The shockwave was hardly noticeable on the blustery winter evening. Keratian physiology actually dampened the shockwave significantly. No one was expecting anything to sneak in through the gate from Endard anyway. After all, it was the Cooperative. The greater number of sensors were pointed away from the homestead, trying to detect any Sadari craft trying to enter through the gate to Endard.
It was easy for Orin to pass through, therefore. He reached his maximum speed and passed by the homestead in a blink, leaving only a furrow in the snow to mark his passing. It blended with other similar furrows that had disturbed the snow as supplies were brought in for the small contingent of aliens staying at the homestead.
As he passed by the quaint little town, he turned East towards the mountains, and towards the Order base. He had an offer to make to a certain man who was obsessed with Steven. One that would benefit both of them. As he sped towards the base, he gated repeatedly, jumping from micro-eddy to micro-eddy in the Fracture. It wasn’t perfect. The Sadari had true gating locked down hard on Terra. Only the deviant, Steven Crow, could freely gate there. But what little he was able to do did significantly boost his progress. He was in enemy-occupied territory on a mission crucial to the future of the Cooperative and success was of paramount importance.
Orin found the Order base easily. It was a spent galena mine comprised of hundreds of miles of tunnels that had been converted for the purpose of developing weapons that would hopefully be effective against the aliens. Orin smiled at their futile efforts. The thought of these primitive Terrans actually posing a threat to the Sadari was humorous in the saddest way.
He decelerated instantly, his robes whipping back and forth violently by the gust of wind that caught up with him. The vent was heavily armored and welded shut except for a heavy grid through which exhaust was steaming out, but it still provided easier access to the base than trying to rip through the thick door. Without hesitation, Orin gripped the edge and tore the lid away, tossing it to the side as he peered into the shaft. He jumped in feet first and dropped straight down, keeping himself centered in the vent shaft with his hands. He landed with a resounding thud at the bottom of the armored shaft. Surprise was no longer an option. Looking around, he found a hatch and pushed it off its heavy metal hinges. Without hesitation, he stepped into a hallway.
A rain of bullets found him and he raised an eyebrow at the dozen soldiers that had taken up a position against him. Shaking his head, he continued casually walking down the hall, ignoring the soldiers as they reloaded and continued to shoot him. He knew who he was looking for. A man who had been a very particular thorn in the deviant’s plans. He could sense that he was close. As he focused, he could almost see him even. The Sadari could not suppress the Fracture that far.
Gathering himself, he exploded forward down the long hall, leaving the stunned soldiers in his wake. This time he didn’t suppress the shock-wave. The explosive energy from his passing bounced off the stone walls, causing dust and chunks of stone to litter the floor. He wanted his prey to know he was on his way.
He found Laurence in the linear accelerator lab. As he nonchalantly walked in, Laurence immediately drew his weapon and emptied it at him, causing several of the other techs to duck as shattered bullets sent fragments every which way. Smirking, Orin walked up to the equipment and looked at it. They had identified many of the exotic particles that gating produced and were trying to learn more about them with the accelerator. He looked down the tunnel in both directions. The accelerator went on for miles either way.
Laurence picked up a large tool and hit him in the head with it. Without looking, Orin grabbed Laurence’s neck and slammed him down on the counter while he continued to leisurely examine their equipment. He had thought to subdue Laurence’s anxiety in the same way Keratians subdued the rodan when they feed, but decided to let Laurence stew a bit in his growing anxiety.
“This is fascinating,” Orin said as he pulled up the computer readouts on the primitive computer screens. Orin tapped the screen and looked around behind it. He was amazed that Terrans had not developed cerebral stimulation user interfaces yet. Shaking his head, he returned his attention to the screen. “It’s a bit misdirected, however. You’re only reading the matter you can identify.” He looked at Laurence with an amused smirk. “It’s like looking at a large cavern with a tiny candle.”
Laurence squirmed, trying to get out of Orin’s grip. He had hurt his fist by hitting Orin but still tried to hit and kick him. “You are a stubborn one, aren’t you?” Orin smiled, revealing his canines. Laurence’s eyes got big for an instant, but he didn’t stop trying to escape Orin’s grasp, and most interestingly, didn’t stop trying to attack Orin. Orin found that curious. He blinked and squinted at the Terran in his grip. “You smell familiar. Venda? But, not quite.”
Laurence wrapped a leg around Orin’s arm and braced himself as he kicked at Orin’s face with his other foot. The blow glanced off and Laurence winced, but the pain didn’t stop him from trying.
“You do have the tenacity of Venda, however.” Orin sighed. It was amusing tormenting Laurence, but he was starting to get bored. “Relax. I have a proposition for you,” Orin said as he focused and removed Laurence’s anxiety. Laurence immediately calmed down, still pinned by Orin’s grip. “Much better.” Orin let him go and Laurence slipped down to the floor, holding his neck. “Now, let’s see just how far you’ve gotten.”
