First Chapters

CHAPTER 1

 

 

Ace didn’t want to argue; he had to argue because what the others wanted to do wasn’t just crazy; it was suicide and he hadn’t come this far to die.

“No way! You take your chances seeing what hatched out of the eggs, but I’m not!”

“Keep your voice down,” Szwedko urged in a low growl.

Ace thought he’d whispered when he had spoken, but Szwedko was right. These weren’t animal eggs they were talking about; they were alien eggs, and not just alien eggs. They were genetically  altered alien eggs. The Babisianx were good at that, altering original DNA to create something ‘more.’ None of them knew what the Kaneen looked like. The last thing Ace wanted was to see one even from a distance, because aliens can move fast and sometimes distance wasn’t enough.

The last group of foodies hadn’t come back with food the camp needed. As hungry as everyone was getting, food had become more important than anything else. If this wasn’t bad enough no one knew what happened to the foodies or the Dendroids that had gone with them, even though the Dendroids communicated telepathically. Anything one Dendroid saw and thought became shared information between everyone in their related species. So what happened to the group, and why didn’t the Dendroids with the foodies communicate anything before they vanished?

The only thing the Dendroids at camp could offer was the group had reached the city. For some reason after that communication had gotten lost. A mystery? Ace didn’t believe it was. The Dendroids’ nature prevented them from lying, which meant something dangerous had happened, and for all Ace knew it could have happened where he, Szwedko, Pakuk, Taak, Kuna and Dondoo now stood.

“Can you smell anything, Taak?” Ace whispered.

Dendroids had a keen sense of smell. Anything within a twenty mile radius can be fixed on. Smelling any species nearby is what Ace wanted to know, because it would give them time to run or prepare to fight.

Taak’s alien eyes peered emotionless at Szwedko. “The dead.”

Dendroids didn’t always speak matter of fact. As a matter of fact, Ace had come to learn they only spoke this way when frightened. And Taak being frightened, Ace knew shit sure he should be frightened, too.

“I’m not going in there,” he continued to argue.

In there meant the hospital where everyone in their camp believed four-hundred Kaneen eggs had hatched.

“You only chose this place because this is where Ericka was the last time,” Ace said.

“Dude! Shut up already!” Pakuk growled, finally joining the argument, twisting his face and body toward Ace like a bully who hadn’t beaten up someone that had lunch money he could steal.

Ace Diamond Xiang stood five-feet-five and weighed slightly over a hundred pounds. For once he wished he was a big muscular black guy or a heavyset Mexican or a freakin’ Islander with globs of fat hanging underneath his arms, and with thick, stout legs. Because if he had been he would bash the know-it-all bully Pakuk square in the face, and wouldn’t run either, although he thought about trying the same thing at his weight and height and taking his chances on running.

“Leaping onto the roof without knowing if anything is up there isn’t what we want!” Szwedko spoke in his this-is-final voice. As fourth in command of Ericka’s army now that she had returned, he ranked higher than the three of them. The Dendroids didn’t have to listen to Szwedko, but usually they did, especially since Ericka had returned, and even if she hadn’t awakened yet.

“We go inside the hospital and find out what we’re up against. We walk up the stairs to the roof…”

Taak roped Ace with one of his reachers. All Babisianx and Dendroids had reachers, inner arms that fit the requisite alien tentacles. Long, strong, red and slippery, most stored them in a cavity between their legs or in their abdomens. Not waiting a second longer, Taak leapt onto the roof in a bounding jump dragging Ace with him.

Taak wasn’t a pet or an animal. Dendroids were an alien class of people despite their difference in appearance to humans. Ace barely stopped himself from giving Taak a nice, tentative long stroke along his shoulder.

Seconds later Szwedko and Pakuk appeared on top of Kuna and Dondoo. The argument had been settled by Taak, Ace thought silently, and if any of them had any sense they would leave now after seeing how frightened Taak had become. But the need for food made each of them to react differently. Binoculars were pulled out. For the first time Ace saw Missoula after Ericka and her army defeated the Babisianx a year ago.

Many at camp no longer believed the humans had victory that day. Szwedko continued to believe because humans had done something the Babisianx hadn’t expected. They brought down five warships out of the sky and stole the arm of the Babisian King.

Through binoculars Ace saw the large hulking pieces of the downed warships. One had sliced open the street large enough to swallow houses. He focused on it because he thought he saw something. A shadow maybe. Taak leaned closer and stared in the same direction. Ace knew then it couldn’t have been a shadow. Something was there even if they couldn’t see it.

