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The yellow-orange molten rock began to bubble and heave, as if stirred. Then the boy who was now almost a man rose from it. Actually, rose is an exaggeration; he heaved out of it.
He dropped to the soft ground, covered in ash and cooling magma, unable to summon the strength to clean himself off. Slowly, he managed to use his telekinesis to set his broken arm, howling in pain as it re-snapped. Then he barely flipped himself over and lay there. Everything hurt, even his thoughts, lanced and pierced by telepathic attacks that should have flayed his psyche as effectively as a chainsaw.
[Well...so much for talking to them.]
He wasn't humiliated, and he wasn't beaten, but he had lost. They'd proved to him that his usual tactics just weren't going to make it.
[Actually, can I define 'Fly in and smack it' as a tactic?]
Looking around the battered surface of the planet, he saw molten rock everywhere except for the small sliver of stone that he was lying on, bobbing on the currents. How much damage?
The area went on as far as he could see. If this were Earth, he'd have been part of the deaths of millions. And that was only two dozen or so of them. There were thousands of Greens on the fleetships. And if that telepathic chatter had been accurate, things were rapidly getting worse.
After another ten minutes, he stood up. His arm was set, but stiff, the bones grinding together slightly inside the makeshift cast, causing his teeth to chatter. He had a hard time remembering when he'd hurt more. He'd been more exhausted, he'd been weaker, but the pain was new and made his knees feel like water. He concentrated fitfully, and managed to scrape most of the rock off of his skin. The flight back to Earth would take two hours, and he'd have to be careful to avoid the fleet.
He needed help. Lots of it.
Eric rose into the acidic air and began the long trip home.
Am'Hran Tindijur Harrakin, of the Green caste, sat in the command chair of the Harrakin Cruiser T'Takshlath, and looked down at the planet.
The planet where they'd once fled.
Am'Hran was one of the few surviviors of the Antarctic Refuge. He'd been born while Tatris led them from planet to planet on his quest for allies, born to the pacifists Tindijur and Alharan. Like most of the exile Harrakin, Am'Hran had been a great believer in nonviolent coexistence. Of course, the Harrakin idea of nonviolent coexistence wouldn't exactly be the same as Ghandi's, but to his own people Am'Hran was remarkably non- violent.
Then the Fix came, and ruined everything. Not only had Am'Hran been forced to fight the Harrakilli, he'd been beaten by them. A double dishonor. Plus, the Harrakilli beat them by using the Nar'Tha'Harrakin. The low castes. Non-Greens had raised their hands in battle to their betters, and had been on the winning side!
Am'Hran had begun to think his strange thoughts then. But it hadn't been until the Mk'narhn Nor Verth had destroyed the city of peace...and his mind...that Am'Hran had his epiphany.
Greens weren't good leaders. They led through power. But leadership by power was merely the tyranny of the brute! Those Harrakin who devoted their lives to the sciences like Sharra or himself almost never achieved leadership. Those Harrakin who devoted themselves to history, art or faith like the War Priests or the Niniaki were barred from leadership. And while Norrek spent the great part of their lives developing their minds, they as well would never be powerful enough to lead, because they could not win Tisaridron. The system rewarded bullies.
When Sharra brought the survivors of the Void Beast to the fleet, Am'Hran was one of those who was given command. It was a small cruiser, hardly a powerful vessel, barely the size of a terrestrial Battleship. And Am'Hran would know, as it was his task as the exile communities Niniaki to observe the humans and report on their ways to Tatris, and later Sharra. He was the Harrakin who watched their sacred television, who saw their gods on such services as Melrose Place and Touched by an Angel. A strange, passionate and confusing faith they held. He had seen the humans, and he knew what he wanted.
[Mi'Lord Am'Hran.] Kirrigel, an ambitious Green from Clan Moniath who'd been assigned his second and who was the only other Green on the ship, interrupted his musing. [Tatris has ordered the fleet to send representatives to his assumption.]
