The Delvian Operation

By A. J. Matthews
Copyright 2000

Disclaimer: Don't steal this - o.k.? This is fanfic. I don't own any of these characters, save for the ones I've created, or anything else having to do with 'Farscape'... Pity. Feedback is greatly appreciated!
Rated PG-13 for violence.
Spoilers for "Rhapsody in Blue".
Archiving: If you want it - just ask me.

For students of history there are references to various 20th Century events and people in this story. Have fun finding them. Commander Tun started out as Major Tun - sort of a reference to, well, you figure it out.

Thanks to Kara Stern and Kare (powrhug) for beta reading.

The Wumenquan - Case # 5:

Master Hyang Eom said, "It is like a man up a tree who is hanging from a branch by his teeth. His limbs are tied and bound so that his hands cannot grasp a bough and his feet cannot touch the tree. Another man under the tree asks him 'Why did the First Zen Patriarch come to China?'

"If he opens his mouth to answer, he will fall and lose his life. If he fails to answer, he evades his duty and will be killed."

If it is you in the tree, how do you stay alive?

Bialar Crais watched the children playing. Technically speaking they were practicing fighting forms, but at this age form often seemed to give way to fun. He chuckled to himself as his little brother got tossed to the ground once again by his smaller opponent.

She's going to grow up to be a tough one, he mused.

"Not having much luck today, are you, Tauvo?" he called out to his brother.

The children's eyes brightened at the sight of the Officer and they came running over to him. "Bialar, you came to see me!" Tauvo said as he wrapped his arms around his brother's waist. "This is my brother," he told his companion, beaming. "He's the youngest regimental commander on the carrier."

"Really?" the dark haired girl asked, looking up at the black-clad Lieutenant, an expression of awe on her face.

"Tauvo, you sound like you're bragging," Bialar grinned, tousling his brother's hair. "And you haven't even bothered to tell me your sparring partner's name yet."

"I'm Aeryn," said the little girl, her big smile betraying her complete but charming lack of front teeth.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Aeryn," Crais replied. "Did Tauvo give you those?" he asked, pointing to bruises on her shoulders.

Aeryn snorted. "Him? No way! He hasn't even learned to pantak jab yet." The youngsters stuck their tongues out at each other.

"Then how'd you get them?" Crais persisted, concerned at the severity of the marks. "The older cadets aren't picking on you, are they?"

Aeryn came to attention, her expression suddenly serious, her eyes looking directly forward. "I was disciplined for being insubordinate, sir!"

"Insubordinate? At your age?"

"Yes! Sir!"

"She's been asking too many questions in weapons and tactics class," Tauvo interjected.

"Really?" Crais asked, genuinely surprised.

"Yes! Sir!"

"Instructor Malltin said she sounded like a tech," Tauvo again added. Bialar scowled; it was a cutting insult to use on someone so young.

"Well, if you really want to be a tech, Aeryn, it's not too late to transfer over."

"But I don't want to be a tech!" the girl whined. "I want to be a commando."

"Hmmm... That's a difficult road," Crais told her, noting the smile his comment brought back to her face. "Just remember it's alright to ask questions, Aeryn, but you also have to learn when they are and are not appropriate. And too many questions all at once make it appear that you have no confidence in your commander or your teachers. A good soldier understands these things."

Tauvo beamed anew at his brother's wisdom. Aeryn saluted him. "Thank you, sir."

"You're young to be so form..." Bialar said, as a beep from his comm badge cut him off. "Crais here."

"Sir, you are ordered to report to the Company Commander's briefing room at once," the voice told him. "It is urgent."

"On my way." He turned and saluted the two youngsters to their obvious delight. "I'll be back to see you soon, Tauvo. Next time I want you to tell me you've learned to pantak jab."

Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan was struggling. Her meditation had become more difficult of late. Disruptive thoughts had been coming easily, quickly and persistently in recent days. So much was churning inside her. The progressives had won the election and the prospect of finally being in a position on the Council where she could make a difference for her people both excited and frightened her. Only twelve more days until the new Council convenes, she thought gleefully.

Then there is Bitaal, she suddenly found herself thinking. Poor Bitaal. He took the election so hard. It would be painful to see her beloved go from Council Leader to Opposition Leader. There was much sadness in her over that. Who knows if his rivals will even allow him to keep the post after this defeat? More uncertainty. More sadness. It all swirled inside her.

But my center is strong, she reminded herself. I am strong. Deep down, the long-cultivated clarity and stillness remain. The thoughts and emotions wash over me like waves on a beach, like clouds passing in the sky. All this turmoil will soon pass and then peace will return.

If only she could understand why Bitaal had been avoiding her these past few weeks.

"Ah, Crais, punctual as usual," Commander Tun noted with a hint of sarcasm as the young officer arrived to complete the gathered assembly.

"My apologies, sir," he responded coming to attention and saluting. "I came as quickly as I could. I was visiting my brother in the cadet section when the order came."

Such a promising Officer, thought Tun. But I may have to transfer him to another carrier if this strong familial bond he exhibits persists. It would be a pity to lose such a talent... Ah, well. We'll see.

