Shock Treatment: A Novel of Future War
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by Ardath Mayhar
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: She Was the Ultimate Weapon Against War! Theron Standish, Commander of the agricultural planet Station, has gone mad and attacked the granges that are the only reason why Station exists. With the army on his side, Standish is opposed only by his own, formidable grandmother, Seleva Karmann, and a handful of others. Among them: a scattered bunch of farmers, the mad genius Jeroboah, a soldier named Falville, and Standish's former cohort, General Coville. This ragtag resistance is almost without weapons, and are waging war with anything they can devise using readily available materials. Then Jeroboah, the planet's mad genius, devises the most formidable weapon in history. One that could end war and killing forever. He gives it to Seleva Karmann, who begins an odyssey across the war-torn planet. Jeroboah's invention gathers and concentrates all the mental, emotional and physical suffering of the war's victims and transfers it to Standish. For the planet's only hope is to bring Standish back to sanity via this agonizing Shock Treatment! Ardath Mayhar's books are "recommended for fans who require a strong female protagonist," writes K. C. Heath.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: July 2005
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [282 KB]
Reading time: 195-273 min.
CHAPTER I. Not an Easy Job
The trade representative stared down at the Commander of Station, as if reminding her that she was short and female and the leader of a world useful solely for its agricultural produce. "Madame Karmann, your document is ... interesting." She could hear the sneer in his tone.
"It is also completely irrelevant. Your ancestors signed binding contracts with the United Worlds' Consortium of Traders, and those have not been and cannot be changed. Do not ask us to come down to this world again for further talk. This is a waste of time and energy not to be allowed. Our organization will not negotiate with you." He turned abruptly and motioned to his aide to follow him onto the pad where the shuttle waited.
Above, in geosynchronous orbit, was the platform to which the foodstuffs of Granary were regularly lifted by their single shuttle. There, in exchange, niggardly supplies of manufactured goods, raw metal, and medical supplies were deposited. Those grew skimpier every year, and Seleva Karmann felt certain that before long they would not be sufficient to sustain her farming population.
Food there was, in plenty, but tools and heavy equipment were necessary to continue producing it in quantities sufficient to sustain both the farmers and the space faring fleets. Spacers depended upon unusual nutritional elements contained in the soil of Granary to maintain their health, even in the rapid transits now possible between worlds and systems. Experience had proved that concentrates and artificial nutrients could not supply needed elements. * * * *
Seleva suspected the great corporations profiting from the situation had forgotten that. Their captains almost certainly had. The arrogance of their representatives grew worse and worse. She knew she must do something, no matter what, to change the status quo. Ideas had appeared to her, over the past several years, but they were not ones that an ethical person would consider.
Grinding her teeth, the diminutive Commander moved to the portal opening onto the launch pad. If she could have frozen it in place, trapped those thieving traders, forced them to negotiate in good faith ... but that was a dream.
The shuttle was lifting from the single launch pad that served Station. Seleva watched its bulk lift awkwardly, battling gravity with its powerful engines. Her own people were trapped here, as much enslaved as those ancient peoples on their home world who had been bought and sold like cattle by the rich and powerful.
She sighed, feeling helpless. The position of Granary at the nexus of trade routes serving widely separated systems made it ideal for a supply station, and its uniquely fertile soil had made it vital for the trade. All it had lacked was a skilled force of farmers.
Now those who had been recruited for that work were little more than serfs, although their ancestors had been promised land, influential positions, and profits by their governments. The Commander and her family were confined there by the contract signed by her own grandparents. Her son and daughter were prisoners, as her grandchildren would be, in time.
Turning from the portal, she slapped her hand on her desk, furious with the barebones trade she had been forced to negotiate. According to that ancient contract, the Consortium of Traders set the terms, which were no more generous than they had been in the beginning. There was no provision in the document for renegotiation.