The thought of that smiling butcher, the great betrayer who'd convinced his parents that peace was the answer while all the time seeking enough power to wage war, assuming power made Am'Hran gag.
[You, Kirrigel. You would like to see the Ceremony, yes?] Turning to observe the boy, Am'Hran almost giggled at the sight of his mind leaping around at the chance to meet and ingratiate himself with the new Dy'Tariex and his KK'Narath'Tak allies.
[Yes, Mi'Lord! I will do the ship proud!]
[Oh, I have no doubt of that, Kirrigel.] The sight of Kirrigel's backside almost made Am'Hran smile. He turned and looked at the planet in the holographic matrix, waiting.
[Am'Hran, he has left the ship.] The ship's tactical officer, Mindar, thought at him. She was a lowly Red, casteless and clanless. And she was pregnant with Am'Hran's child, his constant companion, and would have been his prime mate were such allowed. [Do you still wish to go through with it?]
[Yes. The city is the place that the H'R'Djagtal brought us when we were dying. It must have some sort of significance to him, besides the reports I scanned on their broadcasts. Some sort of Colony is there. And the H'R'Djagtal is no lover of the Harrakin way. I believe he may protect us.]
[And if he does not?] The tone of her mind voice surprised Am'Hran. He turned and looked at her. Her body was so fragile, without any psychokinesis to protect her in battle and barely any telepathy, by his standards. Yet she was smarter than many Greens he'd known, and her will was an Nir'Tislath lancing out of her red eyes. He knew she spoke for many aboard the ship.
[Our child will fare much worse in an empire ruled by Tatris Promise-Breaker and his Accursed. I think we should take the chance. How do the rest of you feel? Will you ask them for me?]
[You could do so yourself.]
[I think that the crew are tired of having Greens in their heads.] She smiled slightly and bent her head, communicating his request to the crew.
He stared at the globe, trying to think of the proper way to approach the H'R'Djagtal's city if he was supported. They had to move quickly. They were committing treason, after all.
[Yes, Mindar wife of my heart?]
Am'Hran settled back into his chair, focusing his will. The good thing about a small ship like T'Takshlath was that one operator could direct it. The lance of his will spurred the black metal of the ship, which had a kind of life and a responsive 'mind' all its own, and directed it down.
Away from the fleet, towards the Earth.
On the flagship Dy'Tariexen'Ka Harrak:
Tatris Hallatiris Harrakin sat on the Quivering Throne, the war-chair that directed the fleet, the rightful prize of the Dy'Tariex. And now, he was the Dy'Tariex. Even with the difficulties in dealing with his human allies (and Tatris had to admit that he'd underestimated Owen badly...the old man was much smarter than he'd allowed for. Perhaps for the remainder of his short ape life, Tatris would allow Owen to be regent of the planet. Or at least of the sewers of the planet.) and the constant caution that dealing with treacherous underlings like Priscus and the Accursed forced upon him, he was enjoying his new position.
To the right of his Throne stood his brother Ky'Rian, his face an impassive mask. Tatris smirked at the thoughts that he knew were going through his younger brother's mind. Not that Ky'Rian ever wanted to be in charge, he was the perennial second, all through their lives. But to be pushed aside like that? And of course, there was the Bastard Son to consider.
Tatris did just that. The Accursed were reporting that the boy was dead inside a lava flow on Venus. Tatris didn't really believe it yet. Not that he thought they were lying...if the leader of the KK'Narath'Tak was going to lie to him, she wouldn't tell him a lie that would endanger her position. The girl had definite potential.
To Tatris' left stood Arktish, Tatris' youngest brother, as well as Sestus. Sestus, who wore the Bastard Son's ceremonial armor, and who was the key to keeping the War Priests in line. Arktish was supposedly instructing their insane cousin in the finer points of ceremony. One look at his siblings face gave Tatris new cause for suspicion, however. The man was too smart and too devious to do him any good.
Tatris sat back in his chair and watched the holograph dance before him. The planet, and all of the fleet, glowing in ebony and red in a whirling matrix, the display...
