Gender: N/A Age: N/A Location: N/A
|Introduction: Not my story|
Less Trouble Than an Election
“With the lower-rank promotions completed, it’s time that we move on to the higher ranks. The move from captain to major with the PPA is a big one. It signifies your ability to control a large section of troops, and a major portion of the battle. Er, no pun intended.” Ron received the expected laughs at that. They’d been home from New York a week, and most of the injured had recovered enough to return to training, although Susan Chandler still grumped that they weren’t ready for combat yet.
Ron had decided that a ceremony was in order to lessen the stunning impact of the adjustment in the command structure caused by the NYC battle. He had gathered his remaining troops on the parade ground, and had begun, without preamble, to award promotions.
It had not been easy deciding whom to promote into new positions. Ron had spent the intervening week talking to soldiers from each unit and team, hoping to establish who had been instrumental in the battles. He had found out that several of his junior officers deserved a severe increase in rank. Although he knew this fell outside of military protocol, he didn’t really give a damn, and so he did it anyway.
“Now, moving on to those being promoted to colonel,” he said, after making the promotions to major. “The rank of colonel is crucial. It designates a leader of several teams, someone to oversee a large chunk of a given battle. Although it sometimes seems that our battles are nothing more than chaos, if it hadn’t been for the colonels in New York, many more of us would have gotten injured or killed driving off the FC menace.”
“In light of that, only a few new colonels have been chosen. These are individuals who have shown immense courage in battle. Also, they have shown forethought, good judgment, quick thinking, and the ability to adapt. Of course, each has some pretty impressive psionic skills, as well.”
“Our first new colonel is someone I fought alongside in the last battle. His psionic strength and dexterity are impressive. His ability to lead a team into combat is like few I’ve seen. Although he is a rookie, and New York was his first major battle, he acquitted himself nicely, and his team took out the highest ratio of enemy troops. So, I would ask that Captain Termannic step up to the stage, to receive his promotion.”
The audience applauded as John Termannic ascended the platform. He saluted his commander, and Ron stylishly responded in kind. Then Ron removed the man’s silver bars, and replaced them with the silver eagles of his colonelcy. They saluted again, and Col. Termannic stepped down off the stage.
Ron turned back to the assembly. “Our next promotee served beside Colonel Kim during our last fight. She showed bravery, tenacity, and loyalty by never leaving her commander’s side. She was very nearly killed twice in the fighting, and certainly saved the Colonel’s hide a time or two. This candidate has been overlooked for promotion in the past, and that was a mistake. Her cunning and courage far outshine some of her superiors. It is the policy of this army to promote to the rank for which you are qualified, regardless of your current level. In our largest promotion this cycle, I would ask that First Lieutenant Shana Veltor come to the stage.” There was an eruption of applause from the Hunters as their comrade came to the stage shyly, and respectfully saluted her commander-in-chief. Ron snapped off a picture-perfect salute in reply, and replaced her gold bars with the eagle of her rank. They repeated the salute, and Shana hurried off the stage, to a continued ovation from the troops.
Ron let that continue for a moment before silencing the audience. His voice took on a somber tone. “Our final promotion to colonel is more like a commission. He never accepted a rank; people simply followed where he led. Unfortunately, we lost Jeff Durant in our battle with the Russians. And, though I know he has gone to a better place, we will miss his encouragement, his skill, and his heroism. We hereby posthumously award Jeffrey John Durant with the rank of colonel, for it was the job he longed for, if not the title.”
A sergeant, standing at the edge of the platform, bellowed, “Army, salute!” As a single force, the Provisional Psionic Army saluted their fallen comrade. At the sergeant’s second signal, arms were lowered. The atmosphere had definitely sobered.
Ron, sensing this, needed to get things back on a better footing. “And now, the promotions to general rank. We have only one of these. She has shown herself to be a competent fighter, an incomparable leader, and a good strategist. She has led, commanded, planned and put into practice all of the principles the PPA stands for. She and her unit have the highest long-term fight rating in the army. She is long overdue for promotion, and it’s time we fixed that. Colonel Kim, please step forward.”
Kimberly had not been told to expect this, and was a little startled. As a leader, she was already on the platform, so she stepped forward to salute her leader. Ron returned the salute with a smile, as he removed her eagles, to replace each with a shining silver star. He stepped back and, before she could manage, snapped a salute to her. She returned the gesture, blushing. Then she stepped back into position.
“There are further citations to be awarded to the military, but I would first like to make our first civilian citation. Would Jill Mercer please come to the stage?”
Jill was shocked, as no one had told her that she was to be recognized. She climbed up onto the stage wearing her own version of the PPA uniform, a dark blue jumpsuit that fit against her body as snugly as that of the army. She wore her hair back in a pony-tail, and had on white sneakers. Ron thought she looked very nice in the outfit.
“To those of you who may not have met her,” he said, turning her to face the group, “Jill Mercer has been with us from the start of this war. She has handled civilian affairs for us. It was she who handled the registration of the civilian refugees. It is she who continues to care for their needs. If not for her quick and selfless actions during the attack on our headquarters, dozens of civilians would have been killed due to confusion and panic. She kept her head about her, organized the evacuation, and held the civilians together in a time of real crisis.
“In recognition of her faithful and unwavering service in time of need, the Provisional Psionic Army awards Jill Mercer the Distinguished Conduct Medal. We would hold her out as a shining example of what even a civilian can do to aid others in time of war.”
The army erupted with applause, and Jill blushed. Ron gave her a soft kiss on the cheek, since they were in public. He whispered in her ear. “This is just my way of saying thanks.”
Finally, the ovation settled, and Jill walked off the stage. Ron continued for some time, passing out awards and recognizing meritorious conduct among his troops. It was a lesson he’d learned the hard way: if you want them to keep fighting, you have to let them know they’re doing it right.
As Ron stepped down off the stage, he had to pass by a young woman who looked familiar, but he couldn’t place her. She was exceedingly beautiful, with long blond hair, and blue eyes. Her pink sweater went well with her faded jeans, and her relaxed posture seemed to indicate that the war going on around her didn’t affect her much.
As he approached the spot where she was standing, she said, “Nice ceremony. Kind of long, though.”
The voice opened the proper door in his memory. “Callista! Wow, I never expected to see you here! I must say, though, that you look very nice in street clothes.”
Callista smiled at him. “Thank you. I tried to pick something that wouldn’t stand out too much.”
The rest of the people with Ron were looking on in confusion, so Ron decided introductions were in order. “Guys, this is Callista. She’s a Guardian. From the Spirit Realm.”
There was a collective set of mutters. The group quickly formed around her, so that Ron could properly introduce them all.
“This is Lars. You may remember him from our little fiasco with Kumiko.”
“Yes. I hope things are going well?”
“As well as can be expected, ma’am,” he responded a little stiffly.
“And this,” Ron went on, “Is my mother, Sandra.”
“Welcome,” Sandra greeted.
“Thank you, ma’am. You should be proud of your son. He is very well thought of on the other side.” Sandra beamed a smile at her as Ron carried on.
“This is my little sister, Nikki.” Nikki greeted Callista with a warm handshake and a “hi”.
“And this,” Ron concluded, “is Kimberly.”