However, the population of Granary was growing. The original number of colonists had multiplied, over a thousand years, and the farms were beginning to need more equipment, more training tapes, more medical training and supplies, more of everything that made for a civilized world.
A quizzical face peered around the corner of her study. "Angry again, eh, Seleva? Don't blame you. Don't blame you at all. Those fools are cutting their own throats. Put your mind to it and come up with a plan that will force them to rewrite the contracts. That's the only way you're going to get enough to keep us going."
She sighed. "Jeroboah, I have racked my brain, but I can't come up with any plan that will work. Not, at least, one that is honorable. Should I ignore my conscience in order to save my people?"
The elderly man wrinkled his forehead, making his age suddenly more apparent. "Remember, my friend, that sometimes responsibility must outweigh honor. That is not comfortable for a leader to contemplate, but ethical behavior must work in both directions. Think hard about this. You will, before the next shipment, find some method that will work for us, if I know you at all."
He frowned, his eyes suddenly very sharp and knowing. "The next ship's trading reps will know nothing of the decision this group made against having others of come down on the shuttle. Remember that." Then he was gone.
She controlled her anger with some difficulty. That was the hardest lesson she was learning, since her election as Commander. There was work to do, and that would give her time to back away from her problems and look at them from a calmer perspective.
There was unrest in the Granges, which was increasingly common, for the workers were asked to do more and more and paid less and less. They had little enough on which to spend their scanty credits, she reflected. Even the food available for their families had been reduced, to meet the increasing demands of the Consortium.
This was their world, not the possession of the Consortium of Traders or United Worlds. There was no justice in the present situation, she decided, and with that she determined upon a rash and drastic move. If her honor was soiled, she thought, then so be it.
She must, however, wait for the next ship, with its representatives from the Consortium. This would be due in six months, in time for the major fruit harvest. Until then, she would deal with her Granges.
There were, she knew too well, elements among the farmers even some Grange masters who were in the pay of the Traders, as spies and agents. Once she had her new contract, signed and irreversible, she must deal with such resistance. In order to do that she feared she must harden her heart and do things that she would regret for the rest of her life. * * * *
Gadnor Keppel had been Grangemaster of Tellich for five years, and in that time he had found to his chagrin that it was nothing like as powerful a post as he felt his family deserved. His many times great grandfather had been promised a fiefdom, when he signed the contract offered by United Worlds. Instead, he and his descendants found themselves grubbing in the dirt like peasants.
The Keppels were persistent people, bitter people, and over the generations their frustration had been handed down, as a family ritual, to all their children's children. Centuries had not dimmed the fire of their anger. When Gadnor received an offer from the Traders to work as their agent on Granary, with full assurance that he would receive more than generous position and payment, he accepted it without hesitation.
He knew, of course, that Karmann intended to try renegotiating the ancient contract. If she had succeeded, he would have found a way to ingratiate himself with her, leading to some suitable result for himself. He was not disappointed when she failed, for the Traders offered much more than he could hope to wrest from the adamant Commander.
If the Commandant pulled some devious action to undermine the Consortium's control over Granary's economy, he was in a position to organize resistance to her policies and to thwart her plans. There were others who were sick of laboring in the fields, grubbing for existence for little gain. He knew he could weld them into a force capable of taking over Station and controlling the flow of goods to and from their world.
Now, staring down at the planting schedules for the new crops of root vegetables, he smiled. Perhaps his opportunity would come soon, and he would find himself ousting that arrogant woman from Station and sitting in her office in the Citadel.
She was nearing middle age, now. Her daughter was about to marry, and her son was not well, though he had a wife and a small boy. Gadnor was young, strong, vigorous; not she, nor any woman, was a match for him! * * * * CHAPTER II. THE SILENT ROOM
He did not look like a madman. His thick-lensed glasses screened thoughtful silver eyes, and his face was unlined too smooth for a man in his middle fifties. Yet something about his hands was vaguely frightening. The thick fingers gripped things too tightly, and the back slanted thumbs, which earlier generations on another world had called the murderer's thumb, were disturbingly powerful.
