Less Than Human, 11

The invisible grasp on his collar evaporated, and Reid felt the horrifying new tug of gravity as he careened toward the world below.

His descent was rapid and horrifying, and his eyes remained locked on the speed of the approaching ground below. His screams remained frozen in his mouth. His hands pushed down, fingers spread wide, feebly hoping that he could catch himself.

A tug grabbed him near his shoulders, and his first thought was, That’s not what I expected, before he realized that he was being hoisted into the air again. His eyes opened, and as he looked down, some fifteen feet below, he saw Tiberius. He was kneeling, one arm raised and shaking with strain. Magnus, meanwhile, wrestled with some unseen assailant.

Once you land, Reid, you must run, projected Tiberius, and even his mental voice was exhausted. Do not look back. I cannot promise your safety.

No! screamed Magnus. I won’t be abandoned here! Not because of him!

Reid lowered, a bit more quickly than was comforting, before crashing to the ground. His shoulder raged, and his back and hip offered fresh pain, but he was alive, and nothing was broken. He got to his feet, but before he could run, his eyes fell upon Helena.

She remained on the ground, her face a mask of agony. Whatever attack Magnus sent her way had been plenty effective. She slithered on the ground, using her elbow as a sort of crutch. Haggard gasps emerged from the base of her throat. Her eyes found him, and he could see the hurt within her.

“I’m coming!” he called out, hobbling as fast as he could toward her. He hoisted her arm over his neck and stood her up, trying to ignore her cries, and soon she was on her feet as well, grimacing and groaning, the majority of her weight on him. She trembled, but she also held on tightly, and Reid carried her.

“Where…” Her voice seemed distant. “Where are we going?”

“I’m gonna get you out of here,” Reid replied, and he moved toward the hangar. Her feet dragged along the asphalt.

This isn’t over! Magnus roared, and the intensity in that voice prompted Reid to turn, and his eyes grew wide.

Magnus was now in the air, by mere inches, and his hands scrabbled at something at his neck, though all that Reid could see was air. His face was bruised and battered, etched in pain and in fury. Tiberius was moving toward him, his arm still outstretched, but he crawled as much as he walked. His other hand clutched at his side, cradling his injury. You are cast out, Magnus. Begone from this place! You are not of us, and you will not be returning to our home!

Magnus thrashed and cursed, and for all of the power that he’d exhibited, it was clear that he was overmatched. Tiberius, meanwhile, appeared far from victorious. He remained focused upon Magnus, heedless of his own pain. Reid could see that his power was not only saving them from Magnus, but it was also draining him from saving himself.

“He’s going to die,” Reid breathed. “No.”

“If you stop him, Magnus will be free,” Helena croaked.

But Reid lowered her, and her feeble protests didn’t reach his ears. He gently rested her on the ground, lowering her head with care. She opened her mouth, but he placed a finger on her lips and shook his head. He glanced back at the two Celestials locked in battle – the bound Magnus raged against an impossible defense, and the dying Tiberius poured his life into those bindings – and rushed toward the hangar.

The patrol car roared to life.

He floored the gas, and the car pounced forward with more power than Reid anticipated. He gripped the steering wheel and swerved toward the fight, eyes blazing with hopeful determination, heart pounding in his chest.

Magnus noticed the rapid approach of the car, and his face went slack with comprehension. Tiberius shouted something, but if it was in Reid’s head or not he could not tell, nor could he hear. He pushed down on the accelerator, and Magnus filled his vision, and for the with a triumphant scream he sent a message to the Celestial he had once feared.

I told you I’d kill you!

Magnus struck the hood of the car, his face rebounding and full of fresh blood. He growled with fury, but the momentum of the vehicle was too strong, and his head banged into the roof, just above where the windshield had once been. He seemed to float above the car in an awkward cartwheel, before slamming onto the top of the truck and then crashing to the ground.

Reid slammed onto the brakes, glancing into the rearview mirror and panting. He climbed out of the car, looking upon Magnus warily. The Celestial didn’t move. Reid padded close to the body, nervous. With the toe of his shoe he tapped Magnus, but there was no response. His back rose rhythmically with respiration. Reid raised his foot, meaning to stomp the back of his head.

