The Fourth Guardian
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by Geoff Geauterre
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: The Galactics oversee and sometimes dispense knowledge to lesser endowed beings. Enlightenment becomes a keyword. Those who challenge this concept do not survive for very long.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [452 KB]
Reading time: 261-366 min.
"...Part science-fiction, part geo-political thriller, The Fourth Guardian is a stand-alone novel, but could also be read as an extra to Geauterre's Eyes of Light trilogy. It is fast paced with intricate and interwoven plots.
"...The parts I loved best were those on Earth when Regis was sent into the past; there is something within him that makes him hunger for justice, to exterminate those he considers vermin and on Earth there are plenty of criminals for him to get to work on. Although there is some voilence in the book, it isn't particularly gory and it isn't lingered over for long.
"...Anyone who is a fan of sci-fi or thrillers would probably like this book too." ~ Annette Gisby, author of "Drowning Rapunzel" for Twisted Tales.
The pilot's eyes jerked from navigation to helm to plotting, but no matter how hard she stabbed sensor relays and controls, the screens showed a huge magnetic cloud rushing upon them.
A roiling miasma with its own charged life seemed bent on swallowing them whole. She glanced over her shoulder and cursed softly. The commander was aware of everything happening on the ship, but her cup never even shook.
Shar-Mei, group commander of the Battle Maiden squadron, glanced into the chair's built-ins and wondered if she should call the ominous sight forming and moving in on their flanks, an emergency. One would call attention to problems when there's a way to deal with them. But what do you do when there's not?
The pilot sighed. "Yes ma'am."
"I don't wish to intrude, but I believe we're headed into a difficulty here. Wouldn't you agree?"
Ri-Nell took a deep breath. "Yes, ma'am."
"I know I gave orders to cut corners getting home, but look where that put us. How many corners were we cutting?"
"Ma'am, it looked like a short-cut. Nothing on the charts showed this existed. I ran it through the computers, and they suggested it was a negotiable anomaly, but not something to worry about."
"Not something to worry about?"
Ri-Nell's lips trembled. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
"Well, don't take it so hard. We shouldn't have been out this far anyway." Shar-Mei scowled. "What idiot drummed up these orders? How in a star's comet-shit can you track space pirates in their own domain without knowing where you were going, or how you would get back?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Neither did the idiot who sent us here."
Bridge staff looked at one another worriedly. It didn't look good. The plotting tech wanted to smash the screen she worked over. Damn monitor kept telling them they were lost. How in hell could they be lost if one moment they knew where they were, and the next they disappeared off the screen, followed by something that didn't register except as a pair of contrasting numbers?
The commander looked over her shoulder and nodded to her best plotter. "Yes, Nubis. What is it?"
"I know where we are. Remember the legend of the sea of ships?"
"Wasn't that an old wives' tale?"
"I don't know what else you'd call it. That's the old wife, and it looks like we've been invited to dinner."
"This is not the pilot's fault. I should have been up to speed when she consulted me, but I wasn't."
"So ... we're near Epsilon Ceti XII."
"In an area we could plot ... yes. We would be."
"But we're not?"
"No. We're not. I sent out a sensor sweep and get a bounce-back, and then when it's working at all, I get readings that disappear, reappear, and don't make sense." She shook her head helplessly, feeling the weight of having failed herself as well as everyone else.
"So that's what we're headed into?"
"And what's attracted to us."
Lieutenant Ri-Nell nodded miserably. "She's right. I've been trying, but nothing I do pulls us out. Our scanning beams don't have enough power to punch through it."
Nubis, their plotting navigator, a veteran of over a dozen campaigns, walked over and patted her on the shoulder.
Shar-Mei smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. The growing mass had surrounded their little craft, and attempting an escape would have been futile. So she shouldered the mess and made light of it.
"If this is anyone's fault, it's mine. I knew those charts were funny, but did I say anything except, 'Yes, ma'am?' No, I did not. That damn hookworm script they use changes character whenever there's a change in the weather, and I fell for it like a rookie."
Her smile became sarcastic. "No doubt there's something mentioned in a Galactic's chart about this area, but did they think to supply us with the proper coding? No, they did not. They just shoo us in one direction, and then in another, and we're supposed to make the best of it."
A chuckle built into a rolling of soft laughter and threw off the helpless feeling sneaking up on them. Color came back into the pilot's cheeks.
Shar-Mei's features were cool, calm and collected as she set down her cup and crossed her arms, fingering the hilt of shoulder knives in sleeve sheaths. "You know, if I wasn't burdened with my rank, I'd like to sit with the person who convinced the general staff about this 'opportunity' to track down pirates in their own backyard. Yes, then after a nice, long, shared bout of crying, because this entire mission was a stupid gesture, I'd cut the bastard's gizzards out and string them for a necklace!"
The shrieks and bellows bounced around the bridge as their craft disappeared in the silent storm.
Years later, it was whispered that had the legendary Shar-Mei never befallen such a fate, what followed would never have occurred, and half the problems that arose would not have happened.
