I smiled tiredly as I threw my clothes into the basket for laundry, glancing over at Nyss who was doing the same. Her soft, sexy figure glimmered in the light of the single lamp by the bed, her dark blue fur showing the small hints of gold that I always found so attractive. "You've been in the sun," I said, quietly.
She nodded and said, "So have you. Burned your nose." She slid the pad of her mitten over my sore and sensitive nose and I felt her extend her familiar power into me. My nose felt much better after that. She sighed.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Tired. Didn't expect to have to use my power tonight. I haven't seen Nance all day, so that's just tapping my own reserve."
"Why are you so tired?"
"Them," she said with frustration. "I don't understand Terrans, and I hope I never will."
"Oh, this and that. They're a morass of conflicts. And some of them feel... I don't know what the word for it is. Ugly? Evil?"
"Depends on what you mean. I guess some of them could be considered evil. You've got to remember that for the most part, they're politicians. They got to where they are by climbing over the dead bodies of their competition. Or at least over the dead reputations of their competition."
She nodded. "And they get to where they are because those people agree that they're the lesser of two evils."
"Never saw a democracy run any other way."
She nodded, sighed. I leaned over and kissed her furry cheek. She smiled and said, "I'm sorry. I don't feel much like kissing tonight."
I shrugged. "I know. Sorry, too."
"So," she said with a smile. "How was your day with Donna?"
"You mean now that Josh took the American delegation and Teena took the Soviets? It was good."
"There's something missing from your bookshelf."
"You mean my Eldarfaroth collection?" She nodded. "I gave them to Donna. With a nickname like Hyzen I figured she should have them."
P'nyssa shook her head gently and said, "You've carried those books around with you for a century, and you just gave them to Donna like that?"
I nodded. "She deserved them. I've read all four so many times I've got the entire story memorized, line by line. She loves them as much as I do, and it was time to pass them on. I've always got reprints, sweetheart."
She nodded. "You did a good job with her."
"We did a good job, Nyss. Both of us. Working on Carroll and Donna brought us together. I did the work and you did the pregnancy, but we did it together."
She crawled up the bed and slid under the covers. "Love you," she said.
"Love you too," I said as I crawled in next to her. Sleep came with habitual speed.
An hour later, I heard shouts and running. There was a scream, and something in Anglic I didn't quite catch. "Dave?" I mumbled.
There was no answer. A chill ran down my spine. "DAVE!" I shouted. P'nyssa woke to the shout.
There was still no answer. "Shit!" I said, jumping out of bed, heedless of my naked state. I jumped for the grav access.
Nothing happened. "What the...?" I grabbed for the rung recessed into the lip of the tube, grabbing for the rung above it with my other hand. "Dave!" I shouted again. Still nothing.
Hand over hand I dragged myself up to my living room. "Ken!" I heard P'nyssa shouting. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know!" I shouted. I ran for the door, expecting it not to function this time. It didn't. I reached for the manual lock and hit the 'open' button. It slid to the side. We obviously still had power or I'd've noticed when the Castle fell out of the sky. "What's going on?" I shouted as I ran for the G-tube. I knew it wasn't going to be working. I ran into M'Riah as he came out.
"I don't know!" he replied. "It's was on the roof, whatever that scream was!"
"Let's get going," I said, in a much calmer tone. Somebody had to keep their head on, guess it had to be me. That's my one personal ability. When everyone else panics, I tend to be calm.
I swung into the G-tube and climbed for the first floor. Riah grabbed another set of rungs and began following me. People were congregating around the tubes, wondering what was going to happen. "Somebody check Dave!" I shouted down to whoever was down there, hoping it was one of the Mahns, our resident AI experts.
There was a scramble as Riah and I ran down the hallway. Lights came on as we headed for the door, and Dave's voice said, "Ken?"
"Dave! What's going on?"
"I don't know," he said. "Get to the roof. We have a problem." I ran for the G-tube at the end of the corridor. Putting these accesses at the cardinal ends and the main tube in the center had made sense a few decades ago. Now they were only hindrances.
The tube here was floored, so I ran in fully expecting the tube to be non-functional, but it carried me up to the roof. I ran out into the rooftop garden. There were lights coming from the walkway to the left, by the round table.
"Ken!" a voice shouted, and a huge arm clamped over the front of my chest. "No!" he said.
"Dammit, Fritz, what?"
The Uncia held me and said, "Calm down." I heard voices. A feminine voice, Shalla's I think, saying, "Let her go. What can you do? There is no negotiate, Mister." She was speaking Anglic.
"We're keeping her," the voice returned. "We keep her all the way back to Earth."
I shrugged free of Fritz's arms and stepped forward. Four lighting drones hovered in the air, illuminating the three figures clustered at the far end of the patio. Two of the Terrans, from the North American / European contingent, and Donna. "Shalla," I whispered.
"Shhh," she insisted. She turned back to the Terrans. "We can't give you that. Besides, even if you get off the Castle, where can you go? You need one of our ships to even make the trip back to Earth."
"That's why we keep the girl," the one holding Donna said. He was holding a pistol, vaguely in the direction of her head. Didn't anyone ever tell him that won't work? The Pendorii skull's so heavily laced with ceramics a bullet will only give a mild concussion.
"Shalla," I hissed. "Get her out of there."
"I'm trying," she replied. Donna looked terrified, her eyes wide with fright. She screamed.
"Shut up!" the Terran holding her insisted. They both looked to be mostly North American. "You!" he said, pointing his pistol at me. Thus far, the other one, also holding a pistol, hadn't said a word.
"What?" I said before Shalla could shut me up.
"Step into the light."
On-line, Dave said in my head.
Dave, tell Shalla to take 'em. "Why?" I asked the Terran.
"Because I want to see you. Do it or I kill her."
I stepped forward. Ken, Shalla says on the two step. "You wouldn't do that. Then you'll never get out of here."
"But I'll get you, and her." I took the second step.
There was a blur. Lights flashed, Shalla and Fritz went charging by. I heard two shots, and something exploded in my leg. I fell to the ground.
"Ken!" I heard from behind me. And from in front, another scream. Then all was silent.
"Donna?" I asked, looking up at P'nyssa, who stepped over me to reach Donna.
"Make sure he doesn't move," she said to Fritz.
"Donna?" I repeated, more insistently. "Tell me."
"You'd better not look," P'nyssa replied. I turned to look, the pain in my leg searing.
I remember looking, and I remember saying "No." Donna was lying on the ground, Shalla holding her. There was blood everywhere.
"Ken," Fritz said. "Don't move. The bullet's shattered your leg. Dammit, don't move!" He repeated. I ignored him and with both arms and legs dragged myself over to her. "Shalla?" I asked.
"Father," she said quietly, her eyes full of tears. I pulled myself closer, and I could see what had happened, where all my plans and designs had gone so damnably wrong. "She's not going to make it."
The bullet had caught Donna in the throat. I reached out to touch my grandchild, and her blood got on my fingers. Her eyes were open. P'nyssa was standing over the three of us, and I could feel her pouring everything she was into us. I felt the sheer raw power a healer deals in running through us, but it wasn't enough. There was no way to close the wound; the bullet had torn Donna's throat out, and there was no way enough blood was going to reach her brain and save her. The blood ran down the front of her chest, soaking her long, blond curls and her silly Eldarfaroth T-shirt. "Donna," I said.
P'nyssa knew she would never have enough power to save her. She changed, so I could hear Donna. Granpa, I heard her voice in my head. Don't be sad
Goodbye, Granpa. Take good care of Mom and Dad.
And there was nothing more.