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All characters in this publication are fictitious, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Star Soldier

Episode Three

Copyright © 2017 Odette C Bell

Cover art stock photos: licensed from Depositphotos.

www.odettecbell.com



STAR SOLDIER

EPISODE THREE



Ami is thrust into the final battle for her planet.

Central Command is in ruins, and there’s only one force that can help her now – the resistance. When they take her back to their home compound, she realizes the war she’s fought blood and tooth for has been a lie. There’s always been a way to end the battle with the rift monsters – and that way is her.

Chapter 1

Ami Ming

I don’t have the time to stand there, shaking as my world crumbles. I don’t have the time to appreciate how dire the situation is. That not only am I facing two level VII monsters, but they have managed to make their way through the most secure levels of Gordana to the Central Command building.

I don’t have any time full stop.

Because they attack, sweeping toward me in a coordinated move.

My life is whittled down to a point.

But though I’m in no state to protect myself, that doesn’t matter. Xin kicks into gear. With those 12 ribbon like swords spinning around her, she plunges forward. She also makes a sound. Possibly the first time she’s made an utterance. A great bellowing, pitching cry breaks from her mouth, shaking the very walls of the facility and sending a pulsing blast down the street. I’m forced to bring up an arm and try to hide behind it as my hair is blasted around my face and neck.

I’m aware of the pitching, blaring alarms. They’re so insistent that it sounds as if they’ll tear down the very walls.

But though the alarms blare with their warning, no help comes.

I don’t have the time to wonder what the General is doing. Whether he’s shaking in his boots, or whether he’s clutched up a gun and has shoved it against his temple, realizing this is his last stand.

Xin plunges forward into the fray.

Though there’s still a lot for me to learn about how the light sentinel works, there are a few facts I know back from the days when I was a simple grunt. Light sentinels can only afford to get a certain distance away from their paired. Get too far away, and the connection might break, and the light sentinel will disappear.

If that happens right now, I’m screwed. Or at least, even more screwed than this terrifying situation dictates. Because at the back of my mind I realize that even with Xin’s incredible power, there’s no way we’re going to get through this.

I keep my arm raised above my head, keep sheltering behind it as the wind continues to whip around my face, moving so hard, it’s a surprise it doesn’t cut the skin.

The two level VII monsters concentrate on Xin, because she won’t let them ignore her.

That being said, I know in my heart of hearts that they’re after me. The way they look at me when they can afford to pull their gazes off Xin is unmistakable.

It… bores a hole into my heart. It makes it feel as if a parasite is trying to wend its way into my brain and rip the damn thing out.

It reminds me instantly of the way that level VII demon gazed at me just before I met Xin.

It looked at me… like I was a missing puzzle piece.

Yeah. That’s it. The level VII demon looked at me as if I was something it needed.

And that’s the exact impression I get now.

But the impression doesn’t last, because it doesn’t have time to.

One of the level VII demons takes flight, it’s huge wings sending massive gusts of air blasting into the building as it hovers about 20 m back from the ripped hole in the wall.

The other demon concentrates its efforts on Xin, yet it never dares to get too close to her, especially those 12 ribbon like swords.

My mind is abuzz, an actual ringing spreading through my ears. Something tells me it’s to do with the sheer mental and physical effort of sustaining Xin for so long while she has to put out so much energy.

No matter how many seconds tick by, I don’t hear the pound of soldiers’ feet as people come to my rescue. I don’t even catch the sight of troop transports through the hole in the wall. No. I’m on my own. Again my mind ticks back to the General, to the Commander, and finally, to Jason.

Though I imagine everybody else is running for their lives, what about Jason?

It’s an expensive, distracting thought – one I can’t dare to entertain right now.

Because Xin needs me.

The level VII demon who’s taken flight suddenly rams back into the building.

It doesn’t use its massive claws to tear out a new chunk of metal with all the ease of a fox digging through a thin layer of dirt. It simply rounds its gargantuan shoulder and shoves it against the outer wall of the building.

