Chapter Twelve

One microfusion explosion was bad enough. Twenty-three of them, simultaneously, was more than any Velorian or Arion, anywhere in space, could bear. Literally the entire Homo Sapiens Supremis species in the Milky Way Galaxy was knocked unconscious.

The rescue efforts at Riut were for all intents and purposes over. After the Arions on Riut started waking up, they found no more survivors.

On Aria, in the Imperial Court, no one had any clue what had happened... Even the Gammas had fallen, though the purebred Terrans on the planet were astonished to see their counterparts out of commission. There were four hours of rioting before the Arion militia restored order.

On Velor and Dax'xan, the same confusion struck the Enlightenment's ministers as it did the Empire's rulers and nobles. Clocks showed they'd all "slept" for about twenty to thirty minutes, but no one knew why...

At the Ne'Trona, the Neutron Star Proving Ground, one hundred eighty three Velorians died from their collapse in the heavy gravity. Fa'red was among them, though Sharon would never find that out.

Skietra, feeling the blasts, right on top of each other, could only look at her counterpart in fearful concern. But he adamantly refused her passage. Whatever she was waiting out here for, it hadn't happened yet, and all she could do was wait...

On Earth, the target of the explosions, Xara and the two Velorians were out of it considerably longer... Xara herself didn't wake up for two whole days, and when she did, she found a jellyfish tickling the inside edge of her right ankle.

She blinked. What the hell am I doing underwater? She sat up, thankful her body hadn't tried to breathe down there. Wherever "there" was. Apparently, though, she sat up too quickly, as spots exploded in her vision and her brain cried out in pain. She held a hand to her head and almost groaned.

Well, she thought, it doesn't look like I'm too far down. There was still sunlight reaching her on the seafloor, so she'd apparently landed pretty close to shore. She very slowly came to her feet, surprised at how unsteady she was, and how tired she was. She knew she was disoriented; she didn't know how badly, but she did think she had been in a fight... and...whoo, and probably lost, from the looks of things, or I wouldn't be down here. I think. Off to the distance, not that far away actually, she saw the water's surface and the land curving up to meet it. It looked like she was on some sort of beach...

She thought about flying, but as wobbly as she was on her feet, not even sure which way exactly was "up", she didn't chance it. Instead, she staggered towards the shore, and slowly emerged.

Hans was a fifteen year old boy, walking the beach and watching the tides soothingly when he spotted a head coming out of the water. A blonde woman's head, he saw. Whoever she was, she'd been through a lot -- her face was supposed to be pink, but it was covered with brown and purple spots. As she kept moving -- slowly, he thought -- out of the water, she caught sight of him and deliberately wandered in his direction. She was taller than him, very well proportioned, and utterly naked.

Hans could only stare in shock. The girl of his dreams... a mermaid? But mermaids didn't exist... did they?

If she was a mermaid, she had an abusive merman, he thought. No woman should look like that, especially not one that... beautiful...

Then he noticed her chest wasn't moving. Her eyes were wide, as if she were in shock. She didn't seem to hear anything. By the look on her face, it was taking every last bit of her strength just to keep coming to him.

Maybe she's one of those aliens, Hans thought. She stopped about three quarters of a meter away, and just stared at him. The girl of his dreams, and her brains weren't working. If Hans were a few years older, he might've known what to do, but right now he certainly didn't. There was something otherworldly about her; somehow he sensed she wasn't human.

"Uh-ee-uh..." she croaked. Her hands were hanging at her side, her legs bent. She was as gorgeous as he could've imagined, vaguely familiar and exotic, but very unsteady on her feet.

"What?" Hans answered. Her hands jumped up to grasp his sweater and pull him really close, mere centimeters away -- to where she could kiss him if he wanted. He didn't resist. He caught a strange smell off her lips -- not just salt water, but something sweet he couldn't place.

She wasn't human, he thought, but what did she want? With desperation in her voice, she very quietly told him. "Take me... to your..."

Hans thought briefly of that ancient cliche of bad science fiction films. He didn't really expect her to say that... did he? Then, even more fervently, this woman who looked to be maybe 26 at the most, finished the sentence. "... bed!"

The woman collapsed, letting go of his sweater and her consciousness.

Hans really didn't know what to do.

Xara slept for four days in Hans' house with his father, on the latter's couch. When she woke, she was much clearer of mind... and complexion, Hans noticed. He'd kept an eye on her the whole time.

