other. Lura would probably sleep in the central room on the couch until a proper residence was constructed for her elsewhere.
He heard faint snoring coming from the couch, and saw that his guess was right. Lura slept, back towards him with a thin blanket covering her. He walked soundlessly to the room Zanaya was hopefully using and slid the door open. The bed was empty, and his heart leapt for a moment. Where was she? It was certainly her room, he recognized the scent. Once, that scent had thrilled him, stirred him in ways that only a fresh kill could arouse. There was another faint smell in the room. His child. He'd yet to see her in the three months since she'd been born, and now she would be coming home with him. Cautiously he walked to the cradle and peered down at the bundle inside. Pale blue skin like his own, and a smattering of white hair. She was beautiful. For all the heart aches and difficulties he'd been through, this almost made it worthwhile. He started to reach in but felt every muscle stop.
"I figured it was only a matter of time," a disembodied voice spoke directly into his brain. Reluctantly he felt himself turning around and walking back into the central room. The light turned on and he saw Lura rubbing her eyes on the couch, and Mystan himself in the door to his room. He hated Psions. They fought with their minds instead of their fists, it wasn't a fair battle. "I knew some day soon you would come for her. I have been lenient, Knave of House Iespyk. I wanted you dead, but Lura delayed my hand. Then you saved my life and so I was merciful. I had hoped that you would get the message, but apparently a further demonstration is in order. Lura?"
The young woman looked over at her master and then at Knave. She understood what she had to do and walked over to him. Knave sensed a reluctance in her walk, a faint whiff of shame in the air. "I'm sorry," she said, touching his head. His Cheetah heritage provided a slight resistence to mental probing, but Lura was very good. In seconds his feeble defences were shattered and she was inside.
* * *
The scenery was the same but something was different. Knave knew, on some level, that none of this was real. Even still, it didn't change the feeling of helplessness as he rose off the floor, nor the pain arcing through him as he slammed into the ceiling with incredible force. "Mystan is the greatest telekinetic alive," Lura's voice said. He couldn't see either the woman or her master, but that made sense given this was all in his head. He jerked into the air and hit the ceiling again. "He has many ways to kill you." He was propelled through the window and rose swiftly through the atmosphere where he was left to survey the terrain. His mental self dropped again, hurtling at speeds faster than any ship he'd been in towards the ground, landing with a sick sounding smack. Every bone felt broken, and he knew that if this had been real that he would be dead.
"But there are other options." Knave was whole again, standing over a surface that showed no signs of his impact. Suddenly his chest throbbed, his lungs stopped moving and he struggled for breath, clawing at his chest and throat for air. Just when he thought he could bear no more the grip released. Shifted was more appropriate. His heart then began to ache. "Perhaps this is more ironic, given the nature of your relationship with Zanaya." There was a lengthy pause, the nature of which he didn't know, but it was a temporary blessing. The phantom hand gripped his groin, wrenching on his penis painfully, twisting and removing the organ with an awful tearing sound. He cried out and clutched at the vacant space.
As before, the pain vanished. He then realized he was rising through the air, the ground beneath him shifting on its own, depositing him back in Mystan's room. He scowled, hating Psions more for this, and cursing himself for having slept with one in the first place. "There's one more, that Mystan enjoys. It takes blame off him." Knave pondered the words, and watched in horrid fascination as his hand picked up his icepick from its holster, the tip pressed against his chest. Suddenly his hand plunged the weapon, burying it deep, causing his blood to flow freely from the gaping wound.
* * *
Mystan watched impassively as Lura did her work, following his instructions. He could see the pain etched on the hybrid's face, and didn't feel sympathy. Knave had brought this on himself. He saw Lura release her hold, and the hybrid sagged to his knees. "You see, you are alive because I allow it. Make any such attempt again and it will be your last act on this planet. Do you understand?" he crouched so that he was at eye level.
"I understand fully. I will have to kill you first," Knave snarled, panting for breath. The attack didn't come, not immediately, nor would it. Lura's invasion of his mind had taken a lot out of him. The pain he'd experienced had been real to a point, and there had been instances where people had died in there. Lura was good though, she'd known just how much pressure to put on, how much to allow the brain to transmit. Perhaps she'd played it cautiously, he'd certainly noticed her going a little easy on him. That would wait. Knave would not.
"You've been warned," was all he said, gesturing for Knave to leave. He slunk out of the room like an animal with its tail between its legs. Mystan turned to his pupil. "Where's Zanaya?"
A moment, as Lura closed her eyes, seeking. It was a particular talent that he'd never mastered. "She's in the streets, practising."
* * *
There was little to do for an assassin here on Third Earth, Zanaya thought to herself. More than once she had considered returning to the Psion Moon, but she still had one piece of unfinished business. One former bedmate to eliminate. She prowled the streets in her blacks, keeping to the shadows, tailing pedestrians and visualizing how she would kill them if she were so inclined. She hadn't had the chance to fight much, other than light sparring sessions, which was something she intended to remedy.
On the positive side, she wasn't weighed down with her wretched child at present, and could easily workout. Governor Tycho had even insisted that she take the time to recuperate, so she hadn't been assigned to difficult work. That was a mixed blessing, in all fairness. She hated being indoors all day, having Krystalin latched to her chest like some kind of parasite, draining her bodily fluids.