"No matter, Lieutenant... At ease, everyone," Tun continued. "I've just received new orders from the Division Commander. She has informed me that these orders come directly from High Command. We will be engaged in a new mission in a very short time." He put the image of a planet up on the viewscreen. "This is Delvia. We have been asked by the current conservative government to assist them in preventing the newly-elected radical government from taking power and to aid in maintaining order afterwards. Your units will be charged with seizing most key communications and transportation points on the planet upon our arrival. After that, you will be assigned policing duties."

The gathered officers looked at each other in surprise.

"We will begin the operation in ten standard days," Tun continued. "Full details of your units' individual missions will be finalized and given to you by this time tomorrow. Get your teams to work preparing immediately. Dismissed."

The regimental commanders all left except for Crais, who lingered. "You have a question, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir. I am concerned, as I think the others are as well, about using our troops for policing duties. They are soldiers and do not have the proper training."

"Are you questioning High Command's wisdom in issuing their directives?" Tun snapped.

Crais was taken somewhat aback by his commander's tone and insinuation. "No, sir. I am simply concerned that my people will not be adequately prepared for their mission. A soldier has a duty to know the rules of engagement, but the timeline you presented will make doing that very difficult given such a drastic change in their duties. They will be prone to making mistakes." He hesitated a moment before adding, "A soldier also has a right to know something about the reasons and timeline for his assignment, especially when unusual duties are involved."

Tun's countenance softened and he patted Crais' shoulder reassuringly. "You are justified in your concerns, Bialar, and correct in your observations. High Command recognizes there are areas of potential difficulties. Unfortunately, time is the limiting factor. The Delvian government is due to change hands in just twelve days. There are only this ship and the two other command carriers of our patrol group in a position to intervene on such short notice. It will be at least a quarter cycle before the occupation fleet and its Zelbinion-class carrier escort arrive to relieve us. Until then, we'll just have to make do."

"Can we at least expect assistance from Intelligence in our policing duties?"

"No, I doubt it. They're probably going to be overburdened as it is drawing up the preventive detention lists, handling censorship issues and orchestrating covert ops. Fortunately, the Delvians are a theocracy with a pacifistic inclination. Even with a force as small as ours will be, subduing them should not be much of a problem - otherwise I doubt High Command would have accepted the mission at all on such short notice."

Tun noted that his protégé still looked worried. "What else is troubling you?"

"Such a prolonged assignment to irregular duties will have a negative impact on our soldiers' training levels and morale, sir."

"We'll correct for that on our way to our next assignment, Lieutenant. I'm sure you'll be able to compensate for your regiment's having to do grot's work," Tun said with a smile.

Crais returned his smile, "Thank you, sir. I will make sure your confidence is well founded."

"Of that I have no doubt. Dismissed."

At first she noticed the vibrations, shaking her gently from her sleep. Then she thought she heard deep rumblings, clearly in the far distance.

Suddenly there was a deafening high-pitched shriek that caused the entire building to shake as it passed.

She ran out into the hallway. "Father! What's happening?"

"I don't know, Zotoh! Let's go outside and have a look."

They stepped out into the foyer of their home. The sky was just beginning to brighten before the sunrise. Aside from the low rumblings everything about the city seemed perfectly normal. Then Zhaan thought she saw something high in the sky, coming closer.

"What are those?" she asked, pointing.

The tiny dots began to take shape as they approached. The air was quickly filled with the whine of the crafts' engines as they streaked low over the buildings.

Again Zhaan asked, "What are they?" as the tight formation of small black trident-shaped ships flew over.

"I don't... Oh, Goddess, no."

"What, father?"

"They're Prowlers. Peacekeepers," he said gravely.

Zhaan felt a sudden chill of terror. "Peacekeepers? What are they doing here? What could we have possibly done to bring them down on us?"

"I don't know, my child. I just don't know."

They turned and hurried back into the house, only to discover that the electricity had been shut off and all means of communication had been disabled.

"This isn't a retribution raid. This is an invasion," Zhaan's father concluded ominously. "They've cut us off from one another. They're here to take control."

"But why?" Zhaan asked, still confounded.

Then it dawned on her. "The conservatives... They wouldn't betray us like this, would they?"

"I don't know, but it would appear so."

"I must to go to Bitaal at once."

"No, Zotoh," he said, blocking her way. "Stay here. It isn't safe out there. Whatever is happening, there is nothing we can do about it."

This was just too, too easy, thought Crais as he sat behind the podium of the Delvian Council's meeting chamber, his feet propped up on the dais. His regiment had been given what was thought to be one of the few challenging assignments - the taking of the Council House and its environs in the capitol. Resistance had been expected, but there had been none. They had walked in from their drop points and secured all their objectives without firing a single shot.

And I was worried? Crais thought with a chuckle. I'm going to have to really think hard to come up with something creative enough to make it up to my command for having subjected them to such boredom.

"Ah, Lieutenant, making yourself right at home I see," observed Tun as he entered the chamber. Crais snapped to attention. "That's alright, Bialar, as you were. I found it quite amusing. Your pose would make a nice holo for my office wall."

"I'm glad you're pleased, sir," Crais responded as he put his feet up again. "I want to apologize to you for being so concerned at the outset of this assignment."