The buildings in Downtown no longer had recognizable shapes, and sat like ruins from a past civilization. Parts of an American flag lay in tattered strips, blowing weakly in the wind outside of what used to be the courthouse. The sweetly, sour stench of death tickled Ace’s nostrils. Taak had been right. Death scented the air. The problem with that was the Babisianx loved clean air just like humans did. Leaving dead bodies on the streets had long ago become a huge no-no.

“A lot of dead.” Taak’s voice was no longer matter of fact. As if summoning all of his human DNA, he spoke in a frightened whisper. “Not far either. The next street. And the next. For miles.”

“Dead,” Kuna repeated a few times.

“We need food,” Szwedko reminded eyeing Kuna, because without the Dendroids human travel took on a different meaning. “What’s a mission if we aren’t willing to risk our lives?” He eyed each of them hoping to see their cooperation, then reached into his pocket and pulled out maps Farzad Emir had drawn. Now that Ericka had been returned, Farzad ranked second in command at camp, which was nothing more than a rag-tag team of survivors fighting to stay alive and not becoming Babisian slaves. “We split up. The closest store is four blocks in.”

“More dead there,” Kuna forewarned.

Szwedko ignored Kuna this time. “Hit only large stores where there might be something left on the shelves. Canned goods, guys. Batteries. Supplies. If it looks good and isn’t heavy we take it with us. We can surely use whatever we find. Saddle up.”

Ace showed Taak the map.

“Wait,” he then pleaded before anyone could move. “Are you saying Taak and I are on our own?”

“Fifteen minutes,” Szwedko confirmed. “One leap there. One leap back. And then all of us meet at the river and get the hell out of here.”

No one had watches, which meant fifteen minutes was how long each person or alien subspecies thought it was.

Ace repositioned the long hanging bag over his shoulder and stuck the map inside. He, Pakuk and Szwedko had Edged Diamond Swords (EDS), but Ace had seen for himself that when aliens attacked from all sides the swords didn’t stop people from dying. Drawing in a slow breath of death smells, he waited for Taak to leap to the circled destination on their map.

As soon as Taak sprang strongly off his feet, Ace sensed he wasn’t going to return to the river the same man he had been when he left it, if he returned to the river at all.

During the first leap the smell of death grew thicker. Landing on top of what was left of the Southgate Mall, Taak took a moment to sniff the air.

“Smell anything?” Ace whispered.

“Dead bodies. Everywhere.”

Ace didn’t see any dead bodies from where they perched.

“I land on roof or ground?” Taak asked.

“Surprise me,” Ace answered.

Another leap, this one stronger than the first, and they landed at Grizzly Market.

The parking lot was a jumble of burned cars, some of them still parked. Paper, debris and all sorts of things that once had been inside of houses littered it. Walking to the store’s door meant navigating through a maze.

Taak took a smaller leap to the door, stopping just before crashing into the glass. This let Ace know that Taak wasn’t frightened; he had become downright paranoid. Most Dendroids were fearless, especially those born from John Felt’s clan like Taak had been.

Ace climbed down when the automatic doors opened, inviting them inside.

“Dead, dead, dead,” Taak whispered.

“The dead can’t hurt us,” Ace whispered back.

The cold blast of an air conditioner hit his face, which was even stranger than the smell. The static of the store’s intercom reached his ears as if someone had lifted it and was waiting to speak. The Babisianx had knocked out the city’s power, so what was firing up the juice?

Can goods resting on shelves gave Ace courage to at least check things out. Holding up the sword with trembling hands, he stepped quietly inside hoping nothing charged out at them from one of the aisles.

Taak stayed some distance behind because the sword could kill him as easily as it would the Babisianx. All Babisianx and Dendroids combusted when diamonds penetrated their skin and bones, and the EDS were completely lined with them on its sharp side.

Reaching a shelf with Mexican spices, canned beans, menudo and pesole, Ace looked over his shoulder both ways, lowered the sword, opened his sack and started loading up. Making sure he stayed as quiet as possible, he lifted cans while listening out for any other noise. Other than the static spilling out of the speakers no other sounds could be heard.

Supposedly, Missoula had been emptied of people by the Babisianx some time ago. Ace started believing this as he filled his sack halfway and still there was silence. Gripping the sword, he walked low back to the start of the aisle and closer to the front door.