Then he noticed it. It was hard to see at first, but then he saw them. Stragglers. Smaller ships, pods, even individual Harrakin heading down to the planet. Just a trickle now, but if it were to grow...
[Kkyree. Come here. Now.]
The girl did, her long black hair tied behind her head in the typical style for a royal princess.
[Tell me what you see.]
[The pinpricks of uncertainty, my Dy'Tariex.]
[I believe we should...make an example of them. And at the same time, you may implement my plan for targeting the Harrakilli.]
The girl smiled. Tatris saw no reason to tell her that Owen had helped him come up with the plan. After all, once you were Dy'Tariex, you got all the credit.
Eric limped into Earth's atmosphere.
Keeping the Harrakin warships from sensing him had taken a little doing, but by simply falling into Earth's gravity well unpowered, he'd managed it. As he regained control over his flight, he sensed the strange meshing of the planet's electromagnetic field and its biosphere, the powerful music of life.
Slowly he turned himself towards the planet, absorbing as much of the heat generated by re-entry as he could stand, transforming the molten mass into a passable cast on his broken right arm. The rest of his clothing he knitted together as best he could, salvaging his jeans and boots. His jacket was too far gone. It made up the sling for his broken arm, holding it level on his chest.
Dropping onto the North American Continent, he tried to focus his thoughts and pick a place to land. The problem with having no real home was having no instinct to guide you there.
Finally he remembered that Danny and Mirry had a house in Evanston, just north of Chicago. Maybe they'd be there.
He came in low, barely skirting the edge of the downtown area and flying out over the lake, looking at the strangely deserted streets. Or not so strangely, when you considered what was floating above their heads. Landing in the back yard of their house was an awkward, ungraceful affair, as he skidded to a halt, barely keeping from falling over and digging up their back yard.
The glass sliding door was locked, and he couldn't sense their minds within five hundred miles.
Sighing, staring at his grimy reflection in the glass, his face burned from just below his left eye down to his chin and blistered, his chest having multiple scorch marks, his hair burned off as if he'd just gathered it into a ponytail and cut the tail off, his broken arm, he walked through the glass.
Inside their living room he saw the TV, and with a thought the switch clicked on.
After five disappointing minutes, it clicked back off.
He walked into the kitchen, his boots leaving black smears on the tiles, and sat down heavily at the table.
[Thanks, CNN. I've never been so depressed at the sound of James Earl Jones. So now the Harrakin think I'm that bohunk in the armor supporting Tatris and so does half the planet. Great. Meanwhile I'm tapped out, I don't know where Danny and Mirry are, and I'm actually...hungry?]
He looked up at the fridge in shock.
[I am hungry. Man, it's been months....the last time I ate, I was still enrolled at Sarah Lawrence. I was Thomas then. But even then I was eating more from habit than hunger.] Standing up, he pulled open the fridge door with his left and and rummaged around. The milk had gone bad two months before, and a lot of the frozen stuff had freezer-burn worse than the surface of Ganymede. Which was the only time he'd ever been half this beat-up. He finally found some old Turkey in a deli-bag from Osco, as well as some Swiss Cheese that still looked edible.
He sat down at the table and began to eat it. It was harder than he'd thought, trying to roll the cheese up inside the turkey slices using only one hand. Finally he gave up and just shoveled the food into his mouth, eating great chunks of meat and cheese with the table manners of Attilla the Hun. He ate it all and was still hungry. He proceeded to demolish a box of Special K without milk, a half pound of Baker's Chocolate, a loaf of bread, two cans of glazed peaches and a frozen container of barbecue pork. That required the use of the microwave, so he drank two bottles of Mountain Dew while he waited and one while he ate.
He then walked into the living room, dropped onto the couch, and fell asleep.
Am'Hran felt the laser tear into the hull as if it were his own skin being burned off. He would have howled, but the collective minds of his ship and crew supported him. He smiled grimly as the smaller attack craft of the KK'Narath'Tak tried the photon-spear again, and missed.
