Peter Alexander’s pacing made everyone uncomfortable.
“Are we ready to go?” Jill asked out of politeness. Manomar and Colonel deMartin were down in the crew quarters, helping to prepare for the return trip to gather the women and children. Manomar was especially helpful making preparations having spent years taking care of Ali Pasha’s harem and children. Ethan stood beside Jill and looked happy, but Peter Alexander really needed to be asked.
“What is it?” Ethan wondered.
“Not right. Not right.” Alexander repeated himself as he paced.
Ethan would have stepped over to place a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder, but Jill stopped him.
“He was a shaman before he was made a Chief,” Jill said. “Sometimes, some people can have pictures, visions, feelings, intuitions—whatever—and you should not ignore them.”
“But what is it?”
“I don’t know,” Alexander said frankly. “Maybe we should back away a little so we don’t come down directly over the Governor’s palace in Balazarius. It just doesn’t feel right.” Jill nodded and backed them a mile inland. Ethan checked to be sure the ship’s screens were up and fully loaded.
“Just be careful,” Alexander said, and he continued to pace and stopped only long enough to be sure his war paint was correct.
Ethan saw what the Cherokee did, but he did not want to think that way. It seemed to him that every Earth they had visited had been in the midst of a crisis. If he ever questioned the need for guardians, that question had vanished long ago. Even the nearly dead world of Doctor Augustus was not immune from external trouble. He looked at Jill. She once said that she had a route to establish Guardians on worlds that were especially troubling, and he briefly wondered what terror his own world had faced, or, for that matter, what Jill had been doing for almost forty years before she met Grimly in the late seventies. Jill looked at him and waited. Surely they had dealt with both the Holy Roman, Byzantine war and the Nelkorian on Alexander’s world, what else could be so troubling? He nodded and Jill touched the Main.
They moved to the new World and immediately felt the pressure, like a migraine headache coming on. Their point of contact was dragged a mile to the Governor’s palace, and they could not stop the forward motion until they were virtually over the palace. There was something down there.
“Screens are up.” Ethan shouted, though there was no sound in the room other than the ringing in his ears.
“Psychic screen?” Jill shouted back.
“Full force,” Ethan said. There was a rumbling and the whole ship appeared to shake.
Jill slammed her hand on the main and the entire Governor’s palace vanished in a single flash of blue light, but not everything was destroyed. A Nelkorian, a female with a head three times normal size was there, and it was very, very angry. Jill kept firing, but the Nelkorian was able to screen itself against the weapon. That screen flared from red all the way up to violet, but it held.
“Nelkorian Core,” Jill wailed. “I thought we killed them all.”
The ship shook again, and Ethan heard words screamed into his head. “You killed my son!”
Jill tried to coax more power into the main gun while she kept them from being dragged closer to the monster.
“You killed my son!” The phrase repeated again and again.
Ethan turned. His head throbbed with every move. He saw the Cherokee pull his knife, shake his head several times, and with a war cry, he headed directly toward Jill. Ethan got in the way and took the knife in the gut even as he wrestled Alexander to the ground where the Cherokee screamed again and passed out.
Ethan swore, mightily, though the pain cleared his head for a minute. He pulled out the knife with one great sudden tug, and screamed again and almost passed out himself. Then his chits got to work on deadening the pain and healing his wound, and he was glad that at least they were still functioning; at least some of them. He dragged himself back to the Main where he pulled himself up. Jill was a bucket of sweat. She concentrated on keeping them back from the beast and poured every shred of power she could into their gun. It looked like it was going to be a question of who gave out first, and Ethan feared they would since for all their power, they continued to be slowly dragged toward the beast, and their screens were at the limit already.
Ethan was just looking to see if he could shift them out of there when he heard an awful banging at the back of the control room. He knew what it was. DeMartin and his men were trying to break in and get at them, but the control room was sealed off. Jill had somehow managed that. When he turned back to his business, Ethan saw a second blip arrive. At once, Gaian style guns were fired at the Nelkorian, and he heard the Nelkorian scream again. Her natural screen flared again, past violet and ultraviolet and into the higher registers, but it still held.
“You killed my son!” Ethan heard the words once more before there was a lessening of the pressure in the room. It was not much less, but enough for Ethan to think straight. Clearly, the Nelkorian had shifted some of its anger to the new arrival. Ethan looked at his wound. The bleeding was stopped and the pain much less, but the healing was slow. He knew then that many of his chits had been damaged by the beast and he simply did not have the numbers to affect a rapid cure. He slid to the ground, senseless, but not unconscious. He needed time and rest to rebuild his damaged chits and heal, but as he slid to his seat, he kept one eye on Alexander. The man was awake and shaking his head again, but so far he had made no hostile move. Besides, Ethan clutched the bloody knife. He looked closely. It was his own blood. He chuckled and for some reason found that funny, or perhaps he was becoming delirious.
The view screen to the side of the room still functioned, and Ethan looked in time to see a third group arrive. This one, though, was different. It placed a ring of force around the Nelkorian and Ethan heard a scream from the beast, which was so loud in his mind, it almost made him deaf. Alexander threw his hands to his ears and wept. Jill let out a counter-scream of her own, but then the ring closed off the beast below and left only an opening for their gunfire and the gunfire of the ship beside them. Then the third group fired their gun and opened a little hole in the ring of force to let their white energy beam enter. The Nelkorian screamed again, but this time there were no words. Almost all pressure vanished from Ethan’s mind as the Nelkorian screens broke, and in an instant there was nothing left to do but wipe up the slime patch on the floor of what had once been the Governor’s palace in Balazarius.
Jill struggled to stay conscious as she slid down beside Ethan. The banging outside the control room stopped and Alexander shook his head again, though this time, he appeared to be all right.