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WHAT'S YOUR HAPPIEST MEMORY?
Written by Matthew Rossi

His servants he, with new acquist
Of true experience from this great event,
With peace and consolation hath dismissed,
And calm of mind, all passion spent.
*John Milton, SAMSON AGONISTES

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen
*Hart Crane, THE BRIDGE


They were playing at dusk, I remember that...I don't remember why, anymore, if the game was scheduled late or if it had just gone long, but the sun was descending and the sky was bright pink behind Danny. He choked up on the bat, looking with one eye closed at Dareel Jinna, waiting for her to pitch, trying to psych her out.

[psych her out?]

He was trying to get her to throw the ball before she was ready.

[ready for what?]

Nevermind...he kept twisting the bat in an annoying little circle, and then Dareel snapped her whole body like a whip, flinging the ball so fast that I wasn't able to watch it, and in confusion I twisted my head up and looked at Dad. He was smiling his tiny, tightlipped grin, the one he used when he thought he saw something that other people didn't, and I heard him mutter. He said "Drill that son of a..."; just so quietly that I more saw it on his lips than heard it. Before I got my head back to loop at Danny, I saw Mom looking at her watch, fidgeting a bit in her seat, but then my eyes were on Danny again, and he was hitting the ball somehow. It cracked up and over the fence while I stared, not really sure what I was seeing, and he walked slowly around the bases with his face flushed and a wide, rare smile on his face. I think I was ten, so he would have been twelve. That was two years before Dynamax sent those men to kill my parents...

Eric stopped thinking, unable to keep his mind on that subject any longer. It had been years since he'd thought of his 'father' and even now, Eric Anderson Sr. still had the ability to raise tears. A sore hand rubbed absently at his face, even though he knew the old man in the bed had seen it.

All around him, the room made noise. It was big, even for one of Tazakles' bunkers...Eric sometimes wondered what the hell had been eating that man from inside, to drive him like he had been driven, but Eric never wondered about anything for long...and sectioned off. In one corner, Wes Hickman used the strange mastery of computers that caused the Seekers to name him Interface to become a one man Tactical Command, co-ordinating general defenses against the Harrakin while directing the two-pronged assault on both the Harrakin fleet and the Stormkiller/Vitalongae alliance that had helped place Tatris on the throne in the first place. Looking down at the battered face of his 'grandfather', Eric wondered silently what the deposed Dy'Tariex thought of all this.

[In truth, I find it primitive. But it seems to be working...the humans are much more of a threat than I'd anticipated when I first hear of them. What they lack in power they seem to find in deviousness.]

[Yeah,that's us...sneaky.]

[You still consider yourself one of them?] The question was pointed, and despite the old man's condition Eric realized that nothing was wasted on him. Dying, yes, but not dead yet.

[Yeah, I do.] The drain on his own life caused by trying to keep the Harrakin Emperor alive hummed in the back of his skull, a sandstorm inside of a snowglobe. [I do, at least some of the time.]

[And what about us?]

[That's what bothers me.] Eric looked over at Wes Hickman's display. As he watched, the fleet had begun to fold in on itself, prismatic waves of light that looked like a crystalline flower irising shut. Whatever the others had been sent to do, they'd done. The fleet was fighting itself. Somehow, that at once buoyed his mood and increased his sense of fatality. [I'm starting to consider myself *that* too.]

* * * * * *

Harrakin Flagship Dy'Tariexen'Ka Harrak, in High Earth Orbit.

The war had come to the fleet. Tatris whirled in the Shivering Throne, sending it spinning from station to station monitoring the damage reports. On Nimminar's displays the usurper watched as the War Priest vessels continued strafing runs on the flagship. Niniaki marines from ships still loyal to Tatris attempted to board the fanatic's ships, only to meet their own bretheren in the shadow of the gleaming azure planet they'd thought to rule.

The H'R'Djagt's Eye screamed in at insane speeds, breaching the point defense screen with its own weapons systems, rents in its black hull streaming atmosphere into space in emerald contrails even as it ripped holes in the hull of the flagship. Each laser sent silver metal erupting into the void, and ten cruisers just like it were doing likewise all over the enormous target the Dy'Tariexen'Ka Harrak had become.

[Arktish, stop this!] Tatris took over the telepathic hails from his Norrek, giving the sniveling Priscus a withering stare as he did so. [It was the humans who did this, brother! Save it for the Terrans!]