As he studied the maps that moved on the console forming the tabletop, bending to squint at the constantly changing numbers and symbols that reflected engagements, casualties, supply lines, and troops, his hand beat time to music from a hidden speaker's antique music, played on ancient instruments. The melody was too delicate, one would have thought, for the taste of the Commander of Station.
Behind the console table/desk, the wall was filled with monitors, which revealed all the approaches to the complex Standish called his Stronghold. Though he knew that other watch rooms were manned by people trained to note anything even remotely threatening, the Commander trusted nobody to be sufficiently alert. There were many who wanted his death, but he did not intend to die.
Theron Standish intended to survive, no matter what it took. He intended to unify forcibly the loose confederation of agricultural Granges forming this colony with the central force that was Station. His grandmother hated him for that, he knew. She had spent her life assuring the autonomy of each portion of this incredibly fertile world, after indulging in kidnapping and extortion in order to free Granary from the control of the Consortium of Traders.
Even as he thought it, he whirled and stared into a monitor to the left of the wall. Something was moving there, and his peripheral vision had caught the movement. Was it his grandmother, come again to torment him? He had exiled her to her home farm in order to keep from being forced to kill her.
Or was it that madman ... that triple-damned Jeroboah, who had been the scholar, appointed to oversee his education when Standish was young? The ancient philosopher/inventor appeared able to move as if invisible through the most intensely guarded and locked and electrified barriers, just as he had seemed to know at a distance when a younger Standish planned his cruel mischief's. Theron felt one more encounter with him might shake his own reason.
But it was only Karmann, his cousin and second-in-command, coming with the nightly report, which was so secret that only one of the scrambled lines was secure enough to bring it into his hands. Only one tech was screened sufficiently to translate it. And no hand but Karmann's could be relied upon not to let it slip into other, less trustworthy fingers. Traitors were everywhere. Standish knew, and he could take no chance of betrayal.
Theron did not touch the button freeing his private door from its computerized lock until the shape of Karmann loomed in the monitor that covered the corridor outside. When the door hummed and the panels slid apart, the shape stepped forward ... and was revealed to be, instead, a shrimp of a man, his face wizened with age, teeth yellowed where they were not missing entirely.
By what means had Jeroboah made himself seem to be another man? Standish felt his mind freeze for an instant with his old fear and hatred of his tutor. His body went stiff with shock. Though he was known as a scientist whose past achievements had given Granary the abilities it needed for defense, education, and efficient farming, the old man seemed, at times, more like a magician.
Jeroboah darted into the room, where Theron had shrunk back against his wall of monitors, and pivoted on unsteady legs to face the Commander. His tiny hand came out of his pocket, holding a shining tube. Another of his offbeat inventions? Fear chilled the Commander, as he looked into those bright, demented eyes.
Theron felt his heart bursting into his throat, his pulse thudding in his wrist. He would die! This time, he would die! Jeroboah had learned to deceive his electronic devices in the heart of the Stronghold, and it was the end!
The tube began to glow, a thin greenish light shining even through the hand holding it. Jeroboah grinned fiendishly at the Commander, as he twisted the knob at the end of the weapon.
The light turned scarlet. Theron braced himself for the end and Jeroboah said, "Bang!" Theron, waiting for death, tensed for it, almost wanting it now, felt something snap. His hand went up to touch another button, but before it reached its goal he fainted. Even as his senses dulled to black, he found himself wondering if this were reality or another indication that his mind was losing its balance. * * * *
Jeroboah's holographic image stood on the antique carpet, staring down at the jewel-toned flowers on which Standish lay. He moved to the Commander's side and wished this semblance of his could touch the Commander's elbow with a questing toe. But he was obviously still alive. That was good, for this was a game too amusing to end. Yet. He might be slightly mad, as he well knew, but he still loved a good joke.