Callista looked her over very carefully. Kimberly felt as if she was being appraised. Finally, Callista took her hand, and shook it firmly. “You I’ve been wanting to meet. You have done well in this war.”
“I have had a lot of help,” she responded humbly.
“Yes. I’ve been on the receiving end of that help myself. He’s very good at what he does. All of what he does.” Callista let the obvious meaning of that sentence hang in the air, while Kimberly felt embarrassed.
Ron asked, “Callista, why are you here?”
“Can’t a girl just pop in to say ‘hi’?”
“Not when she lives in another dimension, no,” he replied with a chuckle.
Callista smiled at him. “Well, you’re right. I did have a reason for coming. I want you to come back to the Spirit Realm for a little while. Just an afternoon, in Spirit Time. Shouldn’t take but a minute in Earth Time.”
“Is something wrong?” he said with immediate concern.
She waved him off. “No, no. Just that someone wants to see you, is all.”
“Oh. Okay, well, let’s go back in the house, then, so that my body can have someplace to sit while I’m not in it.”
Ron led Callista to his bedroom. Kim and Nikki joined them. “We’ll be waiting for you when you get back,” Nikki told him.
“Don’t forget the juice,” he said playfully.
“I’ll give you some juice, all right,” she said, giving him a wink.
Ron lay down, and concentrated, and seconds later, he was in the Spirit Realm. Callista was standing next to him when he arrived. They were on the Plane of the Watchers, but no one else was to be seen.
“Where is everyone?” he asked.
“Cindy is keeping an eye on the Earth Realm. Megan and Jessica are probably already at the party.”
“Yes. You see, it’s my mother’s 30,000th birthday, and so we’re throwing a big bash. She wanted you to come, and of course, none of us objected.” She gave him a little kiss on the cheek to punctuate the remark.
“Thirty thousand, huh? Seems like you’d stop counting after a while.”
“We do. But there are others who keep track of such things. It’s just part of our culture.”
“Well, I’m glad you invited me. I’ve never been to a Spirit Birthday before.”
Callista laughed easily. “Boy, are you in for it! These parties can go on for days!”
“Days? I don’t know if I can stay gone that long…”
“Mom doesn’t expect you to stay for the entire party. She knows you’ve got work to do. But she did want you to come. She really likes you.”
“I like her, too. I like all of you.”
They walked arm in arm up to the gate to Guardian Hall. It was no longer guarded, and they passed through without challenge. Even from out here, Ron could hear the party happening inside.
Once they got inside, there were people everywhere. Some were dancing, some were talking, albeit loudly, over the orchestra. There were performers and entertainers wandering through the room amusing the guests. There were waiters carrying trays of drinks and hors d’ouevres as well. Callista grabbed a drink from a passing tray and handed it to Ron.
“Here, try this. You’ll love it!”
The liquid was blue in color. It reminded him of Kool-Aid, but Kool-Aid didn’t have foam on top. He took a tentative sip, and a warm, pleasant feeling flushed his body. He downed the rest of the drink, and nearly passed out.
“Easy! That stuff is potent! If you’re not a Spirit, it can really knock you down!”
Ron let her lead him through the room. He was sure they were going somewhere, but his experience with the drink had disoriented him a little. Finally, she led him into a quieter room. Here, people were mingling, talking in a more peaceful setting. It was as if this room was a place to rest from the chaos of the first hall. Callista led him by the hand over to where a knot of Guardians were sitting.
As they approached, Ron finally recognized Calliope sitting among them. Funny, she doesn’t look a day over 29,006, he thought to himself with a quiet chuckle. His head was starting to clear, and it was obvious the group was expecting their appearance.
Arriving before the guest of honor, Ron decided to give her a flourish. He dropped to one knee, bowing his head low. With a sideward sweep of his hand, he said, “By all that is earthly, I am duty-bound to wish the young lady the most joyous of birthdays!”
As he rose to a round of applause for his unique entry, Calliope rose from the couch. “My knight in shining armor!” she said warmly. She embraced him and kissed him on the cheek. He held her gently, remembering how soft and supple she had been that day, a year ago.
“How I have missed you!” she cried. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other. You should visit more often!”
“Yes, mm…” He almost said “ma’am” until she looked at him sternly. “…mm’lady!” he finished. Her stern expression broadened into a smile. She led him across the room, saying hello to guests as she went. When they were in a quieter part of the room, she paused.
“Ron, I really am glad you decided to come. Unfortunately, you’ve shown up just at the point where I have to go do something. In a party like this, the guest of honor is expected to do all sorts of things.”
“I understand,” he said.
“Promise me something. Promise me you won’t leave until we have some time to spend together. Promise me that?”
“How could I refuse the beautiful young woman anything she desires on her birthday?”
She kissed him again, this time on the lips, before traipsing out a doorway, humming a tune.
Ron was now lost amid a sea of people. Calliope had departed over a half hour ago, and he hadn’t seen her since. He’d wandered about, shaking people’s hands and saying hello, but doing little else. He watched a mime for a little while, and then remembered the old joke, “A mime is a terrible thing to waste.”
Finally, he felt an extremely tall presence behind him. He turned to see a large Centurion standing behind him.
“Marius!” He shook the giant’s hand, and then silently counted all his fingers.
“Ron, m’boy! Good to see you again! I gather the ladies wanted you to enjoy the hospitality of the party! Having a good time?”
“I’m a little lost without a guide.”
Marius laughed heartily. “You know, they still talk of our exploits in the Centurion Garrison. Even though it was nearly two hundred years ago!”
“Two hundred years… oh, that’s right, because Spirit Time is weird.”
“So human of you!” Marius belted out another laugh. “A good time was had by all! Well, except your lady friends, but we did manage to get them free.”
“I never thanked the Centurions properly for that.”
“Nonsense! We live to fight! If the Judges would let us, we’d fight the demons from sun up to sun down, and start again the next day! Give us a cause and let us loose, that’s our motto!”
“Well, I was glad you were there.”
“Loved it, m’boy, loved it! Now, I hear you have a little tiff going on down in Earth Realm these days.”
“You could call it that. Most folks are calling it World War Three.”
“Messy thing, war. You’ve got to have the stomach for it, to truly enjoy the fighting. How goes it?”
“We finally got a win on the scoreboard.”
“Glad to hear it! Well, I must be off, to see and be seen! That’s why everyone comes here. Take care!” And just like that, he was gone, melting into the crowd.
It wasn’t long before he felt someone at his elbow. He turned to see who it was.
“Minerva, am I glad to see you!” He embraced her, and she clasped him strongly. He let her go, and then she kissed him hotly on the lips.
“Sorry I couldn’t get around to seeing you sooner,” she said, “but in this madhouse, some of us have to keep things running.”
“That’s okay, you’re here now. How are things?”
“Since your last visit, things have calmed down quite a bit. I understand that life for you is not so pleasant, though.”
“Well, it’s a war down there. Someone has to fight. That’s me, I guess.”
“Yes. Now you know why we were so worried about you fighting Mordreon. If he had killed you then, who would be leading now?”
“Beats me. I guess it wouldn’t have been my problem then.”
