By: Brian W. Antoine
Jan 1, 2000
Setting the Stage
I had to get us someplace safe, yet there weren't a lot of choices available. It wouldn't be long before the Meenzai turned their attention towards Jean and the base at Tycho, so that was out. Bob's old asteroid was a tumbling hunk of rubble, he'd never rebuilt it and Jab knew it was there anyway. My old base under Antoine Peak was only in slightly better shape, but again Jab knew it was there.
I needed someplace safe, someplace defensible, and most of all a place Jab shouldn't know existed. It was a safe bet the furry little bastard had sold us out and told the Meenzai everything he knew about us. Fortunately for us though, I hadn't been idle the last six years.
It had been the worst foe we'd ever fought, the one that had come the closest to killing all of us. Like everything else we'd come across in our adventures, I'd stolen every idea I could get my hands on when the smoke cleared. Now, with Naldantis holding Kal in his arms as he tried to keep her alive and Bob slugging Jab yet again, our small group of misfits appeared in the infirmary of a station orbiting our star.
The moment we appeared, Nal yelled for the med-tech that was always on duty and a Velan nurse came tearing around the corner at a dead run. I completely ignored the argument behind me while I held my mates paw and poured all the energy I could into our link to help stabilize her as Nal and the nurse set to work. It wasn't until I heard an unholy sounding yell from behind me that I bothered to deal with the people I'd brought with me.
After looking up at Naldantis and seeing him nod, I turned and got the attention of Bob and Jab. "One more word from either of you and I'll throw both of you out the nearest airlock," I said quietly. That got their attention, but just barely.
"Now wait just a damn minute," yelled Bob as he nursed a cut on his arm where Jab had taken a swat at him. I guess Jab had finally gotten tired of being a punching bag.
"Mage try and become next meal," muttered the Meenzel who seemed to have forgotten I'd just saved his butt.
"It's time you two learned just how serious I am," I said, and with a flare of light from my staff they both vanished with a pop as the air rushed into the area I'd teleported. Ficus and Aron both reached for their guns at the same time, only to find out they hadn't arrived with a single weapon they'd been carrying. "Don't worry, I should mention that the airlock has a bubble over it that will keep them alive. Unless you two want one of your own, you'll sit down, shut up and stay out of the way."
It took a bit more convincing then that, Bob had raised his kids to be almost as headstrong as himself.
"Where the hell are we anyway?" asked Ficus after I'd proved that Bob and Jab were still alive.
"You are on Thor One," and I signaled them to follow me. After one last nod from Naldantis the three of us left the infirmary to step out onto the walkway that circled the central core. They had never been in this part of the original, but they'd heard the stories and both of them fell silent as we looked into the heart of the Terran version of a Guardian.
"We're currently orbiting inside the photosphere of our Sun, I didn't figure being seen by some stellar probe was a good idea. For now that secrecy should keep us safe from the Meenzai also."
"Is this thing operational?" asked Aron as he watched the comm lasers twinkling around us as the station communicated with the computer that we'd built to replace the original Guardian AI complex.
"Yes, and we added a few things of our own as we built it," I told him as we headed towards the control room. In my thoughts, I hoped those changes would give us enough of an edge to win the war I figured we just been invited to.
And with every step I took I felt Kalindra's pain rippling through the bond we shared ...
* * *
The control room was a zoo, almost literally. Even with the best automation we'd been able to design, the station still needed about 25 real thinking people. The fact that they were from five different races was where the impression of a zoo without bars came from.
At the moment though it was a very quiet zoo, even when they saw who had just walked through the door. Every one of them was watching the holotank that was displaying a video feed from Tycho base. When I saw what they were watching I felt the anger I'd been keeping bottled up begin to growl for release again.
"When did the Meenzai show up there?"
"About two minutes ago, sir. Roughly one hundred ships broke off from the blockade and went into tight orbit over the base. They are demanding to talk to you."
I thought about that, then grinned dangerously. "What was Jean's reply to that?"
"She began reciting recipes for Meenzel stew and screwing with the gravity field above the base. Two of the ships have actually bumped and the Meenzai are threatening to vaporize the entire crater if she does it again."
"Sounds like something Jean would say. Do you know if she's gotten all the ambassadors out of the way?"
"No sir, we've been monitoring only, no active comm, and she hasn't mentioned anything about it."
"Damn ..." It wasn't so much the ambassadors as a whole that I was worried about, it was one of them in particular. Well, there was only one way to find out and I needed to talk to her anyway. While the everyone present stayed glued to the display, I found a chair and got comfortable. Then I called out to Jean ...
*Jean? Have you tracked down that damn Meenzel yet?*
It took her a moment to reply, and I could sense she was distracted even when she did. One good sign though was that when she did reply the undertone was one of anger instead of fear. Like I'd been through so many years ago, this was going to be a trial of fire for Earth’s newest ArchMage.
*No, the little bastard has hidden himself someplace on the base and I can't spare the time to track him down myself. His friends are giving us some trouble at the moment also, which doesn't help things.*
*Yeah, we're watching the feed from the WorldGate at the moment. You look to be holding your own though.*
*No thanks to you. You picked one hell of a time to retire. If I could get my hands on you I'd strangle you.*
I had no doubt she'd do just that.
*I hear they are demanding to speak to me, any idea why?*
*No, they keep repeating that demand between threats, but they won't say anything more then that.*
I thought about it for a moment and I could think of a couple of reasons they might want me personally, but the results of acting on any of them were different enough that a mistake would probably be fatal. *Well I can think of a few, but I have no idea which reason is right,* I told her. *I do though have an idea about how to find out what might be going on without my needing to talk to them just yet.*
*And that idea is?*
*I've got their boss and I've no problems with convincing him to be talkative ...*
The rest of the conversation boiled down to Jean demanding I take my job back, me refusing yet again, and then the two of us double checking what defenses we had available. Whatever her feelings about my dumping this all in her lap, she knew she had the title and the responsibility that went with it. I'd been where she was more often then I wanted to remember and I'd trained her with that kind of trouble in mind. I was more then a bit proud to see I'd chosen pretty well so far. She just needed the confidence that came with experience and it was going to be my job to keep her alive until then.
One thing she had been a bit troubled about though had been the Meenzell Ambassador. I'd told her flat out that he was trouble waiting to happen. The part about "if he even starts to object, kill him" had upset her no end. Unfortunately, that was about the only thing we could do with him.
Meenzels respected strength, pure and simple. The day Bob and I had set fire to their planet simply because they hadn't shown us the respect we figured they owed us for saving their hides, we'd ended up pretty high on their list of people to leave alone. Judging from the fleet that now surrounded Earth, we'd now lost enough of their respect to now be considered prey again.
That was going to have to change ...
My first stop was the infirmary to check on Kalindra, my second, after Smaug brought me a package I'd sent him after, was the airlock leading to where Nahn and Bob were being held. Both of them looked like hell in the garish light of the star around us. The blood that they'd spattered all over the hull didn't help things.
The blood and the fact that Bob wasn't little chunks of meat all over the hull put me on alert. Both of them were unarmed, I'd seen to that, but Jab still had those damned claws of his. Any serious fight between them should have ended about 5 seconds after it started.
"Nahn mal Eo, you will now answer my questions," was all I said as I stepped out of the airlock and stood on the outer hull of the station. Jab just glared at me and stayed silent. "Cat, that short memory of yours is beginning to annoy me." That got me a reply, but it concerned physical contortions that were impossible for a human and something about my family.
Magic used to directly effect a Meenzel is always pretty much a waste of energy. Pulling out the gun I'd had Smaug retrieve I cycled the slide to load a round. "What did you say? I don't believe I heard that right." True to form, Jab started to repeat himself.
My first round caught him in the right thigh. The second caught him in the left arm as he screamed in rage and tried to leap at my throat. When he came to a stop after sliding across the hull on his own blood, I pointed the gun in Bob's general area to let him know I'd seen him start to get to his feet.
"I'll explain it one last time, then I'll get the answers I want by ripping them from your dying brain. You've made the biggest mistake of your life by bringing your damn fleet here to threaten the world I'm sworn to protect. You're going to tell me why, and you're going to tell me why they are so damned anxious to talk to me."
I'm not sure what went through his mind as he lay there bleeding to death, but I did learn why they were here. By the time he finished explaining it, I was sorry I hadn't put the third round between his eyes.
"Last question, why do they want to talk to me so badly?"
"Mage only thing worry them. You got bad habit of being lucky when needed," he muttered quietly.
"Are they out to kill me then?" I asked.
"Maybe, maybe not, Nahn not know now. Plan was to capture damn ArchMage and make harmless, plan may change now that I not there to guide it."
I put on my best 'scare the hell out of them' grin and told Jab what still wasn't widely known yet. "Cat, I'm not the ArchMage, I gave that job to somebody better qualified. You better find religion and start praying because she is even nastier then I am when she's pissed."
I watched him as my words sank in, and thoroughly enjoyed the look of panic I caught flash across his face. Then I stepped back and signaled the med team that had been waiting inside the airlock just out of sight. "Get them both inside and taken care of, but keep an eye on both of them."
"What the hell are you doing Antoine!" yelled Bob as the closest thing we had to an EMT started checking him over. "Why the fuck am I being treated like the enemy?"
"You made it plain years ago that you weren't real happy with me or the company I keep. Even after you and that son of a bitch beat the shit out of each other, you were still willing to come to his defense when I threatened him. I've got a world to defend and I don't have time to worry about what you're doing behind my back, so shut up and deal with it." That said, I stepped aside while he and Jab were carried inside. Then I started to pace back and forth beneath the hellish display that surrounded us.
