I'd like to send a big thanks out to everyone who has sent me notes of encouragement, especially Mellanie, and Lucy. A thank you to Toni and Diva for supporting and helping me get this part to where it can be posted. A note of thanks to Shary for pointing out something I had overlooked. Comments and constructive criticism are very welcome at: email@example.com
All I know is this, no way am I getting between the First Guardian and where she wants to go. That's just a sure fire way to get you into all sorts of trouble.
~Imperial Marine Colonel
It was six in the morning by the time Emily started her descent onto Governor's Island. Her original plans to take a drop ship down to Longbow Base had changed at the last minute. Instead of dropping to the base in North Dakota and then taking land transport to Manhattan, she'd decided to cut out the land transport phase entirely.
President Fairchild had decreed that any unauthorized drop into U.S. airspace would be viewed as an act of war. Emily felt her lips curl into a snarl as she double-checked her straps.
He wants to play hardball, fine, we'll play hardball, and I guarantee that he has no idea who he is pissing off.
"Ma'am, we're clear to drop whenever you want."
The pilot, Ilthiron, or Ile as he liked to be called, was talking to her. She wrenched her attention away from the desire to strangle a certain politician and nodded in return.
"Get me down planet side, Pilot, and do it fast."
"Yes, Ma'am, dropping now."
The ungainly box shaped craft dropped out of the Guardian Class ship, as the massive blast doors opened below it. The magnetic clamps above it which had held it to the ship released with a dull, familiar clang. Emily tightened her hold on the armrests and concentrated on not letting her rage get the better of her.
It was a difficult battle.
The drop ship was full of armed Marines, all of whom were double-checking their unpowered armor and weapons. Two other drop ships followed hers out of her ship self's drop bays. Each of which were loaded with Marines, one of which had a Dagger of jump troops onboard.
The craft bucked as it slammed into the upper atmosphere. Her eyes flicked towards the pilot and copilot in the front of the small ship, and she sighed as she suddenly recognized the pilot. She should have known Ile would have found a way to be involved in this. As long as he gets me down in one piece, I won't even comment about his little mishap over Quebec.
Red light seeped across her area as the view port next to her began to glow. To anyone below, the three ships would look like shooting stars as they screamed across the sky. Inside of the ships, their crews were buffeted as the fast drop rattled them. Emily double-checked her mental bond with her ship self, more out of habit than anything else. Angwar had stayed aboard her to keep an eye on the new recruits, and she trusted him to sort things out while she was away.
They were sticking to the letter of President Fairchild's statement. The craft was dropping straight downwards from the high orbit that North Star had been in, towards the island at the tip of Manhattan. It was at the limit of a drop ships capabilities, and the high-pitched whine of their plasma engines made Emily's teeth ache. The Americans wouldn't even have to try to blow them out of the sky if one of those plasma engines's failed though. They were at maximum output to do what Emily had ordered, and if one failed, the other one was quite likely to simply rip the ship into small pieces.
Ile didn't even try yelling over the turbulence, he used her armor suit's com system to talk to her.
"I've got a communiqué for you from Governor's Island. We're also being challenged by NORAD, what should I tell them?"
Emily flicked on her own com screen to take the call from Governor's Island, while snarling at Ile.
"Tell them to stick it up their asses. We're dropping down to an Imperial island."
The faintly amused face watching her from the com screen shook his head and sighed.
"First Guardian, I hope you're pilots don't tell the Americans that word for word. I thought you had been taught better."
It was a measure of how worried she was about Julie that Emily did little more than offer one of her former academy instructors a small smile in greeting.
"Theo, good to see you again. Our ETA is in ten minutes, how are things down there?"
The white-haired man shook his head and his eyes flicked towards something outside of the visual field.
"The Coast Guard and a few ships of the American Navy have begun patrolling the area between the island and Manhattan. We bought this place to use it as a training facility and a recruiting center. Darn hard to do more recruiting when they won't let anyone get here!"
The island located just past the southern tip of Manhattan had been used as an Army base originally. It had then become a Coast Guard base. When even the Coast Guard gave up and left, the entire island had been offered up for sale by the government, starting back during Bush Junior's presidency. Guardian Command had bought the place not long after the Tiri's existence was made known.
"I know, Theo, I know. Things will be sorted out soon enough, I hope anyway. I'm bringing down a dagger each of Marines and jump troops to help out just incase, along with some more equipment for you. I'm going to need a way to get onto the island of Manhattan though. Julie's somewhere there, and I need to find her before she gets her self into any more trouble."
Theo's brown eyes narrowed slightly as he thought, and Emily was gradually aware that they had stopped being tossed about so much, which meant that they were through the upper layers of atmosphere and had slowed enough to begin their approach down to the Island. Impatiently she tapped a finger against her armrest, waiting for Theo to come up with a suggestion. If he didn't, she had a few of her own, but most of them involved a bit of bloodshed if the NYC authorities didn't let her pass.
"Well, I suppose I could find something to sneak you through, Emie. It's not going to be a fun ride though, but it should get you to Manhattan all right. Won't work for more than four people though."
Emily glanced at the cockpit and the way that Ile was fighting the controls to keep the drop ship heading straight downward at a speed that wouldn't kill them all.
"Fine, I'll see you soon, Theo, one way or the other."
Killing the connection, Emily ignored the battle being fought by the pilots of each drop ship. That was out of her hands, and she didn't have time or energy to waste worrying about what could happen. If something went wrong at the moment, she most likely would never know what happened.
There were more important things than her own death to keep her mind focused on at the moment anyway. Like what she was going to do to whoever had kidnapped Julie.
Some of what Emily was thinking about must have shown on her face, because the communications officer inched backwards in her chair, eyes wide in sudden worry.
It wasn't quite a snarl, but it came quite close, and Emily forced herself to take a deep breath before trying again.
"What is it?"
"Umm· well, the Americans are warning us off, saying that we are entering their airspace. I told them our destination was an Imperial installation; they don't seem to care, Ma'am. I've got an AWACS radar plane lighting us up from forty miles out, and four F-16s coming up fast from the south."
Emily's eyes narrowed and she scowled at the poor Com officer, who was doing her level best to try and become part of the bank of equipment behind her.
"Transfer them to my screen."
The com officer sounded quite happy doing something, anything, that got the First Guardian looking somewhere else. Emily's glare was transferred towards her com panel, and the Air Force Captain who was looking back up at her out of it; a part of her was slightly impressed that the Air Force had managed to upgrade their communications equipment to Tiri standards already. Before the man had a chance to open his mouth and speak, Emily snapped at him. She had long ago learned that a preemptive attack worked wonders sometimes.