Then hindsight is like a cosmic twist of gas. * * * *
The Syrian's three eyes took in the audience. It wasn't often a courtroom attracted such an attendance. The place was packed. The matter before them was so engaging because of the alleged crimes involved that a world watched breathless.
The vocoder affixed in his midbreast clacked and translated into booming tones. "Bring the accused forth."
A section of the floor slid aside, and a man barely in rags, weighed down with gravity restraints, stumbled up hidden steps, and once in the court, the floor sealed behind him. He blinked in the light, as if not having seen them for quite some time, and looking down he shook his head. He was in the middle of a startling white octagon. Then he looked up and cursed when he saw the alien judge.
"Regis Tregarath of the House of Nald, you've taken your place upon the Block of Truth, and as you speak be warned. A lie will cost you dearly."
The prisoner straightened, grimacing at the bite of the metal straps crisscrossed over his back, digging with its harness into his waist and down his legs, torso clamps culminating in unbreakable links to the force globes enclosing his fists.
"All right, here I am," he snapped hoarsely. "Would you mind telling me what the charges are? Nobody got around to that bit when I was ambushed, shackled like an animal, and thrown into a hole not fit for man or beast!"
The audience reverberated with the news, many shocked at the abuse the prisoner suffered. Some wondered resentfully if it weren't a plot. Observers glared accusingly at the contracted judge. The Syrian Octopoid was taken aback.
The vocoder vibrated with indignation. "The accused will refrain from commenting upon his misfortune, until more pressing questions are put to him."
Glumly, the prisoner muttered something about pretentious Syrians, but he kept glancing nervously at the plate beneath his feet.
In the recesses of the mystical device were mechanisms that took only a moment to index the subject once brought to life, and once indexing took place, the "subject" stood "revealed."
Shifting the harness so he could be more comfortable, he looked around, and his mouth went dry when he saw his family high up in a shielded booth. They stared at him, his mother amazed, his father furious.
He was disgusted at the court's theatrics. All the rest was bad enough, but this was the worst. He hoped his parents might have been spared this business.
Struggling against the four gees set in the harness only triggered the force globes, and with every attempt to fight his captivity, the gravity increased a quarter percent. It was said some had fought against this trap for hours before succumbing, and then had to be revived by an emergency med pack.
He forced himself to relax, and by infinitesimal gradients, the weight lightened. Obviously, no one was taking chances. He smiled with a wry twist. That was a compliment.
"Regis Tregarath, otherwise known as Reg-I-Nald." The Syrian's booming tones echoed around the court. "You are accused of conspiracy to interfere with Outré Cultures, in direct defiance of the First Extraterrestrial Compact, whereas: 'A Citizen shall not abridge the code of Inter-Cultural Affairs'. The Second Extraterrestrial Compact, whereas: 'A Citizen shall not intervene with the historical parameters of Non-Space Traversing Beings'. The Third Extraterrestrial Compact, whereas: 'A Citizen of the Greater Arcturate shall in no way--"
"Look," interrupted the accused, sounding tired, "get on with it, will you? I haven't had a decent steam and rub for four months now, and the way this is going, I think I have a right to hurry the farce along, don't you? I mean, it's almost too much!"
The undercurrent murmurings in the courtroom stilled, and even the judge was lost for words. The sheer effrontery, the utter gall, the incredible lack of respect, the--the--there just weren't proper terms to apply.
"I'll make it easy on you," the prisoner added lightly. "Not that you could prove your case, of course, so I'll confess to whatever it is you want. I did it. Me. Alone. Unaided. There. Satisfied? Now all you have to do is come up with something approximating evidence, or reside yourself to a long stint at being poor. By the time my legal representatives are through with you--that's what you're going to be, my friend!"
Mat"Izzlog nervously blinked all three eyes as he pulled up facts on his screen and scanned what flashed before him, and then he breathed a sigh of relief. There was never any doubt, of course, but he feared the evidence might have been wrong. It was conclusive.
A tentacle punched a button and a hologram sprang up above them. All could see what that evidence contained. A hush spread across the floor of the chamber. This was not good.
First was the report by the well-known and reputable I-See Group. The documentation was irrefutable. Their agents bonded against perjury, or false witness, their sworn statements a matter of public record, and if that wasn't enough, the videos accompanying that testimony were.
All eyes turned to the accused, where he grimaced and looked trapped. He stared at the hovering record and felt condemned. Damn! Not only videos--but infrareds as well!
Sighted climbing over walls and balconies, and at one point an enhanced image outlay tightened the darkened features until, even crouched with weapons at the ready and garbed for bloody night work, it was unmistakably ... him.
The accused stared dumbly at it, and then glanced at his father and mother. Frozen, she stood, staring at the scene. She hated scenes. His father, on the other hand, glared, hands clawed. The defendant swallowed. Next to them stood his fiancé. She looked annoyed. He considered that a plus. Unwanted marriage off.