Some type of cleanup had been done. The aisle was clear of baskets or anything else. In the distance under small lamps cheese and deli meats that had turned green sat on display. The same with bread Ace passed. Mold had also attached to the cellophane bags. Boxes of clear plastic wrapped cookies had mold as thick as balls of cotton. Tall cans of Monster sat chilled on a refrigerated shelf.

Ace turned up the hotdog and cheese aisle, then fell back on his hands. Crawling back, he stumbled into the shelf of condiments. Jars of relish and pickles crashed down.

Taak landed beside him, but Ace feared it was too late. More were coming from the direction of the meat department. From the sounds of the feet rushing toward him there had to be more than a dozen of them. The sack had fallen from his shoulder. Gripping the sword because living was better than eating good for a day, he climbed on Taak’s back just as the two aliens standing at the end of the aisle started after him.

But these aliens weren’t Babisianx, which was a reality wreck. The alien on the left appeared only as black smoke at first, its vapors moving gradually like an internal fire burning under control. Gradually, long thin white hair appeared and covered its body. Sculpted fingernails as thin as the sharpest pins hung from its hands. Horn shaped teeth grew out of its cheeks and jaw.

The one on the right had four heads, one facing north, south, east and west. This alien had two pairs of arms to reach behind it and in front of it at the same time. Wings made of long hairy spider arms rested on its back. A breathing apparatus moved in and out of its alien’s mouth, which was nothing more than sinew connecting bones.

Taak took a flying leap to get away. Ace made the mistake of looking up.

“Ah! Ah! Ah!” Even to him his screams sounded like a woman’s, but he didn’t care. Unable to stop looking at what had been above him, he couldn’t believe it was real even though he was looking at it. The sight of what he saw forced screams out of him as Taak flew out the store’s front door. Landing on the mall roof, Ace continued screaming. More of the aliens from the store were on the roof sniffing the scent where Taak had landed the first time.

On the streets below, the aliens with four heads raced across debris on their spider limbs. Taak veered hard to the right and took to the air when three of the aliens on the roof almost reached them.

Ace couldn’t help looking down. More aliens poured into the street, running nearly as fast as Taak leapt, and coming out of the vast chasm Ace had seen earlier. Also coming out of the chasm were humans, except they weren’t human anymore. And one of them was one of the foodies that had been sent on the last mission.

Seeing these humans made him understand why the scent of death hung in the air. It also helped him understand what he had seen in the ceiling of the store. The genetically altered Kaneen eggs had hatched feeders capable of altering humans into the undead.

These weren’t zombies. They were something more and could move fast. One of the undead climbed on top of a smashed out car in record-breaking speed, then on top of a city bus with strong grips, ran across it, then leapt high into the air to grab Taak as Taak tried to lower to the ground to brace his feet against it.

Ace screamed as aliens and the undead quickly closed in. A second undead climbed up on the bus for a better chance at grabbing a meal on a downward jump, since Taak had already touched down and was springing up again. Metal screeched and collided as more undead pushed abandoned cars out of the way to reach them.

Ace swung the sword in all directions in fear until he and Taak were higher this time in the sky.

Ace became confused for two reasons. The undead had exhibited human intelligence. The other reason he was confused was what he hadn’t noticed until they were in the sky again. Humans weren’t the only ones that the hatched Kaneen had turned into the undead. The two alien species had also been turned into the undead.

And from the looks in the undeads’ eyes all they had wanted was to feed.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Farzad Emir couldn’t have known what was happening in the city, although by now the Dendroids at camp were aware of what Kuna, Taak and Dondoo were running from.

The reason Farzad didn’t know was because he also faced something that puzzled and frightened him at the same time.

Ericka Elise Martin hadn’t walked away from her army the night the humans battled the Babisianx on the streets of Missoula. The Babisianx had abducted her that night and taken her into one of their warships. A year had passed before her army thought of a way to get her back, and that exchange had happened only yesterday. But the Ericka Martin that left them wasn’t the Ericka that had returned.

The strangest change was her eyes. Her pupils and irises were no longer circular in shape. Her irises were a honeycomb of eight perfectly matching rhombuses clustered around her pupils that were now shaped like three lines similar to an upside down Y.

And that hadn’t been the only change.

Farzad watched as veins in Ericka’s arm rose to the surface. Some of the veins swelled while others constricted. The roundness in her abdomen contracted until it became the shape of a brutal curve. Her reaction, although she was still unconscious, was her spine arching beyond normal human capability.

Like the others he took a step back when her body levitated off of the bed seemingly for no apparent reason. It was only a few inches but enough to make him aware that the strange things happening were only getting worse.