As always, it came down to choices that were all unacceptable, and I had to pick one anyway ...
* * *
It had taken awhile to prepare, some of the things like my old suit of power armor weren't exactly in great shape after six years of neglect. Getting Jean to listen to me without yelling had proven to be almost as much fun as dealing with Jab.
And right in the middle of it all, Kalindra regained consciousness.
She looked pale even through all the fur she had to hide it as I sat beside her and held her paw. The look in her eyes that echoed the pain I felt through our bond just made things worse.
"What happened?" she whispered over the faint banging on the door I'd Mage Sealed to give us some privacy.
"You forgot to duck," I replied as I gave her paw a light squeeze.
"Where are we? Why aren't we ..."
I actually growled slightly as I saw the pain take her voice away for a moment. "You were just the first thing to happen, the list is growing. We're in the infirmary at Thor One currently because I needed someplace safe that was quick to get to."
"What else happened?"
"The Meenzai decided to crash the party. I'm going to go throw them out and bill them for doing it as soon as I know you're going to be ok."
"She'll be fine," repeated Naldantis from where he stood behind me. "She's not going to be doing much for awhile, but she'll heal."
"Then I'm going to find the ..." she started to whisper.
I shut her up by kissing her. *No need, he was dead by the time he saw you fall. He had friends though, so rest and I'll help you find them when you can finish the lesson.*
I sat there at her side, holding her paw, until she finally slipped into an exhausted and pain filled sleep. Then I turned to Naldantis. "This is probably the safest place in the system at the moment, unless you want to get her home."
"No, the worst part is over she just needs to rest now, but I don't want to move her for awhile."
Looking at Nal, I noticed for the first time just how haggard he looked. He'd long since given up even trying to hold his tail off the floor and he looked to be shedding from stress. "You look like you could use some rest yourself."
"I'll get some rest in a bit, when I know the Klizan is really out of danger."
I didn't argue with him, we both knew how the other felt about Kalindra, even though Nal was Lythandi's mate. All I said was "Thank You" and gave him a hug. Then, after giving Kal one last kiss on the cheek, I headed off to battle.
* * *
Jab had said the Meenzai were worried about what I might be able to do. Fine, I'd give them something to really worry about, maybe scare the crap out of them bad enough to make them head home and save us all some trouble. After staging things at Tycho where Jean continued to fend off the ships above, I teleported about a mile off the nose of the Meenzai flagship. Punching through that damn damping field of theirs was like getting kicked in the guts by a mule.
For a race that was supposedly so dangerous, it took them a surprisingly long time to notice me. When I finally detected their weapons systems power up I flicked the switch on my radio.
"Attention Meenzai fleet, I have a message for you. The criminal Nahn mal Eo has confessed his crimes against my world. After his trial, conviction and execution, his remains if any will be returned to you for disposal."
I had their attention all right, every ship in the area began powering up their defenses after a burst of comm traffic relayed my message around the fleet. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't spare the energy and effort to envoke my own shields, so I had to settle for the ones the armor could provide. They'd last about two microseconds if I got hit by anything directly.
"As for your threats against my world, I have the following reply from the new Terran ArchMage." Let them add that bit of information to the list of things to worry about.
"You have fifteen Terran minutes to remove this fleet from around the world I protect. Any Meenzell vessel found within the boundaries of this system after thirty minutes will be removed without warning, by force. Any attack on Terra itself will cause an immediate retaliatory strike against your own world, and this time I won't settle for just setting a few forests on fire like my predecessor did."
I paused for a moment, then signaled I was ready for the team at Tycho to add the final touch. Jean had finally found the Meenzell Ambassador, he'd been trying to rig one of the fusion plants to overload and kill everybody on the base. Since he'd been willing to die for his cause, Jean had helped him do just that.
"Oh yes, I almost forgot, take your Ambassador with you when you leave."
Using the power feed from Thor One, which was on full standby alert. Jean and the Mages at Tycho sliced through the flagship's shields like they weren't there. The Ambassadors head appeared on the bridge, the rest of him was scattered about the ship at random.
I managed to count to five before they opened fire ...
The Whites of Their Eyes
At least two different ships fired on the illusion I'd been maintaining, I'd have been little more then a cinder had I actually been there. Even with them missing me though things got hot. I'd been close to the actual location so that they wouldn't notice a position shift in my radio signal. The shields my armor had been maintaining lasted almost long enough to handle the energy flash from the weapons, my armor had to take up the rest of the load.
It didn’t take them long to spot me, the cloak I’d been maintaining vanished along with my concentration and I became visible about 100 yards from where the illusion had been floating. The thought of those targeting systems shifting to focus on me was almost as compelling a reason as what I knew was going to happen next, in making sure I wasn’t there when the next salvo fired.
What I missed seeing after I left was the flagship opening fire on the two smaller ships that had fired on me.
* * *
All hell broke loose on the Meenzai Flagship, starting the moment the first shot had been detected. The half dozen Meenzai that had been arguing about which of them was in charge now that Naln mal Eo was gone, had finally come to one decision they could agree on.
"I gave no order to fire, destroy that ship!" yelled the largest of the council members. "I will kill the Antoine myself for his insults!" yelled another.
One of the quieter and some thought saner council members simply looked from where somebody was picking up the remains of their ambassador, to the viewscreen, and wondered why he’d ever listened to mal Eo in the first place.
* * *
By the time I appeared back at Tycho, Jean was already dealing with the two ships that had fired at me. It was a lesson intended to remind the Meenzai who they had taken on. We might not look like we could defend ourselves based on a counting of ships and weapons, but a world guarded by Mages was never going to be an easy conquest. Even with that damn damping field they had created, we had a few tricks that were still usable.
The edge of an unanchored WorldGate is the sharpest thing in existence. An atom hitting that edge literally splits with the energy release appearing at the entry and exit points. Several times in our early adventures, I’d had to warn Bob about moving K1 around with the Gate active, I hadn’t wanted to see what would happen if the Gate came "unstuck" from its anchor during high speed maneuvers. Now, we put that idea to work as a weapon.
A half dozen Velan Mages, with Tanindra guiding them, called into being an unanchored Gate next to one of the two ships that had fired at me. Then they set it in motion and gave it a "nudge" to set it spinning. Shooting at it was useless, it simply let the energy beam hitting it vanish from local space and reappear a couple of light-years distant. The ship in question was busy trying to escape the fire of the flagship when it ran into the first of the spinning gates. It was like watching a blender in action.
The gate sliced through the hull, the Meenzels inside and finally the ships engines as if there were nothing actually in its path. Given that anything it hit with the edge was being sent in random directions within about a three light-year sphere, it was a fairly accurate description. When it finally breached the containment field of the ships reactor, the resulting explosion just spread the damage around to the nearby ships.
"I see the Meenzai are using anti-matter systems on their smaller ships now" I mentioned as the ENV field over Tycho darkened to block the glare from the explosion. "They were using those quantum singularities the last I’d heard. I wonder why they changed?"
"Perhaps they didn’t have enough of them to go around," mentioned Jean as she watched the Velans target the second ship. "You may not have noticed, but I’ve had some time to study that fleet while they’ve sat up there threatening us. There are a lot of ships out there that I’d barely call spaceworthy, much less front line military vessels. I’d be willing to bet that they brought every ship that could move, hoping that we’d bow down before shear numbers."
That was an interesting thought, and another followed it. "I wonder who is manning those ships?"
"What do you mean?" ask Jean while she gave me a look that said she’d detected something in my tone of voice.
"It’s been less then ten years since Bob and I rescued their planet from the Maal. Their military had been crushed to the point where they had fallen back to a last defense of Meenzell. Now they might have spent the last few years building warships, but it takes longer then that to grow the Meenzels to man them. The civilian population was pretty thin when the smoke cleared and they don’t mature that fast." Jean thought about that for a moment and then gave me a smile that sent a chill down my back.
"Computer controlled ships?" she asked.
"That would be my guess," I answered. "Haul anything that was spaceworthy into the shipyards, install computer controls and a few weapons, then make lots of noise and hope we never noticed."
Jean acquired a grin that was guaranteed to scare children at a hundred yards. "Do you suppose you could make an exception just this once?" she asked with an evil twinkle in her eye.
I thought about it for a couple of moments while Jean watched me. I knew exactly what she was talking about and she was well aware of what she was asking. "I gave my word to Nahn that she would never be a threat to either he or Bob again." Jean just waited for me to make up my mind, she didn’t say a word. "I need to talk this over with her before I decide."
"I’ll go make sure the rest of our surprises are ready," she said with a nod. "I’ll give those fuzzballs a reminder about the time limit and then get ready to enforce it."
With a nod of my own, I turned and headed over to the WorldGate. "Open a connection to Penny Louise Antoine on Velar" I asked, then I sat back and waited for the best computer cracker ever known to answer.
"Hello?" asked a familiar voice after a few seconds.
"How would you like to travel the stars again?" I asked her. The yell I heard about deafened me ...
* * *
I rationalized it away by figuring that Penny wasn’t actually a threat to Nahn, just to the fleet he’d brought with him. Both Nahn and Bob were still sitting in a holding tank and out of the fight for the moment, though I had a few plans for Nahn. Even given that thought though, I intended to keep Penny on a short leash and she knew it. My biggest advantage was that she wanted out of prison enough that I figured she’d behave for awhile just to prove she was trustworthy. Whether she’d stay trustworthy when I turned my back was another story.
