"Council Law 7835 prohibits more than nine Ivrim from gathering together," the enforcer whispered to his superior, a tall woman with sunken cheeks and bulging black eyes. Like all senior agents, Commander Deirdre Nikelbomb wore a beige, ill-fitting, cotton uniform that swallowed her bony frame. Her silver hair, which she pulled back into a tight bun, had a metallic sheen that gave her face a stern, menacing look.
"I'm familiar with the laws on Galutia," she snapped, never once shifting her penetrating eyes from the security monitor. "I chaired the Supreme Council in solar year 3567, when the Ivrim uprising began and the laws were written."
"Sorry, ma'am—I meant no disrespect."
"Then think before you speak, Captain; our enemy does. Learn from them."
The sting of his superior's rebuke rattled the enforcer-a timid man with a pointy nose that resembled a sparrow's beak. His hand trembled as he reached to change the channel on the security monitor, which flickered erratically in the dimly lit, underground command post.
"Don't change the frequency, imbecile," barked Nikelbomb. "I traveled 1,000 light-years and across two galaxies to find out what these people are plotting."
"Of course, Commander, I'm sorry." Sandak Photon saluted crisply and retreated into the damp, musty shadows like a whimpering puppy. According to military protocol, he took three steps backward, bowed from the waist, and then, inched his way out of her presence, never turning his back to the demanding officer. Though most enforcers resented this formality, Sandak, to his surprise, found the motion comforting.
While she spied on the Ivrim, Commander Nikelbomb rubbed her temples in agony. "I've been on this cursed planet for only 30 minutes," she grumbled, "and already my head feels like it's in a carpenter's vise." She sat down at the control console and opened her Commander's Log.
"It's our electromagnetic field," Sandak piped up. "As you know, Commander, no other planet in the colonized universe has a higher level of electric radiation than Galutia." He worried that he might be boring her, but Sandak couldn't stop himself; he desperately wanted to change her negative opinion of him. "In factâ€¦umâ€¦one of the mysteries of creation is how certain species on each planet use electromagnetic fields to navigate complex migration routes throughout their lives."
Nikelbomb listened casually while she scribbled notes in her logbook. Because she hadn't ordered him to stop, Sandak rambled on.
"I've even read accounts of sea turtles, you know, on the blue planet, the one in the Milky Way." He inched forward, his confidence building. "They say baby loggerheads plunge into the water immediately after hatching, swim more than 9,000 miles in unknown seas, and then return precisely to their birthplace. Now that's using the power of an electromagnetic field, don't you agree, Commander?"
Sandak smiled, confident that he had redeemed himself.
Nikelbomb raised her eyebrows and spoke without looking up. "Since I've met you, Captain, you have failed to tell me anything that I didn't know before I arrived on this forsaken planet." She lifted her pale, alabaster face to him, but before he could bow his head, Sandak caught a glimpse of her fury. "Do you think I'm an ignoramus?" she bellowed.
"No, certainly not, ma'am. A thousand apologies."
"Enough—I can't stand it. You've apologized more than any enforcer I've met in 25 years."
Sandak's worst nightmare unfolded before his eyes. His shoulders slumped in defeat with each scathing syllable.
"I realize now that you're incapable of anything else. I need a ruthless, aggressive officer to control the Ivrim on this planet."
"Yes, ma'am-um, I mean no, ma'am. I'm sorry, ma'am-I mean I'm not sorry, but—" Sandak continued mumbling, but mercifully, Nikelbomb had stopped listening. Her mind had escaped the present and fled to memory's soothing sanctuary, where she recalled her last conversation with the Emperor, two days ago.
"Why must I travel to the farthest corner of the civilized world to put down an Ivrim rebellion?" she had complained. "After all, these misguided people with their ancient ideas of justice are a mere fraction of the Empire's population. Certainly their primitive notions can't threaten our dominion."
"Never underestimate them, Nikelbomb," the Emperor had warned. "My wisest historians have advised me that eons ago, the Ivrim influenced human behavior on the blue planet, even though they were a mere fraction of the population." His scorn had caught her off guard. She met his gaze and then reverently bowed her head. Of all the Emperor's advisors, only Nikelbomb had earned the right to look directly into his eyes. Now, for the first time, she saw fear.
"I understand, Your Excellency," she remembered saying.
"You can trust me to carry out your wishes. I've crushed rebels in the past, and this task will be even more satisfying."