Xara smiled weakly. "Hey, kiddo." She didn't remember a thing about being found. "Sorry to drop in on you like this."

"It's quite all right, miss. My name's Hans."

"Xara. Where am I?"


Xara paused, thinking about that. "Iceland... never been here before. Listen," and here she swung her legs out and sat up, "can I make a phone call? Or check my e-mail? I'm..." and here she paused out of embarrassment, "I'm a little ways from where I'm supposed to be."

A deeper voice behind Hans asked, "And just where is that, Miss Xara?" It was probably the boy's father, Xara guessed, from the way they looked alike.

Xara opened her mouth to answer, but couldn't. After a few seconds, she said, "It's a long story. I just... I just need a few minutes."

"The terminal is over here." The big man gestured to the hallway.

"Thanks." Xara got up, one hand on the wall for support. Hans went with her.

As it turned out, Sharon had checked in before her, but Cory hadn't. Sharon was okay. About five hours later, Cory checked in as well. She was a bit battered, like Xara was -- worse, actually, but still standing. They decided to meet on Yevgeni's flagship... as soon as they could get there, which for each of them would be at least another day. By then, Cory's little dose of radiation had reached safe levels, and the radiation she'd left behind on Earth when the Arions had stormed in was of relatively little importance.

They did meet as scheduled -- Cory was the last one in the wardroom, where the tables and chairs had been removed and were being repaired. The others and Yevgeni were waiting for her. Yevgeni started speaking. "I'm sorry about the microfusion bombs."

Sharon, the Velorian ambassador and Virago warrior, replied. "Don't be, Admiral. I know what I'm capable of, and I know what I can't do. You did the right thing, the only thing, you could."

"Well, you'll be pleased to know that we've destroyed every last Prime on the planet, and..."

Cory's head snapped up, alarmed. "Every Prime?" she asked, a sudden dread entering her voice.

Sharon knew that tone. She looked to Xara, who looked back a split second later. There was a light dawning on Xara's face...

A full second later, the admiral hadn't replied. Just by her face -- and the question itself -- he sensed something was wrong. He didn't quite open his mouth in time as Cory took a step forward and asked very quietly, the dread becoming horror, "All of them?"

Xara and Sharon were half a step behind her on either side. The admiral was three paces ahead of her, facing her. Hearing Cory repeat the question, their eyes widened. They both reached out to seize her arms and anchor her to her spot.

Just in time, as a strangled scream began from the bottom of Co'ra'na Ky'zel's throat. A scream of murderous rage.

Sharon was at least six times as strong as Cory was, and Xara was a good deal stronger than that. Nevertheless, they were flabbergasted at the sheer force trying to rip out of their clutches. Scribes weren't supposed to be capable of this!

"Hold her!" Sharon shouted.

"I'm trying," Xara said through clenched teeth, scared, giving Sharon a desperate glance.

"My husband! My husband!" Cory saw red, dark red, the admiral just out of her reach.

The admiral, seeing the unrestrained fury on Cory's face, fearfully drew back several steps.

And still, Cory managed to put down one thunderous foot forward and drag the two superwomen holding her half a meter. She was struggling to get her arms free of them -- but they wouldn't let go. She couldn't hear them. She couldn't hear anything, not even her own anguish. The tears were only starting to flow seconds after she'd bellowed her war cry.

Sharon didn't know. She said in amazement, "Husband?!?"

Apparently, that was just enough to convince Cory she couldn't win; she stopped fighting and dropped to one knee. She howled, "GEEEEEOOOOOORRRRRRGE..."

The two women slowly let go of her, and the admiral hurried out of the room. Cory was bawling, curled up on the floor, laying on her right side.

Xara had known, all right. "George" was Go'ra'ba, alias George Rabian, a Prime who'd been on Earth for over two hundred years. As Go'ra'ba, he'd been part of a team that had led an assault on one Professor Paul Brown, the co-discoverer of microfusion. That team had failed, thanks to one Gel'tri Zor'El, one of the four Protectors to last set foot on Earth two centuries prior.

As George Raban, he'd gone off active duty as a Prime, punishment for having blown the Brown mission. Instead, he fitted into various roles, including that of a newspaper reporter, athlete, even a fireman. During that time walking around on Earth, he matured. He gained a new wisdom for the policies of his government... until that government's policy backfired on them and scorched the Earth. After that event, he realized how foolish his leaders had been -- and they had been foolish -- he basically took himself off active duty. He went on strike, as it were.