"You are threatening military action against an Imperial ship on an emergency mission. If you do not cease such threats, we will take your actions as an act of war, and deal with your base, and airplanes, accordingly."
It was not an empty threat. If they tried to stop her from getting down to start her search for Julie, she'd gladly have one of the Orbital forts wipe them from the face of the Earth with an orbital kinetic strike. The drop ships themselves had been altered in the last few months to be able to jam the more primitive radar systems used by humans. Combined with the weaponry onboard, they could handle themselves against the F-16 interceptors. The man's mouth clicked shut and he stared at her with an astonished look that might have been amusing if she hadn't been so furious at the moment.
"Furthermore, tell your superiors that if they continue to disregard the Imperial Treaty which the United States signed, we will withdraw all aid which was stated in that treaty. I will personally make certain that every other country in the world gets ahead of you, got it?"
The man nodded and she killed the connection before he had opened his mouth to share whatever opinion he had on the matter with her. Ile was doing his level best to avoid chuckling, but Emily could see his shoulders shake even through the skin suit he wore to protect against sudden depressurization.
"There. They hail us again, you relay it to North Star and have Angwar deal with them. They'll probably be too busy trying to figure out what to do about us to actually try and stop us before we hit the island though."
The com officer nodded, although Emily had said it to let the rest of the drop ships crew know what was going on. An informed crew, as far as she was concerned, tended to work better.
"And if they so much as twitch at us, we'll blow them right out of the sky. Let me know if those F-16s line up for an attack run."
"Well, see, it's just that I've been taping into the AWACS transmissions."
Emily grinned slightly at the hesitant tone being used by the com officer. It wasn't exactly illegal, but the American's would be disturbed to learn how easy it was for the Empire to break their communications scramble. The com officer seemed to be waiting for her to continue so the First Guardian not so subtly nudged her.
"They're ordering the F-16s to circle our airspace and do nothing as long as we stay on our current decent pattern."
"Good, figured that little chat would make them hesitate."
She looked back down at her panel and called up a map of their landing area, speaking to the pilot this time.
"Ile, now get me down there!"
Emily felt her face twist into a wolfish smile as she began memorizing a map of New York City.
The com officer, a young human from Alberta, Canada, would remember, to her dying day, the way the First Guardian smiled at that moment. She would often wake up shaking, remembering the cold blue eyes which promised pain to those who had dared take someone she cared for.
The smell of food drew her back from the blackness.
For a wonderful moment she thought she was back at Mars Base, having dinner with Emily. She'd nodded off somehow and was now waking up to find the First Guardian watching her with laughter in those incredibly deep blue eyes.
Then the memories of what had happened in the elevator came flooding back.
God, I wish I were at Mars Base with Emie. I swear, Emily, I tried to stay out of trouble, and I didn't do anything this time!
Which was very nearly the exact same thing she had been thinking when she the darkness had swallowed her in the elevator. Doing her level best to act as if she were still unconscious, the red-haired woman slit open one eye just barely wide enough to get a glimpse of what was in front of her, and little more. She dared not reveal that she was awake if she could avoid it.
"Ms. McGrath, how nice of you to come and visit us."
Damn, that worked well.
Julie gave up the pretense of still being out of it, and opened both eyes to look at the area around her. The voice had sounded familiar, but the scene in front of her was puzzling enough that she didn't wonder at it.
A long table covered with silver platters and candles in elaborate gold candlesticks covered the snow-white tabletop. The table itself was nearly twenty feet long, and high-backed wooden chairs were arranged along either side with a more ornate one situated at the other end opposite Julie. The gaunt white-haired man watching her from that seat was one she was familiar with though.
Her mind was still moving a bit slowly and jerking from one topic to another, as it had in the elevator. The gas, whatever it had been, was still in her system to some extent. Julie reached out with her mind and touched her bond with her ship self. Southern Cross was still there, but the link was blurry, like it was out of focus. He must have noticed her slight frown at that, and leaned forwards, tapping the top of his fingers against the tabletop.
Julie had a sudden flashback of sitting in the basement of the building Majestic had used for headquarters. Watching the large gaunt man who was telling her that her parents were dead, and she was going to be raised by them now.
The image left as swiftly as it had come and Julie swallowed against bile.
"We left your ship link fairly intact, Ms. McGrath. Don't worry, I didn't use Cynaomarist. It's much more pleasant being able to talk to you when your mind isn't quite that clouded."
As always, the words were said so softly that she nearly had to strain to hear them. Unfortunately they were the truth. Her hands, she discovered when she raised her right one to rub the back of her neck, weren't bound to the chair. Cynaomarist had been the drug that Emie had been given by Liric, and nearly completely blocked a Guardian's bond to their ship self. Whatever he had given her was not that complete, but still she couldn't manage to send a message through her link.
"How kind of you, General."
Her sarcasm was as heavily laced as she could manage at the moment.
"A pity you have not learned to respect your superiors after all this time, Ms. McGrath. I had hoped that you would have at least learned a bit of humility and respect after these past few years."
Julie stared at him in disbelief.
"Are you out of your mind? I've been tracking you down to arrest you, not take orders from you."
Maybe she was still feeling the after effects of the gas more strongly than she had thought. That would be one of the few explanations for why the General was acting as if he expected her to salute him. The others all involved him going insane, and whatever else he was, his actions had been those of someone in total control of his mental facilities.
There is a knife on the table, I could get it and maybe get out of here somehow. Please, Emie, please be on the way. I don't know what's going on here, but It's not good.
"Don't bother trying to get away, Ms. McGrath, you would not make it more than a pace at the most. I have some excellent guards keeping an eye on you at the moment, along with the ever too efficient Major Sims."
Something large and bulky moved in the shadows surrounding the room. Julie swallowed as the low rumbling sound of metal sliding against metal reached her ears. Whatever that had been, it had been rather large, and definitely not humanoid. Swallowing, Julie tried not to keep her imagination from running away with her.
"The company was a set up then?"
If the General was going to be so good as to answer her questions, Julie was going to do her damndest to find out what was going on. That and if she could keep the lunatic talking she'd give Emily more time to find her.
The lunatic in question regarded her calmly through pale gray eyes which she had an unnerving suspicion understood exactly what she was trying to do. Either she was wrong or he didn't care, for after a moment he spoke once more.
"Of course it was, Ms. McGrath, do you think I would be so foolish as to leave that much information out where Betty could find it? I am many things, but sloppy is not one of them."
