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Kes tried to screen out the voices in her head. The blinding, agonizing pain made that rather difficult.
Sunlight shone through a slit in the top of the door to the room. Room, hah! In truth it was a closet, and not a very big one. There was just enough space for Kes's small form and one of the Kazon-Ogla. All the light Kes ever got was that sun shining through the slit, and that for only a few hours a day.
She loved it, though. She knew from the voices she heard in her head that the slit was intended to torment her, to give her a glimpse of what she was missing. But even that brief glance at the sun was the most beautiful sight in the universe for someone who had never seen it in person before.
The voices in her head were coarse and rough and full of greed and avarice. The Kazon-Ogla under the leadership of First Maje Jabin were not particularly refined or pleasant to talk to, but that was as nothing compared to their thoughts.
There was Raltik, who wanted to rape Kes until she talked. Kes knew every aspect of her body that he desired, every part he wished to violate. He, at least, was the only one who felt that way, as the other Kazon found Kes's pale skin and smooth hair to be repulsive in the extreme. For Kes the feeling was mutual, especially after exposure to Raltik's thoughts.
There was Nauris, who hated Jabin and whose aspirations to replace him as first maje were stymied only by his inability to come up with a good plan to remove him.
There was Garthik, who brought her two buckets every day one with a soppy gruel for nourishment, one for getting rid of waste. Garthik never said anything, but he looked forward to the day when Kes mixed the two buckets up, which he thought would be hilariously funny.
There was Kabor, her torturer, who had found ways of inducing pain in Kes that she had never imagined. Ever since he broke her arm in several places, her entire left side flared with pain every time she shifted her position. Her right hand was useless and throbbed constantly. And her vision had remained blurred for the last day or so.
Then, of course, there was Jabin himself, who was single-mindedly determined to find a way to the underground city of the Ocampa, to see if the legends of the paradise beneath the surface of this world were true.
Kes knew that they were, of course, because she had left that very paradise of her own free will. There had to be a universe beyond the enclosed spaces the Ocampa had lived in under the Caretaker's protection for so long. To most Ocampa, that protection was like a blanket that kept them warm and comfortable, but to Kes, that blanket was smothering. She had found a gap in the security field the Caretaker had placed for the Ocampans' protection and had come to the surface only to find that someone wanted in as much as she wanted out.
For months they beat her, they questioned her, they hurt her. She had lived a life of peace and harmony for all two years of her life, and had never known pain beyond the occasional stubbing of her toe.
Now, pain was almost all she had.
That, and the thoughts of the Kazon.
Were they any other thoughts, she would have welcomed them openly, cheered to the heavens for them.
The legends are true!
Jabin wasn't the only one who wanted proof of old stories. Many Ocampa believed that they once had far greater gifts of the mind than the simple transmittal of thoughts. Ever since she had come to the surface, ever since Kes had tried harder and harder to retreat from the pain and the agony and the suffering that Kabor inflicted on her, she had found her ability to read thoughts improving.
The sun sank below the slit. Kes's leg had fallen asleep, so she shifted her position. Pins and needles shot through the limb, and then agony sliced through her left side. She let out a wail of anguish that she knew the Kazon wouldn't hear through the big metal door.
One other thing distracted her from the thoughts of the maje's people and the pain, but she didn't dare dwell on it on him too often, for fear of letting hope become too strong.
When she had come to the surface, it was in the hope of finding new people to experience. Neelix had been exactly what she had been hoping to find.
She had not been expecting the Kazon.
Unfortunately, Neelix had not been back for some time. He had tried to ingratiate himself with Jabin, but his efforts had failed, and Kes had not seen him.
Kes would have cried, but she had no tears left. She could not let herself think too much of Neelix because there was a very real chance he would never come back.
And why should he? She was just some strange alien, short-lived by his standards how amazing, she had thought, when Neelix had told her that his life expectancy could be measured in decades rather than years and probably not worth his time. Neelix had a whole galaxy to explore. Why would he risk his life for her?
