let out a deep sigh as she settled herself on her bed at last,
already wearing her nightshirt. She picked up the tiny parcel
from her bedside table. It had arrived just before all this
trouble had begun, and she hadn't had time to open it. Now she
pulled off the brown paper and looked at the contents: a tiny
violet-red pendant on a gold chain. Beautiful, she
thought, and reached for the paper in which it had been wrapped.
A short letter in her friend Iktar's handwriting was written on
the inside: "Dear Niko," it read. "We found this
in the ruins of Mogul's castle. It is one of the most beautiful
pieces we've ever found, and I'd like to give it to you as a
special thank-you for saving me and my people. Iktar." She
smiled and held the pendant up against the light. The violet
crystal flamed, and red sparkles seemed to flash in its depths.
Iktar is right, she thought, it is wonderful... She
would write him back right now if only...
was so tired. No, she was exhausted. It wasn't easy to be the
telepath in this unit...
so sorry for you, Zachary, she had thought after they brought
him back from the Psychocrypt. The news that he still had his
rank and remained their captain was a true relief, but she was
sure it had been a close shave, far closer than the others were
They hadn't felt
Zachary's torn soul, nor the stresses he'd been through: the
nightmares of Eliza, and seeing her as a slaverlord. But she had.
She had no choice. She was the telepath. She had to share other
She crept under
her soft cotton sheets, the tiny pendant still in her hand. She
was so tired.
I'm so sorry
for you, Zachary, she thought, already drifting off to sleep.
If only nothing had happened to Eliza...
startled awake as the heavy scent of orchids, blooming all around
her bed, suddenly tickled her nose. Orchids? She sat
straight up in bed, and dark-violet silk whispered down her bare
body. Silk? She looked around in the darkness. After a
moment, she reached for her badge to increase her senses with her
powers. It wasn't there.
she commanded – and a moment later repeated it in Xanad.
This time the lights went on. She was in her old room in Ariel's
house on Xanadu. This can't be true... But the scents of
the orchids around her were real. The heavy sweet odour of the
flowers themselves, the slight modder of the earth they were
growing in... Ariel was always one for details.
jumped out of bed. Some of the leaves touching her bare skin
reminded her to throw on a gown. Ariel has to explain this!
Why did she bring me here? And why did she take my badge from
me?! She rushed out of the room towards her mentor's huge
old woman woke slowly, blinked, finally put on her glasses and
looked curiously at her student. "I teleported you
here against your will from BETA?" she asked,
astonished. "Niko, are you feeling well? Do you have a
Ariel!" Niko snorted, her arms folded hard in front of her
chest. "I knew you never completely agreed with my working
for BETA, but I've been doing it for almost a year now!" I
refuse to stamp my foot on the floor. "This is
ridiculous! And it's beneath your dignity, too!"
frowned. "You mean to tell me that you are actually
working for BETA?"
course I work for BETA. I'm a Galaxy Ranger!"
you returned to Xanadu after you finished at the Ranger Academy.
All your applications for a job within the League Forces were
were disappointed, but life goes on, Niko." Ariel spoke very
earnestly now. "Even with such an impolite reply as the one
you got from BETA."
was Niko's turn to frown. "What did they write?"
they had no need of such a freak." Ariel sighed. "You
were very angry, and also very disappointed." She looked up
at her best student. "You don't mean to tell me you have
forgotten, do you?"
this isn't true." Niko spoke very gravely now, trying to
convince her. "I was accepted. I was assigned to a newly
formed Galaxy Ranger unit in which all the members have special
powers. They are increased by a brain implant..."
shuddered. "Horrible! Brain surgery. Terrans really will do
anything for their fortune! – I'm glad you never had to
bear anything like that. It was only a dream, Niko," she
assured her student comfortingly. "Just a bad
"No! It isn't
a dream! It's real! It–"
looked straight into her student's eyes, sensed for her, sensed
into her, and gasped. "You really believe that..." She
sensed deeper. "There are psychic images about it..."
She closed her eyes, touched her student's hand now. "They
are structured like memories... Shimmering Star. They are real
for you." She let go of Niko's hands and looked up.