"No need, Lieutenant. Besides, we both know this was the easy part. Subjugation will be the harder task. And it is one you correctly ascertained we are not properly trained or equipped to handle."

"Bitaal, how could you do this?" Zhaan screamed at him, tears running down her cheeks.

"I couldn't let the radicals take control of our world," he answered evenly. "They would ruin it."

"So instead you gave it to the Peacekeepers?" she asked incredulously. "And they're not ruining it?"

"They are only here to enforce order during this crisis."

"A crisis you brought down on us," she said bitterly.

"No, it is a crisis the people of Delvia have brought down upon themselves. They had to be saved from their own foolishness for voting the radicals into power."

I don't understand him anymore. He's not the man I fell in love with.

He came over to her and tried to put his arms around her to comfort her. She pushed him away forcefully.

"I understand how you must feel, Zhaan."

"How can you say that and then do what you are doing?"

"Give it time. You'll see. Give us time."

Anger rose within her. Deep inside Zhaan felt her quiet center begin to become unsteady, moving ever so slightly towards the darkness.

"Lieutenant?" came Tun's voice as his image appeared on the communications viewer in Crais' office.

"Yes, sir."

"Have you received the first set of arrest lists yet?"

"Yes, sir, I was just about to contact you myself regarding them. I must say I have a few problems."

"Intell was very careful in drawing those lists up. What is your problem with them?"

"Well, sir, as we weren't sure how much help we could expect from Intelligence, I had my assistant Pallen put a small team together and draw up our own lists for our control sector. There are some names on her list that do not appear on Intell's."

"Given that you're in charge of the capitol sector that's potentially a very serious concern, Bialar. Who are some of these missing names?"

"There are several high-ranking radical priests that have been omitted, such as Zarkan, Sirok, Taval, Tuzak, Zhaan..."

"I was afraid that this would happen," Tun cut him off. "Those omissions come directly from the Delvian government. Several of us tried to change their minds but, given Intell's lists, it would appear that their stubbornness prevailed."

"I don't understand, sir. These people should have been singled out for immediate internment when we first arrived."

"The Delvians expressly forbade it then and they're apparently forbidding it now. They said something about them being too highly regarded as spiritual leaders to be arrested. They feel that such acts would provoke dissent."

"Greater dissent than allowing them to remain free?"

"That, in part, is up to you, Lieutenant. Keep them all under surveillance. If they're found to be fomenting discord or insurrection then we'll have better grounds for moving against them."

"Does that include this Zotoh Zhaan, as well? Intell lists her as being exempt from such consideration."

"That's only because that spineless fool Bitaal insisted on it personally. She is his lover."

"I am not altogether comfortable following that stricture, sir."

"Just keep an eye on the rest. If we spread our nets properly and she happens to fall into them so much the better."

"Let us come to order," a voice called out of the clamor. The assembled priests settled into their seats and became quiet for a moment. Cries of "Zarkan!" then rang out, calling for their leader to address them.

The elderly woman rose, resplendent in her priestly vestments. "I thank you all for coming here to meet at the Temple today. You have all shown great courage in this. These are very trying times for those of us still free from the clutches of the Peacekeepers. They have gutted the rank and file of the Opposition... pardon me... of the duly-elected Leadership, with their illegal arrests and warrantless detentions.

"The traitors guiding their hands seek to placate the people by leaving some of the more prominent among us free - as an aid to their dishonest campaign to convince the masses that nothing is amiss. They expect us to be cowed into silence and inaction in the face of the brutality and might of the Sebaceans... That is another of their mistakes... We will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced."

The room burst into applause and cheers. The old priest raised her hands to quiet them and then continued. "This is not the time for cheering. There is much work to be done. This will probably be the most difficult and painful task any of us has had to endure. What we must decide now is the shape our efforts are to take."

Heads nodded in agreement as she sat down.

"Well, I for one don't think we should take any action," Pa'u Tuzak said abruptly, bringing a surprised hush to the gathering. "What has happened to Delvia is not just the fault of the conservatives. We progressives bear some responsibility as well. Indeed, the entire system of government by the Pa'us has been instrumental in allowing the circumstances to deteriorate to their present state."

"If you are blaming the Pa'u system for this then you are blaming the Seek itself," Pa'u Taval shot back at the elderly man.

"No, not the Seek, but only our feeble attempts to follow it," Tuzak responded, causing a small murmur of agreement from some of the participants. "If we are to rise out of the ashes of this calamity then we must rethink the entire basis and direction of our efforts. Only by adhering to the principles of the Seek with purer hearts and utterly selfless devotion can we in the end save our world."

"And just what do you have in mind?" asked Zarkan.

"I don't know yet. The proper path may take a great deal of time to become clear to us."

"And what will happen to our Delvia in the meantime?" Taval asked, a touch of derision in his voice. "The situation is deteriorating rapidly. If we sit back and do nothing our freedoms and democratic institutions will become only fleeting memories. We must act now to restore them, before the Peacekeepers become too entrenched - before their occupation force is fully in place."

"What would you have us do?" asked Zarkan.

"We must form an active resistance movement. We must challenge the usurpers and their lies. We must agitate in every way we can. And we must make it clear to the Peacekeepers that they can never win the hearts and minds of the Delvian people."