[Takkiel'Hra do not speak to Narathi, pretender!] Arktish's rage showed no sign of abating. [I'll see this entire fleet go up in flames before I listen to another word of yours!]

As Arktish continued his attack run, Ky'Rian Hallatiris Harrakin stood staring out the window of the observation deck, watching the flashes of red and green, the speeding warships, the explosions that signaled the deaths of Harrakin Fleetships and their crews. Standing at attention in a tight orbit of the Earth's moon floated a third of the fleet, waiting the conflict out in order to ally with the winners.

Ky'Rian tightened his hands into fists. As he watched, his niece and aide-de-camp Kkyree Arktish'Ka Harrakin entered the chamber.

[M'ilord Ky'Rian...I had not thought to find you here.]

[Where would you have me be?]

[On the bridge!] He turned and looked at her, surprised at the vehemence of her thought. [Is it not obvious that the wrong man sits on the Shivering Throne?]

[And who would you see sit there?]

[You!] She stared at him in incredulity, as if unable to believe his vacillation was genuine. [If you had resisted Tatris when he began his scheme against the Dy'Tariex, he could never have succeeded! You were the heir! Even now, a whole fleet waits for your word.] She stalked to the window and pointed. [All you have to do is act, and they will follow you. I will follow you. Just take up the sword, and the Dy'Tariexen'Ka could be yours!]

[But would it be the right thing to do?]

[Right? What does that matter? How can doing nothing be the right thing to do?]

[At least...at least it won't be my mistake, then. Not this time.] He turned from her and stared out the portal as his brother Arktish's damaged ship took another amidships attack, a lance of photons that punched all the way through her. He winced, knowing that Arktish and his crew were linked to their ship, and that every blow she took they felt. [All a waste, all of it, and all my fault.] He turned back and looked at her young face, flush with anger that her respect for him could barely contain, the narrow line of her neck within the fearsome lines of her armor. [I found this poor world. I mated with a human. I led us back here. Everything that has happened has been my fault.]

[So then do something to...]

[I can't! Anytrhing I do will just be the wrong thing to do!] He slammed his fist into the portal, cracking the layered material. [Don't you understand!? There's already too much blood on my honor!]

Her disgust pinned her where she stood. His eyes, however, didn't even see her anymore. Instead, he heard the yowling of his people...and of those he'd allowed to die.

[Excuse me, my lord Ky'Rian. I have to go.] Kkyree walked out of the observation chamber, he hands trembling, and stalked down the hallway.

* * * * * *

[You know what's funny?]

[I understand the concept of humor, yes...I do not know what you find funny, however.] Hallatiris was sitting up in bed now, as the monitor beeping at his right side was finally somewhat stable. Mirry Anderson, fresh from her raid on the Aegis lab, was checking all of the medical scans with a cool professionality that belied the smudge of gun oil on her forehead, just below her corn-silk hair. Her eyes kept flickering between her brother-in-law and the alien who he was descended from, trying to figure out how much the drain of keeping Hallatiris alive was costing Eric. Behind her, her husband Danny was telepathically in contact with their daughter Joanie, trying to make sure that she was behaving for Mrs. Allewain and that her latent Omega wasn't breaking through the wards he'd built for her.

She pushed an errant hair out of her face and walked to Danny, stopping long enough to wearily drape her arms around Eric's neck in an exhausted hug. He reached up and touched her hand with his, smiling briefly.

[So what is funny to you, then?] Eric's exhausted smile didn't quite reach the flickering of his eyes, as his head dropped to his chest. [Me, I was half expecting to end up fighting you to the death in some sort of Lucasfilm spectacular...that's how I ended up stopping Ky'Rian.]

[Ky'Rian wanted you to stop him. For that matter, if it had come down to that, I probably would have wanted you to win. I'm a thousand years too old for this.] Hallatiris looked over at the huddled forms of Danny and Mirry, both sweaty and exhausted, as they held each other and watched the display hovering in the center of the room. Wes Hickman stood next to them, a slight bitter smile on his face as the ships continued their war. [All my sons are as twisted as I am, in different ways. It is a good thing you were born here. Perhaps you will do things differently...]

I remember the day Kalia died.

You have not seen the Throneworld, which we now call Mar'Has'Varak after the dusty town where our first H'R'Djagtal helped begin the Dy'Tariexen'Ka Harrak. I was born there. The sky is a blazing, vibrant red, and the clouds whip through the desert driven ahead by the winds. The pulsar orbiting our main star causes the daylight to blink, stuttering radio waves that some of us can sense. And the gleam of our buildings...the settlement in your Antarctic is a pale reflection of our ten-thousand spires, those towers that mark the edge of the Gleaming Mountains. Can you see it? Possibly not...what is beautiful to you will always be the blue and green and white of your world.