And Lunis seemed to be taking it easy on her, now that the strenuous pregnancy was over. Zanaya had angered the goddess of the Icewalkers by killing one of her champions, and the child had been payback. Zanaya had named the baby after the target in a fit of irony, as the baby looked far more like an Icewalker than any Psion she'd ever met. But Lunis had sworn that the child would make her life miserable, and she had been right up until delivery.
A thick Graviton she'd been walking behind stopped suddenly, turning around taking a lengthy look at her chest. "Hey baby, want to see my other gravity carbine?" he asked.
She started with a death glare as she considered rejecting him, but it had been far too long since she'd killed. Her features softened and she patted the weapon slung over his shoulder. "If it's anything like the size of this one, I'd love to." She took his arm and followed him to his home. He would be discovered in the morning when he failed to report for duty. No trace of her would ever be found.
* * *
Slinking into his father's home, a place he was forced to share with the man who had despised him, Knave went to his room tired and sore. The light was on down the hall, indicating that Nitro was still awake, probably playing with one of his women. Knave knew, by all rights, he should speak with his father, explain what had happened. Nitro was just traditional enough to consider an attack on one to be an attack on the entire family, but that would mean asking that man for help, and Knave refused to do it. Some day soon, he would get his own revenge on Mystan.
* * *
"You hesitated," Mystan noted. Lura had finished her report on Zanaya's whereabouts, and he trusted his niece to handle that situation efficiently. "You need to obey me immediately in front of others. We must present a united front against the lesser races. You know that."
Her head bowed submissively. "I know. I felt sorry for him, and I shouldn't have."
"You have a soft heart, perhaps too soft. I expect better in the future. Your training period is nearly complete, and I would hate to have to send a negative report to the other elders. We will work on this in the morning," he said. She did mean well, he knew, and he wasn't so cold as people thought. But to obtain the rank he held, there could be no room for personal emotion, only the glory of the Moon. Lura was good, very good, the best telepath he'd ever worked with, and her abilities in the other disciplines was better than most. If she could master her emotions she would rise through the ranks of the priesthood.
He crossed the room and made sure the child was asleep and then retired back into his own quarters. He would deal with Lura in the morning.
* * *
Morning came, the sun's rays bathing Third Earth in the beautiful array of reds and yellows. Lion-O sat in the control room, alternating between surveying the land and just staring at the beauty outside. He couldn't remember life on Thundera very well anymore, simple things like the sunrise were a faint memory that he couldn't cling to. Sunrise, then, had meant schooling or breakfast. Ever since that fateful day when their home planet had been destroyed, Lion-O had found himself trying to enjoy the little things around him, just in case they were taken from him.
The door parted and his long time companion, Snarf, entered. They had shared a long history together, the latter's role shifting from babysitter/guardian to mentor and close companion. For all the grumbling about being treated like a child sometimes, Lion-O knew that he would be lost without old Snarf. "I brought you some breakfast," the small feline said, merrily placing a tray on the desk beside him. Delicious aromas wafted up to his nostrils and he grinned. Berbil berry pancakes slathered in maple syrup with a side of bacon. That was one thing Snarf relished doing these days, cooking up a storm for his appreciative companions.
"Thanks Snarf. I'm going to go with Panthro later to see how progress is going on the new Lair. Do you want to come along?" he asked, picking up his utensils.
"Brr... No thanks, but I'll make you two a lunch, snarf, snarf," he replied, disappearing back out into the hall. Lion-O chuckled, he could always depend on Snarf.
* * *
Breakfast was waiting for him on his desk when Tycho woke up. Two slices of bread, some jam, and a glass of juice were on the tray, along with a note that said simply "Today is not a quiet day, sorry." Next to the tray was an itinerary with a full complement of meetings. His first, disappointingly enough, was in an hour. A brief conversation with one of the building planners. Darius' elegant handwritten note indicated it was to discuss difficulties with a new sewer line being installed.
Following that was a meeting with Stalker, who was in command largely of the military forces, but also was in charge of security. There had been a murder during the night and he was to receive an update. There would be family back home to contact, one of the less pleasant aspects of his job. Lunch would be a meeting with his council, those who were available, and then even more meetings and discussions afterwards.
He dressed swiftly in the light purple outfit that Darius had laid out and buckled on his belt. He examined himself briefly in the mirror and started his day.
* * *
Knave walked into the kitchen and saw Nuiane hard at work making breakfast for the household. She was one of Nitro's girls, along with one named Gravica, serving him in any way he could conceive. It wasn't unusual for Icewalkers to have multiple partners, the added body warmth serving a purpose on the cold moon, but Nitro's tastes had always run towards the 'exotic'. The Darkling and Graviton women were only the tip of the iceberg, as he had dabbled in the past with women of many species, including Knave's own mother. Chilla had put a stop to that when she regained her position as head of the house. Lunar women only, she'd declared.
It hadn't always been that way. For Knave's early years Nitro had had an Icewalker woman, had bonded with her formally in front of the world and borne him three sons. She'd died shortly after his seventh birthday and Nitro had never bothered seeking another.
He walked up behind the Darkling and inspected what she was cooking, mildly amused when she flinched. His father was reasonable, he rewarded the people around him when they deserved it, and had earned the women of his harem's trust and even affection. But when he was angry he became vengeful; many a servant had found themselves on the receiving end of his brand of justice, the worst offenders winding up in the cooking pot.
