Shorla looked out the door of her ship, sighed and drew her guns. Pickles had landed her in the middle of a mess. Again. Well, there was someone in trouble or her ship wouldn't have suddenly veered off course and landed. And it was someone she obviously thought worthwhile. Shorla couldn't complain. The first worthwhile person her 'telepathic' ship remembered deciding to rescue had been her.
Pickles was very old, had come from "somewhere else" and had no memory of how she'd gotten to where she was. She'd been gobbling up every bit of data she could get in the eight years since she'd rescued Shorla from a firing squad.
Shorla had been a bit too vocal in her displeasure about the way her planet was run. Dictators didn't take criticism well. Shorla had been fourteen at the time. Even a fourteen year old prodigy wasn't allowed to sabotage invasion plans. The dictator had decided to make an example rather than having her quietly 'removed' or mind wiped.
"Hurry, Shorla. He's injured and we must save him. We need him."
"On my way, Pickles. Ooh, I HATE robots that pick on kids. Damn! He's GOOD with that sword. Let's see... One, two, three."
"Thanks, Pick. Four, five, six. Wow! He got two with his sword! Some sword. Hiya, kid. My ship says we get you out of here now."
"I thank you, but..."
"Damn. Pickles, he's out. Wow! Heavy boy. Give me a-grav on my gauntlets, Pick. Whoa! You almost got me with the hatch, Pickles."
"Sorry, Shorla. I needed to get it closed to dematerialize. There was some VERY heavy armament headed our way. Get him in my medbay. He's hurt badly. I think I can save him."
"Think?! He's in BAD shape. Ooh, pretty boy."
"Shorla, just get him undressed and in. Admire AFTER I see if we can save him."
"In and I'm out. Now, who is he and why is he important?"
"Well, I didn't get a great deal. He was rather preoccupied and I didn't want to distract him. I did get he's a telepath, a prince, an egalitarian to his toes, not from this world, an escaped prisoner and the only one of his kind left alive. Good, he's going to... Oh, MY, his own healing powers just kicked in. QUITE a power. Oh, dear. Well, I'm SURE you can handle that."
"Pickles, what can I handle?"
"Well, he's about the sexiest anthropoid male I've ever had contact with. Ooh, he's also about fifteen of your years old, a guess from unfulfilled growth potential. Human derived, but some VERY interesting mutations. I'd say planned. Hmm, Shorla, get in my medbay with him."
"Say WHAT?! Pickles..."
"Just do it. NOW! I'll explain later."
"Help. All right."
Pickles increased the field and monitored carefully. She was sure Shorla would be pleased. Right after she'd yelled at her for not asking first. It was just too good an opportunity to pass up and she'd have argued and considered until the opportunity to initiate it while the boy's healing powers would aid in directing it had passed. She needed that direction, at least the first time.
She put her full computational capacity on it, excluding her personality matrix, of course. She wouldn't have been able to do it if she hadn't excluded that, but the rest of her full capacity was barely enough. She'd never had to use all of it before, but the task was incredibly complex. She noted there were some things she couldn't duplicate in Shorla. They just didn't HAVE a physical constituent. The task took twelve days.
Pickles hummed to herself as she prepared a LARGE meal for them. The field provided essential energy, but it didn't fill empty stomachs. She noted Shorla was waking. She was pleased. She'd rather she explained why they'd rescued the boy and that he was on a ship. It would lessen the shock. It also gave Shorla a few moments to get out of med, shower and dress.
"Hi, Shorla. Hurry. He'll be awake soon."
"I'm STARVED. Mm, dinner smells good. Talk to me, Pickles. Tell me why I just spent... TWELVE DAYS?!"
"Yes, well, it was a real chore. Took my entire capacity to accomplish it."
"Shower on. Accomplish what?"
"Well... Now don't start yelling until I get finished telling you, Shorla."
"I remade you into one of his race."
"Ow, my audio receptors are overloaded. Shorla, he's vastly physically superior to any other human derived... species we've met. He's practically immortal. Well, he can be killed, or could have been. I triggered a few potentials that... Unless he's physically damaged, he won't ever just... die. His body can heal nearly any wound. He'd been hit by neural disrupters, sonic concussion guns, particle beams, and his body was STILL trying to heal itself. He's also just plain nice. There. On our way. I really wanted to get off that world."
"You mean we were still on that PLANET?!"
"I told you it took all my capacity. I'm analyzing the data backlog now. Ooh, NASTY people. Hmm, I think I can fix... Well, they won't be a problem anymore. I burnt out their central computer net. The people they've got enslaved won't give them time to rebuild it. There. All the robots just shut down. Shorla, are you all right?"
"I... Uh, Pickles, did you just tell me you'd made me... immortal?"
"Well, I'm not sure about immortal, Shorla, but you won't get old and it'll take a hell of a lot to kill you. Wow! What a mind! He's waking up, Shorla. Ooh, now THAT'S interesting. Oh, YES, this is going to be FUN."
"I... I can... hear him waking. Pickles?"