But to me, it has always been red and black.

I was born last child. My father was Obran, he who sat on the Burning Throne when we were at peace and the Shivering Throne when we were at war. He had many children, and I was the least of them, so I lived out my youth at once free to do as I pleased and yet unable to dream of anything. I would most likely either join the Fleet and serve one of my brothers in war, or perhaps end up a Prelate in the War Priesthood. Thus would I be removed from the line of succession, and war would be avoided in the Royal Halls.

Everyone agreed that the example of Harrak and Lokar, grandchildren of Harra the First, must be obeyed. Everyone, that is, but me. When my father died, I had not yet been pledged to the Priests...so when Li'Taark, my eldest sister, took the throne, my many siblings began casting covetous glances at each other. I saw this. So I retreated to my black and silver mountains, to the hunt amidst the Wrexxakt ruins. I slept underneath the pulsar, watching the stars and trying to see which ones I could imagine running to.

I explain all this to you because I was once much like you, until I made the wrong choices. And I think that each of my sons somehow gained a feeling of this from me, and each of them in attempting to not make *my* mistakes, has made their own *and* mine. I refused to become involved in the struggles of my brothers, as Ky'Rian has...I flirted with the War Priests, and Arktish has sentenced himself to them...and then there is Tatris, who is so much like me and yet nothing like me. In him is the hardness of his mother, untempered by her love.

I waited too long , you see. By the time I decided to involve myself, my sister Li'Taark was already nearly beaten from the throne. I decided to ally myself to her, as she was desperate and needed supporters. I married Kalia Golirian Harrakin in an attempt to gain support outside of the Royal Clan amongst the nobility, barely even looking at her until I'd killed my brother Narras in Tisaridron.

I remember that day, how terrified I was, even as I surprised everyone at the assembly by uttering the challenge. My huge demon-brother, an image of black fangs and spikes, rushing across the burning sands, setting the air on fire with his eyes. He shattered my entire left side in that fight, breaking my bones and nearly killing my armor, and the wailing of my Har'Kanadran in my mind was...it was like dying. I don't remember how I beat him, to be honest. I just remember, after the fight was over, staggering up from my knees and looking at my sister. And sitting next to her was a stunning vision with eyes the color of burning copper, red hair held up from her head in the sweeping wings of the Din'Jal'Hra master who expects victory. And I remember feeling myself desire that woman, wanting her so much that I didn't care who I dishonored as long as I could have her.

Then it occured to me that she was already pregnant with my son.

From that moment, I loved her, a rare thing among us. For love of her, I took the throne from my sister, even though she didn't care about any of that. For love of her I decided to ensure that only her children and grandchildren would occupy the twin seats of the Tislath De Harrakiel, and I crushed anything that stood in my way. I made war on neighbors, taking me away from her, and stupidly convinced myself that I was doing it to ensure that our descendents would always be secure, that the Wrexxakt were hiding among them.

How did I know how to love? I discovered it in battle. And she supported me, no matter how insane my actions. She knew me.

So we had our three sons, and I expanded our Dy'Tariexen'Ka until it had tripled in size. I displaced entire races, held worlds in thrall. I was a warrior-king in the image of our beloved H'R'Djagtal, or at least I told myself I was. Had I not driven the Wrexxakt to near-extinction? Was I not teaching the stars themselves to fear me?

There is no folly like that, Eric.

Kalia died because of it. You see, Tatris learned that drive from me, that hunger for conquest. He emulated my own marriage, bonding with a member of the house T'Tarkiel named Elirieth. Superficially, she was much like his mother. She lacked Kalia's fire, but who didn't? I never saw the danger...

Tatris never learned to love her. He had my madness, my hunger, but not the same reason for it. He hungered for power as a replacement for it, whereas I needed to conquer half the universe just to keep holding onto it. I learned to love her in war, you see, and I thought she had as well. So I had to keep the wars going, even when there wasn't much left to fight over.

I had just led the fleet against the inhabitants of a star system on the other side of the Galactic Core. These poor simple creatures were the creations of the Wrexxakt, and were being used by them in an attempt to regroup. Of course, I crushed them. Then I returned home, to my wife and sons.

