De La Poer Estate
Pendleton, The Outback
25 January 3400
Katherine was brooding again, Walter could tell. He had heard of her confrontation with Delilah and feared the worst; that her impetuous behavior might yet get her into further trouble. Not for the first time, he began to regret his association with the Ebon Blade. But it was too late to go back on that; if he hadn't been beholden to them at first, getting them to arrange the deaths of Sir Elijah Lovejoy and everyone else who had been on his vessel had left that link unbreakable.
Today, at least, some semblance of normal would return, however briefly, with the smugglers coming to slip Delilah and her prisoner off world. Then it would come down to watching and waiting, hoping their new allies could so badly devastate the invasion fleet that never again would New Anglia or anyone else invade Pendleton.
He was preparing for a midday stroll when he heard the thrumming of an anti-grav drive. He looked out his window to see a vessel, one of the YPA series, moving into a position over his expansive front lawn. It was an impressive, well-kept ship and de la Poer nodded toward it, a small, unseen gesture of respect to the vessel's captain and crew.
With landing gears out it settled onto the soil, which was hard enough to take its weight without sinking too far. Delilah was waiting for it, standing to the side where one of the exit doors was. Everything looked perfectly well.
And then he saw her beamsaber flash to life.
Initially Delilah had not felt troubled by the ESP presence she felt on the ship coming for her. She had stood quietly and waited for them to land so that she might make the arrangements necessary to bring Kara on board with a minimal amount of fuss. But as the ship settled onto the ground she began sensing imminent danger and trouble. Her mind opened, searching for thoughts of aggression or other telltale signs of conflict about to erupt.
The moment she felt the girls on the other end of the airlock, her beamsaber came to life.
The door opened and her feelings proved right. The young women that emerged were all in sleeveless vests and pants with crescent moon markings. Delilah had faced the Sisters before and lashed out, using the full force of her mind to try and slam them backward telekinetically. Due to her power compared to theirs it took all three to hold back the attack, permitting her to gain space.
The ship had more than one door, of course. Out of the other came Umarbacca, clad fully in battle armor and carrying a heavy particle burst cannon, nominally a crew-served weapon. His furred claw pulled back on the trigger and a stream of particle fire came out, striking the guardhouse for de la Poer's modest personal security force. As he brought the structure down around the heads of those inside of it, Balthier and Marissa emerged, carrying a blaster gun and favored battle ax respectively, with Sara taking up the rear and Vanrya behind her, also armed.
Three on one was ordinarily sufficient odds for the attacker, but this case was special. Rana was yet only 20 years of age and had only been a Sentinel for a year and a quarter; Rydia and Maria were more experienced but still generally less-practiced in their powers than Delilah, who was twice their age and three to four times as skilled. She proved their match with a beamsaber and vastly superior in use of TK, which she used to toss them about to keep them from attacking her weak side or from overwhelming her. The agiel attached to her suit's left hand brace lashed out once and a while, drawing a cry of anguish from whomever it impacted, though she was too busy defending herself to press home any attacks.
Rana picked herself up from one such blow, feeling the burning in her nerves subside and watching Rydia's saber clash with Delilah's repeatedly while Maria recovered from a TK shove. This battle wasn't going their way and Rana felt the need to go to Sara's side.
A hand touched her on the shoulder. She looked up to see Quinn, wearing a set of brown robes she'd not seen him in before. "Go to Sara and the others," he instructed her. "I'm going to deal with this one."
Rana knew Quinn's power was great, beyond her's. She gave a nod and ran off, Umarbacca covering her approach to the house as he laid suppressing fire down, happily, on a storage structure the estate security personnel were using to try and gain their composure.
Quinn turned back to Delilah. He brought his weapon up and, with nary a word, stepped into the battle.
From where she was hanging limply against her wrist restraints, Kara could overhear the sounds of battle outside. Her mind could feel the exertion in Delilah and the presence of other ESPers... including at least one she'd felt before. Ah, the cute Arab girl. Springer screwed up after all. She found herself not too plussed about that, surprisingly, maybe even a little amused that the pirate had failed.
As it was, her predicament wasn't likely to change. She doubted they'd let her go. Her torture might end but she'd end up executed by the New Anglian authorities for the attack on their naval station. Death wasn't something Kara was particularly looking forward to, of course, so she would have to escape.