Sometime in the intervening decades, he met Cory. Xara didn't remember exactly when Cory had told her about George, but she did remember attending the wedding. Now, in the middle of this war between Earth and the Arions, she'd just learned he was gone.

Xara and Sharon both knew how Cory felt. Just before the first incident, Sharon's sister Tamra had died fighting off one of the three T'set'lar. Xara lost her mom to the second, while the world went to nuclear hell around them. Now, Cory had lost someone who would've been even closer than either a sister or a mother. Cory had lost her husband and probably the father of her future children, if they decided to have any.

Sharon had missed all the action involving microfusion and anything later. After Xara had explained, Sharon took the time to sit Xara down and spoke thoughtfully.

"I think I know how Cory nearly got loose." Xara looked at Sharon, who didn't look back, only stared forth into the window and at the stars out there. Sharon went on, "I think it's the grief. The last few times our strength and powers really got out of control here, someone very close to us died. Died violently, right before our eyes. That grief would drive a human to do some pretty incredible things -- and I think it did the same for us, and for Cory. But it doesn't last. The only thing that lasts is the pain."

Xara nodded, sobered by the theory. It made sense, but it was damned tragic. Neither of them said anything, hoping that Cory would be all right. Hoping... and wondering while their friend mourned. Then Xara chuckled morbidly. "Could've been worse. Could've been my dad."


"Yeah, Cory had this thing for Luthor just as the WW IV was happening. But after Mom died... and after he'd been a part of that, he couldn't face me again. He flew off into the sun and killed himself. I never had a chance to talk to him again. I was busy killing the T'set'lar." A few moments later, Xara asked, "Have you heard anything from Velor?"

Sharon blinked. "No, come to think of it, I haven't..." That was really unusual. Though Cory had her own frequencies, she would've reported a note from home -- even if she didn't report the contents.

"You don't think something could've happened to them, do you?"

"Probably something did, but we were much closer to the bombs; they should've recovered by now."

Sharon was right; they had recovered... and retreated.

Three days after the bombs went off, the Velorian Messengers finally felt they could circulate around. They didn't know anything that could knock everybody out at once, but obviously it had happened, and they did know a particular solar system whose troubles had galactic impact. Tris'tan drew the duty that time, though the Messengers were going to every known port anyway. It was part of their drill.

Tris'tan emerged from the jump point... to find the emergency transmitter platform gone.

That wasn't unusual, at first -- very likely, Tris'tan had emerged from the jump point somewhere far from where the jump point was. But as he circled the jump point, he didn't see the station.

He did see something else: a small object closing on him -- directly on him. It wasn't a Velorian or Arion; more like a missile.

With discretion as the better part of valor, he turned around and flew an emergency route back into the jump point. He was lucky. The object was a mine, with a microfusion warhead. With the target's withdrawal, its programming ordered it to return to its original position. It had thirty-five brethren around the jump point. A Terran Military Colony had laid the minefield less than two days ago.

"You what?"

Sharon could only gape at the admiral, after she'd asked if they'd heard any transmissions from that-a-way. He said no, and then he said why.

For the Virago, this was a total shock. Mined. It was filtering in now. Her only route home had just been cut off. Unless she wanted to rely on a commercial passenger ship... and in the months since this war started, not one such ship had entered the system. The merchants weren't stupid enough to fly from one side of a war to another.

More than that, neither Sharon or Cory could receive messages from home, or send reports back. They were on their own, cut off from home.

"There are safe routes through the minefield, aren't there?" Sharon had to ask. Yevgeni shook his head. Why would there be? Why would the Colonies leave a path open for a Prime ship to figure out?

Sharon left the admiral standing there in the hallway. The admiral had explained he had orders to never let the Arions get that close again. Who the hell gavehim orders? Sharon wondered. Yevgeni was their commander... She had to tell Cory.

When Cory heard -- with Xara standing at her side -- she said vehemently, "I'm going to kill him." Though she very easily could -- and of course Xara and Sharon couldn't watch her indefinitely -- the fact she said it made it untrue.

Still, Cory lashed out -- and kicked a heavy metal airtight door clear off its hinges and across a berthing, to smash loudly against a metal bulkhead ten meters away. She didn't care if anybody had been behind that door or in the door's path, with her clenched fists as she stormed off.

The Reagan's crew stayed out of her way. So did Sharon and Xara. Cory's most invisible injury would take a long time to heal.