The red sands were gleaming that night as my shuttle docked. Taridor, of the clan Har'Esta, was my personal pilot, as all my pilots have been. I stepped out of the ship and saw her standing on the pad, defying protocol, waiting for me in the open air with her armor off and her hair fluttering in the wind. Age had touched her, but I barely noticed. For a moment I couldn't move, trapped in the memory of that first time over my brother's body, and then I reached out my hand to her.

The explosion sent me reeling through the air. It ripped half of the Throne-Hall apart and sent the fragments raining down over the Gleaming Mountains. It tore my shuttle apart. It killed Taridor, driving bits of his own shuttle through his brain. Only my armor, and my link to the twin thrones, kept me alive.

My wife, clad only in shimmering cloth, was killed instantly...

[I don't believe he meant to do it that way.] Hallatiris cried openly, which shocked Eric more than he cared to admit. [He was expecting her to be deep below, inside the Throne-Room itself, two levels below his own quarters. But she was always impulsive...so she died. And I died with her. It has taken me a long time to accept that.]

[How long?]

[I was an old man then...even by our standards, and that was seven hundred years ago.] He smiled then, a thin and weary smile. [You can guess what happened then. In the time it took me to recover, Tatris took his wife and as many supporters as he could and fled. I placed Ky'Rian in his stead as my heir, although if any man ever deserved to be left alone it was my guilt-wracked son. I blamed Tatris, and myself. Arktish blamed no one, and dedicated himself to the impersonal hand of our ancestors. Ky'Rian blamed himself. He has always done that.]

Eric shuddered, partly out of exhaustion from the drain and partly from the images still burning in his mind. The fact was, something deep inside of him was attracted to it. To know who your enemies are and to fight them. To kill them. To win because you were stronger...the memories in Hallatiris mind were their own kind of torture.

[I have been severed from my people, Eric. I no longer hold the mantle, and with it, the power I have been cowardly tapping for hundreds of years to keep myself alive. I am old, and weak, and I want to see my wife again.]

Then the center of the room was filled with a strange sort of darkness, a shadow that bent space along its angles, and the terrans who'd led the strike against the Harrakin Fleet were home.

* * * * * *

Napa Valley, California.

Elizabeth Sheridan looked out the window at the road winding its way up to the house. She'd been staying at John and Nalique Argental's home for a week, ever since Kyrie...she couldn't think of him as Eric, somehow, maybe because she'd known Eric Anderson Sr. too well...had warned her that the Harrakin were coming. Now she found herself looking up at the sky and wondering which point of light held the man she'd loved, back when she'd found the Haight and he'd just seemed like another lost soul.

It all seemed insane to her now. An alien. He'd been an alien...he still was an alien, because according to Kyrie he'd met the man who now called himself Ky'Rian, and he was one of their leaders. They'd even fought. And now she stood staring up at the sky and wondering what would happen.

As her neck rested against the wood paneling, she remembered how odd he'd always been, so full of questions about her and her life, always somewhat puzzled by everything. He'd accepted that she could sense emotions with her mind, that she was a secret Omega: that made more sense now. What difference did it make to him what she could do? He could fly. He could read minds. What seemed to her a huge difference that made her forever apart to him might have seemed quaint or silly. She'd always wondered where he'd gone.

Now she knew. He went back home, and left her behind to give birth to a son she couldn't handle. He'd thrown her away, and in turn she'd given her son up to her oldest friends, and now what was left?

[Hey, take it easy on yourself, would you?]

"I don't want to." She didn't look up to see the mental projection of her son...the one she'd abandoned...floating in the center of the room. She didn't need to. She could sense how haggard he was, like a scent of smoke on the wind. "I try to tell myself that I wasn't in any shape to raise you...that I trusted Eric and Liz to take care of things...but I was just weak."

[Wow...everyone's beating themselves up today...you, me, the emperor of the Harrakin...I'm sitting here in New York keeping him from dying, or I'd come get you. Are you okay?]

"Why do you care? What does it matter?" She walked over and sat down in a rocking chair carved out of a single piece of wood, a shining example of a waste of time that John'd been unable to resist.

[Look...for a supposed 'orphan' I seem to have more than my fair share of role models. You don't have to be one for me, okay, and I don't need you to rip yourself apart. Besides, it isn't about me...it's about him, right?]

"I just...I just want to know why. That's all I want. Why did he do this to me? I felt so dead for so long...I need him to tell me that. It hasn't gone away, that need...I just want to know why."

