Chapter Four

The Earth's rotation carried the sunrise over Norway and France ten minutes before she could clearly see what had happened. The effect on Co'ra'na was sheer horror. It took her and Luthor a few seconds to realize no, this wasn't a dream, before they finally descended towards Canada, towards Luthor's cabin. There, they would only see the devastation on television screens and computer monitors.

China, untouched by the calamity, was foremost on Co'ra'na's mind, but Luthor wouldn't have any of it. So was Norway, Co'ra'na's own base of operations. The only things left of her house were radioactive dust particles floating over Russia.

Luthor's history was a little more colorful than Co'ra'na's. He had been born shortly after the First World War. He had fought in the Second as a master sergeant in reconnaissance. Then Aunt Sky visited him, and he lived long enough to see the Third. Not to participate directly, but certainly to fall in love with a woman and father her child. Both woman and child were in Beijing, last he'd heard... and he suspected something he didn't want Co'ra'na to hear. He suspected they might have had a hand in this Fourth World War.

The betrayal he felt was colossal, as great a thing as the woman he attributed it to. As great as Carrie Zorkowsky, the woman of Velor.

The two of them had fallen out years and years and years ago. Carrie had wanted him to come out in the open. But it was against everything he'd trained for in the United States Army. Besides, the world was extremely unstable (fifty years of Cold War had shown him that, and subsequent conflicts only reinforced the impression), and he personally felt his wife was too exposed. Luthor was even more worried about Junior, but it wasn't exactly the sort of situation they could take to a divorce court. So Luthor just left them alone. He kept in contact with Junior quite often, but almost never spoke to her mother.

The size of this rift, however, was something he wouldn't have expected. At heart, Carrie was a decent woman. She'd kicked enough Prime and Betan ass over the years that they'd finally bugged out. But Luthor only saw this latest incident in one way: Carrie going after her fellow Protectors and the one Scribe who could inform on her. She was setting herself up to rule the world.

And by the grace of God Himself (whom it looked like he'd never meet), Carrie Zorkowsky could do it. By brute force, if necessary. She already controlled one life, her daughter's, far too much. Carrie had simply cracked, Luthor thought. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the first thing she'd done was go after her rivals, those who could threaten her.

Carrie had made one mistake, though: she hadn't taken him out too. If she had been serious, she would've struck Canada too. She knew where he lived, and if she thought he'd cooperate, become part of her one-family-over-the-Earth dictatorship...

He gripped Co'ra'na's hand very tightly then as they descended through the lower atmosphere. "What's wrong?" she said -- as if there weren't enough problems already.

Luthor barely heard her. But a dark thought crossed his mind, one that made him briefly smile. Co'ra'na was still alive.

Which meant Carrie had made two mistakes.

Co'ra'na logged into her e-mail accounts from Luthor's cabin, tinkering with various e-mail programs to reach her collection of spam, news reports, and hopefully a word or two from the Protectors and Virago assigned to Sol III, better known as Terra or Earth. Her first reaction was to delete the spam, which in the few days she'd been gone had filled her accounts to the limit. She hoped a more important message hadn't been lost to a full mailbox. It had happened before.

The news reports were even worse than she'd feared. About half of the world was ready to go to war with China. Sixteen nations, including Russia, had already declared war. Mongolia was caught in the middle of Russia and China, and tearfully begging Russia to go around her. Russia, by her country's dialogue, didn't seem to care much about sovereign nation borders right then.

The good news was that the Americans, still the most dominant military force on the planet, with the strongest economy on the planet, wasn't rushing in; by all accounts, Washington, D.C. was delaying action. The bad news was that India, another country with over a billion people, was mobilizing the largest army seen outside of China in decades. Over seventy million soldiers.

China's army was larger, and better equipped, but an Indian army with Russian guns and supplies was something to be feared greatly.

China, for its part, was denying responsibility for the whole damned mess -- but it was no fool. It was ready for an invasion. And it had enough people to make a war of attrition last a very long time... barring nuclear weapons, of course.

Nukes were the one unknown factor in this whole conflict. The war had apparently started with them, but no one could convince the United States to reverse its U.N. veto over their further use. Apparently, France was attempting to build some new nukes of its own for use in Eastern Asia, but that would take time. Russia, which had far more resources, wasn't willing to go that far. Neither was India. But a French thermonuclear in Beijing, Shanghai or Qing'dao would render the United Nations obsolete...

Not to mention kill tens of millions, perhaps hundreds. With armies that big, "tactical" nukes could erase those armies and render a large piece of real estate worthless for a couple decades...

No. The United States was making the right decision. But it was obvious that decision would itself become moot if the French built a thermonuclear, or when the United States elected a new President.