“True. Well, come on. As nice as it is to see you, I’ve really come to summon you.” She led him off through the crowd until they got to a door, which led to a mercifully empty hallway. She continued to walk through Guardian Hall, taking stairways that Ron had never even noticed, let alone explored. The Hall was far bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside.
After a fair amount of walking, they reached a door that was made out of some kind of translucent crystal. A soft light shone through the doors.
“In there,” Minerva said softly.
“You’re not coming with me?”
She smiled slightly. “No. I would be… in the way.” With that, she kissed him on the cheek, and departed silently back the way she had come.
Ron hesitated for just a moment, and then pushed open the doors.
It was as if he had stepped into another world. You are in another world, stupid. But the room he had entered was so unlike the rest of Guardian Hall, which was bright, airy, and open. This room was suffused with a soft, bluish light, and it was cordoned off by hanging sheets of fabric. He moved forward, stepping onto a plush carpet. The doors swung silently closed behind him. He walked into the maze of fabric, finding that there was a path, although it was a winding one to block out all noise from the outside.
Once he made his way through the outer cloth barriers, he entered a small area, no larger than his bedroom at home. And the comparison was apt, since there happened to be what appeared to be a soft mattress on the floor. On the far side of the room stood Calliope.
Her blonde hair flowed down her back, freed from her usual pins and ribbons. She was turned away from him, but her head was cocked to the side. He knew that she was aware of his presence, but she said nothing. He felt the urge to slip his boots off, and did so with his extension, pulling his socks off at the same time. He walked across the carpet barefoot, feeling it caress his feet with its softness.
She remained still as he reached her. What was not obvious from across the room was that she was only wearing a thin robe, blue like the rest of the room. Her hands rested against a table that sat at the edge of the clear area. He could feel her body heat as he moved close to her. His hands softly encircled her waist, and she closed her eyes, a slight smile playing at her mouth.
“It is our tradition,” Calliope said very softly, “That on a female Guardian’s deka-millenial birthdays, she should bring a mate to this room. In the old days, this was said to guarantee a child between the couple.”
Ron was a little startled. “Calliope…”
She turned in his arms. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m not asking you to give me another child. Even if you were really here, we are not… ‘interfertile’.” She blessed him with the sweetest of smiles. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t go through the motions.”
She melted into his arms, her head turning so that she could rest it on his chest, her arms around him. He could feel her soft breasts pressing against him, and he was quickly rising to the occasion. Eventually, she tilted her head up to look at him, and he kissed her softly, their lips brushing lightly.
Soon, that was not enough, and their kisses became more heated. She pressed herself against him more firmly, and his hands caressed her back through the flimsy robe she wore. Her tongue requested and gained entrance to his mouth, slipping wetly across his tongue as she moaned softly.
Without breaking their kiss, Ron moved slightly away from her, his hands moving upward to her shoulders. He pushed the fabric of her robe off her shoulders, and it tumbled to the floor. The beautiful woman before him was now completely nude. He pulled the zipper of his jumpsuit down, and she helped him remove it. Stepping out of the uniform, he was now wearing only his briefs.
Their bodies moved back together, and he could feel her flesh against him, could feel her breasts radiating heat into his body. He pulled her tightly to him, and she came willingly, her arms wrapping around his neck as their tongues continued their dance.
They shuffled over to the mattress on the floor, slowly, ever so slowly sinking down onto it. Ron was shocked at how soft and comfortable it was for being so thin, and sitting directly on the floor. He forgot about the bed as he felt a hand sliding down his chest. Calliope’s fingers reached under the band of his briefs and encircled his cock. Her fingers were cool, and soft, and nimble. She caressed his hard dick as they continued kissing.
Finally, she broke the kiss, and gently rolled him onto his back. She moved down to carefully pull off his briefs, exposing his prick to her sight. She sighed as she took it into her hand, slowly jacking it until it reached complete hardness, which didn’t take too long. Then she snaked her tongue out to touch the very tip of his dick. Ron groaned quietly at the feel of her velvety tongue slipping across him.
Her tongue slid down the side of his shaft, maintaining light but stimulating contact throughout. She slid back up the other side of his cock, until she reached the head, which she circled again and again, watching the precum ooze from it. She lapped the clear liquid up before moving down his shaft again, her tongue sliding wetly against his skin. She moved past the base of his cock, down to his balls. She licked each one, and then gently sucked one into her mouth, lavishing it with strokes as gentle as a feather before letting it slip from between her lips again. She switched to the other ball, and repeated the treatment. By now, Ron was more than fully erect.
She ran her tongue along the underside of his shaft as she moved her mouth to the tip of his cock. She didn’t pause for an instant as her mouth closed around him, her tongue still sliding against the underside as her lips traveled down his shaft.
As Calliope’s mouth began to dance on Ron’s dick, he reached out to caress her tit. She moved to give him easier access to her body, but never stopped her mouth’s motion. Ron gently groped her breast, fondling it with just the tips of his fingers. When he reached her nipple, he tweaked and twisted it, eliciting a moan of pleasure from Calliope that thrummed along his cock, sending shivers up his spine.
Wanting to get more into the action, Ron reached out with his extension and lifted Calliope’s body, while leaving her mouth on his dick. He moved her on top of him, so that he was now looking up at her gorgeous, dripping pussy.
He hesitated not a moment, but reached out with his tongue to lap up the juices there. Calliope shuddered as she felt his tongue on her sensitive cunt lips. He continued to lick, letting his tongue probe the folds of her nether region, driving her to higher points of pleasure.
When he took her clit into his mouth and gently flicked his tongue across the tip of it, her moan vibrated his cock until he was near the point of bursting. He increased his pace, hoping to give her as much pleasure as he was receiving.
Soon, the vibration and friction on his dick were just too much. With a final grunt, he exploded in her mouth. She continued to suck, swallowing every last drop of his cum, and keeping him hard. He tried to keep tonguing her, but it wasn’t easy with the pleasure she was giving him.
Once he settled down, he returned to licking her pussy with a vengeance. She kept her mouth on his prick, but only to keep him stiff. His tongue lashed at her clit now, and her body moved above him, her hips thrusting down at him as his tongue pleasured her. Finally, she erupted in a wonderful orgasm, her juices coating his face. He held on as she bucked on top of him, crying out in joy.
Her climax soon subsided, but she was hardly sated. She slipped off of him, and turned to kiss him. She licked her own juices from his face before she moved back on top of him, her tits pressing hard into his chest. His cock was now snuggled between her thighs, and she gave him a lustful grin.
She reached between them with one hand, and positioned his rod at her opening. Then she slid down onto it, letting out a long “oh” of satisfaction and pleasure. For his part, Ron was enjoying the tightness of her cunt slipping down onto his prick.
Immediately, Calliope pushed herself up onto her hands, and began thrusting against Ron with all her strength. She was hot, and already mewling and grunting with each thrust. Ron’s hands reached up and played with her tits, which earned him an, “Oh Yes!” in response. Calliope had a small orgasm just then, but didn’t even slow her thrusting.
After that, Ron decided he would give her his very best for her birthday: he would pull out all the stops. He concentrated, and lifted them both off the mattress. As comfortable as it was, nothing beat the softness of air itself, as long as you were properly supported.
