Authors notes: I'm just gonna go splodies now, 'K?

'K. But not before thanking both my editor, Richard, and friend, Monkur... You guys frackin' RAWK!

PS: Everyone else does a copyright message thingy. Well, guess I should too. Lessee now... Ripping off my stories is bad, mmm'kay? I wrote it. I own it. You can't have it. Simple, hrrr? Steal my shit and I'll hunt you down, slam you down on a granite alter, cut open your rib-cage with an Obsidian dagger, rip out your still beating heart, then sacrifice it to the angry blood god Blue-Scale. Who will eat it. Slowly. Chewing noisily. right in front of you. Watching as your miserable little life slowly fades from your eyes. Does that work for you?


Taniwha - Part 15

   "Wake up, lover."

   "... Hrrr?"

   "Did you miss me?"

   Obscuring-Darkness blinked in confusion, trying to focus his bleary, dried blood-encrusted eyes. The Vanguard who had woken him was lying on top, crushing him under his considerable weight. He couldn't make out the features in the dim lighting, but the sinister sounding voice belonging to the sillohette was unmistakable. Alarmed, he struggled to sit up, but Invokes-The-Storm clamped down with his other pair of arms, pinning him completely.

   "I missed you. I have been seeing what this world has to offer, and I am disappointed. Regretting my promise to save these worthless human vermin, even. Hrrr, but a promise is a promise." Invokes-The-Storm sighed melodramatically, and gave the terrified engineer's face a long, slow lick, tasting the dried blood tears. "What is this, lover? Have you been crying...?" The pack-leader narrowed his eyes and sat up, growling. Freeing one of his hands, he ripped the blanket off Obscuring-Darkness, who could only lie there, trembling, waiting for whatever happened next.

   "You hurt me when you left. And I - I was unsure you would want me when you did come back."

   "I always come back for what is mine," Invokes-The-Storm sneered as he slowly and deliberately started undoing the fastener on Obscuring-Darkness' skinsuit, occasionally nibbling bits of scaled flesh as they were exposed. "You think I no longer care, do you not? Would I do this," without missing a beat, the pack-leader shot out a taloned hand, viciously crushing the engineer's windpipe, "if I cared? The humans have taught me something about love. Love hurts."

   "Ancestors...have mercy! Please...stop! " Obscuring-Darkness barely managed to choke out, as he thrashed about, desperately trying to throw the much stronger warrior off him, and failing. The relentless crushing continued, and his struggles started getting weaker as he tried to fight back.

   "Hrrr, we have done this before, yes? This feels familiar," Invokes-The-Storm eased up on the weakly struggling engineer's throat, feeling him suck down air in short, desperate gulps. "Yes. I remember now. Only this time I will finish what I started. What? You are crying, again? This time I will give you something to cry about, lover. I have marked you! You are my property."

   Over the next couple of hours, the remaining Vanguard stood around the mess-hall uneasily, wincing every time they heard a muffled scream or crash coming from the barracks. Before going in, the newly arrived pack-leader had ordered them to vacate the building, and to stay out until told otherwise. Even the two well-armed human guards looked disturbed and uncomfortable, glancing at each other nervously as they listened to the sounds of violence, not understanding what was going on.

   "Hrrr, you need to stop this!" An upset Docile-Until-Provoked confronted the already nervous looking guards.

   "Sorry, uh, Sir. We have orders not to interfere in your internal matters."

   The medic looked around at the other Vanguard imploringly, but they shifted their gaze away uneasily, not wanting to get involved, not wanting to challenge their pack-leader. Docile-Until-Provoked knew that he would be no match for Invokes-The-Storm in a fight - the young warrior, although physically smaller, was a lot stronger, and far better trained.

   Most of the other human personnel, as well as some of the Vanguard including Flows-Like-Water, were scattered around the cavern, cleaning up the damage from the earlier gravitic explosion. Suddenly, there was a particularly loud, bestial scream of pain that was abruptly, ominously cut off by a crash from the barracks. In the following silence, nobody would meet anyone else's eyes.

   Moments later, Invokes-The-Storm came striding into the mess-hall, snout and talons spattered with black Vanguard blood. There was even blood covering the talons on one of his legs. "What are you staring at?" he snarled, barging through the stunned group of Vanguard. He made his way over to the servery window where one of the cooks timidly handed him a tray full of raw meat. Lumbering over to a table with his meal, he glared at the occupants, who rapidly moved away, giving him plenty of space.

   Giving the pack-leader a worried glance, Docile-Until-Provoked quickly left the mess-hall and made his way into the barracks. He stepped over an upturned bunk, partly blocking the doorway, and moved further inside. Huffing with concern, he turned and activated the lighting controls, throwing the room into stark relief. Swinging his head around, he hunted for any sign of the young engineer. There were streaks of blood against one wall further down toward the pool, along with several bits of toppled furniture. But of Obscuring-Darkness, there was no sign.

   Docile-Until-Provoked pushed several more toppled bunks out of the way as he walked further into the room to where he had last seen the engineer, until he came to the twisted wreckage of Obscuring-Darkness' bunk. The torn and shredded mattress was streaked with more blood, which made the medic's hearts sink. He experienced a feeling of deja vu as he remembered back to the injuries inflicted on the pack-leader during his first few weeks on board the Lightning-Strike. Casting about, he spotted some smeared, bloody footprints, which he followed with a feeling of inevitability.

   At the rear of the barracks there was another door, leading to an area where the humans parked their cargo transport vehicles. The medic followed the smeared droplets of blood through the open door and out into the cavern. Rounding a small pile of broken wooden boxes that had toppled from the open tailgate of one of the vehicles, he came across the engineer lying slumped against the cavern wall in a spreading pool of blood. A large, jagged splinter of wood from one of the crates protruded from his chest.