[Ten to one, bastards, that's what you think. But I have seven hundred minds supporting me on this ship.]
[Seven hundred nothings, who barely add up to three of us.] The pilot of the Accursed vessel VerthKar responded smugly. [You cannot escape us.]
[Watch us, Nollet. Just watch us.] Am'Hran smiled at the shock over the mind-connection. Poor Nollet had bought too deeply into the Accursed's myth of invisibility. Am'Hran knew his old friend's mind-voice, however. He concentrated and pointed the nose of the ship straight down. [Wife of my heart, I have to get us down now. I may be making a choice that will get us all killed.]
[We knew the risks. Do it.]
The ship slammed into the atmosphere, raising a heat-wake as it plowed through the air at speeds in excess of 55,000 kilometers an hour. The living metal skin shivered but managed to absorb most of the heat, and a portal opened on the back of the T'Takshlath. The VerthKar was buffeted by the disordered air as it tried to follow, and the ship didn't notice that the T'Takshlath was targeting it.
Until the whiteye fired, that is, directing all of the heat in a radiated wave that caught the VerthKar amidships, melting a hole through its hide and destroying the weapons control pod. The ship screeched as it lost metal to the thickening atmosphere in a gush of liquid black.
[YES!] Am'Hran laughed, and his whole crew laughed with him, as they saw what their poor cruiser had done to the Accursed's battle-wasp. Outgunned five to one, and yet the poor T'Takshlath had come through!
The city that they sought became visible, as the T'Takshlath slowed down over the wide blue inland sea that the natives called Michigan. It rose, tall glassy towers that while primitive caused a choking reverence to come over the Harrakin on both ships. A city on the Homeworld.
Then the VerthKar managed to get close enough, and the ten KK'Narath'Tak on board focused their minds, and a burst of Green Fire impaled the cruiser, consuming the drive section and killing fifty-seven crewmen.
Eric woke as the thought-scream of the wounded ship smashed into his head.
[Fuck. Not again.]
His burns had mostly faded while he slept, but the one on his face remained, somewhat diminshed. His arm was still fractured, and he decided to leave the cast on. Jumping off of the couch, he ripped through the house at high speed, finding an old jacket of his that Danny had kept and a real sling in Mirry's supply closet. Moving so fast that only three or four people in the world could have watched, he split open the stone cast he'd worn from Venus, put on his jacket, tore off the forearm of the right arm of the jacket, used Mirry's polymer casting agent to wrap a new cast around his right arm, put a real sling around it and then flew through the ceiling.
The whole thing took .2 of a second.
He felt better, if still not himself. His body was diverting some of his power towards healing, which included the psychic damage to his mind-shield and the wounds he'd taken while ghosting, so his physical wounds weren't knitting like he'd hoped. Shooting through the air, he saw what had woken him.
A large black shape, almost cylindrical and somewhat biological looking, was smoking and falling from the sky. Directly into downtown Chicago. And it had to be nearly the size of the Sears Tower.
Which, by the way, is what it was slanting towards.
Eric's mind instinctively reached out, but the ship was too heavy and moving too fast to stop, unless he wanted to rain shrapnel down on the city. Slow and easy would be what would win this particular race. Knitting his forehead with concentartion, he managed to slow it down so that it wouldn't explode on impact and destroy the whole city, but it was still plummeting on a 15 degree angle towards the Tower. With a few more seconds he could have stopped it safely, but there was no time.
Because of the VerthKar.
Aboard the small attack craft, Nollet goggled as he saw the holographic image of Eric slowing the ship. Lines of force indicated the telekinetic field that was opposing the force of gravity, and the facts were staggering.
Even with a broken arm, the boy was exerting 155% of the telekinetic force that Tatris Mindkiller himself was capable of. His will was channeling that power even though he was injured.
[He has to be stopped. Target him. Now.]
The ten KK'Narath'Tak focused again, on the small dot in the readout, and unleashed their will.
