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Talk Him Down
Written by Matthew Rossi
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
**T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
And throws before my eyes full of confusion
Soiled clothing, opened wounds,
And the bloody apparatus of Destruction.
**Charles Baudelaire, Destruction
He moves, and the world shakes.
Eric Daniel Anderson flings himself through the air above the North American continent, so high that the sky is beginning to turn the color violet, and spins. San Francisco receedes below him, slowly becoming a grey-white speck, a scab on the surface of the planet. Then it is gone.
He darts and twists and turns, fluttering through the air like a missile, enjoying every second of his flight. He luxuriates in the sensation of soaring.
And then he scowls.
Whirling and passing each other like maddened hornets somehow guided with mechanical precision, they darted and danced around the small azure ball dropping away behind him. They were a mass of metal, a roiling fleet of ships piercing the barriers between space and otherspace, their numbers increasing every second.
What was it Anne had told him to do?
Try talking to them.
Despite all that he has seen in the past few years, Eric feels his throat clenching and his heart jangling at the sight of the thousands of ships, bearing the Harrakin to Earth.
Could he even trust the signal he'd recieved from them?
* * * * *
The leader of the KK'Narath'Tak felt the report from the Norrek as a spurring in her brain.
[He comes. Take him.]
Her armor was crimson with obsidian trim, and it hid her natural aspect behind a grinning skull, revealing nothing of her true nature. She could be healer or killer, director or lunatic, and the armor would show nothing to the outside world. Like all of her kind, the Accursed ones, she hid behind the mask of death.
[Consider the H'R'Djagt already blown out to sea, my Norrek.] As the thought lanced out and brushed the mind of Priscus Obran'Ka Harrakin, the leader turned her mind to the plan. The sacrifices were already outside the ships, darting in space.
[Are you prepared? He must not reach the fleet.]
[He shall not.]
* * * * *
Eric began closing on the largest ship, the enormous mass of angles and spheres that made up what was probably the flagship. It looked like a collection of balloons impaled on a surrealist statue, except that it was the size of New York State.
That has to be it.
Preparing to render himself intangible so that he could penetrate the hull without being blasted by the defenses the way he had been while attacking Ky'Rian's flagship, Eric didn't see the small red figure streaking through space on an intercept course until it rammed into his side.
[FUCK!] A red fist with four jagged claws growing from the knuckles caught him in the face, scoring his cheek and sending drops of his blood flying free into the vacuum of near-Earth space. Eric managed to block the second punch with his own hand, grabbing his opponent by the wrist so that he couldn't connect. [Who...]
The non-sound of psionic static was the only hint he got before a spear of Green Fire tore into his back, setting his jacket on fire and searing the skin underneath it. Stunned, he lost his grip on his red-armored attacker, who took the opportunity to deal him an open-hand slap before flying away at high speed.
As Eric blinked, clearing his eyes and struggling with his temper, another person in red armor flew past him from behind, slapping his head in a contemptuous gesture and seeking to catch up with the grappler.
That was a mistake.
Eric's own psychokinetic power erupted from his eyes, unfettered by such concerns as nearby humans or buildings that might burn down. A mass of ionized green nuclear plasma ripped into the armor of the nearest attacker, who didn't even have time to scream telepathicly. The armor died, boiled away into space, the attendant nanites squealing as their own matrices jetted into the void. Only a last second thought kept the beam from tearing through the chest of the Harrakin who'd been inside the dead skin.
Eric flew up and looked over the nearly-comatose attacker. His face, now that the metal had been stripped from it, was fairly unremarkable. A typical Green. He looked a little bit like Tatris or Ky'Rian, but his face was fleshier, and the look of agony on it made him seem somehow smaller. Eric sensed that the activity of his mind was fading.
The smart thing to do would be to take him inside the flagship and ask the Harrakin what it meant. The armor was new to him, and none of the ships had opened fire. Maybe they weren't in on this. But then he remembered the one who was getting away. Hell, he was halfway to Venus already. Eric's hand reached up to his face and traced the red lines. Even as they closed up, they stung. And that slap had been an insult. Reason warred with rage.