The effect is like a category 10 earthquake.

Though I’m already hunkered down, my knees low and stable as I hold my balance, that doesn’t matter. The floor pitches beneath me, and I’m thrown backward, rolling several meters until I come to a stop on my back.

That’s when I feel the connection between Xin and me start to thin.

It’s one of the most agonizing experiences of my life. It’s like someone has shoved a hand into my chest, plucked up my heart, and is now scraping it across reality like they’re spreading jam on toast.

I gasp, wheeze, try to breathe, but it’s too damn hard.

If Xin was a normal angel and this was an ordinary situation, she would probably disengage and disappear. But I know she can’t afford to. And I know, unlike other light sentinels, that she’s smart enough to appreciate how critical this situation is.

So the next thing I know, she flies back to me.

It’s common knowledge amongst even the stupidest grunts that the only people who can touch a light sentinel are those who are joined to it. Still, it’s not something you’re meant to do. It’s not like they’re your faithful dog and you’re meant to pat them after a job well done.

You’re supposed to respect them at all times. Failure to do so may result in the light sentinel ending the joining process and ending you at the same time.

That doesn’t stop Xin from suddenly leaning in, shifting down, and scooping me up.

Touching her is like… allowing my mind to expand to another reality. It’s like having my consciousness pushed into another dimension. As soon as my skin touches hers, reality spills around me as if it’s turned into a liquid.

I see flashes of another place. The barren, rocky wasteland of a planet. Great tracks of stone, but within every cracked rock and crag is light. The dynamic, living light that creates Xin. That unique, powerful form of radiation.

Though I want to grasp hold of that image and hold its mystery in my hands, I don’t have the time. Because suddenly Xin flies forward. Right at the hole in the wall, and right at the level VII demon blocking our path.

There’s a screech, the powerful downdraft of wind, and a chaotic, confusing moment where both level VII demons reach for me at once.

But Xin knows how to fly, and she quickly darts out of their grasps.

The reason I joined the space program wasn’t just to see what the universe was like beyond the borders of this planet. It was because I love to fly.

To see the world so small below me, to ride up high into the clouds.

It’s an indescribable sensation – a feeling that I haven’t experienced in the last five years. Though I’ve flown on plenty of troop transports, they don’t bother giving windows to the grunts. Plus, it’s not a freeing experience – it’s a trapping one. When you fly in a troop transport, you’re not experiencing life on another level. You’re watching it flit before your very eyes as the men you’re riding with are shot at the enemy like cannon fodder.

This? It’s flying.

Unassisted. No technology. Just Xin and me.

I’m suddenly so aware of the feel of her beneath me. Though she technically has a solid body, it seems like just that – a technicality. As my hand latches onto her back, it’s like I’m patting nothing but air. And yet, air that is keeping me masterfully afloat.

She glows so brightly beneath my touch.

That light spills through the air as she continues to dodge the two level VII demons.

Though I know, from experience, that Xin has the power to take on a level VII demon and win, she isn’t displaying that power right now. And it’s not just because there are two of them. It’s… whatever the hell the General did to me in that pod.

He disturbed my connection with Xin somehow, and I instinctively know it means she can’t call on her full range of power.

But at the same time, she’s not running.

Like I said, she’s smart – and she would know exactly what’s at stake.

Though it would be easy enough to flee – especially considering what the General was planning to do to me – to do so would spell the certain destruction of this world. Though there are technically other small pockets of resistance, the Central Command is the only one left with any coordinated force. If these two level VII demons are allowed to tear through it, then my world will be lost.

That knowledge tears at my heart with every second, and as I hunker down against Xin, flattening a hand over her smooth, beautiful back, I swear she momentarily aligns with my heart.

I’ve learned through my training sessions that in order to command a light sentinel, you must have a clear mind. You must give them directives as if they are nothing more than simple computers.

That’s wrong.