The currents of energy coming from her body had been able to draw energy from wherever it could find it inside the Dendroids’ underground compound. Father and other Dendroids had evacuated the upper levels, but not soon enough. Eight Dendroids lay dead in the next room. Each had simply dropped to the floor. No one knew what killed them, but Farzad feared their deaths had something to do with what he was looking at.

When the strange first began happening, Farzad, James, and Callum had run to Ericka in the hopes of helping. Too many steps in and sensations in their faces made their skin, muscle, and bones feel unstable, and as if their faces were dripping like hot wax. Only then had Farzad made the decision to bring in the person responsible for Ericka’s condition.

Prince Hamut Margas was the favorite son of the Babisian King that had taken over Earth.

The Babisianx had invaded a year ago. On that day, because the Babisianx’ internal organs were made from otherworldly electrical energy, they had taken over the world’s electricity, then turned that electricity against man.

Within minutes of their warships entering Earth’s atmosphere, half of the world’s population were killed by electrical currents inside their homes or places of employment or in buildings in cities and towns or even in their cars. Airplanes and military jets of all sizes fell from the sky, crashed and burned. Cities became the three ‘Cs’: clouds of soot, chaos and collapsed buildings. All major bridges were destroyed. Military bases became targets to seek and destroy. Kings, presidents, emperors, shahs, and any other government leaders or royal families were killed on sight. Electricity, running water and gas were now things of the past unless you became a Babisian slave, and even then natural resources were given at the Babisianx’ discretion.

Half Babisian and half human, and next in line for the Babisian throne, made Prince Hamut the enemy. Frangible Diamond Rifles (FDRs) trained on him as he hurried into the room and closer to the bed. None of the people in the room knew of his true alien powers, but many had gotten a good idea during the Battle of Missoula.

Hamut didn’t fear the rifles. What he feared was Ericka’s death, and the death of his unborn children growing inside her.

“Tell us what to do,” James pleaded, hating having to ask the enemy for help, because Ericka looked to be dying and he for one didn’t want that to happen.

Most of the group wanted Ericka dead, including some of the people in the room with her now, but not all of them. It didn’t matter that she had no military skills or training. Her clairvoyant abilities to see the past, present and future, and after she brought down five warships, and her ability to persuade the Dendroids of Blue Trees and John Felt’s offspring to join her efforts to subdue the Babisianx earned her the title as leader of The Executioners of the Babisianx, at least in these parts, and hopefully if communications was ever restored the entire world.

Without her those in the room feared total domination, including the Dendroids and John Felt’s offspring. Many of the predictions Ericka made since the invasion had come true, happening exactly how she said it would sometimes right after she saw it. There was one prediction those in the room pinned their hopes on.

Ericka had seen the future, and in that future Earth wins.

What James feared was the Babisianx sought Ericka because of her clairvoyance and not because they feared she would lead human survivors to independence. And this seemed to be true since Prince Hamut had come straightway inside an enemy camp even though he knew they could hold him ransom or kill him with the weapons they held.

Unlike his millions of brothers that looked like five-feet tall, four-foot wide polished stones, and were able to kill humans and other aliens with the electricity stored in their pikes (long, rope like tongues with barbed hooks) and their many reachers, Hamut walked upright instead of on all fours.

Dark hair hung past his shoulders. Red and white eyes sat deeply in his head above human cheeks, nose, mouth, and chin. The electrical energy his body produced caused tiny beads of electrical currents to dart underneath surfaces of skin that looked like thin layers of water. Another thing that made him different was his pikes weren’t tongues with barbed hooks, but spears of energy that were stored between his ulna and radius, which were shot out of his wrists just underneath the palms like spider webs.

This was the first time some of them was seeing him up close, and seeing him this closely made them believe he was perhaps more dangerous than anyone had previously described him. Because of this, hands tightened their hold on rifles, ready to use the weapons against him.

“Calm down,” Farzad encouraged when the anxiety in the room turned into grunts and other noises of fear.

Ericka was more than his leader; she was the woman he hoped to love someday. The thought of one of them shooting her accidently, he yelled, “Callum! James! Clear everyone out. Lipkus and I will keep our eyes his ‘Highness.’”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Hamut said softly. No one had to tell him where Ericka was once he arrived at the camp. As soon as his feet touched ground after traveling from his warship he felt the distressed heartbeats of his children. “Her welfare is my only concern.”

Farzad stepped closer with his rifle when Ericka lowered to the bed simply from Hamut’s presence. It looked to him like she started to calm.