There was just the barest hint of annoyance in that quiet voice, the first hint of emotion she'd heard from him so far. There was a sharp looking steak knife on the table top, set next to the plate in front of her. If she could manage to swipe it without him noticing, and hide it on her somewhere, she'd be armed, after a fashion.
Keeping her mind focused on ways to deal with the situation was keeping the fear at bay, but she could still feel it. Lurking at the edge of her subconscious, waiting for a foothold.
"I don't understand why you spent all that money on the human genome project though. You didn't need all that information just to make a virus did you?"
The fact that the General was answering her questions so easily was starting to worry Julie. Something was going on that was seriously out of whack, and she didn't have any clue what it was.
General Whittecker, for his part, calmly poured himself a glassful of the amber-colored liquid and uncovered the dish set before him. Calmly he took a sip of the liquid, acting almost like a wine connoisseur, before answering her question.
"What do you remember of your parents?"
That had not been an answer she had expected, and green eyes narrowed as she wondered what he was talking about.
"They were killed when I was younger, you know that as well as anyone. Why?"
Memories of her parents swirled through her mind, vague and unfocused. They were little more than blurs of color and shape to her, like an often looked at picture. The quiet voice of the General brushed the memories back into their corners.
"We used the genetic data provided by the human genome project for some interesting things."
A hint of a smile crossed his thin face, while the sensation of being out of control continued to build inside of her. A cyclone of fear at what he was talking about whirling inside of her.
Some of that must have shown on her face, for the General leaned forward and the small smile grew.
"You don't actually think they were your real parents do you, Ms. McGrath? Or that you're completely human? We built you, you see. What fortune to find out that you had the gift, as the Tiri call it. Now I'm going to use you as bait, and then I'm going to offer this pitiful excuse for a planet up as a gift to the coming Bak'ra fleet."
Her mind refused to accept what he had just said, and she desperately clung onto only the last bit of his statement.
"You're insane. They'll kill you also!"
This time the fear rose swiftly inside of her and nearly choked her as a full rictus smile spread across the gaunt face across from her.
"You still don't understand do you, Ms. McGrath? I only look human. Soon enough I'll undo the genetic alterations we were forced to submit ourselves to and become a superior being once more. A Bak'ra."
"You have got to be joking."
Emily felt her lips curl back in a sneer at what Theo had brought her to see. She pointed an incredulous finger at the half finished looking craft.
"You want me to take that?"
Theo had a slightly sheepish expression on his face as he too stared at the craft. She could've sworn she heard him mutter something along the lines of, I didn't think it looked that bad.
"First Guardian, it's either that or we force our way across the bay to Manhattan. This at least will get you to the island unseen."
"If it doesn't sink you mean."
Theo simply shrugged at that and Emily sighed, turning back to glare at the thing. She really wasn't certain what to call it. It looked like someone had taken a small American min sub, and then started grafting on Tiri technology. The entire thing had a vaguely grotesque look. No one would think it was beautiful.
Unless they like that Geiger fellow, then they might like this. Dear Maker, the thing will probably sink like a rock.
"Emie, it's all we have. I wish I could offer you a better suggestion, but I can't unless you want to reconsider just using the drop ships·?"
It was a tempting suggestion and the First Guardian ran a hand through her black hair, wishing she could use it.
"No, Theo, as much as I would love to, I can't. We're on the edge with the U.S. as it is, and that would just give them the perfect excuse to pull out of the treaty. Not that they seem to be honoring it at the moment anyway. Still, Weston and Father's jobs are difficult enough as is as the moment, and I don't want to give them an interstellar incident on top of everything else."
With one last glare at the hybrid machine, and a mental wince, Emie shook her head and started towards the door, her Honor Guard keeping a respectful distance behind her; the First Guardian was not in a good mood and they knew better than to crowd her.
"Victor wanted me to ask you over for dinner."
Emily arched an eyebrow in the direction of her former teacher as they continued up the path towards the main building. The ongoing construction echoed across the once silent island. Despite the current tensions recruits were busy training in the several acres of clear grass area in the center of the island. The shouts of drill instructors could be heard across the entire small island.
"Does he not know what's been going on these past few weeks?"
The older man smiled and shook his head as the small group stopped, letting a cadre of trainee's march past.
"Emie, he's been working twelve to sixteen hours a day at the regeneration clinic in New York. You know how focused he gets; I don't even think he realizes that he can't come back here yet. It'll dawn on him when he goes down the ferry and tries to get a ride across of course, but until then, Maker only knows."
"When we can then, Theo, I think I would like that."
"Bring that young human with you as well. I'd like to meet her."
Emily wondered what Julie would make of Theo and Victor.
"You'll meet her when I pull her ass out of trouble in New York. Get that thing ready to go, I want to get moving as soon as possible."
Theo chuckled and walked alongside her as they went to fetch the rest of their equipment.
"I have absolute faith in your ability to pull her out of trouble. Glad to see you're still rescuing maidens in distress."
Emie glared at her friend at that, and grabbed her equipment pack. The three members of her Honor Guard who would be accompanying her took up theirs as well.
"Knock that off, Theo. We'll get changed into something a bit more in keeping with walking around New York. You just make certain that thing of yours will get us there without sinking in the Hudson. I do Not want to swim in that river, you got me?"
"Whatever you want, First Guardian. I'll make certain we have a charade set up to screw with the American satellite images."
"Just hurry, Theo, I don't know what Julie's gotten herself into now, but I'm sure she's in the middle of whatever is going on."
Her evil glare, sadly, was wasted on Theo, as the older man had turned around and was heading back the way they had come to give orders and prep the odd craft for departure.
"Great, this is just going to be loads of fun."
She peeked into the equipment pouch Theo had provided for them and shook her head once more at the clothes he had provided. Showing up in her uniform was not what she had in mind when she thought of subtle. Her Honor Guard members were already grumbling about what they had been given.
Well at least he gave me jeans to wear. I would have had to kill him if he gave me a dress. What else is in here? Ah, good, sneakers.
Waving for the three Marines who were coming with her to keep changing, she turned towards the Private who was hurrying her way.
"Imperial Prince Weston is on the com for you."
She'd been expecting his com, and Emily was starting to wonder what was taking her brother so long.
"I'll take it out here, Private."
One of her Honor Guard members who was not going with her, Francine, had already set up a full sized com screen for her. It was but the work of a few moments to access the com and raise her brother's transmission, after going through security protocols; which were fairly pointless when one was a Guardian of course, but that was no reason to give Internal Affairs a heart attack unless she had to.