And a fireball blasted Eric out of the sky.
The ship smashed into the building, crushing everything from the 18th to the 24th floors and shearing straight through, coming out the other side and sliding, slowing down but not stopping.
The top floors of the building fell. Am'Hran and Mindar focused their crew into a collective, and as one will, seized their ship, trying to prevent the impact. The top of the building hit the street and exploded, sending fragments as far as Union Station. Seventeen people, either unlucky enough to be up at the Skylounge or down on the street, were killed, as well as the forty-two killed when the ship hit the building. Two thousand were injured in one second.
Then the ship began to tilt backwards, gravity overcoming momentum.
[WE HAVE TO! THIS IS A SACRED...]
They did not. The ship tilted, slid and slammed into the street, crushing cars, streetlights, and even breaking the surface of the asphalt itself, collapsing the sewers.
Eric fell from the sky, again.
This time, however, he did not hit the ground. Stunned from the fireball, he helplessly watched the top of the Sears Tower as it exploded on impact. He saw the ship drive through the street and break water mains. He saw the shock of the impact shake buildings all over the city. And he felt the pain of the wounded and dying in his head.
Before he could hit, he pulled himself together and saw the VerthKar banking to attack the wrecked ship. There were wasps of fire in his thoughts, and nothing but rage in his heart.
[IS THAT ALL YOU PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO DO? AMBUSH PEOPLE!?]
He pointed himself like a missle and smashed into the belly of the Attack Craft, tearing the vessel in half, spilling the red armored Accursed out into the air. Grabbing hold of the ship, he flung both halves of it into the lake, snarling in the back of his throat. Then he finally noticed the armor.
[It's you again. God in his heaven, I am sick of you.] Eric felt the pain and suffering of the people all around the downtown area, thousands of them, injured and terrified. He looked at the Accursed in their red and black armor, secure in their superiority complex, and he felt the grief of the ones trapped on the crashed ship, the ones who'd just been trying to get away from Tatris and his thugs. These thugs.
One of them grabbed Eric from behind, locking his arms around his neck in a choke-hold, or something that looked like one, anyway, and began to squeeze. The metal was pressing into his throat. Eric reached over with his left hand and dug his fingers into his attacker's helmet, squeezing the metal out between his fingers, and pulled him off with one motion, flinging him directly into the chest of the woman preparing to hit him with the Green Fire. Their armors rang with the impact, and they both dropped from the air, leaving eight.
Am'Hran slammed his fist through the dead skin of the T'Takshlath, tearing a hole for his crew to evacuate the ship. As he staggered out into the daylight, he heard the wailing of sirens. Mindar began leading his crew out into the street, and Am'Hran looked up into the air.
In the sky, moving too fast for low-caste Harrakin to see, danced the KK'Narath'Tak and the H'R'Djagtal. Am'Hran watched as the storm-child threw one of the Accursed into another, and it reminded him of a broadcast he'd watched once when he was still information officer for the refuge.
It was called Overman II. In it, this strange being in a gaudy costume with powers much like a Harrakin (Am'Hran was never able to determine how the terrans had known. Racial memory? Their own Harrakilli?) had been forced to battle three others, prisioners who'd escaped some sort of oval prision when Belgians attempted to blow up the Empire State Building with a primitive nuclear device. It had not been very interesting. The Harrakin in the gaudy costume had allowed the other three to run rampant for much of the transmission while he attempted to have his powers removed, and then attempted to get them back. Yet now, watching the fight in the skies, Am'Hran felt somehow saddened that he could not join in. Yet he couldn't.
He was, after all, a pacifist.
[We must do what we can to aid the H'R'Djagtal's people, so he will not be distracted in his fight.]
[Very well, Am'Hran.] Mindar looked around herself at the crewmembers who were uninjured.Inside their black armor, their eyes glowed every color of the rainbow, reflecting off of the hull back onto themselves. [Tintath, round up psychokinetics and go about freeing people from the rubble. Min'Resh, you gather as many Psionics as you can, heal those humans who are injured severely where they are. I will begin scanning the area for any dangerously damaged structures, and we will set up details to re-inforce them. Once that is done, report back here.]