Hamut spoke Babisian, knowing his children could hear him and knew the sound of his voice.

“Does he need to touch her?” James asked, taking closer steps now that others in their group had left the room.

Hamut stared at the rifles first, then at Farzad. The rifles in the room had stolen his father’s arm, and almost his father’s life. Too many were trained on him. In any other situation killing one of them would have given him pleasure. Now that he had a family and Ericka could be caught in the crossfire, he didn’t want to risk the repercussions. “I need to take her out of this room. The energy in the compound is imbalanced.”

“Eight Dendroids are dead,” Farzad said. “Did Ericka kill them?”

“No.” Hamut didn’t want to like Farzad, but Farzad was one of only a few in Ericka’s army that he trusted would keep her safe. None of them knew the reason behind Ericka’s genetic alteration because he hadn’t told them, and wouldn’t tell them because telling them and they would risk Ericka’s life to hide her as far away from him as possible. The alterations had been necessary. As his mate, Ericka would someday leave Earth. The changes ensured her survival in other atmospheres beyond Earth.

“The imbalance of energy did it,” he said. “Think of it as a heart attack.”

The longer Farzad studied Hamut’s face he was certain the Prince didn’t know what these children will look like when they were born or what capabilities they would have.

More of Ericka’s veins had risen to the surface. The contractions had lessened, but the tautness of her middle warned she still suffered from them.

“If my children die, she dies.” Hamut spoke low so only Farzad could hear him. “Her body and the children’s have become one. She cannot live without them until the process is complete and the children are born.”

“Is she human?” James also spoke low as he drew closer. “What did you do to her on your ship?”

“She’s human,” Hamut assured, because it was true and he needed them to believe that. The moment they didn’t Ericka would no longer be safe around other humans. “Don’t let your imaginations get carried away.”

“Tell us how to help her,” Farzad raged, giving a firm point of the rifle, because the only common ground he had with Hamut was keeping Ericka alive.

“Only I can help her,” Hamut answered. “I need to touch her,” he said, again looking at the rifles pointed at him. Although he spoke in a deep voice, the words were gentle and the plea of a man facing a desperate situation. One of his hands pressed gently against Ericka’s stomach. Farzad saw her become more relaxed. A bead of sweat rolled from her forehead. Deep breaths were taken.

“You did this,” Farzad accused. “You should have chosen one of your own kind for a mate.”

“I’m human!” Hamut raged in a threatening whisper, his eyes narrowing on Farzad with detestation and a strong urge to kill.

“No,” Farzad argued, tightening his mouth and returning a gaze of disgust of his own. “You’re something else. And if she dies I’ll personally hold you responsible.”

“She’s not going to die, and that’s what the others here are afraid of! Can’t you see that?” Hamut insisted.

Farzad knew this was true; still, he took a moment to look toward the door. Many in their group stood inside it waiting for any reason to shoot.

Hamut waved a hand over the mound of Ericka’s belly.

Others inched closer as Ericka’s abdomen contorted and took on an odd form. No one said anything when he lifted Ericka in his arms.

“Shit!” James muttered when Hamut’s six reachers coiled gently around Ericka, fastening her to his body in an upright position. Her eyes became sluggish as if he had given her a powerful sedative. One of the reachers snaked up to her mouth, entered it, then continued to travel into her lungs. The others had seen this before, because it had been done to them. It was necessary when traveling by air on the Dendroids. Reachers were connected to the Babisianx’ and Dendroids’ respiratory systems. Oxygen secreted out of it. Immediately Ericka’s shoulders rose and fell in a normal breathing pattern as her lungs filled and her oxygen levels became regulated.

Hamut wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to him like he had many times before. The two of them had been through a lot during the past year. The others moved out of his way as he made his way out of the room.

Outside, a harsh cold wind blew.

Nearby, his personal deim hovered above a grass clearing.

A large tree with wide reaching roots that grew above ground was chosen. Reclining in one of the hollows, he kissed her hair.

“Hey!” Farzad ranted. “I don’t care what you think she is to you. She’s not your wife. She’ll never be. Hands off.”

Hamut’s red and white eyes burned brighter as his jaw hung open like a growling beast. The others saw his anger and took several steps back. Realizing he was making the humans more fearful, he tried to calm down. “Leave me with Ericka or all of you here will regret it.”

The depth of his voice, as deep as something spoken from the deepest hollow that a human couldn’t reach, reminded them that although human he was also a dangerous alien.

