Croatoan, Earth : Church of Echoes : Part 110

Croatoan, Earth : Church of Echoes : Part 110

"We need to get him to a Med Bed," Domitias called out, going to her NID to find one outside the dead zone. Aaron ignored her and dropped his ear to the dwarf's chest to listen, when he didn't hear what he expected to hear, he moved up to the dwarf's throat and began to probe the flesh with his fingertips. A purpling bruise across his Adam's Apple told him all he needed to know. His airway was restricted.

"He won't last that long," Aaron said. "He's got a blocked air passage. Probably from this," he pointed to the bruising. "He'll suffocate long before you find a Med Bed."

"Poor, Dolan," one of the dwarves remarked. "He's already a reprint. His wife ain't gonna be happy to hear this."

"He's not dead yet," Aaron snapped, reaching in his pocket and pulling out a small folding knife. He quickly bared the blade and snatched a flask of from the pocket of the dwarven soldier nearest him. He popped the top and took a sniff to ensure it had a high enough alcohol content to sterilize his blade. He doused the blade on both sides and quickly stripped down the ink pen in his pocket, discarding everything but the casing. The knights and dwarves all watched in fascination as the former Director quickly and competently performed the first tracheotomy they'd ever seen. Aaron gave it the end of the tube a puff of air the moment the pen was inserted. Dolan's contorted features relaxed immediately, his lungs finally receiving the air the his blocked airway was denying him.

"Well, I'll be," one of the dwarven soldiers muttered in disbelief, clapping Aaron on the back in congratulations for a job well done.

"Where'd you learn to do that?" Persia asked.

"Boy Scouts," he replied. "How you feeling, buddy?" Aaron asked. Dolan gave him a thumbs up. Aaron smirked, hoping a thumbs up meant the same thing among the dwarves as it did back home in the U.S.. "Just breath slow, take slow steady breaths." Dolan gave him another thumbs up. Rising to his feet, Aaron turned to address the squad of Vaadvargoon gathered around him. "You'll need to get him to Med Bed as quick as you can. If he starts having trouble breathing again, blow into the tube to clear the fluid." The dwarves nodded as one and quickly moved to obey, each of them clapping Aaron on the back as they moved past.

"I'm surprised you didn't try and make us do it," Domitias remarked.

"Would you have done it?" Aaron asked, knowing full well the answer she'd give.


"I figured," he said, starting back toward the compound. As he neared the formation of dwarves, once again, their rifles sought him out.

"You find him?" the red-bearded dwarf asked.

"He didn't just find 'im, Sir. Bigfoot saved his life," one of the three dwarves announced merrily. "He cut a hole in Dolan's throat and stuck a soup slurper in the hole for him to breath through. It was damn bloody brilliant."

"You saved Dolan's life, eh?" Red Beard asked.

"Twice," Aaron answered. "Look, I care a lot of those people. To you, they're just a source of income. To me, they're like my own family. If you can't let me into see them, then so be it, but at least let me talk to Murdock. Can I speak with Murdock please?"

"I don't know, Bigfoot. Can you?" Red Beard asked laughingly.

"May I speak with Murdock then? Come on. I just saved one of your men. You can't make an exception just this once?"

"I don't reckon he's in any kind of mood to be talking with the likes of you. And yeah, you might have saved Dolan's life, but how do I know it wasn't you what planted the bomb and stuff? I don't think old Murder Face Murdock has the time to meet, you know, on account of the bomb and all," Red Beard said, reaching out with his rifle and giving the man a poke. Domitias's and Persia's blades were out in an instant, with Domitias's going for the dwarf's throat while Persia's sliced his rifle in half. Their response was automatic and blindingly fast. The rest of the knights in the squad engaged their shields and used them to shield protect their flanks while simultaneously targeting all of the dwarves in Red Beard's immediate vicinity. Red Beard froze, going up on his toes to avoid being skewered.

"Don't do that," Domitias warned. Red Beard dipped his head once and slowly back himself off the point of her blade. "I'm going to lower my blade now, and your going to order your men to point their weapons anywhere but at my principal. Is that understood?" Read Beard raised his hands and motioned for the others to do as she said. As their rifles lowered, Domitias sword withdrew.