Because I access so much more of Xin if I do it with my heart, not my head.

She follows my desperation.

We continue to wend our way this way and that through the air, and my hair trails around me, flapping around my face, tickling my ears, catching my eyes.

I have no idea how this will end. How it can end. But as I pull myself further against Xin and shelter against the wind, I spread my hands over her back. And in doing so, I connect with her mind.

I see it again – several flashes of that barren wasteland of a planet. But though, on the surface, it looks as if it’s nothing but a lifeless world of rock and stone, beneath every crack in every stone I see that light. Pulsing like a heart.

It doesn’t last. As Xin suddenly pitches to the side, dodging a coordinated attack from both of the monsters, I almost fall off her back. At the last moment, Xin has to change direction, pulling me back onto her.

I now hunker against her, wrapping my arms as far around her as I can.

Far in the distance, I finally start to see the troop transports. But they’re not coming toward us. They’re holding distance, heading toward the more populated, important towers. Not, of course, that the Central Command Tower isn’t important. In terms of assets that the Security Forces couldn’t afford to give up, this tower would be the top on the list.

But as I tilt my head to the side, I start to see it’s being evacuated.

Troop transports are connecting to the lower levels, filling up, and disengaging.

It strikes me that they’re using me as a distraction. They’re giving up on the Central Tower, not bothering to offer me any backup, and using Xin as a means to get away.

That anger I felt when I found out what the General was planning blasts back into my heart. It feels exactly like I’ve swallowed a bomb. This time, the bomb will not be diffused.

The level VII monsters never tear their attention from me. They concentrate on me as if I’m more important than the rest of the Gordana Security Forces combined. And that should tell me that my paranoia about them isn’t in my head. They need me for some purpose, and now I’m in their sights, there’s no way they’re going to let me go.

Just when I think no one will come to my aid, I see something far off in the distance. It’s beyond the Perimeter. The Perimeter is outside of the protection zone of this security block.

Beyond the Perimeter, the Security Forces don’t even bother attending to reports of monsters. Outside in the Badlands, there’s no point.

So I know, academically, that there can be nothing out there. Humans simply can’t exist alongside monsters. And without the Security Forces to protect people who’ve wandered too far outside the boundary, they die. Not within days – within minutes.

And yet, I can’t deny my eyes.

A troop transport springs toward me, moving faster than any I’ve ever seen. That’s when I narrow my gaze and realize it’s a completely unfamiliar design.

I don’t even have the time to let my lips open and to scream as I wonder what’s going on.

The troop transport arrives in a blistering trail of light.

Back before the war, our scientists were experimenting with new, different forms of transport. It was a requirement for interstellar travel. Though you can maneuver well enough within your own solar system with sub-light drives, as soon as you want to get out into the rest of the galaxy, you have to master faster-than-light propulsion.

I’d heard rumors about it. Heck, back then, you heard rumors about everything. Because back then, it seemed as if there wasn’t a thing our scientists couldn’t do. When the war started, we realized just how weak we really were.

None of that is the point. The point is that I have never seen propulsion drives like this. And as I clap my eyes on that unusual transport as it comes to a lurching stop 500 m away, I realize it’s much bigger and sturdier than the ones I’m used to. It’s also the wrong color. It’s not sporting the symbol of the Security Forces along its side. Instead, it’s completely black.

As it shifts to the side, exposing a massive set of pulsing guns that are pushing out of a shielded port, I see that there’s a symbol painted on the ship’s side.

It takes me a moment. I have to trawl through the many reports I’ve read as a grunt.

Then it hits me. The resistance. The resistance that everyone told me was nothing more than a lie. Nothing more than the dreams of the disaffected and lost.

But that dream is no longer. As those guns spring from the shielded side of the transport and start firing, I’m treated to a display I’ve never seen. Though basic science tells me otherwise, those guns have an effect on the level VII creatures. Every grunt knows that beyond level IV, you have to have a light sentinel to make a dent in a monster. But as this ship concentrates its fire on the level VII closest to me, I can hear the thing screech, even see the side of its body buckle under the ship’s barrage.