"You understand what I want?" I asked her as she hovered just the other side of the Gate, in the meadow where this had all started so many years ago.
"I am to cause the maximum damage possible to the Meenzai Fleet making sure not to harm any friendlies. In cases of doubt, back off and find something else to do to them" she answered.
I cleared my throat and waited ...
"And obey Jean the same way I would you," she added.
"Better than you would me, she’s less forgiving then I am."
I still had my doubts, but then I’d known for a long time that the days when I’d trust Penny the way I had before were long gone, never to return. Finally I leaned over and placed my palm against the WorldGate. "Identify, Antoine, Mage, Terra."
"Identity confirmed" replied the Gate computer after it scanned me in ways pure technology would never duplicate.
"Accept program update, suspend lockout PLA1, execute," I told it. Before the echo of my voice faded from the nearby buildings there was a sharp *crack* as Penny pushed the edges of the sound barrier coming through the Gate. Glancing over at where Jean stood watching me, I grinned and muttered, "I almost pity those idiots up there." She just shrugged and headed off to deal with whatever crisis was on top of the list at the moment.
As much as I understood Penny’s feelings about being free again, we weren’t in any position to let her waste time zipping around Tycho Base just for the joy of it. Tracking her down, I showed her the comm-set the Meenzell Ambassador had been using and put her to work. It only took her a few minutes to break into the Meenzai comm-net and I was suggesting things to check out or fuck with when Jean coughed politely from the doorway behind me.
"I can see why those little bastards don’t like you, you’ve got more of a nasty streak then I’d suspected."
I just shrugged and grinned. "It’s a requirement for the job, that’s why I picked you to succeed me" I said with a chuckle.
"Thanks, I think," she replied. "It’s time to put it to use then. Our friends upstairs are demanding I turn you over to them or they’ll start targeting cities on Earth. They just gave me a time limit for a reply that is 60 seconds less than my time limit for them to leave the system."
"Then this is gonna get ugly," I muttered under my breath as I shook my head in disgust.
"Lets hope it’s short and ugly, and to our favor then. I want them focused on us, not Earth. Since they seem to hate you so much, I want you to distract them until everything is ready." Glancing behind me at Penny, she added, "Whatever you’re going to do, be ready to do it on my signal. I’ll give you all the time I can but I won’t let them open fire on Earth."
"You realize that my showing up where they can get at me might just speed things up," I told Jean. "I expect they simply want me out of the way and I’m not going to go quietly."
"I quit believing they were smart enough to leave quietly when they issued that last ultimatum. If they want to kill you, make them work for it, but buy us enough time to finish getting ready down here."
"Just call me ‘Live Bait’ then and tie me to the fishing line. Gods I love this job. Where else can you have this kind of fun?" I might have sounded cheerful, I sure didn’t feel that way inside. I was in a battle for my world, my mate and my friends when I was supposed to be getting drunk with them.
"You knew the job was dangerous when you took it," replied Jean as she watched me. "Now get your retired butt in gear and go make yourself a good target."
"Retired, right ..." and I grabbed my staff and followed Jean out the door.
There were ten minutes left in our deadline, nine in the Meenzai’s, when I teleported onto the hull of their flagship and began banging on it with my staff. "This is a pretty lousy grade of alloy, I doubt we’ll get much from the TipKatz when we sell it for scrap," I told Jean over an open channel. The Meenzai were not amused. I had only counted to about thirty when the first of them became visible as they flew over the hull towards where I was standing.
I had no intention of being there when they arrived, I’d seen that particular look in Nahn’s eyes before, just before he killed something.
With my staff acting as a focus, I was able to draw on some of the flood of energy that the WorldGate at Tycho was storing as it took in the entire output of two of the guardians we had operational. With something almost like my normal ease, I anchored myself to the hull and then sliced through it with an energy beam. As the internal atmosphere of the ship vented past me leaving a layer of frost on my suit, I dropped through the hole and took off at a dead run down the corridor I found myself in. The Meenzai were right behind me.
*Ok, I got their attention* I told Jean as paused at an intersection to get my bearings. I never heard her answer because a moment later I heard screams of rage from all four directions as the Meenzai finally managed to surround me.
My final destination was to be the bridge, so I concentrated to teleport to where I remembered it being the last time I’d been on a ship similar to this one. When I bounced from the destination point, I reappeared in the intersection about the time the first shots rang out. The Meenzai’s aim was much better then mine had been. The right shoulder of my armor was melting even as I concentrated for a second attempt at reaching the bridge.
I didn’t bounce the second time, but my entrance wasn’t exactly graceful. My shoulder and back felt like somebody had hit them with a pickaxe, my right arm was frozen at an awkward angle inside the remains of its armored covering and I was off balance. I’m not sure which was louder, my cursing, or the noise my armor made as I fell over and slammed into the floor of the bridge. One thing I didn’t have to worry about though was standing up, it only took a few seconds before I was buried in Meenzai, all of them trying to pry me out of my armor.
Since I needed to get out of that armor anyway, I waited until they’d remove several of the larger sections before I reacted. Concentrating, I created a form fitting forcefield around myself, then expanded it into a six foot sphere instantly. Bits of armor and various surprised Meenzai solders where thrown into the bulkheads and consoles around me, not all of them got back to their feet when I got to mine.
"Ok, which one of you bastards claims to be in charge of this collection of assholes?" I asked in disgust. I got more laser fire then verbal replies, but I took note of who had given the order to fire. "Are you the idiot who can’t understand simple Meenzel? You were told to leave this system or die. What part didn’t you understand?"
"I will kill you and feed you to my pet so that the universe will know the Meenzai are strong again. Then I will make a slave of your mate and your family, they will serve my pleasure until I tire of them and have them given to my solders for sport. Your world will be stripped of anything I find useful, and then burned down to the bedrock. All this I will do and you can’t …"
I made a point of cleaning some of the dirt from my clothing, then yawned as I looked around the room. "I see that inbreeding has finally caught up with the council itself. Would anyone else here like to claim to speak for this fleet?"
Nobody answered, and I noticed at least one of the ones dressed in council robes edging towards the door. Turning to face the idiot still working through his list of threats, I set my staff on the floor at my feed and brushed against the knife at my belt with my arm to verify I still had it.
Long ago I’d read a book that claimed long winded challenges were insanely stupid, simply scream and leap. Dropping my forcefield, which I was having trouble keeping intact this close to so many Meenzels anyway, I did just that. The book was right.
My leap landed me so close to my target that I could see my own reflection in his eyes as they went wide in surprise. Surprise or not, he was Meenzai, and I knew his claws would be slicing though me in seconds. Bracing my feet, I buried my knife in his guts and then pulled it upwards even as I felt my arms scream in pain as his claws sliced into them. That molecule thin blade damn near cut him in half before I let go of it.
Standing there with my back to the rest of the council, I reached down and pulled my left arm to my chest with my right, then tucked it into my shirt so it wouldn’t dangle loose. Then I reached back down and pulled my knife from the remains of the Council Head of the Meenzai.
The Meenzai had once been afraid of me and what I could do. As I turned around to face them, I hoped they were so terrified of me that they’d obey just to get away from me. "I have captured your leader and killed the one stupid enough to replace him. You can obey me or die. Issue orders to the entire fleet to leave this system."
Half of them screamed and ran for the hatches, the other half simply screamed and leaped. I guess they’d read the same book I had, Tanindra and his fellow Mages yanked me out of harms way before I had a chance to ask.
I doubt I was a pretty sight when I reappeared in front of the WorldGate. My arms were covered in blood all the way to my elbows and no small amount of it was mine. Spinning on my feet, I turned around to face Jean just as she finished yelling for a medic. "They weren’t interested in leaving," was all I said. It was all I had a chance to say.
Several hundred miles above us, the Meenzai’s time limit expired about the same moment the council members I’d left alive screamed to open fire. Everything I’d hoped to avoid began to play out in slow motion. If nothing else, I’d managed to keep them from going after Earth, now most of the firepower in their fleet opened fire with me as the target. I guess it’s nice to be considered that important.
Before Jean spoke another word, the ENV field over Tycho went opaque as our defenses kicked in. I was less than five feet from the WorldGate arch when it flared to life using the energy it had been storing up. I recognized the feeling, it felt a lot like standing in the heart of a star. It was a race between magic, technology and how each of them could warp the laws that governed the universe. Lucky for our side, magic won.
One hundred feet above the top of the ENV field, a hole opened in the universe as a Gate large enough to encompass the base came into being. Ten miles above the capital city of Meenzell, the mirror to that hole appeared and showed the people below it how they would die. By the time the first of the energy beams that had been fired reached the hole, the atmosphere on the other side was already starting to pour through it with a force that made a hurricane look tame. I doubt the inhabitants of the capital even had time to notice the drop in pressure, they probably didn’t even have time to look up before the firepower of their own fleet proceeded to vaporize both them and their city.
Then our side returned fire.
The flagship had given the order to fire, the flagship was the first to die. Ninety three million miles away, Thor One tapped into the star below it. Using a trick I’d invented, it fired two beams of energy instead of one, through a pair of Gates the Mages that manned it had opened. The focus of those beams was the flagship. The best shields and ship the Meenzai had brought with them, vanished in a burst of light and energy that was visible halfway across the system. The entire mass of the flagship was converted to a plasma so hot it couldn’t be measured, then it exploded outwards towards the surrounding vessels.
It was like waving a blowtorch at paper ships. The plasma had nothing to transfer its heat to until it came in contact with something solid. There were about a dozen ships in close formation with the flagship, they simply melted starting at the edge closest to the fireball. Then the edge of the fireball hit the wispy edge of the atmosphere exploding through the still open gate.
