The Rebellious Son
I hear the words from far way, but they help me fight my way back to full consciousness.
Finally I open my eyes, but everything is blurry.
“Good,” says the voice.
“You’re in a med station.”
“Do you remember what happened?”
“The attack on the prince.”
“Is he all right?”
“Yes, and so is the guard that you were found with.”
“She needed some surgery, but she’ll make a full recovery.”
I try to get up, but I just don’t have the strength.
“You’ve been in a coma for four weeks.”
“We didn’t expect you to survive.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“No one knows, but your brain was barely active.”
“Some thought you suffered neurological damage from an energy weapon.”
“Guess they were wrong.”
“We wanted to disconnect life support, but the prince wouldn’t let us.”
“You made quite an impression on him.”
“The emperor tried to convince him that we should let you die, but he was stubborn.”
“I saved his life.”
“It’s more than that.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m head of this med station.”
“They called me when it looked like you were trying to wake up.”
“I can’t focus.”
“Don’t worry about it now.”
“You’re lucky to be alive.”
I don’t remember falling asleep after that, but I feel much stronger the next time I wake up.
This time I can see clearly, and sit up easily.
Someone is sitting on a chair in the room, wearing a hospital robe.
“Talika, it’s good to see you up.”
“I’m fine, but they won’t let me go.”
“They think I have some strange healing factor and they keep running tests.”
“Why do they think that?”
“The doctors opened me up to repair the damage from the knife wounds.”
“They saw that there had been a lot of internal bleeding, but the inner wounds were mostly healed.
“I’m happy you’re all right.”
“I had a strange dream, Neyima, while I was unconscious.”
“Maybe you can explain it to me.”
“I was dying, bleeding inside, when a cloud covered me, and filled every part of me.”
“The cloud had a voice, your voice, and said that you wouldn’t let me die.”
“It’s a sweet dream, Talika, but I don’t know what it means.”
“You healed me somehow, and it almost killed you.”
She’s so intuitive.
I wish I could tell her the truth, but I can’t admit to any of this.
“Be as silent as you like,” she says.
“I know it’s true.”
“Where’s your room?” I ask her.
“Right here,” she answers.
“After you woke the first time, I asked to be assigned the other sleep nest in this room.”
“I like watching over you.”
The next day they let me get out of the nest and sit in a chair.
I feel fine, but they’re very cautious with me.
After morning meal, Talika wheels me through a long hallway toward a guarded elevator.
We’re scanned, and then allowed to board the elevator.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see, Neyima.”
We rise twelve floors, and the elevator opens to a small lobby and large security doors.
The guards scan us, and then let us enter.
There are even more guards on the other side of the door, and they scan us again.
Finally, Neyima wheels me into a large room with comfortable chairs.
Disu is sitting there with the emperor.
I recognize him from images I’ve seen.
I start to get up out of respect, and Talika moves toward him.
“Stop,” he says to both of us, and smiles.
“You deserve your rest.
“You can kiss my thumbs the next time we meet.”
“Yes, great father,” I tell him.
When the Kizak first defeated the Madar, the Kizak leader declared himself emperor and took absolute power, calling himself the great father.
Every emperor since has carried the same title.
Still, this emperor was born into a new world.
His father created a civilian authority at the end of his life, and submitted himself to it.
The current emperor is still leader of the military, but he is no longer above the law.
“I wanted to meet you both, and thank you for saving my son.”
“I didn’t do anything,” says Talika, nervously.
“Sit, Talika,” he says.
She moves my wheelchair next to a small couch, where the two of us sit.
“Talika, says the emperor, “tell us how you fought with the terrorists.”
“When I saw how many had come, I activated a tech screen, to disable any energy weapons within a hundred feet.”
“I thought I’d have a better chance with hand-to-hand combat.”
“They were good fighters.”
“I killed only four of them with my knife, before the rest overcame me.”
“They disarmed me, tied me up, and shut off the tech screen.”
“When the last of them were getting ready to escape, they stabbed me, and left me to die.”
