“How does it look?”
Robyn sighed, hanging up her jacket on the rack by the door, avoiding her husband’s gaze for a moment. He’d been waiting for her—she was late getting in. She shook her head slowly, finally looking at him. “Our defenses can’t stand up to an assault like the one against Xenen. They just won’t handle it.”
William Scarlett, governor of Conceli VIII, winced visibly. “What can we do about that?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Request a detachment of NRM forces, I guess, to keep an eye out for trouble. Get our evac plans in order. The military-grade reports that are being disseminated…”
“I’ve seen them. I know it’s bad.” He reached for her, caught her elbow and drew her against him in a hug. “I think we need to talk about what we’ve been avoiding talking about.” Rough fingertips caught in her hair. Robyn winced.
“You mean about the offer Admiral Bridger put on the table.”
Wil nodded, pulling back to look at her. “I can’t leave. The public elected me to this office, and I’m going to see this through. But you, and the kids…if our defenses are as bad as you’re saying they are, I’d feel better if you went back to Xenen and took them with you. Ask for your Major’s bars back and go.”
“Wil…” She cradled his cheeks in her hands. “I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
The sound of their four-month-old son fussing came over the baby monitor that was clipped to the governor’s back pocket. The smile that crossed Wil’s face was wry, almost sad, as he pulled the monitor from its clip and held it up between them. “This is what matters, Robyn. Not what you and I want.”
She sighed and pressed her forehead against his shoulder, wrapping her hand over his around the monitor. “You know, I thought we fought that war so we could finally be happy.”
“We had happy for a little while.” He hugged her close for a moment before letting go. “Now it’s time to make sure our kids can have happy.”
He dropped a kiss on her forehead and nodded. “He probably just needs to be changed. I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll come with you. Just to assist.” Her voice was mock-serious. He laughed.
Her fingertips traced a faint scar along his jaw as he started to turn. “You’re sure you want me to do it?”
Wil smiled weakly. “I’m sure the enemy isn’t going to give me a choice. Ask for your bars back and we’ll figure the rest from there, huh?”
“You’ll be down a military advisor.”
“I’ll tap your dad. We’ll be fine.”
Robyn winced. “Until they come.”
Yeah. Until they come.
Blood. Pain. Death.
But none of it his.
His was to look on and gloat, for it was for him to look on and enjoy the handiwork of the one who had caused it, who had bled out the alien blood of his enemies – Trevvik Wyler.
Vong lay about him, clawing and raging, their screams and howls and agony melodic in his ears as they drowned out the cries of his niece until they faded into oblivion.
Their death throes were peculiarly entertaining. The scent of their blood that hung in the air and stung his nostrils was to him a pleasing aroma.
High on the adrenaline coursing through his veins, it felt as though he floated above it all. Eyes wild, he grinned, he laughed, while blood was slung in great drops from his knife, splattering artfully across the floor as he swung and slashed, creating graceful arcs on whitewashed ceiling and walls until it appeared that he stood in the negative image of a starfield.
Revenge was sweet – as sweet as the blood staining his knife. Taken by bloodlust, he wanted more. He looked around for another victim, but he had finished them all. There was more, there had to be more! He had to find them, hunt them out, to revel in their suffering before dealing the deathblow that would send them to the arms of their gods.
Raising a cry of frustration and anger, he raised the giant blade and plunged it deep into his synthetic arm.
Trevvik awakened with a start. Sitting up, the pale blue light from the Zehdek moon filtering through his window soothed his nightmare away in the quiet reality of the Atadian night. Rising above the sensation of sheets wet with his own sweat and the dryness of his mouth that reached back into his throat so that he thought he would choke before he could toss something down, was the throbbing pain shooting through his new arm.
Knowing sleep would elude him for the remainder of the night, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and rose to cross the room, the footfall of his bare feet on the stone floor loud in the vacuum-like silence of the sleeping world, and gaze out the window left open to the coolness of the night. Sitting on the sill, he examined the arm in the moonlight, rubbing his arm and flexing his hand until the pain subsided. Nothing to be worried about, he’d been told. Didn’t make him feel any better.
He scowled over the landscape of broadleaf treetops barely stirred by the night breezes, at the silence punctuated intermittently by some distant nocturnal bird. It was too quiet here, too restful, too far removed from the blood he needed to shed. He’d already decided even before an old crony contacted him the day before that he could no longer wait for them to come to him – the pirate comrade and former captain had only confirmed the need that had been building in his darkened soul.
The Raiders were being reassembled, was the word, but with a bounty of a different kind in mind, and Trevvik the Vongslayer was needed in their quest – the collecting of Vong hides.
Trevvik grinned vilely at the all-too-serene scene spread before him. That’s what he’d come to be known as: Vongslayer. The story related him of the exploits that had cost him his arm and a Vong warrior his life had grown far beyond a shadow of the truth, but that was irrelevant. His smile fell and again he glowered into the night as he considered the motley crew of bitter and vengeful beings gathering from the corners of the galaxy, likeminded to one purpose; if they didn’t end up killing each other, then the Vong had cause to look over their shoulder.
How he himself had been located, he didn’t know, didn’t care. The point was, they’d found him, with an offer to fill the need for the lust for alien blood that had come to haunt his dreams and every thought of late, a need that should he fail to pursue it, would drive him out of his mind.