Mat"Izzlog's three eyes glittered in triumph. "You will confess," he grated. "You refused to speak the truth before, but now you stand upon the Block of Truth. Your response will judge the color, the pattern, and the punishment to follow."
Everyone leaned forward in the expectant hush. Everyone stared at the octagon beneath his bare feet. Many licked their lips. This was better than any other entertainment.
"If the block turns blue, it will mean false testimony. Nerve tissues will singe, and spastic reactions will tear at tendons and joints. This is painful."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
"Brown will mean the bearing of false witness. Muscles will cease ability to bear your weight, softer tissues will undergo changes in their chemical-metabolic structure, and internal bleeding will result."
"Black, the most deadly, will mean you deny truth. Your death, son of the house of Nald, will be of such torment that even I shudder to contemplate it."
"You guys are so great."
"But if you will confess to all charges, the Block of Truth can be set aside."
Reg-I-Nald bit his lower lip, and then shook his head almost violently. No one had ever beaten the Block of Truth, but if he didn't try, he'd die anyway.
He glared at his accuser. "Do your worst!"
Muscles rippled down his back, and he straightened against his bonds.
The Octopoid crouched, as if preparing for the prisoner to attack. Tentacles keyed the proper sequence of harmonics to psychic tonals, and the plate beneath the accused flashed for one brief moment, indexing the subject caught within its influence, merging until the color variations sorted themselves, and then died.
"Very well!" The judge's vocoder crowed. "It is now known that upon the month of the Moon of Tregom, the year 90098, you set down on the planet Myrill, and did, with full premeditation murder the head of the family of the Neenahsth. What were your reasons for committing this horrendous crime?"
"Okay!" the accused shot back. "You want it--you got it! I did that vermin in because he was planning to exterminate the contracted miners of Quurulqu. If there's anything I won't tolerate it's the murder of innocents for profit!"
Mat"Izzlog stared in disbelief and then grumped with a frown. He had not expected such an answer, but the course was set. A tentacle tapped on a sensor pad, and the mechanism built into the floor came alive. * * * *
After humanity had made their petition for membership in the Greater Arcturate, a wealth of unknown technologies became available, and it did help, but not as much as they wanted.
A safer means of transport had been developed, but with an entire galaxy thrown open, a time of chaos came with it. Law and order degenerated into a business built of corruption and malicious enterprise, and the only bodies of interest capable of holding society together as they struggled to create off-world homes for hundreds of thousands, followed by millions, were the privately owned corporations.
How were they to keep problems from boiling over when established structures came crashing down? A few gifted with foresight realized what was coming and consulted with their alien friends asking what they might contribute.
Once upon a time, the humans were told, beings known as Guardians of Light reigned in the universe. Masters of mind and body, they possessed a key to the puzzle of perspective.
The humans looked at one another, perplexed. Before moving into another plane of existence, the Guardians left behind plans for building mystical machinery. It was not known why they were left behind, but one or two machines were built, taken apart, and never dabbled with again.
If the needs of the humans were as great as they claimed, there were avenues they could approach, where appeals to the Galactics might be considered. Were they that desperate?
The heads of the world corporations didn't have to look at one another to answer. Yes, matters were that bad. So what would these machines do, if they were built and hooked up?
Shoulders shrugged. For one thing, it would change the course of their legal system forever. However, what they had now, wasn't worth much, but they did have to consider the rare possibility they might stumble over a mutant.
Eyes blinked. Mutant? What sort of mutant?
A Guardian, they were told. A living Guardian of Light. A mutation thousands of years ahead of their time.
Had such an occurrence happened before? Yes, their friends replied. In this galaxy, three times. What was the outcome? Alien eyes looked askance. Shoulders humped. That was for them to find out.
Matters had come to such a state the corporation chiefs took a chance. They applied for help, not believing anything would come of it, and were set back when a week later a world ship arrived and uncrated one.
Moreover, as promised, overnight their legal system changed. Those caught committing crimes confessed and were duly sentenced. Those caught committing crimes who refused to confess or lied ... were destroyed before the eyes of the world.
Those who might have made capital, cheating people of their property and their dreams, became confused and afraid. If caught, they confessed and were sentenced, or they were put on the Block of Truth, where what they had seen happen ... would happen to them.
At first, hailed as a miracle, it soon became condemned as a curse. It made a mockery of freedom of choice. Liberty, justice, mercy and compassion would be endangered forever. They asked their alien friends to dismantle the contraption and take it away. They were dismayed to learn that a subsection of paragraph seventeen in the legal guidelines said it wasn't possible. Once they set it up--it was theirs forever.
Nonplussed, the leaders of society conferred, and established that only crimes of the greatest importance and nature made its use feasible. Humanity breathed a sigh of relief, as the petty crimes could go on being petty crimes, and people welcomed what came of it.
The Block of Truth hadn't been used for over three hundred years. It was exciting, shocking--and the entertainment value made everything else pale in comparison.