"Can you be more specific?" another senior priest asked.

"For now I propose mass demonstrations everywhere they can be mounted - and as frequently as they can be mounted."

"What you are proposing will do little more than allow the Peacekeepers to fill the jails," Tuzak noted.

"They are already filling the jails," Taval responded. "If they are going to be filled then let us fill them according to our schedule and strategy, not theirs. Mass arrests will be far more difficult for the traitors to explain away than a well-planned slow trickle that they can more easily keep hidden."

"Rallies are already banned," Zarkan observed. "What will we do when the Sebaceans use force to suppress them? Respond in kind?"

A disturbed murmur went through the gathering at the notion.

"Our work may eventually have to become secret," Taval continued. "That does not mean we have to become violent. It has been suggested to me that we begin forming clandestine groups now before the enemy's grip becomes any tighter. Small, relatively independent operations would be best - that way the Peacekeepers will have great difficulty compromising the entire effort."

Taval paused for a moment. "But if simple agitation should fail us, then, yes, we should be prepared to use force. We must free our world... by any means necessary."

"Yes, of course I knew about the meeting," Crais informed the two Intelligence officers standing before him. "I know everything worth knowing about it. I had an informant there... Didn't you?"

The Intell men looked at each other.

"I didn't think so," he added snidely. "The opposition is fractured and weak. Only a few of them appear to have the stomach for a prolonged struggle against us. If you want the details ask Officer Pallen to arrange a briefing. I'll overlook your bumbling for the time being. Now get out."

He sat back as they exited. Perhaps I was a little hard on them. They're military intelligence after all. They're not used to being a secret police force. They don't have the training or the inclinations necessary to do the job well.

What a waste of good soldiers. I can't wait for the occupation fleet to get here. Let them do the grot's work.

Zhaan stood with Taval and Zarkan at the rear fringe of the vast square in front of the Council House. A large crowd had gathered at its steps to hear the progressive leader speak.

"The turnout is better than I expected," Taval noted. "Bravery is not something our people are routinely called upon to demonstrate. It is good to see it exists in such quantity."

"Your leafleting appears to be having the desired effect," Zhaan complemented him.

"I cannot take credit for work I did not do. My acolytes are a resourceful and dedicated bunch," he smiled. "I believe they and their young compatriots are the true leaders of this movement. Their utter selflessness and devotion to our world is just the sort of thing I believe Tuzak was talking about. It has lightened my heart to see them at work."

It is a terrible tragedy for Delvia that most of them are probably going to suffer horribly, or worse, before this is over, he thought to himself.

"And what of this 'underground' you talked of?" Zhaan asked.

"A substantial network of groups is already in place. We are moving as fast as we can. The Peacekeeper occupation force will be here in full within a few weekans. The larger the foundation we can build before then, the better."

"Do you really think it's a good idea to let Teggan speak at an event such as this?" Zarkan asked jovially as she watched the young Pa'u exhort the crowd.

"Don't underestimate her," Taval replied. "She has a natural gift for public speaking. You will be hard pressed to be more inspiring," he added with a smile.

The mood suddenly darkened as a sizeable contingent of black uniformed troops began entering the square from the side.

"I was wondering when they'd show up," said Taval. "It doesn't look like you're going to get your chance to violate the public speaking laws today, Zarkan."

"What will they do?" asked Zhaan nervously.

"Usually they just break the demonstrations up," Taval answered. "If Teggan isn't properly submissive when they tell her to shut up they may arrest her and detain her for a few days. All in all the Peacekeepers have been showing uncharacteristic restraint... and we've strived to take full advantage of it."

The three priests watched as the troops formed a tight cordon around the assembly. Finally, a small group of them moved onto the makeshift stage the speakers were using. Zhaan gasped as one of them shoved Teggan to the ground and spoke to the crowd.

"Attention!" the Officer announced. "You are all in violation of the Civil Order Laws! The repeated ignoring of these laws by the citizens of the capitol has not gone unnoticed and, as of today, it will not go unpunished!"

"By the Goddess," Zhaan exclaimed as the Peacekeeper motioned for his troops to shoulder their weapons. Suddenly the square was filled with the sound of pulse rifles as they fired indiscriminately into the crowd. As they watched, Teggan attempted to wrench the rifle away from the Peacekeeper nearest her; only to be grabbed by the commanding officer, who drew his sidearm, put it to her ear and fired, decapitating her.

"NO!!!" Zarkan cried out and began to rush forward. Taval and Zhaan ran to grab hold of her and hurried their leader from the square.

Crais cringed inwardly as the board of inquiry came to order. This is not going to be pretty.

As was standard, the board consisted of the next three levels in the chain of command of the officer under investigation - in this case himself, Commander Tun and Captain Aldred, the Divisional Commander.

"She's going to roast him alive," Tun whispered to Crais as he glanced at Aldred, whose fiery reputation was matched only by her flaming shock of red hair.

"Officer Dyer, front and center!" she barked. The young Officer stepped forward and came to attention. "You understand the charges against you?" she asked.

"Yes, sir," he said quietly.

