Authors notes: I've now had more feedback about Taniwha than I ever did about my previous stories (all two of them, heh) - and I just wanted to acknowledge those of you who have spent a few moments to fire off an e-mail, or comment in the Yahoo group to me about them. I started writing for my own enjoyment, but I have to say, it's good for the ol' ego to get positive or constructive feedback (c'mon babe, stroke that ego, stroke it! Yeah, you know how I like it when you do that thing with your tongue, HRRR!).


Apologies for the delay in this part of the story. I was away for three weeks in my native country, New Zealand. I enjoyed the sun and warmth, it wasn't easy coming back to this Arctic shit-hole! The lizard in me likes the sun occasionally ;-)

Chur, Richard, for your sublime editing yet again!

Taniwha - Part 13

   Obscuring-Darkness watched the scenery flash by the troop-carrier while he brooded, without paying much attention to it. When some of the others tried to initiate a conversation with him, he just ignored them until they left him alone again. Eventually, he closed his eyes, and was trying to doze off when he felt a presence next to him.

   "It has been an eventful few days, hrrr?" Docile-Until-Provoked asked quietly, as he made himself comfortable on the padded bench beside the young engineer.

   The interior of the vehicle, although roomy by human standards, was quite crowded with the Vanguard crammed inside. Thankfully, the trip was to be a fairly short one, as the military airfield they were being taken to wasn't far away from the army base, according to the short briefing their pack-leader had given them before leaving.

   Keeping his eyes closed, and hoping the medic would take the hint, Obscuring-Darkness tried to tune out the words. As the medic continued to prattle on, however, he eventually lost patience. "Is there something you wanted?" he snapped, exasperated.

   Docile-Until-Provoked narrowed his eyes slightly, and rested a taloned hand on the engineer's shoulder. "I, too, have noticed our pack-leader's increasingly erratic behavior. And it is not difficult for me to see the strain this is placing on you."

   "Hrrr... What makes you think I need your assistance?"

   "Do not think me uncaring, young one. While being a medic may be my role, I still care for those under my responsibility."

   Obscuring-Darkness shook off the medic's hand, hissing with annoyance. "Do you see any injuries, medic? Leave me be."

   Huffing with quiet laughter, Docile-Until-Provoked half closed his eyes and leaned back, regarding him with an amused, but compassionate look. "Hrrr, a short time ago, you may recall that I told you I cannot heal injuries of the mind -"

   "Then you are in no position to help me, are you?" Obscuring-Darkness interrupted, baring his teeth in a threatening display, hoping to intimidate the medic.

   Docile-Until-Provoked gave the Vanguard equivalent of a shrug. "There is no immediate cure, so perhaps not. But I can, at least, offer you some advice. He needs your love and support, now. More so than ever before."

   Obscuring-Darkness slouched back, suddenly weary, and stared listlessly at his hands lying in his lap. "I tried! Do you not understand? He refused to see me before we left. Whatever is left of the warrior I love, is lost." He looked up at the medic, his expression the very personification of rejection. "When is someone going to be strong for me? Please, if you really do care for me, then leave me be."

   Docile-Until-Provoked watched the engineer turn away from him in obvious shame, trying to hide the quaver in his voice. He started to reach out a reassuring hand, but stopped himself. It wouldn't help matters, he decided. Once they got to the human base, where they would be working on the shuttle, he hoped the engineer's mood would improve, his mind taken up with other matters.

   Over the next few days they were shuffled from one military base to another, under extremely tight security, before arriving at their final destination. Eyes blinking in the bright artificial lighting, the slightly bewildered survivors stared around at their new surroundings. They were in a massive underground cavern, lit by massive banks of floodlights. In the middle of the cavern sat their shuttle, looking rather the worse for wear under the harsh lighting.

   "Welcome to Area-51," a loud voice called out, cutting through the background noise with little effort.

   The assembled Vanguard turned and saw Captain Hardy exiting from a smaller vehicle parked nearby, grabbing a large metal case from inside as he did so. Another group of a dozen or so humans, dressed in white, were approaching from the shuttle, converging on them. The humans stopped several metres away and regarded the Vanguard with a mix of fear and curiosity.