“The few I killed made no difference.”
“The rest would have killed the prince, if not for Neyima.”
“What do you say, Neyima?” he asks.
“I did what I had to do.”
“I’m happy that I was able to save the prince and his friends.”
“Thank you again,” says Disu.
“I owe you my life.”
“You’ve already repaid me, stopping the doctors from taking me off life support.”
“He is stubborn,” says the emperor, “and it worked out well for you.”
The emperor looks carefully at my face.
“You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
“Many people offer you their fear.”
“I’d rather give you my respect.”
“You killed over thirty men, more than a dozen with your strange knives, before you were brought down.”
“Not exactly, great father.”
“I was trying to revive Talika when I passed out.”
“The terrorists were all dead at that point.”
“Where did you get those knives?”
“I made them myself.”
“You carry them everywhere?”
“Here,” says the emperor, handing me a wrapped package.
“This is a gift from Disu and me.”
The Kizak love to give gifts, and have many customs around it.
Any occasion is a good excuse, but everyone gives gifts at life’s key milestones.
There are also gifts for friendship, love, gratitude.
There are gifts for meeting important people, starting a job, promotions.
The box holds two beautiful knife sheaths, the right size for my long knives.
I answer with an expression of thanks, used by ancient Kizak warriors.
“Life blesses those who share its gifts, great father.”
“You’ve studied the ways of the Sehtoo, Yagrin?”
“I hope to benefit from their military insight, great father.”
“Their courage in battle is legendary.”
“I’m sorry that I don’t have a gift prepared for you.”
“Another time, Neyima.”
“Right now, I want you to explain something to me.”
“My staff did some research on your knives.”
“Those knives have never been seen on this world before you came, and there’s only one off-world sighting.”
“On one of the fringe worlds, a tech named Yagrin jumped off a two thousand foot cliff into the ocean, and used long knives to fight off ten sea predators, all to save an infant.”
“I saw an image of the knives, and they’re just like yours.”
“The man, also, looks exactly like you.”
“Do you have a twin?”
“It would be nice to have someone to blame for my mistakes.”
The emperor smiles, and then waits for me to comment on what he told me.
“The story has been twisted somewhat in the retelling, great father.”
“It was no infant; it was a twelve-year-old girl.”
“The cliff was only seven hundred feet, and there were three Vitsa.”
Talika and the prince look astonished, but the emperor shows no surprise.
“You’re an unusual man, Neyima.”
“So I’ve been told.”
The emperor laughs for a few seconds, and then his face turns serious.
“We have a problem, Neyima.”
“Someone at the med center took your image and fed it to all the info-streams.”
“The streams love to find a hero, almost as much as they enjoy tearing up a villain, but a mystery is even better.”
“What do you mean?”
“They did enough research to know that your Neyima identity is made up.”
“No one knows for sure that you’re Special Corps, but they’re suggesting it.”
“Now, all the streams are asking who you really are.”
“I won’t be able to operate undercover after this.”
“Your face is too well known.”
“I’m not sure if you’ll even be safe on the street.”
“There are rebels everywhere.”
“No one leaves the corps, great father, but they could change my face.”
“Yes, but I have another idea.”
“Some corps members are assigned to me.”
“What would I do for you?”
“The Palace Guard doesn’t need me.”
“There are surveillance imagers in orbit that recorded your fight with the terrorists.”
“I’ve seen those images, and discussed them with the Palace Guard.”
“There’s no record of a fighting style like yours, and the guards would love to have you as an instructor.”
“It’s true that the style is unique.”
“I’m the only one in the galaxy who practices it.”
“It’s an ancient martial art called Kruta, developed by another race.”
“I’ve never taught it to anyone, so I don’t know how good a teacher I would be to the guard.”
“I have no tolerance for modesty, Neyima.”
“Just do it.”
“You’re skilled, patient, and fearless.”
“What else do you need to be successful?”
“I told the guard you would spend a few hours a week with them, but I want most of your time for something else.”
“Disu needs a tutor.”
