The commandant tapped his stomach in annoyance. "Where the hell is she?"
O'mara surprised him with her answer: "I don't know." To his stunned expression, she continued. "We're not quite omniscient. Sure, I can see her from several kilometers away... if I know where to look. But if you're even 500 meters away, and not on the ground... that's a lot of room to hide in, and I can't communicate with her if I don't know where she is." She reached over to his popcorn bag and grabbed a few pieces.
Popcorn on the Arctic Ice Shelf?? The commandant's idea of a joke, O'mara knew. Surely he expected "a show".
O'mara shook her head in dismay. She hated feeling icicles on her lips. Then she pointed in a particular direction -- but this close to the magnetic North Pole, she wasn't sure if it was to true north or true west, or what. "There," she said, pointing out two figures approaching the Pole, approaching a third already floating up there.
The commandant pulled out his binoculars and tracked them. Kara Zor'El, and Xara Kor'El, mother and daughter. Coming up on... yes, Co'ra'na Ky'zel, Velorian Scribe. He could just barely make out the look on Co'ra'na's face... deadpan, grim, he decided. Good.
And they had no idea he was here, sitting in a lawn chair and wool overcoat. His ego wasn't that big, though -- he'd never let them know. Just let them do it to themselves. They'd gotten this far.
About 1.5 kilometers above the ice shelf, Co'ra'na Ky'zel floated, hands clasped behind her back. As she noted Kara's approach, she couldn't resist glancing off to the side, though she knew she wouldn't see anything. Luthor was out there somewhere. Not too far. But like O'mara, she knew he couldn't be spotted unless someone got very lucky. Only the ladies knew where Co'ra'na would be waiting: directly over the magnetic North Pole, where the magnetic field lines all converged. Each of them had a super-sensitive "feel" for the magnetic field, and knew where to go, precisely. Co'ra'na was actually about three meters off of the Pole itself, she guessed -- here, the directions of the fields, save for straight up, were hard for even her to detect.
Kara and Xara decelerated sharply as they approached Co'ra'na, finally coming to a full stop less than four meters away. Co'ra'na didn't offer the customary greeting, however -- and Kara found that very odd. Instead, Co'ra'na simply floated a few meters over to the left.
"Cory, do you have any idea what's going on?" Kara asked the question without malice, without arrogance of knowledge, but Co'ra'na heard it anyway. Co'ra'na didn't open her mouth to reply.
Kara found that not just odd, but alarming... ominous. "Cory... you don't mean to tell me we're the only ones left... dooogh!"
The oogh came as Ez'hah'bellar Zor'El, Virago, crashed fists-first into Kara at Mach 8: eight times the speed of sound, with 6 gees of acceleration -- almost sixty meters per second squared.
The sonic boooooooom smacked Co'ra'na and Xara hard -- pushing them both very firmly away from the Pole: Co'ra'na out a few meters (she had braced herself), Xara out just under two hundred (she hadn't). Both were temporarily deafened. Xara never got more than two hundred meters away from the Pole as her father, Luthor, came down at just under Mach 1 to clamp onto her tightly. Luthor had her in a wrestling lock he'd learned in the Second World War -- and it took all of his enhanced strength to restrain his suddenly wild and terrified Xara.
Protectors, Scribes, and Viragoes were notoriously hard to kill. Hit them with a GAR weapon, and the antimatter burned away a tremendous amount of nearly-invulnerable flesh. An "ordinary" nuclear weapon would give one a hell of a suntan -- assuming they safely managed to contain the fireball and hold the blast in close. Thermonuclear explosions (hydrogen bombs), which were usually at least 1,000 times as powerful, could easily kill a Protector or Virago who got too close. Only their enhanced vision allowed them to determine the difference between a "therm" and a regular "nuke", and that's if they knew where the bomb was...
In any case, Eliz'hah'bellar didn't have any of those weapons at her disposal. She, and Co'ra'na had only one weapon: their own bodies, their own capabilities. These were nothing if not formidable, and deadly to even their own kind if used properly.
On the ground, the massive booooooooooom reached O'mara and the commandant, shattering weak points of the ice shelf. The commandant's lawn chair sat over one such weak point, and he found himself getting a very sudden -- and cold -- bath. O'mara calmly reached a hand over and picked him up out of the water. O'mara looked at him with amusement, while the commandant was shocked by the frigid temperature.