"Weston, make it short, I'm out of here as soon as Theo has our transportation ready."
"No problem, Emie, I've got that info you wanted. It took a bit of digging, but you were right. We have a few Tiri citizens who are currently living in New York. One of whom is our good friend, Jenner."
Emily felt her eyebrow raise in surprise at that little bit of information.
"Jenner? How the hell did he manage to get permission to live in New York?"
"I don't know, Emie, but I've already asked that it be looked into. Someone probably thought, rightly so, that no one would believe Jenner if he did spill anything. Still he must have fell through a loophole somewhere to manage it, and I'll make certain we find out how. I'm transmitting his address to you now. He should know what's going on, or at least heard rumors."
Emie nodded as she bent down and tugged off her boots. She'd change inside, but every second might count and she was determined to leave the moment they could.
"I'll call you when we have something, Weston. How's the rest of the world doing?"
"Eh, hanging in there so far. Germany and France are going to stick with us. Britain is wavering, but I think they'll stay despite whatever the U.S. does. I'm more worried about what message this will send to the third world countries that we haven't sealed a treaty with. This pretty much couldn't have come at a worse time, Emie. Father is tied down in Asia, dealing with the Chinese and their continued charter of rights violations. It's a mess out there, and between you and me, I'm glad I don't have to deal with them."
Theo had reemerged from the warehouse at the edge of the island and was waving up at them. Changing her mind she grabbed the rest of her clothing and the pack, she could just as well change down there as she could up here.
"I've got to go, Weston. Give Father my love, and take care."
"Good hunting, Emie. Try not to get us into a war with the Americans though, ok?"
"I'm so very close to just bombing Washington D.C. back into the Stone Age, Weston, so don't even tempt me."
"Some days I'd say that would be doing the rest of us a favor, but do try to resist the urge. Bye, Emie."
Emily was already moving as the screen went dark, hurrying back down towards the waterfront. Her Marines had already changed and were carrying normal backpacks, looking quite the part of tourists, and looking either horrified or embarrassed. The ÎI love New York' t-shirts were a nice touch, she thought.
Time to get this show on the road.
Only way I want to face a Bak'ra Battle Drone is from orbit with a kinetic strike.
~Imperial Marine General.
Julie felt numb.
The world as she had known it had been filled with only a few rock hard truths. One of which was that she was human, and had a special gift. The last one had taken a bit of a beating during her meeting with the Tiri, but it had survived relatively unscathed. If what Whittecker said was true though, the one thing she had always known was true, wasn't. Not only were her parents not her parents, but she was also the enemy that Emily hated with such passion.
He's lying. I'm not one of them, I can't be. I passed all of those medical tests with flying colors. No. Please God, don't let him be telling the truth. Emie· Emie, you're walking into a trap my love.
She did her best to shove that aside for the moment. There was precious little she could do right then. Minutes spent trying to force a warning through her drug-blocked link to Southern Cross had only managed to give her a headache. The General had seemed amused by her shock and had taken his leave a few seconds later, summoned by some invisible signal. For now she was alone with the shadows that moved along the edge of the room. Since none of them were moving into the light or getting any closer, she took her chance.
The sharp steak knife was slid up her sleeve, and she did her best to make certain it wouldn't slide back down or cut her by mistake. Ignoring the rumbling in her stomach, she'd taken a peek under the covered dish in front of her and found it contained what looked like steak; she tried to focus on studying the room around her. Considering what Bak'ra meant in Tiri, she really didn't want to know what kind of meat it was.
There were, as far as she could tell, three of whatever those things in the shadows were. A hint of light shining off metal was her only indication of what they could have been. For that, Julie was thankful. What little she had seen had been on the edge of revolting.
Come on, Julie; think! There has to be some way to warn Emie before she walks into a trap, or help her.
She played back the odd conversation that she'd had with Whittecker before he'd gone. Trying to find something that could help her get out of this. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind.
Like most of her conversations with the General, this one had been confusing.
"We've been here for a long time, Ms. McGrath, much longer than the Tiri. Our craft malfunctioned and found this pitiful ball of earth in 1908, nearly crashing in Tunguska, Siberia. Since then we've influenced everything from the first to the second world wars. Amazing what a war will do to push humans into making scientific advances."
She'd had the disturbing feeling that the General had been trying to give her a history lesson. Why he wanted to, she wasn't entirely certain at the moment. The return of the General jerked her out of her attempts at planning.
"Seems that the First Guardian just dropped down to Governor's Island. Right on time, I might add. I believe it's time to show you to your room, Ms. McGrath."
Emily and her three Marines eyed the building in front of them. The First Guardian raised an eyebrow at the peep show place that was above the address she'd been given for Jenner. The address itself turned out to be a pawnshop, something she had not been surprised to find out. The entire set up seemed so very Jenner. Checking the wristwatch that Theo had given her, she grimaced, nine o'clock already.
"First Guardian, this is the place?"
"Afraid so, Tom, I'll deal with Jenner. Just make certain that we aren't bothered."
Of the three Marines, Tom was the only one who was not Tiri. He'd been born not far from here in New Jersey, which had been one of the reasons that Emily had taken him with her.
Wrinkling her nose against the smell, Emily carefully made her way down the cement stairs, avoiding a stain at the bottom that looked, and smelled, suspiciously like someone having used the stairs as a bathroom.
Jenner spotted her the moment she came through the doorway. If he'd stayed behind the cage set up around the cash register he could have delayed the inevitable. As it was, he did exactly what she expected him to and tried to bolt.
Throwing open a side door, the thin man ducked under the cage and sprinted towards the rear of the shop.
"Now, now, is that anyway to great an old friend, Jenner?"
Striding forward, Emily grabbed the nearest heavy object at hand, an ashtray, and threw it like a Frisbee. It hit him just above the rear of his left knee, and the thud as he hit the ground was rather satisfying. Clarice slammed the door to the shop shut behind them and flipped over the sign to closed, while Emily strode forwards.
"Leaving already, Jenner? We haven't even had our friendly little chat."
"Do you have any idea how much that stung you bit· gack."
Emily grabbed him by the throat and helped him to his feet, squeezing off the end of his sentence.
"Tsk, tsk, Jenner. You really don't want to piss me off more than I already am. So how about you play nice and tell me everything you know about Gentech?"
Jenner reminded Emily of nothing so much as a rat, with less hair that was. His squeak of surprise as she shook him by the neck did nothing to help his image.
"Don't know anything!"
Blue eyes hardened and Emie slammed him up against the metal cage. The rattle was almost as satisfying as the yelp that Jenner let out as he hit.