“His Madar val is coming in six months, and he must learn to defend himself against the beast.”
The Madar val is a rite of passage for the children of the empire’s elite.
The ritual is voluntary, but it’s almost impossible to reach high positions without it.
On the child’s fifteenth birthday she enters a small arena with two light sticks, and a Madar is released to join her.
The child must walk up to the creature and touch one of its hands.
Two things can happen.
The Madar attacks, and the child must escape the arena without killing the beast.
Alternatively, the creature enters the child’s mind, and fills it with the beast’s own wild thoughts.
The child must control her fear, and remain in contact with the Madar for thirty seconds.
Then she leaves the arena.
Most children leave without harm, but some are killed by the Madar and some go mad.
“I’ve never faced the Madar, great father.”
“No, but you’re not afraid of anything, and you’re a skilled fighter.”
“You could teach Disu to stand before the beast without fear.”
“I don’t want the Madar val,” says Disu.
“It’s a stupid ritual.”
The emperor glares at his son for defying him in public.
“Those who will lead the empire must face the wild spirit of the Madar, and not be afraid of it, or corrupted by it.”
“Disu is a spoiled child.”
“It’s time for him to grow up.”
“He’s not brave enough enough to face the Madar alone, and he shows no interest in changing.”
“None of the other tutors,” he adds, “have been able to make him do what must be done.”
“None have been able to motivate him to prepare.”
“He respects you.”
“Perhaps he will listen to you.”
I take Disu’s hand, and touch his mind.
Don’t argue, and don’t interrupt.
I promise you won’t regret it.
“Disu is decisive, and has plenty of courage, great father.”
“I saw how he faced me when he thought I was one of the attackers.”
“After I suggested a plan of action, he made a quick decision to follow me.”
I let go of his hand and continue.
“Disu understands that there are many Kizak who want to kill him, and he’s seen that even the guard can’t always protect him.”
“Now that he sees the danger, he’ll do what needs to be done to protect himself.”
“I’ll teach him how to fight and use weapons.”
“How will this convince him to face the Madar?”
“He doesn’t understand yet that what threatens the empire, threatens him.”
“We’ll discuss how a wild nature destroyed the Madar civilization, and brought destruction to the galaxy.”
“I’ll show him that the danger to the galaxy and beyond is not dead, but still here, and the need to act is urgent.”
If only the emperor knew that I’m speaking about the wild nature of the Kizak, not the Madar.
“Well said, Neyima!”
“I wish the civilian assembly thought as you do.”
“I could help you get a seat there someday.”
“It’s not for me.”
“Politicians are always afraid to say what they think and feel.”
“I’m not perfect, but I won’t serve with those who lie for a living.”
“What do you say, Disu?” asks the emperor.
“I don’t like tutors,” he says.
“They’re afraid of you, so they don’t know how to act with me.”
“They yell one minute, and apologize the next.”
“They’re so desperate to please you father, it disgusts me!”
“I think Neyima might be different.”
“He’s not afraid of us, and shows respect without trying so hard to please.”
“I’ll let him teach me how to fight.”
“And the Madar val?”
“I’ll speak about it with Neyima, but I won’t promise anything more.”
“Good enough for now.”
“Neyima, what about your friend Talika?”
“How should I reward her for her courage?”
“I’m a soldier, great father,” says Talika.
“I need no reward.”
“Would you like to join the Palace Guard?”
Only the elite are invited to join this group.
“I’m not sure I deserve it.”
“You wouldn’t refuse your emperor?”
“No, of course not.”
“Do you know what will be asked of you?”
“I’ve heard that the training is brutal, and a quarter of the trainees don’t survive it.”
“The only way to leave the service of the palace is through death, or the emperor’s approval.”
“The number who die is closer to a third, Talika.”
“During the training you’ll be bullied, stabbed, and your bones broken.”
“Do you still want it?”
“I’ll arrange for your transfer to the training program.”
“If you make it through, you’ll be able to see much more of Neyima.”
“He’ll spend most of his time in the palace.”
“I barely know her, great father,” I tell him.