   Horrified, Docile-Until-Provoked called out for assistance with a roar, before running to his side. He hunkered down onto his haunches beside the battered engineer. "What has he done to you?" the medic muttered, alarmed as he ran his talons lightly over the many injuries that he could see. When Obscuring-Darkness tried to reach for the sharpened chunk of wood, the medic moved to stop him.

   "Let me... die," the young engineer gasped out, his breath coming in short bursts.

   "Desist! You will only cause further damage. Assistance is coming. Be still."

   With surprising strength, the engineer pushed the medic away with one pair of hands, while simultaneously pushing the crude wooden spear deeper, in between the bony plates protecting one of his hearts, with his more powerful rear arms. As Docile-Until-Provoked picked himself up and lunged to stop him, Obscuring-Darkness loudly cried out as blood sluggishly jetted from the wound around the crude weapon, before he spasmed and fell on his side into the pool of cold blood.

   "Nooooooooooo! " Docile-Until-Provoked screamed, slipping in the blood as he pushed two hands around the wood to try and staunch the bloodflow. As the life slowly faded from Obscuring-Darkness' eyes, the medic could swear he saw a flicker of a new emotion cross his craggy features - one of peace.

   Alerted by the medic's desperate cry for help, several Vanguard appeared at a sprint behind him, skidding quickly to a halt as they took in the scene. The pack-leader had abandoned his meal and followed the others, unable to concentrate from the screaming inside his head. He hadn't hurt the pathetic little weakling that much... Jerking backwards in shock at the sight, Invokes-The-Storm was suddenly deaf to everything except the anguished shriek inside his mind. 'You Ancestor-cursed monster! What have you done?!'

   Moving somewhat faster than his Vanguard disguise allowed, Flows-Like-Water approached the group of huddled Vanguard. Although he was unable to see what was going on, his acute sense of smell picked up the odor of fresh Vanguard blood. And a lot of it. As the Observer stood there sniffing, one of the Vanguard staggered away from the others, who gave him a wide berth, clutching at his head and moaning. Recognition was instant - it was the pack-leader. Invokes-The-Storm must have arrived back early, while he was helping the humans clear up after the gravitic explosion.

   Stumbling around half blind, and clutching hands futiley to his head, the pack-leader walked into the pile of damaged crates and fell to his knees, making a peculiarly high-pitched keening noise of distress. The others were now openly staring at him, alternating their wide-eyed gazes between the pack-leader and the dying engineer. Flows-Like-Water reached down and effortlessly picked him up, shaking him slightly. "What is wrong, young one? What happened here?"

   "Unable. To. Stop. The voices!"

   If the Observer had hearts, they would both have skipped a beat. While holding the distressed pack-leader, he caught a glimpse of the pack-leader's partner, Obscuring-Darkness. The youth was lying, unmoving, on his back in a large pool of blood with a large, sharply pointed wooden splinter sticking from his chest. He stared with horror at the struggling pack-leader in his arms. "You did this?" he asked, incredulously. "I have failed you. I have failed both of you..."

   Reaching around, Flows-Like-Water grabbed the pack-leaders head with a free hand and concentrated, forcing him into a state of unconciousness. Hearing some of the armed humans approaching at a run, the Observer quickly moved away, the limp pack-leader held tightly in his arms. Quickly making his way to the storage room where he had earlier received the transmission, he noted with satisfaction that the human's surveillance network was still disabled. Unnoticed, he slipped inside, laying the pack-leader on the floor before heading back to see what he could do to help with the injured youth.

   When he arrived back, he was just in time to see the Vanguard medic tenderly picking up the limp, bleeding body. Shouldering his way through the onlookers, Flows-Like-Water pushed them out of the way to make room for the medic with his burden. He loped after Docile-Until-Provoked over to the exobiology lab, where the medic swept various bits of equipment off a bench with one of his free arms, before gently laying the engineer down.

   "He lives?"

   Not sparing the Observer a glance, Docile-Until-Provoked gave a quick snap of his jaw as he quickly worked. "For the moment, but he is failing fast. His primary heart has been ruptured. His secondary heart is undamaged. However, it is the blood-loss and internal bleeding that will end his life."

   "How long does he have?"

   "If I am able to get more blood into him, perhaps an hour. But there is the physical damage to his primary heart." He looked up at the Observer, an uncharacteristic look of uncertainty on his face. "Hrrr, I am not confident I can heal damage this severe. Please call Sharp-Eyes to assist me. And locate some blood." The medic stopped talking and closed his eyes, concentrating as he went into a healing trance.

   As the Observer made his way over to the barracks, the other medic, Sharp-Eyes, went sprinting past him. Well, finding the other medic was one less thing he needed to worry about, at least. Blood. He needed Vanguard blood... And he knew the perfect donor. Changing direction, he made for the storage room where he left Invokes-The-Storm, slipping inside once he made sure he wasn't being observed.

   Once inside, Flows-Like-Water laid the unconscious pack-leader gently on top of a large packing crate, then placed two hands on either side of his head, grasping it gently. He relaxed and let his mind reach out. Suddenly, with a strangled cry of pain, the Observer flung his hands free and staggered back in shock. Something twisted, utterly black, and horrendously powerful had sunk what felt like razor-sharp fangs deep into the mental tendrils he'd sent into the pack-leader's mind. Reeling, he struggled to dispel the seething hatred that still continued to tenaciously chew at the edges of his mental defenses. 'This isn't right!' he thought, shaken to his core.

   This was nothing like going into Vasya Kolzak's mind. Those thoughts had been somewhat chaotic, but recognizable. A normal Vanguard's thoughts were a lot more structured and disciplined than a human's, as well as considerably more intelligent. There was an aftertaste of something much more primitive and disturbing about this Vanguard's mind. All these primitive alien emotions were beginning to seriously mess with his own head.