Nuiane had betrayed him two months ago, in the middle of the escalating conflict with the Thunderians, and had nearly caused the death of Chilla, Nitro's mother. He had informed her in no uncertain terms that if Chilla died she would too. When the girl had been instrumental in saving Chilla's life, the punishment had been downgraded. She had been turned over to spend the night with his son. Knave was not a gentle lover, and she still bore a faint scar on her chest from his ministrations. "Smells good," he said, stepping back.
"It should be ready soon." He saw the tension in her hand as she diced some fruit. She was still angry at Nitro but would never harm him, she understood why Nitro had felt the need to punish her even if she didn't like it.
Which brought him back to the business with Mystan. Knave settled at the kitchen table and waited for the others to join him, still facing Nuiane in case she decided to take her frustration out on him. Obviously Mystan couldn't be tackled face to face, which was how Knave would prefer it. Psions, especially the powerful ones, could react quickly, and thought was much faster than he could move. Mystan would have to be taken by stealth, somehow, and then he could handle Zanaya.
And Lura? She hadn't quite earned herself a spot on his hit list. He'd met her twice now, and both times she seemed reluctant to do him harm. She might be a good weapon to use against her master, if he could figure out how to do it. It would be difficult, because a telepath like her would know his motives before he even got started. It bore thinking on though.
Nitro emerged from his bedroom a little later, dressed in a yellow spotted bathrobe. It, like all the clothes he wore when he wanted to needle his unwanted son, was made from the hide of Thunderian Cheetahs. Gravica joined him at the table, still stinking of sex to Knave's heightened senses. "I have some errands to run," Nitro said, calmly, "try to stay out of trouble."
"As you wish, father," Knave said, bowing his head as honour commanded. Someday, though, his dislike for the man would outweigh his duty.
* * *
To a casual observer Mystan and Lura were merely sitting across from one another with their eyes closed. The observer might notice, if they were inclined to look carefully enough, that Lura's eyes were scrunched, and that her body was a little more tense than Mystan's. "Twelve," Mystan finally said, the barest hint of triumph in his voice. Lura's shoulders slumped and she opened her eyes. "You're relying too much on blocking me. A telepath knows that there are times when deflection or distraction is more effective than a simple block. If I see a wall up I know you're hiding something and where it is. Evasion, I might not."
"Of course," she replied. He waited patiently. There was something on her mind and, while he could just go back in and find it out, it built trust in him if he didn't. "I'm distracted. It's this business with Knave. Wouldn't it be easier if he and Zanaya weren't on the same planet? Or at least the same city? I sent him away once, maybe I could try again."
"It would," Mystan answered. He stood up and stretched the kinks out of his back. He was beginning to dislike getting older, the joints and muscles seemed to protest a little louder every year. "If Knave were to return to the Ice Moon he would be out of our reach, but his father is here and his grandmother and he seems to feel his duty is with them. Hmm... I may have another idea, but it's going to require some heavy manipulation the old fashioned way. I'll discuss it when Zanaya wakes up."
* * *
Carrying a load of wood to one of the new houses, Knave had the time to think a little while venting his frustrations. As fate would have it, he had been assigned to work under a Psion today, which didn't help matters. Whirling around his head was the question of how Mystan had detected his presence. Icewalkers weren't noted for their stealth, but Knave was more than that. His Cheetah heritage had given him a lighter step, for which he was grateful, it had certainly served its purpose in the past when he was sneaking out of his father's home.
It wasn't that Nitro was cruel, far from it, but every child felt the need to spread their wings, so to speak, and that was where Nitro provided resistance. He had been assigned to the prison, run by House Iespyk of which his father was in charge of, with the goal to use his bloodthirsty desires to extract information from the accused. Knave grinned, remembering some of the nastier tricks he had used, and how often a prisoner would confess to anything when they found out who their jailer was.
He was feared in that world, even by his fellow guards. He'd made few friends in his life, and most of those were false. As for love? He saw where that had led. Love was only an abstract thing, another name for the lust for physical intimacy. Zanaya. She had betrayed him the one time he'd allowed himself to feel love. Or maybe it was himself. Maybe half-bred freaks like him were merely the means to an end. His friends had used him to further their aims, the prisoners played nice to him for extra food or less torture, and Zanaya and manipulated him for information. At least Nitro was honest in his motives. He cared little for his son, but felt honour bound to protect him as a member of the family. He still used him, but Knave could accept that because, likewise, he was honour bound to serve.
"Hey, Knave. The governor wants to see you," his job site boss called out to him. A million thoughts rushed through his head. Why would Tycho want to see him? Had Mystan reported him? Was it unrelated? Was it good or bad? He wouldn't find out the answers to his questions by standing there, so he headed for Sky Tomb.
* * *
Tycho was waiting patiently, with Darius standing nearby. In Tycho's experience, people felt better when they saw the changeling around, rather than wondering where he was and what he was disguised as, or if he was even present at all. It didn't make much difference to him, he was confident that Knave would pose little problem, especially given his sense of duty.
Icewalkers were dependable in that regard. They had a keen sense for order and liked things happening in a particular way. You could generally trust them to do as they were asked. They might question the orders, but they respected authority enough to do what they were told regardless, within limits. If they disagreed enough, and he had seen it happen, they would at least tell you where you could stick your orders. Unlike the Psions. Mystan had been in his office an hour before with the rest of the council and had raised a possibility. Tycho had never liked dealing with that man. Psions in particular had a way of talking that made you feel dirty for listening, and he suspected that Mystan had other things on his mind than the sake of the empire. But Mystan was important, high ranking and influential among the people of his moon. Wise was the ruler who kept tabs on such men.
