"Your threats are weak and meaningless!" The human bellowed loudly with unexpected anger and bravado.
One of the honor guards not obligated to keep his gun trained on Guthry drew his massive sidearm and placed it to the temple of the human ambassador. Regel waved the trooper away. Still the human spat a disgusting stream of fluid at the honor guard as he stepped back.
"Where are we going?" Guthry asked in his eerily smooth and soft voice.
"You are being taken to the Party Up, our battle fleet's flagship, for pre-trial interrogation by our Espers. I am told they are already interrogating one of your operatives."
"No." Guthry said with casual smile. "We are going forward. Traveling forward. It is the only direction you know. I know others. So will the awakened."
"Put the silencer hood on him." Regel instructed one of the guards.
The vast chamber was hemispherical with smooth black walls that seemed cut from stone and then inlaid with millions of tiny silver circuits. A single powerful biolamp extended from the ceiling, spitting out whirling patterns of organic blue light that cast the faces of the gathered espers in an unearthly blue glow. Those in the staggered tiers of benches were clad in the gray, brown, or white cassocks of the lower classes of psychic clarity. On the raised platform in the room's center there stood only two figures; the battle fleet's potent Trade Council esper in its shimmering luminescent cassock and the prisoner brought to them by the bounty hunter. He did not look like much, a stringy thin-limbed human with pale skin and eyes wide with fear.
The chant of the lesser espers began. The Trade Council esper's long fingers crackled with the gathering psychic energy in the chamber. It traced a fingertip along the quivering cheek of the human, easily sensing the presence of interloper concealed within the man's frail flesh.
"Parasite." The esper hissed and the word traveled on the psychic current and became a murmuring echo within the soft chanting of the benches.
"What the fuck is going on?" Crutch Limply spit through clenched teeth.
He willed his body to move, to run, but something held him paralyzed as surely as a bad fall from a ladder onto concrete.
The Trade Council esper flexed the fingers of both hands, shuddering as the psychic power welled within its body and mind. It knew well the dangers posed by the parasitic Numinian dwelling inside Limply's brain. Such creatures had a reputation for their ability to resist psychic attack and the esper did not intend to take the chance of being possessed itself. As the esper's hands approached Crutch Limply's terrified face the man tried to scream, but by now even his heart beat to the rhythm that best suited the alien espers.
Conscious thought peeled away like fog cooking off a bubbling stream in the light of a noonday sun. Limply's fear melted into the recesses of his mind and the human sagged dumbly. The esper probed deeper, curious that the Numinian parasite had not yet attempted to defend its host. The esper reached deeper, past the short term memories of the host, and into the dark cavern of long term memory. It was quiet and barren inside, but the esper could sense the Numinian lording over a great cache of Limply's memories like a dragon guarding its treasure.
The esper's consciousness shifted warily closer, preparing to do battle with the creature at any moment. As the esper drew nearer the Numinian sense and emotion engrams became detectable, drifting on the electrochemical currents of Limply's brain like debris caught on an ocean current. Musky stinks, warm fluids, searing hot arousal. The esper realized, too late, that it was sensing the Numinian itself as it dined lustily on the long term memories of the human. It had found something it wanted in there and it was so raptly filtering through the human's past that it did not even pay attention to the esper's intrusion.
By then the esper was equally intoxicated by the engrams. It was pulled inexorably to the heap of memories, digging its mental claws into the steaming offal passed over by the Numinian and finding an endless bounty of impossible hedonistic delights. In the softly singing chamber of the real, a shudder ran through the chorus of lesser espers. Their minds were linked to their master and as he dove headlong and mad into the burbling cauldron of pleasure so too did they.
Limply's eyes flew open. Every hair on his body stood on end.
The room was dark and indistinct, lit by crackling pulses of blue light as the shattered biolamp drained its phosphorescent contents in writhing strands down to the floor far below. Limply could faintly make out the inhuman creatures lining the tiers of benches all around him, slumped and groaning. At his feet was the creature that had tormented him, curled into a fetal position, gibbering softly and shuddering with ecstatic aftershocks. In the distance, muffled by the throbbing of his own heart, Limply could hear some sort of klaxon or warning siren warbling. Something had changed. Something inside of him had changed.
Maximillian's ornate armor was slick with gore and crude human hydraulic fluids. He laughed with maniacal joy and tossed the ruined body of the Panzer Kommando onto the growing heap of dead. The Jerlemain Bondsmen worked silently amid the flashes of gunfire and clamor of battle, slicing their keen bone blades in ghostly flashes of white that left the humans in two, three, or even four spurting chunks of meat. The humans just kept coming. Maximillian had to commend their courage as much as their foolishness in the face of such an impossible slaughter.
"Forward!" He exulted. "Forward before their dead choke our path!"
A Panzer Kommando slipped past the Bondsmen, occupied with so many of his brethren, and fired wildly with a crude mockery of the glorious nuclear reaper the Imperatrixians favored. Bullets pattered like hail on the unbroken sheath of oricalcium and tritilux protecting Maximillian. With a dismissive wave of the towering Imperatrixian's gauntlet beams of scintillating green light flashed out and curled, whip like, cleaving the human into pieces that twitched and gushed blood. Another human swung a simple axe that clanged and rebounded harmlessly from one of Maximillian's pauldron's. Maximillian turned to the human, a female, and laughed as he crushed her skull like a rotted fruit. He strode forward, using his immense size to shove past the ranks of humans dying on the blades of the Jerlemain Bondsmen.
‘Toad coin?’ wondered the traveler as he examined the pebble. It did not look all that different from any other pebble, and certainly nothing like a coin. ‘What manner of coin has no head or tail, and bears no seal or flag? Who backs this toad coin, the toad bank? The toad treasury!?’ The traveler laughed, but the toads croaked sternly back at him.
Spending $10-15 a day on perishable organic dog food is not a sign of a decadent culture in terminal decline, it's actually real good and worth it.
No lifeguard on duty. Maze run at your own risk.
Featured articles and columns that don't fit anywhere else on Something Awful.