Rage won. It made a small concession to reason, as Eric used a small amount of his power to shield the unconscious Harrakin and teleport him into one of the smaller ships. They should be able to save him.
Then his anger took over, and Eric moved. He shot towards the cloud-shrouded sister planet, hot on the trail of his ambusher. And he caught up with him just above the Equator of Venus. He plowed into the red attacker, the impact snapping his enemy's limbs like whips. Their momentum carried them through the dense acidic clouds, through a volcano-spawned updraft and into the semi-molten surface. Their impact was enough to shake the Venera Lander that the Soviet Union landed on the surface, and which now stood as molten slag some five thousand miles away from their impact point.
Sluggish molten stone was pooled around his ankles as Eric pulled the unconscious body of his attacker from the crater by his neck. He trudged out of the hole and tossed the red figure to the ground in front of him even as the atmosphere ate the remainder of his jacket away. Seeking to preserve his dignity, Eric transformed his jeans and boots on the atomic level, somehow bonding them so the atmosphere wouldn't strip him naked. He didn't know how it worked, and he didn't really think about it.
[Okay, Jack, what say you explain what you bushwacked me for?]
[He did it to bring you here.]
Before Eric could react, ten Harrakin Greens attacked him at once.
Three of them assaulted his shields telepathically, keeping him off balance for the others. Two of them simply used pure telekinetic force, hammering into him from front and back. Three more summoned the pryokinetic fury of the Green Fire. As he wobbled from the TK pounding, the atmosphere around him and the ground beneath him became superheated plasma, a globe of incandescent fury that would have melted an aircraft carrier. Even while this happened, the last two were flying directly at him. The ball of plasma suddenly vanished as they arrived, one of them slamming both fists into his chest while the other drove directly into his knees.
And did not move.
The Harrakin KK'Narath'Tak who had attacked Eric stood around him now. One of them, the biggest among them, turned her head to the sky.
[Leader, this is...Oh, to the Wrexxakt with it! This is Min'Hak! We have him.]
[So soon?] A feeling of confusion came over the link. [The rest of us are on route. Are you sure?]
[Of course I'm sure. I am a War Priestess, after all! The boy who would be H'R'Djagtal is lying unconscious at my feet as we think.]
[Hmm. He did much better at the Tisaridron. Are you sure he isn't...]
[ACTUALLY, I AM.] Eric's 'voice' blasted across the Harrakin thought-circuit, stunning all of the Accursed with its power.
He thought, and pure electrons peeled out of the ionosphere, blasting the three closest to him away in a blue white shower of arcing electricity. Unlike Earth, this planet had no life-forms on it, and Eric felt no remorse in tapping its electromagnetic field for energy. Venus is a boiling cauldron, not a nursery. Even as two of the red-suited Harrakin tried to grapple with him, Eric's right hand smashed the nearest one, a big male, up and away on a parabolic course through the murky acid of the air.
There were only six left.
[You impress me, boy.] Min'Hak moved into a din'Jal'hra stance, as did the others. Eric groaned as he remembered Ky'Rian's use of the Harrakin martial art. [Unfortunately, I have to crush you.]
[You have to crush me? Do you people ever just think about what you say? Nobody has to crush someone.] Eric's anger was leashed now, even as the big woman leapt at him. Size and sex were the only things he could tell about these people, what with their identical armors and skull-head masks. However, unlike his fight with Ky'Rian, Eric had some advantages now as well.
1. He hadn't just been fighting the God Killer and engaging the whole fleet.
2. He'd seen din'Jal'hra before.
He blocked her leaper kick with a telekinetic blow, and clotheslined the KK'Narath'Tak who tried to slip in underneath her, slamming him hard into the slagheap surface. Before he could press his advantage, three of the others combined their power into a teke blast that would have knocked any Harrakin Green through the burning mountaintops of the volcanoes behind him.
Eric took the blow and stood there, grinning.