"Let's try this again. I need to know everything you know about Gentech and what they've been up to."
Jenner's eyes darted back and forth, and the thin man licked his lips.
"Look, they'll kill me if I tell you anything!"
Blue eyes turned the color of ice and Emily's smile was nothing but a baring of her teeth.
"Amusing to think that you are more afraid of what they'll do, than what I'm going to do."
Keeping a firm grip on his throat, Emily reached behind her and slid her dart pistol from the backpack she wore.
"I'm going to count until twenty, and then you're going to either tell me what I need to know, or I'm going to remove your head."
Placing the muzzle of the gun to his temple she started counting, while Jenner did a great job of sweating on her hand.
"One, two, three, four, five·"
"Wait! For the love of the Maker, wait! Why come here when you already know that's where the human girl's being held?"
Emily slammed Jenner's head back against the cage with a growl.
"When did I ever say I was looking for a human girl, hmm?"
"Ah, I mean, stop hitting me, that hurts a lot!"
"Jenner, that's the point. Now, what have you heard?"
"Just that some Imperial team got disappeared."
Emily's lip twitched.
"Ten, Eleven, Twelve·"
"You know where she is, why do you need me to tell you anything?"
"Because I want to rescue her, not get caught in whatever happened to her. Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen·"
Flicking her thumb she activated the power coil to the small pistol and slipped a finger into the trigger guard.
"Goodbye, Jenner, I won't say that I'll miss you."
"Wait! Ok! I'll tell you what I know, just don't shoot ok?"
"Talk fast, Jenner, I think I've counted up to eighteen. Which means you only get two seconds worth of hesitating."
"Look, I don't know too much, just what I've heard."
Emily opened her mouth to ask what exactly he'd heard when Tom interrupted her.
"First Guardian, look what I found."
Keeping a firm grip on Jenner and encouraging him not to move by thrusting the muzzle against his ear again, Emily glanced towards the Marine. Arching an eyebrow at the equipment he was holding up. Slamming Jenner's head against the cage once more Emily snarled at him.
"Jenner, you piece of scum. I know that's not a dart pistol he's holding, because if it is, I'm going to seriously hurt you."
"It was a gift!"
Emily slammed him again and snarled.
"Don't lie to me, Jenner, or I'll find more creative ways to hurt you."
Clarice came back in from the back room, nodding to the First Guardian when she met her eyes.
"He's got bags packed, looks like he was getting ready to leave."
Emily turned back towards the now profusely sweating Jenner.
"Where was I, oh yes, eighteen, nineteen..."
"They're some sort of genetic company been around for a while. Some big shots were buying up embryos a few decades ago. They used to come out with a lot of drug patents a while ago, but they haven't had anything new for a while. Rumors are that their building sits on some sort of tunnel system which links up with the subway system. That's everything I know about them, I swear!"
"Good boy. Now show me how to get into those tunnels. I don't ever want to see you again, got it Jenner? If I do, I will personally make it my mission to make sure your death is a slow and painful one, got it?"
She gave him a shove towards the door, finally letting go of his throat, but keeping the pistol pointed towards him. Hesitantly and carefully Jenner reached beyond the desk and pulled out a disk.
"Sure, no problem, I'll just grab my bags and be going then shall I? Here's the map, so we're even."
"I don't think so, Jenner."
"What? You can't do that!"
Emily lifted her pistol slightly, just daring him to take one step forward, anything so that she could remove a bit of flotsam from the gene pool.
"Ahm, on second thought, I'll just be going then shall I?"
"Get out of my sight, Jenner."
"Major, can you hear me?"
"Julie, you ok?"
The redhead sighed and leaned back against the rough, stone wall behind her. Glaring at the force field that covered the entrance to the small cell she'd been put into, she shook her head.
"I guess. What about you guys?"
"I'm alright, I don't know where the others are. What did Whittecker want with you?"
Julie hesitated at that and closed her eyes. Doing her best not to think about the large armored spider like shaped guards who had "escorted" her to the cell on General Whittecker's orders.
"He told me some things about my parents."
"What sort of things?"
Biting her lower lip, the Guardian shot a look out at the hallway outside. The view was slightly distorted by the shimmering force field, but she could still make out most of the roughly carved hallway.
"Major Sims, what do you know about my parents?"
"Just what I read in your file, Julie."
"It's hard to remember what they look like. I just remember waiting for them to come pick me up and never showing. I should remember what they looked like better shouldn't I, Major?"
"Julie, you were only in fifth grade when they died. What did Whittecker tell you about them?"
Julie ignored the question, slipping the steak knife from her sleeve and wondering if there was a way she could use it to get out of the cell. It kept her from focusing on what the General had said.
"How did Majestic find me?"
There was a pause as the Major either tried to remember, or was trying to figure out why she asked.
"We got a tip that this young girl was doing odd things to any machinery near her when she had what they thought were Epileptic fits."
"He said they'd made me."
"What? What do you mean, made you?"
"General Whittecker, he said that they'd made me. He's Bak'ra, Major. They've been here for a long time."
Julie's voice wavered as she forced herself to continue.
"He must have been lying, right Major? That can't be. I'm human."
The pause that followed was all the answer she needed. The knife slipped from her fingers as sobs finally forced there way out.
"Oh God, what a smell."
Privately the First Guardian agreed with Clarice, out loud she said nothing as they continued down the sewer tunnel. A rat the size of her foot scurried past them, heading deeper into the tunnel system. The halogen flashlight at least was powerful enough to chase most of the shadows from the area ahead of them. All four of them had their dart pistols out and were keeping a close eye on their surroundings.
"Make certain you know what you're shooting at down here. There's bound to be a few workers down here somewhere."
Double-checking the map they'd downloaded from Jenner's disk, Emily motioned them forward towards a left hand turn. Thankfully the tunnel only had a small stream of water flowing down its center. Still the First Guardian did her best to ignore the bits of junk and questionable things which floated down that flow of water.
"There should be an access door about twenty meters ahead of us."
Tom was on point, sweeping the area ahead of them. They all looked rather stupid moving down the tunnel dressed as tourists, but all of them were deadly serious.
"There it is, First Guardian."
Clarice and Liam were bringing up the rear, leaving the First Guardian free to check the map and deal with any traps they might run into. Carefully Emily moved up past her Honor Guard and took a careful look at the door. It looked at first glance to be a simple iron access hatch, like hundreds of others spread underneath the city of New York. On second glance it turned out to be no such thing.