"Something's terribly wrong here!" She pushed back her
"Damn right! But
not with me!"
Something has changed. Something's not as it should be."
Ariel hurried through her huge bedroom. "But I'm not
responsible for it."
know, Niko. I wish I did." She lit some candles and
concentrated on the crystal ball between them. After a moment,
she turned to her student and shook her head. "I can't make
out who it is, Niko," she said sadly, "but the world's
creaking around you. You must return to where you ought to be...
wherever that is."
drew a deep, shaky breath. "I must get to BETA. Now. –
I'll prepare the ship immediately."
stared at her. "Xanadu has no ship, Niko. We've never had
Niko put one hand to her aching head. "You got the ship in
return for my working at BETA... and since that never happened
here – wherever, whenever – this is..." She let
her words trail off and continued with a touch of despair in her
voice. "But how can I reach BETA without a
looked at her, very concerned. "You are sure you want to go
Ariel," Niko said with determination. "I really must. I
Her mentor turned
for the door. "I'll call the Circle. We will teleport you.
But there'll be no chance to return to us if you can't get a
Nothing's happening here... Usually the feeder road is as crowded
as a shopping mall at this time of day. Niko had been walking
along the road for almost twenty minutes now. The Circle had
dropped her at a lonely area near the street outside Phoenix. She
had thought it would be easy to find a lift to the mountain once
she reached the road. But no one seemed to be heading for the
mountain this morning.
sighed and wiped the sweat off her forehead. The day wore on. The
sun was already high up in the sky. It grew hotter and hotter.
Finally the blue of BetaMountain's lake blurred below her as she
crossed the last height.
stopped. And frowned. A guard house? On this side of the
bridge? And what's all this NATO wire along the shore for? People
can get hurt by it far too easily. Strange. She began heading
down towards the gate. The sooner she could talk to her teammates
and to the commander the better!
Miss!" The guard pointed a heavy laser rifle right at her
chest. "Who are you and what do you want here?"
Niko. And I'm–" She interrupted herself. She couldn't
say that she worked here. She didn't know if that was true in
this... alternate reality – at least I'm daring to name
this horror, she thought.
guard aimed his rifle more carefully. "So what?!" he
barked at her.
herself. "I need to talk to some of the Galaxy Rangers and
to Cmdr. Walsh. It's urgent."
the guard said sarcastically, grinning, "and they're waiting
for you, right?"
snorted. "I'll lose my head if I disturb the commander, and
even if the Rangers weren't always in battle with Crown troops
around Kirwin, they wouldn't talk with a vagrant like
"Please, I need
to talk with one of the Series-5 team. A com call would do.
Nothing like that exists." He began to grin maliciously. "So
you'd better get lost, unless you wanna sweeten my time on duty,
retreated hastily, hurried back on the road and didn't stop
before she was safely out of sight. Then she leaned against a hot
stone at the street side.
is terribly wrong here. Crown troops on Kirwin? And a mere gate
post guard has the power to decide about an audience or a call?
She shook her head and sweat dripped down her back. Obviously her
unit didn't even exist. But where are the others then? I must
But she needed a
terminal for that, and even though the mountain was so near it
was impossible for her to reach it. With a sigh she pushed
herself off the rock. She would have to walk all the way back to
Phoenix to use one of the public computer terminals there. I
just hope the things exist in this world!
was already late in the evening when she finally reached Phoenix.
In all that time only a single military vessel had come past her
on the feeder road, and after her experience at the gate post she
didn't dare to ask for a ride to the city. A lot of people in the
huge shopping mall in the outskirts of Phoenix threw curious –
and sometimes disapproving – looks at the dust-covered
woman who entered and, despite her obvious exhaustion, walked
straight towards one of the public terminals.
was in luck. The things existed in this reality, too. And as she
knew from her own reality, their use was sponsored by the BWL, so
she didn't have to worry about payment. Niko pulled the glass
door of the booth closed behind her and brought up the public
address board. She tried Doc first, using the computer systems
for her search; he seemed the likeliest candidate to be quickly
She was right. Only two
search commands later, an address and a profile appeared on the
W. HARTFORD, COMPUTER PSYCHIATRIST, MONEY LANE 23, PHOENIX.
was also a text advertisement and a contact number for his
YOU EXPERIENCE PROBLEMS WITH YOUR ELECTRONIC FRIENDS:
THE DOC. YOU WILL GET HELP AROUND THE CLOCK.