The entire volume of gas that had poured through the gate caught fire instantly and exploded in flames, even as thin as it was. Like a massive hammer blow the wave front slammed back through the gate as well as hitting the surrounding lunar surface. There wasn’t a single person standing at Tycho when the shaking stopped, there wasn’t a single person still living in the Meenzell capital when the WorldGate computer decided the firing had stopped and closed the Gate above the base.
From start to finish it took less than 30 seconds before we found ourselves staring up at the fading glow in the sky above the base. Jean was one of the few people who kept her head, I’d chosen better then I’d hoped. Slowly and deliberately she opened a comm channel to the remains of the Meenzai fleet above us.
"The time limit I gave you to be leave this system has just expired," she said as she glanced at her watch. "Welcome to hell …"
Turning slowly to face where Penny and I were standing, she nodded at Penny.
Welcome to hell
While I’d been keeping the flagship busy, Penny had been subverting the command and control codes for the Meenzai fleet. To her disgust, they’d been just a bit better then she’d been able to deal with. She’d broken them, but had been unable to do anything with that knowledge as long as the flagship existed. The Meenzai battle network simply wouldn’t accept updates from anyone else. The moment we’d vaporized the flagship, that had all changed. Penny, with the help of the WorldGate, had been mirroring the traffic so closely that she simply took over for the flagship in mid message as it vanished.
At Jeans command, the Meenzai fleet went to war with itself.
Friend or Foe codes altered themselves enough to become useless, targeting computers received updates that contained mistakes, engineering systems started going off-line, life support began screwing up atmospheric mixtures. Then the completely automated part of the Fleet opened fire on the closet ship it could find and all hell broke loose …
"It isn’t going to take them long to figure out what happened" yelled Jean as the few people who were still standing out in the open ran for cover. "I want everybody who can’t shield to pair up with somebody who can or get under cover!"
"If they have the time," I yelled back at her. "I can see at least two dozen ships turning to head this direction, I don’t think they liked what we did to the flagship." I had a good idea just who they were after also, it felt like an itch in the middle of my back that I couldn’t scratch. The danger in trying to piss off a large number of people is that you might just succeed, and I’d done that with a vengeance.
Doing anything about it though was becoming increasingly impossible. I might have managed to remain standing through the moonquake, but the blood loss from my left arm was catching up with me and sank to my knees to keep from falling over. "Uh, excuse me, but where is that medic?"
*Naldantis is on his way* came the familiar voice in my head as Kalindra let me know she was awake and listening in. *I told him I’d be very upset with him if he let you die while he was busy fussing over me* Just as I started to fall flat on my face, I saw Tanindra teleport in with Naldantis in tow.
*That explains the look of panic on his face* I replied just before I fainted.
I don’t recall the next couple of minutes, I’ve got vague recollections of somebody in the distance yelling about part of the fleet changing course, then a cheer about the same time I felt my mind snap back into focus from the fog I’d been in. When I opened my eyes, Naldantis was staring down at me with a look of relief on his muzzle.
"Naldantis fix this, Naldantis heal that … Between you and Kalindra, I’m going to go quietly insane. Can’t you two ever throw a party without it turning into a war?"
"We could, but we don’t want your life to be boring" I told him while I winked at Tanindra standing behind him. "Now if you’ll help me get to my feet, I think there were some party crashers on their way to make more work for you." When I looked up though, the sky above Tycho was clear. "Ok, where’d they all go?" I asked as I leaned against Naldantis and held onto his fur to hold myself up.
"They were intercepted by the first wave of Tri-Ships. Jean is throwing everything in her command at them, she wants to pull them away from your planet into open space," answered Tanindra as he continued to watch the battle going on in the distance.
"Everything?" I could think of a couple of things we had that I wouldn’t have turned loose in local space.
"Everything that mounted a weapon or could push rocks around," answered Tan.
That excluded a couple of the things I’d been thinking of, but not all of them, and Jean wasn’t around to ask. In fact, looking around, the three of us were alone except for Penny who was still talking to the WorldGate Computer. "Where the hell did everybody go?"
"Except for a couple of the mages who Jean gave orders to, everybody is underground, waiting to see what happens," said Naldantis as I caught him giving me a worried look. "As you should be, since all I did was stop you from leaking all over the ground here. I’m surprised you can stand up."
So was I actually, and I was starting to regret that I’d done so.
"I’m not going to hide, but if you drag me over by the WorldGate I’ll at least sit back down so you can worry a little less." Instead of dragging me, Nal simply picked me up and carried me, I was pretty light given his strength. When I got settled by the Gate I started using it to look in on the battle going on above us, and I found just about what I’d expected to find.
About half the Meenzai Fleet had been automated and a portion of the remainder had been junk ships just to boost the apparent numbers. Even that advantage wasn’t going to win us the battle when Penny had subverted the automated half. She could only split her concentration just so many ways and it wasn’t nearly enough to handle all those ships. After the initial surprise, the Meenzai had began wiping out large numbers of their own fleet to remove the threat. Sure, Penny was managing to whittle away a few of them, but not nearly enough to win on her own.
Penny wasn’t the only one fighting on our side though, we had our own fleet of Oort Cloud Tri-Ships that Jean had pulled off of guard duty and thrown into the battle. They were controlled with on-board AI’s which made them more of a threat in the long run. The problem with an AI though is just that, it’s an AI, it doesn’t have that spark of creativity that a real mind does. It wouldn’t take the Meenzai long to figure out how they operated and start clearing them away as well.
The real surprise though was when a rather large explosion in near Earth orbit caught my attention. When I had the WorldGate open a peephole so I could get a look, my jaw hit the ground. "They have got to be kidding!"
What I saw was what looked like a Trident Sub, climbing out of the atmosphere. A quick scan of the hull using the Gate showed that there some crudely welded attachments to the outside of the hull in a number of places and at least one of the missile hatches was open. "Jesus, they managed to cobble together some drive units in a hurry and they’re trying to fight back."
"Drive units?" asked Tanindra with a puzzle looked.
"We published the plans to a simple star drive on the Internet just before all this started. The U.S. Military must have gotten a copy and jury-rigged that ship to go out fighting." Watching the sub recoil downwards as it launched another missile, I shook my head sadly. "I’ll bet that crew is all volunteers. The first Meenzai that targets them, that ship is doomed. Naked steel won’t mean a damn to energy weapons that are designed to destroy a shielded opponent."
Sure enough, even as we watched, a Meenzai fighter zipped by the sub and sliced the front quarter of the sub from the rest of the ship. When it wasn’t fired on, the sub not being designed for close in fighting like that, it slowed and began to turn around for a second pass.
"Then they need shields …"
I wasn’t sure I’d even heard it, by the time I turned to ask Tan what he’d meant he was gone, leaving the characteristic magic pulse of a teleport emanating from where he’d been sitting. I didn’t have to wonder where he’d gone, I could hear him in my head as he yelled to his fellow mages.
* I’m helping a small Terran ship in a low orbit that isn’t shielded. If any more of them show up, they’re on our side, I want one mage assigned to each one. *
About the same time Tan flashed a quick mental picture of the sub to his fellow mages, I saw him appear on the outer hull of the sub being displayed by the Gate. When the Meenzai fighter made its second pass, it got a fatal surprise. Its weaponry deflected off the shield Tanindra was generating around the sub and a moment later it disintegrated as it hit the spinning Gate Tan had placed in its path. I’m not sure what the sub crew thought of the view it got through its periscope as Tan grinned into it, but they weren’t about to look a gift Velan in the muzzle. Slightly crippled because of the missing drive units that had been on the now missing front quarter, it still managed to struggle into a higher orbit.
And joining it from below were a couple of its brethren …
"Your race is a stubborn one," came the quiet comment from Naldantis as he watched the display with me.
"It helps to have friends who are just as stubborn," I told him with a grin. Unfortunately, we were fighting a race who gave the word stubborn a whole new meaning. Magic, technology, friends and pure human stubbornness were an uneven match against a race that had once created a sizable military controlled empire. A race that saw us as the first step in the restoration of that empire.
And for every problem we solved, another took its place.
Naldantis and I were watching a wave of Tri-Ships take out one of the Meenzai cruisers when the view within the Worldgate was replaced by this pulsing red display and the most obnoxious sound I'd ever had the displeasure to create. It was the emergency signal I'd made a part of the core design of every gate in the network, and it could only be activated by a family member. *Kal?*
*It's not me!* came her weary reply in the back of my mind.
That didn't leave many choices and I felt a chill run down my spine as the gate display cleared and showed me a view of Gateway Meadow back on Velar. Then everything seemed to happen at the same time.
The gate itself was still stabilizing as I saw my son come running out of the trees 1200 lightyears away and head straight for the gate. The alarm itself had brought a dozen or so people out of the bunkers behind us, Jean leading the way and yelling at me to tell her what the hell was going on. Lan Louis was partially levitating, his strides across the meadow were covering 30 feet a bounce when I saw the first energy beam blow a hole in the ground where he'd just taken a step from. The shockwave from the blast sent him spinning through the air, straight through the stabilized gate, and right into my arms. The energy beam that would have caught both of us dead center splashed harmlessly from the shield around the gate on the other side.
Then it really got dangerous …
Even though he'd knocked me over, I'd managed to hang onto my son. As I held him though, his scent hit me and as poor as my human nose was I knew I was in trouble. Standing six feet from me was Naldantis, behind me were three other adult Velans, in my arms was a Velan child who literally reeked of the fear scent that drove adults into the murderous protective rage that was all that remained of their violent past. I had seconds to live and I was too exhausted to even light a candle.