Frowning Emily kneeled next to the door and took out a small pack. The transponder was still transmitting, she noted thankfully. At least Angwar would know her exact position, until they got too deep underground that was.
"Tom, keep an eye down the tunnel. I don't think we've been spotted yet, but that could change."
Carefully the First Guardian withdrew a small laser scalpel from the pack she'd brought with her, and set to work. It took about five minutes of patient cutting to get access to the door's computer system. What had looked like iron turned out to be, if not battle steel, then considerably more tough than most human steel.
"Clarice, put this somewhere safe. Careful, it's still armed."
Gently the raven-haired woman handed up the plasma charge, which had been attached to the inside of the access panel.
The Marine was very gentle holding it and setting it aside.
"Alright, now to get to the real work."
Closing her eyes, Emily lightly touched her fingertips to the exposed circuitry. With the practiced ease of someone who had been doing it for ages, she created the bond. Gifted, as they were called, were those few people who had the capability to do what Emily was about to attempt.
Swiftly she felt her way along the circuitry, sending out tendrils of her consciousness. She frowned slowly as she continued her trace. The circuit was an isolated one, and she couldn't manage to access anything other than the door, and shut down the local observation systems. Which was fine with her, at the moment all she wanted was to get through the doorway. The alarms were sophisticated, but she was a Guardian. It took her only a few moments to locate them and neutralize them, then override the door and open it. The cameras up and down the hallway beyond she set on a loop.
Withdrawing from the circuits back into her body was as disorienting as it always was when not dealing with her ship self.
The door slid open silently, as Emily forced her body to answer and stand up. The bright light shining from inside the doorway caused them all to wince slightly.
So far so good.
The white hallway before them looked like nothing so much as a hospital corridor. It even smelled like one.
Thank the Maker we're out of that stench from the sewer.
Quietly she waved Tom forward, not about to get her Marines annoyed with her at the moment.
"Let's get to a computer panel I can use to find where they are."
The long corridor was almost completely quiet, only the small hum of air conditioning could be heard. The sound of their footsteps echoed down the hallway, despite their attempts to move quietly. Every dozen feet or so, a room would open off either side of the hallway. Each of those rooms were dark, and glances inside showed what looked like hospital beds, and occasionally more arcane equipment. The bright fluorescent lights overhead lit the stark corridor quite well.
"Ma'am, what did they use this place for?"
The First Guardian shook her head, having a few ideas, but none of them were nice.
"I don't know, Clarice. I didn't even know that this place existed. Pretty obvious that Intelligence messed up somewhere along the line. Of course we managed to miss the fact that there were Bak'ra on Earth also."
She'd already had a few "words" with the newly formed Intelligence service, making it clear what she thought about their predecessor's abilities. The corridor eventually ended in a T intersection.
"There, that looks like an active computer station."
Tom scouted ahead of them, waving the rest forward after checking both ways to make certain they were clear.
"It looks clear, First Guardian."
Holstering the pistol, the First Guardian reached the active panel and smiled.
Hold on, Julie, I'm going to find you, and then I'm going to kill anyone who hurt you.
Tossing the knife aside, Julie sucked on her injured thumb, glaring at the stubborn force field that barred her way. She'd been trying to see if she could pry under what had looked like a poorly installed floor plate. Which had turned out to not be quite so poorly installed.
"You ok, Julie?"
"Sure, Major, just scratched my thumb. This stupid thing isn't going anywhere."
"Can't you, I don't know, bond with it or something?"
Julie resisted the urge to try and look towards Major Sims. He was in another cell and she'd have to lay her cheek against the force field to see him. Which would be a rather unpleasant few seconds.
"Bond with it? What do you think I am, some sort of leech? Does this thing look like it's a computer system to you, Major?"
What could have been a muttered apology floated back to her, and Julie turned back to glaring at the shimmering field.
"There has to be a way to get pass these things."
"You ever ask the First Guardian about force fields, Julie?"
"Yeah, I did back when I was in training."
"What did she say?"
"Don't get caught between them."
There was a pregnant pause and the Major sighed.
"Well that doesn't help us too much."
"Really, Major, I hadn't noticed."
"Nice to see you still have a retort for everything, Julie. Now that I'm not your commanding officer I can tell you this. You were always a smart ass."
"Love you too."
The startled silence that followed that brought a smile to the young American's face.
Score: Julie one, Major zero.
"You got any ideas as to how to get us out of here yet?"
Well, maybe not.
"You're killing me here, Major, I really don't have a clue."
"Come on, you're a Guardian, don't you have any tricks left?"
"Sure, I'll just ask the force field to go away politely."
Ignoring the annoyed tone in the Major's voice, Julie turned towards the field once more and continued her sarcastic charade. It felt surprisingly good to vent.
"Mr. Force Field, won't you please shut down for me?"
She batted her eyes at the field and snorted.
"Well darn, Major, guess that Mr. Force Field wasn't·"
With a slight hiss and a shimmer, the field simply faded from view. Along with it faded every other field in the hallway. Julie stared in shock at the now open doorway.
The Major cautiously stepped out of a cell further down the corridor and into her view.
"Hot damn, girl, I don't know what you did, but good work. Let's get out of here, Julie."
"I didn't do anything, trust me."
Still she had no problems at all with that suggestion. Grabbing her uniform jacket, she followed the Major down the corridor back the way they had come. There had to be an exit somewhere down there that they could use.
There we go, got it.
With a mental flip she deactivated the rest of the security systems in the base and shut down the power feed to the force fields on the holding cells. Marking their location, she started to pull out of the system. There was another computer system linked to this one, which she couldn't access easily. A large data store caught her eye though and she darted in to take a quick peek.
What she found caused even her physical body to arch an eyebrow in surprise.
Well, well, what do we have here? All of your little secrets in one place, General Whittecker? Too bad I don't have time to sort through these, but I can do something about that.
It really didn't take too much effort to activate what appeared to be several high bandwidth links to the internet. Which she supposed was left over from when they were making Betty. Even easier to send copies of those files out onto the internet, to every Imperial installation she could think of, tacking on a note asking for backup, and the location of where she was currently.
Satisfied that she'd get to the files later, she pulled out of the network just in time to see Tom aim his dart pistol past her head and squeeze the trigger. The pistol was standard Imperial issue, and used electromagnets inside of it to accelerate the dart down the barrel. Unlike the rifles, a pistol's dart didn't make it supersonic, but it still went faster than you could track with the naked eye. The Marines were using explosive rounds, designed to penetrate armor and then detonate.