No.

He froze, and saw Tiberius, now lying prone on the ground. His amber eyes held a dim light.

“He wanted to kill all of us.” Reid spoke with a thick, petulant voice, and realized he was crying.

It is not how it should be done. Killing him will make you like him.

“He tried to kill her! I won’t allow that! No I won’t!”

His banishment will bring him more suffering than death, Tiberius responded. Don’t filthy your soul by acting as he would act, Reid. It will destroy all that you’ve worked to be. You should not wish to be a killer. Helena would never understand.

Reid stiffened. Beyond Tiberius laid Helena, struggling with each breath, but staring at the exchange with wide, terrified eyes. He lowered his head, steadying his breaths, and slowly placed his foot back on the ground, away from the back of Magnus’s head. He took a step away, scrubbing his mouth with the back of his hand, trying to force away all of the anger that threatened to overtake him. He knew that Magnus wouldn’t show the same mercy to him, or to Helena for that matter. But he also knew that killing Magnus would forever change the way that Helena looked at him. She would come to fear Reid, just as she feared the rest of mankind.

He couldn’t have that.

He knelt beside Tiberius. “Are you going to be okay?” he asked, not daring to move the old Celestial in his broken state. Tiberius struggled with breathing, but offered a nod. “Can I move you?”

Listen! came Helena’s voice, and from the back of the patrol car there was piercing whine followed by a series of sharp clicks. Reid glanced at it, then down to Tiberius, who nodded a second time. He went to the cruiser, stepping carefully around Magnus, and retrieved the egg-shaped device. The guttural, garbled words sprang from an unseen speaker. Reid’s eyes cast a wary glance over the communicator, but when he looked upon Tiberius and Helena, they were both smiling. Helena pointed toward the skies.

Look!

Reid turned. The clouds swirled, going from light to dark, then into a swirling kaleidoscope of colors that flashed and burned in furious circles. The wind whipped and howled. Reid’s skin prickled; a charge rushed through him that felt like blessed electricity. It might have been Jesus, riding on the clouds and calling His children home, he thought, remembering his mama’s words. I can see why she thought that. It’s almost like Heaven has come to Earth.

A huge, misshapen mass lowered from the clouds, hovering incomprehensibly and emitting a low, angry buzz. It might have been a half-mile away from them, but it bobbed like some colossal beast, dwarfing all that was beneath it. The communicator belched to life, and Reid could almost see the words traveling from the massive craft through the air and toward the egg-shaped radio. The ship lolled, slowly beginning to drift towards them.

Reid hurried to Helena and lifted her to her feet. “I’ll make sure they take you first. Then I’ll come back and get him. We’ll be out of here in no time.” He shifted her carefully. “I hope–”

She cut off his words, covering his mouth with hers and kissing him with her soft lips. His thoughts evaporated again, all he could think about was returning the kiss, and when he tried, he was disappointed as she pulled away. His disappointment merged to concern as he looked upon her face, and saw that she was crying.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”

“You can’t…” she wheezed, and a fresh flow of tears poured from her. She looked upon Tiberius desperately. “You can’t…”

Yes, he can.

Helena’s sobs ceased. Her forehead wrinkled. “He…”

It isn’t safe here, Helena, Tiberius replied. I don’t know what will come of it, but Reid will be with us when it starts. I will do what I can to make them understand. I only hope–

A huge blast echoed in the air, and the side of the spacecraft erupted into flame. The communicator warbled and whined, accompanied by frantic nonsense words, before falling silent again. Tiberius screamed, his words useless, and Helena’s grasp around Reid tightened. Another explosion ripped the front of the craft, and what was left of it dipped forward, and with a horrifying groan that seemed alive, it plummeted toward the Earth. It struck, shaking the ground and sending a pulsing wave of force forward. It was still perhaps seven hundred yards away, but it was enough to send Reid from his feet, and Helena landed on top of him.

No no no no no NO her mind sent out.

“TAKE DOWN THE GLOWHEADS!” boomed a voice from an unseen speaker. “LEAVE NONE BREATHING!”

The End

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