   "Steady on there, old chap," he quietly muttered to himself, staring at the unconscious Vanguard warily. "You're the superior being, here. Now show some of that alien superiority, and get back in there."

   Steeling himself, he stepped forward, laying his, now shaking, hands on the pack-leader's head, and started concentrating. Grunting, his craggy features contorted with the effort.

   Opening his eyes, Flows-Like-Water found himself standing amidst some badly damaged buildings inside a devastated city. Every single structure he could see, stretching into the distance, had suffered major structural damage of some sort. Bracing himself for the same attack he'd felt the first time, he whirled around, looking for obvious signs of danger. But there was nothing. A harsh wind, laden with smoke and dust, whipped around him. The sky was nothing but an empty black void, from horizon to horizon. It all looked so eerily familiar, but he couldn't quite put his talon on why.

   Spotting a large, seemingly undamaged building in the distance, he slowly made his way forward, deeper into the city. Looking around warily, mental defenses on high alert, he carefully stepped around shattered walls and crumbling buildings. As drifts of ash-laden smoke drifted past, he noticed there was something wrong with the structures around him. Despite the obvious devastation, they all looked... incomplete. Unfinished. Curious despite himself, he approached the darkened doorway of a mostly intact building, but hesitated before entering, looking around for any signs of danger. There was nothing but the wind and dust rushing down the street around him.

   Inside, he was surprised to find... nothing. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see that there was no furniture, no fittings, nothing. Not even any doorways into other parts of the structure. Exiting the doorway back to the street, he approached another building. He cautiously poked his head through a twisted window-frame and was greeted, again, by nothing. The buildings were mere shells. Props.

   Stepping back onto the street, Flows-Like-Water glanced back the way he had come. He knew he'd walked for at least a couple of kilometres in a fairly straight line. But there was something wrong; an almost subliminal feeling that the horizon had gotten closer, somehow.

   Chiding himself as he made his way further into the city, he tried to shake off the nagging feeling of uncertainty. Of course things were going to be a little strange - he was inside the mind of a deeply psychotic alien. However, he could leave at any time he wanted!

   Any time he wanted.

   Any time...?

   Feeling a strange emotion creeping over him, he stopped, wondering. Was that doubt? Suddenly, he laughed. "You will have to do better than that!" he cried out at the black void above him. He was answered by a heavy silence, as the wind started dying down. Smiling, he continued walking further inward, toward the large structure he'd seen earlier, towering over the others surrounding it.

   When he judged he was about half-way to the large structure, he turned and took another look behind him. The road he'd been following had been straight for about a kilometre, but when he looked back, all he could see was an unbroken wall, a few hundred metres behind him. At the same time, he became aware of a faint, distant rumbling, sounding like some sort of heavy transport vehicle approaching from a long way away. The pall of smoke and ash from various burning buildings in the outlying regions had also disappeared, he realized. Flows-Like-Water sniffed, tentatively. A faint new smell, like rotting carrion, was starting to permeate the air.

   The intensity of the smell rose as he approached the large structure, which looked almost like some sort of auditorium. It was a few hundred metres away from him, as he rounded a corner, that the Observer found the first body. Looking around, he could see no movement, or any other sign of life. "Greetings...?" There was no response to his tentative query.

   Uneasily, he approached the body, lying face-down in the street in a large pool of blood. Feeling uncharacteristically nervous, he reached down, and turned it over. Stifling a horrified cry, he stepped back, before catching himself and trying to subdue the alarm he felt. The body had no face. There were no wounds, or anything to account for the blood; just a blank sheet of skin where the face should have been. Like the buildings, it had a temporary, unfinished quality to it.

   Looking up, he was unable to stifle a startled cry of horror. Where before there had been nothing, now the entire stretch of ground between him and the arena building was covered in bloated, rotting, faceless corpses. As he staggered backwards, he tripped over a body lying directly behind him and fell on top of it. A choking cloud of pure stench rolled over him as he lay there, gasping and wheezing, desperately trying not to breathe it in.

   After quickly scrambling to his feet and hopping around, it took him several seconds to realize that he was being foolish - Observers don't need to breathe! Mentally kicking himself, he stopped. And then he started feeling a rather strange sensation a minute later - the rising urge to take a deep, replenishing breath. Fighting the urge, he started leaping over the bodies, trying to make his way over toward the entrance of the large structure without stepping on any more of the bloated corpses. The Observer only made it another 50 metres before he stumbled and fell again, his taloned foot coming down on a stiff outstretched arm that rolled out from under him.

   This time, when he went crashing to the ground, the bodies had disappeared. Gasping loudly, Flows-Like-Water drew in deep lungfulls of air - air that was now free of the unholy, cloying stink of rotting flesh. Conflicting, random emotions now washed over him like powerful gravitational tides, pulling at him, and clouding his judgement. One moment he found himself screaming, the next laughing. And breathing! What was the insane Vanguard pack-leader doing to him?! In desperation he tried to revert back to his natural Observer form, but nothing happened. He was stuck. Shaking, he raked a talon down one of his arms, wincing at the pain - which was another anomaly in itself. Sure enough, a thick black liquid welled up from the scratch. Vanguard blood.

   "Noooooooo! " he moaned, clutching at the shallow wound and looking around wildly, trying to escape from the organic trap in which he now found himself. His fully organic body seethed with unfamiliar feelings, naturally occuring hormones, and neurotransmitters. He was now flesh and blood.

   Flows-Like-Water's much vaunted Observer discipline, poise, and composure deserted him completely at this point, and he panicked. Unable to escape back into the real world, he was now stuck here, either until the mad pack-leader let him go, or until he was able to 'fix' the problem that had brought him in here in the first place.