“That isn’t going to happen,” Farzad warned. “You can help her, but you keep your mouth away from her hair or any other part of her. You’re our prisoner now. Let’s see what your father has to say about that when he gets wind of it.”

Szwedko, Pakuk and Ace ran from between the trees in a rush. When they saw the future King of Babis sitting with Ericka underneath a tree, Szwedko motioned for Farzad to come where he was. Ace thought again about what he saw in Missoula, then lowered to the ground and puked.

Farzad saw this and knew they had new information to share. For weeks getting inside Missoula had become priority. Hopefully, food had been found, because what they had was quickly running out.

“We’re watching you,” Farzad warned. “You’re not leaving with her so don’t even think about it.”

“I’ll be here,” Hamut said. “And when you return you can set your terms, Farzad. I’ll give you anything you want if you return my family to me.”

Farzad held Hamut’s gaze because the promise of anything said a lot. No one in the camp had possessions any longer, including clothes other than what they wore on their backs. The Babisianx controlled food and water. The Internet no longer existed. Cell phones and computers were things of the past. Earth had been thrown back into the Dark Ages, and those that lived in the light and enjoyed luxury were the Babisianx.

He thought about this as he hurried off, leaving the others to watch Hamut.

Nineteen soldiers didn’t bother watching their second in command run off, and aimed their rifles as they got closer to their new prisoner.

As their enemy Hamut knew that the nineteen didn’t give a shit about him. Staring at him with lifeless eyes, dirty faces, and clothes that should have been discarded and tossed into the nearby fire, he knew they blamed him for everything they were now going through.

Choosing Ericka had gotten him into deep shit with his father and many brothers, because she had been the enemy and choosing her gave their enemy protection that none of his family wanted her to have. He now saw that Ericka’s army also hated his decision of making Ericka his mate. Choosing her had been the only way to spare her life from his species. Explaining his decision to humans who were angry their world had been stolen from them was a moot point. Pleading with them came to his mind. Hopefully, they would listen and no one would have to die. “My children are no longer in distress and are thriving. If you kill me, you kill her.”

“Just make her better,” one of the soldiers hissed. “And then you get out of here.”

None of the soldiers knew what to do when Hamut didn’t respond or make any movement. Lowering his chin, he looked as if meditating. Wondering if this was a trick to catch them off guard several soldiers took closer steps, each of them aiming their rifles at different parts of his body.

Lipkus noticed that Hamut hadn’t moved or changed his position. He watched instead as Hamut stroked Ericka’s hair and refused to take his eyes off of her. “Why do you care about her after she took down five of your warships?”

The question had to be asked. On the night of the battle Lipkus had seen Ericka falling from the sky and a fall that high should have led to her death. No plausible explanation had been given as to how she had survived. If Farzad hadn’t convinced the majority she’d been abducted plans to get her back wouldn’t have been made. Just like everyone else, Lipkus saw for himself that the Babisianx weren’t the only ones who held Ericka in high regard. Father and his clan protected her from everyone, including other humans. And so did John Felt’s offspring. Lipkus had lived at the Blue Trees Army Base amongst aliens for seven years and never had he seen this much cooperation between alien species and man.

Who knew what happened during the year she’d been away? How did any of them even know if the woman lying on the ground was the real Ericka Martin or not?

“Do you fear her?” Hamut asked still looking at Ericka.

“Should I?” Lipkus asked.

Hamut lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes. “If you fear her then you’ll hurt her.”

A soldier stepped closer in threat.

No one saw what happened. If any of them wanted to know how powerful Prince Hamut Margas was he gave them that opportunity.

A crackle of electrostatic discharge erupted underneath the lone soldier’s feet.

Soldiers fell away believing they also would get hurt as electrical currents branched liked ivy crawling over a tree, but up the lone soldier’s legs. Each current snapped and sizzled and poked parts of his body like attacking snakes. Jamie’s feet lifted off the ground, his body suspended in the air as smoke came from his hair.

Lipkus saw that soldiers standing near Jamie were unharmed as they got close to figure out a way to help Jamie out.

“He’s dead! Jamie’s dead!” Edgar yelled.

Electrical static started at Hamut’s mouth and rolled down his chin.

Lipkus saw this and knew regaining control was the only way to prevent further deaths, because the truth was their army needed Hamut alive. The Prince of Babis was in their custody. They had him! Food was scarce. The only water they had came from the river. Hamut had authority amongst the Babisianx to change the army’s circumstances. “Calm down!” Lipkus yelled. “Listen! All of you. He only attacked because Jamie threatened Ericka. Hold your ground.”