"I need to speak with Murdock," Aaron told the dwarf urgently, throwing both his hands up in the air to put a stop to the hostilities.

"You and your security detail need to leave before my men accidently shoot you a few hundred times," Red Beard growled, clearly embarrassed that Domitias outmaneuvered him.

"You sure?" Aaron asked, feigning disappointment. "I mean if you're sure, we'll leave. I just figured Murdock and the rest of you would have wanted to know who was responsible for setting the bomb that nearly killed your protectees. That's okay I guess. I mean after all, I'm not Vaadvargoon. It wasn't my brother in arms that died. Okay. You win. We'll be off," Aaron said, turning to leave."

The lights suddenly flickered on without, flooding the whole city with light and revealing the full extent of the damage done by Chepi's outburst. Everything from the platter of grass where Chepi and Matilda had been seated to the corridor where Aaron had avoided the personnel carrier was gone. The wall in front of the complex was peeled back on both sides of the gate like frayed ribbons. The gates were gone, and a strip of decking thirty feet wide and a hundred yards in length had been ripped up and rolled back like carpet. Aaron felt weak looking on it all, not because he couldn't believe the extent of it all, but because it reminded him of that shaft Luke and Daniel had sunk into the ship when they tried to kill Prince Ogct. The part of his mind that made him a good Homeland Security Director recognized the threat Chepi had become and understood what he should do, but that part of his mind that was loyal to Daniel couldn't bring himself to report her.

"You know who did this?" Red Beard growled, reaching out for Aaron with hands that looked like they could crush stone. "Tell me who did this. Tell me now." Domitias's blade stopped him yet again.

"He only speaks to Murdock," Domitias declared, her eyes locked on those of the dwarf glaring up at her.

"And only if I'm allowed to check on the welfare of the family," Aaron added. The dwarf eyed Aaron and his group a moment, suspicious of their motives. The dwarf was a Vaadvargoon and knew when he was being manipulated, and their request felt like a manipulation. Aaron was too keen to see the family, and in Red Beard's experience, that meant secrets. He just couldn't tell whether it was a malicious secret or something between the family and him. Back on his home world, the dwarf never would have entertained the prospect of negotiation. He would have just started slicing off parts till Aaron told him what he wanted to know. Unfortunately for the dwarf, they weren't on his home world. They weren't even in the same star system. Here there were rules of protection in place and treaties of conduct. He couldn't harm them unless they attacked a citizen of the Hon Tharim.

"Get Murdock!" the dwarf roared. A guard closest to the manor broke rank and ran inside. A few minutes later, he reappeared with Murdock stomping along in his wake. Murdock marched around the edge of the blast area and pushed his way through the gathered dwarves.

"What is it, Bigfoot?" he asked rudely.

"This attack, it was Walton Kish. He did this," Aaron lied. "He was in the engineer's alley across from the gate before the blast. He used a monk to distract your sentries and open the gate then sent some hired muscle in to attack the compound." All eyes turned to the spot where the alley should have been. They were all thinking the same thing and hoping it was true.

"If he was in that alley, I reckon he's havin' a right rotten day 'bout now," Murdock murmured. "You sure it was him?"

"I saw him with my own eyes. I think he was testing your security," Aaron theorized. He didn't really think that, but then again, he couldn't really tell the dwarf what he was really thinking. "What I've learned of Walton is that he's every bit the soldier Gorjjen is. If the Baron were the one after that family, your dwarves and that wall wouldn't have slowed him down in the least. It wouldn't have slowed either one of them down. You know what I think? I think this was him sending a message. He knew I was coming here, and he made sure I knew he was here. He wanted me to know he was here before launching that attack, because he thinks I'm close to Daniel still. I think he wants me to tell–"

"Shut it, Bigfoot. This message wasn't for you," Red Beard interrupted. "It was for us. We have a treaty with Walton's people. They keep their filthy little thieves out of the Hon Tharim, and we don't gut their operations."