   He scrambled upright, and made his way on now unsteady legs to the structure's entrance. As he got closer, he was disturbed to find that it appeared to be constructed of something organic, living. It was an off-white colour, with strange dark veins throbbing, barely visible, beneath the oozing, and slightly translucent surface. Disgusted, he kept his distance from the walls as he made his way inside. Not more than a few footsteps inside, a gurgling, liquid sounding noise from behind him made him spin around in fright. There was no longer any sign of the entrance. Instead, there was just an expanse of living wall that slowly pulsed in and out as if the structure itself was breathing.

   Panting nervously, Flows-Like-Water continued onward down a corridor that oozed some sort of unspeakable slime, before he emerged onto a terrace. Looking out into the open space revealed, he faced something that could only be described as an arena. Sheer walls emerged from a glistening, oily-looking black floor and, in the very middle of the black expanse stood an altar, made from the same disturbingly organic material as the walls. It wasn't the surroundings that riveted the Observer's attention, however. It was the body on the altar, and the two motionless Vanguard standing beside it, that held his gaze. Flows-Like-Water moved toward the edge of the terrace, and discovered a ramp leading down to the arena floor, several metres below.

   He was about to step onto the ramp when he stopped, abruptly. Something was wrong. He looked around wildly, for any obvious signs of danger, but saw nothing. The faint, barely audible rumbling sound he had heard earlier was now quite noticeable. On the far side of the arena from the terrace, he could see over the wall to where the fake city spread up the side of a small hill. Eyes widening with alarm, he watched as buildings on the edge of the city disintegrated in slow-motion, shattering into dust as the dark void of the horizon ate into them. He hadn't been imagining things - the fabric of this insane non-reality was inexorably crumbling.

   Flows-Like-Water loped down the ramp toward the floor of the arena, stopping with a shocked grunt as he stepped onto the slick-looking arena floor. It wasn't a floor at all, but a warm, viscous liquid, several centimetres thick. The sickening realization hit him that that he'd just stepped into a vast, but shallow, lake of cold, but fresh, Vanguard blood.

   Gagging slightly, he tentatively made his way toward the altar, noticing as the two previously motionless figures started moving as he got closer. At first, the movements were almost imperceptible. But they quickened as the Observer got closer, until they were moving about at a normal speed as he stepped up to them. The body on the altar was that of the Vanguard youth, Obscuring-Darkness. Obviously dead, his head was twisted at an unnatural angle, and his chest had been crudely cut open, the flexible bony plates protecting the internal organs had been shattered. And it also looked like several of his internal organs were missing.

   "There you are, Observer." The Vanguard closest to him swung his head around and fixed Flows-Like-Water with an unwavering look of malevolence. "I left a few gifts for you on the way here. Did you appreciate them? No, no, do not thank me. YOU ARE IN MY WORLD, NOW! " he roared, baring his teeth in a display clearly intended to intimidate.

   Invokes-The-Storm's face was barely recognizable; the malevolent, sneering look on his face twisted his features into something quite frightening and demonic. Blood caked all four of his taloned hands and snout, evidence of his earlier, unseen cannibalism. The other Vanguard, a mirror-image of the first only without the disfigured look, stared at Flows-Like-Water momentarily, wearing nothing more than a forlorn, resigned look on his face, before turning his face back to the murdered body of his lover.

   Ignoring the twisted pack-leader's gibe, Flows-Like-Water nervously looked up at the featureless black void. The distant rumbling was becoming more noticeable, even down at the bottom of the arena. "Hrrr, I do not believe we have time for whatever little game it is you wish to play here, pack-leader. Your... creation... is decaying." He spoke with more bravery than he felt. He was in dangerous, foreign territory here, and he was sure the pack-leader could sense this.

   "You ungrateful alien scum - I built this for your benefit. Hrrr, very well. Let me put an end to this charade then." Moving with the speed of a highly evolved predator, Invokes-The-Storm slammed into the startled Observer with a roar, smashing him to the arena floor and sending gouts of the viscous blood spraying up around them both.

   Despite the weight of the pack-leader holding him down, Flows-Like-Water thrashed around, trying to free himself from the warrior's vice-like grip. He failed. With a victorious hiss, the pack-leader lunged at his neck with his jaws wide open, clamping them around his throat. There was a moment of searing agony and a sickening «crunch», as the pack-leader jerked his head back, breaking the Observer's neck.

   Getting to his feet and stepping back, Invokes-The-Storm admired his handywork as the Observer's body convulsed wildly before collapsing back onto the bloody arena floor. Flows-Like-Water was still alive, however, making hoarse whimpering noises as he lay there, paralyzed from the neck down. The pack-leader leaned down, sinking his talons deep into the Observer's now unfeeling shoulder, and roughly dragged him over to the altar. The other Invokes-The-Storm just looked at him sadly, still silent.

   "Do not get up, hrrr! " the twisted Invokes-The-Storm laughed uproarously at his own witticism. "Just sit there and relax, while I take final possession of what is rightfully mine."

   Still whimpering from the shock and horror, Flows-Like-Water watched helplessly as the sad-looking Invokes-The-Storm came into view from around the altar to square off against his twisted double, who just sneered at him. The whole event had obviously been set up by the pack-leader's insane side, just for his benefit it seemed.

   "I will end you. You are weak and insignificant." The twisted pack-leader spat at his double who flinched slightly, watching silently as the pack-leader crouched in an attack posture and started circling him. "You do nothing but hold me back! I could be so much more! " By this stage, a plaintive tone had started creeping, unnoticed by him, into his voice.