The door opened, admitting the hybrid. He looked around with a trace of wildness in his countenance. He looked scared, which Tycho could hardly blame him for. No one liked being called before an authority figure, no matter how hard he tried to present himself as open and friendly. "You summoned me, governor?" he asked, performing a slight bow.
"I did," Tycho replied, gesturing for him to take a seat. He walked around his large desk, one he kept meaning to replace. Luna had originally put it here as a sign of her authority, but it was too big for his personal tastes. "How have you been?"
The question caught Knave off-guard, and Tycho was secretly pleased. He wanted to try and make him more comfortable, in the hopes that he might be more receptive to what was to come. "I've been fine. Why?"
"No reason at all. Curiosity mostly. I don't get to find out much about my people on a personal level, and I thought this might be an opportunity to do so."
"You called me here to see how I am?" the tone was incredulous, as though he were surprised that anyone, especially one of Tycho's rank, would care about such things. Or was it that anyone should care about him. Yes, there was something there that suggested he was still licking his wounds from the Zanaya business. Tycho had heard all about it both from Nitro and from Mystan. A proper therapist would be useful, and it almost made him change his mind.
"No. I didn't, as you've already guessed. You're having trouble fitting in here, if I may be blunt." He knew he could, as that was the way it was with Icewalkers. He could say whatever he liked, provided it wasn't too insulting; an offended Icewalker was dangerous. "A lot of people don't like half-breeds, and more still dislike the interbreeding between species. I don't agree with it, but I know it exists."
He'd have been a hypocrite to feel that way, for one thing. His relationship with Darius was common knowledge, and he'd never bothered to hide it. But even without that, he'd still feel the same. A person should not be judged by the blood in their veins, but the way of their heart. A great many hybrids existed whom he would place more trust in than the so called purebreds. Even though he had been working diligently to change that opinion, there was a movement about that opposed him, that felt that those whose bloodlines were diluted should be cleansed for the sake of the future. It disgusted him to know it, but there it was.
"I'm used to it," Knave said.
"And that's just it. You shouldn't have to be used to it. Call me an optimist, but I want all peoples to be judged fairly, and that's why I called you here. I want you to be an instrument of peace for me. I intend on speaking with Lion-O of the Thundercats, to see if he'll agree to let you be a symbol of our intent to repair the relationship between Thunderians and Lunataks, to prove that when we come together, good things can happen," he said. He was beginning to preach, as he sometimes did when he was keen on a subject.
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to live with them. Teach them about our ways and learn about theirs. There's a lot of good in them, and I feel that learning about one another is important in growing together."
Knave stared at him like he had suggested tap dancing on the sun. "You want me to live with the Thundercats? After what we did?"
"After what Aristarchus did. The Thundercats like you, or that's my impression. Even Mystan says that the one named Cheetara seemed fond of you. Aristarchus created a chasm, and I want you to be my bridge." Tycho saw a mysterious look cross Knave's face at the mention of the Psion, and wondered about it. Was that the old wound or something fresh? "I realize I could order you to do it, but that's not my way. I want you to do this for you and for the empire."
"What did my father say?"
"I don't know. But your sire was at the council meeting when it came up, and she agreed that it would be good." Tycho didn't think that Chilla's exact words would go over very well. She had suggested that it would be good for him, true, but more that it would be nice not to have him around. Chilla was biassed, as were the others who had dealt with the Thundercats for years. They were part of a different generation who had only known conflict with the felines.
"What about Krystalin? I'm not leaving her behind," Knave said, assuming a stubborn stance. Tycho felt Darius tense beside him but felt comfortable enough that his bodyguard wouldn't initiate a conflict.
It was also an issue that they hadn't foreseen, and probably should have. The next words he said would be very important in getting his position across. "On the short term we can't do that. Zanaya still has to nurse her, but I see no reason that once she's been weaned we couldn't look into transferring custody to you. It's a difficult issue, but..."
Knave snarled, and for one moment Tycho was sure he would attack. His pulse began to race at the prospect of a fight. Darius would protect him, but violence would only hurt the efforts here. A bulb went off in his head. Mystan had been insistent on this project because it would get Knave away from Krystalin. He made a mental note to confront him about it later. "I want your word on it before I agree to anything," Knave finally said, forcing down his tension.
"Fair enough. I'll talk to Chilla and Mystan. See if we can't work it out. Thank you for your time." He watched the other get up and exit the room, leaving Tycho alone with Darius again. "That's going to be a mess, isn't it."
"Agreed. I'll set it up, and send out a feeler to the Thundercats. You have another meeting in ten minutes," Darius replied, moving a folder on to the front of Tycho's desk.
* * *
Every time Lion-O saw it he was amazed. Cat's Lair was near completion thanks to the tireless efforts of the Berbils after the heavy damage it had taken. He could still remember the day, vividly as though it had happened yesterday. Aristarchus, the traitor, had returned a captive Tygra to them in exchange for the Sword of Omens and repaid their trust by opening fire on the Lair. Luckily only Snarf had been inside, had his long time friend had avoided death, but that stroke of fortune didn't make up for the loss of so much. His home, many of his possessions, everything they had worked so hard for and it was gone in seconds. And why? Some perverted quest for power. It was why some men should never be put in positions of power, their eternal desire for more.