Calliope felt the change, but was too wrapped up in what she was feeling to care. Ron grabbed her by the hips as they turned in the air, soon leaving him on top, pulling her into him with the same force she had been using. Her cries continued as he rammed his cock into her.
His hands were busy, and so he formed his extension into a double snake that slithered along her skin up to squeeze and massage her tits. That sensation caught her attention, and she looked down to see the shimmering extension plying her wonderful breasts. She moaned loudly as each glimmering serpent tweaked a nipple, sending her into another orgasm.
They shifted again, so that Ron was sliding into her from behind. Her tits swung on her chest, still being fondled by his extension-snakes. As he continued that pressure, he slipped his cock out of her pussy. He pressed it gently against her anus, and she groaned in anticipation, pushing her hips back at him. He pressed in slowly, feeling her relax and loosen around him. When he was all the way in and she had relaxed, he began to thrust into her ass. Her cries increased in intensity as he sped up, his cock ramming into her.
Another extension formed, slipping up into her pussy where his cock had just been. Her eyes opened wide and she screamed in pleasure. Soon, he was moving in and out of her so that when his cock was sliding out, his extension was slipping in, and vice versa. Calliope was in heaven, her body being pleasured all over.
Or almost all over. Ron formed one last part of his extension, which snaked up between her legs, and between her large breasts. Her mouth was open and panting, and so he slipped his extension in and down her throat, filling her every hole with his essence.
As she felt his extension fill her throat, she closed her eyes and groaned. She could feel his energy pulsing inside her, feel him everywhere. He was slamming into her ass, filling her pussy, rubbing her tits, and she was even sucking him off now, all at once. It was every sexual experience she had ever had, all rolled into one.
She was on the brink of an immense orgasm, and she could sense he was ready, too. There was nothing she could do to bring him closer, but her own body started to convulse in the throes of climax.
As her body began to squeeze his dick and his extension, Ron could not hold back the dam he had been controlling until now. He gave one last thrust and a loud grunt, and his seed poured forth into her ass. He could feel his energy flowing through her as much as he felt his cum pouring into her. He could feel her throat vibrate as she screamed in ecstasy. He could feel her pussy and her ass contract on him.
They both groaned and screamed out their climax, writhing and twisting in mid-air, fulfilling their animal urges. It was an astonishing outpouring of energy, and neither of them could take it. Ron managed to set them down on the bed before they both passed out from exhaustion and bliss.
When they finally awoke, they were snuggled against each other, resting comfortably on the bed. As Ron opened his eyes, he sensed the room was brighter than before. Calliope woke up as he sat up on his elbows to look around. He spotted it just as she opened her eyes.
“Well, would you look at that,” he said in wonder. What he saw was a luminous bird, roughly the size and shape of a dove. Its colors alternated, though the light coming from it was mostly white, it would sometimes shift to a shade of bluish-white, or reddish-white, and then back again. Other colors were also present, and it was perhaps the single most beautiful thing Ron had ever seen. The bird looked at him as though it had intelligence, staring straight at him as though waiting for a response.
Calliope straightened herself out and saw the bird for the first time. “Oh, hello, little one,” she said quietly.
“What is it?” Ron asked.
“We call them Realmbirds. Some people call them Love Doves. It’s a manifestation of the energies and emotions we shared while we were together.”
“You mean it’s like… we really did have a baby?”
She laughed softly. “Well, not quite, but I suppose, in a way. This is another part of the tradition, but it’s never happened to me before. The Realmbird is said to come to stay with the woman while the man is away. There are other stories about Realmbirds, too, but I don’t know if any of them are true.”
“Well, it’s the most beautiful bird I’ve ever seen.”
“They are splendid. And so were you, my love.” She kissed him softly. “No one has ever treated me to such… unusual sexual activities.”
It was Ron’s turn to laugh. “I’m glad you liked it. My sister absolutely loves it when I have the time and energy to treat her like that.”
“She’s a lucky girl, to have you around for her.”
“Why don’t you have a husband, Calliope?”
She sighed, and sat up, hugging her knees to herself. “I did, once. He was killed in a skirmish with demons on Earth. I’ve not felt the urge to replace him. At my age, you begin to think that love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, anyway. Of course, then someone like you comes along, and reminds us all that we’re jaded because we live to be 30,000 years old. You still have a zest for life and living. It’s refreshing. I’m glad I’ll have something to remember tonight by.”
She looked over, and the little bird flew to her, landing on her shoulder. Ron very carefully reached over and stroked the top of the bird’s head. When he caressed its throat, the bird began to sing. It was the music of an orchestra, all in one voice. It was the sound of strings, and it was the sound of synthesized music. It was horns and flutes, all at once. It was an indescribably beautiful melody of sound. The couple sat enraptured by the tune.
When the bird stopped, they had no words. It hopped from Calliope’s shoulder up onto Ron’s hand, and sat, looking between them for a while. They looked back. Ron was stunned to find the bird weighed nearly nothing. Even for a bird, it was light. Suddenly, the bird flew high up into the room, and settled on a small shelf there. It was obvious the shelf had been designed for the bird, because it was all that could possibly reach the shelf.
“I will cherish the bird as a memory of this night,” Calliope said.
“You know, it’s not like we’ll never see each other again. I can always come back to visit from time to time.”
“True, but it will be fifty or so Earth years until a night like tonight could be repeated. I would like you to visit, but we won’t have a night quite like tonight.”
They sat quietly together for a little while, not moving, Ron’s arm around her shoulder, her head against him. Finally, she straightened.
“Oh, my. If I don’t get back to the party, they’re all going to wonder if we got stuck in here.”
As they each got dressed, which, of course, took Ron a lot longer to do, she said, “There are two other things that I need to tell you. They’re “business” related, so I wanted to wait until we’d taken care of more personal matters.”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, kissing her warmly, having finished dressing. “What are these two things?”
“Let’s leave here.” She whistled, and the bird flew down into the room, navigating the folds of cloth easily. It waited for them on a perch above the door. Once Calliope opened the door, the bird flew down to rest on her shoulder. As they walked, Calliope asked, “What should we name her?”
“Her? How can you tell it’s a her?”
“Boy Realmbirds are supposed to be more yellow than white.”
“Oh. Hmm.” Ron looked at the bird for a moment. The bird stared back at him with intensity. “Call her Valkyrie.”
“Why that name?”
“She looks like something that belongs with the gods, and I get the impression that you shouldn’t make her angry. I don’t know why, I just do.”
Calliope nodded. They continued to walk. Valkyrie swiveled her head.
“So, back to these two things…”
“The first is, the Council of Judges has authorized us to get involved directly in the Earth War. If you need us, we stand ready to assist you.”
“Calliope, how vulnerable are Guardians on Earth?”
“Just like humans, we can die there. We are what you would consider a medium-strength psionic when we’re in the Earth Realm.”
“What happens when a Guardian dies? I mean, humans go to the AfterRealms, but where do Guardians and Centurions go?”
“We… don’t know,” she answered haltingly. “It’s something that bothers us from time to time. We don’t have that information.”
“Oh. Well, I thank you for the offer. I will try to win without endangering the Guardians. However, I may need you at some point.”