Even as I curled into a ball around Lan Louis, I heard the snarls behind me that numbed me to the core and saw Naldantis' ears flick flat against his head. I didn't expect to be alive in 10 seconds, but then I also didn't expect to see Naldantis leap over me and take on the three other Velans that had been getting ready to tear me apart.
The battle was short and bloody. When I realized I wasn't being shredded, I glanced under my arm to see why and then looked at the carnage in shock. I'm about a foot taller then the average Velan, Naldantis is even taller then me, which had caused him no end of problems during his life. Someplace in the years he'd been part of the family he'd finally accepted me at the instinctive level and acted to defend me the same way the others had acted to defend a helpless child. "You will NOT touch my Klizach!" was all he said to the three people he'd just disabled. Then as he slowly bled all over the tarmac, he sat down and stared at me like he was waiting for my next command.
I never got a chance to thank him, because Lan Louis came to and started struggling in my arms.
"They got Lythandi! They came and … I tried to stop … Dragged her out of the …"
That chill down my spine became a superconductor as I listened to my son. When I finally put the bits and pieces together after I managed to calm him down a bit, that chill was replaced by a rage that threatened to overwhelm me.
The Meenzai hadn't just been after Earth, they'd been after me and anybody who they could use to get at me. They might not know anything about my Terran family, but my Velan one was an open record. Even as they'd attacked Earth, they'd had some kind of strike team going after my family back on Velar. The only reason they hadn't gotten Lan Louis was because Lythandi had literally thrown him out of the house when the first Meenzai had blown open the front door. She'd stayed behind to give him time to run, time he'd used to get to the Gate and activate the emergency call. Even with that they'd almost caught him also.
"Is she alive?" I asked him as he continued to hug me so hard my ribs hurt.
"I think so! I heard her call to me … She was screaming at them to let her go."
I'd known Meenzels a long time, I had a fair idea how they thought. Still holding Lan Louis, I looked over at Naldantis where he still sat watching me. "How soon can you have Kalindra ready to travel?"
"Fifteen minutes," was all he said and he slowly pulled himself to his feet.
"Now wait a minute Antoine. What the hell are you doing?"
It took me a moment to figure out who was talking, then I turned slowly and looked up at Jean. "What do you mean?"
"Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you don't plan on leaving me standing here in a fight for our planet while you go off and try to rescue one single damn female alien."
The question was so insane that I couldn't even wrap my mind around it to figure out how to answer it. Lythandi was in trouble, a family member was in trouble. Naldantis was standing there, looking at me, waiting to see what I did next. In the back of my mind, Kalindra was watching me just as closely. Hell, I could even sense Tanindra someplace in the distance listening in.
From the day I'd laid there in that hospital bed and spoken my half of the vows of bonding to Kalindra, I'd been torn between two loyalties. Through more adventures then I cared to think about, I'd balanced those loyalties to make sure I served both to the best of my ability. I fully expected to die someday doing the same.
Perhaps this was that day, it wasn't over yet. What I didn't have time to do was explain myself to somebody who hadn't lived my life, didn't know who I was, and did not know what it was like living with somebody who not only shared your thoughts, but shared your soul. "Go get her," was all I said to Naldantis and I turned my back on Jean.
"You're not going anywhere you son of a …" and the rest was lost in a scream.
When I turned back to look, I saw that Jean had taken a step towards me as if to grab me, and Naldantis had reached over and grabbed the arm she'd been reaching out with. "You will not touch my Klizach" was all he said. Jean took one look at him, one look at the bodies he'd left on the ground, and turned white as a sheet.
"I can take care of this, go get Kalindra" I told him. With an all to human shrug he'd picked up from me, he withdrew his claws from Jean's arm and released her, then turned and walked towards Tanindra who had returned and been watching from a distance.
"I don't have time for this Jean," I told her with a sigh that came from being tired to the core of my being. Turning to face Penny where she still hovered nearby, I told her "Stay here and damage as much of the Meenzai fleet as you can using those robot ships. When you're finished, try and catch up with us on the S5. If Lythandi is still alive, I expect they have her aboard whatever ship they used to get to Velar. If she isn't, I'm still going to track them down and make an example of them."
"Don't leave without me, I'm part of this family also."
"Don't I know it," I said, and I turned towards the Worldgate so I could use it to try and track down the ship that I knew had to be either in hiding, or running like hell back to Meenzell at top speed. The moment I turned my back on Jean, it hit me, like a ripple in water that leaves you looking around for the source.
"You're not going anywhere" came the unknown voice from behind me.
*Comelin!* yelled an enraged sounding voice inside my head.
"Da?" asked the strange looking fox shaped person I had my arm around.
All hell broke loose in my mind and it felt like my ear was on fire. The day I'd joined with Kalindra, she'd place a stone in my ear which her race called the Keeper of Memories. That stone now came to life with a blinding fire as it fought to restore the memories that were being erased. Even as I turned to face the source of the command that had come from behind me, Kalindra and my son poured power into that stone to help it hold my mind together. When I finally looked back at Jean, I saw her holding the Book of Mages like it was a magic talisman of some kind.
"You can drop that book, or you can die."
Several thousand years worth of the mental signatures and energy of every Terran Mage there had ever been were bound up in that book. All I had was a wounded female alien and her adolescent son to help me hold onto my life. One moment I knew exactly who it was that was snarling in rage in the back of my mind, the next I thought I was going mad. One instant I knew exactly how to cast the spell that would vaporize Jean where she stood, the next instant I knew I was mad because there was no such thing as magic.
It was a battle that could have gone either way. It went mine when another alien appeared next to me, wrapped his arm around the smaller one clinging to my leg, and said, "You will not deprive my son of his father."
Lan Louis did his best to hug both of us as Jean's eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted under the strain of feeding that damn book the energy it needed to attach me. As she dropped the book, all of my memories snapped back into focus and I turned to nod at Tanindra, then reached down and picked up the book that was laying on the ground.
Even without a source of energy, I could feel it trying to nibble away at my mind. For years it had refused to even open for me, centuries of my predecessors had decided that I was not a proper ArchMage and they had refused to assist as I'd tried my best to serve two worlds. In the end, they'd tried to erase my mind, just as they'd done before with other Mages that failed to meet their approval. For the first time though, they'd lost.
I'll never know the answers to some of the questions I've had since the first day Kimi handed me that damn book. Who enforces the rules Terran Mages operate under? What power erases the memory of potential mages that don't accept the initial offer? Is the Book of Mages simply a magical artifact designed to guide, or is it somehow alive?
The answer to all those questions and more vanished forever as I commanded the Worldgate to open a Gate near our sun and then threw the book through it.
"I've survived that, let's see if you can" was all I said as the book vanished. Someplace, in some unexplored part of the talent that made me a Mage, I felt a ripple in the lines of probability that were the source of my skill. As I flicked the Worldgate back to idle, I sensed what felt like a kind of release wash over me, like a burden I'd carried for years had finally been lifted.
"Tanindra, I'd appreciate it if you and the rest of the Velans would stay behind and help out here as best you can until I finish what I'm about to do." He looked at me for a moment, then nodded and vanished again. "Son, I'll need you to watch after your mother when Naldantis gets back with her. She's going to want to try to help me, and she's not in any condition to try."
"Neither are you, Da" he replied as he wrapped his tail around my leg and held on to me.
"I'm leaking less then she is" I told him with a tired grin.
A soundless ripple in the world around me told me that Tanindra had returned, and he'd brought Naldantis and Kalindra with him. Kalindra was wrapped in a bundle in Nal's arms, other then mine, I could think of no place in the universe she'd be safer.
Stepping up to the Worldgate I re-opened the Gate to Velar. Then I opened a communications channel to the Meenzai fleet and sent them a short message as we all stood before the Gate.
"This is Brian Wayne Antoine ne Kan. You have attacked my family, attacked the planet that gave birth to me, and attacked me. I once set fire to half your planet simply because you insulted me. When I'm through this time, you will be nothing more then a memory."
Then we stepped through the Gate …
… Served Cold
I knew before we'd taken two steps on Velar that Lythandi was no longer in the area. For Naldantis' sake, I hoped that meant the Meenzai had taken her with them when they had left and that she wasn't laying dead someplace. When we staggered into what was left of our home, and didn't find her there, Naldantis and I both breathed a private sigh of relief.
We weren't alone for long though, the word had gone out for help even while we had made the journey from the gate to the house. Within minutes of our arrival, Wythdantis and her mate had showed up with a small army of people in tow. One group, mostly healers, had hustled Kalindra away with Nal following closely behind. Another had done their best to get me cleaned up while trying to stay out of my way as I went to work.
Once I found a comm unit that still worked I started making calls. Within fifteen minutes I'd set things in motion, within thirty I was getting confirmations that the things I'd requested would be waiting for us when we arrived to pick them up. As smoothly as things seemed to falling into place though, I knew it couldn't last, and it didn't. One of the final calls I got was from Jean, who was mad as hell and looked like she'd have killed me if she'd been able to get to me. The fact she couldn't was just another thing that made her furious.
During the last couple of years I'd wandered around the various worlds that the family had visited in our initial adventures. During those visits, Kalindra and I had worked to form the core of what we'd hoped would turn into a loose alliance of worlds who would trade with each other and us. At each world that we'd trusted, I'd personally built a Worldgate and tied it into the master Gate at Tycho. As Jean had just discovered, those Gates were not under her control, they were still under mine, even though I'd retired as ArchMage.
