suddenly ceased, as if by mutual agreement. They were content, walking
the silent streets of lastday, ignored by other pedestrians. The festival
would end at dawn, the new year begin. Time enough later for the Atare
twins to face leaving; the Gerrymander did not raise until prime.
There was something strange in the brilliant
crimson orange of starset. Tay felt it but could not single it out. Zair
also seemed restless. The air was different, heavier. She heard frequencies
that were not familiar. Teloa stopped walking and faced the starset. She
looked beyond it, above it, waiting for final, irrevocable proof.
"Tay?" It was Liel, who spoke
to the twins and then hurried back to Teloa.
The off-worlder felt her puzzlement giving
way to fear. Still faint, but growing, the pain growing in her head--
Gods, not again. I cannot, not again--
"Do you hear it?" Tay's voice
was scarcely a whisper.
"Hear what?" Kavan asked as he
walked back up the street.
"Who is coming?" Kal said, at
first sharp with impatience, and then softening as he saw her face. "What
do you sense? Are you an empath?"
"You really don't hear it yet, do
you?" She turned to Liel. "Can't you hear it?"
"There is something . . ." Liel
"What, Li? Your hearing has always
been good." Kal suddenly was taut, blazing, cold sober.
Just then the air raid siren began to wail.
Teloa folded to her knees, the color drained
from her face. "Not again. I can't take it again. So many times...
They came so close, but I got away. Not here, not now-- "
"What?" Kavan shook her, dragging
her to her feet.
"Lunas. They turned my planet to ash,
we had no shields, no military. They melted the skin from my people. They
will sear the life from this world." She looked up at them, panic
in her face. "They are like living things, they always find their
prey unless destroyed first, they-- "
Kavan shook her again, cutting off the
growing hysteria in her voice. "This time it will be different. We
have a shield and can temper the damage. We have to find a shelter; the
radiation cannot touch us there. Come on." Locking an arm around
Tay's waist, Kavan forced her to run. Pain suddenly filled their heads,
the sign of abnormal frequencies.
The impact of the leading bomb half deafened
them and shook the ground beneath their feet, although it landed on the
other side of the river. Zair raised his voice in the deep-throated bay
of his breed. They heard the chain reaction of explosions as the power
lines beneath the street detonated.
Kal glanced back over his shoulder, and
looked momentarily stricken. "That is the foreign quarter! Shinar
is there-- " He started running back.
"Kal, no, you cannot get through,
it is-- " Kavan's voice was lost in the groaning sound of the fires,
the soft winds of Amura spiraling to incredible fury.
"What is he-- " Liel started
"He will be back, the fires will stop
him. I just hope he can get back. Come on, I think there is a shelter
in the next block." Kavan indicated she should help him with Teloa,
and the three joined other Nualans staggering down the street, Zair leading
There was a shelter, already crowded with
children and several men and women of varying ages. They entered and rushed
down the narrow, winding corridor, which was designed to guard against
Still shaking, Tay pulled away, moving
to stand alone. "I'm sorry. I--you don't know, you can't know..."
she whispered, leaning against the wall, her gaze studying the dim passage
beyond where supplies were stored.
"We will know soon enough, will we
not?" Kavan replied. At the sound of his name, Kavan stepped back
to the mouth of the corridor.
It was Kalith. "I could not get through;
Casae Podami is already blocked off. I am going to try to reach the power
station and cut the lines. Otherwise the whole city will go up,"
Kal called down.
"Wait! I shall go with you! Two have
a better chance!" Kavan raced back up the dark corridor, pushing
his way through. He was followed by a man in black--their evening guaard.
"No! Don't go! You can't stop it!
The lines do not matter, lunas burn from within!" Tay screamed, starting
to follow. Liel threw her arms around the woman and hung on, aware of
her disadvantage in height. The two tumbled into a heap at the bottom
of the stairs, Zair on top of them both, as another explosion, closer
this time, rocked the shelter. Tears streaming down her face, the Caprican
made no attempt to get up.
"Tay, we cannot just-- " Liel
"He's crazy," Teloa whispered.
"Lunas throw off their matter as they land. It burns until it is
consumed, it takes hours, days! It-- "
Her next words were never heard as a deafening
explosion ripped the streets above them, causing the entrance to cave
in and debris and bricks to rain down from the ceiling.