[I know. Look, when this is all over, maybe...] A look of pain crossed the Eric-image's face, and it nearly faded out of view. [Wow. That hurt. He's really dying. I have to go. Take care of yourself, okay?]

"I always have. I..."

[Yeah. Me too.] He smiled, and then faded out of sight. [Maybe someday we'll both say it, huh?]

* * * * * *

In the bunker, the terrans watched, even those that tried to pretend that they weren't.

Hallatiris was sleeping, so Eric and Sharra felt safe in cutting off the flow keeping him alive until it was a mere trickle from both of them. Standing in the center of the large room, the two cousins stripped bare to the waist and smiled at each other.

Jennifer DuFresne flushed slightly as a combination of jealousy and arousal hit her at the sight of the Harrakin woman without her armor, her bare skin just beginning to glisten with sweat. Standing next to her in a lump were her fellow ex-colonists, Anne Benson and her grandfather Harvey, and almost all the Seekers. It was Trax who said it first.

"Wow."

"Wow what?" Michelle Thomas, the Seeker code-named Armor, looked down at him. He was sitting in a ball against the wall. "She ain't that good-looking."

"No, but she doesn't care if we're looking."

[The Harrakilli are staring, H'Rik.]

[Well, you are half-naked.]

[I will never understand their taboos. Don't you find them restrictive?] She bowed her head slightly to him while raising her right arm in the din'Jal'Hra greeting of respect, indicating that this would only be sparring. He returned the gesture smoothly. [Ah. You've been practicing?]

[I studied Tai Ch'i for a while. The moves are similar. It just took getting my ass pounded in several times by the KK'Narath'Tak to get me to think about using it, that's all.] He locked his arms in front of him. [As you order.]

[Mo Vrath!]

They whirled at each other, so fast that those with purely human speed couldn't follow it. For people like Trax and Jennifer "Agony" DuFresne it was a ballet. Sharra's fists would spin into where Eric's face had been, except that he was now in the air above her slashing at her chest with his foot, which she would block with her forearm and the backfist she'd try to smash into his leg would meet only air as he landed behind her, trying to sweep her legs out from her with a telekinetic surge while driving his fist into her spine.

Which would no longer be there, as she was now above him.

Their speed increased, as they saw where their limits were. Sharra had the advantage of superior training and experience; her strikes were clean and precise, and she used her natural powers in conjunction with her blows, driving a telepathic strike into him while parrying a blow or using pyrokinetic fire to ward him off when he came too close.

But Eric learned fast, and could move faster. His natural gifts were greater, and he was copying her moves, studying them, and making use of the ones that suited him. Once hesitant punches became confident, and he learned from her the art of using his mind and body together.

[Good one, cousin.] Sharra smiled as Eric managed to kick her in the chest, sending her reeling back.

[Thanks. I think you broke my nose.] Despite himself, he smiled back at her.

[I did not!]

As the two of them stood there, preparing to attack each other, a green ghostly wall suddenly appeared in the air between them. It might not have actually stopped them, but the sight of it caused them to break off the sparring and look around for its source.

Which was a young girl with dark hair and a gleaming tarot card in her hand.

"Hello, Eric. Can we talk?"

"Rene!" He almost ran at her before a strange icy hesitation, the same one that always colored his thoughts, kept him from it. It wasn't quite fast enough to keep the warmth out of his voice. Behind him, he could sense Sharra stiffening up at the sight of him and Rene, but he ignored it and walked over to the side of the room, where Rene stood with a young Hindi girl Eric didn't know.

[We'll pick it up later, okay, Sharra?]

[Of course, H'R'Djagtal.] The formality of her reply bothered him. When it was just the two of them, Sharra could be the warmest, funniest person around, but add a third party...especially a human one...and she froze up.

Even as he thought it another thought barrelled into his skull; is that why I keep freezing up around people? Am I bigoted against humans somehow, maybe just by having been around Harrakin enough to develop a sense of distaste for them? He didn't have time to pursue the thought, as Rene was looking at him in that scalpel-sharp way she had.

"I haven't seen you since I resigned from the Mass Mind."

"Yeah...I've been...oh, fuck it, I was trying to work up the nerve to see you again, but then these robots invaded Alaska from the Eye of the Worlds, and after that I ended up closing this hole in the space-time continuum made by this mad sorceror who had found one of those Wrexxakt pods or something...I wanted to see you. I really did. You look good."