The emperor smiles at Talika, who looks embarrassed.
“Did you hear how she waited in your room, Neyima, praying for you to wake?”
“She knows a good man when she sees one.”
The palace compound sits at the heart of the capital city, circled by a sparkling wall, twenty-three stories high.
The emperor’s residence is at the center of the compound, with two rings of buildings surrounding the tall house.
The outer ring of buildings is open to the public, and is home to the civilian government.
The great assembly meets in the tallest of the government buildings, rising above the great wall.
Once a month, the emperor meets with the assembly, and then speaks to the people from a balcony just above the wall.
The inner compound is like a fortress.
The guards and the emperor’s staff sleep in the buildings of the inner ring.
That’s where I’ll live while I tutor Disu.
I put my things in a six room apartment that’s too big for me.
I’ve been given a few days to get settled before my work begins.
I have my own kitchen, butt I’m expected to join the senior staff for meals.
Guards have very simple quarters.
They’re given small private bedrooms, and they spend most of their off-time outside the compound, or in the large common rooms.
My experimental tech is in storage, until I can find a safe place to continue my work.
There are research labs buried under the compound, with walls and ceilings built to contain explosions and energy blasts.
I requisition space in one of the labs, supposedly so I can continue work on rebel tech that threatens the cage.
At first, my request is refused.
I look for the bureaucrat who turned down my request.
“Tutors have no right to use the labs,” he says, “and what do you know of science?”
“You’re just a fight instructor.”
“Do you really expect us to believe that you would know anything about rebel tech?”
“Be happy that I don’t report you to the emperor for wasting our time.”
This man has probably never met the emperor.
Like most bureaucrats, he likes to say no, so he can pretend to be powerful.
I go back to my room, annoyed.
I don’t want to bother the emperor with this.
Besides, I have another way to resolve it.
I activate the message screen in secure mode, punch in an id for the corps, and leave a message.
According to protocol, I don’t mention the corps in the message, I just use a code phrase that indicates that I need contact.
The screen in my room lights up a few minutes later.
The control panel displays a wall icon, indicating the connection is secure, but it shows in a strange color.
I hear the other person, but there’s no image.
My visual isn’t blocked, so she can see me.
“Speak freely, Neyima,” she says.
“The connection activates a short-range tech screen.”
“No one but us can hear or see you.”
“Is someone watching me at all times?”
“The Palace Guard monitors the senior staff.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Don’t let it bother you.”
“Stay focused on who you are and what you’ve accomplished.”
“You’ve done well for us.”
“The emperor is pleased.”
“I haven’t contacted you for praise.”
“I need access to a tech lab.”
“The rebels are trying to develop weapons to block the cage.”
“I have some of the specs, and I want to experiment with their tech.”
“There are corps labs in the compound.”
“We’ll give you access to one of them, but you have to do something for us.”
“Someone in the Palace Guard told the rebels when the prince would be at the lake.”
“We need to find out who it is.”
“Scan the thoughts of all the guards, and look for rebel sympathizers or outright traitors.”
“Give us details of all their indiscretions, so we can use that knowledge against them.”
“What about the city guards?”
“They were assigned to the lake only an hour in advance, and then told about the prince.”
“The rebels couldn’t execute such a coordinated attack at the last minute.”
“One more thing,” she says.
“We’re concerned about the prince himself.”
“He may not be a fit successor to the emperor.”
“He’s weak, with no understanding of sacrifice, and no interest in tradition.”
“He’ll have no stomach for war, and no desire to preserve and expand the empire.
“Even worse, we know that he sympathizes with the rebels.”
“We scan his thoughts every few months.”
“The emperor would destroy the corps if he knew what we’re doing, but these scans are necessary.”
“If Disu continues on his path, we can’t let him become the next emperor.”
“How will you stop him?”
“Are you planning to have him killed?”
“He’s still young, Neyima.”
“You saved him once, and you can save him again.”
“We know you’re able to scan deeper into a mind that the rest of us.”
“Explore Disu’s inner thoughts, and see just how confused he is.”