For a few seconds, I can’t do anything but stare in complete wonder as everything I thought I knew about technology and the monsters is rewritten before my very eyes.

Then I hear the pitch of a loudspeaker. It’s coming from the ship. “Don’t just sit there. Move. Get out while you still can. Head to the Badlands.”

I think I recognize the voice. It almost sounds like Commander Franks. But it can’t be him – he has to be back in the Central Command Tower.

Then again, it doesn’t frigging matter who it is. It’s the resistance, and they’re offering me a lifeline. One I need.

Though Xin is doing an incredible job of keeping me out of the grips of those two level VIIs, I know nothing much will come of that bravery. Unless and until our connection can be fixed, she won’t be able to call on her full strength, and we’ll be nothing more than sitting ducks.

There used to be a time when I would’ve told anyone that I am not the kind of soldier who runs away. It doesn’t matter what the odds are, I will stick it out.

Because that’s how you win wars. Yeah, someone like Jason would disagree. He’d tell me that you win wars by being strategic. Judicious. You never waste your resources. And that means you are always careful to know when a fight has gotten too much. In other words, you know when to flee.

But even though I never agreed with him, right now, I don’t have that option.

I have to get out of here.

The resistance transport continues to focus all of its fire on one of the level VII demons. Though my knowledge of the monsters tells me that they wouldn’t be stupid enough to ignore an attack, my knowledge doesn’t hold out right now. It seems they are so desperate to get to me that they don’t bother acting together to pull down the transport, even though they could.

They waste precious time going after Xin, clutching at me, like it doesn’t matter if they waste their own lives if only they can get to me.

As the troop transport continues to fire, Xin never misses a beat.

Despite the fact she doesn’t have access to her full fire power, she’s still fully capable of dodging, and she does so elegantly, pulling me to safety every time either of the monsters gets too close.

Though common knowledge tells me that once I go beyond the Perimeter, I’m screwed, that’s where Xin’s taking me.

The transport blasts out with another volley of blistering fire, and one of the level VII demon’s is struck so badly, it falls to the side. And that, apparently, gives Xin all the time she needs to round on it. Suddenly three of her blazing swords shift to the left, forming one solid form and slicing right through the level VII.

It doesn’t even have time to scream.

It simply explodes in a scatter of that violent green light.

Come on. Move. Get out of here. We can’t hold this thing off forever,” I hear the man who sounds like the Commander scream over the loudspeaker of the transport.

Like I said – I’ve never run away in my life.

But you know what? To keep living another day, it’s time to change my rules.

Xin helps make the decision for me. She banks to the side, flying straight past several habitation towers as she makes her obvious way for the Perimeter.

Me? I turn my head over my shoulder, my hair slapping around my face, framing my wide open, desperate eyes as I stare at everything I’ve known for the past five years. The tall, sleek towers that reach into the sky. The lower realms, my home. Everything I’ve known, and most importantly, everything I’ve fought for.

But when my head shifts to the side and I stare ahead, I realize that everything I’m fighting for is about to change. Because this battle will take a new turn.

Chapter 2

Commander Jason Everett

This can’t be happening.

Shouldn’t be happening.

Everything we know about the monsters told us they would never dare make an attack like this on central headquarters.

But you know what?

It’s happening.

I’m running through the corridors, every wail of the blaring alarm shaking through my feet and powering so hard into my knees, I have to fight every second to keep my balance.

The pound of footfall echoes around me. It’s like the constant drumbeat of the apocalypse.

If I dare catch sight of anyone else’s face for too long, it’s like I’m staring in the mirror.

Their fear is my fear. Because it’s the fear of people trapped in the same boat. A boat that is rapidly sinking beneath the waves.

I haven’t even bothered to grab my gun out of my holster. What the hell is the point? What is a mere gun going to do against two level VIIs?

