Chapter Two

Tris'tan emerged from the jump into realspace at the Sol system insert point, on the move, and set course for the transmitter platform a few light-seconds away.

The mission of the Messengers was communication. Specifically, to make sure the business of Velor was transacted completely and accurately. To that end, Messengers typically found themselves hand-delivering messages to Viragos. But there were exceptions. This was one of them.

Every now and then, Velor needed all their citizens abroad to check in, or to be notified of a new situation. To that end, the Messengers regularly conducted drills in emergency contact with the Scribes. The goal was simple: deliver a concise, encrypted message by the fastest means possible and await a response.

The jump point was about 18,000 kilometers from Sol, the Terran system's star. The transmitter platform was a one-man space station, designated by the Messengers for tracking exactly where Sol III (also known as Terra or Earth) was, and for receiving and sending messages to that planet. Because a simple radio signal, traveling at lightspeed, would go much faster than any Velorian safely could, it was the preferred means. Besides, flying across the solar system would exhaust Tris'tan, and he could stand the cold of space for a few days.

He entered the message onto the keyboard on station, and pressed the Send key. The equipment, provided from Terran technology and brought out here by other Messengers, encrypted the message and gave it specific contact information to sneak it into the communications systems of the planet. In this case, though Tris'tan didn't know it, it was the Internet e-mail network. Once it entered the network, it would slip through to the local Scribe and the local Virago for review.

The message itself was simple: "Report all newsworthy events and your status." The Velorian ministry wanted to know what was going on in the Five Galaxies. Tris'tan, still a bit dizzy after those five strange events, wanted to find out himself.

Tris'tan, as it turned out, was only one of hundreds of Messenger conducting this drill. All of them suspected it wasn't a drill ' the five events were enough of a sign of that. Tris'tan would have the unfortunate responsibility of confirming that, a few days later.

Ironically, the message to Co'ra'na reached Earth before Co'ra'na did.

Co'ra'na shook Luthor, hard, trying to wake him up. He was groggy, and she had the worst headache she'd ever known. It hurt like hell. She had no idea how long she'd been out of it ' she couldn't see the asteroid belt anymore, which meant they'd gone a little ways. Her whole body ached, the nausea overpowering her. But she had to wake him up, that's all she knew.

Finally, Luthor opened his eyes and focused on her face. She held up a finger in one hand, and another finger in the other hand. One finger circled the other. She did this for a few seconds, then removed the circling hand. On the stationary hand, she extended two more fingers.

Luthor nodded. Clearly, Co'ra'na wanted him to take her to the third planet orbiting the star.

She turned and pointed towards Sol, still the brightest object nearby. He nodded again. She looked at him and mouthed the words, "How long?"

Luthor realized that whatever had happened, it was serious, and he needed to get there quickly. He also realized he could get there quicker than she could, so she'd need a ride. He thought about it, guessed their position (it couldn't have changed that much), and mouthed back, "One day."

This time, it was Co'ra'na's turn to nod.

Luthor shook himself, checked to see what hurt and what didn't (everything hurt, a little bit), then gripped her hand firmly. She nodded again and he tugged her along, powerfully ' with an acceleration of 100 meters per second, slightly more than ten earth gees.

Co'ra'na smiled, appreciating the feeling of extra weight. At best she could accelerate at 30 meters per second ' and that for short bursts. She cruised at 20 meters per second acceleration. But she didn't expect what happened next.

He pulled her to him, her backside to his front, his hands gripping her bare chest. She opened her mouth in pleasure. His legs wrapped around hers, and she dimly realized he was simply getting a better grip, making sure she couldn't break loose in this high-speed flight home.

They held the position for over twenty-three hours, including a one-minute rotation halfway through with no acceleration, so Luthor could slow them down for re-entry. His hands pushing against her the second half of the trip was a none-too-subtle experience, one that he could have skipped if he felt it was necessary.

He didn't feel it was necessary.

Junior stumbled out of the rubble into the street. She was punchy, staggering. But she knew she had to get out of there. She didn't know exactly what was going on.

Nearby, Chinese Imperial Army soldiers noticed her emergence and began running towards her. She noticed them too, and thought, Time to make a quick exit. She launched directly up, into the rain-soaked skies.

A few minutes later, she arrived at Mom's house (Kara), and wasn't too surprised to see the Imperial Army ringing the house. So far, though, they hadn't entered. She dropped right past a helicopter overflying the house, much to their consternation, and landed on the porch. Surprisingly, they did not take that as an invitation to come in. Maybe China would respect its constitution after all.

Junior looked around the house briefly, making sure no one had entered, when the phone rang. Junior was worried: Mom wasn't here. But Junior (a woman in her own right), picked up the phone anyway.

"Hello?" she said, in the native Chinese tongue.

The voice that answered her was Chinese. "Miss Zorkowsky, this is Lieutenant-Colonel Ming. Please come out of the house and visit with us. We would like to talk to you."

"No way. I don't know what's going on here. Why are you surrounding my home?"

"Please, Miss Zorkowsky, my personnel are merely investigating a police matter. We need your input, your testimony, to determine our next step."

"Uh huh. Where's my mother?"

"We do not know, Miss Zorkowsky, but we do not believe she is at your house. We last saw her at the Emperor's palace."

"Yeah, that's where I last saw her too. Can't help you, guys. Bye." She hung up the phone, and waited.

The helicopters didn't leave, nor did the soldiers. Mom didn't show up for another nine hours.

When Kara Zor'El did return, she did the exact same thing her daughter had: drop right past the helicopter onto the porch. She distinctly heard a Chinese officer shouting profanities immediately afterward.

She also smelled pasta cooking: fettucine, she guessed, seeing the stove. It smelled rather good right then: Carrie was starving.

Carrie was also dirty. "Hi, Mom," Junior said from the front area, turning off the news. "You okay?"

Carrie only shook her head. Junior, without much humor, said, "You look like I did when I got here."

The phone rang again. Junior said, "I'll get it, Mom, you just jump in the shower." Picking up the phone, she said, "Hello?"

"Miss Zorkowsky, how nice to hear from you again," Ming said again. Junior hung up on him again.

Only this time she knew why he was calling: the Chinese Emperor had ordered their house surrounded, and that they not leave. The Emperor was mourning the death of his nephew.

Which I was holding, Junior remembered.

That wasn't all. Junior had been watching the news. The world was at war. Russia and a dozen other nations had declared war on China. More than that, five major world cities had been blown to ashes.

The five cities Co'ra'na, Eliz'ah'bellah, Gel'tri, Miri'am, and Elan'nah were in!

From missiles launched in China. She really didn't care to speak to any Chinese official right about then. It was a mistake, which served only to irritate Ming and his superiors.

But they didn't dare enter the Zorkowskys' home. At this stage, it was an investigation, and they had no warrants. They were concerned as yet only with the nephew of the Emperor. They had no reason to connect her to the missile launches, other than the fact that the first explosion and the child's death had happened simultaneously.

It was several more hours before a tearful Emperor called. By that time, Eliz'ah'bellar had returned to Earth, to assess the damage to her home.