I'd created the Gate Network to allow the ambassadors and a few select people from each world to quickly travel between worlds and communicate with each other. It had taken me six months of research to weave safeguards into the basic gate spell that limited who could use them. One of those safeguards was that the Gate would refuse to open to somebody carrying a weapon it could recognize, or who was radiating an emotional pattern that it recognized as hatred or other related emotions.
Jean had tried to come after me, the Gate had told her to fuck off. Thirty seconds after I'd answered her incoming call, I hung up on her, never having spoken a word.
The final call I got though was one that worried me more than Jean did. One of the Mages on duty at Thor One had called to tell me that Bob and Naln had broken out of their cell and escaped. Then they'd made an attempt at the control room of the station and been beaten off. When the security squad had arrived to deal with them, they'd vanished. Two of the escape pods had launched shortly afterwards and neither Bob nor Naln had been found after a search of the station.
I thanked the Mage for the information and signed off, shaking my head in a mixture of amusement and wonderment. Of all the people I'd come to know during my life, those two were almost as unpredictable as Kalindra and I. Only the gods knew what they were up to now, and I was glad they were 1200 lightyears away at the moment. I very much doubted they'd head for the Meenzai fleet, since that fleet would probably kill Naln on sight. Where ever they showed up though, life would get interesting, and I was glad they were Jean's problem instead of mine.
My problems were more than enough to keep me busy even when I wasn't trying to recover from having my arm sliced open. The temporary space station that orbited Velar and acted as it's approach control had told me that they'd detected a single ship leaving Velar local space within the last hour. They'd been lucky to spot it at all since it had been stealthed to near invisibility, but the person on duty today had noticed an odd flickering in the background of stars he'd been looking at and had discovered the ship by accident. It was a safe bet that it was the Meenzai ship that had come after the family, and that Lythandi was on board as a hostage. No matter where they were headed, Earth or Meenzell, they had a long journey ahead of them at the speed they could travel.
I was pretty sure they were headed to Meenzell though, which suited my plans fine. While they might be running silent, they would be listening to the progress reports of the battle at Earth, which I planned on interrupting. If even part of what we were planning actually worked, they were going to be eager to keep Lythandi alive so they could return her to the family. Or at least that was my hope. It was also possible she'd be killed the moment they discovered what I was doing, just out of shear Meenzel spite.
Assuming of course she was even still alive.
It was the sound of somebody coughing that brought me back from the edge of sleep I desperately needed, and couldn't afford. When I swung my chair around I found Naldantis and my son standing in the remains of the doorway to my den. Lan Louis looked nervous but Nal looked like he was about to fall over dead. Large swatches of his pelt were shedding, his tail was dragging in the debris on the floor and the only reason he was even standing was because Lan was leaning against him to hold him up.
"When do we leave?" he asked me before breaking into a fit of coughing again.
"As soon as I can drag myself out of this chair" I told him, as I reached for my staff to lever myself to my feet. I doubted that I looked much better and I wasn't nearly stupid enough to try telling him he wasn't going. As I stepped over the remains of the door to my den, the three of us headed towards the front of the house. We were met in the remains of the main hall by a half dozen healers, and Kalindra. Kal was sitting on the floor holding what looked like the Velan equivalent of an IV bottle against her chest as one of the healers adjusted the bandages that were holding her left arm immobile.
I think I paused for about five seconds as I considered trying to leave her behind, then I came to my senses. This was about family and the only thing that would keep her from my side in what was to come was her death.
"Let's go get Lythandi back," she said as I bent over to help her to her feet.
"And teach the Meenzel the lesson I should have taught them years ago," I said with a grunt as my mate stumbled against me as she tried to steady herself.
Waiting outside the door was one of the few motorized land vehicles the Velans still let roam the surface of their world. We didn't even have time to enjoy getting to sit and rest before we were back at the Gate Meadow and I had to open a Gate through to the main Tipkatz Shipyards, where the last piece of equipment we needed was waiting for us.
* * *
We hadn't taken ten steps the other side of the Gate before 931 scuttled up to us and lit up like a Christmas tree as he began filling me in on the final preparations that were being completed even as we walked. When we crowded into a small shuttle we finally got a look at the Sunbeam Five through one of the few viewports the Tipkatz were now retrofitting into their station as a courtesy to those species who relied on the visual spectrum for sight.
She was a beautiful ship, or she would be when she was completed. The fifth in the series, she was about 300 feet in length and had the melted teardrop shape that had become my personal trademark. At the moment, her skin was literally covered with swarms of Tipkatz construction engineers who were getting her ready for departure. Designed as an exploration vessel, she had engines and defenses that I had over designed to out run and/or survive an attack by anything I could imagine. After the adventures I'd had in the last ten years, what I could imagine had expanded considerably.
The problem was that she was about three months from completion.
She could move under her own power, hell, she could probably push around a small moon given the engines she had. The defenses though were only partially operational and the few offensive weapons she would carry were still being built. The life support systems were the bare minimum needed to allow the construction crews to work inside her, and those crews were now working trying to make sure those systems would keep us alive under pressure when we went into battle.
"Will we be ready?" I asked 931.
"By the time this shuttle docks," he flickered in reply.
True to his word, the Tipkatz engineers began jumping from the ship to the skeletal construction dock that surrounded it as we got lined up to dock at the forward airlock. As the lock opened and I looked through the port, I shivered slightly as the sight of several hundred metallic spiders watching us from the surrounding rigging. After all these years some part of my brain still reacts to their shape.
With Lan Louis bringing up the rear, we transferred from the shuttle to the Sunbeam and I heard the airlock close and seal behind me. When I turned back to watch 931 leave, I got one more surprise in a day that had been full of them. "Aren't you supposed to be on that shuttle?"
"It is not right that this ship and this family go into battle without my help. Who will keep you out of trouble if I'm not with you?"
Just for an instant I got the urge to laugh, some part of my mind warned me I might not be able to stop so I just blinked at 931 and smiled. "You've got your work cut out for you then this trip" I told him.
"Being an ambassador is boring," he replied and he scuttled past me towards the bridge.
"Ok, 931, you take engineering, Nal, communications and environmental controls. Lan, see what you can make of the science station, I'm not sure what if anything is even installed, much less operational." I put my arm around Kalindra and hugged her as best I could without putting pressure on her shoulder. "If you feel up to it, take the co-pilots chair for the first leg and try to rest."
"You get us there, I'll be fine."
Our arms around each other, as much to help keep us both on our feet as any other reason, we brought up the rear as everybody headed for the bridge. "Nal, try and get a hold of Jean at Tycho and find out how the battle is going."
Five minutes later we pulled out of space dock, turned out of the plane of the ecliptic and accelerated out of the main traffic lanes of the Tipkatz system. Ten minutes after that we made our first jump, to a small research base that I'd been operating since we'd stumbled across an old enemy from long ago. Sixty seconds later we took the war to the Meenzel's …
* * *
The Gate opened just inside the orbit of Meenzell's largest moon and through it poured the stuff Meenzel nightmares are made of. In the lead was the Sunbeam, the design so unique to me that the orbital forts closer to the planet didn't bother asking questions before they started to open fire on us. Seconds later they had more than just me to worry about.
It had been a hell of a war, one that had ended only when we'd triggered a nova almost at the center of the hive that contained the Queen Maal. We hadn't gotten all of them though, within a few months we'd stumbled across a half dozen of them in various places, all of them comatose and slowly dying. It had been too good to pass up, we'd taken a couple of them in tow to an out of the way place and setup a research facility to study the damn things. Within a year, we'd figured out what they were and within two we knew enough to give them simple commands.
Pouring through the Gate right behind the Sunbeam were about two dozen Maal, every one of them obeying a fairly simple command. "Kill every Meenzel that attempts to harm Brian." They obeyed with a vengence.
Being what they were, the Maal attracted the vast majority of the firepower coming from the orbital forts, the shields of the Sunbeam managed to hold off what came our direction. If Meenzai could panic, I'd have bet the ones manning the forts were doing just that when their weapons failed to take out the Maal as they had years ago. Every Maal we'd brought with us had a couple of their vertices re-enforced with a metal sheath that included a simple shield generator.
Even as they realized they were in trouble, the crews of those orbital forts had their minds eaten away from the inside.
Then it was my turn.
A Meenzai only respects one thing, a force superior to its own. If you can't convince them you are strong enough wipe them from the face of the universe, you are nothing more than a resource for them to exploit when they feel like it. That's the rules of their game, that's how they deal with the universe.
It was a game I was tired of playing.
Once the Maal had cleared the area, the Sunbeam made one sweep by the planet to drop me, some equipment, and a variety of hyperspace relays in low orbit. Then it spun on its axis and Kalindra took it out towards the nearest of the two asteroid belts in the system. By the time it got back, I'd either have solved the Meenzai problem my way, or she was going to solve it hers.
Swinging myself around so I was facing the planet, I opened the first of several hyperspace links back to Tycho and got back into the war. "Penny, status report" were my first words as the link came alive.
"Boss, we're in trouble here," came the immediate reply. "Between the tri-ships, my corruption the robotic half of their fleet and the help of Tanindra's crew, we've basically fought them to a standstill. The defense system in the Worldgate has kept them from attacking Earth, and we've made ourselves enough of a target here that they have broken off the attack to regroup. Jean is betting that they'll concentrate on us next, then worry about Earth after they've rendered it defenseless by annihilating us here."