[D'agn M'anaxadra...] One of them remembered the ancient song-poems about Harra's battle with the Silver Killers, the war-machines of the hated ones. The Accursed were shocked. They had never seen anything like him, and even Min'Hak grinned ruefully underneath her helmet.
[He...he might be the H'R'Djagtal.] Larrath Goliran Harrakin's weak will broke. Inside his suit, he felt the superstitious dread he'd sought to conceal welling up within him.
[So what if he is? Are you going to kneel to some hoary legend that no one can even be sure Harra left us? Or are you going to fight, you simpering bastard!] The other KK'Narath'Tak responded to her thoughts, shaking the disbelief that was afflicting them.
Eric, for his part, had needed those few seconds, because the teke shot had hurt worse than he'd let on. He knew he was stronger than any Harrakin, probably even the Emperor. He suspected that he was stronger than any five Harrakin. Unfortunately, there were six still standing, and they were co-ordinating attacks on him. Taking in the odds, and seeing their postures resuming attack stances, Eric forced himself to grin like he'd seen Robert DeNiro smile in Taxi Driver.
Then he slammed his full power, all the telekinetic force at his command, the totality of his will into the ground directly at his feet. The soft magma that resided just beneath the flimsy crust reacted like a puddle of water hit with a grenade. All around him, molten stone flung itself free of the mantle and surged up, catching Larrath and the Harrakin Eric had driven into the ground just as he attempted to stand, flinging them away like rags caught in the firebombing of Dresden.
When the shockwave dissipated, the last four Accursed were floating above the deflated cyst. Eric stared up at them, smiling insolently.
[Four to one. Do you care to surrender yet?]
[I don't think so, H'Rik Ky'Rian Harrakin.] The new mind voice caught Eric off-guard. He managed to ghost himself just as a Green Fire spear ripped into the ground. Flying up, he saw that there were more of the red-armored attackers. Twelve more, to be exact. And then, in the center of them, flew a new female, slender yet taller than Min'Hak, and bearing an unmistakable feeling of command. [Seventeen to one. Do you care to surrender now? We would gladly accept it. You have proved yourself worthy of our respect.]
Eric felt ice climbing up his spine, but he forced his face to remain calm and his shields to stay up.
[I'm sorry, but I don't think I can do that.]
[We expected no less, child of Earth. Yet I truly feel that this day, we have met a rare opponent. We will always remember you. Won't we, Min'Hak?] The leader gestured to the War Priestess.
[Of course. Accept this compliment, H'Rik of Earth. When we kill you, we will be sure to lament the loss of your genetic material.]
[Well, that makes it all right, then.] Eric pulled on the electromagnetic field of the planet mercilessly, causing a small rip to form in the surface beneath him. Glowing yellow-white molten rock began to roll out over the surface, and a gleaming plume backlit him. [Me first.]
The strike of massed electrons hit their combined Psychokinetic shields, and nearly broke through. As the attack continued, they moved closer, to decrease the space the shield had to protect, their minds all conveying admiration for their foe.
[He is a warrior.] Min'Hak floated next to the leader, gritting her teeth as the shields glowed under Eric's attack. [I'm beginning to actually think he might survive this.]
The leader thought nothing.
They suddenly scattered, forcing him to break off the attack and pick a target, as they weaved and whirled around him in a cyclone of armored bodies. He responded by kicking up his natural speed until it was so high even they seemed slow, and tacking the nearest one. It was the kind of impact that could be felt through the armor, sending fragments weeping off of the arms and shoulders as they rammed directly into the ground.
Eric grabbed hold of the armor with his telekinesis and yanked, shredding it into the component nanites, holding them in a blob between him and the now-unconscious Harrakin, as he felt the speed-burst fading back down to normal. As the storm of attackers sped back up, he ducked.
Another red and black blur tried to grab hold of him, but instead got a faceful of nanites moving at hypersonic speeds, perforating the skin of the armor and knocking her senseless. Eric's foot completed the trip.
They closed on him.