All this added up to one conclusion: Carrie Zorkowski, alias Kara Zor'El, and Carrie Zorkowski Junior, alias Xara Kor'el, could not be trusted. Whoever had started this mess (and it was hard to believe it could be anybody but them), it was just too massive to stop, like a pair of loaded buses heading for a collision. The death toll would be horrendous. Perhaps with nukes, enough to kill Earth's human population altogether.

Co'ra'na didn't need the history lesson. The last time Earth faced human extinction was World War III. Already, people were calling this one World War IV.

Co'ra'na got back to her e-mail collection. Two e-mails caught her attention in particular.

From:  Zorkowski, Carrie ( 
To:    Kyzel, Cory ( 
Subject:  I'm alive 
Hi, sis.  I don't know what the hell's happening.  Apparently, 
this big war just started out of nowhere; one minute, I'm having 
lunch with their Emperor, the next, we're at war and I'm out of it. 
I mean way out of it. 
Your neice is out of it too.  She caught the same bug I did.  Jeez, 
I hope you're ok.  I hope you get this message.  But last I heard 
you were in Oslo.  Whoever did this better not need any cancer 

Kara and Co'ra'na were not related, except by the genetics of the society they were born in. With half a dozen Velorians on the planet, they called themselves a family anyway.

Well, now it was less than half a dozen, Co'ra'na supposed. Only one other Velorian had e-mailed Co'ra'na. Ez'hah'bel'ar Zor'El. Their Virago.

From: Porado, Isabelle ( 
To:   Kyzel, Cory ( 
Subject:  Sydney's gone. 
Cory, if you've received this message, then you know what's happened. 
I'm writing to let you know I escaped.  The air got a little cold and 
thin for me, but I'm back to try to help out any way I can. 
The city's just gone. 
I have a bad feeling about all this.  China seems to be where the bombs 
came from.  It's Code Urba Minor all over again, but with a mutual friend 
playing Benedict Arnold. 
I hope I'm wrong, but... 

"No, you're not wrong," Co'ra'na said with a sigh. She called Luthor over and showed him the latter message. "Who's Benedict Arnold?"

Luthor groaned. "Only the most famous traitor in all of American history. What's Code Urba Minor mean?"

"Urba Minor VI is a planet." Co'ra'na paused. "A dead one."


"Yeah. As in, 'oh, shit.' Which, according to Ez'hah'bel'ar, is what this planet is going to." Ah, well. Any snoop reading this e-mail would think "Urba Minor" meant World War III, another apt comparison. The last war on this planet to go nuclear, to go mass-destruction. "What makes it worse is that this e-mail came from our ambassador to Earth. The one who sets Velorian policy. At this point, I don't see a reason to disagree with her."

Luthor shook his head. "So, who do we have? There's you, me, and this Isabelle. Then there's Carrie and her daughter. You and I both think Carrie just lied to us, and Isabelle seems to agree. The others appear to have been taken out. What's our next move?" Luthor asked her this because despite his own enhancements, these were her people. But all the same, he didn't resist the thought.

Carrie had made three mistakes.

"A meeting," Co'ra'na decided flatly. Without Ez'hah'bel'ar in immediate contact, Velorian interests devolved upon the Protectors. Of the four Protectors assigned to Earth, three were dead, and one was not trustworthy. That left Co'ra'na on her own to make choices with galactic importance: something she certainly trained for, but never expected. Ez'hah'bel'ar would hear of the meeting Co'ra'na set up by e-mail, and she would choose on her own whether to attend or not. "A meeting between me, Kara Zor'el and Xara Kor'el. A meeting you and Ez'hah'bel'ar Zor'el will be aware of in all the particulars, and invited to attend."

Luthor didn't miss her thickening Velorian language accent, or the sudden use of real names instead of Terran cover names. "And I suppose Kara and Xara will not be notified of these extra invitations..."

Co'ra'na nodded.

"Day of reckoning?"

Co'ra'na didn't know what the phrase meant, or its equivalent in American slang: Day of Judgement before the Almighty God. But from the way it sounded, and the tone of the voice asking for confirmation, she nodded again.

"Let's slow things down a little bit. We can't meet tomorrow. Things are just a little too hot at the moment. Set it up for Thursday," he ordered.

Co'ra'na nodded one more time. "The magnetic North Pole will do nicely for this one." There was treachery in her voice, treachery to answer treachery. But even then, the treachery cracked her voice as she e-mailed one message to "Carrie", and another to "Isabelle".

The delay itself had no impact on world events. It merely affected the players. It gave them time to realize the situation was worse than a Fourth World War alone. It gave them time for that war to personally affect all of them in a way none of them ever expected.

Urba Minor VI was a joke in comparison. It never got personal.