   Abruptly, and without warning, both versions of Invokes-The-Storm threw themselves at each other; the twisted version with an outraged shriek, the other with nothing more than a pained grunt as they collided. Unable to do anything other than gasp feebly for air and blink, Flows-Like-Water had no choice but to watch the titanic struggle play itself out to what he feared would be its obvious conclusion. While he watched the battle, he also became aware of a slight vibration on the back of his head from the altar. The persistant background rumble from the encroaching void was starting to become a lot more noticeable.

   The screams and grunts came thick and fast as the two young Vanguard pack-leaders fought, throwing up occasional sprays of blood from the arena floor. The twisted version managed to get the upper-hand when his opponent faltered, temporarily stunned when dealt a smashing kick to his already badly injured thigh. He staggered from the blow, shaking his head to try and clear it. Twisted Invokes-The-Storm roared in triumph, as he grabbed the other in a lethal embrace.

   "Submit to me, and I will make it quick!" the twisted version growled almost seductively into his double's ear.

   "Even if you win this fight you will still lose -"

   "Hrrr, and I will win! That has never been in question!" the twisted pack-leader interrupted, grabbing his opponent's neck in a vice-like grip, trying to throttle him. "But I shall humor... myself. Why will I lose?"

   The other pack-leader's eyes bulged as he struggled for air, clawing at the other's arm to free himself. "Because... you killed... the only thing left in your life that... meant anything to you!" there was a brief flash of something in the twisted pack-leader's expression, almost akin to anguish, and he took advantage of the momentary distraction to throw the twisted pack-leader to the arena floor, knocking the breath out of him.

   The rumble from the approaching void now sounded like constant thunder as it approached. Everything was shaking, sending sluggish ripples spreading across the blood coating the floor. Suddenly, the walls of the arena all around them exploded and sent massive shards of the disgustingly organic material whirling into the blackness, as the void claimed it with a deafening scream. Ignoring his impending demise, Invokes-The-Storm stood above his now vanquished self, and raised a taloned foot, ready to slam it down and crush the other's head in a decisive killing blow.

   "STOP! Do not end it like this!" Sucking in desperate mouthfuls of air, the Observer tried to make himself heard over the void's roar. "You must understand! You are part of him, as he is part of you!" Flows-Like-Water's vision faded from the effort needed to make his voice heard above the thundering void as it collapsed around them.

   Invokes-The-Storm stared down at his twisted double, understanding dawning in his mind. Lowering his foot again, he knelt down in the blood beside his twisted double. "I forgive you," he whispered, hoarsely. "I accept you. I need you, as you need me." He reached down with all four arms, talons folded back in a sign of non-agression.

   The twisted Invokes-The-Storm looked up at him, crying freely from eyes clouded with pain. Hesitatingly, he reached up with three arms, the fourth, bones shattered in several places, lying uselessly by his side. Once on his feet, the two of them stared at each other. Invokes-The-Storm stared at his bewildered, lost double, and nodded. They stepped toward and into each other...

   As the insanely howling maelstrom finally engulfed him, Flows-Like-Water heard the twisted pack-leader screaming in extreme emotional distress, as the other screamed in extreme agony...

   Vasya sprinted for his life toward the rocky bluff he'd climbed just minutes earlier. Some distance behind him, he heard something large and powerful smashing its way through the bush on an intercept course. If he could just make it to the rocky outcropping, he hoped that he could find somewhere to hole up that the blood-crazed Vanguard warrior could not reach. Still a couple of hundred metres away from safety, he heard the snapping of branches as the warrior exited the bush, then the noise of something moving fast through the grass as Blue-Scale gained on him across the open ground.

   Only a hundred metres seperated him from perceived safety, when the chilling realization that he wasn't going to make it hit him. He didn't dare spare the time to turn his head, but he could feel the heavy vibration of the Vanguard's footfalls directly behind him. Abruptly, his world was turned upside-down as he found himself flying through the air, gasping for breath from an unexpected hammer-blow from behind. Crashing to the ground in an untidy heap, he tried to spin around, but it was already too late. Razor-sharp talons splayed out, the Vanguard warrior was on top of him before he could so much as cry out in terror.

   With a roar of triumph that echoed around the hills, causing livestock for kilometres around to bolt with fright into the darkness, Blue-Scale brought his fleeing prey down. Pinning the struggling human to the ground on his back with his two stronger rear arms, he straddled the human's waist and lowered his head until the end of his snout was just centimetres from Vasya's face. He didn't even flinch as the terrified human head-butted him, merely moving his muzzle back slightly. Ears cocking forward, he tried to understand what the human was screaming, but his translation disk remained silent. Whatever language it was, it obviously hadn't been programmed into the device.

   Waiting for a couple of minutes until Vasya finally slightly calmed down, Blue-Scale huffed and sat up, still astride the human, but freeing his hands. Relaxing his talons he huffed again, not taking his eyes off the human's face. "Hrrr, this one instructed you to wait. This one trusted you, so why did you disobey the order? You should not have observed this one hunting."

   When it was apparent that the Vanguard wasn't going to immediately rip out his throat or bite his face off, Vasya relaxed slightly, still panting from the sprinting and fear. He felt the tail thrashing around in agitation, rubbing over his thighs as the warrior continued to straddle him. Fresh human blood still stained his muzzle, black and glistening in the night, as Blue-Scale stared down at him.

   "What is wrong? Has a large feline consumed your tongue?"

   "I - what? Nyet..." Vasya spluttered, trying desperately to make sense of the events of the past few minutes. "Hunting?! Nyet hunting! You ate that person! All chewing and blood and... Nyet!" Feeling sick to his stomach, he realized that he wasn't even sure if the victim had been male or female.

   "Why did you disobey this one?"

   "I hear scream. Of course I investigate, you stupid gaduka! "

   Blue-Scale considered this for several moments, then snorted. "Hrrr, Little-One must not learn of this hunt."