   "These," Captain Hardy gestured at the white-garbed people, "are the finest minds on the planet in their respective fields. You're going to work with them to explain your technology. I needn't remind you that we're operating on a tight schedule," he said, brisquely.

   As if on some unseen cue, several dozen heavily armed special forces marines stepped forward with heavy assault rifles at the ready. Captain Hardy placed his case on the hood of a conveniently parked vehicle, opened it up and pulled out a number of what looked like slim, metal bracelets. He walked through the group of Vanguard, handing the devices out as he went, until they all had one.

   "What is this?" Docile-Until-Provoked rumbled, studying the device, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

   "Those are tracking devices, so we know where you are at all times. We don't want you wandering off and getting lost, now do we?"

   "Hrrr, I do not think -"

   "Oh, I'm sorry. You seem to be under the mistaken impression you had any choice in the matter," Captain Hardy interrupted, looking not in the least bit apologetic. "Put them on, and we'll avoid any unpleasantries, shall we?"

   Staring daggers at the unrepentant human, Docile-Until-Provoked reluctantly reached a rear arm forward, slipping the device around his wrist, tightening it so it wouldn't slip off. The other Vanguard watched him put the thing on, before following suit.

   "There, that wasn't so bad now, was it?" Captain Hardy said in a condescending tone of voice, and a with smug grin plastered on his face. "Now, I've got a few reports to file, so I'll leave you to introduce yourselves to each other."

   The armed marines lowered their weapons, and stood back as Captain Hardy nodded to them and headed off toward a metal walkway leading to another section of the base.

   One of the white-garbed humans licked his lips nervously and took a tentative step forward, looking around at the assembled Vanguard, before settling his gaze on Docile-Until-Provoked. He clearly had decided that the 'talkative' alien was some sort of leader. "I... I'm Dr. Steven Evans," he mumbled, half holding out his hand toward the medic, before dropping it quickly to his side and wiping the suddenly sweaty palm against his lab-coat. "Look, I'm really sorry about all this," he said, nodding earnestly at the marines and looking around the cavernous space.

   Docile-Until-Provoked studied him for several long moments, then stepped forward and leaned down, sniffing at the wide-eyed human. Satisfied, he stood upright and huffed. "Hrrr. Such is life, Dr. Steven Evans," he rumbled wearily. "We have been travelling for several days. Is there somewhere we can eat and rest?"

   "Oh! Yes. Yes, of course. Please. Follow me," he said, leading them in the opposite direction from that of Captain Hardy.

   On the far side of the cavernous space, there was a squat, single-level grouping of structures. He led them to one of the larger ones, which turned out to be some sort of barracks building.

   Pointing to a large pool full of flowing water set at the far end of the room, another one of the white-coated humans spoke up, interrupting Dr. Evans before he managed to open his mouth. "We've only had a day or so to look over your vessel, but we think you'll find this to your liking," she said, somewhat proudly, in a heavily accented voice.

   "Yes, thank you, Dr Ling," Dr Evans glowered at her, and she stepped back, blushing furiously. "I trust this meets with your approval? We've moved some of the supplies from your vessel into the mess-hall. Although we haven't had much of a chance to study your food, yet, we do think you'll be able to eat, ah, earth food without too many ill-effects."

   The Vanguard stood there, staring at the humans warily, not moving. Docile-Until-Provoked looked around, before settling his unblinking gaze back on the human calling itself Dr. Evans. "This will suffice, for now. You may leave us."

   Dr. Evans stood there for several moments, mouth agape and indignant at being dismissed so summarily by the large reptilian alien. Behind him, Dr. Ling raised an arm in front of her face to hide the smirk on her face. He had been put in charge of the international team of scientists, and had proved to be rather arrogant and domineering, much to every else's annoyance. Unfortunately, he was the authority when it came to gravitational physics.

   "Ah, very well then. Just remember, we have a lot to do, and not a lot of time -"

   "We are aware of the situation. Leave us!" the medic interrupted, 'You irritating little creature,' he added, silently.