smiled in relief. It seemed easier than she'd thought. She
entered the given email addy, wrote a short note including her
need to speak with him personally, and hit the Send
A blinking message
appeared on the screen:
KEEP MY PERFECT SERVICE FROM GETTING BOGGED DOWN WITH
PROBLEMS OR NON-SOLVENT CLIENTS, PLEASE ENTER YOUR
NUMBER. 50 CREDITS WILL BE DEBITED FROM YOUR BANK
IF THE DOC CAN'T SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM, YOU WILL GET
YOUR MONEY BACK.
swore. His clients have to pay just to get him to read their
emails?! That didn't sound like Doc at all. She began to
doubt that this version of Walter "Doc" Hartford would
be any help to her. She deleted her request and began a new
search, this time for Zachary. He was the most reasonable one on
A search for Zachary
Fox on the address board brought no results, not even as she
widened the search parameters to scan data from the whole League.
What happened to him here? she wondered. She contacted the
public press archive, set search parameters for the last year,
and hit Enter.
This time her
search was successful. A couple of news summaries appeared on the
flickering screen. She began to read and froze....
TAKEN BY THE CROWN OF TORTUNA
THE LAST TRANSMISSION ALSO SAYS
THAT TERRAN AMBASSADOR ELIZA FOX
AND HER CHILDREN WERE KILLED
DURING THE FIERCE FIGHT FOR THE
CAPITAL. THERE IS NO
INFORMATION AVAILABLE ABOUT THE FATE OF HER
RANGER CAPTAIN ZACHARY FOX.
THREAT FROM TORTUNA
THE LATEST NEWS FROM THE FRONT LINE HAS
CONFIRMED OUR EXPERTS'
FEARS. THE QUEEN OF THE CROWN HAS A NEW
AND VERY POWERFUL
SLAVERLORD SERVING HER EVIL INTERESTS. A
SLAVERLORD WITH THE
FEATURES OF THE FORMER GRC. ZACHARY FOX
LEADS A VERY DANGEROUS
CROWN UNIT FORMED OF SOME OF THE
THE BWL HAS ANNOUNCED THAT ALL LEAGUE
FORCES WILL WITHDRAW FROM
KIRWIN IN THE FACE OF THESE
stared in horror for several minutes at the screen, unable to
accept what she was reading there. She clenched her hands till
her nails dug into her palms. Accept the reality, Niko... No!
This is not right! This has to be changed!! she shouted mentally.
Shane... She entered the search commands. It'll be
awfully difficult to convince him of something so far beyond the
physical world he's used to... We never met in this reality.
Her heart hurt at the thought; then she bit her lips. But that
will change now! She hit Enter.
cursed under her breath in the same moment. She'd forgotten to
switch back to the address board; now the press archive was
scanned instead. But some seconds later, a news file appeared on
AFTER THE LATEST DISTURBING NEWS ABOUT THE
UNIT, THE BWL, DRIVEN LARGELY BY SENATOR
AND CANDIDATE FOR THE
PREMIER'S SEAT ERIC WHEINER, ORDERED THE
CLONING OF THE LAST
SUPERTROOPER REMAINING UNDER EARTH'S
CONTROL. THE EFFORT FAILED,
ALTHOUGH THE SUPERTROOPER SURVIVED
AND IS ONCE AGAIN UNDER ARREST
IN THE HIGH SECURITY BLOCK AT
BETAMOUNTAIN. SOURCES INSIDE THE BWL
SAY HE WILL MOST LIKELY
BE PUT INTO CRYOGENIC HIBERNATION, AS HIS
RESOURCES NEEDED IN THE WAR AGAINST HIS
hold her breath. Gods, Shane. That's impossible... She
swallowed. What do I do now? Someone knocked on the glass
door behind her. A fat woman shouted that her five minutes were
more than over. Niko scrambled out of the booth and the fat woman
shoved past her, almost pushing her to the ground.
left the shopping mall as if walking in a dream, a bad dream, a
nightmare... What's going on here? How can this be true?