Because he loves me. He said so.
Don't think about that.
Don't think about the pain.
Don't think about Kabor coming back.
That, unfortunately, left her with little to think about.
Then she felt it.
Kabor and Jabin. Both were awash in anticipation. Kes did not think that boded well for her.
The door squeaked open loud enough to make shivers race up and down Kes's spine and her teeth rattle. She winced, causing her vision to swim again. The afternoon sun that had moved beyond the slit shone right into her face. She closed her eyes against it, unable to lift her left arm, unwilling to lift her right and risk further injury to her fingers.
Kabor came in and knelt before her, a huge grin on his face.
Jabin's deep voice echoed in the small room. "Where is the entrance to the Ocampa city?" It was the same question he always asked. It was the same question she never answered.
Kes opened her eyes and stared at Jabin, backlit by the sun so she couldn't make out his harsh features, which she saw as something of a kindness.
She said nothing.
Jabin folded his massive arms over his chest. Kes saw thoughts of pleasure and eagerness far beyond what she normally felt from him. He said, "Every day, I have come to this door. Every day, I have asked the question. Today, the answer will be different. You see, we have obtained this device."
Kabor held up two items. In one hand was a small square piece of metal, which he affixed to Kes's forehead. Four pins pricked her skin and skull, and she found herself blinking uncontrollably.
In the other hand was a large square box with a lever in the center. Kabor moved the lever one notch to the right.
Pain! White-hot agony coursed through every fiber of Kes's being. It felt as if every limb was being dipped in liquid fire, every cell was being boiled, every molecule was being electrocuted, every atom was being vaporized.
It went on forever. It was over in an instant.
Kes collapsed to the floor, falling onto her left side. Oddly, that was when she screamed, as much out of habit as anything. Certainly, the pain she felt when she fell on her broken arm was as nothing compared to what she had just experienced.
"Where is the entrance to the Ocampa city?"
Jabin's words barely registered on Kes's ears. Her breathing was labored, and sweat poured down her face. After she landed on her broken limb, she didn't move, and that kept the pain down, somewhat. The memory of her earlier agony, however, would not leave.
Still, though, she said nothing. While her people often frustrated and annoyed her, they were still her people. Under no circumstances would she expose them to these animals.
When her silence aside from her labored breathing and the occasional moan went on for ten seconds, Jabin nodded to Kabor. The lever, Kes now noticed, was back at its original position.
Kabor moved it two notches.
Without knowing how she got to this position, Kes found herself facedown on the floor of the room, the cold metal pressing on her injured head.
Her vision swam. Everything hurt her hair hurt.
It wouldn't end.
It would never end.
Kes could not have that. Could not stand that. Could not bear feeling the pain any more. Could not fathom the notion of seeing what the third level might have in store for her.
"Where is the entrance to the Ocampa city?"
Her voice slurred with suffering, Kes said, "You'll never know!"
Then the pain came back, but it was only in her mind. White-hot spears shot through her skull and screams tore through her very being.
The anguished cries, however, were not her own.
Neelix had a plan.
He wasn't sure if it was a good plan. In fact, he was fairly sure it was an awful one.
Unfortunately, it was the only plan he had. As he applied braking thrusters to his ship in order to land it on the Ocampa homeworld a safe distance from Maje Jabin's camp, since the plan called for approaching the Kazon-Ogla on foot he wondered if perhaps he should wait another day or so, see if he came up with a better scheme.
But no, he knew that to be unlikely. Nothing he found in that debris field near the Caretaker's station prompted any better ideas, and he had to face the fact that the longer he waited the less the chance Kes would hold out.
She was a beautiful, noble flower, his Kes, and she had great strength, he knew. But she could last only so long against the maje's importunings, especially after he overheard that communiqué about the Haakonian interrogator that Jabin had purchased. He couldn't risk Kes being exposed to that.
Nor could he simply walk away. Well, yes, he could walk away, but he wouldn't.