* * * * *
He was old beyond even the standard for the Vitalongae, well on four thousand years now. He had seen the Mycenaean fleets outfit themselves to attack Crete. He had torn out his eyes and regrown them before a simple pirate expedition to Troy became a revenge war. His wife-mother had born him children over the grave of his own father and those very ungrateful offspring had destroyed the city he'd built from a cow-town to a palace of Orichalicum and Gold. He'd been so very close to re-creating Atlantis. Once.
Once that had been what he'd wanted.
It was amazing what repeated dying would do to your outlook. He'd been male and female, he'd fought in wars and fought against them, and he had seen things. So many things. He'd seen the mad boy Alexander charge off into Persia and his destiny (and been killed when the King of all Asia threw a spear into him in a drunken rage. He still remembered the pain on the beautiful lad's face when he realized what he'd done.) and he watched the army of Carthage battle the Romans, and seen Antigone's hand in the aftermath. He'd sailed with the Arab navigator Suilee Al-Hazrad and made love with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Unlike other immortals, he'd grown old and died, been poisoned and died, been speared and died, fallen ill and died. He'd been castrated, eviscerated, hung, shot, electrocuted, and once even slipped in the tub on a bar of soap.
He'd had so much life, and he was still greedy for more. Maybe that's what kept him going, poor sick King of Thebes. He was a survivor. And as long as his genes were carried along the human tide, even death couldn't keep him down for long. Right now, by his reckoning, there were thirty-five people with the right pattern to become him if he died, and ten of those had suitable children.
He was Oedipus, and he just kept on living.
However, even those odds weren't very good. Right now, the club Antigone had started was hell-bent on provoking the aliens, which could make life very uncomfortable for her father. Which might even be part of why she was doing it, the old man in a middle-aged man's body mused. But what good would opposing her do? Unlike the black hearted bitch, Oedipus had kept a low profile in the Vitalongae, disdaining its latinate name and its mishmash of traditions. (Don't directly attack another immortal? Please. Why on Earth not? Some of them needed killing, like that moron Graekki or that rabid animal Hunyadi.) He took another sip of cognac and mulled it over.
"Yes, Oedipus?" The woman walked into view from her seat near the fireplace. They'd both chosen the current house, because Oedipus loved gazing into fire and Cassanda liked English Decor. It struck her as cute. She was tall and handsome, looking much like her father Priam, and bore the curse of Phoebus Apollo. She did not age, and when she spoke the future, no one believed her. Even Oedipus, with his own precognitive abilities, had needed years to overcome the effect of the curse.
"Have you seen the future?"
"No. The flames tell me nothing. I look and look, but all is darkness. There are too many probabilities to choose from, too many powers aligning. But then, you are the greater seer."
"I see many things. Apollo is assaulting me. First one future, than another opposed. Both cannot happen, yet I see them both. The men from away crushing the world, the boy dies, all is lost. Then not." Her expression was one of stark pain. "Your daughter is making it harder for me. She tilts things. The others must stop meddling in what is."
"We both know they will not. Already, my insane spawn..." He spit into a small tureen near his chair. "...has decided to manipulate her club into arresting the African and his allies. She knows that they would oppose her again, and probably successfully."
"Why does she hate the Punic so?"
"Because the poor fool has the temerity to learn things, whereas she keeps on in her angry stasis. Because he has bested her before and could do so again. Because he _loves_ things, futile though it be."
"You admire him!" The shock in Cassandra's voice almost made him laugh. "He's..."
"Black. Cassandra, it's been three thousand years and more, and yet you cling to Priam's outmoded, petty racism. It's quite amusing. I've been black, remember? Three of my current possible bodies are black right now. One's a woman. If my essence passes to her, I will be as well." He smiled at her. "At heart, you're still that little Trojan girl I met in Mycenae, fleeing from Clytemnestra."
"It isn't that. Well, it's partly that. Mostly, it's the Phoenician in him. I hated them. Bastards sided with the Greeks against us. If they'd stayed out of it..."