All of which did nothing to the thing racing down the hallway toward them. The dart's explosion didn't leave so much as a scratch on its battle steel covered body. It was a familiar shape, although she hadn't seen one for nearly sixty years now.
"Bak'ra Battle Drone, get back!"
Desperately the four of them fell back down the hallway, firing as they did. The small hail of darts, which would have destroyed a tank with little trouble, did nothing but enrage the thing racing towards them. It reminded Emily of nothing so much as a terrene spider, coated reflective armor, with weapon pods mounted on its back.
When the tip of what looked like a disruptor cannon glowed to life, Emily knew their time was almost up. The door off the side of the hallway seemed like divine intervention.
Tom was a split second behind the others as they lunged through the doorway. He spent a moment too long firing at the creature bearing down on them, a heartbeat of indecision.
In that heartbeat the disruptor cannon fired, and Tom Nickels disintegrated before Emily's eyes. The cannon was not a pretty weapon, and she'd often thought that it was used for fear as much as anything else. The sight of the flesh melting off of his body even while Tom screamed and tried to move toward them would forever remain with her though.
He'd live until the cannon's discharge ate into his chest, or skull. She'd been told that the victim would even survive their eyes melting from their sockets. First Guardian Windstar did what she could to help a Marine who had been a member of her Honor Guard for nearly two years now.
She aimed her dart pistol at his head and fired.
"What was that?"
Julie shrugged in answer, crouching down by the side of the blast door that they had run into. At the moment she was doing her best to try and rip open the side to get at the control wiring inside, and doing a pretty bad job of it. The fact that she was only using the steak knife was one reason for that. The other was that she really didn't know what she was doing. She had her hands full, and she really didn't want to lose a finger trying to listen to what the Major had heard.
The small beep as she managed to rip the cover off the access hatch made her freeze though.
The Major currently had his bald, black head pressed up against the blast door trying to see if he could hear something on the other side of it.
"I think I have a problem."
"What sort of problem?"
"The bomb sort."
That got his attention and he squatted down to see what Julie had been doing. Taking a look at what looked like a plasma charge linked to the inside of the access hatch, he nodded.
"Yeah that looks like a bomb sort of problem to me."
Julie wondered if it would be justified for a Guardian to die taking out a sometimes-annoying Major with her.
Emily would be pissed though, so maybe not.
"Don't worry, it's just armed I think, don't move though."
Carefully he took the steak knife from her and managed to squirm around until he had a clear line of sight with the charge.
"Friend of mine in Internal Affairs showed me how to disarm these. Said that the Bak'ra loved putting them everywhere, in case someone tried to access something they shouldn't. Must be fun doing maintenance on their ships."
Julie did her best to stay still and not give in to her urge to smack the Major and tell him to hurry up. Predictably she had an annoying itch on her nose, and holding her position was starting to suck.
"Got it, I think."
"We'll find out as soon as you move."
"You know, sometimes I swear you and Mary would get along just fine."
Then again the young computer hacker would probably corrupt the Major even further, so Julie decided it would be best they not spend time together. Moving her hands she let out a breath when nothing happened and smiled.
"Guess you earn your pay today, Major."
"Can you open this blast door now?"
"Sure I think, just give me a few moments."
Wiping the sweat off her fingers, and scratching her nose, Julie reached back inside of the panel and laid her fingertips against the exposed circuits. It was difficult to sink into the bond with a foreign system, not like the constant bond with her ship self. Unlike Southern Cross though, the circuits she was bonding with were quite simple and it only took her a few seconds to figure them out. It was an isolated system, operating the blast door only and a few security devices near it. Thankfully those seemed to be deactivated already. A few mental commands to rewrite the command codes for the door, and it slid open.
A yell of warning jerked her head up, and brought her out of the bond. Green eyes widened as a familiar First Guardian careened down the hallway and through the now open blast doorway. Two Marines were hot on her heels, and further down the corridor, just turning a corner, Julie could make out a large form. It looked a lot like one of the things that the General had escort her to her cell earlier.
"Close the door!"
Emily's yell snapped her out of it, and Julie bent back down, touching the circuitry once more. It was easier this time, as she knew what to do, and the blast door slid shut just as something on the back of the creature glowed brightly.
Emily grabbed a hold of her arm and pulled her upright, then started to drag her down the hallway back the way she'd come.
"Time to go, sweetheart."
When the corridor that they had fled into ended in a pair of blast doors, Emily had almost been certain that they were out of luck. When those blast doors slid open as they approached, she'd been certain something nasty was waiting for them on the other side. The fact that it was Julie and Major Sims was a very nice surprise, one of the few of the day.
"Time to go, sweetheart."
She yelled as she half dragged Julie a few paces before the redhead got her feet under her and managed to keep up with the sprint. Something very large slammed into the blast doors behind them, causing them to bulge outward. Emily had no doubts about how long it would take the Battle Drone to force its way through those doors.
The hallway they were sprinting down had changed from steel construction to raw bedrock.
"Our cells are down here, Emie."
Emily nodded, not wasting breath on an answer. She knew that from when she had entered the base's computer system. What she was searching for was the lift shaft that she had seen detailed in the base plans earlier.
They sprinted down the hall, past the now empty holding cells, until Emily spotted what she was looking for. The fluorescent lights mounted above provided enough illumination for her to see the reflection of highly worked metal ahead of them.
"There's a lift shaft. Julie and I are going to override it and get the lift down here. Hold off the Battle Drone until we can."
There was little chance of them doing much in the way of damage with just dart pistols, but they might be able to slow it down a bit if they got in a lucky shot or two. Tugging Julie over to an access port, Emily placed both of their hands on top of it.
"Here, help me, I couldn't access this from the main computer system"
It was a rare thing when two Guardians sent their consciousness into the same system at the same time. It was as close to being telepathically connected as Emily hoped she would ever get.
Emie, what is this?
I don't know, Julie; it's not like the other system. This one uses Bak'ra technology; notice how the computer architecture's different?
No, I know that, I meant what is this?
A whiff of the annoyance that Julie was feeling drifted over the First Guardian. Sending a feeling of affection in return, she diverted a part of herself from getting control over the lift, to see what the smaller woman had found. Both of them jerked back in surprise as they realized what it was at the same time.
Dear God Emily, it's alive!
The revulsion in the redhead's voice was clear. Emily did her best to sooth her friend, while keeping an eye on the new discovery.
It's a ship brain, Julie. The Bak'ra use them to open Warp Gates, there are no gifted Bak'ra.
Is it dead?
No, probably just in a sort of hibernation until they need it. Come on, I think I found the lift command codes. Help me reroute them.