The memory of her emotional parting from her glorious master and her pledge to do his bidding raised the hairs on the nape of her neck. As if suddenly she were in his presence, Nikelbomb kicked back her chair and leapt to her feet. Sandak Photon eyed her slavish zeal from a safe distance.
Commander Nikelbomb lives up to her reputation, he marveled. Those poor Ivrim; they're oblivious to what awaits them. As soon as the thought materialized, Sandak panicked. His sky blue eyes searched every corner of the room, looking frantically for the antiseptic-looking white box with the bolt of lightening emblazoned on its cover. Mind-reading sensors were a crucial tool in the Emperor's arsenal of tyranny. Fortunately, the nearest sensor was out of range, mounted above the biotransporter, near the door.
Relieved that his thoughts would remain private, Sandak enjoyed the luxury of thinking freely. His attention drifted to the fate of his best friend, Zyon Levee. A fortnight ago, Zyon was shopping in the Kodesh district when he saw a young Ivrim boy give a coin to an Untouchable-a brazen violation of Council Law 943, the prohibition against helping society's underclass. Within seconds, enforcers materialized and arrested the lad. "How could the boy have ignored such a poor person and turned him away empty-handed?" wondered Zyon. The fact that this question came to mind surprised Zyon, but he ignored it; until, that is, two helmeted enforcers seized him and dragged him away.
At his trial for sympathizing with the Ivrim, Zyon sat in shock while mind controllers entered his "alien" thoughts into evidence. And then, in a rare procedural motion, the Chief Enforcer leveled a far more serious charge against the defendant: "In the name of His Excellency, Paa-a-roh the 23rd, the Federation hereby accuses Zyon Levee of reciting an outlawed Ivrim religious text." The courtroom descended into chaos, as spectators howled and reporters raced to file the incredible story. Zyon vigorously denied knowing the verse, but his pleas were useless.
Standing safely beyond the thought probe's reach, Sandak wondered: How could Zyon have known that forbidden text? Could the rumors be true? Is the Federation assimilating Ivrim by somehow erasing their collective memory, and thereby annihilating all traces of their ancient tradition? Are Galutians really Ivrim who have been assimilated?
"Did you see that person bow?" cried Nikelbomb, shattering the silence.
"Uh, yes, ma'am," Sandak lied.
"I've seen that behavior hundreds of times in rebellious Ivrim communities."
"Yes, Commander. Intelligence reports indicate that bowing is a characteristic of their dialogue with their outlaw God, whom they call the King of Justice and Compassion."
"I wrote those reports, Captain; don't bore me with data I already know."
"Of course, ma'am." Sandak eyed her with renewed fear. "Let's get over there," she ordered.
"Yes, ma'am; immediately." Sandak entered coordinates into the bio-transp
orter and they stepped inside. Before they took another breath, the two officers were standing among the Ivrim.
"Do NOT uncloak," Nikelbomb ordered. "I want to observe them."
The Ivrim were huddled together, listening to a petite, teenage girl.
"My brother defied the Supreme Council and their oppressive laws, which punish the innocent and deny justice to all Galutians. By giving money to an Untouchable, he fulfilled our ancient scripture that commands, tzedek, tzedek tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue."
When the Ivrim heard their ancient language, which Council Law One had outlawed decades ago, they fell to their knees.
"You speak the Holy tongue?" shouted a man.
"My brother and I have studied it to learn the laws of our people," the girl answered proudly. "Wisdom lies within its sublime vibrations."
Nikelbomb gasped. The rebellion had advanced farther than she had imagined. If the Ivrim have rediscovered their ancient language, she thought, they will soon find the path toward the knowledge of life they call The Way.
"We're made in the image of God, the Master of the Universe," the teenager declared. "Emperor Paa-a-roh and his enforcers want us to believe that the Emperor is our master."
The teen's confidence troubled Nikelbomb, who had never met such a treacherous adversary. The girl seems connected to an invisible force that's guiding her thoughts and actions.
"My brother and I, though, have learned that we're born to serve God, the Source of Justice and Compassion," she explained. "We're created to be God's hands in the world, to build a just and righteous society."
A gust of wind lifted her final syllables skyward. And then, a soft, but vibrant silence descended. Several Ivrim rose to their feet. Nikelbomb knew she must act now or the Empire would be lost.
"Uncloak now, while we can still stop this nonsense," she commanded. But Sandak had vanished. "Traitor," she hissed.
A still, small voice in the crowd praised the girl's bravery and the sacredness of her teaching. It was Sandak's. He had begun his long journey home.