   Once they were alone again, with the exception of two heavily armed marines standing beside the door, and the various surveillance devices scattered through the building, the other Vanguard turned and looked at Docile-Until-Provoked expectantly. That is, all except Obscuring-Darkness, who had shucked off his skinsuit and slipped into the pool at the far end of the room, facing away from the others. The medic snapped his jaw shut, trying to project a feeling of confidence he didn't really feel. 'I am just a medic, not a pack-leader,' he thought desperately. 'Ancestors guide me!'

   Rangi, Antonio, Vasya, Blue-Scale and the two soldiers, stood at the farm gates and watched the truck disappear down the road behind a cloud of dust. "I'm sure we could've found a motel or something in town," one of the soldiers grumbled, shouldering his pack.

   "Screw that, mate. I'm gonna enjoy sleeping in my own bed tonight." Rangi started up the drive toward the house, Blue-Scale lumbering along like a grotesquely oversized shadow close behind him.

   "What about us?" The two soldiers followed the unlikley pair up the drive, leaving Antonio and Vasya standing there.

   "Uh, I guess there's the shed beside the house. There's a sleep-out attached to it with a few mattresses inside." Rangi indicated the large storage shed nearby, then turned to face the soldiers. "How long are you guys gonna be hanging around, anyway? Don't think Kuia or my dad are gonna be happy with a crowd of army guys cluttering up the joint."

   The two soldiers exchanged a look. They hadn't signed up with the Army to be baby-sitters. They hadn't signed up to guard aliens either, but orders were orders. "However long you have that... thing with you," the first soldier said, nodding at Blue-Scale.

   "Hey! That thing has a name, y'know? That's my bro, Blue-Scale. Don't be so fucking rude, man."

   Blue-Scale only half-listened to the conversation as he idly looked around at his surroundings. He recognized the dwelling from a few days earlier, where he and his Little-One had first spent the night together. On hearing his name, he looked down at the humans. Leaning forward, he took a deep sniff of the second soldier, dislodging the man's helmet, and making him shy away nervously and clutch at his assualt rifle. Grunting, the warrior then took a sniff of the first soldier, memorizing their scents.

   "It's okay, big guy. They're not a threat." Rangi reached up and laid a hand on one of the warrior's arms, "Yet." he said, glaring at the two soldiers pointedly. "Anyway, I'm filthy, hungry and tired. Catch you guys tomorrow."

   "Hey -" The second soldier made to stop Rangi, but the first one stepped in front of him.

   "Nah, let him go, man. Don't think the kid is going to do a runner on us. Not with that hulking great lizard with him. Let's go dump these fuckin' packs. They weigh a bloody ton."

   Back at the farm gate, Antonio and Vasya watched the sun sink below the horizon together, the cool breeze skimming across the bay rustling their hair. As the colors slowly faded from the clouds and the stars came out, Antonio raised his head and stared into the sky.

   "I do not think the comets will be visible, yet."

   "I'm not looking for the comets. It's funny, y'know," he began to speak but hesitated, turning to smile at Vasya in the fading light, reaching out and wrapping an arm around the Russian's shoulders, pulling him closer.

   "What is funny? There has not been much to laugh about, lately." Vasya spoke softly, wondering what the marine was thinking.

   "No, I guess you're right. We haven't. Just a figure of speech, really. I've often stared at the stars for hours, wondering what was happening out there. Always thought it was kinda beautiful, y'know? Wondered if there were weird aliens out there, doin' weird alien shit. Huh. Well, turns out there are - who would've thought."

   Vasya nodded, and reached out to wrap one of his arms around Antonio's waist.

   "Only, now that we've seen what's going on out there, it's not so beautiful. In fact, it's fuckin' horrible. C'mon, let's go inside. I've had enough of staring into the darkness." Antonio released Vasya and grabbed his kitbag and started walking up the drive toward the house, pausing to turn around and wait for the Russian to follow.

   Casting a brief glance up at the now hostile and unfriendly stars, Vasya suppressed a shudder. Picking up his own kitbag, he hurried after the marine.