The two of them worked quickly, each helping the other. The security protocols in the Bak'ra computer system were much more advanced than the ones in the rest of the base. It took time for them to get around them without alerting anyone to what they were doing, time they were rapidly running out of.
Emie, the Battle Drone's almost through the blast doors.
I know, Julie, I know. Here, we're almost done, we'll just have to hope the others slow it down a little bit.
They finished work just as the drone forced its way through the last of the foot thick blast doors. The two surviving Marines opened fire, along with the Major, doing their best to slow the thing down. It kept right on coming though, ignoring what looked like small glancing explosions on its metal frame.
Emily was the first one to pull out of the system completely, and she grabbed a hold of Julie as the human wobbled a bit after following her out.
"Lift's on the way, get ready to fall back."
Julie was muttering, come on, come on, under her breath as the drone raced closer. The tip of its disruptor cannons began to glow, and still the lift hadn't arrived yet.
Emily muttered, wishing she could take her dart pistol back from the Major and feel useful.
Liam had been in her Honor Guard for longer than even Tom had been. He'd been a silent companion with Emily for nearly five years now. The tall, lanky man had come, originally, from Texas. He never said much, and he had a definite tendency to meld into the background. None of them noticed when he shifted over next to the wall. They all noticed when he started a wild sprint down the hallway though.
To her dying day, Emily was certain he was singing a tune written by Kid Rock.
"I wanna be a cowboy, baby!"
His wild charge startled all of them into ceasing fire, which was a good thing since they probably would have hit him. The drone seemed slightly surprised as well; the brain implanted in it hesitated. There was no reason for the humanoid to charge it, yet it had.
With a wild leap that would have done warriors of old proud, Liam lunged forward, past the twin blasts of disruptor fire from the back of the drone. The doors behind them slid open just as the drone reared backwards and impaled Liam on one of its legs.
The doors slid shut just as the drone tossed the limp body aside. Emily ground her teeth in mute fury as another one of her people died.
Julie buried her face in the front of Emie's shirt trying to shut out the image she'd just seen. The bright splash of blood across the hallway, the crunch as the Marine's backbone broke.
"Emily, we've got to get out of here."
"I know, Jules, I know. Don't worry, we'll get out of here."
The lift slid to a stop and reluctantly Julie let go of her taller companion before the doors opened. Clarice and the Major were the only ones with dart pistols left, and they moved forward, aiming at what might appear beyond those doors.
It was slightly surprising when the doors slid open to show the gaunt figure of General Whittecker waiting for them, but not that much. The three drones waiting with him were a bit of a surprise though.
"First Guardian, how nice of you to show up. Please do come out and join us."
Julie slipped her hand into the First Guardian's and was relieved when she felt a squeeze in return. Two of the drones moved forward to flank them as the entire group stepped out of the lift, having no other choice.
"General Whittecker, nice to finally meet you."
"Lirik was an idiot, First Guardian. He should have killed you while he had the chance."
Julie felt her taller friend tense at mention of the insane Guardian.
"You'll never get out of here alive, Whittecker. They know where you are now."
He laughed, more of a dry wracking cough, at that.
"Oh please, save your threats, Windstar. The U.S. will never stand for any attacks in its boarders, not now. Pity about the death of President Blake wasn't it?"
It took Julie a moment to understand why Emily was nudging her toward the nearest drone. When she did, it took all of her concentration to avoid giving away her understanding. She prayed she understood what the First Guardian wanted her to do.
The First Guardian stepped forward, ignoring Clarice's attempt to protect her.
"So you kill me, and then what, Whittecker? You know that the Imperial Forces won't care about U.S. jurisdiction if that happens. They'll tear this city apart to find you, Whittecker. Then they'll have even more fun when they go through the files from your computer system that I sent them."
That, unlike nearly everything else, got a reaction from the General. He actually growled, something that Emily hadn't been certain he could manage.
"You bitch. I'm still going to have the pleasure of taking you out though."
He lifted an odd looking pistol of some sort, just as Julie's fingers reached out behind the Major and brushed against the side of one of the drones.
Alien thoughts swamped her as she forced a bond with the thing. The thoughts were cold and crystal sharp with logic. What she tried to do now she had never tried before. The small woman struck quickly, hoping that speed would help her. She drove herself deep into the thing's being, rending everything about her. With a burst of strength she didn't know she possessed, she forced the thing at bay and took over its mechanical body. The mind was still there, raging at her back, but for now she had it under her control.
"See you in hell, Lady Windstar."
Julie saw through the, well she supposed you could call them eyes, of the drone. It was an oddly abstract way to watch what was happening around her. Not as disorienting as it would have been to one who had not been bonded with a ship self, and seen through sensors nothing like eyes.
The glow as the drone's disruptors powered up was reflected in General Whittecker's eyes. Emily snarled and whipped up the dart pistol that even Julie had not seen her take from Major Sims. Emily fired at the same time that Julie used the drone's weapons on the other two. Where the dart pistols could do virtually no damage to a Bak'ra Battle Drone, the disruptors could. The battle steel armor seemed to waver and melt as it disintegrated; the drones died a slow death.
General Whittecker beat them to that death though. In that one moment when he jerked in surprise toward the drone that had powered up its disruptors, Emily fired. The explosive dart caught him just below the nape of the neck, and lifted what was left of his body up and flung it backwards.
"Not today, General."
It's amazing how much can change in twenty-four hours.
Twenty-four hours ago, Julie had been secure in her place in the scheme of things. She was a Guardian and a human. That had been enough for her, and she'd gladly committed herself to her new position as a Guardian. Even more than that, she'd enjoyed the growing relationship that she shared with the First Guardian. Reveled in it, and dearly wanted to take it to the next level.
All of which had seemed to come to an end underneath New York City.
Julie sat by the view port on the drop ship, which was taking her back up to her ship self. On board Southern Cross she'd be escorted to the ships infirmary and comprehensive tests would be run to determine if what Whittecker had said was true. She feared what they would find. She remembered little of their trip from Manhattan back to Governor's Island.
The look in the First Guardian's eyes when she'd escorted her to the drop ship had stayed with her though. There had been anger and fear, but overriding it all, she'd seen confusion in those blue eyes.
Throughout the ride up to Southern Cross, Julie remembered how Emily had moved as if to touch her shoulder, and then let her hand drop. She could feel the tall woman withdraw from her, and seal her off.
Closing her eyes in pain, Julie leaned her head back against the headrest.
Dear God, please don't let this take her away from me.