“We will find a way to stop you,” Laurence said, groggily. His head bobbed a little as he tried to fight off the effects of whatever Orin had done to him.
“Doubtful.” Orin looked sideways at him. “But I am not the one you want to stop.”
Laurence pulled himself back to his feet, looking around for anything he could use against the vampire alien. He wondered if he could set off the accelerator by defocusing the magnetic fields. The rupture would be catastrophic. But the rock and substructure that enveloped the accelerator was robust. There was a possibility it would do little more than put his peers at an even greater disadvantage.
Orin shook his head as he continued to scroll through the data. “Still so primitive.” He looked at Laurence. “How can there be so many of you and yet you be so,” he looked back at the equipment, “small-minded?”
Laurence shook his head, still teetering from Orin’s calming. “Come again?”
Orin turned to face Laurence, perplexed. “You live your pathetically short little lives in such a hurry, never taking the time to think, to create. You should be much further along than you are. It is no wonder this world is forbidden to us.”
“Forbidden?” Laurence asked as he inched closer to a control panel.
Orin smiled. “You have an itch, Laurence.”
Laurence looked at him blankly.
“Young Steven Crow.”
Laurence opened his mouth, then closed it.
Orin nodded. “I have a proposal. A… trade.” The concept of trading was still foreign to him, but he was quickly getting a grasp of it. Terrans holding debts against each other.
The last effects of Orin’s calming wore off but Laurence remained still, his curiosity piqued. Just what could that alien offer him regarding a prize he had become obsessed with?
“You are about to lose your Steven forever,” Orin said, frowning for emphasis. “It wants to leave Earth.” Terra was their preferred word for Earth but he questioned Laurence’s intelligence to recognize what he was talking about. “Some of us don’t want it infesting our home. And I know you want it here.” Orin played with the steel counter, peeling a section of the metal up with his fingernail and rolling it over into a tight little coil absentmindedly as he talked.
Laurence nodded. He rubbed his neck again as he leaned against the counter. “Then just keep it, him, from moving.”
“That’s not my decision,” Orin said. “But those who do decide can be brought to their senses if they see your Steven behaving badly.” He smiled widely, looking at Laurence. Laurence shivered, feeling like prey under the hungry gaze of the predator.
“Just what are you proposing?” Laurence asked, rubbing the back of his neck again.
“You are going to kill Asherah,” Orin said, still smiling.
~ ~ ~
Steven sat on the porch, recovering from Lohet’s Chaser training. Why he had to continue this challenging regimen was beyond him. He had thought it was all nothing more than a ruse to see if he would break. Didn’t he pass the test? He sighed and looked at his hands. They were raw from being chased through the upper forest canopy by Migalo, who seemed to delight in tormenting him. Perhaps the Camdyn was still angry for the injuries Steven had inflicted on him? Or was he being punished for the accidental Awakening?
He rubbed sap off his fingers as he looked around at the construction of a new barn Jonah was building. It was little more than a foundation at the moment. They expected secret agents to set up an operation there. Presumably to maintain relations with the aliens. But surely to spy on them. Steven shook his head, wondering just how much more bizarre things can get. Aliens were already living in his home. They were growing structures around the perimeter of their pasture even. Now secret agents were also coming to roost.
Frowning, he looked back in the house through the bay window at the others who were cleaning up after dinner. It almost seemed normal. Except Migalo was helping Sally at the sink. For a massive, terrifying wolfman who maintained a gruff countenance, the Camdyn had a gentle heart. The dichotomy was a bit jarring.
As he stood up, he noticed another Camdyn arriving from Endard through the gate in their backyard, carrying a large crate. Aliens came through often now, bringing items and taking stuff back. It had become almost routine to him, a fact which irked him more than the actual aliens themselves. They were fantastical creatures, just amicably walking through the snow to the house or the old barn. Normal everyday activities colliding with fantasy creatures from alien worlds, and he seemed perfectly at peace with it. But then, he was supposed to be an alien, too.
The Camdyn appeared to be struggling as he carried the heavy crate, looking around as if seeking help. Steven didn’t see anyone else close by, so he trotted over to the creature and grabbed a handle on the crate. The Camdyn flinched as he glared at Steven warily. Steven smiled amicably, even though he was saddened by the alien’s fearful reaction to him.”The anti-grav isn’t working? You looked like you were about to drop this.”
“So you ran over here to help?”
Steven shrugged and looked around. “Everyone else is busy. Where is this going?”
“That structure over there,” the Camdyn nodded.