"Guess I should've -- brrrr -- picked a better spot!" He managed a chuckle even then. O'mara resisted the temptation to drop him back in the water for the fun of it.
The strategy for killing a Protector (which was what Ez'hah'bellar was trying to do) when you really didn't know how relied on force -- lots of it. Close-in punches and kicks, while great for the comic books, just wouldn't work -- you couldn't nearly accomplish the sheer power a full-body crash, rugby style, would achieve. A hand, head or foot just couldn't move that fast starting from zero only a couple meters away. However, Viragoes and Protectors could accelerate and decelerate at six and four gees, respectively. Kara knew that from having fought the Arions, but only a few times had to resort to that level of force. Betans were easy in comparison. Likewise, she'd only experienced that level of force a few times, and almost never when she hadn't been expecting it.
This was hypersonic artillery, with an intelligence no computer had yet matched.
Kara felt her spine bend as Ez'hah'bellar had smashed into her spinal column and lower right back with her fists at Mach 8. Her head and legs snapped back from whiplash as her torso accelerated far faster than the rest of her body. The shot was off a little bit -- Ez'hah'bellar had been aiming for the back of the neck, an instantly fatal blow -- but no one's aim from several kilometers away and that acceleration could be perfect. As a result, Kara slid off to the left and drifted at hypersonic velocity. Ez'hah'bellar, still accelerating, bolted past her.
Once Ez'hah'bellar realized what happened (which only took a moment), she angled up and to the right, a sharp turn which would black out and probably kill any Terran, barreling around to take aim at Kara again.
Xara screamed. Luthor struggled to hold her. Co'ra'na simply kept her eyes locked on the direction the combatants had taken.
O'mara looked over at the dripping, shivering commandant on the end of her arm, and grinned. "You're right. This is fun."
"What the bloody hell?" a Canadian Royal Air Force officer muttered. He was in the RAF's command-and-control center, watching a sonar net in the Arctic Circle spike very powerfully on its detection circuit. A huge explosion -- or a sonic boom -- had just erupted over the North Pole. "Leftenant, do you see anything on your radar?"
"Aye, sir. Looks like a couple of bogeys moving at... Mach 8, 8.5, like manned aircraft dogfighting, sir. But no one dogfights at Mach 8, sir. No one. Whoever's flying those damn things ought to be dead now."
The lieutenant laughed, an incredulous bark. "Not possible, sir. Missiles don't survive collision courses, sir." On the radar screen, the slower bogie was rammed again by the first -- though they couldn't see the collision, they could see the sudden trajectory change. The sonar nets confirmed with a loud boom registering.
That shot had landed on Kara's right leg, almost on her ankle, and set Kara spinning head over feet at nearly six thousand RPM. The impact served to straighten Kara's spine while simultaneously forcing her brain hard against her upper skull, shooting blood into her extremities. Kara was very disoriented.
Ez'hah'bellar, for her part, was learning something about "smash-mouth football" -- fists aren't that good to hit someone with. Her wrists and knuckles cried for relief -- and besides, she realized, her shoulder bone was much stronger. She arced straight up, over, and behind Kara again -- who couldn't figure out where the hell she was anyway. She moved her right shoulder to the forward position, turned her body to line up her next shot, and closed the distance rapidly from almost directly above Kara.
Kara, still disoriented and turning at an impossible speed, managed to wake up to the fact that she was in serious trouble. Her ribcage by her spine burned with pain, and reflexively, she coughed. The cough had all the lung-power a Supremis could muster -- and it shoved her out of Ez'hah'bellar's flight path. Kara never saw Ez'hah'bellar fly past her again, but felt the sonic boom she could no longer hear.
Ez'hah'bellar, having missed, had only an instant to realize she'd made a mistake, before that mistake turned fatal.
A doomsday scenario, oft repeated in classrooms around the Earth and on several other planets, featured a gigantic meteor crashing into the planet's surface. While the impact itself would wreak havoc on the planet's ecosystem, everyone tended to ignore the meteor itself (the "bullet"). No one seemed to really care that the meteor's chance of surviving the impact was zero.