"Yeah, I'm surprised it took them this long to figure that out. Ok, pass on a message for me to everybody there. I'm recommending that everybody abandon the base and get the hell away from there because there is a good chance that what I'm about to do will make a bigger mess of Tycho then the Meenzai will."
"Where do you want me?" asked Penny with just a hint of apprehension in her voice.
"I want you to get to Earth if possible and keep an eye on my family. If things fall apart, try to protect them." The channel went dead silent for almost ten seconds.
"Done and done" came her reply finally. "Good luck".
I didn't have time to wonder what she thought of what I'd just asked her to do, I had too many other things screaming for my attention. Even as her "Good Luck" was fading in my ears I switched channels and took command of the Master Worldgate away from Jean. A couple of years ago I'd done some theoretical work on a use of a Gate that I'd never felt the need to try for real. Now that idea was just another trick that I hoped would swing the odds back in our favor, if it didn't destroy our moon in the process.
Opening up a tactical display window within my helmets HUD, I got a quick idea of how the Meenzai fleet was forming up, then I ordered the Worldgate to open a huge Gate near that fleet that exited a couple of light seconds away from the orbit of Meenzell. As soon as the Gate stabilized, I opened a general broadcast channel that could be heard by both the fleet and the planet below in their own language.
"This is Brian Wayne Antoine ne Kan, and you have sixty seconds to tell me what you have done with Lythandi nal Kan before I destroy one city at random on the planet below me." It took less than ten seconds for the feline howl of a reply to arrive from one of the ship of the Meenzai fleet.
"I will personally disembowel every member of …"
The Worldgate at Tycho flared violet with the energy discharge and the ground for about a hundred feet around it flowed like taffy as it figured out which ship had sent the signal. A Gate opened, one that introduced the ship in question to the closest thing this universe has to hell in real life. One hundred feet away from the ship, the entrance facing away from the Earth and Moon in the distance, a Gate that exited just about the event horizon of the Blackhole in Hercules X-1 opened. The Meenzai battleship simply vanished in a flash of energy and gravity, then the Gate itself exploded under the stress and gravity ripples tossed the nearby ships around like toys.
"You have forty five seconds" was all I said, and I waited.
At seventeen seconds left in the countdown, one more transmission arrived from the fleet, it was an open transmission to the entire fleet to launch an all out attach on Tycho. The ship in question vanished into Hercules X-1 before the transmission was even finished.
"Times up," and I looked at the nightside of the planet below me. "The Meenzai started this war and the only reason there aren't millions of people on Earth lying dead now is because you underestimated our defenses. You also underestimated me."
It was a trick that Tanindra had discovered years ago, a trick that had allowed us to access hyperspace safely. It didn't have to be used safely though. Holding up my hand so that my helmet camera could see both the metal sphere I was holding and one of the cities shining in the night on the planet below, I let the magic loose in my mind and the ball vanished. Ten pounds of unshielded lead entered hyperspace, ten pounds of matter converted to pure energy appeared at the exit point.
Off to one side of the city below, a point of light appeared that grew so bright my helmets faceplate had to go completely opaque. When it slowly cleared, a dull red wound festered in the planet and large areas of the nightside of the planet were flickering and going dark.
"Hummm… It appears I missed the city and hit one of your volcano's that use to be extinct." Letting my camera pan around the area below, it was obvious to even my untrained eye that the volcano in question was far from extinct now. "I guess I must have woken up that entire mountain range, I wonder what you've built in that area in the last thousand or so years? Oh well, I'll swing around to the dayside and see if my aim improves. You have fifteen minutes to tell me what you have done with Lythandi nal Kan and remove every Meenzai ship from the Terran solar system before I try again. The Gate you see will remain open until then. After that, any Meenzai ship found in Terran space will be destroyed without warning."
Leaving my helmet camera active, but cutting my mic, I changed the flight field that was holding me stationary in this low orbit and began to accelerate anti-spinwards towards the dayside of the planet. I also began monitoring the WorldGate and targeting any Meenzai ship that tried to transmit on anything except the frequency I'd been using. A couple of dozen more of them vanished before they figured out I wasn't going to let them talk to anybody but me.
As I swung around the planet, I caught up with the area that had once been the planetary capital. If I thought I'd made a mess on the backside, everybody that was watching my transmission got a good look at what true devastation was. The plasma cloud that had poured back through the Tycho defensive Gate hadn't just set fire to the city, it had vaporized it down to the bedrock. Changing my course just a little I passed directly over the city. As I passed over, I focused my camera on the crater and turned on my mic.
"I wonder what the civilian population of your world will think of the Meenzai when they find out that you were the ones that caused this. Hell, until you managed to get me angry, you stupid bastards were a bigger threat to your planet then you were to mine. How many millions of your own race did you sacrifice I wonder? How many more will you let die before you learn to leave us alone?" I cut my mic then and continued onwards, glancing back every once in awhile to let people get another look.
It was about two more minutes before I hit the edge of the continent and slowed to a stop over a rather large coastal city that appeared to be about half the size of the former capital. Letting my camera focus on the city below, I simply sat and waited. With about six minutes left in my deadline, the relays we'd dropped in orbit began monitoring attempts by the planet to communicate with the Fleet sitting on the other side of the Gate that hung in space nearby. A few seconds of random sampling told me what I wanted to know.
The city below me knew they were next and they were demanding the Meenzai fleet do something about me. I let them talk for about thirty seconds then I cut the relays off in the outbound direction. On the other side of the Gate, two more ships tried to answer those demands and vanished forever.
"You have five minutes to tell me what you've done with Lythandi nal Kan and to get your Fleet out of Terran space" I said in as calm a voice as I could muster. I started announcing the minutes left at that point and pulled several more spheres from a bag tied to my suit and set them floating in space in front of me where so both the Fleet and the city below me could see them.
At three minutes left, random ships in the Meenzai Fleet began swinging around towards Earth as if to retaliate if I went through with my threat. I turned the Worldgate loose on them and they began to vanish even as the remains of the Terran defenses decloaked about twenty thousand miles away and made it clear that they weren't going to let the Meenzai pass without another fight.
The Meenzai Fleet hadn't been the only one to regroup while I'd become the center of attention.
At two minutes twenty two seconds, small numbers of the Meenzai Fleet swung around and began making for the Gate that would take them home. One of them was a battleship that transmitted a burst of messages the second it was through the Gate. The moment the messages were sent, most of the smaller ships that had come through the Gate turned my direction. They hadn't given up yet.
The moment it was clear in my mind that those ships intended to try and take me out, the Maal that had been floating in formation with me went into action, as did I. Long before the Maal got close enough to attack, I'd already taken out two of the ships using a couple more spheres I'd pulled from my bag. As the orbital forts had learned, so the ships learned that these Maal were hard to kill. The combined firepower of all those ships just managed to destroy one of them before the rest attacked and swallowed the minds of every Meenzai aboard.
"You stupid bastards just don't get it, do you" I told the battleship that had hung back. "You have exactly one option now, obey me or die." I didn't get a reply, and while the clock continued to count down the now unmanned ships that had tried to kill me flashed past me and entered the atmosphere. Given their mass, they didn't burn up before impact. "You better start worrying about whether your own people will let you live even if you do obey me" I told anybody who was listening as I watched the last of the ship impact near the city I'd been hovering above.
The clock was still ticking, the battleship was sitting there doing nothing that I could detect, the Maal were reforming in a defensive circle around me.
At seventeen seconds left, I heard a familiar voice echo in my helmet.
"If you destroy that city, they will kill me slowly while you watch," said Lythandi.
"If you die, their world dies, either by my hand or my mates, isn't that right Kalindra" I replied, and I flicked a switch in my helmet to tie Kal into the relay setup that everybody was monitoring.
Even as I'd been busy above Meenzell, Kalindra had made a short jump to the closest asteroid belt and had began her part of this dance. Selecting a suitably large chunk of nickel-iron, she'd expanded the drive field of the Sunbeam to enclose it and had began boosting it towards Meenzell. As the video feed came in, Kal switched it to a split screen that showed an external view of the Sunbeam and its cargo.
"I am currently traveling at just under two percent the speed of light and I'm still accelerating. Time to impact on Meenzell is roughly six hours and eighteen Terran minutes. Any attempt to intercept me or if any harm comes to a member of my family and I will jump this ship and its cargo to immediate impact. It is calculated that even at my current speed, the asteroid I am hauling behind this ship will punch a hole in through the mantel of Meenzell and throw enough debris in the atmosphere to eliminate all life on the planet within a year. If I deliver it in six hours, your precious planet will split like an over-ripe gnith."
The split view dissolved into a view of just Kalindra at the helm of the Sunbeam. Even to my eyes, she looked like something straight out of hell, what I felt from her in the back of my mind hammered her words home. Her pelt was a mess, it looked like she'd been standing in the middle of a storm. Her ears were laid back so tight to her skull there were hardly even visible, her fangs were visible even when she stopped talking. Every single feeling I picked up, every thought that poured through the link we shared was surrounded with a cold rage. Without her even knowing she'd said it, I knew that if anything happened to either Lythandi or I, she'd not only punch a hole in Meenzell with that asteroid, she'd push the Sunbeam up to lightspeed and use its virtual mass to vaporize anything that was left.
"At any time I choose, I can jump my ship past Meenzell and let this rock pass out of your system or jump to immediate impact and remove your insane race from this universe." On the bottom of the transmission she was sending, a ticker line appeared that displayed the time to impact and current velocity of the asteroid the Sunbeam was pulling behind it. "My mate said it first, I'll say it again. You can obey or die."