   "I... But... You eat humans!"

   "Correct. However, this one prefers your beef animals. Humans have unpleasant taste." The warrior paused, then leaned forward again, bringing his snout in close to the humans face. "Little-One must not learn of this hunt," he repeated, the threat clear in his tone.

   "Da! Da, I understand. Blue-Scale, it very bad to eat people! Military will shoot you if discovered. Why you eat that person? Is boy not feeding you enough meat?" Vasya stared up at him, the bulky muscled reptilian sillohette outlined by stars. A peculiar thought briefly crossed his mind. 'So that's what the native boy sees in him...' He scowled, dismissing it.

   "That one, and one other, are threats, hrrr -" he broke off speaking, watching as a small, bright-red glowing dot appeared on his arm, then worked its way up his body toward his head.

   "GET DOWN! " Vasya shouted, lunging up and pushing the unprepared warrior off him.

   A sharp «crack» sound, accompanied by the patter of shattered rock nearby, startled them both. The small red laser-sight dot hunted around until it found Blue-Scale again, who jerked himself out of the way. Moments later another shot passed through the space he had been lying in, whining as it riccocheted off a metal warratah fence post further down the field.

   With the instincts born of a predator, Blue-Scale grabbed Vasya, tucking him under one arm, and sprinted toward the relative safety of the nearby rocky bluff. He ducked and wove wildly as the laser dot tried to track him. Having reached the safety of the rocks, the warrior growled angrily, holding the human up in front of him and shaking him. "HRRR! This one told you there was a threat! The threat will now be exterminated. You will wait here, this time! You are not the Little-One. However, you are friend. And this one does not wish to see you hurt. Stay! "

   ""But... -"

   Blue-Scale was already gone. Vasya slumped to the ground, thoroughly shaken. The Vanguard had killed and partially eaten someone. Then, thinking his own life was in danger, he'd been chased down and almost attacked. Now the retarded lizard was off chasing yet another threat, this one armed with a high-powered sniper rifle of some description? What the hell was going on?

   Giving the warrior the benefit of the doubt, Vasya guessed that the first person had probably also been armed. Likely with the same sort of weapon. But what were snipers doing hiding up here in the hills? The warm breeze from earlier started picking up again, and he turned to look out toward the coast. However, his eyes were drawn down to the small lights of the farm house a couple of kilometres away. Ah. He nodded thoughtfully to himself. Contingency plan, in case of problems.

   It was far too late for him to stop the Vanguard, and even if he could, Vasya suspected the dim-witted warrior would not have been swayed from his mission to protect the boy - Blue-Scale's Little-One. Despite the ironic fact that the snipers were probably there to protect the boy (and them) from the warrior himself. That subtlety would undoubtedly be lost on the warrior.

   And as if that wasn't enough, Blue-Scale expected him to keep quiet about the murder of two soldiers, who were no doubt just following orders. This wasn't going to end well. Feeling cold, despite the warm breeze, Vasya waited, events weighing heavily on his shoulders.

   The moon was starting to rise in the East an hour or so later, when a large shadow detached itself from the darkness, approaching him. "Hrrr, it is done."

   "You did not eat that one, also?"

   "No. This one told you earlier, the taste is -"

   "Da! Da, I know. Please, I do not want to hear, again," Vasya quickly interrupted. "Their commanders will not be happy when they turn up dead."

   Blue-Scale hunkered down, staring at him thoughtfully in the darkness. "Hrrr, that is of no concern to this one." He reached out toward Vasya, who flinched away. Lowering his arm again, he blinked at the human. "Do you fear this one, human?"

   Vasya got to his feet and took a couple of steps away, looking down at the lights of the distant house. "The truth?" He turned back and looked the warrior in the eyes. "Da, I do."


   "You honestly do not understand, do you?" Vasya shook his head in wonderment. "I fail to understand you. One minute you seem so wise. You offer good advice. Then next minute you kill and eat people. I think I understand you, then... I thought you were going to kill me, before. Da, you frighten me, Blue-Scale."

   Regarding him with an enigmatic expression on his shadowed features, Blue-Scale remained silent for some time, obviously trying to chew over his response. Eventually, he snapped his jaw shut, making a quiet snapping sound. "This one would never hurt friends or family."

   Vasya turned back toward the coast and watched as the moonlight sparkled on the distant water, silent for several minutes. He heard the young warrior get to his feet and approach him. Not flinching when the warrior placed a taloned hand on each of his shoulders, he sighed, not taking his gaze from the sea. "I will not tell Little-One about hunting. But you must promise, no more killing, da?"

   "Very well, friend." Blue-Scale leaned down and licked the side of Vasya's face affectionately.

   Smiling for a few moments, Vasya quickly sobered up. He had seen a lot of horrible things during the Siberian Incursion a few years back, but the memory of Blue-Scale chowing down on some unknown soldier wasn't one he was going to forget in a hurry. "What about bodies? We should bury them."

   Blue-Scale squeezed his shoulders gently, making sure his talons didn't cut into the Russian-Husky human's skin. "This one has disposed of the bodies, already."

   "Oh." He looked away, unable to look Blue-Scale in the face, and feeling a sense of disquiet. "Come, we should return before they are missing us, then." Vasya suggested, stepping away from the warrior, and making his way down the field, toward the distant lights. An hour later as they neared the house, he turned and stopped the warrior.


   "What is Rangi to you, that you protect him so fiercely?"

   The warrior blinked at him. "He is the Little-One, and must be protected. He is this one's responsibility."

   Shaking his head, the Russian sighed. "This I do not understand. Why must you protect him?"

   "Hrrr, would you not protect your bond-mate?" Blue-Scale looked at him, obviously confused.