"Better than I feel, I suppose." There was an enigmatic half-smile on her face. "Anyway, this is Lakshmi Natarajan...the Mass Mind's current Avatar."

"Oh." Eric turned and really looked at the girl for the first time, with senses no human could be said to have, and damn few Omegas or Harrakin came close to him. He didn't always understand what he saw with them, and he tended to forget he even had them, but they were there. Now that he was using them, he could see her connection to power, linking up with her body along nexi that seemed to correspond with specific points. One of the largest seemed to be seething just behind her eyes, in a lump of tissue connected to the pineal gland. "I hope that doesn't mean you'll be trying to mess with me too."

"I am not intending to, no. I would like to ask why you killed Himavant, however."

"Why I killed..."

"She means Mt. Everest, Eric." Rene's smile was a little more veiled, out of respect for Lakshmi's beliefs. "It has a tremendous significance in Hindi Mystical Belief as the chief god of the Himalaya chain."

"Oh." He looked from Rene to Lakshmi; both seemed to be waiting for his answer. "Well, if you thought my excuse to Rene as to why I haven't called sounded weird, you'll love this..."

"Mr. Anderson, in the past few months, I've found it neccessary to alter my definition of Weird. Substantially."

"...I got you. Anyway, I was taking a break and visiting my...a friend of mine, when there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, Loki and Baladr were standing there, waiting for me. At least, they said they were Loki and Baladr, come through the Eye of Worlds to get back at a rival god who'd once impersonated Loki and was now trying to physically breach itself into our world. In China, this spirit or god calls itself the Kuei Lung. I've met it as Typhon once or twice, a Greek name for it. Anyway, it had a cult established on Mt. Everest...actually, in the mountainside. And when I tried to stop it, they tried to use some sort of ritual to force...this is the part I don't get...an 'asura' into my head."

"Roughly translated, it could be taken to mean demon, although not exactly the same." Lakshmi offered.

"Oh. That makes sense, then. Whatever it was, it made me really angry, and in resisting it I ended up blowing the mountain away. It wasn't on purpose, but the thing wanted me to attack Beijing. The way I saw it, better the mountain than the city."

One of those silences that always dominated any of his conversations with people took over now, as the two of them stared at him for a good minute. Eric felt about as awkward as he could, especially when he realized that, like it or not, everybody was looking at him at some time or another. It was simply impossible for them not to stare, at least some of the time, taking his reputation into account.

Then Lakshmi laughed, halfway between humor and exhaustion,and Eric felt the weight slide from his shoulders.

"Mr. Anderson...I'm sorry, Eric...I suppose I would have to agree with you on that, although I've never really had to think about it before. Well, Rene, I am going to go and sleep. I could use some. Have a good talk."

"I will, Lakshmi." As the girl walked off, Rene leaned up against one of the bulkheads, wiping the tears of laughter from her face. "God, Eric...I sometimes think you go looking for these convoluted situations entirely so you can then tell people about them with a straight face!"

"Hey, can I help it if I'm popular?"

"You could have once. What happened to your face?" She traced the bruised tissue around his right eye. "Did Sharra do this to you?"

"Nope. The KK'Narath'Tak, those guys in red and black armor, they did."

"The ones you were fighting in Chicago? I saw the video feed briefly before we had to attack the immortals at the Cloisters...except they weren't really there, just a portal..."

"Now who's telling convoluted tales with a straight face? Yeah, them. They originally jumped me the first time I tried to make contact with the fleet and we ended up in a fight on Venus...why are we talking about this?"

"What do you want to talk about?" Her eyes, as always, threatened to steal his mind from him. There was something different about his feelings for Rene from the first day he met her, something below his level of thought, something that scared him. "We left a lot of things up in the air...I'm not sure where we even are anymore."

"Me neither." He dropped his head, approaching her lips with his, and she didn't pull away. "So let's find out."

"Okay." Her whispered response, and then their lips just millimeters away...

[UNIMAGINABLE PAIN]

His knees buckled as the tenuous link he'd been maintaining with Hallatiris was suddenly yanked on for all he was worth, and then torn away into blackness. Rene held him up as blood began to dribble down his face from his nose, while he blinked and tried to see straight.

"Eric!? What is it?"

He looked over at the medical table, where Hallatiris flopped around on the flat metal, his face a mixture of a whimper and a snarl. His right arm broke a display even as Sharra grappled with him, and Mirry looked at the remaining screen with real panic.

"Shit! He's arresting!"