Plus, my mind can’t even think about defending myself right now – it’s locked on Ami.

When those two level VII demons ripped through the side of the building, I was watching on screen, and I will never – ever – forget the sight as they reached in to grab her.

It’s not just seared into my mind – I feel like it’s been carved into my brain, dug right out of my gray matter like someone writing on stone.

Though I’m shaking, I’m still coordinated enough to keep running. That’s more than can be said for some soldiers.

I pass a guard or two – usually young – actually breaking down into tears, or just sitting there against the wall, their knees pulled up against their chins and their heads buried away like they’re turtles who have receded into their shell and have given up.

Maybe that’s the smart thing to do. A part of my head that can realize how this is going to end – that there’s only one logical way for it to end appreciates that there’s no goddamn point in running. I’m too far away from the evacuation points to get out of here. Plus, I’m not important enough. Though the very first thing the General did when the Central Command tower was breached was to flee, I’m a different kettle of fish.

I’ve always been a man of duty.

I know I keep harping on about that, but you have to understand that duty is what keeps me running. Duty is what keeps me sleeping, eating, goddamn breathing. Without my sense of duty, I would’ve given up long ago to the horrors of this world. It would’ve scraped the last scraps of reason from my soul, and I would’ve likely ended it all with a gun to my head.

But you know what? Something else is pushing me on now. Because my sense of duty? It’s been crumpled. It was crushed when I found out what they were planning to do with Ami. And the fact that the top brass is fleeing and leaving everyone else to protect them in their wake is the final blow.

I reach the end of the corridor and arrive at a crossroads. To my left, I can make it further down into the building, and if I’m lucky, I might even run into an evacuation point. If I pull rank and pull someone off a ship, I might be able to save myself.

To my right?

It leads to a set of stairs that head further up into the command tower. Though the upper levels will have been evacuated by now, there are much better viewing positions up there. If I find one of the windows, I’ll be able to keep track of Ami’s fight.

So I head to the right.

It’s pathetic. My final act won’t be to help her – to try to sacrifice myself to save her. No. It’ll just be to watch her.

Back when I had the time to think, and I hadn’t turned into nothing more than an automaton with a commanding voice and a gun, I often thought that one of the most important things you could do as a human being was to bear witness.

It used to be a pet theory of mine in the early days of my army training – before the war. You see, those who choose to serve often do so with the knowledge that in serving, they see things others will not. Things they can’t forget. Things they will never be able to push away. Things that strip them of their innocence and leave them a different, changed human being.

I made sense of the shit I would see by making it sacred. Calling it the Act of Bearing Witness. Yeah, you can’t always save everyone. Yeah, you can’t always make a difference. But there’s something very important in not turning away. In putting up with the discomfort of watching someone else’s life crumble. Very few people can do it. Very few people can stand there and watch horrors happen to somebody else without trying to rationalize it away. Maybe the person deserved to die? Maybe there’s some greater purpose behind it?

You know what? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter as long as that horror doesn’t happen to you.

The art of bearing witness is different. You don’t judge. You see. And in seeing, you share part of someone’s burden.

So isn’t it ironic that as I pound through the corridors, my final act will be to bear witness?

As I shift up a level, there’s silence – apart from the klaxon, of course. That’s still blaring away as loudly as it can, shaking through the floor, likely even damaging the ceiling with its pitching force. But I guess a few crumbly sections of plaster are going to be the least of their troubles once this battle is through.

The part of me that hasn’t made peace with the fact I’m about to die appreciates one point – Gordana as a whole has lost.

This is essentially the final blow against the Security Forces. Yeah, maybe the General and the upper echelons of our society will be able to get away and regroup. It won’t matter. They’ll have lost too many resources and too much time.

In other words, the final chapter of the war is being written today, right before my very eyes.

Being in the Army, you experience fruitlessness in a way ordinary people can’t.