He was leader of the Thundercats, but that was merely a title draped on him like a coat. It didn't do much, the other Thundercats in some ways had just as much authority as he did, he was just a figurehead in many respects. No, he thought as he climbed out of the Thundertank, that wasn't entirely true. He had the final word on most matters within the Thundercats, it just seemed like he didn't because they were so often in agreement.
Like the Berbils. None of the Thundercats particularly liked having the Berbils do their work. It didn't seem fair for the robotic bears to do all the work while he and the others lived elsewhere. He had heard accusations that they were being employed as slave labour in exchange for protection, but the Berbils seemed offended by the concept. They enjoyed being useful, and argued that construction was something they were good at, and that it left the Thundercats free to do other work around the planet.
And so Lion-O made it a point to justify that faith, no matter how guilty he felt watching them. As they'd left, Pumyra had been gathering supplies for a medical emergency near the Wollo village and they'd dropped her off en route. He supposed it was that kind of act that made the people of Third Earth so willing to help one another. When people worked together, they could accomplish a lot.
"Hello, Lion-O and Panthro," one of the Berbils, Robear Biff said, pushing a wheelbarrow with bags of cement.
"It's looking good," Panthro replied, "probably better than last time."
"Thank you, Thundercats. We hope so." The bear continued on his way quietly and without complaint.
"Shouldn't be much longer before we can move in. Just a case of moving the furniture they salvaged back into place and hooking everything up," Panthro noted.
"Agreed. It's impressive. I just hope we never have to build it again... Just a second." Lion-O hopped back in the tank and activated the radio, some small part of him fearing the worst. "I read you Lynx-O, what is it?"
"There's a communique waiting for you from the Lunataks," the elderly feline said, as his face appearing on the tiny monitor.
"The Lunataks? What do they want?" Panthro asked, eavesdropping.
"Only one way to find out. Patch it through to here, please."
* * *
Before Tycho could meet with Lion-O or Mystan he had to make a decision he realized he had been avoiding. The question of who the rightful guardian of Krystalin should be. There were so many factors to weigh, and precedents to consider.
It would be easier if both parents were of the same race. In general, Icewalker law would dictate that the more powerful family member would be the protector. Knave's family was the highest ranking family on the Ice Moon and, technically, Zanaya's wasn't on the moon at all. Psions tended to place ownership on the mother, which swung it back to Zanaya. Mixed race children were more complicated and, unsurprisingly, tended to be given to whichever parent it was more politically advantageous for the judge or ruler to give it to. Tycho wondered which side Luna would take. Probably the Icewalkers, truthfully. Rewarding past service to Nitro, who had freed her and her cohorts from Third Earth, was the best route.
But Tycho tried not to engage in that kind of political manoeuvring, he decided that he had to consider what was best for the child. Mother or father. Living among Thunderians or Lunataks. Assassin or savage.
Neither option sounded wonderful, in truth. With Knave, Krystalin would be reared among the Thunderians for a time. People would accuse them of corrupting her with their values and taint her the same way her father was. But with Zanaya she would be with a mother who despised her, and maybe that was the answer he needed.
Tycho stepped from the desk and stared at the one picture he had of his family, hanging on the wall. A brother, his parents, and Darius. He'd grown up in a nurturing and loving environment, a constant sense of love from his family. Even now, he knew, Darius was doing some little thing for him because he loved him. Knave was many things, indeed he was a savage in many respects, but he had a great love for his daughter, determined that she should have a childhood that he had been denied. And Zanaya? She kept the babe away from him out of spite.
He didn't pretend to understand the circumstances around her birth. Zanaya had offered her body to Knave, tried to seduce him to get the information he wanted, and had been upset when he'd taken her up on it. Icewalker sex wasn't gentle, from what he'd seen and overheard. Many were the wounds that were displayed proudly. So it was bordering on rape, but not quite. Mystan's reaction would be fascinating. He'd be rid of Knave, but Knave would have the child. He made a note to have Darius present when he met him.
* * *
Tycho was right. As Mystan heard the explanation, he grew angrier. If Tycho were any other man... The thought trailed off abruptly, knowing the futility. Mystan could probably kill Tycho in about five seconds, but those seconds would be enough time for Darius to react. He could probably kill Darius too, given time, but that was less of a guarantee. Changeling physiology was unique, something about their chemistry made it impossible to get a firm grip on them with his telekinesis. Squashing him with a heavy object was possible, but again there were few guarantees. The Psion high priests had captured a few of the creatures and had experimented with various means of killing them, with little success.
"You're entrusting the care of a baby to him?" he asked slowly, regaining control of his emotions. "He'll probably eat her as a snack one day."
"That's your best argument?" Tycho replied, glancing sideways at Darius.
"Aristarchus was a mad man and I am beginning to suspect you are as well. Knave is an unworthy choice as 'parent' of my niece's child. Especially since you place on turning him loose in Cat's Lair. She will make the perfect spy for the Thundercats when they finally decide to turn against us. They haven't forgotten what your predecessor did."
"And I see this as a sign of trust between us and them. What does it say about us if we're scared to let them see our children? The Thundercats will respect Knave's privacy and only help where needed," Darius said smoothly.
"You are weak, Tycho. I will make note of this in my report to Luna. I would watch out for Zanaya when she finds out, I won't protect you from her again." Mystan stalked out, the door hissing shut behind him. His niece had killed many before, and with more difficult odds. He had a suspicion that there would be a vacancy in the governor's seat soon enough.
* * *
An hour or so later, a common housefly would wind its way through the corridors of Sky Tomb before landing across the hall from Mystan's room. After a quick check around for spiders or other predators, it settled down and watched.