Ez'hah'bellar didn't have nearly the mass of an impacting meteor, but unfortunately for her she did have the momentum and the approach of one. She didn't have time to turn herself more than a few degrees before she crunched through the ice sheet, the water, and into the ocean floor. For a human, it was the equivalent of crashing a car into a stone mountain head-on at over two hundred kilometers per hour... without a seatbelt.
Ez'hah'bellar's body didn't quite penetrate to the Earth's mantle. It was never seen again. However, her death marked the first time in recorded history that a tsunami (even a tiny one) preceded an underwater earthquake (even a small one).
"Wow!" the lieutenant exclaimed. Then, realizing he was still in the command-and-control center, he reported (a little too loudly), "Major, we just had a seismic event on the ocean floor -- it's knocked out three of our sonar posts."
"Hmph." The major was unimpressed, outwardly, but inwardly he could scarcely believe his eyes any more than the lieutenant could.
Kara Zor'El, still spinning madly, instinctively continued to stabilize herself. Still coughing hard from the rib shot, and with a right ankle that she knew was broken, she still didn't fully grasp what was going on. She took her time to pull herself together, physically and mentally, wincing as she did so. God, she hadn't been beaten this badly, since... Tala.
That thought snapped her eyes open. It was only then that Kara began to fear for her life. She needed to stop this, now!
Sitting on the ice shelf, shivering even more as the cold water froze in the Arctic air, the commandant managed to pick up his binoculars and point them in the direction O'mara indicated. He scanned the skies... there. That one was clearly injured, holding a hand over her lower right back, flying a little erratically. He moved the binos back towards the Pole, where he'd spotted the three of them before.
There was Xara, all right, held by a somewhat familiar man, held most impressively in mid-air. Xara was struggling, but he had her with arms wrapped around the inside of elbows, legs twisted around legs. His face contorted with the struggle, and finally he opened those flat eyes...
Well, well, well! That was an unexpected bonus! The commandant hadn't seen that bastard in over fifty years, and neither of them appeared to have aged a day. The commandant roared with laughter. How delicious: restraining his own daughter while his wife was being slaughtered. It was the sort of story Scribes told oh, so passionately! He couldn't wait until Arion Intelligence got their hands on that report and passed it back to him.
Where was that Scribe, anyway? Had she retired to the ground, to record this "tragic affair" for those idiots back home? The commandant was overjoyed. This was entertainment, with an admission price of blood. Velorian blood, shed by Velorians.
And about ****ing time.
Where was that Scribe? He trained his binos along the ice sheet, which was now in pieces from the various sonic booms.
Oh, there she was...
Co'ra'na Ky'zel noted without passion the death of her colleague, Virago Ez'hah'bellar Zor'El. She sighed. Ez'hah had never been trained for this sort of combat, but Co'ra'na was uncertain of her ability to prevail alone against Kara -- and especially against Xara. Ez'hah'bellar had done a nice little job of "softening" Kara up, though.
But now Co'ra'na assumed one of her least desired -- and greatest -- duties. With great loathing, she cruised low along the Arctic Ocean's surface, reducing the sheet to ice cubes. At Mach 4.
Directly beneath the still-foggy Kara Zor'El, Co'ra'na angled straight up.
Co'ra'na, unlike Kara and Ez'hah'bellar, had been trained in the art of physical combat against Protectors and Viragoes. While technically an intelligence agent for the Velorian Enlightenment and Government, every Scribe had been exposed to a dirty little secret: sometimes Protectors go rogue, go bad. Sometimes unilateral action must be taken.
Co'ra'na had, to this day, never needed that training. She thought up the most vile curse in the Velorian language as she raced up to kick Kara Zor'El's butt.
Right before the point of impact, Co'ra'na did a very sudden and fast backflip. The backflip was perfectly timed, perfectly aimed to land one harder-than-steel foot in the center of one harder-than-steel posterior.
Kara Zor'El bellowed once more in pain, greater than she'd ever felt, as her tailbone shattered. Co'ra'na, carried up by her own inertia, followed Kara into an almost-parallel orbit.
As it happened, Co'ra'na was looking directly away from Kara Zor'El, her back facing Kara's when she felt a sudden, intense wave of heat pass over her.