   Rangi walked into the kitchen, alone, and saw Kuia and his father sitting in the lounge room in front of the TV. On hearing the kitchen door open, they both looked up and stared at him for several seconds. Leaping to his feet, his father stormed toward him, his face flushed and angry.

   "Where the hell have you been, Rangi?! Kuia and I have been worried sick! " He grabbed Rangi by the shoulders and shook him roughly.

   Kuia, meanwhile, had reached for her cane, and struggled to her feet, walking stiffly into the kitchen behind them. "Leave the boy be, Stewart!" she scolded gently. "I told you he had a guardian Taniwha looking after him."

   "Be quiet, you daft old bat! Shut up with your stories of bloody Taniwha. They don't exist! They never have."

   As his father shook him, the baggy Army shirt that Rangi had been given to wear had fallen open, exposing the bruising and burn-marks across his chest and stomach. When his father saw them, the look of anger quickly changed to one of concern, and he let his son go, dropping to his knees in front of him. It was a look that Rangi hadn't seen for several years. He was also surprised to note that he couldn't smell any alcohol on his father's breath - the man was sober!

   "Jesus! What happened? Are you okay? We gotta get you to a doctor -"

   "Dad... Dad! Just chill, alright? I'll be okay."

   "But -"

   "Look, just don't worry about it! I'll be fine. It looks worse than it is. Dad, there's something I gotta tell you... Oh, for fuck's sake..." Hearing the kitchen door creak open behind him, Rangi groaned with annoyance. 'Damned lizard never listens to instructions!'

   His father's face blanched, and he staggered to his feet, eyes wide, grabbing for his son and walking slowly backwards.

   For her part, Kuia merely nodded a greeting at Blue-Scale as the warrior ducked his head under the top of the door frame and stepped awkwardly into the kitchen. "I may be old, but I'm not daft, Stewart. Credit your Kuia with more sense than that in future, please."

   Struggling free of his father's grip, Rangi turned and put his hands on his hips and glared at Blue-Scale. "Bro! I told you to stay outside until I came out to get you. Geeze, don't you ever listen to me?!" He heard his father run from the room and go crashing into his bedroom. This wasn't going to end well. His suspicions were confirmed when his father came running back with his pig-hunting rifle, busy stuffing ammunition into the clip with fumbling fingers.

   "Now, Stewart -" Kuia began, before being interrupted.

   "Shut up, Nanna! T-Taniwha!"

   Blue-Scale, on seeing Rangi's father brandishing a weapon, hunkered down into a combat stance, splaying out the talons on all four of his hands and hissing, menacingly.

   "Get away from my family, Taniwha! No, Rangi! Don't!"

   Rangi threw himself at the warrior, placing himself in between Blue-Scale and his frightened father. "Dad! For god's sake, put the fucking gun down!" he yelled, waving his arms around, and hoping that neither of the two potential combatants decided to do something stupid. "He won't hurt us, he's friendly! PUT THE GUN DOWN, DAD!"

   For several, long, drawn-out moments, there was no movement in the kitchen as everyone stared at everyone else with eyes wide, adrenaline flowing, and breath panting. Even Kuia was frozen, rheumy eyes squinting first at Rangi and Blue-Scale, then at her grandson, Stewart. She was the first to break the deadlock. Nodding to herself, she moved slowly toward the sink and turned on the electric jug, muttering. "Anyone else for a nice, hot, cup of tea?"

   It took nearly 30 minutes for Rangi to explain events to his father as they sat around the table. Stewart kept glancing over at the hulking Vanguard warrior, standing protectively behind his son, watching him through four, half-closed, emotionless black eyes. He shuddered, and looked at Kuia. She seemed to accept the story, calmly, nodding occasionally as she sipped at her tea, completely unphased by the presence of the large alien reptile.

   "So that's the story," Rangi concluded, toying with a bowl of sugar in front of him, and avoiding eye-contact with his father. He had deliberately left out several key points in the retelling of events. Including any mention of what had happened between himself and the warrior in the storeroom on the base.