* * *
Lion-O steepled his fingers, sitting alone in the conference room in Cat's Lair. Though work was still going on, Berbils cheerfully mending walls and hooking up wires, he ignored it all and considered the Lunataks question. Lion-O wondered about Tycho. He seemed almost Thunderian in personality and he might have called him friend were it not for the hatred between their peoples. In fact, Tycho was probably the only Lunatak who wouldn't be offended at the comparison.
It was every Thunderian's dream, with rare exceptions, to have peace, it was what they strived for. It was as much a part of them as the code of Thundera, or even an arm. No matter how often they were burned, he always felt the need to reach out to the flame of peace, but that didn't mean he couldn't be sensible about it.
A transfer of knowledge, education, and first hand information; it was all so tempting, but were there motives, what would it cost? Lion-O had trusted people before, and knew that everyone was capable of deceit. Was Tycho setting them up for something? Sneak someone into the Lair and sabotage them from there? Certainly the candidate for such a transfer sweetened the deal considerably. From the moment Lion-O had seen Knave, he had yearned to help him discover his other side.
A trio of Berbils walked by the room, singing some kind of song whose words he couldn't make out. He stared again out the window remembering his own treatment at the hands of the Lunataks. The abuse. The mental torture. The loss of his home and valued possessions. Almost the loss of his friends.
"And imagine how Knave and his mother were treated," a voice in his head noted. That was also true. Thunderians weren't liked, and Lunataks didn't keep such opinions to themselves. Knave's life would have been full of ridicule and torment. His mother had been captured and raped, the hybrid had told Cheetara in a vulnerable moment, and he had been forced to kill her. His heart ached thinking of it.
It was settled then. The conversation with Tycho had been recorded, and he would play it back for the others. There would be objections, if Panthro's reaction was an indicator, but they would discuss things properly. Conditions would have to be set, a constant watch until they'd gauged his honour at the very least, and restrictions placed on where he could go. Lion-O thought it would probably happen, it was all a question of when.
* * *
A thick silence hung over the room. Lion-O looked around the table, wondering to himself who would speak first. They had gathered again at the Tower of Omens, assorted errands completed, and he had played the audio track. It was Panthro, unsurprisingly, who took the initiative. He had been vocal on the ride back to base, and seemed offended that they were even considering the possibility. "As I told Lion-O, it's a trap. Those blasted Lunataks can't be trusted for a second. We let him in, we might as well cut our throats, save them the trouble."
"It's tough to say," Tygra said, slowly. It was Tygra who had spent the most time recently in the clutches of the Lunataks, and had been traded temporarily for the Sword of Omens. He didn't talk about what had happened, though Lion-O got the impression it was more psychological than anything. "I think it's difficult to compare Tycho with Aristarchus or even Luna. Aristarchus' own people considered him mad, remember, and Tycho seems to genuinely want friendship."
"For now," Pumyra's voice surprised Lion-O. Seeing everyone looking at her, she shyly continued. "We've all seen what the Lunataks are capable of. Tycho might be the exception to the rule, but what happens when Luna countermands his orders?"
"And yet, can we turn away a countryman? Knave did not choose to be born on the Moons of Plundarr. He is still one of us," Lynx-O, eldest of the Thundercats, said.
"Or is he one of them? He threatened to eat me," Wily Kat said, violently hitting the table with the palm of his hand. The resounding noise hung in the air, while his sister tried to calm him.
The Lord of the Thundercats listened patiently as the conversation went around the table, both for and against the bargain. Cheetara seemed to be the strongest supporter, which didn't surprise him. Before the attack on Cat's Lair she and Knave had been speaking on occasion and she had gotten close to him. It was one of the reasons that Lion-O had hope. Cheetara reminded Knave of his mother and he seemed willing to open up a bit about his past. There were deep wounds, she explained, but he possessed some of the Thunderian spirit. Lynx-O, Bengali and Tygra seemed to be in agreement with her, each for their own reasons, leaving the twins, Panthro and Pumyra opposed.
Four on four wasn't his preference. If the Thundercats could be united it made his decision making easier. Seeing that they were going around in circles he cleared his throat. "We'll come back to that later. I'll sleep on it and make a decision in the morning. Right now, let's hypothetically say he does stay with us. What are the terms? Conversely, if he doesn't, then we need to anticipate how the Lunataks will react."
* * *
The dialogue in Mystan's room was far less friendly. Mystan had explained Tycho's stance to Zanaya and the latter had let loose a string of words whose meaning Lura didn't want to know. This was largely a family dispute, so Lura concentrated on her studies, poring over a book of rites. Her apprenticeship to Mystan would be over soon, and she would be expected to carry on in the greater work depending on the god's will. It was hard not to listen in on the conversation, mostly because Zanaya was yelling, so she eventually closed the book and stopped pretending to read.
She was still in the room for one more reason. Zanaya was Mystan's niece, but there was no guarantee that she wouldn't attack him. A light brushing of the woman's mind showed that such an impulse was there, held tightly in check.
"He does have a point. You've shown no desire to keep the child," Mystan said calmly. Lura didn't need to read his mind to sense the tension there. He had confidence that his relationship and his superior rank would protect him, but there was still a trace of doubt. Especially since he was saying something that was designed to provoke her.
"I don't, and I'd kill the brat if I didn't think there would be consequences, but I'll be doubly damned if I let Knave get his hands on her," she growled. Zanaya shoved a chair out of her way as she paced the room. Dimly she could hear Krystalin crying. "More bother than she's worth."