Think! she screamed mentally at herself. Think!!! It's
your only chance. She dropped herself on a park bench and
stared into the night. Think!!! What happened... What happened
before all this horror began... before the world was wrong? –
I was at home, at BETA, in my apartment. I was tired and went to
bed, and then I was on Xanadu... No. She stopped her line of
thought, returned to an earlier moment. Iktar's parcel. He
sent me a pendant made of gold and a violet crystal... A
violet crystal... Niko groaned. If she hadn't been so
tired she'd have recognized the starstone immediately. And
then I went to bed. With the crystal in my hand... and I
Her head jerked
up. The starstone. I wished that nothing had happened to
Eliza... The starstone... Magic. It's magic. And that means the
starstone can put things back in order, too... But where is that
particular pendant in this reality? She held her aching head
between her hands, tired as she was, and tried to recollect what
she knew about this reality. Our unit doesn't exist here. And
the Queen's attack on Kirwin was successful here, too... That
means we were never on the Sorcerer's planet. And we never freed
Iktar and his people. So Mogul must be still there... She
remembered all the starstones he had had when they had fought
him. And he must have incredible power in this reality.... in
spite of his stupid assistant. That means the pendant must still
She recalled the
starmaps. If Kirwin belongs to the Crown Empire in this
reality, then the Sorcerer's planet... is beyond the front line.
She choked at the thought. She didn't have her badge, her rank,
her position in this world. How am I supposed to reach it?
A frightened whimper choked her. I need help. I'm not a
warrior who can cross a front line with Zach and the STs on the
enemy's side. I'm no such warrior – but I know only one
person who can get me there against those odds. I know where to
find him. But how to reach him? My powers are different and
weaker without my badge... She narrowed her eyes. My
powers are different and weaker, but no one knows that I have
them. That won't help me at the front line, but at
She jumped to her
feet. She had to return the mountain before the daily shift
started. She had to get there before the corridors were crowded
and before the guard who already knew her took his post at the
gate again. It would be far easier to distract someone who didn't
wasn't difficult to make the guard on duty drop off to sleep near
the end of his shift. But the surveillance cameras constantly
scanning the bridge and the main entrance to the mountain were
difficult. Already exhausted as she was after making the walk
between Phoenix and BetaMountain three times in barely 24 hours
and without sleep, she was almost trembling with weariness as she
finally reached the maintenance entrance to the left of the main
entrance. With shaking fingers she entered the general key code
and hoped that it was the same in this reality. The door slid
open. Hastily she closed it behind her, no longer able to control
the camera observing it from the outside. Inside, there were
none. That hole in the security systems was always on top when it
came to another budget discussion, but it had never been
corrected. She looked ahead, searched the bare walls, framed with
metal plates. Obviously it's the same with the budget in this
world. She sighed in relief. Good. So where do I have to
go for the sec block?
was pinned to the wall by an iron forearm across her throat the
very moment she slipped through the door.
me one good reason not to squeeze the life outta you," a
growling voice hissed faintly at her ear.
fought against the pressure against her throat that was nearly
choking her. "I'm not one of the guards..." she managed
to say, "or one of your torturers."
know that." The pressure increased as Gooseman leaned his
weight against her. "Otherwise I'd be secured."
The sound of that word was grim and carried impressions much
worse than simple handcuffs attached to the walls.
shuddered. "Please. I need your help... You are the only one
who can help me..." The pressure against her throat was
suddenly gone and a spark of hope appeared in her mind.
one of those, are you!" His disgust was more than
just obvious. "Get lost!" He spat at her. "Tell
those bastards, whatever they think of me, I'm no breeding
She started at
his angry words. Gods, Shane, what have they done to you?
She stretched out a hand toward him and he retreated
instantaneously, flashing his teeth at her in a furious warning.
She stopped the unconscious movement and collected her thoughts.
"That's not what I want, Shane," she said
He stared with
narrowed eyes at her. For a moment she thought he might listen.
