O'mara felt his approach before she heard his footsteps in the hall. She turned the music down, as his mind errantly broadcast an irritation at the loudness and irritating cacophany of trumpets and electric guitars. But that wasn't what tipped her off to his approach.

No, he was insufferably pleased with himself, and with his crew. But for what? O'mara wasn't aware of anything new that had happened. His mind was broadcasting an intent to surprise her as well, a surprise that he felt she should definitely be prepared for.

A surprise for which he himself wasn't sure he was prepared for. A surprise for which he didn't know, exactly, what was going to happen -- only that it would somehow affect them.

Unfortunately, that was all her telepathy could tell her about this new situation. She could not know what he did not know, and she could not know what he was not thinking about. He was so damned happy, his mind was only slightly on what was about to take place. So as his hand was reaching for the door chime, she opened it for him.

The commandant of the Arion Empire detachment on Earth stood at her door. Technically, he was her superior officer. Realistically, she could do anything she wanted, almost anything she could imagine, and he wouldn't lift a finger or utter a sound to influence events against her.

But the commandant was not a technical type, nor was he realistic. He was practical. He stayed the hell out of her way, and she stayed the hell out of his. He was an administrator, a "paper-pusher" as the Terrans called it. He ruled not through force, but through logic and volume. It was a trait he had acquired over decades before he became the commandant on Earth, and decades of dealing with both Terrans and Arions, not to mention a few rebellious Primes and a couple T'set'lar, had only refined his capabilities. She envied his patience but not his physical capabilities: though fit, he could devote the rest of his very long life to all sorts of weight training and physical conditioning, and he would never win a contest between his legs and her little toe.

"So what has happened that is so significant to make you unbearably happy enough to come to my room?" she spoke in an annoyed tone. "I don't like surprises, and you're well aware of what I can do. So save us both the trouble and just think what it is you suppose is going to happen."

He started doing so, involuntarily. The human brain instinctively thinks about whatever it receives any sort of inquiry about, at least for a moment or two. The brains of Homo Supremis, while significantly more capable than human brains, still runs on a similar operating system and reacts to the same stimulus in the same way. Both can change their thought patterns after the inquiry is at least tentatively answered, but like it or not, the inquiry will have an answer for at least several milliseconds, while the brain forms images, words, and other thoughts to describe the event that he knew was about to transpire.

Before he could take a breath, utter the first note from his vocal chords, she started muttering. "An explosion... a big one... affecting us? Here?" Each phrase only prompted his brain a little more, resulting in partial answers which inspired her to say the next phrase. She was only beginning to read the negative response to her word "Here?", when it happened.

In Paris, no one could hear Miri'am Zo'rel scream. A mere millisecond before it happened, she had been in a crowded cafe, where almost a hundred people were eating, working, chattering, more than a few flirting, a couple paying their bill, another being seated. A mere millisecond after it happened, every thing within the cafe that had been living (including the mold growing in the corner of the kitchen) was living no more, except for Miri'am Zor'el. No one could hear her scream: not even herself. The sound didn't have time to reach her lips before she died.

Eighty-seven percent of Paris followed suit.

O'mara and the commandant suddenly found themselves blasted, him into the wall just to his right of the door, her all the way to the back of her room -- through the arrangement of her dining table and chairs. Pieces of wood flew like bowling pins all over the room, while the glass shattered against the wall, crushed almost in the center by her steel-hard skin and even harder upper back into little slivers.

As one particularly large shard came down, her foot swang backward as she staggered. She didn't even feel the glass break a second time, nor the leg-long hole she put in the wall. The hole became much larger as she plowed through it, reeling backward. Her mind was in complete shock from the wave of sheer nausea that passed over her, and her body reverted to spasming slightly -- those slight spasms including brick floors under her feet becoming powder, a hand swinging through a corner of the walls made of concrete and steel as if they were made of air, of debris she had already created crushing under her feet. She convulsed, and finally fell down. Her elbow came down with a great deal of force, going through the floor, through the cement foundation, until her left arm was extended straight back and then some, shaking uncontrollably and creating cracks in the foundation that ran the whole building. Her right arm she lay across her breasts, one hand gripping onto a nipple that didn't want to stay within her grip, it just kept growing and growing no matter how hard she tried to crush it back down, while her resting arm seemed to move further and further away from her heart on a mound of (relatively) soft tissue that swelled and ached tremendously. Her expensive Ralph Lauren suit was ground up, shredded, ripped in places where muscle expanded to leave absolutely no slack in the legs, back, arms... where the muscles themselves, without even flexing and tightening to create even bigger muscles, were already forcing the fabric with no give left to give to just give and give and give... tearing more and more while mountains erupted from formerly rounded plains... and she didn't care, she just wanted the agony to stop...