Kes was all he had left.
His family had been killed, his people subjugated, his home lost to him forever. He had only his ship and a galaxy to explore.
But he did not want to explore it alone. Kes had to be by his side, or it meant nothing.
He landed his ship, stepped out of the hatch, closed it, activated the security system, prayed it was working right while confident that it really wasn't, and then began the slow walk to the Kazon camp.
Meek and supplicating. That's the way to go. Jabin likes it when people bow and scrape to him. The only other thing he respects is force, and I don't have that. So I will cater to his every whim, appeal to his baser nature, and ingratiate myself with him. I'll even offer to perform such menial tasks as, say, bringing the prisoner her food. . . .
The sun was starting to set, which was why Neelix had chosen this hour to enact his rather pathetic plan. This late, the sun was merely exhausting, not ruinous, and it took a whole minute for sweat to start stinging Neelix's eyes, as opposed to the immediacy of such an event at midday.
Neelix had no idea why the Caretaker did what he did for the Ocampa. Legend had it that he drove off invaders who had destroyed the surface, and then built them the underground city and protected them against further invasion. According to another story, the Ocampa were chosen for some great task that the Caretaker was preparing them for.
In truth, Neelix didn't much care one way or the other. He just wanted his love back. She would only live a few years, and he could no longer bear the notion of not being with her for even another hour.
It took Neelix several seconds to realize that he was almost on top of the maje's camp, and he had yet to encounter a single Kazon. At this point, he should have at least encountered a sentry or two. But he didn't see anyone.
Until he tripped over him.
Spitting sand out of his mouth and rubbing his arm where he'd landed on it, Neelix clambered to his feet to find a dead Kazon on the ground.
At least, Neelix was fairly sure he was dead. He wasn't breathing, and he was bleeding from his ears and nose.
Clutching his stomach with his bruised arm, Neelix turned and ran. He had never seen anyone bleeding from the eyes before, and he decided he could live a happy life without ever seeing it again.
As it happened, that desire was stymied a few seconds later, many times over.
The camp was littered with corpses.
Kes . . .
He ran toward the place where they kept Kes. Whatever had happened here had happened suddenly. The Kazon were all over the place, some holding weapons, some next to each other, some on their sleeping mats, some eating, some with readers next to their hands.
All bled from the eyes, as well as the ears and mouth.
Neelix had seen many things in his life, including the most vicious weapon he ever hoped to see, but not even the metreon cascade unsettled him the way this killing field did.
I must find Kes.
He arrived at Kes's cell to find two Kazon on the floor, just as dead as the others. One Neelix did not recognize, in part because he was facedown.
The other was First Maje Jabin. Neelix had dreamed of standing over Jabin's corpse someday, but this . . .
"Neelix?" The voice was cracked and broken and beautiful.
Peering into the cell, Neelix saw his love on her knees. Her left eye was red, her left arm hung at an odd angle to her shoulder, and blood was caked under her nose.
"Kes? Are you all right?"
"I killed them, Neelix."
Then she fainted.
It was several minutes later that Neelix began carrying Kes back to his ship. The delay was due to his having to spend those minutes throwing up.
The metreon cascade had killed Neelix's entire family, the final blow that allowed the Haakonians to conquer the Talaxians. Neelix had left his home then, putting Talax behind him.
But even the radiation poisoning that resulted from the cascade didn't leave quite so . . . disgusting a corpse as whatever Kes did.
Assuming she really did kill them.
That was, however, the least of Neelix's concerns. Right now, he wanted to get himself and Kes as far from Ocampa as possible.
Luckily, Kes was light. He was able to carry her limp form over his shoulder. Taking care not to trip over any more bloody Kazon corpses, he gingerly made his way across the desert to his ship.
Setting Kes down gently, he opened the hatch, not remembering until after he did so that he hadn't deactivated the security system. However, it didn't activate. It didn't matter much in this case, seeing as how all the potential security risks on the planet were quite dead, but Neelix made a mental note to have words with the dealer he'd bought it from at his next opportunity.