Speaking to men like soldiers meant nothing because these men weren’t soldiers. Most of them were angry survivors that saw all aliens as enemies, including the aliens that offered to help.

Hamut ignored Lipkus because he already knew what would happen. At any given moment the human brain even while sleeping produced energy equivalent to a ten watt light bulb. Hamut focused on this area as five soldiers came closer. Although others in the group and Lipkus continued to yell for these men to stand down they continued taking steps with furrowed noses and slanted eyebrows and lips of rage.

Hamut pressed one hand against the ground. The pike in his arm shot out of his wrist like a pile driver capable of excessive force. A bright blue nearly invisible string of energy traveled faster than the speed of light in an uneven one-hundred-and-eighty degree pattern. The five soldiers dropped as quickly as the pike entered above one ear, passed through their brains, exited above the other ear, then entered the man closest to him.

Two soldiers in the group took random shots.

Other soldiers, including Lipkus, had no fear. Even after watching some of their camp members die they kept their rifles trained on Hamut to ensure he didn’t escape with Ericka, but the others would have to die because they weren’t listening and were testing the strongest Babisian currently on Earth.

Hamut’s mouth opened wide. The energy that came out of it looked no more than vapors of gasoline. It passed between the men standing at a nearby campfire. Electrical fire burst into the air like water from a nozzle, engulfing the two men who had taken random shots.

Szwedko ran out of the forest and saw men on the ground and shouted for the others in the forest to also come out.

Farzad wasn’t surprised by what he saw. While the others ran he walked, his eyes solely on Hamut.

“Why?” He asked when he’d gotten close enough.

“They threatened Ericka,” Hamut answered. “Ask Lipkus.”

Lipkus cursed then held Farzad’s gaze.

Farzad hurried to him.

“We’re losing control, Farzad,” Lipkus admitted. “These men in our group aren’t listening. He only killed those who were being a threat. Why is he cooperating is what I’d like to know.”

The half-Dendroid, half-human named Meak, and several of his family members rushed out of the compound after the lights in the entrance dimmed before shining brightly again.

Branches in nearby trees supported more of the Dendroids as they hurried back to the compound after being sent to look for food. To gain control of the humans hiding in this mountain King Sammo had gathered up the forest animals until none were left.

Tension continued to mount. Callum, Father, James and Margot also climbed out of the compound to see what was happening. Before long hundreds of humans filled the area. The sight of dead men on the ground the reason they ranted and demanded revenge.

“No!” Farzad yelled. “Either all of you listen or you’re free to go on your own!” He stopped suddenly because saying more and Hamut would figure out how disorganized they had become. “I’ll handle this my way!”

“Get rid of these people!” Hamut raged. “I was protecting Ericka. Ask any of them. If any of these men were honest they’ll tell you the same thing. If it had been something more they would have killed me and my family.”

“Shut up!” Farzad threatened. “I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work. You won’t turn these people against me.”

“They’ve already turned against you,” Hamut accused. “Lipkus told them to stand down and they didn’t. You’ve lost control here, and those of you in charge know it. Send the others away.”

“And then what?” Farzad asked. “What the hell are you doing in Missoula? Why did you drop different kinds of aliens there? To frighten us out of the mountain and make us slaves and turn us into the undead?”

People in the group stared wide-eyed at one another. Either they stayed together or all of them would become like the humans that had already been captured. Farzad saw something in Hamut’s eyes. If he didn’t know any better, Hamut knew nothing about what he mentioned and Farzad had let the cat out of the bag. And then he saw Hamut alter his expression to hide his thoughts, then avert his gaze to Father, because everyone knew that Father and his clan would protect Ericka from anyone.

Hamut held Father’s gaze. “You already know they want to kill her, Jins. Are you going to let that happen? Two of those men on the ground took shots. They almost killed Ericka.”

The species of the Humanlikes were more vicious in nature than their more alien-looking relatives. They had heard shots fired, and even though humans were burning on the ground each could see that many more humans held their rifles in a threatening grip.

The war should have been against the Babisianx with the humans and alien subspecies sticking together, except the Humanlikes saw that the Prince of Babis was here to help Ericka. And they knew something else. As his mate even if Ericka dishonored the Prince it went against the Babisianx’ nature to harm a spouse, especially a female one. Instead of turning their anger toward Hamut the Humanlikes and many of the Dendroids collectively surrounded Hamut, facing the humans with faces of war.