"And you understand the potential penalties, including radiation treatments to induce the Living Death?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. Let us review the facts of the matter. Three days ago you were in command of the team assigned to break up a demonstration in front of the Delvian Council House. In the course of about 500 microts you used your pulse rifles to disperse the crowd - resulting in 1519 injuries, including 813 deaths, from approximately 1650 rounds fired. Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir."

"And all this was done on your orders and your orders alone?"

"Yes, sir."

"In your report you stated:

'We fired and continued to fire until the crowd dispersed, and I consider this the least amount of firing which could have produced the necessary effect it was my duty to produce if I was to justify my actions. It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view not only on those who were present, but more especially, throughout the entire capitol. There could be no question of undue severity.'

Is this a substantially correct summation of your views on this matter?"

"Yes, sir."

"So you took it upon yourself to disregard the rules of engagement handed down by your superiors?"

"Yes, sir."

"I finalized those rules myself, Officer Dyer."

"I am aware of that, sir."

Here it comes, thought Crais.

"The Delvian government is screaming for your head, you know.

"I am aware of their protestations, sir."

"Do you now see that your actions will in all likelihood have exactly the opposite effect than that which you were hoping to achieve?"

"Yes, sir."

"And do you now understand the wisdom of the rules promulgated by your superiors?"

"Yes, sir."

"Excellent. Fortunately for you, though, I am not inclined to cave in to the demands of such weak-minded and inferior beings as these Delvians. They have their martyrs, but I'm not giving them you as well. Upon my authority as Divisional Commander, the charges against you are hereby dropped and expunged from your record. I hope you have truly learned your lesson. Dismissed."

Tun and Crais looked at each other in stunned disbelief. They turned to their commander.

"Far be it for me to second guess the orders of a field commander in such a situation," she said with a smile.

The meeting was much, much smaller this time, Zhaan noted. Besides Zarkan and Taval she was the only senior Pa'u present. The few others attending were a couple junior priests and several of the Temple's surviving acolytes, one of whom was still nursing his wounds from the massacre.

"Where is everyone?" she asked Taval.

"I didn't ask them to come. The fewer people who know of our activities the better. This is our little 'underground' group now." He motioned for her to take a seat.

"Everyone, please, let us come to order," he requested. As the room quieted he continued, "Needless to say these are dark times for us. We lost many able young activists in Dyer's bloodbath. In addition, I have received solid information that the bulk of the Peacekeeper forces will be here in 4 weekans, which doesn't give us much time to regroup." A dejected look came over his features. "Given what occurred in Council House Square I am reluctant to continue with the mass demonstrations for now. However, I would like to hear what others have to say on the subject."

"I believe we must continue them, and the sooner we resume the effort the better," the injured acolyte said weakly.

"That is an admirable attitude, Darak," answered Zarkan, "But I personally can't condone you youngsters putting yourselves at such grave risk."

"Do you think that the Peacekeepers will use such horrific violence to stop future demonstrations?" asked Zhaan. "After all, from what we can gather, the usurpers have complained bitterly about their actions."

"And their cries fell on deaf ears!" Taval answered caustically. "They didn't even bother to slap Dyer on the wrists. Aldred let him off completely. That is the true message to Delvia in all this... The local Peacekeeper commanders have been given a free hand to use as much force as they please when the mood strikes them to use it."

"We cannot be sure of that," Darak retorted. "The only way to find out is to stage another rally. Besides, if we don't we will look like cowards!"

"I would rather look like a coward than be blamed for sending another thousand people to their deaths," said Zarkan forcefully.

"But no one is blaming you for what happened!" said another of the acolytes.

"True. But if it happens again, they will," the old priest replied.

"I, for one, am quite willing to die," Darak said. "That is preferable to living under the Peacekeepers."

"Again, that is a noble attitude, young man," said Zarkan, "But I will not sanction another public protest under these circumstances."

"We do not need your approval!" said Darak angrily. "We will do it ourselves."

The priests all looked at the acolyte. "How dare you speak to a Pa'u in that fashion!" snapped Taval, "Especially Zarkan!"

"If you are not with us then you are against us!" Darak shot back.

Wouldn't the Sebaceans love to see us tearing at each other like this, thought Zhaan.

"Please!" she said. "Nothing good can come of this infighting. All it does is help our enemies." Both Darak and Taval looked suitable chastened she noted, pleased that her words had hit home. "Surely there is some other course of action we can take for the time being that will not endanger so many lives."

"Do you have something specific in mind?" asked Taval.

"No, but I would suggest we do something that keeps people's minds focused on the massacre and on the other crimes the usurpers and the Peacekeepers are committing against our world."

"I know what will do that," said one of the young priests.

"What, Malat?" asked Zarkan.

"We can kill Dyer."

All the other Pa'us, except Taval, looked at him, stupefied. Zhaan noted with concern that the acolytes seemed pleased with the suggestion.

"How can you even think such a thing?" asked Zarkan.

"It was easy," Malat replied. "If they want to start killing us then I think they should know that we will at least try to kill them back. I doubt the Peacekeepers will have much of a stomach for shedding their own blood for the usurpers."