   "Are your soldier friends going to be warm enough in the sleep-out? We've got some extra blankets here -"

   "They're not my friends, Nan. Yeah, I'm sure they'll be fine out there." He sighed, and closed his eyes. "It's been a long day. So if you don't mind, I might grab a quick shower and some food before I hit the sack."

   Kuia and Stewart watched silently as Blue-Scale followed Rangi down the hallway to the bathroom, stationing himself by the door while the boy showered. Stewart was the first to break the silence.

   "I don't like it. And you heard what Rangi said about that creature, Nanna. It's an alien, not a Taniwha."

   "I heard what he said. It may be an alien, but that doesn't mean it isn't the boy's guardian spirit. You know that they can take all sorts of forms -"

   "Enough already! Yes, yes! I remember all the stories you told me when I was young. I want you to stop filling Rangi's head with all that bloody mystical nonsense. Don't think I haven't seen or heard the things you've been teaching him, Nanna!"

   Kuia glared at her grandson. Even though her eyes were filmed by age, it did little to disguise the fire in their depths. "And I'm surprised you are able to see anything through the bottoms of all those bottles, Stewart! Is it any wonder the boy keeps things to himself?" She shook her head and frowned. "You're too drunk to notice - or care, most of the time," she added, sadly.

   Stung by the rebuke, Stewart looked down at the table - anything to avoid looking at those accusing eyes. Changing the subject, he swallowed his pride. "Did you see those burns and bruises all over his body? I notice he avoided talking about that."

   Sighing, Kuia nodded slightly. She, also, had noticed how Rangi had glossed over that part of his story. Although, unlike her grandson, she harbored no suspicions that it was the Taniwha that had caused the injuries.

   Responding to her grandson's unspoken request, she got up and made her way over to one of the cupboards near the sink. Pulling an ornately carved wooden box from a shelf inside, she started toward the bathroom, but paused by the table. "The boy said he was hungry. Why don't you make him something to eat, like a good father should?" Without waiting for a response, she continued down the hall.

   Blue-Scale turned and watched the Revered Ancestor approach. When she made a shooing motion with her free hand, he tipped his head back, exposing his neck in a show of respect, before backing away from the door to allow her through. Curious, he watched with interest as his Little-One was subjected to a thorough examination, before having various herbs and ointments rubbed onto his wounds.

   "Rangi! Stop wriggling, I don't want to waste any of this mixture. Some of the ingredients are difficult to obtain, you know." After dealing with the worst of the injuries, Kuia fussed about inside the wooden box for a few moments and then held up a small jar full of a rather pungent-smelling substance close to her face, carefully reading the label on it. Nodding to herself, she looked at Rangi sharply. "Has the Taniwha had sex with you?" she asked, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

   "What?! Nan! He... I... No!" Rangi spluttered indignantly, eyes wide and blushing furiously, avoiding eye-contact like the plague.

   "Should I ask the Taniwha, then? I'm sure he would tell me the truth," Kuia said, smiling innocently.

   There was a long moment of silence before Rangi hung his head and mumbled under his breath. "Yes..."

   "My hearing isn't what it used to be. What did you say the Taniwha's name is? Blue-Scale, isn't it?"

   "Yes!" Rangi said, desperately.

   "'Yes' his name is Blue-Scale, or...?"

   Groaning with embarrassment, Rangi closed the lid on the toilet and sat on the edge of it, staring at the floor with his head in his hands. "Yes, Nan. He had sex with me."

   Cackling with laughter, Kuia handed the small jar to him and patted him on the head. "That must have been some ride. He looks like quite a big boy -"

   "Nan!" Rangi exclaimed, completely shocked at what he had just heard his great-grandmother say.

   Shaking her head with silent laughter, it took her several moments to collect herself again. When she was finally able to speak again, Kuia pointed to the jar. "Use a little of that before and after on the... ah, affected area. It will help with any pain or bruising that may occur during or after intercourse."

   Laughing again at the horrified expression on his face, Kuia left the room, patting Blue-Scale on the arm as she moved past the warrior.