“We will be ready.”
“And the other thing?”
“Your friend Michelle. She is not a friend to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that she has gone to the enemy with what she knows of your plans.”
“Wait a minute! The Watchers said she wasn’t a trap!”
“She wasn’t, then. Only since she has returned to your home has she become a threat. I believe that her time in prison, accompanied by your denial of her, has deluded her into an incorrect course of action.”
“So, then this is my fault.”
“No. This is her fault for holding on to an unrealistic belief that she would be your one and only love, even after being gone for so long. She would never have accepted your lifestyle, by the way. At least, the Watchers don’t think so. I’m sorry it has to come to this, but she is now truly an enemy.”
“Well, shit. Thank you for telling me, at least I can change our plans to protect my people.”
“Yes. That is the important thing.” Ron nodded. They had reached Calliope’s normal bedchamber, and went in. Valkyrie took a quick look about, and flew off Calliope’s shoulder, landing on top of one of the posts of the bed.
“Do they ever dim?” Ron asked.
“Only in realms with a night cycle. Here in Guardian Hall, even when they’re asleep, they glow brightly. Well, I must be getting back to the party, and you should probably be returning home. I want to thank you again for coming. This has meant more to me than you can ever know.”
The two kissed again, embracing each other one last time. Ron noted out of the corner of his eye that the Realmbird glowed more intensely when they were together like that.
As he turned to leave the room, he called, “Good-bye, Valkyrie!” The bird swooped down before him, circled his head once, and then flew back to her perch on the post. Ron chuckled. “I guess that’s her way of saying good-bye.”
Calliope smiled, but did not respond. They walked out to the front door of Guardian Hall, and paused.
“I realize this is probably not meaningful in any way to the Guardians,” Ron started, “but if ever there is anything I can do for them, or for you, I am ready and willing to do it.”
Calliope nodded her understanding with a slight smile. No words were necessary. She hugged him again, and then walked back inside. Ron walked down from the home of the Guardians, realizing he had never once spotted Megan or Jessica. He thought to go back in, but figured they must be all right. The Guardians had never lied to him, and Callista said they were in there someplace. He didn’t want to detract from their fun.
As he stepped onto the Plane of the Watchers, he immediately spotted a trio of young ladies whom he immediately recognized. They approached quickly, and when they arrived, the four embraced.
“It’s good to see all of you,” he said after they broke the group hug. “Cindy, you are looking beautiful as always. I am glad you chose to stay with me, though I was a little surprised when Megan told me.”
“Some day, Master, when we have time, I will tell you what life was like for me before you took me in. Unwilling or not, I was made a better person by your treatment. You gave my life meaning when it had none, and you gave me safety when I was in mortal danger. I will do my best to repay that debt to you, but I will never succeed.”
Ron kissed the girl, and then directed the three of them to walk with him. They talked for a while before he had to head home. Finally, with another embrace from each, they departed, and Ron thought his way back into his real body.
A few days later, Ron was having a discussion with Karen about the efficacy of her new tactics.
“Just how well did they work for you?” he asked.
“I had a lot of success with them. Of course, New York was damned near built for sneak attacks, and it was something we hadn’t done before, so my results may not be entirely reproducible elsewhere.”
“No, but is the doctrine sound, is the question.”
“I think so. If you can get people who you know can work alone to travel around, avoid getting in each other’s way, and take people out one at a time, moving on after taking out just one or two, then you’re looking at an effective tactic. One person can take out a dozen or more, if they’re careful about it.”
“You took out a lot more than that.”
“I took chances that I shouldn’t have. In retrospect, I was lucky. There were several times I should have gotten injured or killed, but lucked out, and wasn’t spotted.”
“Fortune favors the foolish,” he said with a smile.
“Thanks a lot, boss!”
“Seriously, we need to consider – “ Ron’s attention wavered as he saw Dawn hurry past his office door with Nathan in her arms. He raised a finger to Karen meaning “wait a minute”, and followed Dawn.
She took the child into their room, and closed the door. Ron listened in on what took place.
“How many times,” Dawn was saying, “do I have to tell you not to play with the people in gray? They are mean. Stay away from them. I’m not going to tell you again. Now, you stay in here until you can learn to obey!”
Ron slipped away before Dawn stormed out of the room in a huff. He made a note to take care of this as soon as possible… or at least to try.
Ron took Dawn and Nathan out into the garden. Strangely, it had survived the Russian attack nearly intact, and had needed only minor pruning to fix some of the trees. They spread out a blanket, and had a nice lunch. Ron eschewed his uniform for civilian clothes, to mollify Dawn’s anti-PPA tendencies. He had gotten her out here on the pretense that he wanted to get to know his son better. This was true, but wasn’t the real reason he was taking time away from a busy schedule and people that actually wanted to be around him.
He waited until Nathan was off playing with the puppies that Nikki and Tammy had gotten for Christmas before beginning his talk with Dawn. He looked around quickly and noticed that Jessica was lying in the grass about a hundred yards away. Jessica was another presence that Dawn could not tolerate. It seemed that anything outside her own view of normality was completely unacceptable.
“Dawn, we need to talk,” Ron started.
“Oh? About what?” she retorted indifferently.
“About you. And Nathan, and the way you’ve been acting around here.”
“What about my behavior?”
“Dawn, you’re trying to scare your son away from people who want nothing more than to protect him.”
“Right. They have no ulterior motives about controlling him at all, right?”
Ron sighed. “Most of them couldn’t control him if they wanted to. Most psionics are kinspecs. They have limited mind-control powers. Their strength is in telekinesis.”
“Oh, right, and you’re what? A fluke?”
“Actually, yes. When a psionic gets to my level, they tend to be more generalized. But most of the people here aren’t at my level. And it’s unfair for you to turn our son against good people just because of who they are. That’s bigotry.”
“Our son? Where the hell were you when he had colic? Where were you when he had ear infections? Or for his first haircut? Or when he took his first steps?” She was clearly ready to rattle off further diatribe when he interrupted.
“I’m not the one who left, Dawn. You are. I asked you to stay. The rest of the family asked you to stay. You decided, on your own, that you couldn’t stay with us, where you had protection. No, I had to endanger a friend, who ended up getting killed, because of your stubbornness! Don’t try to lay this shit on me, Dawn!”
“Yes, I left, because you started a goddamned war!”
“I didn’t start the fucking war, Dawn. The Russians did. Did I get involved early? Yes, I did. And doing so probably saved our lives. At least we knew what was coming. Thousands of other families were wiped out because they weren’t prepared! What did you want me to do?”
She didn’t answer him. She turned away and lapsed into impenetrable silence. She refused to be baited any further. Finally, Ron gave up, and went to play with his son. He had hoped for a better result to this discussion, but he hadn’t expected one. He knew her fears were too deeply rooted. He also felt that she was emotionally unstable now. He thought about altering her, but dismissed the idea out of hand. People had been dealing with emotional trauma for millennia, and they didn’t need someone fucking with their heads to get through it.