He looked up at the monitors, where the ordinary life of the Stronghold went about its business. Between two of them hung a painting, which caught his eye with wistful recognition. A woman, beautiful and ancient, stared back at him as if she knew and approved what he had done. He had known her through her years of ruthless rule and her gradual reformation. They had been friends and allies for all her life.
Seleva. The Old One. Alive still? He didn't remember. But she had been a one, that woman. It was a wonder Standish had allowed her to live, after she abdicated her position in his favor. Or had he the ability to kill her at all? Others had tried and failed, many of them over the decades of her rule. * * * *
Standish stirred, and Jeroboah's image disappeared from the room. When Theron opened his eyes it was to find nothing amiss in his sanctum. The Commander pushed himself up with both hands, to stand beside the console. His glasses had fallen, and he fumbled blindly, bending to feel across the carpet until he located them. Then he stared about the room, up at the monitors, even at his grandmother's portrait, though he avoided meeting her bright silver eyes.
What had happened here? Was the stress of his great work affecting his mind? He shuddered and turned again to the lists, the movements, the many faceted elements of his conquest of those who dared to prefer their own freedom to the achievement of his aims. If he was hallucinating, it was best kept to himself. And if he was not?
He refused to consider that possibility. * * * * CHAPTER III. BLOODMUCK
The rumble and mutter of engines vibrated the air and the stony soil underfoot. The composite sole of Falville's boot conveyed the feeling into his toes, up through his legs into his belly. He groaned inaudibly and flopped into the roadside ditch.
The mud smelled of old deaths and too much blood. The tall weeds, nourished by the unexpected fertilizer of manflesh over the past months, made good cover, however, once he crawled out of the muck and into the higher side of the cleft. He slid backward, feeling on either side of him the movements of the men he led.
Beyond the shattered remnant of a fence there was a field of grain. Or had been. Most of it had been leveled by the firefight that had taken place there within the past few days. Falville had learned to gauge such things. No more than three days had gone by since the sizzling bolts and the pinging slugs had ripped through, harvesting the unripe grain.
Now the carriers were grinding up the slope, over the roads that had been well kept and smooth-surfaced until the Commander had turned paranoid eyes toward the lush fields and the rich forests of Tellich Grange. What threat had he read there? Falville wondered, as he lay flat amid the shattered grain, hoping those now traveling over the pitted roads were not using heat sensors as a precaution.
The sausage-shaped vehicles pounded forward on their tough treads, the one-way glass of their ports staring out over the countryside. Smoothly indented curves marked the spots where nozzles could open and flood the area about them with fire and death. For men armed only with weapons improvised from agricultural machinery and chemicals, it was impossible to stop.
About him, his men breathed so lightly that even he heard nothing but the chirp of a cricket in the hedgerow. The soil beneath his cheek quivered with the weight of the machines on the road. The leaves left on the grain shook, too, and the cricket went silent, as if even it might be threatened by the armored men who rode in the carriers.
He didn't risk an eye above the grain until the last had labored past, leaving its own contribution to the destruction of the roadway. In the distance, the metal tubes went forward over the low hill to the north, their camouflaged sides almost invisible against the dull greens of the fields and the forest.
Not even then did Falville signal his men to rise. He had learned painfully, over the months of the war, to distrust the enemy profoundly. What seemed to be, in dealing with the forces of Theron Standish, was never what was. Instead, he slithered around and headed toward the rear of the grain field, toward the low wall of trees marking the edge of Coldfellow Wood.
The Commander's men seemed to fear forests as much as their leader did. They avoided entering them, and they destroyed any forest in their way. But Coldfellow Wood was distant from the roads, far from any town or hamlet, and uninhabited except by those who lived by their wits in its depths.