Quietly, Lura went into the next room and collected the child in her arms. A baby's thoughts weren't terribly organized, and they had zero defences against a telepath of even moderate skill. Lura read vague thoughts of hunger and fear, a desire for her mother to protect and feed her.
She carefully produced a bottle of milk and settled back down on the couch. The child's thoughts calmed a little, but she was still scared. She recognized Lura as a friend but knew she was not mommy. "We have very few options. Tycho thinks that she belongs to Knave and we will have to give her up soon. Unless the hierarchy changes in our favour, we aren't able to do anything. Maybe we could appeal to Luna," Mystan said. He hadn't moved from where he stood, but he was watching everything.
"Maybe." Zanaya's expression changed, growing darker as a grin spread across her face. Just the sight of it caused Lura to shudder, and started Krystalin crying again. "There's another option. Tycho thinks Knave is the best option, but what if something should happen to him. I've been wanting him dead for a while now anyway."
"That would work too. You'd be the primary suspect, so make sure no one sees you."
"In that case, don't use the front door," Lura said, squirming as the attention was turned to her. "I think Darius is out in the hall. I was practising earlier and one of the flies outside resisted my attempt. I don't think he noticed."
* * *
The bar Knave had chosen was unusually quiet tonight, which suited him fine. Finding a table when it was full was a pain, mostly because no one really wanted to sit with one of his kind. There were a total of three half-breeds in the city of New Lunis at present, himself, a Psi-Royal cross, and his daughter. The thought of having her brought a smile to his lips. He had tried many times to take her, and now he was going to be given her, through political means. It had never occurred to him to try diplomacy, it wasn't his thing, but it seemed to have worked.
Krystalin, a strange name for a Psion to give a child, but her appearance definitely favoured her paternal grandfather. Knave wondered about that. Zanaya had told him a few details about how she'd gotten pregnant and he wasn't sure how much to believe. He'd had his hands ready to kill, her betrayal revealed, and a desperate person would say anything to save their hides. Still, a gift from the goddess was as plausible as anything else.
He drank from his glass of beer, ignoring the waitress' rude remark about wishing he would find somewhere else to be, and thought about how strange it was that he wanted this. His childhood, and adult life if he were honest, had been difficult. Ostracized in the public school system for his mother's blood and loathed at home by his older brothers and father, he had learned very quickly that he couldn't count on anybody. But Krystalin wouldn't have those biases, never would if he had his way. He would give her the love that had been denied to him, and she would return that love.
His initial fear when he'd learned that the Psion woman was pregnant was that the baby would favour the Cheetah side, and that they would have to face the same prejudices he had. She still might. Living with the Thundercats she might face some of the same problems he had back on the Ice Moon, and her association with him might hurt her if she were to go back to New Lunis. Still, she would have the childhood he had always wanted, and the affection of a father that he had never gotten.
Knave consumed his beer and rose, paying his tab and heading out into the night. A new day was coming, and a new life for him. So much change, but it all seemed for the better.
* * *
Tycho looked under the bed, checked the closet, and locked the window shut. He was being silly, of course. Darius was watching Zanaya, and he could trust him. Oh, it was theoretically possible she would elude the changeling, but highly unlikely. And if she did then there was very little he could do to stop her from slitting his throat.
With that comforting thought running through his head, Tycho burrowed under his covers and hoped that he would see the morning sun.
* * *
Trust. That's what it all came down to. Lion-O sat on the edge of his bed, having changed into his nightclothes while Snarf fussed with his dirty clothes. Could the Lunataks be trusted? Could Knave? "Something troubles you, Lion-O?" the ghostly voice of Jaga asked, the shimmering figure appearing in his room. He had always counted on the deceased mentor for advice, and was glad of his appearance now.
"It's about the decision I have to make. How do I know if I'm making the wrong one without it being too late?" He asked.
"What does your heart say?"
Even though he knew that Jaga wouldn't give him the straight forward answer, preferring that Lion-O make his own decisions, it still frustrated him. Surely if Jaga could see him then he could see what was happening over in Sky Tomb as well. "My heart says that this isn't a trick. That Tycho has good intentions, even if the rest of his countrymen don't."
"And Knave himself?"
Lion-O hesitated. Where he'd found Tycho reasonably easy to read, Knave was harder. Could he tame his aggression? And where did his loyalties lie? "I don't know. I want to think he's honourable, but..."
"The Icewalkers have a code very similar to our own," Jaga conceded, "they believe in loyalty to their superiors and their kin. So long as his pledge to you is not annulled by another oath, you can trust in him.
"But how do I know what oaths he's made?" Lion-O asked, even as Jaga faded away. It brought him a little closer to a decision, so he stretched out and fell asleep.
* * *
The brain was fascinating. It saw what it wanted to see. Tricking it into not seeing things was difficult, but possible to one who knew what they were doing. Zanaya knew and did it instinctively. There were many Psion disciplines, and she had tried to learn each of them but found that she little aptitude for any, except for that small telepathic trick. Over the years she had found it very useful to walk down the street unnoticed. It took a fair amount of concentration, and wore her out if she used it too long, but it was worth it.