He did worry about Nathan, though. There were definite signs of superior intellect in the boy. Ron knew instinctively that the child had The Ability. What made that hard to deal with is that Ron also knew that Dawn would leave here as soon as the war was over, and that Ron was unwilling to stop her. She would want to take Nathan, and she had a good argument. His only apprehension was her state of mind, and he was still clinging to the hope that she would get over that after the war ended, and she could return to something like a normal life.
He decided not to decide, and let the issue work itself out in his future. He got down in the grass with his son, and played with the puppies. He tried to ignore his sister sitting sullenly in the shade of the big elm tree at the edge of the garden. If she chose not to participate in their fun so that she could avoid talking about things, that was her own misfortune, and he wasn’t going to waste his energies worrying about it. He had far more critical issues that would require his attention much sooner.
“We are standing here today, just outside the headquarters of the PPA, the military group in charge of fighting back the Russian invasion that has swept the nation. With me is General Ronald Chaffey, Commander-in-Chief of the PPA. General, this broadcast will be going out to everyone in Washington, DC. Is there anything you have to say to those folks?”
“Yes, Melissa,” Ron said. “Get the hell out of the city. It is the expected next target of the Russian psionic army, and we intend to be there to defend it.” Of course, Ron knew that he was, by the fact of being there, ensuring that it would be the next city attacked.
“Defend is a strange word to be using in this war, isn’t it General?”
“You could look at it that way, Melissa. Basically, what it means is that the Russians will try to kill us while knocking down the city. We’re just going to try to drive the Russians off.”
“Your goal is not their annihilation?”
“Not at this time. We had a major victory in New York, and we hope to build on it in Washington. It’s the nation’s capital, our seat of authority and power, and we’re not letting them take it without a fight.”
“General, can we expect the same kind of loss of life as we did in New York?”
“Of course not, Melissa. New York had over six million people in it when the battle broke out. Washington holds slightly under one million. It would be impossible to kill another four million people in this battle.”
“General, that attitude seems awfully cold-hearted.”
“Look, I did my best to warn the citizens of New York. They chose not to listen. They died. I told them they would die if they didn’t listen, but they stayed anyway. Short of getting a whip and driving them out of the city personally, I did everything I could to prevent their deaths.
“It just goes to show you that, while New Yorkers may have been tough, they apparently weren’t terribly bright. Now, Washington has a chance to show how intelligent its citizens are. I’m issuing the same warning: Washington is now in a declared state of emergency. It would be advisable for all civilians to leave the city. If you do not leave the city, chances are you will be killed when the battle happens. The PPA will no longer look out for you. If you get in our way, we will not stop to avoid you. In short, you’re going to get hell from both sides of the conflict. It would be best for all involved if you weren’t there.”
“How soon will you be leaving for Washington, General Chaffey?”
“I’m sure your viewers have noticed, Melissa, although you’ve been too preoccupied, that we are already on our way.”
Melissa looked around to see no ground beneath her. She panicked for a heartbeat, and then composed herself. “To all of the people in Washington, DC, I urge you to get clear of the battle zone. Our prayers go with you. Reporting from… somewhere over the United States, this is Melissa Conway, signing off.” She turned to Ron and said, “You could have warned me, General.”
“True. But where would be the fun in that?” He turned away as she stared at him, flabbergasted. She was handed off to her new escort, Mark Chanselek. Kara was still recuperating from her injuries. Ron flew off, to the head of the group, where his command staff was leading the way.
Washington was sweltering. A tropical warm front had driven its way up from the gulf and reminded everyone that this area had once been a malarial swamp. The sun blazed down out of a cloudless sky, and the wind was a mere wisp, the air hardly moving at all.
That’s not to say there was no movement. The battle had commenced an hour ago, and thousands upon thousands of people filled the skies, and swarmed the ground. The PPA’s numbers had increased to just under six thousand with the trickle of new recruits they were still receiving. The Russians had attacked with at least twice that. Where they were getting all their troops, Ron had no clue.
Still, the battle was under way, and outside considerations were diminishing into the background. The how and why could wait until later. Right now the PPA was confronted with the what. And the what was thirteen thousand angry Russians trying to kill them and take their city. The PPA vowed that would not happen.
Ron flew down street after street, avoiding any involvement in a battle at this point, making sure the new tactics were working. After his visit to the Spirit Realm, Ron had met with Lars and a few other trusted leaders to see to it that new tactics were put in place, and a new strategy invoked. The “group” tactics he had used in the past were exchanged for small-unit tactics. Teams of no larger than ten would move about, engaging smaller groups. Any time a bigger group was spotted, they would be sniped, picked off one at a time from troops hidden behind buildings, cars, piles of rubble, or their own invisibility. This was the legacy of Karen’s work in the last battle.
There were a few areas where Ron’s new style was not put into force. The most important of these was the White House. Major Bob Maxton, newly promoted, was again in charge of what he called “Monument Patrol”. It was his sworn duty to keep the White House standing. All other buildings were a non-consideration for his team of two hundred.
He spread his team out, to keep them in hiding behind trees and shrubbery. The building itself had been fully evacuated, just in case. None of his troops were positioned inside: he’d used that trick last time, and he didn’t want to repeat himself.
He scouted the positions of his men, and found them satisfactory. He extended his televiewing to cover the area around the White House, and found a large group of Filitov Council soldiers moving in his direction.
Okay, here they come…
Farther south on The Mall, Col. John Termannic was leading a set of teams. He had with him a small command squad whose major purpose was to tell the other units what to do, relaying orders and messages from command to each team.
John watched as a Russian group came onto The Mall from the east. His orders went out, and the small teams moved to counter. One unit, hiding in the trees near the Washington Monument, opened fire on the Russians. The FC soldiers scattered and attempted to return fire, but couldn’t easily see their enemy.
Having scattered, and their intended attack thwarted, the Russians looked for targets of opportunity. One small unit was caught in the open, and was fired upon heavily. But immediately other teams lobbed cover-fire, until the exposed group could get out of the field of fire.
John saw how the Russians were sweeping across The Mall, and he gave his orders to counter it. His teams split into a set of two, moving to either side of the FC, leaving their front completely empty. Once the enemy had advanced into the field, Col. Termannic ordered his men to open fire. The Russians were caught in a vicious crossfire, and had nowhere to retreat to. They valiantly fought back, but they were caught on open ground, and they fell as they ran, retreating back from where they had come.
Cheers rose from the PPA soldiers, but John knew this was merely the first wave. An area this important to the city would be attacked many times before the Russians would give up.
Major Maxton had his men raise the shield to protect The House, as it is known. The Russians came flying in, a force of three hundred strong. Bob prepared for their onslaught, and it came. A massive wave of energy hit the shield, and was deflected over it. One of the more important tricks that the military personnel had been able to teach Ron is that it is often more useful to deflect an attack rather than stop it cold. In this case, the energy of the attack impacted on the grounds around the White House, rather than damaging the building itself.
The Russians were not happy, and shifted modes into more directed attacks. Laser-like blasts were fired at the PPA troops protecting The House. Their shields were temporarily removed from the over-all capability of the master shield, but as soon as they were safe, the master shield was reinforced again.
One hundred people held the master shield together. This left another hundred to deal with the approaching threat. They hid behind trees, walls, shrubs, and anything else they could find, and started picking off the FC, one by one. After they’d fire two or three times, they would shift position, so the enemy could never localize them easily.
