Setting the fire inside the warehouse seemed like such a good idea at the time. Paulo didn’t give himself time to regret it.
Newcomer Paulo 7 hated Master Zie-Mac-Ken. The being was reprehensible. More cruel than the average Cyric, Zie-Mac-Ken took pleasure in abusing every Human he held telepathic dominion over.
Humanity, something akin to what you might remember, once had an empire of fifty beautiful worlds for a thousand years. We moved slowly from world to world changing ourselves to better fit within their webs of life. Having learned from the loss of our own home, we were better stewards of our new worlds.
Unfortunately for Humanity, the Cyric version of Christopher Columbus found our most distant outpost of two million souls. He mentally dominated the entire planet in secret, alone and in a single year.
The Cyric species Alpha Trait of Psychic Domination allowed them to conquer their planet’s other, more numerous, occasionally intelligent species and enslave them. With their world inhabitants under their mental thrall they reached for the stars in a sinister symbiosis.
Humanity was no match for them. We had no trait for resistance to their mental abilities. Our species Alpha Trait of Adaptability couldn’t trump theirs. It got us to the stars, but in a direct contest…
The only saving grace was the Cyric were individualistic and didn’t cooperate well. They tended to live alone surrounded only by their “servant species” thus it took thirty years for them to agree to conquer the Outer Worlds. Holding a world with a larger population required them to cooperate. A skill their thralls may possess but the Cyric have no word for it in their native tongue.
Only on the Core Human Worlds with their populations in the tens or hundreds of billions were Humanity safe.
Unfortunately in two hundred years the Core hadn’t rescued the Outer Systems of our former Collective of Worlds. The fear was they never would. Dozens of attempts only led to more Humans falling under Cyric control along with any and all technology.
It’s said, once enslaved, no species ever escaped. Newcomers struggled but eventually learned to accept their fate.
Humanity was no exception so we adapted, sometimes against our will to new worlds, new conditions, using technology which would make the most use of our genetic mutability.
Paulo toiled at the Resource Warehouse for twelve years and had been both re-educated and sanctioned by Zie-Mac-Ken for being difficult. Gene-engineered and remapped by one of the Cyric’s other servant species, Paulo was adapted for his life as a laborer on Cyris Prime.
Physically strengthened for his new life as an intelligent beast of burden, Paulo 7 was built to endure. Squat, dense, genetically resilient, he was remapped to survive the almost toxic environment of his new labor camp on Cyris Prime, one of the homeworlds of the Cryic.
The Cyric, inherently lazy, only used their powers when necessary. Maintaining control over a population was left to technology such as subliminal sonics applied to everyone on the farm, hidden in music, piped everywhere. Such technology only needed a subtle but regular reapplicaiton of the Cyric’s mental power to maintain control.
The suspicion was the Cyric preferred to subjugate and then use technology to keep species in thrall, saving themselves and their mental powers for larger rebellions.
Subliminals harsher cousin, re-education was used as a punishment. In the case of repeat offenders, re-education bypasses normal barriers of attention and became a terrifying form of brainwashing.
Between his father’s resistance and Paulo’s often willful disobedience Paulo was scarred, his mind permanently altered.
His father died due to the constant pressure caused by this cruel psychological torture. Paulo, like his father before him, refused to surrender and had been re-educated many times. His mind was broken in, sometimes fracturing his consciousness in unexpected ways. At this rate Paulo wouldn’t be too far behind.
But in this, Paolo discovered his freedom.
The impulse to attack the easily squished and diminutive Cyric masters was overridden with a powerful fear. These permanently engineered fears were called psychographs. Another form of passive social adaptation, the process caused any Human, even the physically potent Re-maps to break down in the mere presence of any Cyric. No energy need be exerted on their part.
Zie-Mac-Ken cursed Paulo after discovering a miscounted shipment pallet about to be sent to a rival Cyric. Such a mistake would cause Zie-Mac-Ken to lose face and status among his peers.
His re-education of Paulo was excruciating. This was the first day Paulo’s hatred of Zie-Mac-Ken exceeded his fear of him. Paulo imagined a bonfire, a high and bright flame, unlike anything allowed on Cyris Prime. The oxygen rich atmosphere and the very flammable plant life meant fires were kept small, if allowed at all. Paulo imagined a great flame, higher than a man was tall, with Zie-Mac-Ken in the center of it. He felt no fear; there was no dry mouth, no dread or awe-inspiring terror.
It seemed so obvious in hindsight.
As a Remap, every aspect of Paulo’s psychic conditioning was thought accounted for except for aberrant behaviors.
The Cyric didn’t have insanity traits, such psychological issues weren’t even considered among their slaves. Anyone who acted against the will of a Cyric, was dispatched by his fellows to prevent retaliatory responses against the group. Thus Paulo’s psychological profile escaped their keen notice. Paulo 7 was more than aberrant. He was a closet pyromaniac. Fearful of the danger, his mother had trained him to keep his fascination hidden.
Cyris was a forest world, rich in organic chemicals, a flammable, pharmacological paradise. Ever vigilant, even in his private moments, he had never considered fire and Zie-Mac-Ken in a single thought, until today. He tried it a few more times. Nothing.
He drew Zie-Mac-Ken’s ire to force its furred hand. Paulo moved slowly, too slowly for Zie-Mac-Ken. The alien stared unbelieving and brought his will to bear. Paulo howled in agony.
But as long Paulo immersed himself mentally in flame, he was able to move, just a finger, but it moved because he wanted it to. He held fast to that though as the agony coursed through his body.
When he woke, an entire day had passed. His battle with Zie-Mac-Ken began in earnest. He would annoy the creature, never enough to have himself killed, just enough to draw attention to himself. Then, a little more each day. It would be another year before he could fully move, no matter what Zie-Mac-Ken thought was happening.
On the last day of harvest, warehouse nearly filled to the ceiling, Paulo sent everyone home early. Heading into the main house, Paulo confronted Zie-Mac-Ken with a look of surprise on his face as his senior house-servant tied him up and proceed to hoist the rather moist, tangled fur and outraged face of the unbelieving Zie-Mac-Ken to the warehouse floor.
It resisted and raged as he tied it to a pallet of Rin-Ba, the most beloved food of the Cyric. An oily rice, whose flavor reminded Paulo of bitter lemons.
He knew the Cyric had telepathically called out for help. Too late. Living hundreds of miles apart, there would be no Cyric to save Zie-Mac-Ken. None of the other servants/symbiotes who remained in the house tried to interfere. Perhaps they couldn’t. Maybe they didn’t believe it was possible for a Newcomer to lay hands upon the Master.
In either case, they watched Paulo without interruption.
As the Rin-ba ignited, he left the warehouse. Having turned off the fire suppression systems, Paulo heard the screams as the fire spread. His only regret was he wouldn’t get to watch.
Adaptability, he thought. It’s how we reached the stars. It’s how we’ll take them back. Paulo 7 whistled a jaunty tune all the way home. The other servants fell in behind him.
Traits © Thaddeus Howze 2013. All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus is a recipient of the Top Writer: 2016 award on the Q&A website Quora.com. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange having written over fourteen hundred articles in a four year period.
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980’s doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration, teaching computer science and IT leadership.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, The Enemy, Panel & Frame, Science X, Loud Journal, ComicsBeat.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale.
His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium, Scifiideas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has appeared in twelve different anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. A list of his published work appears on his website, Hub City Blues.