The fruitlessness of being given an order you know will lead to your death. Or, in many ways, the far worse act of giving an order you know will lead to someone else’s death.

The only way to make sense of the horror is to absorb it into a bigger picture. To tell yourself that today’s sacrifice will lead to tomorrow’s success.

But now there won’t be a tomorrow.

No more success.

I run and run, forcing my mind back onto the only possibility I care about now – seeing Ami in her last moment.

I don’t even bother to entertain the possibility that she will survive. Yeah, Xin is an utterly incredible weapon – a light sentinel the likes of which we have never seen. But you can’t fight odds like these.

I reach the viewing platform – a whole section of this level that is pretty much just glass. It’s there to allow the upper echelons an unrivaled view of the clouds. This far up, unless atmospheric conditions are unusually clear, you can never see the barren wasteland of the planet below. And in doing so, you can kind of fool yourself into thinking that Gordana is back to the beautiful gem it once was.

I don’t gaze at the clouds right now. I jerk forward, lock my hands on the glass, track sweaty finger marks over it, and lean in until I finally catch a glimpse of Xin.

Ami is on Xin’s back.

It’s insane to watch. Crazy to think about.

I know enough about light sentinels to appreciate that they have minimal contact with their joined. Sure, a joined can touch a light sentinel when it matters, but you aren’t meant to do that for too long.

Ami?

I catch sight of her as Xin suddenly banks hard to the side, expertly dodging those two level VII monsters.

Ami is hooked onto the back of Xin, and it doesn’t matter how fast Xin flies, Ami manages to hold on.

My heart is in my mouth. Beating so hard, it’s like the rest of my organs have been whittled down and thrown away.

I’m only aware of that thrumming, driving beat as I watch the fight unfold.

Like I already said, there’s nothing I can do here but bear witness. My eyes lock on Ami, never moving as those level VII monsters continue to lunge for her.

There’s something… wrong. They don’t go for Xin, even though that’s what my training tells me they should do. Monsters aren’t stupid, especially the high-level ones. They know if they want to end the fight quickly, they should go for the commander’s head. And though technically if they go after Ami and kill her, Xin will disappear, it would be easier to lock their attention on Xin. But they don’t. They continue to make wild grabs for Ami as if they want to pluck her up and fly away with her.

I think my heart has stopped beating. Or maybe it hasn’t stopped beating. Maybe it’s now beating so hard its pound is indiscernible from the shaking blare of the klaxon.

I’m as close to the glass as I can possibly get, my warm breath breaking against it and misting it up. As soon as my view is obscured too much, I jerk in and use the sleeve of my jacket to clear the pane once more.

I’m so wired, so locked on what’s happening that I don’t keep any of my awareness for the room around me.

I suddenly feel a gun pressed up against my temple.

My reaction is delayed – it takes me a full three seconds until I realize what it is and that there’s a man standing behind me.

I switch my gaze from the view through the window to the reflection behind.

Commander Franks.

What the hell are you doing here? I thought you would have fled with the other rats,” he growls, voice dropping down so low, it’s practically a whisper over the blaring sound of the alarm.

I pick it up, though.

I also stiffen, clenching my jaw like my teeth are a weapon I’m priming.

I go to turn around, to face this bastard so he has to shoot me between the eyes and not between the shoulders like a coward.

He just shoves the gun harder against my back, making it clear that I shouldn’t move a muscle.

What do you want?” I spit. “The world’s over. Just leave me in peace.”

The question is,” he says calmly, somehow unfazed by the fact that society is crumbling around us like a broken mountain, “what do you want?”

My mind is spinning. It’s blaring, too. It’s screaming at me to do something.

But the rest of my head is telling me there’s no frigging point. Whether I die by being ripped apart by a level VII monster or whether I’m shot in the back – does it really matter?

So I don’t answer.

Commander Franks isn’t particularly happy with that, and he shoves the gun harder against my back until I’m thrown against the window.