"I would not like to gamble on how much blood the Sebaceans are willing to shed, especially when most of it will be ours," Zarkan said. "I think that they are far too used to killing and being killed for such horrendous tactics to have any effect on them. They are mercenaries - spilling blood is their business."

"Then perhaps we should pick a softer target," said Darak menacingly. "One who isn't in the habit of killing... or being killed."

"And who would you suggest?" asked Taval.


"What?" cried Zhaan in shock as she jumped from her seat. "How can you say that? That is... is... I can't even find the words."

"I suppose it isn't something we should discuss in front of you, anyway," said Malat icily. "Indeed, Taval, I think it is extremely unwise for us to include this woman in our discussions at all. How do you know she isn't telling Bitaal and the Peacekeepers about everything we do?"

"How dare you!" Zhaan spat at him, the anger boiling within her.

"Calm down everyone," Taval interjected evenly. "Tempers are running high at the moment and that is understandable. However, Malat, I will not stand by and let you impeach Zhaan's character. She is beyond reproach."

"Can we really be certain of that where Bitaal is concerned?" asked Darak.

"Yes, we can," he answered sternly.

"I believe your friendship with her is clouding your judgment," said Malat.

Taval gave the young priest a withering look.

"It's alright, Taval," Zhaan said. "I can see now that the mistrust of me in this group runs very deep. Perhaps I should just leave."

"No," Zarkan put in. "I won't hear of it. Your insights and experience are too valuable for us to cast you aside like this." She looked angrily at Malat. "I know of no one more committed to our cause or more honorable in her actions. I trust her far more than I do you."

"But I don't," he answered.

"Perhaps there is something I can do to prove myself to you," suggested Zhaan, strangely glad that the conversation had now focused on her instead of Bitaal.

"Yes, I can think of something," the young priest responded.

"What?" asked Taval suspiciously.

"Tell us about Bitaal's movements and the security arrangements around him so that we can strike at him if we choose to."

"No!!" she cried. She ran from the room. As she reached the door she heard Zarkan say bitterly, "Our Delvia is truly gone."

"You sent for me, sir?" asked Officer Pallen as she came to attention.

"Yes. I've been looking over these reports you prepared. It seems we have a bit of a problem on our hands."

"Yes, sir, it does."

"Intell dismisses the issues you address as... what did they say... ah, here it is... 'The random actions of disaffected individuals.' You seem to have concluded otherwise."

"Yes, sir. I am convinced that we are seeing the initial activities of a secret resistance network."

"Intell doesn't think the petty activities you mention - flyers, posters, graffiti, minor vandalism and what not - constitute anything worthy of our attention."

"I know, sir. However, I think that once you look below the surface it is clear that what we are witnessing is the work of an organization that is just beginning to learn to flex its muscles. The patterns of the activities are there."

"Based on your excellent work, I would be foolish not to agree completely with your assessment."

Pallen smiled. "Thank you, sir."

"What do you think we should do about these groups?"

"It is clear from our surveillance and informants that the remaining leaders of the radicals are heavily involved in these activities. We should move to arrest them and further infiltrate their organizations."

"Yes. Decapitate and infiltrate... The old stand-bys. However, as you know we are forbidden to arrest most of those you have pointed out in your reports. How would you suggest we address that problem?"

The young woman thought for a moment and then answered, "I believe that if we could piece together just a few more details on the activities of the radical leadership even these stubborn, short-sighted Delvians can be made to see reason. I therefore suggest that we increase our surveillance efforts and arrest more of the minor actors in these conspiracies. Perhaps they can be 'persuaded' to give us the details we need."

"Excellent, Tarnar. Commander Tun was correct in his assessment of your abilities. Keep this up and you'll be giving the rest of us a run for our jobs," Crais smiled.

"Thank you, sir."

"See to your suggestions at once."

Zhaan sat, her desperation growing. Her meditation now completely eluded her; her center seemed filled with the darkness, with bitterness, anger and the need for revenge.

I cannot take much more of this.

Just then the personal viewer on her desk beeped quietly. Thankful for the interruption she rose and touched a button to answer the call. Bitaal's image appeared.

"Bitaal!" she said with some surprise.

"My love," he responded. "Am I disturbing you?"

Yes, more than you'll ever know.

"No, I was just finishing my afternoon meditation. Why are you calling me?"

She saw the hurt in his eyes. "Do I need a reason for wanting to talk to you now?"

"You tell me," she shot back, feeling a disturbing sense of satisfaction as the pain he displayed increased.

"Beloved, I don't want it to be like this between us..."

"Then get rid of the Peacekeepers," she told him pointedly. "And follow the will of the people."

"Must politics come between us?" he asked pleadingly. "I miss you terribly - that is what I called to tell you."

Her anger diminished a little at that and she couldn't help the slight smile that passed over her lips. "I miss you as well," she admitted honestly.

"Then will you come to see me?"

"Of course... When would you like me to come?"

"Would you like to dine with me tomorrow evening?"

"Do I have the necessary approvals then, sir?" asked Crais.

"Yes," answered Tun. "You've done a first rate job under the circumstances. Your evidence regarding the radical conspiracy was so overwhelming even Bitaal had to concede to our plans."

"Then I will begin the expanded wave of arrests at once, starting with Zarkan. I'm sure she'll have some interesting tales to tell us."