“Even if he is guilty of thought crimes, there’s time to help him change.”
“You’ll help us find the bad influences in his life, and remove them.”
“Contact us once a week with the names of those who we need to remove, and other details on your progress.”
The screen shuts down, and leaves me struggling with my thoughts.
I need to stay in the palace at all costs, and keep working on the tech.
To do that, I have to keep Disu, his father, and the corps happy.
I’ve promised the emperor that I’ll teach Disu about the Madar’s terrible history.
That gives me an excuse to gather more information about the Madar and the empire.
The emperor wants his son to pass through the Madar val.
Disu will never do it unless I show him the ways of energy, and tell him that the Madar were peaceful energy masters driven mad by the cage.
The corps expects me to find and betray palace guards who believe in energy ways.
The rebels should be my friends, and I’ve killed thirty of them already.
How many more will be lost so I can save Siksa?
I access the corps data-store, and look at reports of the curses.
I’m curious how some of the Kizak overcome the cage, and use the strength of the web.
Most of the incidents occur with children, after they reach puberty.
Some move objects with or without intent.
Other children manage to fly or transform objects.
I search deeper into the records, wondering what happened to these children.
Many die in fire, or other accidents.
The rest seem to disappear without a trace.
Disu hasn’t yet shown any ability to overcome the cage, but his brother did, and burned to death from an uncontrolled release of energy.
Will Disu meet a similar fate?
The corps wants me to report on his thought crimes, and make him worthy to be emperor.
Instead I’ll turn him into a powerful rebel who can tear the empire apart.
Disu is arrogant but he doesn’t lie, a dangerous combination.
His arrogance loosens his tongue, and the truth spills out.
My first challenge is to build him a mind wall, but I need a jammer to make the mental link.
I could do it without the jammer, if I maintained physical contact for fifteen minutes, but that would look too suspicious.
An ordinary jammer won’t do.
No one except the palace guards can carry weapons outside their rooms.
Other energy weapons, and most tech, are neutralized by a tech screen in place throughout the compound.
The guards’ weapons are different.
Each day, the screen is activated with a different weakness, and new security chips are loaded into the weapons.
The chip enables the weapon to exploit the weakness, and generate a field that blocks that day’s tech screen.
Still, the location of each active weapon is recorded every few minutes, along with the identity of who carries it.
My corps lab provides me with special tech that I add to the jammer that I build.
I include a universal chip that downloads each day’s pattern of weakness from a secure part of the corps information net.
The chip also enables my jammer to hide from the system that records the active weapons.
Disu and I meet in a private gym.
I give him a gift to mark our new teacher-student relationship.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Open it and see.”
I’ve given him two hand made short-knives, along with sheaths.
“Thank you, Neyima.”
“May your days always be full of gifts, Disu.”
“Will you teach me to use them?”
“Soon, but the first thing to learn is self control.”
“At the beginning of every day for fifteen minutes we’ll practice silence, so that speaking becomes a deliberate act.”
“Can I do other things while we’re quiet?”
“Listen to your breathing, feel the sensation of your body on the mat, and watch your thoughts as though they were programmed by someone else for a sim.”
“Feel that they are strange, instead of familiar.”
“Remember those instructions for tomorrow.”
“Today, Disu, we’ll use the silence for something else.”
“I need the time to build you a mind wall.”
“A way for you to cover your thoughts, so no one, not even me, can tell what you’re thinking.”
“Without the wall, your thoughts of ancient ways will get us both in trouble.”
I move through his mind web, seeing his memories and building the wall.
When the web is finished, we practice raising it and lowering it, until it becomes second nature for him.
“Keep the wall up at all times, unless I signal you to lower it.”
We train in sims.
The pain feels real, but there’s no permanent damage.
One hour a day for acting skills.
He needs to be a good liar, to hide his feelings about being emperor.
Another hour to learn to control his emotions and his words.
This sim is designed to pull at his feelings, get him upset, put him off-balance.
No matter what happens in the sim, he has to remain silent.