   Several minutes later, a rather subdued Rangi made his way to the table and slouched in a chair. A quick glance around showed him that Kuia was sitting in an armchair in the lounge, squinting at the late news on the telly. His father was bustling about by the sink. "Here you go. You said you were hungry. Let me know if you need more." Stewart placed a plate heaped with lots of bacon and eggs in front of his son, who tucked into them noisily.

   Blue-Scale, who had followed Rangi into the kitchen, was sniffing around curiously. His father watched nervously as he lumbered over to the sink and rifled through the paper the bacon had been wrapped in.

   "Hrrr, this one is hungry, Little-One." The Warrior turned and stared at Rangi, a glob of saliva making its way down his jawline.

   Dropping the knife and fork, Rangi leapt to his feet, shaking his head with annoyance. "Shit! I'm so sorry, bro! Should have thought of that. Dad, have we got any fresh meat?"

   "Actually, yeah. There's a few kilo's of steak in the freezer. MacKinnon down the road killed a beast yesterday, but didn't have room in his freezer for all of it. Gave me the extra this morning."

   "Sweet as! That'll do nicely." Rangi opened the kitchen door, motioning for Blue-Scale to follow him.

   His father got to his feet to protest. "But -"

   "Thanks, dad!" Rangi called out as the two of them left the house, heading for the large chest freezer out in the shed.

   Halfway to the shed, Blue-Scale stopped, casting his head around as he stared into the darkness. His eyes were a lot better than those of a human, and adapted very quickly to the low light conditions. Quite a way further up the hill from the main dwelling was a large patch of native bush, and he had caught a brief flash of light from something reflecting off metal or glass, hidden in the foliage.

   Although Blue-Scale knew, and accepted, that he wasn't particularly smart, he still had a Vanguard Warrior's finely honed instincts. And those instincts were continuously nagging at him that their 'token' escort was surprisingly small, given how paranoid the human pack-leader had proved himself to be. They had seen the evidence of what he could do to a couple of heavily armed human warriors, and he knew damned well that their pack-leader wasn't stupid. Huffing with satisfaction, he caught up with his Little-One, being careful to pretend he hadn't seen anything.

   Antonio, Vasya, and the two soldiers looked up as they heard movement, relaxing again as they recognized who it was. They had set up a lantern on a box, and were playing some sort of card-game. "Everything alright?" Antonio called out, as Rangi opened the large chest-freezer and started rooting around inside it.

   Blue-Scale swung his head around and fixed his eyes on the marine. He knew that this one and the slightly smaller one next to him were not a threat. Indeed, they were actually somewhat friendly. "This one has the situation under control, hrrr."

   "Okay. We heard some yelling earlier, and just wanted to make sure." He turned back to the others, and nodded at them knowingly.

   "Hey, bro. Catch!" Rangi heaved a large bag of something cold and squishy at the warrior, who snagged it expertly from the air with a taloned hand. "Is that gonna be enough for ya, big guy?"

   Snapping his jaw shut with apparent enthusiastic agreement, Blue-Scale used a single talon to slice open a small part of the bag and took a deep sniff of the contents. The sweet smell of fresh, raw flesh assailed his senses, accompanied by a gush of anticipatory saliva which started dripping from his jaw. "Excellent..." he hissed, as his stomach rumbled ominously.

   Heading back to the main dwelling, Blue-Scale again paused halfway there, holding up the bag to his snout, as if to take another sniff. Carefully focusing his eyes on the patch of bush, he could now make out a faint infrared glow of a human-sized body concealed in the thick foliage. Dotted over the hillside were faint glows from the many domestic herd animals, but another, brighter spot caught his eye. 'Hrrr, at least two of them, then.' Lowering the bag, he followed Rangi into the dwelling.

   "What a waste of good meat," Stewart mumbled, watching dejectedly as the large reptile shovelled down several kilos of prime steak from a tray that Rangi had provided.

   With a contented burp, Rangi finished off the last of his bacon and eggs and pushed the plate aside. He watched Blue-Scale chowing down on the meat with a small smile on his face at his dad's discomfort. "He's a guest, dad."