"He's clearly violated that treaty," Aaron remarked.

"Actually, he hasn't. The family is unharmed. This," he said, gesturing to the ruin of the block before them, "was his way of letting us know he wants to sit down with us. He wants that family, and he's going to try and negotiate for them."

"What about the damage?" Aaron asked in disbelief.

"We'll present him with a bill, and he will pay it," Murdock answered.

"And the dwarf who was killed?"

"Ours is an eye-for-an-eye sort of arrangement," Murdock told him evasively. "Normally, he would just hand over the guilty parties, but since they were destroyed in the blast, we'll have to ensure Walton loses someone of equal value."

"You're going to go to war with this man?" Aaron asked in disbelief.

"Who said anything about war? If we had done this to him, we would expect him to reciprocate. Optics matter, Bigfoot. We can't have your kind thinking they can do something like this to us and get away with it. Blood must be answered with blood."

"What about the children?" he asked.

"They'll be fine. We're moving 'em to a different compound and doubling up on the guard," Murdock replied.

"I need to see them," Aaron said.

"Ain't gonna happen, Bigfoot," Murdock growled, turning on his heel to go.

"I need to see them," Aaron growled back, his tone one of urgency.

"Why?" Murdock asked, eyeing the other man shrewdly.

"A word in private?" Aaron said, crooking a finger as he seperated from his security detail. Murdock considered the request and was on the verge of ignoring when a huge chunk of damaged debris suddenly broke free of the damaged wall across from the compound and slammed down on the deck beside his men. Reminded of the scope of the attack, Murdock figured a few minutes of his time was no great sacrafice. After all, the Yortharian was a right cozy with the Over Commander. An association like that was nothing to sneeze at. He walked over and joined up with Aaron to see what he wanted. Aaron took one look a the gathered dwarves and motioned him to walk with him a little further, Aaron recalling in that moment just how sensitive a dwarf's hearing really was.

"Come on, Bigfoot," Murdock griped. "Spit it out. I ain't got all day. I got Mayor Haloke buzzing the Saganaut's NID every five tick, demanding answers. For the moment, the Vaadvargoon's sagamore, Saganaut Gracion, is content to let me handle this. It's my contract after all, but I ain't got a lot of time. You savvy?" the dwarf asked with a narrowing of the eyes. "What ya got to say that requires us marching all the way back to the main gates."

"You fought along side Daniel and the Baron when they went up against the golemex, didn't you?" Murdock nodded, unsure where he was going with the question. "You're aware of what Daniel can do? You've been to the upper levels of the ship and seen the aftermath of the fight Daniel had with the Grand Reaper?"

"Where you going with this?"

"You know who it is you're protecting, don't you?" Aaron asked. "That's his son and granddaughter you have in there."

"Yeah. So?"

"It's Daniel's . . . family," Aaron repeated, putting extra emphasis on Daniel's name, hoping Aaron would pick up on what he was trying to say without coming right out and saying it. This was a secret Aaron didn't want getting out. Murdock frowned. Subtly was not his foray. Then suddenly he understood, making the connection with a sharp intake of breath. He turned and surveyed the damage with new eyes and a fresh understanding of what had just happened. He studied the shape of the of the blast zone again and followed it with his eyes back its point of origin. It was almost like the damaged area was pointing an accusing finger back at its accuser, saying here is where the killer stood.

"Which of the children did this?" Murdock asked with a dreadful hiss, lowering his voice so his brethren wouldn't know that it was he would brought this catastrophe upon their people.

"That's not important. What's important is that Walton Kish was here. And despite what you think, this was a message for Daniel. Those children weren't supposed to survive. Walton made a mistake. He attacked an enemy he didn't understand. He sent five men with rifles in to kill a few seemingly helpless people, and he would have succeeded if not for Chepi," Aaron said. "He didn't know what she was, but he does now. I know you want to be angry with–" Murdock spun on his heel and headed back for the manor, fully intent on confronting the little girl and her family. Guarding a Class 12 psychic was never part of the deal.