The rest of our time is focused on combat, some with knives, but mostly hand-to-hand.
I try to transfer fighting skills to him, as Tzina did for me, but it seems to have no effect.
He doesn’t remember any of the blocks, spins, or throws.
Still, when we start the training, he learns the moves unnaturally fast.
The transfer must have left an impression, and helped him learn quickly.
As his fighting skills improve, we combine combat with emotional control and silence.
He has to fight and keep his emotions clear.
Outside the sims, when we want to speak mind-to-mind, we use prearranged signals.
When he signals me, I build a temporary mind shield around us, and we drop our mind walls.
“Neyima, it’s been a month.”
“You promised to start teaching me about the old ways if I trained well for a month.”
“I know there’s much more than this mind speech.”
“You’ve done well, Disu.”
“I’ll keep my promise, but you have to promise me something in return.”
“The Madar val.”
“It’s a stupid ritual.”
“The Madar were the greatest energy masters in your galaxy before they went crazy.”
“Don’t you want to learn more about them?”
“What do you want me to learn from them?”
“That energy makes us violent and drives us crazy?!”
“The cage did that.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Kizak developed a new version of the cage, and used it against the Madar.”
“It drove them crazy.”
“My ancestors were responsible for the Madar wars, and all the killing?”
“Did the Kizak know what they were doing?”
“I think so, but I can’t be sure.”
“Neyima, I need to know.”
“I’ve looked through many historical records.”
“There are hints, but no proof.”
“I might have a way to find out,” he tells me.
“There are diaries of all the emperors, only accessible to an emperor or his children.”
“Why haven’t you looked at them until now?”
“My father said that I’m not allowed to view them until I’m twenty.”
“Besides, I expected them to be boring.”
“I’m not interested in war.”
Disu leaves, and doesn’t return until shortly before night meal.
His face is troubled, and he signals me to use a mind touch.
“What did you find?”
“The diary of the first emperor wasn’t listed in the index.”
“Many of the early documents were left unindexed.”
“I asked the computer to look for any document that is secured like the diaries, and dates from that era.”
“Eventually, the AI found it.”
“What did you learn?”
“The Kizak didn’t know that their cage would have that effect on the Madar, but they soon realized what had happened.”
“Still, they continued to activate the cage on more worlds, even after they discovered that it would drive the Madar crazy.”
“Did the diary speak of any way to reverse the star cage?”
“Yes, but it says that the effects are only temporary, and it only works at night.”
“The scientist who created the Kizak cage generator regretted his work when he saw the destruction it caused.”
“Iska tried to find a way to completely reverse it, but was unsuccessful.”
“Still, he invented the local cage projector, he claimed, as a way to temporarily reverse the star cage.”
“He spoke out publicly against the use of the cage, and said that he hoped someday to undo it.”
“The Kizak leader felt that Iska threatened his plans to destroy the Madar, and take over their empire.”
“He ordered Iska killed, but the scientist disappeared.”
“The military was never able to find him or the device, only a copy of his diary and schematics.”
“When they built it, they discovered that the device had no effect on the star cage.
He hands me a storage sphere.
“This has a copy of the original diary and all the details of the tech from the scientist’s writings.”
“I’m going to publicize it.”
“I hope it tears the empire apart!”
“Disu, this kind of truth will get you killed.”
“I don’t care.”
“Neyima, when I was little, I wanted to be just like my father.”
“Then I saw my brother catch on fire, unable to contain the energy within him.”
“My father told me that it was better that he died.”
“He said that my older brother didn’t like war, and that anyone with energy talent would become a traitor!”
“That’s when I started to rebel inside.”
“I understand, Disu, but how many Kizak will care about other races that suffered long ago from the Madar?”
“Few Kizak were killed.”
“You have to keep this hidden for now, and find another way to change or destroy the empire.”
“To do this, you have to enter the Madar val and pretend to be one of them.”
He doesn’t answer at first, but he knows I’m right.
“I’ll do the Madar val,” he says at last, “but first you have to teach me about energy.”