The great T'set'lar had fallen -- hard.

Gel'tri Zor'El, in Cairo, Egypt, was asleep when it happened -- one moment, lying comfortably in her bed. The next moment, the bed was a crumpled mess of metal three houses over. She was still in it, but her body broke free of the tangled web almost instantly. It didn't help her as she rose to at least her hands and knees, trying to grip for a handhold and crushing everything she could touch to dust, unable to understand why nothing would stay solid around her...

Elan'nah Zo'rel, in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, was driving down the highway when it happened. She ripped the steering column from the car and put her feet down through the floor of the car, through the pavement moving at over a hundred and seventy kilometers per hour beneath her, while the car spun around her and she just tried to stop...

In Sydney, Australia, Ez'hah'bel'ar Zor'El was gardening when it happened. The flower in her left hand lost its stem. The spade in her right hand broke off its handle, which melted and crumbled under her grip. Some of the pieces of the handle ended up in the South Pacific -- after falling several thousand meters from the height she had already jumped to and was still climbing, screaming in pain loud enough to break the windows on a jet passing her three kilometers away and forcing an emergency landing...

Co'ra'na and Luthor were in the Sol system asteroid belt when it happened. Where their words could not carry, Co'ra'na was signaling that she might be interested in a "romantic liaison" with him, and he was good-naturedly pursuing her. He was pursuing her without good nature after it happened -- without any nature at all. They and a couple hundred "rocks" they crashed into moved out beyond the asteroid belt, drunkenly.

At the Palace in Beijing, Junior was waiting for her mother outside the board room when it happened, babysitting the Chinese Emperor's nephew. Carrie was running late, as the Emporer was interested in a "romantic liaison" of his own. After it happened, Carrie had joined her daughter -- and passed Junior's previous position at about ninety kilometers per hour through the door, in tremendous pain. Junior herself didn't notice -- she was already crashing through marble walls and fixtures at the same speed.

Paramedics later declared the Chinese Emporer's nephew dead on the scene... at least, what they could recognize was clearly dead, what pieces Junior had left behind were clearly dead...

Throughout the Five Galaxies of Velorian and Arion Empire space, the Homo Supremis winced, felt headaches, felt their stomachs churn, and a weariness climb over them all when it happened.

Somewhere in the Five Galaxies, Skietra felt something very unpleasant. She knew what it was, of course -- it was something that had been with her people for millions, perhaps billions of years -- but to feel it so perverted was a rare occasion. Worse, she could tell what direction it had come from, and had a really bad feeling about what was happening on her project... something even worse than what she had fought so hard to fix...

O'mara regained the slightest bit of control over her considerable, raging faculties, long enough to shout the words, "What the hell was that?" Just after she spoke the words, she realized something: she shouldn't have needed to ask that question! She couldn't read anything from the commandant. She couldn't read anything at all?!? That thought alarmed her even more than whatever had been done to her, brought her closer to sanity and self-control.

Long enough to hear the commandant, coughing, laughing softly but painfully, mutter, "The first shot..."

Then it happened again. Rio de Janeiro became ashes, with one solid humanoid life form that held no life any longer buried somewhere near the center.

Less than five minutes later, there were five new craters on the planet Earth. All five of them were in the locations of what once were major cities: Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Oslo, and Sydney. Millions of humans were dead, and three Protectors with them. All as casually as a teenager might pop a pimple. Blemishes on the face of the Earth, on all humanity and on all species evolved from her stock.

Without a formal declaration from any political party, government or military force, World War IV had just begun.