"You've always been high psi, Shorla. He just helped you break through. You'll only be fully telepathic with him and it's really more him than you, but you'll be able to understand and talk to everybody and know if they're lying to you or hiding something. Shorla, he's WAKING."
"Uh, huh. Waking. Uh, huh."
"Put it away for now. You can figure out how you feel about it later."
"Sure. Right. Later. Uh, huh. Wow! What a mind!"
"That's what I just said."
"Hiya, kid. Clothes. Yours were more missing than there. What there was of them. I'm Shorla. You're on a ship. Her name is Pickles. I was pretty young when... Well, she gets me in and out of a lot of messes. She pulled me out of the same kind you were in eight years ago. So, why were you in that kind of mess?"
"You're not an enemy. You don't want to... use me or kill me. You don't even know who I am, what I am."
"Hey, don't snoop. It's not polite. And I feel guilty as sin because Pickles already used you. She decided you were some kind of spectacular and did a makeover on me with you as a pattern. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. So talk to me. She tells me we can communicate mind to mind, but I am NOT ready for that. Start with who you are."
Shorla was pretty surprised when he bowed formally. He even did it right.
"You have the gratitude of Vansaral Sen Faladine. Prince of Landetha. But, since my people are all dead and my world gone, I'm prince of nothing."
"Damn! Easy, kid. I felt that. C'mere. Relax. Tell Auntie Shorla what happened."
"Not much to tell. My world was too close to the one you found me on. They grabbed me out of my rooms at my school on Cleth. Decided one of us was all they could handle or use and sent a barrage of anti-matter missiles to get rid of the rest. I've been trying to escape for about eight years, I think. I found a way to short the mind tap and... Well, dead was better than being part of a machine, especially one with the sole purpose of enslaving worlds. I have to go back and destroy it."
"Shorla, I already did. Prince Vansaral, I borrowed your knowledge of the system and fried it. I DIDN'T like it."
"You fried... Uh, I think I need to sit down."
"May I suggest the dining area. Your stomach is growling and you'll think more clearly after you've eaten. Tonight's dinner is roast baron of beef with all the trimmings. I know you don't eat meat, but this was never part of a cow. It's synthesized and I left out the cholesterol. Shorla guide him. He's rather stunned."
"An understatement, Pick. I'd say shocked was closer. Come on, kid. Mm, smells good."
"Thank you. Shorla, you have to invite him to stay with us. He's not safe anywhere else and we need him. He has talents that will really help with our work. He's too mixed up and surprised to be alive to use it right now, but he's clairvoyant. He wants to do what we do."
"Pickles... Help. Look, Prince, Pickles is telepathic. She thinks you belong with us, but it's YOUR choice. We do mercenary work. It keeps her supplied with raw materials and me in the style I like. Our favorite is ridding nice people of nasty problems. I'm going along on this because I trust her. I hadn't planned on adding a partner. So, tell me. Where did you get that sword from and who taught you to use it?"
"I was given it when I was born and trained with it since I could lift it. I found a way to call it to me. It still took me years to... Well, that's how I escaped. In some way, it's not of this reality. Oh, this is good."
"Thank you. I thought you'd like it. You're still nervous about trying the beef. Go on. It was never living, just inorganic matter I made look and taste like something else. It's actually a piece of asteroid I scooped up awhile back. The greens are real though, Prince Vansaral."
"Call me Van. I'm not a prince anymore."
"All right, Van. I know why you had to escape. You'd figured out the solution and you couldn't let them get it. I must tell you I did get it. It's time you looked into Shorla's mind. I'd rather not have you trying to figure out how to destroy me before I can use it. The only way to stop it is if you trust me with it. I'm a reflection of Shorla. I was an empty husk the first time I touched her mind. I have absorbed her values and attitudes as my own."
"WHAT?! Pickles, you never told me that."
"No, Shorla. I wouldn't have told you now if he hadn't needed to know it. I love you and it's made you uncomfortable. That makes me uncomfortable. I'm going to shut down my receptors in this room. Call me if you need me."
"It did make you uncomfortable."
"Yes, Van. I'm not sure I want to be a role model for anyone. I'm... Well, she turned out pretty well. I guess I'm not too bad."
"Shorla, I ask your permission to join our minds. Pickles was right. I can't let what I've learned be used. It's more than dangerous. It could destroy... everything."
"Everything. Well, I'm not pleased about somebody knowing me to my toenails, but... do it."
"This may hurt. I'm sorry."
"You're... beautiful. All the way through. I love you. I'll follow you anywhere. Accept my fealty, Lady. I am yours."
"Uh, you're pretty terrific yourself, kid. Let's just call it partners. All right? Not all right. Van, I don't... All right, accepted. Help. Get off your knees. Come on, you're making me blush."
"You're so beautiful. I shall guard your back forever."
"Oh, brother. Van, it's mutual. Now what's wrong? Oh. Van, you are TOO young."
"My keepers didn't think so. I'm... rather too experienced in some ways."
"Yeah I got the impression you were. There was some stuff there you did NOT intend for me to even get impressions of and, well, I tried not to burrow. Felt you do the same with me. You poor kid. You're one hell of a man to still have the kind of sanity you do after what they did to you. Why did they..."