"Whoa. Whoa!" Aaron called out in alarm, quickstepping around the dwarf to block his way. "You look like you're planning on going in there and confronting them."

"I aim to do just that," Murdock fired back, stomping around him.

"You do realize that this happens every time she gets scared, right?" Aaron asked, quickstepping around him again. "You also realize that if you turn this back on her, Walton won't pay you a single cron for the damage done here today, and he should. When you get right down to it, this is still his fault. He poked the bear. He was the one who triggered her. She doesn't need you turning her out, and this city doesn't need a repeat of what just happened. She reacts to external threats, and as bad as this is, she can do a lot worse. She's Daniel's granddaughter. If she can only do a tenth of what Daniel can then she could destroy this whole fleet with a stray thought."

"I can't just ignore this," Murdock growled. "What if one of my men walks up on her while she's distracted and startles her. These are my people. I won't risk their lives."

"Daniel entrusted them to you. For that, you were paid handsomely. She doesn't have to be a threat to any of you. There are precautions we can take. There's a serum the knights carry that can interrupt her ability to use her powers. There are also neural dampeners that the knights can bring in to make it more difficult for her to focus. Daniel wanted them to leave Earth so she and his son could find someone to teach them how to safely use their abilities. Let me help you with that. Let me find her a monk capable of training her." Murdock looked uncertain.

"It's either that or you tell your people that this is her fault, and they blame you. Who knows, maybe they won't make you pay for the damage out of your own pocket." That put Murdock on his heels. He hadn't considered that possibility.

"You can stop her from . . ." he gestured to ruin all around them, "doing this again."

"Can you keep Walton out next time?" Aaron fired back. Murdock considered it and nodded. "Then yes, I can prevent this, but you're gonna have give my security detail access to the family. The serum I mentioned is the intellectual property of the Heidish Order, and it's proprietary. I can't get it myself. Only my security detail can. Let me leave Persia or Medomai or Vlad the Implier with the family to watch over them and monitor the injections."

"Vlad the Implier?" Murdock asked with a chuckle, arching a brow.

"Don't ask. People from my world are weird when they're naming things," Aaron told him wearily. "Just give us access, and I promise you that nothing like this will ever happen again." Murdock grimaced, hating the options he was being presented with. He gave his consent, but he was reluctant to do so. The truth was, if the girl hadn't killed her attackers, then Walton's attack would have succeeded. In a way, he owed the girl. Killing those men had salvaged his reputation. That was something he was desperate need of. He'd been dishonorably discharged from their service for showing mercy to an enemy combatant. The road back was a long one.

"I'll give them access, but I'm in charge of security. They'll be answering to me. That understood?" Aaron nodded. That was fine with him. He just had to convince Domitias to go along with it. The knights after all was his security detail. "Oh, and you're in charge of finding the damn teacher. I'm a dwarf. I don't know a damn thing about monks and their stupid mind powers?" Aaron agreed with a smirk and nod. With that decided, the pair turned and headed back to rejoin the others. What was to come next neither man was looking forward to.

High atop the cells, directly above where Aaron's body had come to rest after Chepi's explosion of power knocked him out, stood a pair of men. Men who'd been the subject of the talk Aaron and Murdock had just had. These men were smiling.

The attack on the compound was supposed to be a simple thing. Walton's men would rush in and kill the family, Aaron would witness it, and Cezzil would make sure that none of Walton's hired killers got taken alive. The five men he used were outside hires, men who had no ties to him or Grimhilt's organization. Aaron spotting him in the alley had been a complete fluke, though Walton tried to play it off as an intentional act on his part. According to Cezzil, that's what Aaron believed. It was supposed to be a simple thing, but the oldest child's reaction to the attack had not been expected. It had been knee-jerk reaction, an involuntary assault that was born in the primitive part of her brain.

In fact, her reaction to the gunmen had been the closest Walton had ever come to dying. If Cezzil hadn't translocated them from that alley when he had, Walton's reign of terror would have most definitely come to an end. The girl was clearly a mathematical prodigy just like Magpie, and her power was unbelievable.