   "Guest or not, from now on he's your responsibility to feed and look after." He shook his head, still nervous around the large warrior. "Aliens. Taniwha. Why are they here? And why you, Rangi? Think I need a drink - OW!"

   Kuia, who had been standing behind her grandson, lowered her cane to the ground. "I think it's about time you did something about your drinking, Stewart. I had hoped this whole episode would have taught you something about that.

   "Nanna!" he whined, rubbing the back of his head where she had rapped it with the handle of her cane.

   Rangi hid a smirk behind his hand and turned to watch Blue-Scale licking the blood from the bottom of the tray. "That was quick, bro. Did you like it?"

   Looking up at his Little-One, Blue-Scale snapped his jaw shut and started purring. "Hrrr... Bland, however this one found it acceptable. Thank you, Little-One."

   Getting up, Rangi went and gently hugged Kuia, then turned to his father. "I'm off to bed. Thanks for dinner, dad. It was ka pai. He turned to leave when his father got to his feet and grabbed him, embracing him tightly. Stiffening in surprise, Rangi stood there for a few moments, before awkwardly returning the hug. It had been a very, very long time since his father had showed him any physical affection like this. Somewhat embarrassed at his show of affection, his father released him, and patted him on the back, before walking into the lounge to sit on the couch in front of the telly.

   As Blue-Scale started to lumber past Kuia, following Rangi into his bedroom, she stopped him. Swinging his head around, he stared down at her. "Hrrr?"

   "Remember your promise to me, Taniwha."

   The warrior blinked several times, then gently snapped his jaw shut, before leaving.

   Rangi was already in bed when Blue-Scale ducked through the door, closing it behind him. He stopped, looking first at the bed, then at the floor. Deciding that the bed was too small, and wouldn't support his weight, he curled up on the floor. Resting his snout on one of his arms, he stared up at his Little-One in the darkness with wide eyes. After a short while, he tried to shuffle closer, but the bed got in the way. Petulantly, he started making a high-pitched huffing noise, hoping his Little-One would get the hint.

   When the Vanguard warrior started up his quiet, but high-pitched whining, Rangi grumbled, and turned over. The noise didn't let up, so he grabbed one of his pillows and jammed it over his head, hoping to muffle it. Finally, exasperated, he propped himself up on one elbow and glared at Blue-Scale. "Sleep, dammit!"

   Blue-Scale stopped his huffing, blinking at Rangi with four big, wet, black, puppy-dog eyes, glinting in the darkness from the faint starlight coming through the windows.

   "Bloody emotional blackmail, that's what this is," Rangi grumbled, grabbing a pillow and getting out of bed. He stood in front of the young warrior and sighed. "Okay, bro. You win."

   He quickly found himself enfolded in Blue-Scales four-armed grip as the warrior clasped him tightly, purring loudly. Rangi spooned back against the well-muscled chest and belly and sighed. "Mine," Blue-Scale rumbled deeply before closing his eyes, finally contented.

   "Can we talk?" After taking a quick toilet break outside, Vasya crouched down beside Antonio, speaking quietly.

   "Sure. What's up?"

   "Uh, alone, please."

   Putting down his cards and shrugging at the other two soldiers, Antonio got to his feet and followed Vasya outside. The soldiers exchanged a look and threw their cards onto the pile. "Geeze, they're worse than a couple of newly-weds. Darling, we need to talk about our relationship! "

   The first soldier laughed, leaning back against his pack. "Reckon. Say, do we need to talk about our relationship?"

   "Sure. How about screw you, mate. I wanna divorce."

   Outside, Vasya leaned back against a parked tractor and waited for Antonio to join him. Spotting a large plastic bucket, Antonio up-ended it and sat on it, facing the Russian. They continued to sit there in silence for several minutes, before the Vasya came over and sat, cross-legged on the ground, in front of the marine. "What am I to you, Antonio?" he asked, his voice betraying no emotion.

   "What kind of question is that?" Antonio cocked an eyebrow, confused.

   "I..." Vasya hesitated for a moment, then sighed. "You know about my past, da? I have only ever loved one other. Kirill..."