   "Da, I would. But boy cannot be your 'bond-mate'." He started to laugh, but stopped when the warrior kept staring at him with what appeared to be a serious expression on his face. "But...but he is human. You are can that be?"

   Giving the Vanguard equivalent of a shrug, Blue-Scale responded quietly, "When we mated, this one marked him. He belongs to this one, as this one belongs to him. That is what Rangi is to this one."

   Stunned, the Russian stood there, mouth open for several moments. "You have had sex with Rangi?"

   "Vanguard use the term 'mated'. But you are correct."

   Not trusting himself to say anything further, Vasya continued walking, with the warrior by his side. After a few more steps, he stopped again - unable to contain himself, turning to Blue-Scale who looked at him expectantly. "Sex? "

   "Sex, hrrr."

   "" He stepped back, looking the warrior up and down in the moonlight, his gaze pausing slightly on the bulge in Blue-Scale's skinsuit under which his cock-sheath lay.

   Cocking his head one side, the warrior stared at him in surprise. "How can you be unfamiliar with the mating process? This one observed you mating with your bond-mate earlier this night."

   Speechless, Vasya started walking again, slowly, occasionally casting a wide-eyed look at the warrior. They reached the gate leading into the yard by the house, and this time it was Blue-Scale who stopped, hesitating as he held onto the latch of the gate.

   "Little-One means everything to this one. You and the Yankee human are also important to this one. You are the only family this one has left. You disagreed with this one's method of dealing with threat. This one understands. However, you must also understand that this one will do whatever it takes to protect his family."

   Vasya swallowed, nodding. Satisfied he had got his point across, Blue-Scale unlatched the gate and held it open for him. As they seperated, the Russian watched as the warrior slipped quietly into the house. Letting out his breath in one big sigh, Vasya turned and made his way to the sleep-out. Without turning on the lights, he gingerly approached the makeshift bed that he shared with Antonio. The marine stirred, rolling over to face him as he quietly approached.

   "Oh. Sorry for waking you," the young Russian soldier whispered.

   "I wasn't asleep," Antonio replied quietly, no trace of anger or any other emotion in his voice.

   Quickly stripping out of his clothes, Vasya lay down and pulled the duvet over him, carefully keeping some distance between the two of them. Antonio stared at the back of his head in the darkness for a few minutes, before tentatively reaching out and running his fingers lightly through Vasya's hair, the same way the cosmonaut had done with him on the Valentina Tereshkova, all those weeks ago when he'd woken, screaming, from a nightmare.

   Vasya rolled over to face him with a sigh. "Antonio -" he began, but stopped when Antonio made shushing noises at him.

   "It's okay, man. I'm alright, the boy fixed me up."

   "You forgive me for the hurt?"

   Antonio gave him a brief smile, teeth shining in the dark. "Yeah. Just dunno if I wanna try that again."

   "Da, I do not blame you. I like to be your petookh, anyway."

   Laughing softly, Antonio rolled onto his back, crossing his arms behind his head. "If that means what I think it does, then you and I will be just fine." He felt the young Russian soldier snuggle up to him under the covers, and shifted so that Vasya's head was resting on his shoulder. "So where did you disappear to, tonight?" Vasya's body stiffened almost imperceptibly, causing Antonio to turn his head and stare at him curiously. "What's wrong?"

   "Is nothing. Went for long walk with lizard. We talk about life," and death, he added silently.

   "Life, huh? Funny y'should say that. The kid told me that he's been fuckin' the lizard. How's that for some freaky shit? Y'reckon he was lyin' to me?"

   Propping himself up on an elbow, Vasya faced the marine and gave him a lop-sided grin, burying his reservations. That he'd abused Antonio's trust (and body), was something he still had severe personal misgivings about, even if Antonio seemed inclined to forgive him. Then there was Antonio's apparent reluctance to admit to anything resembling love toward him. He knew the marine cared deeply, but that just wasn't enough for him. Why couldn't the man just say what he was feeling? They'd been through enough together, in such a short time, so what was so difficult about this? Still, he was content, at least for the time being, to have things back to (somewhat) normal between them - to see Antonio smiling at him with affection again.

   And as for Blue-Scale's merciless butchery of the two snipers... Vasya mentally shrugged. He had to remember the lizard was an alien. Just because he could talk almost like a human, didn't mean he necessarily thought like one. Definitely not to be underestimated. Ever.

   "Nyet. Lizard said much same thing at me. However, I think lizard is fucking boy, not boy fucking lizard. Boy fucking lizard is like throwing sausage down hallway."

   Antonio stared goggle-eyed at Vasya for several moments, before bursting into loud, raucous laughter. Grabbing the bemused Russian and pulling him on top of him, the marine kissed the top of his head, burying his face in Vasya's hair.


   "You," Antonio squeezed him, a huge grin stretching across his face.

   "Me?" Vasya muttered, his voice muffled as his face was pressed against the marine's muscular chest, secretly enjoying the sensation.

   " 'Like throwing a hotdog down a hallway..' You're funny, man."

   "Silly yankee," Vasya grinned as he bit down on one of Antonio's nipples in the darkness.

   In the house, meanwhile, Rangi was also still awake. Propped up in bed, he stared out the window at the waning moon as it inched its way above the trees lining the driveway outside. Hearing the tell-tale sounds of something massive crossing the kitchen floor outside his room, he turned and looked expectantly at the door. Moments later, there was a quiet «creak» as the door opened and the Vanguard warrior padded into the room, ducking as he passed through the doorway. Just as quietly, he closed the door after him and turned to look at the bed, expecting to find Rangi asleep.

   "And where the hell have you been at all hours of the night, then?" Rangi snapped, unaware of just how much he sounded like his dad, when he was angry.