He placed his love gently in the only passenger seat, not wanting to do any more damage to her broken limbs. She moaned and awakened as he was going through the startup sequence.
Abandoning the preflight checklist, he leaned over her. Cold sweat pooled on her forehead.
I did it. I killed them all.
Neelix almost fell backward in his chair. That was Kes's voice in his head! She's never been able to do that before!
Her eyes fluttered open. "I can do it now, my love." Her voice was a ragged whisper, and she began to cough, causing her entire body to shiver. When she was done, he heard her next words in his mind: I can speak with my thoughts and hear the thoughts of others.
His intended response was interrupted by the beeping of his ship's alarm.
Peering down at his console, he swallowed. "I would love to discuss this wondrous new ability with you, my sweet one, but I'm afraid we have bigger concerns. Jabin's mother ship is approaching the planet and I suspect they will not be especially pleased by your recent foray into mass murder."
You don't approve of what I did.
"My dear Kes," Neelix said as he finished off the preflight checklist and began takeoff, "I approve of anything that removes you from the custody of that foul Jabin."
"You're lying," she said aloud, her voice slightly less ragged. "You hate what I've done. It reminds you of what happened to your people." She leaned forward in her seat. "Neelix, I'm so sorry I didn't intend "
"It's all right," Neelix said quickly. "We can discuss it later. Right now, we need to escape from the Kazon-Ogla."
Neelix had purchased his ship for a fair price, and it had served him well, problems with the security system notwithstanding. But it was not as fast as a Kazon mother ship, and Neelix had barely left orbit of Ocampa when Jabin's comrades came looking for him. And the fact that they broke orbit only a few minutes later, on an intercept course for Neelix's own ship, meant that they had a good idea who was responsible for the massacre of their people.
"I'm going to try to lose them in the debris field," Neelix said, and set course for it.
They're expecting that.
Kes's thoughts turned out to be accurate, as the mother ship had cut him off, forcing him to either stand to or head to the Caretaker's station. The latter course of action was, of course, utter madness. The Caretaker was powerful and not to be trifled with. Everyone stayed away from that station for good reason.
But just at the moment, Neelix had better reasons for getting as far away from the Kazon-Ogla as possible.
As he steered his ship toward the Caretaker, his communication system rang out with a message from the Kazon: "You will not escape us so easily, Talaxian. We know you're responsible for what happened to the first maje, and you will pay!"
Wonderful, Neelix thought, they think I killed Jabin.
"I'm sorry, Neelix."
Unable to take his eyes off the scanners, Neelix said, "It's all right, Kes truly. What's done is done, and at least now we are together. Assuming, of course, that we "
And then he saw it . . .
. . . Kabor's sessions of torture . . .
. . . Jabin's endless questions . . .
. . . the agony in her arm . . .
. . . the blinding pain of Jabin's final interrogation tool . . .
. . . the despair that Neelix would ever come to rescue her . . .
. . . and at last, he understood. Kes had no more choice in lashing out at the first maje and his people than a trapped animal did in snarling and biting at the hunters who trapped it. The difference was, Kes's long-dormant Ocampa gifts had come to the fore, and so her snarling and biting had somewhat more consequence.
Still, at least Neelix now had a better grasp of what his dear one was going through.
I love you, Kes, he thought fervently, and he knew she heard it. Now he was more determined than ever to get them out of this. Neelix's ability to escape death had become legendary. He was sure he'd survive this time, too.
Then another alarm went off, and this one Neelix had heard only once before: when he had purchased the ship. "If you hear this," the dealer had said while activating the alarm manually, "head for the exits as fast as you can. This one'll only go off if the ship's not for the galaxy much longer."
"What is it?" Kes asked.
Squinting at the scanner readouts, Neelix said, "I don't know. The ship isn't recognizing the energy it "
Then everything went white.
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