Those had been people with prices on their heads, in days gone by, but now they might well turn out to be allies, for Standish hated and feared men who walked free in forests even more than the forests themselves. A day would come, and those shrewd mavericks knew it, when he would fire the trees from the Elannish border to the Sterne Rift, just to destroy his combined devils. * * * *
They made good time through the wood. All too soon they left the sheltering trees in order to cut across fields and pastures to the encampment of the combined Resistance. Though Falville had urged his general to set up his command post deep in a forest, he had chosen instead to put it in plain sight, on a long stretch of stony pasture devoted to goats.
An earthen enclosure lay up against a cliff that formed the edge of a series of downs; it was sheltered there from the cold winds of winter and the glaring sun of summer. There General Coville put his headquarters, though the huts the goatherds had raised over the years were now little but accumulations of framework and brush.
Now, approaching the place, Falville had to admit it was an effective disguise for a military post. Goats ranged over the pasturelands, nibbling wild rosebushes to stubs, ignoring anything that came or went, and providing a good reason for the figures that moved, cloaked against the autumn chill, among the odoriferous groups of animals. Their warm bodies misinformed any heat-sensing devices swept over the fields by occasional flying troops, as well.
Anything less soldierly he could not imagine.
The guard lolled against a rock, a sling in his hand, his pose that of a watchful goatherd. He raised a hand, recognizing Falville, and nodded toward the General's hut. "Something's in the wind," he murmured as they went past, ducking beneath the level of the wall. "Coville's been wanting you for hours, now. Best hurry, and don't take the time to eat or wash." He wrinkled his nose. "No matter that you need a good wash mightily. Been playing in the mud again?" His grin was sick, for he, too, knew the stench of the ditches of Tellich.
Falville gestured for his men to fall out and seek their own shelters. They would find food and wash water, if nothing else. For himself, he would have to wait. When the General called, he went, although until Standish invaded his country he had been the least biddable of men.
General Coville stood firm, when all others had fallen or run. Now he alone, with his scattered groups of men and women, resisted the invaders. For that reason, Falville had given him his loyalty. To live in the world Standish intended to create here that was not a thing he could imagine.
The hut was open to the air, its goatskin flap of door flung back and up onto the roof. Even with the chill of autumn beginning, the shelter of the down protected the spot. That kept the men from freezing, for they could not afford fires sufficient for all of them. Only a couple, suitable for those who ostensibly tended the goats, could be allowed, for too much smoke would inevitably bring a probing troop down upon them.
Inside, the dimness blinded him for a moment. Then the reddish glare of the tallow lamp picked out the faces around the rough table in the center of the room. There was Coville, huddled into his heavy coat, hands in his pockets, silent, for once. There were Lemmon, the troop mistress, and Shoye, who trained and quarter-mastered the resistance, their enigmatic faces cautious and sharp-lit with shadows. And there was Shemyona Fenn, the Chairwoman, last survivor of the ruling Grange of Tellich.
They were all staring at the woman who stood at the center of the group, gesturing. Her hand halted in midair, as Falville entered. He did not salute, for this was not a formal group, worried about protocol. They worked together to save what they could of their crops and their people.
Nothing else mattered, and any notion one entertained that might be helpful was welcomed by all, from Fenn to Coville.
"Seven carriers with fresh troops have moved toward the fort on Stormwall, each holding at least fifty men and their armor. A bitter blow, that will be, when Stormwall falls, as it must. We have too few to resist for long."
Coville sighed and nodded. "You are right, Falville. But we have another matter to consider. This lady is the grandmother of Theron Standish. Seleva Karmann, mother of his mother, is here with a most surprising and useless proposal. And yet I find myself strangely tempted to do what she asks. See if you agree."
Falville turned to look at the woman, who had halted her speech as he came in. "Lady," he said. "What is it that you propose?"
She looked up a long way up, for she was very short and slight into his eyes. Her own were a glint of silver between her eyelids, and her hair was of that shade. Her face, however, was impenetrably, inevitably young, and the eyes shone with strength and purpose.
"I want to go into battle with you. I want to suffer with you, even die with you, if need be. I want to know with every cell in my body, every element of my mind and spirit just what happens when my grandson's machines and his men take a war to an innocent people in a country that was no threat to him or his. I am equipped with a device that will retain every sensation I encounter, and with it I hope to shock my grandson back to sanity."