They moved out.
James Everret Clenson, whose legs were shattered underneath a slab of cement, saw a vaguely insectile armored figure come along, and closed his eyes in terror. The figure hoisted the slab off of him, and a woman in similar armor with her rather normal face exposed, her eyes glowing orange, touched his legs briefly, healing them. Amara Garnet and her husband Scott, trapped in their car and dangerously near power lines, were levitated to safety. Marvin Klotz, who was lying on the sidewalk with his skull crushed, seconds away from death, had his bones regenerated and his heart restarted by two huge men with yellow eyes.
The defectors, by simply helping, showed Chicago who the Harrakin could be.
Nollet tried to direct the attack, but it was impossible. Even injured, the son of Ky'Rian was a demon, moving from one enemy to another, not pausing to allow for any plans to be formed. He ghosted through one Accursed in order to kick the one behind him into the crashed ship. He looked, and a blast of pure photons exploded out of his eyes, searing through the living armor.
Eric smashed his left hand into the really big bastard who kept coming back. Part of the problem was the right arm; without it, he was off balance. Plus, he couldn't really cut loose because if he did, he could increase the damage to the city. There were enough people dead already. The giant's head snapped back, and Eric kicked him in the chest, sending him spinning away and into the path of the telekinetic spear that Nollet had meant to hit Eric with.
Eric finished him off with his foot, snapping it up and into the behemoth's helmet. Flying made these fights into three-dimensional chaos. So much so that Eric didn't even notice the woman coming at him from the right until she grabbed his arm. His broken arm. And twisted it.
[HRRRRRRAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIGH!] The pain was unlike any he'd ever felt, the snapping of semi-regrown bone and tissue making every scorchmark, scratch and cut on his body seem to vanish. The only thing left on him was that broken arm, and her fingers squeezing it.
Nollet's crimson fist smashed his head to the side, splitting the skin over his left eye open, and he didn't even notice. Instead, his telepathic facility went out of his control and speared directly through the shields of the woman on his right, linking her to him, forcing her to feel exactly what he did, and allowing him to access her training, her near-natal skill at bypassing pain. Weeping with relief, the tears mixing with his blood, he forced her to release him and then put her to sleep. Every synapse in her brain went into overload as he fired all he had directly into her, forcing her from the air. His body sagged from the effort.
Then he noticed the red fist catching him right under his chin, snapping his head back and tearing his lower lip open on his own teeth. Three more of them were swarming him, coming in now that Nollet had him on the ropes. The Accursed grabbed him by the back of the head, gauntlet fingers caught in singed hair, and pulled Eric's face around so he could see his eyes.
[I am so glad I'll be the one to kill you, son of Ky'Rian.]
There's something about those people who specialized in telling the human race what's going on at any particular moment. Some of them are base, and some have noble goals, but those that excel at their profession have one common similarity: They'll do anything for a story.
David Crenshaw and Paul Atiach are two of the more frenetic examples of this trend. A few years back, they stood on ground zero of a brawl between the Dynamax Havoc squad and two Colony Omegas. Since Ampere and one of the Colonists had caused a giant EMP surge to black out half the city from Evanston all the way to Pizzaria Due, they used an old Super 8 camera that Paul happened to be carrying around with him.
Right now the two of them have somehow talked Paul's sister Marie into taking her Bell Helicopter (the one she usually flies for Trump when he's in town) up into the danger zone and are flitting around the edges of downtown Chicago, Paul filming the devastation while David narrates.
"My..." Marie nearly chokes as she sees the smoke rising from the center of town. Paul swallows convulsively, and even David can't keep the terror from his voice.
"This is David Crenshaw for Channel Five. What you are seeing is the crash site for one of the alien ships, which dove from the sky and slammed into the Sears Tower ten minutes ago. The near-total desertion of the downtown area has not prevented hundreds of deaths and thousands of casualties, but reports are that the crew of the vessel have begun rescue operations in the area. The Tower itself has been, for all purposes, destroyed..."