Bob saw that the strategy was working, and he hoped that this battle would go as easily as that for the Statue had. These hopes were dashed when more Russians moved in from the west to reinforce.
Kimberly and Shana were leading their group of Hunters through the eastern portion of the city. They had already encountered a large group of FC troops, which they avoided, but had then harassed with guerrilla fighting for a half-hour. Finally, the FC unit had fled at high speed, out of Kimberly’s area of responsibility.
Their group was comprised of a total of fifty people, Hunters all. As they approached the capitol building, however, they split apart. Shana took her team of twenty to the north, and Kim moved her troops south. They had sensed a Russian group on the far side of the building. At Kim’s command, they came around the building, sweeping in from either side. The Russians, who had been hoping to ambush an unsuspecting unit flying overhead, had not expected a ground attack.
Suddenly, the fight was on. Kim was assaulted from three different Russians, but her shields held. She managed to fire a mind-whip at one of them, snapping his neck with its energy. She sizzled a blast of energy at another, leaving only one attacking her directly. Her enemy tried to flee, but Kim took her down with a focused energy beam.
Shana, meanwhile, was wading into the Russians with a vengeance. She drew a knife, which seemed a pitiful weapon against a psionic, until it’s wielded by one such as Shana. She flew through the air, knowing her own troops would move out of her way. She swerved and dodged, coming closer and closer to enemy troops. Once she was in their midst, she slashed, left and right, her arm flying in a blur. Each stroke was accompanied by a fountain of blood pouring from some Russian’s neck. After a minute, she stopped right in front of what seemed to be a leader of sorts. Her body spun in a blur, and the Russian’s head was struck so hard that it twisted off his body. Shana settled to the ground, and turned to face the enemy, almost daring them to come at her.
Come they did, and then they died. Her fighting would be talked about for years. She moved like a cat, slipping out of danger, and then coming back as the hunter, killing mercilessly anyone who chose to get too near to her. Psionic blasts flew all around her, but she wasn’t touched by a single one. She was born to fight, and fight she did, killing anything that opposed her.
Kim and Shana finally joined back up as the battle grew more confused. They immediately turned back-to-back, and proved that the Hunters were not a team to be trifled with.
Lars and Karen were flying for their lives. They’d tried a sneak attack one too many times, and it had finally caught up with them. The group they were after had immediately wheeled around and come after them, blasting away in the hopes of frying them in flight.
The two were leading a small team, now down to eight people including themselves. They had been moving up and down the Potomac River, hiding in trees, darting through open spaces as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the FC had finally figured out where they were firing from, and had turned this latest attack into a desperate struggle for life.
The group ducked under some trees, but the enemy set fire to the trees in order to drive the PPA soldiers out. It worked, but the small team came out firing, blasting away at the much larger force after them. Several Russians fell to the assault, but so did one of the Americans.
Now down to seven, Lars led his unit south along the Potomac until he was just across from The Mall, where he could see a pitched battle was still being fought. He swerved to the west instead, not realizing until it was too late that he had just entered Arlington Cemetery. The neat rows of headstones were not an image he needed just now, but it was too late to turn back. The Russian team was hot on their heels, and started firing psionic blasts as soon as the small PPA unit was in the open. The ground beneath them was scorched as the team dodged the incoming fire. Lars knew that the area beneath him was being desecrated, and that there was little he could do about it.
Except, perhaps, to kill the bastards doing the work. He launched a massive ball of fire up at the FC troops, razing two, and scorching three others. The Russians dispersed, but did not leave. They came in from different directions, blasting away. Lars and Karen were side by side, using precision strikes to take the enemy down.
Karen, remembering her lessons from Ron, launched a visible bird attack at one Russian, who dodged to the left to avoid it, thinking it dangerous. The momentary lapse of concentration allowed Karen to transfix him with a bolt of energy through his heart. He fell to the ground below, already dead.
The small team moved on, farther west, trying to clear the cemetery, but they were jumped by another band of Russians. Now they had a team on either side of them, and they were quickly running out of places to go. Karen had issued a call for help a few minutes ago, but had no hope of rescue. The small group huddled in tight, forming a defensive circle. They blasted outward, trying to take out as many troops as possible, but they were heavily outgunned.
Suddenly, from the east, a blast of energy arose. It took out six of the enemy before they had a chance to flee. Karen turned to see Ron leading a company of more than a hundred men and women. Each opened fire on an FC soldier. Many shots went for the same target, and most of them hit. The FC was now outmatched more than two to one, and they fled the battle quickly. Ron kept his unit in formation as they flew over the cemetery, showing a sign of respect for fallen comrades.
The small group moved back into the battle, having gained a few troops from Ron’s company. They would not let the Russians run them off. Lars and Karen were determined to take the fight to the enemy, and make the Filitov Council sorry it had ever heard of the PPA.
Major Maxton could not believe the amount of people the Russians were committing to the battle for the White House. All around the area could be seen fallen troops, more FC than PPA, but still they kept coming. Soon, there were more reinforcements, their numbers growing rapidly.
Bob reorganized his offensive units, hoping to get better position on the attacking Russians. His numbers were down, as well, and he called out for reinforcements of his own. He was assured they were on the way, and he hoped they would get here quickly.
Maj. Maxton saw a large group of FC soldiers forming, and he wondered what they had planned. First, they tried a direct energy assault, blasting at the shield. It held firm, but the people on the line were starting to wear.
The Russians sensed they would not get through to the building quite that easily. A leader started directing the black-clad troops to the south. Over a hundred of them moved off, still leaving a sizeable force for Maxton to deal with. He kept his own shields up, watching the enemy move off to the south. His heart dropped as they surrounded the Washington Monument, which was visible from where he stood.
As a team, the Russians concentrated, and as a team, they managed to hoist the monument out of the ground. The building began to crumble almost immediately, but it retained its basic shape as they tilted it onto its side, pointing north.
Bob knew what was happening, and he directed his troops accordingly. The team of Russians accelerated the toppled monument until it was moving faster than a freight train. The team of PPA soldiers on the line strengthened the shield directly in front of the oncoming battering ram, turning it into a solid wall of energy that nothing would penetrate.
Unfortunately, as the Washington Monument crashed into the barrier, the remaining Russian troops fired off massive volleys of psionic energy, penetrating the weaker portions of the shield. These attacks were lessened by the shield, but still managed to make it through to the building. Windows shattered, and the outside of the building was scorched black in places. Maxton quickly added men to the shield, buttressing its strength, but the damage had already been done. The building still stood, but, like the country it represented, it had been wounded.
The Washington Monument crumbled to the ground after its impact with the shield. It made a massive stone hill that the Russians could hide behind and fire at the shield without danger.
Or, it would have been without danger. Col. Termannic, seeing the problem at The House, pushed his teams north, letting them form up into a useful company, and took the enemy from behind. A fierce firefight ensued, but the Russians were now out of position, and their numbers were dropping fast. It was clear that this round had gone to the Americans, and the Russian teams withdrew. Everyone knew they would be back.
Ron had separated from the unit he had led in its cavalry charge to save Lars’ and Karen’s small unit. He was speeding down a street with fighting all around him. He was looking for other places where an extra push was needed.