Her tortured body didn't appreciate efforts to make it move, not that she could move much anyway as Delilah had drawn the cables on her restraints tight, keeping her limbs and body drawn taunt between the pillars the restraints were connected to. With her hands curled into fists Kara drew in a breath and looked around. Delilah was careful and hadn't kept her equipment in eye sight.
Kara was going to have to do this the hard way. She grimaced and gripped the cables on her restraints tightly, then began to pull. Her power surged into her upper body, blocking out pain reception from her strained arm and shoulder muscles and amplifying their power in turn. Thanks to the battle outside nobody heard her cries of exertion as she bit down, drawing blood from her lip, and began to pull....
"Katherine! Katherine!" Walter de la Poer scrambled through his estate, ignoring his house slaves as they milled about on daily chores, trying to find his daughter. She hadn't been in her room, her main study, the dining room...
He'd begun to fret about ever finding her when he heard a distant "Father?". Following the noise he burst in to the estate's in-door swimming pool to find Katherine fresh out of the pool, wearing her blue one piece swimming suit and drying herself off. "Father, what's going on? I felt..."
"Someone is attacking our home!"
Deep down, Katherine knew they were here for her. She could feel it, she could see her mental image coming across thoughts at the periphery of her mind's range. "What do you want to do?"
"We must get to the panic room and wait for the authorities!"
The panic room was something many people had for protecting themselves during a home invasion. The concept dated back about 1400 years, if not more. Naturally for a people who must always be wary of servile insurrection such facilities were common across Pendleton. From within the room they could contact the police and authorities, operate remote gas dischargers tied into the home's ventilation system, or otherwise act to preserve themselves and thwart slave uprisings.
The issue was that they were on the wrong side of the house. While more paranoid owners had installed multiple panic rooms, even "secure basements" accessible from all quarters, the de la Poers had always prided themselves on guaranteeing the loyalty of their servants, so they only maintained the minimal standard required by law. It was in the north wing, though, and they were in the southeast. Therefore they were obligated to run across the length of the home. In the distance they still heard gunfire, or the sounds of struggling, as loyal house servants attempted to thwart whomever had entered their home.
Across from Walter's study was the false shelf that obscured the entrance, along with the secret switch that opened it. A wave of elation came to him as he thought himself home free. He pulled at the switch and let the door open, intent to get inside and begin taking measures to thwart this incident.
As the door opened, Katherine's eyes went wide and she shouted, "Father, no!"
Walter barely had time to register that before he found himself staring down the barrel of a plasma blaster.
"Walter de la Poer, I presume?" Balthier kept the gun level toward him. Behind him, Vanrya was pointing her gun at Katherine. "I apologize for the circumstances of our meeting, I much prefer negotiations over a fine sherry or perhaps port... but I am pressed for time," Balthier said to him. "We have questions of you."
Walter's question was answered by Katherine, who already sensed the mind behind both Balthier and Vanrya. "Sara," she gasped.
Sara stepped out from between Balthier and Vanrya. There was an immediate sense of revulsion and anger from Walter. "You? You didn't think you'd caused enough damage, you disobedient little tramp?" De la Poer brought a finger up toward her. "I should have handed you over to..."
He said no more, as Sara slapped him across the cheek. Tears flowed from her eyes, full of old shame and long-suppressed anger at the indignities and humiliations Walter and his daughter had heaped upon her when she was young and helpless. "Where. Are. They?"
"Where are who?"
"My siblings! My niece? Where are they?"
Walter cracked a smile. "Not here anymore. I sent them into hiding as a precaution, somewhere you'll never find."
"Tell me!" Sara pushed him up against a wall and her eyes shined with anger he had never imagined possible from her. "Tell me before I rip it out of your mind!"
"You don't have the train..." Nothing more than a rough gasp came out of Walter as he felt, much to his shock, Sara plunge her mind into his.
Her training was still non-existent, of course. This was an expression of raw power aided by what little of mind-reading she had learned from Rana and the others during their mind-puppeting of Danton, also aided by her mental link with Rana. She sensed Rana near, coming toward her, but focused her attention on Walter. It was hard filtering through those memories, seeing events she knew of or had even experienced from his eyes and with his thoughts. The disdain he had felt toward the lives and well-being of his property, the casual ease with which any slave sufficiently rebellious had earned a bullet to the heart or the head...
She tried to find his memories of her family, but he knew this and worked to hide them, desperately keeping them away and looking for one measure of victory against those who had defiled his home. Their minds grappled and other memories of Walter seeped around. Try as she might, Sara could not get to what she wanted.