"How do you know my name?" he asked
"Because this is
all horribly wrong," she said without hesitation and without
a thought of what he might think about it. "None of this
should have happened. The Crown shouldn't be on Kirwin, Zach
shouldn't be a slaverlord, I should be a Galaxy Ranger, and so
out loud, a torn sound full of bitterness. "Me? A Ranger?!
Lady, you aren't just stupid, you're insane. They locked me up at
the first trouble with my kind and threw away the key."
none of that should have happened," she said earnestly. Her
hands clawed around her arms to prevent her from
"How do you come
to this conclusion?" he asked mockingly.
broke out of her in a sudden rush of words. Despairing, lonely,
frightened words that didn't make much sense even to herself. But
she said them; she told it all. To this horrible near stranger
with distrustful pale green eyes who'd been trapped in this
six-meter-square cell for more than half a year now and who was
allowed to leave it only when they wanted to torture him again.
She talked and talked and talked, because as long as she was
talking she didn't have to sense the pain inside these bare
walls, inside him, and now inside herself...
must get the equivalent of this pendant in this reality,"
she said finally. "I know where it is, on which planet, in
which place on that planet. But here that planet is beyond the
front line, and between it and myself are enemies I won't win
against. But I know you. If you are only slightly the man you are
in my world, then you are the only one who may be able to succeed
in getting me to that place." She drew a vibrating breath
and expected him to interrupt her, but he said nothing. "I
know how to get you out of here and how to get a ship out of
BETA, and I know the coordinates of the planet where we need to
go," she finished.
looked at her with narrowed, pale green eyes in an unreadable
face. Suddenly, a short half-grin flashed across his face, the
face that was much more strongly marked than the one she knew so
well. "Okay, lady. Let's go!" He made a mocking
gestured towards the door. "You first."
sirens began to yell the very moment Gooseman left the cell. Niko
started at the wailing.
he growled cynically at her. "Didn't you know that my DNA
starts the alarms? So you'll better find that ship
She ran down the corridors towards the hangars. "There must
be a guard at the entrance to the cell block!" she shouted
over her shoulder.
game!" He rushed past her, leaped with incredible speed at
the man who was just reaching for his wristcom, tore the LR out
of the soldier's hands, and cut the man's throat with the bayonet
in the same movement. He kicked the dying body out of the way and
ran on. "Which turn?"
Her voice was choked. My Shane would never... But this
wasn't her Shane. This wasn't even her world.
reached the hangar at the same moment as the guards. Gooseman
fired without hesitation. "Get to the vessel," he
Niko sped through the
hangar. Ranger-1 wasn't there. Of course not, she thought
grimly. Our unit doesn't exist in this world. But Ranger-22
was never aligned to a specific unit. It must be here...
"Here!" She hurried up the ramp, hit the contact
A yellow eyeball popped
up. =Password,= it demanded.
password. The correct password is required.=
Doc chose the password for R-22..." She almost cried out as
the first blaster bolts hit the floor and the vessel around
Gooseman growled behind her. "There's no way but ahead!"
He fired at the control panel. It exploded and the door opened a
small slit. He clamped his hands around it and shoved it open.
"Cockpit," he snapped at her. "Disable the AI and
power up manually. I'll keep them at a distance till
He was already firing. A couple of soldiers in BETA uniforms
engines roared up, but all of the hangar exits were closed. "And
now?" she shouted back.
jumped into the pilot's seat. "And now... Goodbye,
"The airlock is
damaged," she reminded him.
cockpit seal isn't." He floored the pedal.
we have no clearance. None of the tunnels is open
beside her triggered the board cannons. "Who cares about
tunnels?" Ranger-22 shot through the huge gap in the
mountain's walls and sped up towards orbit. "And now for the
defense satellites – do you know today's
satellites don't exist in my world," she said
fifteen seconds. We make it or we're ash!" He whirled the
ship around and the metal creaked, protesting. High energy laser
beams burned up beside them.
is firing at us."
know that I'm so popular that they won't let me leave..."
the ST snickered cruelly. "What a pity." He activated
the hyperdrive controls. "That I'm already
Niko cried out.