   Antonio nodded, wanting to reach out to the Russian, but knowing that it wasn't the right moment to do so. "Yeah. Irenei told me about what happened during the Siberian Incursion."

   "Da, da. If we are to continue what we have between us, I need to know if you are in this for... How you say, long hole?"

   Antonio couldn't help it. He burst out laughing, only stopping when Vasya muttered obscenities under his breath and got to his feet, ready to storm away. "Wait, Vasya. Hang on a minute, will ya?" He reached out and grabbed the Russian by the arm to stop him leaving.

   "I open heart to you, and you laugh at me? Do you deliberately want to hurt me?"

   "Firstly, you silly Russian, the phrase is 'in it for the long haul', not hole. Secondly, to answer your question, of course I am. Look, we've only known each other for a short while, right?" Biting his lip, Vasya nodded slowly. "We gotta give it time. I'll be completely honest with you here. I'm not gonna say I love you until I mean it. I'm truely sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear me say, but I promised myself that I would never lie to you. "

   "I understand -"

   "No, I don't think you do! Remember back a few days when I told you I needed some time to get my head around things? Well, I have." Antonio released the Russian and stepped back. "I've had a bit of time to think about what's been happening. After what we've been through together, in such a short time, I don't think I'll ever find someone else that I can relate to, like I can with you."

   Eyes glistening with tears that he was struggling to hold back, Vasya spun around and walked back over to the tractor, running his hand over the mud spattered paintwork, before dropping his arm to his side, staring at nothing. He felt, more than heard, the marine walk up behind him. Sighing deeply as Antonio pressed up against his back, Vasya let the marine wrap his arms around his chest, pulling them together. The tears flowed freely, silently, down his cheeks as he closed his eyes.

   Antonio rested his chin on Vasya's shoulder as he gently nuzzled the Russian's neck. "We've been through so much together, and you mean a lot to me - I think you know that already. Just bear with me for a bit longer, okay?"

   "Da. Very well, da," Vasya said softly. "Antonio?"


   "I love you."

   Antonio's heart thundered in his chest. "I know, babe. I know."


   "..oming up next on CNNN. Has genetic engineering gotten to the point where they can create Jurassic-Park style killer dinosaurs? We speak to leading experts in the field who have some frightening revelations, including secret footage from an undisclosed military airbase. This, and more, after the break -"


   "... Skkky News talked to renowned digital creature special effects wizard Peter Jackson. "[laughing] No, they aren't one of ours. Those are real. Well, when I say real, I have to give serious credit to whoever the makeup and costume designers are. Just look at the articulation on the second set of arms, the movement is incredibly organic and realistic. Although from past experience, working in those suits is extremely hot with..."


   "... cribed as some sort of college prank gone wrong. Over to WQHG Asian Correspondent Tricia Takanawa. "Thanks, Tom. Eye witnesses at the scene describe several large monster-like creatures running amok in a mall, being chased by armed men in uniform. Reports are sketchy, but a mall spokesman tells me that there was a massive clearance sale on 'Squickle-Me-Elmoo' dolls at 'Toys'R'Arse', and that stock was extremely limit -"


   "...ire and brimstone! Surely you have seen the signs! Our sins are catching up with us, my children. You have been wicked. WICKED, I SAY! Armageddon is just around the corner. Blood and fire, raining from the heavens. A holy smiting from your Lord God! HE has spoken to me... Yes, my children, I am the Lord's messenger here on earth. He held me in His bosom and whispered His sacred words into my ear. TELL THEM, He said. TELL THEM, the Dark One's minions walk amongst you. Demonic reptiles from the deepest depths. You must repent, for only those who accept the Lord God into their hearts and minds will surv -"


   "...and in other news, we have received reports of what were described by shocked bystanders as 'four small dragons' surrounded by a heavily armed military escort, seen walking through the Natural History museum in London, earlier today. Representatives from the Armed Forces have declined to comment, fueling speculation that the whole thing was just a publicity stunt for some, as yet unannounced, upcoming action movie. For more information on this, and other stories, please visit our website: www.bbbc. -"


End of Part 13