Zero's Return
that, Aliphei nodded his tusked blue head at the Watcher,
who immediately transported Fred to his room.  This time, his door was open and
his outgoing feeds were back online.
    The Trial was
5 – Rat’s Mission
    Rat stepped into
her prince’s chambers to the overwhelming stench of shit and rotting skin.  She
found Mekkval hunched in the center of his chambers in a pile of his own filth,
watching the same ten-minute vid he’d had on replay for the last week.  The
Dhasha hadn’t allowed his slaves to groom him since the Jreet had helped the
Humans escape punishment, and he hadn’t eaten in longer.
    “I hear you
haven’t been getting any sleep, my lord,” Rat offered gently.
    “A Dhasha
doesn’t need sleep,” Mekkval said, his eyes never leaving the wall-screen.
    Rat, who had
been petitioned to approach the Dhasha by his desperate Takki steward, watched
Keval’s death-scene play out twice more in silence before she offered, “This
cannot be healthy, my lord.”
    “I trained that
boy for a hundred turns,” Mekkval snarled.  “Swore to my brother I’d care for
him like my son.  He had just started a family.  All his sons were killed, his
mates and female children stolen by a competitor the moment he was dead.”
    Rat grimaced. 
“You’d like the Dhasha responsible dead, then, my lord?”
    “He broke no
law,” Mekkval said, rage leaving his words a bare whisper.
    “Benva and I owe
you a favor,” Rat said.
    “It’s already
being taken care of,” Mekkval said, his voice as frigid as ice.  And, hearing
it, Rat had no question in her mind that the Dhasha in question would die
slowly, in great fear and pain.  She actually took a step backwards, a little
alarmed at Mekkval’s vehemence.
    Continuing to
watch the screen, Mekkval said, “I have a different task for you, Leila.”
    Rat flinched. 
He only used ‘Leila’ when he was about to ask something especially heinous,
something that would likely kill her.  Still, willing to do anything to help
break her friend from his self-imposed prison, Rat said, “Anything.”
    “We think a
group of experiments survived.”  Mekkval’s voice was cold, ruthless.  “I want
you to go destroy them.”
    Rat gave the
Dhasha prince a reverential bow.  “Of course, my liege.”  Keval had been on
Koliinaat often after hunting down Prime Sentinel Raavor with Zero, and much of
that time had been spent in Mekkval’s chambers, discussing rebel Dhasha with
Rat and her team.  Even being the son of a traitor, Mekkval’s nephew was
probably one of the most decent Dhasha that Rat had ever known, as he refused
to own slaves or participate in the trade of females.  Even Mekkval did
those things.  All her prince needed to do was say the word and Rat would have
gladly died to kill the vaghi responsible.
    “No one else
knows,” Mekkval went on, “but I hired a Bajnan to analyze the numbers.  There
is just enough inconsistency in Earth’s finances for there to have been one
more installation.  One that still hasn’t been found.”
    “I’ll take my
team and head to Earth tonight,” Rat agreed.  Anything to ease her liege from
his morbid melancholy.
    “You will go to
Earth,” Mekkval said slowly, turning from the screen to face her for the first
    There was a
hesitation to the way Mekkval said it, however, that gave her pause.  Frowning,
Rat said, “Is there a problem?”
    “You have to go
alone,” Mekkval said.  “And you can’t come back.”
    Rat froze.  She
had spent the last twenty turns sworn to Mekkval, and she trusted him with her
life.  He had become one of her greatest friends.  Though she hadn’t trusted
him at first—had actually fought the idea of working for him—he had proven to
be a wise and benevolent leader, something she never would have guessed from a
Dhasha.  After the first tense two turns of dispatching rogue Dhasha for him,
she had eventually begun to see the depth of his empathy and

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