"Father?" Zhaan called out into an empty house. "Father?" He was supposed to meet me here. Where could he be?

She sat and waited for the rest of the morning, her apprehension growing. Finally, she contacted Taval.

"Zhaan?! You shouldn't be calling me through an open line like this. It's dangerous for you. Zarkan was arrested last night. I'm probably next."

So the net is getting ever wider - just as he predicted. No one is safe anymore.

"Do not worry. My call is innocent enough. I just wanted to ask you if you'd seen my father at Temple. I went to do some grocery shopping and we were supposed to meet here afterwards and meditate together..."

"You haven't heard? He was arrested on the street as he left here this morning."

At first she didn't want to believe him, even though she knew Taval would not have said it were he not absolutely certain. The deep, gnawing fear within her exploded into stark relief, blinding rage it's now ever-present companion.

"Where did they take him?"

"The Peacekeepers arrested him, not our own people. I assume Crais has him."

"Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan," Crais said smugly from behind his desk as the Delvian priest was brought into his office. "I've very much been looking forward to this meeting."

"Where is my father?" she asked sharply. "What have you done with him?"

"That is a matter of internal security. I am under no obligation to share the information you request with you."

She gave the Peacekeeper a look filled with hatred and anger. "Internal security," she scoffed. "He's an old man. What sort of threat could he pose?"

"It must be a very grave one," Crais said with a smile. "Otherwise, why would we have arrested him?"

"I can think of a reason," Zhaan shot back. "You did this to get at me." Her eyes narrowed as she regarded him. "What do you want?" she hissed.

"Want? We want nothing from you... aside from asking you to fulfill your duties as a citizen of Delvia."

"Meaning what?" she asked acidly.

"You have been in contact with a number of suspected terrorists and traitors. Zarkan... Taval... Tell us what you know of their organization and their plans and perhaps I might be able to do something for your father."

Blackmail... How typical. How barbaric.

"I know nothing of these things," she lied. "Besides, you arrested Zarkan last night. Surely the mighty Peacekeepers can manage to drag the information they want from an old woman like her."

Crais sneered at her, a corner of his mouth curling into a snarl. "With an attitude such as this I don't think you'll be seeing your father for quite some time. He's being shipped off to the Lunaar 5 camp tonight."

"You would put an innocent old man in a concentration camp?" Zhaan asked, her expression now one of shocked disbelief.

"If he's in a camp, how can he be innocent?" Crais said, smiling cruelly. "And don't think that your position as the Council Leader's whore will protect you much longer either," he added.

He signaled his assistant as Zhaan stormed out. "Tarnar, I want that woman put under around-the-clock surveillance."

"But, sir, that is in direct violation of our directives," she dutifully reminded him.

"I am aware of that Officer Pallen," he snapped. "The situation has changed. I am countermanding the orders on my own authority as security director for this sector. Is that understood?"

"Perfectly, sir. I will have your order implemented immediately."

Zhaan hurried to the Temple, her fury and anguish churning within her.

Zarkan is right. Our Delvia is gone. Now we must fight to build it anew She shuddered briefly at the thoughts flowing through her as she contemplated what the struggle would entail.

We have destroyed ourselves more thoroughly than the Peacekeepers ever could.

She felt as though the darkness was enveloping her, trying to smother her.

As soon as she arrived she sought out Taval.

"Zhaan, you shouldn't be here. You're putting yourself at grave risk," he again chided her as he pulled her into an out-of-the-way corner.

She dismissed his concerns, getting right to the point of her visit. "I have reconsidered. I will do more than those who mistrust me in your group have asked... I will assassinate Bitaal myself. Do not tell anyone else."

Zhaan tried to ignore the mixed look of utter surprise and shock on his face. "Wh... when?" was all he could manage to choke out.

"Very, very soon. That is all you need to know," she concluded as she turned and almost ran from the Temple.

Tonight, Bitaal... it will all be over.

She was too lost in her thoughts as she left to notice the Peacekeepers entering the Inner Precincts.

"We've broken your pathetic little resistance cell, Taval," Crais told the priest, who sat strapped in an interrogation chair. "Your friends have all talked. We know about the plot against Bitaal... but there are some pieces of information they could not give us. Who are the designated assassins? When and where are they planning to strike?"

No response came.

"Your silence will not last, you know," Crais informed his prisoner quietly and evenly. "Even a Pa'u such as yourself cannot withstand being in this chair for long. Perhaps some day we'll have a chair that can simply take the information we seek from you, but, for now, I suggest you save yourself the pain and agony of the nerve induction treatments and simply tell us what we wish to know now."

"Never," Taval answered with equal evenness and calm.

"Predictable," Crais responded, shaking his head in mock sadness. "Very well... I'll leave you in the hands of the very capable Lieutenant Sun," he continued, gesturing to the Officer next to him. "He's Intelligence's top interrogator. You should feel honored to be the subject of his attentions. He's learned from the best. Indeed, his instructor was taught by Captain Selto Durka himself."

"I'm sure you'll enjoy your time together," Crais said icily as he left.

In the evening darkness it had been easy to elude those shadowing her. Now there was nothing to keep her from her appointment. She hurried to Bitaal's. Out of habit his guards let her pass without question.