My hands are slippery with sweat, and as I grip the window for support, the sound of them sliding down the glass echoes through the air.

What do you want, Commander?” Franks demands again.

You bastard, just leave me alone in these final minutes. Let me bear witness to her sacrifice, okay? Is that too much to ask? If you want revenge, take it. Just let me get a few more seconds with her.”

There’s silence.

The bastard is probably calculating whether it will be more fun to shoot me while I’m standing or to get me to lurch down to my knees like I’m a prisoner.

I jerk my attention off him and lock it on Ami again.

Somehow she’s still alive.

And seeing her – even though she’s far too far away for me to catch her expression – gives me hope.

Hope that bypasses that part of my mind that tells me there’s no way out of this.

Franks seems to be taking his sweet time to come to some conclusion. But then, with a snap, he does.

He leans in and locks a hand on my shoulder. He presses close to my ear. “You’re gonna get one question. Answer truthfully. Because I won’t abide lies.”

I watch him in the reflection of the glass.

Would you do anything to save this world?”

That’s it? That’s his only question? As he asks it, he spits the words so hard they blast against my cheek like gunfire.

Will I do anything to save my world?

That’s a question I’ve been answering with my frigging body for the past five years. Every time I’ve gone into battle – no matter how hopeless – I’ve answered. Every time I’ve commanded somebody else into battle – no matter how hopeless – I’ve answered. Every time I put up with the bullshit of the Generals, I’ve answered. Every loss, every sacrifice – it’s all been an answer to this frigging question.

Will you do anything to save your world?” Franks demands again, this time his voice biting low with a sharp, insistent force that makes it feel as if his words are bites from a snake.

Yes. You already know that, asshole. Now leave me alone.”

I’m afraid I can’t do that. Because you just made a promise. And I expect you to be a man of your word. If you’re willing to do anything to save our planet, then I’m gonna make sure you do just that. Welcome to the resistance.”

With that, I feel Franks lurch his hand to the side, and the next thing I know, he slams the butt of his gun against the back of my head.

I drop down like a dead man.

But just before I lose consciousness, as I feel a dribble of blood oozing from the wound on the back of my neck, I hear Franks make a call. There’s the distinct hum of a communication connecting. He clears his throat. “Is the resistance transport en route?” he barks.

Yes. We’re seconds from joining the fight.”

Good. Patch me through. Put me on a loudspeaker to her. Got it?”

Patching you through now.”

Blackness swamps me.

There’s nothing I can do to push it back any longer.

My ears ring, and a buzz blasts through my head.

But none of that matters.

Because the last thing I’m aware of as I black out is Franks’ promise – he’s going to make me do anything to protect my world.

And me?

It’s time for me to find out just how far I can push when everything I know and everyone I love is on the line.

Chapter 3

Ami Ming

Going beyond the Perimeter is categorically one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

I’m still stuck in the fight, still being chased by the remaining level VII demon, and it’s still completely ignoring the transport that’s bearing down on it like the very fury of God.

The level VII demon is absorbed by getting to me.

Xin is willing to do everything she can to stop that from happening.

She banks hard to the left just as the demon makes a swipe for me.

As she dodges, the transport behind lets out another volley.

Maybe this demon is slightly smarter than the one that’s already been obliterated, because it manages to dodge out of the way with ease, its huge wings flapping and sending air buffeting in every direction.

I’m pretty much pinned against Xin. If I dare to tug my head up and stare at the fight, I know I’ll be pulled off her back and I’ll hurtle down to my death below – if the level VII doesn’t sweep in and capture me, that is.

The Perimeter is getting closer and closer.

Beyond, I catch sight of the wastelands.

They instantly remind me of that fragment of a vision I caught when I touched Xin.

The rocky wasteland that held life hidden beneath its cracked rocks.

But that vision was from Xin’s world – not this one. And the only thing held beneath the rocks of my battered planet are the bones of my people.


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(Pages 1-22 show above.)