The next day, in the last hour before the sun lifted over the horizon, he was caught before he could accomplish the sneaky getaway he’d hoped for.
Janet Skyy stood at the foot of the Malady’s landing ramp as he strode down it for a hasty inspection to see how the patched hull was holding out. Stern look in her eye, she held up the datadisc he’d left on the desk of her study.
“You have to get up pretty early to pull one over on me, Captain Wyler.”
He’d forgotten what an early riser his sister-in-law was. Cocking a grin at her, he raised his hands in surrender. “Busted.”
“I guess it’d be a silly thing to say that you can’t be serious about this,” she said, observing that he was on the verge of taking off. “But I think before I accept your resignation,” she said, again lofting the disc, “I deserve an answer as to why.”
“If I don’t obey the itch to get going, I’ll go plumb crazy. Me…crazy…not good.”
Janet folded her arms, giving him that look that said ‘that’s not good enough.’ “Atadian air not agree with you?” she said as though offended.
“It is all rather…monotonous.” He chuckled at his half-joke, then when it was apparent that she still wasn’t satisfied, his face drew a rare look of solemnity as he leveled with her. “They took Asya – on my watch. They gave me this,” he said, pinching his new arm. “I’ve watched as they destroyed lives and heard of the worlds they’ve taken. I can’t stand by and let that pass.”
“But we’re not going to,” she protested. “We’ll be returning to Xenen after Mark overhauls the comm unit. Go back with us.”
He shook his head vigorously. “No, no, no…not their way. I can’t abide the thought of politicians playing armchair soldier, telling us how we can and can’t fight, when people are dying; to have people far and removed controlling when and how we are to engage.” Janet hid a smile at the remembrance of how he’d struggled and disagreed and sometimes outright fought with his superiors over the years; what was ironic was that often he was right – unconventional and unorthodox, maybe, but right. “There’s too much at stake, the galaxy is in too much trouble, to put up with that…you know this is going to happen. I can’t go through all that again. I’ve gotta be free to do things my own way.”
Janet gave him a long look in the eye when she realized where he was going. “I wish you’d reconsider.”
“I’m sorry. My mind’s made up. I’m going,” he added, reaching out to flick the datadisc with his fingernail, “one way or another.”
Recognizing that they were really and truly going to lose him and there was nothing she could do about it, she sighed and gave him as much of a smile as she could muster. “I can’t believe you’d just bug out on us without so much as a goodbye.”
“Well, you know…I’m not too good at goodbyes,” he said, scratching the back of his shaven head while color rose to his cheeks.
“If you’re tough enough to take on the Vong, you’re tough enough to go back in the house and talk to your brother before you go.”
“Nah,” he insisted. “I…I’ve really gotta get going.”
“Nope. You’ve got something to do first.” It was her turn to give the disc a tap. “What, you want to get busted for going AWOL or something? How about dereliction of duty?”
Pursing his lips, he let out a sigh of resignation. “That sounds awfully like an order.”
“It may be the last one I ever give you, but yeah. It is.”
Clicking his heels together, he snapped a smart salute. “Aye, General!”
“You’re not fooling anyone, you old pirate. You never did.”
Returning to his usual self, he cocked a brow. “Aye.”
“So is there some sort of officer’s ball you forgot to tell me about? You’re lucky Mikey and I packed our dress uniforms.”
Indy blinked, turning as she tugged her shirt straight. “Huh?”
“Mary said something about a dress, didn’t she? When she was yelling for you?”
“Oh!” She laughed a little, shaking her head. “No, no officer’s balls. A wedding.”
Mike blinked, pulling his pants back on. “A wedding, huh? Who’s getting hitched now?”
…he drinks too much. How else would he lose this many brain cells? “She and Cay are getting married, Mike.”
His eyes bugged a moment and he sat down on the edge of the bed. “Now?”
“In a few days. She wanted you to be here for it.” She swept her hair up into a tail, ignoring the few wisps that refused to behave. “There’s a war on. Can you blame her? She might not get the chance if she doesn’t do it now.”
“Derik will be there.” It wasn’t a question.
Indy nodded slowly. “Is that so awful?”
“He does hate me,” her husband murmured, lying back again and sighing. It was almost an invitation to tumble back into bed—almost.
Indy crossed around to the end of the bed and leaned in to kiss his forehead. “Nothing’s going to go wrong, Mike.”
Davil’s frustrated growl echoed up to them about then, and Indy tilted her head, suppressing a sigh. “…all right, nothing else will go wrong.”
“He hates me.”
“You already said that, dear.” Indy straightened, moving toward the door. “Come on, we told them we’d be down ten minutes ago.”
Mike groaned, but got up, scrubbing a hand roughly across his face. “I didn’t mean Derik, Indy.”
She paused, her hand on the door, then looked at him. “…Dav doesn’t hate you, Mike. He’s just angry and lashing out. Give him time. It’ll pass.”
“You don’t sound sure about that.”
“Well. I am. Come on. Let’s go down.”
He hesitated, then nodded, and they went down. There were banging noises coming from the workshop; Mike winced. They could smell caf in the kitchen. Indy slid her arm around his waist, murmuring.
“Buck up, honey. You’re going to give your daughter away.”
He had to laugh at that, momentarily forgetting the issues between he and his son. “You’re right,” he whispered back, “I am.”