"You'd have lost anyway."
"True." She sat down next to him, looking into the fire. "What will you do?"
"Not much. I won't have to." Oedipus smiled and finished his drink. "I already know who to tell, and how much. Then all I have to do is sit back and let the heroes take care of our mutual problem for me. Still, I have to admit, I still get a kick out of all this."
"Cassie, remind me to tell you about a great big bruiser I met named Theseus."
* * * * *
Baikonur, in the CIS.
The Russian Space Agency, despite bone deep cuts in funding, was still alive and intended to stay that way. While they didn't have the money of the European Space Agency, NASA, or the Japanese, they had experience and simple competency going for them. Currently, most of the staff were watching the Harrakin fleet in orbit, and a few were instructing the slightly panicked Cosmonauts in MIR to relax and simply observe. (As if there was anything else they could do.)
Technician Arkady Kaliopaich, however, was responsible for observing the Venera data. The last orbital observer was still functioning, still performing deep radar scans of the planet Venus.
What Kaliopaich was now seeing defied all logic. Every radar scan was different. The topography of the second planet, never especially stable, was now radically changing from scan to scan.
What could do this?
Kaliopaich hoped that no one else was noticing this.
* * * * *
Eric had to ghost again, as three of the red-armored KK'Narath'Tak (the subconscious knowledge of the Harrakin tongue his first suit of armor had implanted in him kept translating that differently, sometimes as the Accursed, others as Those Who Oppose) flung half a mountain at him. Things were getting bad. They had the advantage of group tactics and concentrated power to offset his unique abilities and greater personal strength. None of them were as fast. None of them were as strong. One on one he'd have had no trouble kicking the shit out of any of them. He'd learned how to fight quite effectively in the past few years.
But they were everywhere at once. Despite the fact that he was faster than them, it was impossible to attack one without five attacking him. Only ghosting was allowing him to evade enough of their attacks to keep it equal, and even though he could outlast them, they weren't being forced to use power continuously like he was. Even with the planet to poach energy from, he was getting worn out.
One of them, the big woman, opened up the concentrated force of her will into a telekinetic attack barely three inches wide. It hit Eric up on the right shoulder, flaying his arm down to the bone. Even as he damped down the pain and forced himself to heal, three of them attacked in formation, one slamming directly into his back near his shoulders while the othe two took him from in front, one cracking a metal fist into his jaw. All of this happened in the few seconds that it took the enormous mountaintop to reach them, and instead of counterattacking Eric had to take immaterial form again.
Then, just as the slab of rock passed through him, a knife of mind ripped into his will, and he felt red-hot agony shredding him. Somehow, the telepathic attack was affecting him like a physical one, and he fell out of ghosting into material form just in time to be rammed into by Min'Hak herself, who drove the both of them into a seething cauldron of molten stone.
[Yes!] The leader felt mingled triumph and regret. [When he is immaterial, we can hit him with telepathic attacks!] She didn't take any joy from the uneven contest. The boy fought like an animal, and clearly had the power of several Harrakin, not to mention his unique abilities. But they'd chosen the devil they knew, and their honor demanded that they carry out the attack.
The molten rock spewed from the cliffside, and then a figure burst free, streaking back across the landscape until it impacted with the already devastated land where the first attack had ripped the ground apart. An armored hand poked out of a sheath of cooling magma.
[Min'Hak?] There was no response. The brainwaves of the War Priestess were faint, and her chest was full of pain. Probably from shattered bones. The boy, meanwhile, thought and blew the front of the cliff off, spraying enough detritus that two of the others were knocked from the sky, although not seriously hurt. It was now twelve to one, likely to be fourteen to one in a few moments.
[No more bullshit! Let's get this over with.] Eric hovered shakily in the air which had been a mountainside a few moments before. He was determined to take as many of them with him as he could, and resigned to the fact that he wasn't getting out of it anymore. [And anyone who comes near me is going to die. Do you understand? No more holding back.]