Then, because he had been thinking of her intended fate, she found that memory.
She heard Walter pledge her to be given to the Ebon Blade. That from the start he had intended for her to be given to them in Katherine's place, only relenting when he had gotten... the mental image struck a memory in Sara, she recognized the young woman in it as the woman who had rescued Katherine.
At that point Sara couldn't keep on. This revelation and the lack of training kept her from getting to his guarded memories. A hand went to her mouth. "You were going to give me to the Ebon Blade?!", she exclaimed in horror.
"I wish I had," de la Poer muttered darkly.
Vanrya looked on with trepidation at the frown that crossed Balthier's face. It was a particular kind of disapproving half-scowl, half-frown, usually accompanied by him doing something profoundly unwise due to someone having done something particularly odious to his sensibilities. She saw his hand clench on his gun and reached a hand over. "No, we need information from him," she reminded him. "And it is not your place."
"Yes, true," he sighed, looking very much like he wanted to shoot Walter de la Poer in the head.
"Tell us where Sara Pontcaire's family is, knave, or by Odin I will cleave your head in two!", Marissa shouted angrily, bringing her axe up toward de la Poer's head. The look he answered with was more bewilderment than defiance.
Rana finally got to them at this point. Only the slightest panting rhythm to her breath indicated the exertion of getting to them so quickly. She looked from Marissa to Sara to de la Poer and stepped forward. "Sara, I shall need your help," she said.
Sara nodded. Walter looked between the two and then let out an involuntary gasp as they entered his mind again.
Quinn had proven Delilah's match, rendering Rydia and Maria as spectators, almost, to their duel. They instead acted to protect Quinn from attack as he focused his efforts on the powerful and malevolent Lady of the Ebon Blade. Energy blades of black and green clashed repeatedly, Delilah getting no openings to use her powerful TK as Quinn kept her on the defensive. When he attacked, it was with equal parts grace and power; when defending nothing Delilah did could break through him.
Retreating was the wisest course, but it was not something Delilah would do. She had an obligation to take Kara back to the Tower or to kill her. Leaving her behind, even if it meant death by others, would only earn her a similar Mark, leading to her eventual death by torture in the Tower dungeons. Her only chance was to fight off her powerful foe long enough to kill Kara, and it was to that purpose that she began to lure him toward the storage garage where she'd kept her prisoner.
She didn't hear the snap that came within. Kara, however, did, and was almost convinced it was the sound of her own shoulder snapping off before she felt her right arm come free. It hung limply at her side for a moment, the cable still attached but freed from its attachment to the column beside her. The entire right limb, from shoulder to forearm, ached horribly, but she needed it a bit longer. She brought her right hand over and used it as a focal point, making movements with her fingers that mimicked the ones her taxed mind felt from within the restraint's locking mechanism. Standard Ebon Blade restraints did not have an open latch, after all, but could only be opened or locked by telekinetic manipulation of the internal lock.
Once her left hand was free Kara dropped to all fours. On her hands and knees, with little energy to move, her tired mind could sense the nearby battle. This was her chance and, with all the might she had left, Kara reached out with her mind and struck at Delilah.
Coming under telepathic attack, Delilah's fighting became chaotic. She started missing what openings she got to force Quinn back and she could barely defend herself. She felt Kara begin stabbing at her mind, trying to break her defenses, and redoubled them... but this cost her against Quinn, who seized his opening. He brought his saber up and plunged it through Delilah's chest, spearing her in the heart. The blow was instantly fatal and she fell with barely a sound.
His work done, Quinn knelt by Delilah's body. Out of habit he made the sign of the Cross on his forehead and shoulders. He thought he had sensed someone else near but could not feel the presence; without reason to investigate he went off to work with the others.
As for Kara, she had avoided being sensed because the exertion of fighting Delilah telepathically had overcome her weakened mind and body. She collapsed where she had been kneeling, her ankles still bound, but otherwise free to escape... if she woke up on time.
Katherine watched her father's telepathic assault and found herself at a loss of what to do. Throwing her mind into the fray would certainly stop it, but Sara's companions would notice it and they would likely knock her unconscious or outright shoot her for such. Awake, she had a hope of escape; unconscious or wounded, she had none.
She also found, to her surprise, that a part of her didn't want to do such. The part of her who once made promises of emancipation to Sara and her whole family, who had brought Sara to her bed for stolen kisses and gentle touching, peeked out of the hiding place she'd kept it in since having the idealist pressured out of her at university; this part believed Sara justified in trying to regain her family.