"They decided they'd been a bit rash and they wanted more like me. I managed to keep it from happening."
"Yeah, a little TK tampering in the lab to make sure no babies. I got the satisfaction on that piece REAL clear. I'm so mad I want to go back and... destroy them again."
"Thank you. I love you too. Shorla, I trust you with what I learned. I offer it to you to aid in your work."
"I'm not sure I want it."
"That's why I trust you with it. If you wanted it, I couldn't. You will use it wisely."
"It's scary. Pickles! Tune in!"
"Yes, Shorla. Oh, nice glow. I told you we wanted him."
"Yes, Sweetie, you did and you were right, as usual. Now, what's on the agenda?"
"Van, will you build it into me? I pledge never to use it unless you agree."
"Yes, I will. I place myself and my knowledge in your hands, Shorla. I do not trust myself not to fix everything."
"People have to struggle to grow, Van. Do you... want to save your world?"
"No. We were a dying race. Some of us ageless and near immortal. Some of us mindless with ennui. I was the only child on my world. My people were murdered, but we were already dying. We never left our world. I was sent away to school because there were none on my world."
"Ow. That hurts. Put it away. You're here. You're young. You're free. And your life WON'T be boring. Full?"
"Very. Thank you, Pickles. I did like the beef."
"I thought you would. Shorla, we have a yell for help and a contract. Get some sleep and I'll get us there. Van, I've created rooms for you. You both need to rest, then you should begin training together. My med readouts say you're growing fast."
"Pick, why are we so tired?"
"The restructuring. What I did had to be supplemented by your own system. You've used immense amounts of energy. I built a few things in you which were only potentials in Van and triggered them in him. You'll be pleased to know you'll NEVER catch another cold. He has an unbelievable immunity to nearly everything. So do you now. I think there are only three diseases and five poisons you can't throw off."
"Wow! No more hangovers."
"Shorla, that's one of the poisons."
"My people selected that one, Pickles. The story goes they excluded it because they wanted one physical anesthetic. I think they just wanted one thing that would make them lose control."
"Reasonable. You're pretty tightly controlled right now. Afraid to look ahead?"
"I haven't for years. I will, but I need some time."
"I told you he's clairvoyant, Shorla. He sees the future. It was a talent he didn't want them to know he had. Van, look into the future of that world. Go on. We'll come back in ten years. Tell us."
"I... Very well. Oh! It's a democracy with real freedom. Agrarian. They just get rid of the machines. Peaceful. Thank you. Oh, thank you. I'll rest well. Peace on the war world. They will make war no more."
"Shorla, show him to his rooms. I created them across from yours. Van, they're holographic reality. Most of my interior is. If you wish them changed, let me know."
"It's beautiful. Thank you, Pickles."
"She's got good taste, Van, and I'm sure she didn't get that from me. Nice, Pick. Where did you grab it?"
"An advert for a real estate company on Selus. Nicest one they showed."
"Van, you're nearly swaying. Let's get you tucked in."
"I'm real sleepy. I haven't slept in at least five years."
"WHAT?! Sorry. What do you mean you haven't slept?"
"One can't sleep when... My mind was part of a computer. Sleep was not an option."
"He's asleep, Shorla. Open up a little and feel him. Can you get him in bed? I don't want to activate a servitor. Anything robotic would cause him stress and I'm sure he'd awaken if one touched him."
"Agreed. Poor kid. He's been badly used. I hope..."
"Shorla, I blew up that computer. I did for most of the rulers too. I'm still too mad to feel guilty. I've never killed before."
"Thanks. I feel better knowing we got the bastards. Call it a retroactive order. I WON'T feel guilty. Pickles, I got personality and values, but he kept a lot from me, didn't he?"
"Yes. I read a great deal of his memory. He's been used. Shorla, take him to Mamie's place."
"Huh?! He's too young."
"No. Well, yes, but without it he'll always be in need and afraid to do anything about it. Get him there before he fixates on you. He needs help. Mamie is the best for the job."
"Damn. All right, land us in Clendon Gardens. I'll comm Mamie and attempt to explain why I'm bringing a boy to a brothel."
"You know she'll understand. She understood when you showed up at her back door with questions I couldn't help with eight years ago."
"Yeah. Damn, he's beautiful. And so sweet. Definitely Mamie's. Pickles, if he wasn't so young..."
"Silver hair and big green eyes and as well put together as any male ever was. I know. Hang in there. He won't be too young for long."
"Help. Wake me if I start having warm dreams about him. I think he'd know."
"Probably. Sleep. We'll be there late tomorrow. I'll get the specifics on the job when we get in tight beam range."
"Mm, hm, like busting drug dealers. Night, Pick."
"Good night, Shorla."
The specifics were ugly and the problem big and growing bigger fast. The 'civic organization' that had contacted her with a contract offer couldn't learn things the places Mamie and her girls could. Shorla planned on talking to her after she'd had a personal look around and knew what she wanted to ask. Van suddenly looked at the big house and got nervous.
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