Even the leader couldn't quite keep the tension from her spine. He meant it...Min'Hak was only saved by the very rock she'd forced him into. And even so, one punch had shattered much of her torso. He wasn't going to hold back anymore, because only by killing enough of them could he win.
[I'd wondered why you held back, son of Earth.]
[Because, you shithead, I think life is valuable, unlike you. But I'm willing to make an exception if I have to.] And, if truth be known, I'm afraid I'll get a taste for killing. Once was all I needed. But you bastard just have to have your precious combats, don't you? Eric pulled on the planet again, and prepared for the end.
The KK'Narath'Tak surrounded him.
To describe the fight would be to do it injustice. Twelve minds of power and training on one side, dedicated to their honor and their people. Twelve minds who chose renunciation, even though it meant abandoning everything they loved, for the sake of everything they loved. Twelve minds who would not shirk from dealing with Priscus, although they knew he was a devious power-grub who loved nothing. Nor did they flinch at the thought of Tatris on the throne, despite their hatred for him. They were pragmatists and yet romantics, and they kept their word.
One mind on the other.
And yet, it was close. If he had more training, or more time, or was in the fullness of his promised power, he could have beaten them. As it was, his initial attack was on the psychokinetic and psionic level all at once, a bristling spear of pure elemental anger linked to all the raw electromagnetic radiation that the planet could provide him. It crashed through their group shields, crushing Naal'arath in her own phobias, burning through Kinatha's armor and blinding him, possibly for life, driving committed outcast Hooleth into a coma at the sight of what the boy held deep in his heart. And Eric wept as he learned everything about his enemies even as he smashed them down.
That instant of regret was what beat him.
The last nine joined forces, not even bothering to try and hit him telepathically. He was their master, were they nine or ninety, when it came to shields. They'd never beat him that way. Instead, the leader siezed control over all of their psychoactive faculties. Five of them generated the Green Fire, and the other four, including herself, set loose the full power of their telekinetic strength.
The landscape literally liquified under their attack, and then, somehow, he counterattacked while they were still striking him, so that the rock became vapor, so that the very mantle of the planet shifted, so that the plate tectonics at the heart of battered Venus shuddered to life, and two of the remaining KK'Narath'Tak fell, their own power feeding back into their brains.
But the boy could not win. He fell, driven into the ground, his altered clothing burned off of him, his right arm broken, his skin scorched in several places, and as the last seven of the Accursed watched him slam into the ground, they felt a weary pride at his ability, and a grim satisfaction in their victory.
[Is he alive?] The leader managed to force her mind to send the thought out. Her head was on fire from the strain of the attack, the resistance the boy put up. It was awe-inspiring, something out of legend. Even though he'd lost, there could be no shame in such a hard fight against such slim chances. [Can anyone sense him?]
[I can barely sense myself. He must be dead. He's already sunk into the magma.] The weary voice of Harnkath Nionket reached her. [How are you, leader?]
[Barely conscious. We must search...] Before she could complete the thought, a mental picture from the UN was routed to her mind by the Norrek: Sestus, in the boy's own ceremonial armor, besting the Emperor. Then Sharra Tatris'Ka. And the final submission of Ky'Rian to Tatris. The plan was a success. All of the conscious KK'Narath'Tak were gripped by a violent elation, which was slowly replaced by purpose.
[Leader...what do we do?]
[Gather our wounded and dead. How many?]
[Ten wounded critically, two mind-blasted and comatose. Poor Larrath is dead. Probably his own lack of confidence as much as anything else. We must hurry, however, if we are to reach the fleet before Tatris and get our wounded into the healing sleep.If we do not, several will die, and we will be weak in the face of Tatris' accession. I do not think that wise, leader. Do we search for the boy?]
[I would not leave him to lie here. I would treat his body with honor. But we dare not take the time to search for him now. If he is not dead, he is surely too sorely wounded to impede us. We take our wounded and go. Let this place be known as H'Rik Kkrianar...The Hammer of Eric.]
They levitated their wounded and left the magma to itself, rushing to the fleet and their final triumph.