A bright flash of Green Light caught Paul's attention, and he swung his camera to catch it. What he saw nearly bowled him over. David's jaw dropped, and Marie had to hit him with her elbow to get him to snap back to speaking. He began looking in the monitor, seeing what the camera saw.
"Uhm...what Paul has just noticed, and what we hope you are getting at home, are some of those mysterious Red Aliens we've been hearing about since the attack at the UN. They seem to be swarming around a flying man, possibly one of our own Omegas...Jesus Christ! I think that's Tempest!"
As the Harrakin on the ground continued to aid the injured humans, Am'Hran continued to watch the battle in the air, growing more and more concerned as he did. To the humans who were aiming their primitive recording/transmission devices at the combat, things were happening so quickly that they could not truly follow. But to him, it was clear.
The H'R'Djagtal was not winning. He'd fought well against heavy odds, but there were still six of the KK'Narath'Tak left, and they seemed to have him. Yes. Nollet has him by the back of his head, and one of the others is holding him by his shoulders in the Lakath grip. They have him.
And once they finish him, they will come for us.
Am'Hran was a pacifist. He'd come across a galaxy for his beliefs, seen his friends die for them, been twisted and manipulated and never had he swerved from them. He didn't want to toss them aside now. He wouldn't.
But there were others ways to aid the H'R'Djagtal.
[I am already linking the collective, Am'Hran. You will lend our strength to him?]
[If he will accept it. You are the strong spine of my soul, woman.]
[I know.] Scarlet and emerald, carnelian and azure, sapphire and argent, quicksilver and auric, gold and ebony. The minds of the crew, the group-mind they'd come to forge, came to vibrant life, burning in their minds, one pulsating bond. It was them all, and it reached up into the sky.
Trapped in the tight grip of the Harrakin who had his arms, Eric impassively looked at Nollet, trying to get a few seconds to think straight and incorporate the pain-suppression technique he'd stolen. Nollet's fist shot forward.
And then the world was in slow motion.
It was still coming, but barely perceptible. What Eric _could_ perceive was a wave of color and power riding into him, from the crashed ship and the Harrakin who'd been aboard her. They were one, and they offered him the few seconds of their power he needed, the rest-time to regain his wits. They healed the seared skin on his back, where the Accursed had burned him from the air, the cuts on his face and chest, the blistering skin on his upper body. They soothed the weak spots in his mind, where his shields were failing from multiple lances, and helped him regain control of his own telepathy. They re-set and repaired the new break in his right arm and healed it as best they could, and as their own wounds and the exhaustion their efforts below had given them took the last of their strength, they did one thing more.
They showed him their hearts.
In the slip between the link and its dissolution, he showed them his. He tore his arms free from the grip and caught Nollet's armored hand in his own.
In his right hand.
[Am'Hran says hello. Wait...I'll let him tell you himself.]
Eric's left roundhouse nearly tore the Accursed's armor in half, and before anyone else could even see it, the red streak broke through the sound barrier and slammed directly into the dead hull of the downed T'Takshlath. Am'Hran and Mindar stepped over a crushed minivan to stand over his unconscious body.
[That must have hurt, don't you think, husband?]
[I find violence repellent, of course. However, he deserved that. For killing our ship. Wrexxakt's eyes, just for being himself.] The two of them began to laugh. It felt good, if alien.
The rest of the Accursed scattered once their leader hit the pavement. Eric was glad of it; even with the help the crew of the T'Takshlath had given him, he was sore all over, and catching the incoming punch with his right hand had aggravated the freshly-healed fracture. He landed, whereupon a little Harrakin red spent ten minutes telepathically berating him for his attitude.
[...and that grandstanding with your damaged arm! Are you completely without sense? Did your battlemaster teach you nothing?]