Ka'ti'na rejoiced in orgasmic exultation. Velorian barbecue! Her body tingled with what she'd just done.
A bright flash reached all the way down to the Earth, to the Arctic Ocean where O'mara and the commandant watched the proceedings. The commandant's pleasure turned instantly to rage.
"DAMMIT! WHAT THE HELL DOES SHE THINK SHE'S DOING?!?!?! SHIT!" His profanities grew much, much louder and angrier.
It was all ruined! That stupid T'set'lar bitch!
O'mara looked levelly at the commandant, irked by the reference to one of her peers. The commandant didn't even notice, and wouldn't have cared at that particular moment if he had. But she wasn't too happy herself -- and for the exact same reason. She sympathized with the commandant. He didn't deserve to die for that transgression -- it was a perfectly natural, and as she saw it, correct reaction.
"Now what? EMP?" the Canadian major asked.
"Negative, sir, apparently just a flash."
"A hell of a big one, Leftenant."
A little ways away, Luthor's eyes widened in shock. He knew that flash.
Xara did too, and her trauma turned to fury. Luthor loosened his grip on her significantly without realizing it, and she broke free.
Luthor backed away a couple meters in the air, still not able to wrap his mind around what had just happened to his wife.
Ka'ti'na, the third and final T'set'lar assigned to Terra, allowed her eyes to close for a second, salivating the moment. She never saw Xara coming, so insufferably pleased with herself that she was.
Several decades ago, one Tala of the T'set'lar had incinerated one Tamra Besta with her laser vision -- effectively a blast of radiation so hot the molecules simply came apart. It held the power of a nuclear blast, but was focused tightly into a pair of very thin beams. At that concentration, it was as effective as an H-bomb, but with far less residual effects. Optimal range for firing to vaporize a Protector was approximately two Terran kilometers.
Ka'ti'na had just repeated that feat on Kara Zor'El.
Unfortunately, such terrific blasts of energy drained any T'set'lar of 99.847% of their energy, roughly. While the bursts fired great amounts of endorphins into their brains, they also completely erased the considerable reserves of power a T'set'lar had. Recharge time would be several hours, minimum. This was a design flaw in the genetic engineering of the T'set'lar and Sa'ra'yen which neither the Arion Empire or the Velorian Enlightenment had fully realized. They knew about it, yes, but never considered it in a fluid tactical environment. T'set'lar were never expected or trained to use that level of firepower and keep fighting.
It had been that drainage of energy which allowed a berserk Shara'Lynn Besta to kill Tala, and it was that drainage of energy which made Ka'ti'na vulnerable to Xara's bone-crunching tackle. The two of them rocketed out of orbit.
Xara had never before experienced the berserker rage Lynn had. Xara had never been provoked to that level, had never had a very close relative die at the hands of the T'set'lar. Burning with grief and rage, she laid into Ka'ti'na with everything she had. This berserker rage allowed one of Xara's lesser-known genetic advantages, one given to her by her non-Supremis father (whom "Aunt Sky" had advanced his genetics separately, to nearly her own level), to come to roost. Xara's microfusion-powered cells opened the floodgates from the ether.
And she was flooded with power. That power manifested itself in a chest-breaking shot right to the sternum. Ka'ti'na gasped in sudden, crushing pain. Her eyes opened.
That was just Xara's first punch, and Xara thought about it not at all, nor did she think about the next one, which landed in Ka'ti'na's abdomen -- where no bones protected her. It went through Ka'ti'na's star-forged skin, muscles and organs.
The fist-sized hole itself would have been fatal. But that wasn't enough for Xara. Her legs kicked, her hands crushed, her teeth bit into Ka'ti'na. Every time, Ka'ti'na screamed a soundless scream in space. Xara's body reached the temperatures of the Sun's corona, burning Ka'ti'na with every touch, as the ether's power rushed into her, passing right through Ka'ti'na and invisibly buffeting her from behind against Xara...
Ka'ti'na was dead for well over ten minutes before Xara realized it. Approaching the asteroid belt, Xara cried what little tears she had left. She didn't return to Earth for seventeen days -- far too late and useless anyway to prevent the holocaust yet to come.