"We're still within Earth's gravity."
Do you have a better idea?" He hit the starter and Ranger-22
left the standard continuum.
ship wavered back into reality. At least into one reality,
Niko thought bitterly. "Where are we?"
a light hour outside the solar sys," Gooseman said grimly,
"and you'd better program those coordinates of yours damned
soon. They'll detect us any moment." His voice sounded
She noticed it
and worried. "Are you okay?"
look out of distrusting eyes hit her. "I am," he
growled, touching his side.
saw the blood soaking the cloth beneath his fingers and the
upholstery of his seat. "You are wounded. You must use your
powers–" She interrupted her ridiculous thought at his
derisive snort and remembered: he wasn't a ranger in this
reality. The Series-5 implants hadn't even been invented
Impulsively she reached
for him to check on the wound and he jerked back from her. "Don't
you dare!" he hissed, cautious eyes wide open.
took the first aid kit stored next to her seat and showed it to
him. "Please, let me help you," she begged. "I
just want to treat your injury."
Hand it over. I'll take care of myself."
a sad sigh she did what he wanted.
now enter those fucking coordinates!" he snapped, cutting
his coverall open, "or don't you remember them either?"
really aren't from this world, are you?" was the mocking
question that waked her.
She wasn't fully awake yet. Shane? What is he doing in my
bedroom? The reality struck her. More precisely: the wrong
reality struck her.
ever trusted me enough to fall asleep at my side. Especially not
a lady," he said with a cynical grin. "But since you're
completely insane anyway..."
she repeated dully, then she understood. "You don't believe
anything of what I told you," she whispered.
right, lady," he confirmed. "I've never heard such a
bunch of nonsense before."
did you help me, then?"
I'm a realist, lady. I know they were going to freeze me soon.
And I hate the idea of being killed slowly in a rotten glass
Her heart went
cold. "So you're going to drop me somewhere? Or will you
hand me over to the Queen and join your former
his voice was very grim, "they won't welcome me, and if I
return I won't be welcomed either. In either direction I'm dead.
And if I die while trying to save a universe–" he
laughed bitterly – "even an imaginary one like yours,
at least it'll be what I'm dedicated to." He leaned back in
his seat. "By the way, we're reaching your damned
that's another difference from your world, eh?" he
taunted her, staring down at the planet below them.
drew a deep breath. "Yes, definitely."
said you had mental powers. Can you sneak our way through
She stared down
through the telescope at the huge camp of Crown troops around the
magical castle. Banners with the Queen's face flapped in the wind
on every one of its towers. It must be a main camp. Maybe even
headquarters. Niko's chin sank to her chest and she shook her
head. "No. There are far too many of them."
snorted. "Charming as usual!" He narrowed his eyes.
"Your pendant is in the castle?"
it must be."
there's only one castle on this planet?"
definitely." There hadn't been any major differences in
buildings so far in this reality.
where exactly?" he asked.
She looked up and met his eyes. "What do you
do you expect to find this rotten pendant you're searching
for?" he repeated impatiently. His fingers tapped on the
console. "Hurry, lady, they'll detect us soon."
biggest tower. Near the base."
drove her nails into her palms. "Yes. What do you
His mouth grew hard.
"You can't sneak through them. So I'll shorten the way
through 'em!" He slammed the engines to max and almost fell
at the planet.
She cramped her hands around her seat as the vessel rushed
through the atmosphere, the nose aiming directly at the castle.
"Are you crazy?!" she cried.
more than you!" he grinned.
he thinks I'm insane...
Ranger ship crashed through the outer walls with the sound of
tearing metal and rumbling stones. It crossed at least three more
levels before it came to a halt in a hall that immediately filled
with the dust of shattered stones. Gooseman pushed the lock open.
"Okay, lady. Target hit. You better hurry. We'll have
unpleasant company soon."
scrambled through the gravel, tried to orient herself, and
discovered the huge statue of a space magician at the other end
of the hall. Around the stone neck hung a red sparkling,
violet... "We're in the right place, Shane!" she
"For us, maybe;
for you, I doubt it," came a familiar voice from
She turned, saw a
slaverlord gliding towards her, and stumbled backwards as
Zachary's features appeared on the white shape. "No..."
she whispered. "No..."