Climbing down Sky Tomb's walls was one of those times. Even though it was late, there were still enough people meandering about that even one of them might sound the alarm if they saw her. When she reached the ground, she found a secluded spot and let the illusion drop. Another trick she had learned over the years was to take advantage of uniforms and perceptions. Darklings and Psions were indistinguishable in the low light, when skin tone mattered little, and wearing a Darkling styled outfit only helped. Anyone who remembered seeing her would recall seeing a white and black uniform and assume it had been a Darkling wandering the streets.
"Now to find Knave. If I were him, disgusting a thought as it is, where would I be?" she thought to herself, heading in the direction of Nitro's home. Unable to afford his own house, at the time being, Knave was living with his father and two harem girls, so that was a logical place to start. Nitro. Just the thought of the man caused her lip to curl. It had been an assignment to kill Nitro that had started the chain reaction that had brought her to Knave. She had failed that mission because her superiors had insisted that he know who had hired her and why, the fools. Realistically she could have had that job done cleanly and been back on the Psion Moon without anyone being the wiser.
She gasped, covering the movement by crouching to tie a boot lace, when she saw him emerge from a bar up ahead. That was good. Mind addled by liquor he would be easier prey to her knife, and his other senses might be dulled as well. That damnable sense of smell had beaten her that first time, his nose catching her scent and helping him beat her. She had washed thoroughly, avoiding the use of any soaps, before leaving but the alcohol was even better. He wasn't stumbling, unfortunately. Zanaya trailed him from a safe distance, always watching for an opportunity to get him somewhere that no one would interfere, but didn't see a good chance until he got home. It didn't matter, tonight it would end.
* * *
Not for the first time Knave cursed the thinness of the walls. Nitro seemed to be occupied in the master bedroom with both of his girls, the giggling far more than he wanted to hear. Sighing, he slipped into his own bedroom, barely stopping long enough to use the bathroom. Soon he wouldn't need to worry about his father. He wouldn't have to see his father again for a very long... The words cut off in his head, the hair on his arm tingling as he opened the bedroom door. Something was wrong. The window was open and there was a familiar smell. He didn't have time to register what it was before he felt something bite deep into his shoulder, a stroke of luck that he'd moved at the right moment. He heard a curse and at once knew what was happening.
Adrenaline pumped through him, even as his blood splattered on the floor. An invisible attacker. The scent. The voice. It all pointed to one person. "Zanaya," he growled, straining to find her. She had obviously stepped back, further in the room, formulating a new plan. She had obviously intended that her first strike would do him in and trying to gauge whether or not he could find her.
It was difficult. The alcoholic haze was still hampering him, but his sense of smell told him roughly where she was. Near the bed, by the window. A single drop of blood touched the mattress and he lunged, grunting as he caught the thin blade in the stomach. The illusion dropped, and he saw her smiling wickedly. She had clearly been holding the blade towards him, hoping that he would fall on to it. He fell awkwardly on the mattress, holding the gaping wound. "You told me that taking a life and sex brought you the same pleasure," she said, leaning close and brushing his hair back out of his face. "You were right." She picked up his icepick from beside the bed and brought it crashing down on his head.
* * *
Darius sprinted, cursing himself for a fool. It all made perfect sense, why hadn't he considered it before? Tycho wouldn't be the target, Knave would. But who had told him of Zanaya's actions? He had been sitting peacefully on the wall when a sudden urgent pressure told him what was going on. Practically begged him to go to Knave because Zanaya had left through the window. He had feared a trick, but seeing Knave's open bedroom window confirmed the plausibility.
He flew to ledge and gaped at the bloody mess before him. Knave's eyes were unfocussed, but moving, blood seeped between the hybrid's fingers and from the open wound on his shoulder. There wasn't much time if he was going to save him. Step one was placing his hands on the wounds, focussing his shape changing to fill them and stop the bleeding, step two was calling out to Nitro for help. Moments later he and Nitro, the latter dressed only in short robe, were transporting Knave's limp body to the hospital.
* * *
Far away, guilt gnawed at Lura. There would be consequences if Mystan ever found out what she had done. He might have her ejected from the priesthood, or even let Zanaya know what had happened. And why had she done it? Some fleeting fancy of hers? Pity? There was a quiet voice deep inside that suggested it was more than that. She'd been in his mind twice now, and both times she had felt such an incredible yearning to be loved. It spoke to her.
When she was young, her parents had told her that she would be important if she could focus on her studies. A Psion's power could be gauged at birth, when a high priest temporarily blocked their abilities, and she had shown great potential. Friends were denied her in the pursuit of keeping her grades up, to bring some degree of prestige to the family. When the temple had accepted her as a candidate for training she had found herself latching on to her first mentor, a Psion only a little older than she was, who had taught her how to wield her powers. She had been desperate herself for affection, and tumbled into bed with him at his first asking, fearing that saying 'no' would lead to an expulsion.
As her power grew she saw that while there was some love between them, there wasn't enough and she ended it, finding herself hurting when she discovered that they couldn't carry on a friendship without the sex. Her second mentor had been more stern, and she'd never developed a fondness for him and feared that she never would until her third mentor. Mystan was a strange mix of the two men. He could be stern and forceful, but she had glimpsed the other side of him, the true side. He kept his emotions walled up within, arguing that they interfered with a Psion's abilities if they could not be controlled. But how often had she seen that wall crack? Anger, love, fear, small cracks in that great wall.
She would see that anger again, if she weren't extra careful. Anger that she had committed the greatest sin and allowed her emotions to guide her actions. Yes, buried deep down she thought she saw the beginnings of love for Knave, but she had to squelch them, because failure might mean her death.