Steven glanced at the old barn as he walked with the massive, furry alien. “Running out of room in there pretty quickly. We’re still working on that old Sadari transport.”
He held the door as the Camdyn grunted his way in, then pointed. “There should be fine. With the other crates.” He closed the door behind him then turned around to find a huge, clawed hand on his chest. The Camdyn shoved, lifting Steven into the air until he was pinned against the wall with his feet dangling. Steven exhaled and grabbed the alien’s arm. “Excuse me?”
The Camdyn snarled and pulled aside a patch of fur on his chest, revealing freshly healed skin. “You did this.”
“Sorry?” Steven blinked, looking at it. “But, I did what?”
“The sword was meant for you.” The Camdyn leaned into him, causing him to exhale even more.
Steven felt Asherah beginning to gate to his rescue and blocked her. “No!”
“Yes.” The Camdyn cocked his head.
“I was talking to someone else.” Steven squirmed. “If I offended you, I didn’t mean to. I’m really sorry.”
“You are apologizing for…?” The Camdyn looked perplexed by Steven’s reaction. “Deviant, I was trying to kill you! You can’t see it?”
Steven looked at him blankly for a moment then realized what the Camdyn meant. The wolfman was touching him. He looked down at the huge, clawed hand pushing hard on his chest and saw his memory. “You, that was you?”
“The strike was fatal.”
“I know. That’s why I healed you,” Steven said, looking at the creature’s furry chest again. “I would have thought your armor…”
“Little can withstand the spine of a wraith. Especially in the hands of a Keratian. That is why it is used to kill deviants,” the Camdyn growled, squinting at Steven. “You are not afraid?”
Steven raised an eyebrow. “Should I be?”
“I could kill you now.”
“But you haven’t.” Steven smiled wanly. “But this does hurt.” He tugged at the Camdyn’s hand.
“You could burn me. Turn me to ash. You could have killed me that night. I was helpless under your hand.”
“I’m not that kind of deviant, Berel. That’s your name?”
“You have to ask? You’re not even a proper Elf.” The Camdyn sneered at him as he pulled his hand away, letting Steven drop to the floor.
Steven sighed as he rubbed his chest. “No. I guess I’m not.” He looked down, shaking his head. “Not a proper deviant either, thankfully.”
Berel looked at him, puzzled. “We were trying to kill you. And yet you healed me.”
Steven looked up. Berel’s implied question hung in the air. He sighed. “Listen, I’m just me. Not important. Not significant. Just some stupid kid.” He took a deep breath. His ribs ached. “You’re like this really cool alien. And you were hurt because of me.” He shrugged. “I don’t like anyone getting hurt because of me.”
“You are most peculiar, deviant.” Berel grumbled, glaring.
“My name is Steven. Just Steven.”
Berel stood straighter and stared at Steven for a long uncomfortable moment. “So it is. You,” he shook his head then squinted at him, “you really healed Senin?”
Steven grinned sheepishly. “That was kinda neat. A whole planet. Still doesn’t seem real.” He looked at the door as Asherah peeked in timidly. Berel followed his gaze.
“And you have bonded to that Elf?”
“Yeah. Don’t remind me.” Steven frowned.
Berel looked at him for a moment, then guffawed loudly, almost doubling over. Steven ducked a snowball and glanced back at Asherah who appeared less than pleased. “What, did I say that out loud?” He giggled nervously, then looked back at the chuckling Camdyn. “I really am sorry you got hurt because of me. I hope I fixed you right.”
Berel looked at his chest. “They said it was sufficient to save my life.”
“I didn’t even know I could do that. Elves can take pain. But…” Steven glanced at Asherah as she sauntered over to him.
The Camdyn rubbed the scar on his chest thoughtfully. “You are more than an Elf, Steven.”
Steven looked at Berel sharply, and smiled. It was nice to not be called deviant.
Berel glanced at the crate then back at Steven. “It’s empty. I just wanted to see you for myself.”
“Oh. Do you want it back?” He looked at the crate then back at Berel as the Camdyn exited the barn without another word. “They always do that?”
“You should have complimented him,” Asherah said, leaning against him.
“What?” Steven cocked his head, confused.
“Camdyn love to be complimented. That would have, he had you up against the wall, it would have calmed him.”
“Calmed him? I was the one up against the wall!” Steven said, rubbing his chest again.
Asherah shrugged. “They’re funny that way.”
“That kinda hurt.” Steven looked at his chest under his shirt. “There are claw marks on my skin.” He dabbed at the blood.
“Why did you stop me from gating here?” Asherah played with his sleeve. “I could have helped.”
“We don’t want Orin knowing you can gate, remember?” Steven looked at her sternly. “Not yet, anyway.” He looked past Asherah out the open door. “Someone is coming up the drive.”