Crown troopers appeared behind the slaverlord. One of them took
off his helmet and a single dark eye glowed at the man with her.
"Runt," the trooper grinned. "Good, now you'll pay
for your treason."
hand grabbed her shoulder, yanked her back, and tossed her
towards the statue. "Do whatever you want, lady. But I can
give you only a few seconds. So go!"
scrambled towards the sculpture of one of Mogul's ancestors.
Behind her Gooseman leaped at Killbane with a deep, furious
growl. He hasn't got his powers... her mind whimpered
while she ran, he hasn't got a chance under these
circumstances... A blaster bolt hit the stone floor near her
Zachary's familiar voice,
still calm, still so polite, ordered, "The woman is to be
caught alive. The Queen needs more humans for her psychocrypt,
and the woman seems to be young and strong."
shuddered at his words and at the closeness of his voice. The
slaverlord that was Zach in this reality was far too near to
A shadow slammed to the
floor next to the statue just at the moment as she reached it.
She saw Gooseman, torn, bleeding, on the ground at her feet. She
thought she saw some of his ribs jutting out of his chest. The
statue was huge. The pendant hung at least two meters above her
head. She saw the white form of the slaverlord only two steps
behind her. She wedged her feet into the folds of the stone robe,
pulled herself up, struggled not to fall back, reached for the
She cramped her
fingers around it as she dropped to the floor. Her legs gave way
beneath her and red-hot pain shot through them as she fell to her
knees next to Shane. The slaverlord had almost reached
berated herself and closed her eyes. I wish that the original
fate of Eliza Fox is not altered. The slaverlord touched her,
tried to drag her up. It didn't work, her mind
The bloody body at her
side stirred. She looked at him against her will, not wanting to
remember Shane's shattered form, and calm, bright green eyes met
hers. Something whispered in her mind: A thought that wasn't
...I hope your world
exists, girl... If only...
hand clasped the pendant as the slaverlord that was Zachary Fox
dragged her across the floor away from the dying man. She took
the line of thought from the fading mind: If only... I'd never
made that wish.
jolted out of sleep. "Light," she demanded roughly, and
looked at the familiar features of her apartment at BETA. I
must have had a bad dream, she thought, still feeling shaken,
still tired. She couldn't have slept much. A cold shiver crept
across her back. It must have been a very bad
Something slipped out
of her fingers and fell to the quilt: the pendant Iktar had sent
her. The bright light of her fully illuminated apartment was
scattered by the powerful violet crystal of a pure but sealed
For Heaven's sake!
I must have fallen asleep holding it. She shook her head. I
don't want to think what could have happened... She shuddered
and hastily put it back into the box Iktar had used to send it to
her. I was very lucky that nothing happened to me. She
stretched and – on a sudden impulse – got out of bed
and threw on her dressing gown.
buzzer rang for the third time since he had put his feet to the
floor and gotten out of bed. What the hell does anyone want of
me in the middle of the night? He opened his door. "Give
me one good reason not to squeeze the life outta you," he
At this hour? She sounds... strange. "Yes?" He
pushed the door fully open. She stood outside, wearing an old,
worn-out dressing gown.
she repeated and suddenly flung her arms around him, holding him
He stiffened in
surprise but, after a moment, relaxed into her embrace. "Do
you think this is wise?" he whispered into her
"No. Not at
He felt her silent
laughter as a vibration against his chest before she let him go.
"Are you all right, Niko?" he asked, slightly worried
answered, smiling warmly. "Yes, now I am." At his
bewildered look: "I just needed to hug you."
the middle of the night?" he asked with a raised
She smiled and turned back toward the corner around which her own
quarters lay. "Sleep well, Shane," she said
"You, too," he
answered automatically and closed his door after she was
Humans, he thought.
If only I could understand– He interrupted his line
of thought, shook his head, and berated himself as he went back
to bed: No, better not. You have to be careful what you wish
to Elizabeth 'fatima' Bales for slaying the mistakes in my