As he stood with Ali Shansee on the Leya's observation deck, Gunnar looked up into the night sky at the glittering constellations that had guided even his Viking forefathers.
"There," he said quietly, pointing to a light as faint as clouded moonlight. "That doesn't belong. It's them."
"Fifteen hours or so." The operatives were quiet for a moment, reflecting on the might of the Zirkonians hurtling towards Earth. "What did she say; the girl?" asked Gunnar, still deciphering the stars.
"Marcella. Her name's Marcella," answered Ali forcefully enough to bring his gaze to hers. "She had personal reasons - didn't want to discuss them - for being on board. Said they'd barely left. She was doing an external styro repair when a jolt almost snapped her tether. An hour later, she was bloated and gagging and couldn't keep her eyes open. She knew she'd been leeched."
"Thor's Thunder," cursed Gunnar. "Is everything in the galaxy heading this way?"
"She wants to come with us; she seems to know what's going on," added Ali. Gunnar shook his head forcefully.
"Doesn't everybody?" he smiled. "Let's move."
From the corner of his eye, he watched her lithe form as they hurried to the Noxvis. He thought of his wife, which he'd learned was always a good idea when married to a telepath.
Half the planet away, Amut'a squatted under an escarpment not far below the mountains' permanent snow line.
Her head and pupils were tilted back with the strain of picking up a very different message from her husband's nexus.
Somebody was following him. A male. Stealthily. Human. His thoughts were boastful; child-like:.....the big hero....we'll see....they don't know where I am.
Focusing, straining, groping with her mind in a humming dimension, Amut'a almost missed the sound of scrambling boots to her distant left. She snapped suddenly and painfully from her trance and looked in that direction, seeing a dozen figures making slow progress towards where she sat. She mustered her diminished powers and wearily cast for their thoughts. Then, with ebon hair matted to her forehead despite the cold, she cast again. Nothing; only a single driving urge: Engelswyrde.
Amut'a realized she'd been tagged somehow by the fiery glow of the word dissembled from the church's golden cube, and easily tracked by part of the assembly. She drew herself as far back into the slight darkness of the the hollow as possible, where she hastily marshalled her strength by closing her eyes while clicking a soft staccato beat.
Minutes later, two of the church disciples stopped in the tufted brown grass in front of her hiding place, the sun's rays raising halos around their neo-flex uniforms. Amut'a drew the small Pantherian sceptre from her belt and watched them look around in confusion.
She waited until one peered into the semi-darkness, squinting his eyes to make out her black form. When he widened them in triumph, she was able to establish the eye contact necessary. Her black eyes smouldered grey, and he tore at his temples to tear at the mind shards she'd unleashed. He tumbled mightily backwards, knocking over another of the assembly. Amut'a bolted from her hollow just as three more Amenorites came clumsily around the knoll. With the sceptre, she caught the first one on his outstretched arm, then sidestepped nimbly as he roared and charged straight ahead with the reflex of the newly-blinded. She brought her right leg up and around in the ninja scythe kick Gunnar had taught her. It found its target, and as the blow to the temple sent the pursuer to the ground, Amut'a made eye contact with another, who immediately dropped to the mossy earth and twitched at the agony of the shards she'd impaled in his brain.
With her sceptre cradled waist-high and her chest heaving with exertion, Amut'a spun to face the rest of her attackers.
Instead, she saw only Telimar.
"Female most extraordinary," he greeted her. "You seem not to be in need of my protection." The Seen was wearing an unlikely Tyrolian hat and leather shorts, as if he were a nineteenth-century mountain hiker. Amut'a smiled widely and gratefully at the quirky man she'd come to love.
"Oh, aye; dispatched my lot I did," he replied to her click. "Though neither as smartly nor expeditiously as you did."
Beyond him, she could see a half-dozen of the assembly tossed like twigs on the mountainside.
"And your attackers here; are they dead, dear Amuta?" he asked. He stroked his handlebar moustache thoughtfully as she explained that Pantherian aggressosensors would read the attackers' intentions. If they had been murderous, her downed attackers would die a slow, irreversible, and diseccating death.
"Oh, dear; how ghastly," chirped Telimar. He looked up into the mountains. "Should we hie higher for our Zirkonian visitors?" She tongued him an urgent question.
"Followed is he? Of course I can signal Gunner," he answered, stroking the feather of his hat. "We humans are not without our tricks."