"Zhaan!" he greeted her at the door, seeming surprised she had actually come.

"Bitaal, my love," she responded, trying and failing to match the enthusiasm in his voice.

"What is bothering you?" She glanced towards the ever-present guards. "That is easily remedied, my sweet," he responded and dismissed them for the night with a wave of his hand.

He walks so willingly to his fate. Being surrounded by such vast strength has made him careless.

He saw the troubled look remained on her face. "What is it, my love?"

"It's my father. He was arrested by the Peacekeepers this morning."

"I know. They keep demanding that I let them arrest you too."

"You knew?" she asked in disbelief. "You knew and you did nothing for him? He is an innocent old man. They are only using him to blackmail me for information!"

"I know. They foolishly think you are part of the resistance."

Her rage surged through her. It took all of her long-cultivated abilities to keep it hidden.

"Can you not do something for him?"

"If I did the others in the Leadership would take it as a sign of weakness, as would the Peacekeepers."

All doubt disappeared from Zhaan's mind. All he cares for is his own power. People's lives mean nothing - nothing - to him anymore. Now I must keep my mind focused on what he has done to deserve this - Delvia... Teggan... Zarkan... My father.

"You summoned me?" Crais asked Pallen as he entered the interrogation room. He looked at Taval, his head jutting from his neck at an extreme angle. "He's dead?" he asked incredulously.

"Yes, sir. And he... he did it to himself."

Crais was incensed. "What? How? He's still strapped in the chair!"

"Apparently a Pa'u of his level is capable of the sorts of muscular control that would be necessary," she answered, clearly appalled.

"Intelligence should have known that and taken the appropriate precautions. And, speaking of Intelligence, where is Sun?"

"He's dead as well, sir."

"Need I ask how?"

"The same..."

"Don't tell me! Apparently a 12th level Pa'u can do that too. Lovely. Why doesn't Intell know these things?"

Crais paused for a moment, considering his response. "Alright, then... Have all of the level twelves and higher not on the government's approved list rounded up and deported to the internment camps immediately as threats to internal security."

"Yes, sir."

"Is this the session recorder?" Crais asked, pointing to a small video camera and playback unit.

"Yes, sir."

"Perhaps Sun was getting close to something when Taval decided such extreme measures were necessary. Play it back for me."

Crais watched unfeelingly as the last portion of the sadistic scene played out before him:

Taval writhed in the chair, Sun hovering over him. "It's so easy, Taval," he crooned soothingly. "Just tell me what I want to know and we can stop. The pain can stop. I want to stop the pain, Taval. Help me to stop the pain."

"No! I'm not the traitor Bitaal is!"

Another surge of white hot agony shot through him.

"Now, now, Taval... that's not very helpful. And I think you should know that this is just the fifth level of encouragement this chair can provide. There are many more. But I doubt you'd survive much above level 12 or so. Poor old Zarkan didn't even manage that. And, just to make sure you understand, would you like a short taste of, say, level 10?"

Taval bucked forcefully in the chair. His eyes rolled back in his head; he foamed at the mouth.

"So, now, tell me - how many assassins are after the Council Leader?" Sun asked, clearly unaffected by the suffering of his victim.

"J... just one," Taval blurted, his mind filled with nothing but anguish.

"See, that wasn't so hard now was it?"

A look of horror and failure came over Taval as he came out of the swirl of pain. What have I done? I can't let them break me. I can't let them win!

Suddenly Sun spun around on his heels and dropped to the floor without a sound, dead. Taval quickly followed suit.

"Wait! Play back that last bit and increase the volume!" Crais commanded.



Just before he snapped his own neck Taval mumbled something to himself as a tear ran down his face.

"I thought I heard something!" Crais crowed. "Play it back again even louder."

"Zhaan," Taval whispered.

Crais smiled. Betrayed by his last thought.

"Where is that damn bitch?" he asked Pallen.

"I'm checking, sir."

"Have her arrested immediately."

"Sir! The surveillance unit reports they lost track of her in the dark over an arn ago."

Damn! This is what happens when you send soldiers to do police work.

"Where is Bitaal?"

A moment later Pallen informed him, "He's at home, sir... and he has apparently released his security detail for the night."

"Deluded idiot. We'd better get over there."

They both turned and ran out of the interrogation room.

I am completely adrift. The chasm looms before me.

"Come to me my love," Bitaal bid her. "Let us share union together. It has been so long and I have missed you so much."

"Why, Bitaal... those were my thoughts exactly."

And now, of my own free will, I step into it.

Crais and his squad burst into the room. They were already far too late. Bitaal was clearly dead. Their attention turned to the form huddled in a dark corner.

"I knew it," Crais growled as he recognized Zhaan. This is what they get for not listening to me.

"Restrain her."

Two of his detail moved forward and put handcuffs on their new prisoner. They picked her up by her upper arms and dragged her before their leader. He could see the tears dripping off her hanging head. He put his hand under her chin and forcefully lifted her face so he could look at her as he proceeded with the formalities of placing her under arrest.

Crais gasped as her gaze fixed on him.

Zhaan's eyes were a deep, deep red.