We'd played our trump card, it was up to the Meenzai now. I'd delayed things long enough for Kalindra to put the gun to their racial head and neither of us had been willing to bet whether they'd be stupid enough to dare us to pull the trigger when we'd talked about it less than an hour ago.
Looking at the time display in my helmet, I turned my back on the flagship and faced the planet once again. "It appears I got distracted and forgot to destroy this city. Thinking about it, and looking at the results of my miss earlier, I'm wondering if it might not be more fun to disrupt the boundaries of the tectonic plates around this ocean I see. A few well placed shots and I bet I could trigger a whole series of volcanic, seismic and tidal events that would take out most of the coastal cities surrounding it. More bang for the buck as it were."
Activating my suit computer, I superimposed a display on top of the video feed from my camera and had it search the geologic database of Meenzell for a map of the plate boundaries. It took about 15 seconds before the overlay appeared and I began pulling a few more spheres from my bag. "Ok, if I drop one here," and a dot appeared on the display at the intersection of three plates, "and a couple along these fault lines here," which ran under the edge of the continent below me, "and one more …"
It had come from the Meenzai battleship behind me and it had been sent in the clear. There was another burst of encrypted traffic immediately afterwards, they had to be talking to the ship that had taken Lythandi, some military command center on the planet, or both. One word wasn't enough to even slow me down though.
"… here to trigger these fault lines." There were five spheres floating in space before me, I reached for the first of them. "Ok, lets start with where those three plates are coming together, some of those sub-oceanic ridges look like they'll make nice volcanoes. They should throw enough crap into the atmosphere to screw it up good." I was just about to touch the sphere when the radio spoke again, this time it was in the clear and in English.
"Stop. What are your terms for surrender?"
Buried almost in the noise, or like the speaker had turned away and forgot to switch off the microphone, I heard a rather scared sounding Meenzai asked somebody, "Did I say that right?"
My finger actually touching the sphere before me, I replied. "There are no terms for your surrender. You will do what I say, when I say it. You will not get to save face or try to negotiate with me."
"Yes, what?" I asked.
"Yes, what are your orders."
I think it took about five seconds before I slowly pulled my hand away from the sphere, then cut the video feed from my helmet. Then with only Kalindra in the back of my mind as a witness, I started to shake inside my suit as the events of the last few hours finally caught up with me. Far off in the Sunbeam, Kalindra took over for me while I tried to pull myself together.
"The ship that is holding Lythandi nal Kan will immediately drop to normal space and activate a beacon, we will send somebody to retrieve Lythandi nal Kan from it and verify that she is alive and healthy. The Meenzai Fleet currently in the Terran system will use the Gate we have created to return to this system immediately. Once here, every ship of that fleet shall land on the moon you call Farenzi in a place we shall specify, and the crews shall make use of the facilities we will provide to return to your planet."
Even as I continued to battle the shakes, I heard Kalindra's growl of anger echo within my helmet. "You have six Terran hours to obey." Managing to focus on the video display within my helmet, I saw the ticker display flashing by along the bottom. The Meenzai had six hours to obey because in six hours and three minutes their planet was going to be destroyed.
*You are needed* said the voice in my mind.
*I'll manage* I told her and I managed to pull myself together enough to handle my part of the dance. Opening up a new video link in my helmet display, I sent out a call to an old friend who'd been waiting to hear from me. "Fox, I've got a target for you."
"Yeah, I know" came his immediate reply. "We've been watching the translated feed at this end."
"Translated feed?" I asked.
"Somebody intercepted the feed you were sending to the planet and the fleet, ran it through a translator and you're probably the most popular thing on TV on Earth at the moment."
"Oh shit …" and just for a moment I got distracted by thinking about all the trouble that would cause down the road. Then I forced myself to set it aside and deal with the moment at hand. "Fox, I'd appreciate it if you'd go get Lythandi back for us."
"We're already moving."
"Yeah?" he replied as he gave me a slightly puzzled look.
"When you have her on board and she's safe ..."
"The crew of that ship is responsible for a direct attack on my family." I watched him think about that for all of about five seconds, then the look of puzzlement changed to one of determination.
"Understood," he said with a small nod of his head. "I'll talk to you again in a couple of hours."
Three hours later, I got a short message from him while I was busy stuffing Meenzai through the Farenzi to Meenzell Gate I'd created. Lythandi was on board the Falcon, his medics were checking her out but she appeared to be OK. The Meenzai Stealth Fighter and crew that had kidnapped her had suffered a power plant failure shortly after returning her and had vanished in an explosion that had vaporized the ship.
Two hours and forty three minutes after that, the last of the Meenzai crews had passed through the Gate and had been returned to Meenzell. The early reports I was hearing leak from planet said that they were not returning to a hero's welcome.
With three minutes to impact, Kalindra and the Sunbeam Five jumped through a Gate she'd created and re-emerged on the other side of Meenzell. Right to the very end I felt her struggle with herself and her desire to rid the universe of the Meenzel race anyway.
The War was over.
At least for now …
I could no more have stood on my feet than Jean could have quit looking at me like I should drop over dead to save her the trouble of trying to kill me. So I just sat on one of the ripples that surrounded the Worldgate and let her glare at me while I talked to Tanindra.
"You bet they'll try again, the moment we ever give them a chance" I told him.
"You should have let Kalindra finish the job she started."
I simply looked at him and shook my head. It wasn't the first time I'd heard somebody tell me that since the Sunbeam Five had landed at what remained of the Tycho facility, I doubted it would be the last.
"And what the hell do you intend to do about them?" yelled Jean as she interrupted me again.
I looked over at the craziest collection of vehicles ever assembled in one place and started to laugh again at the shear absurdity of the scene. By the time we'd gotten things settled at Meenzell and convinced Jean it was in her own best interest to send some of the remaining Terran Fleet through the Gate to enforce the blockade around the planet, the first vehicles had started arriving at Tycho from Earth. Sitting on the landing pad in the distance was one of the subs that had joined the fight, a beat up old VW van that somebody had mounted a drive unit in and then made airtight somehow, something that looked like a railroad tanker car without wheels …
The message had gotten out, the first of the explorers and seekers had arrived.
I tried to stop laughing, but it wasn't easy. "I don't intend to do anything about them, that's your job, remember? Now go do it and quit bothering me. I've had all I can take of idiots for one day."
Jean looked at me, then at Tanindra, who'd already made it clear to her that if she so much as tried to touch me he'd personally split her open from crotch to throat and then scatter her insides around the area while she watched herself dying. With a final glare at me that I'm sure was supposed to vaporize me, she turned and stalked off in the direction of the landing area.
"So is Velar willing to help enforce the blockage of Meenzell?" I asked Tan as I watched Jean storm off.
"I believe I can convince those who need it that it would be in our best interest" he replied.
"We're probably going to need to setup some kind of scout/patrol service also. We might have trapped most of the Meenzai on the planet now, but I'd bet there were a lot of ships in various places that weren't part of this battle. Every one of those will now be looking for supplies, anything that moves will become a target for them. I'm afraid we're going to be in for a bit of terrorism and piracy until we can track them all down or their ships break down enough that they become planet bound someplace."
Tan didn't reply, he just looked off at the landing area and the people that were converging on Jean as she approached. "You know, they will soon be looking for you as well" he said after we'd just sat there and watched for a few minutes.
"I can just imagine" I replied. "Who's brilliant idea was it to translate and re-broadcast everything I said so Earth could watch the battle?"
"Penny's, who else" he told me with a grin that I couldn't understand a reason for.
"The Meenzel's want me dead, my Terran family is scared shitless to talk to me, the US government wants to put me in protective custody, the religious idiots are already screaming about burning witches. Remind me to thank Penny again."
"When you let her out of that box?"
"Who said I'm ever letting her out of the box." Tan just looked at me and grinned again.
"So what will you do now?" he asked me as the two of us listened to Jean screaming at somebody in a uniform. When the screaming stopped and we saw her point my direction, I got to my feet.
"Kalindra and I have a bit of unfinished business on Earth, then the entire family is going to retreat to my mountain home on Velar and heal up for a couple of months." I had no idea who it was in the approaching uniform, I didn't want to either. "I intend to put a Do Not Disturb sign on the front door, you might pass on the suggestion that everybody respect it."
Closing my eyes and focusing, I teleported to the Sunbeam where it now orbited above us. The last thing I saw as I vanished was the grin on Tanindra's face as they guy in the uniform yelled that I was to go with him back to Earth for questioning.
* * *
It was just another back road tavern hidden in the middle of yet another north Idaho forest. Kalindra and I had been standing near one of the windows for about twenty minutes, cloaked, listening to the conversations inside, when we both decided we'd heard enough. Sitting above the bar was an old TV, a tired newscaster repeating the same information that the aliens being sighted near Couer d'Alene Idaho was nothing more than a splinter groups attempt at starting trouble. There was no relation between that report and the battle that had taken place near Earth.
"Bullshit!" yelled one of the guys we'd been watching. "I was there I tell ya! This ugly looking furry thing appeared out of nowhere with some guy and started talking to that Bob guy with the funny boat. We killed it though, or Joe did before …"
"They die real easy those aliens do!" interrupted somebody else at the table. "Fuck the government and their lies, just get out of our way and we'll kill every one of them that tries to land here!"
Tavern doors aren't built very strong, the one in front of me shattered quiet nicely with a small energy bolt from my staff. "Is that so?" I said quietly as I stood there facing a building which had fallen dead silent except for the TV. "Let's see how well you do against somebody who doesn't have their back to you."
Kalindra, her fangs and claws shining in the dim light, simply screamed and leapt at the table.
I'd taught her well.