"Oh how my little thief brings joy," Walton crooned. "She brings me the best little things, precious little baubles for me to tinker with." He caressed the hilt of his sword lovingly as he debated the merits of finishing the attack on the compound. The platoon of Green-Knuckles gathered around the compound didn't worry him, and now that they knew it was he who engineered the attack on the family, there really wasn't anything of consequence to deter him from finishing the job. He could still kill them, he just wasn't sure if it'd send the right message. On one hand, it would demonstrate how unstoppable he was to Magpie, but on the other, a mass murder of that scale might just diminish the overall shock value of the family's deaths. "Cezzil, my friend, I'm conflicted. I dearly wish to hurt Magpie and my little thief, but I fear if I go down there and slaughter all those men, Magpie might not truly feel the sting as potently as I'd like. What would you advise? How might I hurt him the most? Do I go down there and finish the job for which we came, or do I wait and come back another day take my time with each of them? I could bring Mars with me. His lascivious predilections would come in handy where the children are concerned." Cezzil's lip curled with disgust.

"I would never tell you to give up this obsession you have with Makki and Magpie, I'd never tell you that you don't stand a chance, or that you should avoid him at all cost. It would only firm your resolve. But that girl down there, she nearly killed you. Correction, she nearly killed us, and she wasn't even trying. You asked me once to tell you about Magpie. Since that day, I've had a lot more time to consider the question. Let me tell you who Magpie is, who he really is.

"Magpie's mind is a trapped insect in a very large web. Anytime he uses his mind to manipulate a pocket calculation, it affects every corner of that web. Now the minds of your average Class 3 psychic is a teeny tiny little bug trapped in that web. When it moves, the web is practically unaffected. The web spinner waiting for a meal might not even notice the disturbance of a Class 3. Magpie is more like a Class 12, and he's only a Class 12 because that's the highest level of classification. Beyond that a Class 12, it's impossible to measure. Magpie is so far off the scale, it's impossible to fathom just how powerful he truly is. If he were an insect trapped in this metaphorical web, he'd be the size of a sun.

"When I manipulate a pocket calculation, I can only affect the localized equations, the ones affecting me and the subject of my focus. When Magpie manipulates a pocket calculation, entire planets are included in the math. I have no idea where he is right now, but I can feel the rippling effects of his manipulations every time he interacts with the Grand Equation. I can reach out and manipulate the math necessary to stop the heart of a man across Vim Vulfahr. Magpie can do the same thing, only he can reach a lot further. Understand this, my friend. The man you know as Magpie is single-handedly the most dangerous man you will ever encounter. He is dangerous on a level you are unfamiliar with, and that is his family down there that you intend to kill. My suggestion is that we walk away from this. You're looking to challenge a man, but you're picking a fight with a god," Cezzil warned. "Nothing good will come of this obsession. You can't fight a man who can kill you with a thought from half a world away.

"Nothing good?" Walton scoffed. "Did you not just hear the same conversation I did? I could be man who kills a god."

"What if I suggest a better plan," Cezzil asked, "one capable of hurting Magpie more severely than your blades ever do while taking away his advantage without robbing you of the challenge you seek?"

"He would suffer?" Walton asked.

"Most definitely."

"What must I do?"

"You must be patient," Cezzil said. "You must withdraw and honor your treaty with the Meitchuwein. Sit down with them. Pay them for the damage caused here today. Let them know that you will pursue this family no further, and make them believe it." That was not what Walton wanted to hear. So far, he wasn't liking the plan.

"And why would I do that?" Walton asked.

"Because, they're in the market for a monk," answered Cezzil. "A yellow abbot if I'm not mistaken." The grin that spread across Walton's face was a truly sinister thing to behold.

Part 10
Part 20
Part 30
Part 40
Part 50
Part 60
Part 70
Part 80
Part 90
Part 100

Part 107
Part 108
Part 109
Part 110
Part 111

Other Books in the Series

Croatoan, Earth: The Saga Begins – Book One

Croatoan, Earth: Tattooed Horizon – Book Two

Croatoan, Earth: Warlocks – Book Three

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