Katherine felt disgusted at actually having these thoughts and quickly re-asserted the haughty land-owner's daughter personage she'd taught herself to adopt. She went back to watching with disdain as her father's mind was searched. He lacked the training to resist thoroughly, though Rana and Sara didn't have as easy a time as the others had the prior day with Danton. Nevertheless Rana was able to relax a few moments later while a mentally exhausted Walter de la Poer collapsed.
Marissa began securing him while Balthier looked to Rana. "Well?"
"They're hidden on the other side of the planet, on the plantation of a Mr. Jason Smythe on Jacobsen Island," Rana said. "It's one of the more sparsely inhabited areas of this world."
"And less likely to get an intensive look-through by Anglian authorities. Anyway, we should get...."
His cellular comm unit beeped. It wasn't an actual cellular phone, as found on many planets (including Pendleton), but a unit hard-wired into the Strahl's systems. He picked it up as Kaylee's voice came through, asking for him. "Yes?"
"We just had a flyby by some low-level skimmers, looks like the authorities know something's up."
"Just remain quiet, we need to buy as much time as possible," Balthier answered.
"Sure... um, okay, not good. We're getting an order to shut down engines and await landing, they're vectoring in airborne police."
"Damn." Balthier frowned at the others. "We need to get going, the authorities are on their way in."
"You'll never get off this planet," Katherine insisted. "You should turn yourselves in and ask for mercy."
"Now why would I do that when I can just wait for the Anglian fleet to get here and deal with you once and for all?", Balthier asked.
"Because they won't get here," Katherine insisted. "We have allies, the moment the Anglian fleet comes out of hyperspace they're going to be annihilated, along with any other nation that aids them."
Remembering Danton's similar claims, Balthier frowned. "Well, either way, you won't be here to see it. There's a seven figure bounty on your head, Ms. de la Poer, and I aim to collect." He nodded to Marissa, who clobbered Katherine over the head with the butt of her axe and knocked her unconscious. "We had best be going," he said to the others.
"But, what about...?"
"We can't do anything for your siblings and niece if we are in a Pendletonian jail, Sara," Vanrya pointed out. "Now come along and we can think of a solution to this as we go."
When they got to the ship, Quinn and the others were waiting. Balthier motioned for Vanrya to head in with the others before looking to Quinn. "You and the sisters can blend in," he said to him. "And the Pendletonians don't have the kind of anti-ESP devices other authorities have. Take one of Mister de la Poer's vehicles and head into the city, you'll need to fly to Jacobsen Island and see a Mr. Jason Smythe. Sara's brother, sisters, and niece are there."
"What about you?", Quinn asked.
"We've got company coming in, we'll fly out of here and draw their attention so you can slip away." Balthier nodded to Rydia and Maria. "We'll be back for you."
"Or the Anglians will," Rydia remarked. "Either way, you did fulfill your pledge not to leave us in a slave pen. Let us finish this work and get Sara to safety."
"Be wary. Between what Katherine de la Poer has said and Danton's remarks there is something afoot, and Pendleton may not fall as easily as we suspect. It could be some time before we or someone else can get back on planet to recover you."
"We understand," Maria said.
"Then be careful, and good bye." Balthier ran up the ramp and into the Strahl.
Quinn motioned to the others. "We will need currency while we are here. Follow me." He led them back to the house, knowing they had little time.
Balthier got to the cockpit and found Vanrya there already, activating the ship's anti-grav engines. "What about Danton?", he asked.
"Umar threw him out through the cargo bay," Vanrya answered.
"Good. Now..." He slipped into his own chair. Sensors already indicated the approach of anti-grav low-altitude vehicles, undoubtedly the authorities. "We need to buy Quinn and the sisters some time."
"Marissa is already manning a gun," Vanrya confirmed. "I've got the others slaved to my console."
"Give them a good shot as we pass by," Balthier said. A rumble filled the ship as the drive wings folded out into position. He flew forward fairly slowly, making sure to give Marissa and Vanrya the best shots they could.
"Someone is manning the ventral gun," Vanrya noted.
"Ah, either Umar or perhaps Sara," Balthier answered. "Either way is fine, gives you less to do. Open fire when ready!"
The green light that flashed on the console told Sara she was clear to fire. Rana sat beside her, manning the second gun on the mount. Though they could be controlled by one person it would make it easier for them to have individual guns.