As he passed one building, something caught his eye. He slowed to a stop, and couldn’t figure out what had set him off. He realized, as he looked at the crumbled structure, that he was staring at the remains of the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service.
Well, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of folks, he thought with a chuckle. Then, he quickly realized that what had caught his attention was a flicker of movement, but it was coming from the building next to the IRS headquarters. It was the National Post Office Building, and what he saw there made his blood turn cold.
An auburn-haired beauty dressed in a black combat uniform. Zinaida! But, immediately, he felt a presence behind him. He moved out of the way just as the blast would have reached him. He turned to see that his attacker was… Zinaida?
He immediately understood that one of these two was Zinaida, and the other was Michelle. He had not wanted to believe that she had turned, but now he had no option.
The girl standing on top of the Post Office Building flew up to join the gathering, putting an enemy on either side of Ron.
One of them said, “Confusing, isn’t it?”
Ron kept his peace. He was trying to think of a way to tell them apart.
“You’d better be careful. You wouldn’t want to hurt your old girlfriend by mistake.”
Ron finally came up with something. “You only made one mistake, Zinaida,” he said, not facing either of them directly as he spoke, but a point in-between them.
“What’s that?” they answered in unison.
Ron slammed a mental control into the girl on his right. She plummeted toward the ground, but he stopped her just short of hitting. He laid Michelle on a pile of rubble, and turned to face his opponent.
“You forgot to mimic her style of flight. Your hair is lying limp. Hers always floats. Stupid error on your part.”
Zinaida screamed at him, and charged. He slipped to the side, and as she passed, he gave her a push. It sent her spinning for a moment, which was all he needed. He lanced a massive psionic blast at her. She managed to block it, but the energy still pushed her the rest of the way to the ground. She fired up at him, but without any success. He dodged and evaded each and every attack.
Ron threw down small balls of fire on her head. She howled in frustration, having to run away from the fiery rain. She turned one last time, and blasted an energy wave up at him. He ducked it, and prepared for more, but she was already speeding away.
Ron collected Michelle from her bed of rubble, keeping his mental control on her so that she could not move her limbs at all. He carried her, psionically, back toward the White House. He had the distinct impression that help was needed there. He called out to all of his psionics, and told them to converge on that point.
This was another battle plan he had worked out on his own, without consulting the others. As a group, the remainder of six thousand psionics converged on the battle happening at the White House.
Bob Maxton was holding his own. After the Washington Monument had been destroyed, several more attacks were tried, but none had been truly successful. Now, suddenly, the sky darkened with psionics, and Bob nearly panicked. But they rained down fire on the enemy, and it was soon clear that this was the bulk of the PPA force. The White House was soon protected behind a solid wall of people, who raised the level of the master shield to a point that it was nearly solid in form as well as appearance.
Soon, Ron appeared. Once he saw that the majority, if not all, of his troops had gathered there, he gave his orders.
The PPA moved out in a wave, widening its protective circle. But the spirit of the FC was broken, and they were already fleeing. Several dozen were killed as they fled the battlefield, but then they were gone, and the PPA stood victorious again.
“Good job, Major,” Ron said to Bob Maxton.
“I didn’t do quite good enough, sir,” he replied, pointing to the damage. Ron waved it off.
“The building’s still standing. That’s the important part. Now, take charge of this… person. I’ll leave my control on her for now, but you get to carry her back to base.”
“Thanks a lot, sir,” Bob replied sarcastically.
Ron turned to look at the city. Little had survived the battle. Except for one or two monuments and memorials, the city had been well and truly leveled. But, as had been his goal, Ron had seen to it that the White House, symbol of American power, remained standing for all to see.
Kim soon joined him to look over the ruin that Washington had become in so short a time. He took her hand, and they stared in silent astonishment at what war could wreak on a city.
All told, the PPA lost only 1,283 troops. It was estimated that the Russians lost well over 3,000 in this single battle. It was the army’s greatest victory to date, but Ron swore that it would not be their last.
They took a day to rest inside Washington before returning home. Spirits were high, and many people, even the wounded, were now talking about winning the war. It was a sound he had not heard until recently, and it was both infectious, and necessary to their continued success.
The team flew down out of the sky, to land on their parade ground, and was once again greeted with a tune from Queen. “We Are the Champions” blared forth from the PA system, and Ron smiled to hear it.
Bob Maxton, who had been flying just behind the leaders, dropped down beside him with his bundle. “What shall I do with her, sir?” he asked.
“Put her in a guarded room. I’ll keep a mental lock on her, but we’ve got to let her eat and use the bathroom, and stuff like that.”
“Yes, sir. When do you plan on doing something about her?”
“Give it a day. I need to get the command staff together.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
“This military tribunal will now come to order!” Ron intoned loudly. “General Ronald Chaffey presiding with the command staff as panel. General Kim has recused herself due to the identity of the defendant. Sitting in her stead is Colonel Shana Veltor. The accused will step forward.”
Michelle rose from her chair and stood in front of the panel. Not at attention.
“Michelle Donalli, you have been accused of treason. The specification of the charge is that you did, knowingly and willfully, give information to the enemy of your country during a time of war. How do you plea?”
“The court will assume that as a plea of not guilty,” Ron said seriously. “And it will remind the accused that foul language is not permitted in this court.”
“Go to hell,” she responded.
“Having already met and reviewed the evidence, the command staff will now cast its vote on your guilt. This will be done by secret ballot.”
The members all shuffled their strips of paper into a small basket, which was then handed to Ron. He counted the strips of paper, and made a notation on his pad. Then, he turned to face Michelle again.
“With greater than half of the command staff agreeing, you are hereby found guilty of the crime of treason. Your punishment will be threefold: you will have your psionic abilities removed. You will be used as a messenger to deliver a challenge to the enemy, and you will then return here, if still alive, to face life imprisonment at the hands of the sitting authority. Do you wish to address the court?”
“You filthy piece of shit! Go and play with your whore! You think I don’t know about you? You never respected me! You left me in that hell-hole for months! Well, I got even! Killed a few of your friends while I was at it, too!”
It was obvious that she was completely deranged by now. She had snapped, and he hadn’t seen it coming. It was strange, he thought, that he didn’t care more. She was just another problem that had turned into an opportunity. I guess I never really did love her.
“The court finds your remarks pointless,” he intoned, “and they will be stricken from the record. The prisoner will have her powers removed immediately by the court-appointed Skill,” which was a joke, as there was only one Skill in the army. “The rest of your sentence will be carried out at a time of the Commanding Officer’s choosing. Take her away.”
Michelle was dragged, kicking and screaming, off to where James was waiting to do his part. For once, he and Ron were in agreement about how to handle a situation. That worried Ron.
Ron turned to the others and said, “I wish we hadn’t had to do this, but sometimes, you have to be harsh.”
“She decided to break the rules,” Lars said. “Even if she has gone nuts, she had to make that particular decision consciously. And, if she really is deranged, you don’t want her having The Ability, anyway.”
“No. I’ve already got one crazy woman with The Ability to deal with. One a lifetime is enough. Well, I have a plan, now. Let’s go see if we can work out the details.”
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