The words jolted him. Deep inside himself, he felt that women had no place in battle, though more than half of those left to defend his country were female and were bearing arms at that moment. This fragile old creature surely could not endure what she proposed to do. Yet her eyes were filled with purpose. Suddenly he realized that she could and would, if he agreed with the others to allow her to go with them.
"Why?" he asked. The question rang in the room, as if it had been echoed in the minds of all those there.
"Because I want to know, to make my grandson know, what it is he is doing. I will not die, although my own body will serve as the accumulator for the electrical impulses of the dying. Not until the time is right. Our family has ways of surviving that most do not understand. I will gather the agony he sows across our world. Because of that, there is a chance, a very small, frail chance, that my grandson may be brought back to usefulness, in time, to undo what he can of the horrors he has caused.
"We will kill him if we must, but Granary will be the poorer. He is a brilliant man whose talents complement those I have used to make our world a free one. I broke the laws of honor and ethics, but I taught him how to keep from having to do that again. If he can be salvaged we will all profit. Will you help me to see if this will work?" Falville stared down at her. The silver eyes gazed steadily into his.
This was the kin of the man he considered a monster. This woman had given birth to his mother, shared his blood. And yet ... and yet he found himself persuaded, without more words, that she meant what she said. She intended to stop her grandson, in her own way, while he and his kind fought in their own.
"I will," he said, though he knew deep inside that no words spoken by any living being could divert the Commander from his purposes. The depth of his paranoia was obvious to all who had watched his actions.
A sigh of relief went around the room. The general grunted. "I am glad. We had agreed, already."
"Then we move toward Stormwall together. When?" Lemmon asked. She seemed to have taken on new definition with this immediate need for her services.
"As soon as we get our weapons and supplies together. Can you be ready?" the General asked Falville.
He sighed, thinking of his stinking clothing, his wet boots, his empty gut. Then he straightened his back. "We will go, whether we can or not," he said. "I'll tell my people. They needed to eat, but perhaps they have had time, by now."
"And so do you," said the grandmother of the Commander. "You wash and eat. I will rally your troop."
Falville found himself provided with warm water, then pushed into a chair at the table and provided with a plate of goat meat and a tumbler of wine while the woman called his people. What a strange turn of events, he mused, as he drained the wine and stood again, just in time to hear the clink of weapons and the voices of those who were readying to go, once again, into battle.
The thought saddened him. His people were so ill-armed compared to the troops of the Commander. Only those living in Station had access to any of the weaponry available from the industrialized components of this vast cooperative of worlds. Granary was just what its name proclaimed, an agricultural world, supplied with little manufacturing capacity for civilian needs, for farming equipment, and for limited luxury items. Trading and military craft were supplied by many such worlds about the complex.
Station, the Commander's city, held the only port usable by the shuttle. That brought trade goods down from orbiting platforms, onto which the Traders deposited their goods and from which they picked up their loads of foodstuffs in payment. Until the Commander had begun to assume that every independent Grange on the continent threatened his position, the system had worked well for all. Now it spelled disaster for those who must rely on agricultural equipment factories to supply hastily devised weapons with which to confront the best the Cooperative of Worlds could provide.
And yet Falville did not hesitate as he finished his brief meal and rose to join his fellows. There was no question of surrender ... they had seen what happened to Sterne Rift and to Ellanish, when their Granges tried to take that route.
Now the labor camps of those countries were filled with starving people, who worked until they died and were replaced with more captives. Surrender meant a slower and more demeaning death and that was all.
He only hoped their deaths might mean something, when the terrible tale came to its end at last. Perhaps Seleva Karmann might do what the desperation of thousands could not but how did she hope to persuade her mad grandson? Her suffering and that of others would mean nothing to him. The call came, and Falville went out to continue his war.