The computer showed her a tracking calculation and her targets, telling her where to actually aim the guns to hit them. It was hard keeping them on target, watching the red bursts of energy fly outward and mostly miss. Rana seemed to have better luck, using her ESP to aim better and landing hits. Sara sought to concentrate as well, thinking of how much this world had wronged her and her family. When the fire from her gun crossed one of the police skimmers and sent it crashing planet-side, she giggled happily at having succeeded.
Rana, however, was not giggling. Sara immediately sensed why; her strike had been completely successful and had hit the passenger compartment of the craft; all the police being carried had been killed. "Rana, I'm... I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to..."
"It's okay," she sighed. "Death is unavoidable in this line of work. But we must never take pleasure in it.."
"I know. I'm sorry..."
Strahl erupted through the clouds and into space. Immediately Balthier saw their danger; a host of corvettes vectoring in on them. "It seems we've got quite a bit of company."
"Shall we engage with our main gun?"
"Ah, yes, encourage them to send the cruisers next," Balthier jibed. "No, I think I shall rely upon my piloting skills instead. Just keep the deflectors up."
Strahl ignored the demands for them to heave-to and prepare for boarding. The Pendletonians responded to his defiance with energy fire. Balthier's piloting skill proved equal to the task, with Strahl weaving about avoiding the attacks by Ultralight armament while they headed out to the hyperlimit to escape. "If only we could get into a gravity well of some sort, then the cloak would hide us."
"Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a good one around here, not one we can hide behind. The moon is covered with ships..." Vanrya looked to her scope again. "The asteroid belt, Balthier! There are Class D planetoids in there, uninhabited."
"Not exactly a gravity well there..."
"There is when they are that tightly clustered," Vanrya pointed out. "We could weave into them, land on one, set sensors to passive and power down the engines. As long as we go to battery backups we should be able to hide."
"Ah, and by some tight flying in the belt we hopefully avoid visual contact long enough that they can't tell which planetoid we have hidden on?"
"Worth a shot then. Hold on, I'm going to give her a workout." Balthier triggered the Strahl's overdrive systems, pumping excessive energy into her drives to increase her acceleration profile beyond the ability of the Pendletonians to make intercept. "We'll find a spot to hide, wait until the patrols look good, and make our dash to get away."
When Walter de la Poer came back into consciousness, he found himself tied into a chair. His suit was partially opened, enough that his chest, complete with some of the hair still on it, was exposed. He looked around, expecting to see his attackers, but they were gone.. and so was Katherine. His heart felt sick with worry as he wondered, with doubt, if the Navy could catch them before they got Katherine out, as he knew her only possible fate with the Anglians would be the gallows. His only child, dead before him...
"Actually, you'll be dead first," a voice, now familiar, stated from behind him. He turned his head and found Kara standing beside him, fully dressed and with a weapon in her hand and a pistol on her hip. "Good to see you're awake, Walter. You and I have unfinished business."
"The authorities will be here soon," he said. "You will be caught if you stay any longer."
"True. But I've taken lots of risks so far, what's another little one?" That said, Kara took her agiels, one in each hand, and pressed them both to Walter's chest.
The agony he experienced was beyond measure. He screamed in pain for what seemed like an eternity as his entire body seemed to come alive with a fire within. Kara had a look of contentment on her face as she felt his pain and anguish, so long overdue for her sensibilities. Soon it became relishment, especially when de la Poer actually cried out to beg her to stop.
She did, finally, after a few minutes. "I wished to do this far longer," she confessed. "But at minimum I wanted you to feel what I felt, what every girl you handed over to the Order felt. Imagine this being done every day, for hours on end, for years in your life, Walter. That was the fate of every girl you send to the Ebon Blade." Scowling, she placed her agiels back on her belt and reached for the gun hanging from the holster, which slung down over her right hip. "Now, I've got a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it, so goodbye, Walter, and enjoy Hell."
He was too busy regaining his breath to do anything but groan in protest as she pressed the barrel of the gun to his chest. With a neutral expression on her face, Kara said as a final remark "Maybe now you'll remember me" before she pulled the trigger. The bullet went through his ribs and into his heart, killing Walter de la Poer instantly.
Her vengeance finally satisfied, Kara left the de la Poer estate, just ahead of the arriving authorities, with all the tools she needed to ensure her future survival.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia
American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.
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