“Look what’s happening!” Lipkus warned the others. “Control yourselves. The war isn’t between us!”

Farzad could feel many in the group pulling on him to do something. “Where’s my defensive line?”

Those words and the strongest men in the group pushed forward with their weapons, aiming them at the Prince and the Dendroids that had gathered around him.

Father stepped closer. “This is not how things should be. Fall back before things go too far between us, Farzad Emir.”

“Help me,” Hamut said, his eyes on Father. “I trust you to help me protect Ericka.”

Farzad spoke directly to Meak. “Call your family back. You know you can trust me to handle this.”

Meak searched the group of humans, picking out the troublemakers as he scanned the area. “I agree with the Prince of Babis. We need to get rid of some of these humans. They can no longer be trusted. They have caused discord since Ericka’s return.”

“No,” Farzad disagreed. “They stay. I’ll handle it. I’m asking you to trust me!”

“I will kill them if they go near her,” Meak said.

“And I’m counting on you to do just that, Meak,” Farzad said. “But give me a chance to make this right. Call your family back.”

The sound Meak made with his mouth was familiar to them all. The humans called it kakking, its language one that only the Dendroids and Babisianx understood.

Meak’s and Father’s clans outnumbered the humans in Blue Trees by more than two-thousand. A collective vow to protect Ericka had been made shortly after she arrived in the mountains the first time. Another vow had been secretly made to also protect Farzad Emir and Callum Horn. If they had their way the others would have been sent away, all of them except Ace, James, Margot and Szwedko.

“I’ll do as you say, but I think it’s time to separate ourselves before your unruly humans get us all killed,” Meak answered.

Farzad gave Meak a gentle nod, then held Hamut’s gaze. “You and your kind took the animals in the forest. We need food. And lots of it. Have your species drop food and water as soon as possible. You do that and we’ll let you stay with Ericka.”

“If you give me Ericka, I’ll give you all of Idaho,” Hamut promised. “Give her to me and you’ll have whatever you need for your army.”

“Don’t trust him!” Someone yelled.

Farzad quickly lifted his hand to quiet everyone. “Do as I said. Put her down and go. Maybe you need to think about what’s important. This war or Ericka’s future.”

Farzad stepped closer when Hamut rose to his feet. One side of him fell back in a fall. The quick press of his foot against the ground kept him upright, but only a few seconds. This time Hamut started to fall forward.

Farzad hooked his arms around Ericka, then watched as static in Hamut’s eyes blinked with an electrical short. The sight of this frightened him more than anything, because whatever was happening was caused by Hamut’s own species.

Only when Farzad had a good grip on Ericka did Hamut let her go. Everyone parted clearing a path for him as he made his way swiftly to his deim. Climbing aboard it he lifted into the sky at a fast speed, quickly becoming too small to see.

“What do you think that was about?” Szwedko asked, staring up at the sky. “It looked to me like his own kind had tried to kill him.”

Ace hurried closer and reached for Ericka’s face. The veins in her neck and face started to rise again to the surface.

“Shit,” James whispered when he saw this. “I’d hoped His-Mutt had been lying about him being the only one who can help her.”

“I knew he wasn’t lying,” Farzad admitted. “And since he knows this I’m sure he’ll be back before permanent damage can be done.”

Szwedko stared at the size of their group. Now that the Prince had left, many of them separated into individual groups.

Farzad noticed the suspicious eyes gazing in Ericka’s direction.

“We gotta do something,” Ace whispered. “We’ve already known this for some time.”

“If we lose the support of the Dendroids and Humanlikes we’ll lose the most valuable part of our army other than our weapons,” James said.

Ericka began to pant. Her muscles became stiff.

“She’s starving,” Father said, coming closer. “Soon she will take energy from each of us to stay alive.”

“It’s not Ericka,” Farzad corrected. “I know that now. It’s the children inside her. They’re starving for electricity. I think the children will be a lot like their father once they’re born.”

“Too many in our group don’t trust her in this condition,” Margot urged. “I hate to admit it, but Hamut is right. Sooner or later they’ll turn against Ericka and they’ll try and kill her.”

“I’ve already come up with a plan,” Farzad said. “I’ll discuss it with the five of you under that distant tree. After we agree then we’ll let Father and Meak in on it.”

Others in the camp saw the top six huddled underneath a tree and became terrified. Of them more than half were women, and a few of those women had children.

During the invasion the Babisianx had gotten their hands on almost all of Earth’s children, and so far no one knew where they had taken the children or what was happening to them.

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