He thought about it. Who counted as his battlemaster, Danny? Danny'd probably be cheesed at him over it, too. Despite the carnage around him and the deadly earnest in her tone, Eric couldn't keep a weary smile off of his face and out of his thoughts.
[My battlemaster would have been appalled, Mindar. It's been nice meeting you, by the way, and I'm sorry for your losses.]
[My wife does not mean to be disrespectful, H'R'Djagtal...]
[Am'Hran, it's been refreshing to meet a Harrakin who doesn't either try and kill me or bow and scrape in my presence. Don't apologize.] He looked at the body of Nollet. [So they grabbed all their wounded but him, huh?]
[Yes. The KK'Narath'Tak do not leave anyone behind. He is brain dead.]
[I killed him!? I didn't think I...]
[You did not.] Mindar's thoughts softened. Slightly. [The remaining offal would have focused their minds on his and erased him to keep the dishonor from spreading. It is their way. They are...we do not have a concept for how low my opinion of them is.]
[I'm not losing any sleep loving them either.] Eric turned his head and sighed as he saw what he already knew was coming; a helicopter full of journalists landing next to the damaged ship. [How many humans were hurt in the crash, Am'Hran?]
[A hundred and seven died. Several thousand were injured or trapped: We have healed as many as we could find, and are still searching for more. It is the least we can do, to try and make amends for the damage our poor wounded ship caused your city.]
[It wasn't your fault, Am'Hran.] Eric pointed his hand at Nollet's body. [People like him, who don't care who they hurt, them we can blame. And now, I've got to play twenty questions with the reporters.]
"Tempest! David Crenshaw, Channel Five news!" Eric sighed as the camera fixed on him, and he looked at the reporter, standing there with a microphone, panting and out of breath. "Was it you who attacked the Harrakin Emperor at the UN, and did you attack this ship over the city, even though you knew..."
"Look. First off, call me Eric. Or Kyrie. Or H'rik, even. But not Tempest. That's not a name, that's a weather pattern." His eyes blazed for a second, and Paul began to feel something inside him squeezing his bladder. He'd just seen what those eyes could do. David was too scared to be afraid, his conscious brain seperated from his fear by an icy glaze of panic. "Second of all, no, I didn't attack the Harrakin Emperor in New York, because I was on the surface of Venus at the time getting the shit beat out of me by the same people who did. Thirdly, no, I'm not such an stupid, dangerous asshole that I'd shoot down a ship that big over a major city. Remember all those guys in Red Armor you filmed beating on me like Bob Dole at a Legalize Hemp rally? They shot it down, and when I tried to catch it, they jumped me. That enough of a sound bite for you people?"
"Hey, look, people need to know this shit!" Paul couldn't believe what his mouth was doing. He tried to stop it, but it kept moving. "There's a whole fucking fleet of those things in orbit, aliens stomping on our cities like they were anthills and brawling with each other and with you Omegas...I'm scared out of my fucking mind! Whether you like it or not, you're the closest thing we've got to a chance and we need to think that somebody can do something, and you're that guy!" Paul stopped, sucked in air, and hoped he wasn't about to cry. David and Marie stared at him, both more than a little proud and a lot scared. The Harrakin standing around them weren't really sure what was going on. And the target of his anger stood there for a moment and looked at him.
Then Eric reached out and put his hand on Paul's shoulder.
"What's your name?"
"You know what sucks, Paul? When you get all good and pissed off, and then realize that you are full of shit and that the other guy is right." Eric sat down on the ground. "I've had a rough day, Paul. And I get the feeling it isn't going to be getting any easier. Look, let's start this again, and I'll answer any questions you need me to if I can."
Paul looked over at David, who nodded and handed him the microphone. It was unspoken but clear who was running things. Paul handed over the camera and showed him how to use it.
"Uh...okay, I guess I'm ready..."
"Oh, Paul?" Eric looked up again.
"Don't call me Tempest. I still hate that. My name is Eric."
The camera rolled.
Chapter 6: The Longest Day · Chapter 8: Tin Men
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