   Jerking slightly with suprise, Blue-Scale looked at his Little-One guiltily before dropping his gaze to the floor, and the rug on which he normally slept. Dropping to his knees on the rug, he avoided looking at his Little-One as he prepared to curl up and go to sleep.



   Rangi got out of bed and knelt down beside the warrior. "Don't play dumb with me, bro. You've been up to something," he said, reaching out and pulling off a dew-damp leaf that had been clinging to the warrior's skinsuit and eyeing it suspiciously in the moonlight.

   Realizing that playing dumb wasn't going to work, Blue-Scale switched tactics, and grabbed his Little-One into a four-armed embrace, hoping that he would be distracted. Rangi, however, was having none of it.

   "You've been up in the bush, haven't you?" he asked, accusingly, from within his cocoon of bulging Vanguard muscle.

   Deciding that a variation on the truth might get him out of a tough spot instead, Blue-Scale sighed. "Hrrr, this one has been hunting."

   "Hunting? Bro! Why didn't you tell me you wanted to go hunting? I could've grabbed my rifle and -"

   "No! " The response shot reflexively from his mouth before Blue-Scale could stop it. "Hrrr, no," more slowly this time. "This one did not want to expose his Little-One to danger."

   Rangi was puzzled with his reaction. "Geeze, I'm not that bad a shot. Would've been fun. You and me in the bush together, hunting down some wild pig. Not like I'd need protecting with you around, anyway," he pouted.

   "Another time, perhaps. This one is just happy to be back with his Little-One," Blue-Scale grunted, lying down and curling around Rangi like a large, scaley blanket.

   But Rangi wasn't finished. "What were you hunting? Catch anything? Oh, fucking gross, mate! What the hell have you been eating?" he recoiled as the warrior licked his face, trying yet again to distract him. "Don't you dare go licking me with the same tongue that's eaten a dead sheep carcass, or something! Remind me to get you some breath mints from work tomorrow. You fucking reek, bro."

   Sighing with relief at his narrow escape from the increasingly awkward line of questioning, Blue-Scale briefly pushed Rangi away as he quickly shucked out of his skinsuit. Once stripped, he again grabbed his Little-One, who was wearing only a pair of loose-fitting boxers. Pulling him back into his embrace, the warrior started humping himself against the boy.

   Feeling something hot and slimy rubbing against his lower back, Rangi rolled his eyes and smirked. "Someone's feeling frisky tonight, aren't they?" Wriggling around, he got into a more comfortable position, eyeing the warrior's engorged cock poking out from its sheath in front of his face. "Maybe you should go hunting more often, bro - mmmmmff! "

   "Hrrrrrrrr! "

   Awareness came back slowly and almost reluctantly to Flows-Like-Water. Opening his eyes he found himself staring into the worried-looking eyes of the pack-leader, Invokes-The-Storm, who had been roughly shaking him.

   "What is wrong with you, Observer?"

   Sitting bolt upright, Flows-Like-Water looked around wildly, momentarily confused, before settling his gaze back on the pack-leader. "I... I am alive!"

   Taking a cautious step backward, Invokes-The-Storm eyed him warily. "Yesssssss...?"

   The Observer shot to his feet and did some quick self-diagnostics on his being. Yes! He was back to his old self, again. No more weak, squishy, organic bits - nothing but crisp Silicon goodness. Memories of the intense emotions he'd experienced were still clear in his mind, but that's all they were to him now, just memories. Back to business, then... Less than 30 minutes had elapsed in real-time since he'd started working on the pack-leader's mind, he discovered from the results of his diagnosis.

   He rounded on the wary Vanguard. "Excellent! I am functioning at full capacity again. More to the point, however, is how you are feeling.

   "Hrrr, a slight headache. There is also something... different about me." He looked suspiciously at the Observer. "Is this your doing? I also have many other questions. What am I doing in this location? Am I to understand that I am being detained, again?" he asked, looking around at the various stacked crates and drums nearby. He poked tentatively at a pile of unmarked boxes beside the packing crate he was sitting on. "If so, this is an unusual location in which to hold someone."

   Flows-Like-Water approached him, holding out an arm toward his head. When the pack-leader shied away, he sighed melodramatically. "We have been through this before. Trust me... please."

   Reluctantly, "Very well."

   The Observer laid his hand on the pack-leader's head and concentrated (oh how wonderful it was to have his abilities back!). Eyes widening slightly, he lowered his arm. "What is the last thing you remember?"

   "Boarding one of the human aerial transportation vehicles, to be reunited with Obscuring-Darkness and the others. I mentioned that I have many questions -"

   Feigning nonchalance, the Observer avoided eye-contact with Invokes-The-Storm. What was that peculiarly appropriate human phrase? Oh, that's right...


   When the chaotic void had collapsed, it must have taken out some of the pack-leader's recent memories at the same time. He interrupted Invokes-The-Storm's line of questioning, realizing that the whole reason they were here was running out of time. "The headache will fade and, no. You are not being detained. Come, your assistance is required with a matter of urgency. I need your blood."

   "My what?! " The pack-leader took several steps back, talons splaying out as he crouched down into a defensive position, hissing at the Observer.

   "Hrrr! We do not have time for this," Flows-Like-Water grumbled, grabbing the startled pack-leader before he had a chance to react, and dragging him from the room.

   Neither Docile-Until-Provoked, nor the other medic, Sharp-Eyes, looked up from their grim task as the pack-leader came sprinting into the room with the Observer hot on his heels. On the way over, Flows-Like-Water had updated him with some basic details of recent events. When told that Obscuring-Darkness had been critically injured in a fight, the pack-leader had very quickly freed himself from the Observers grasp and gone sprinting to be near his dying lover. Flows-Like-Water specifically left out details of how the youth had come by his injuries.

   "Who did this to him...?" Flows-Like-Water rumbled quietly, the unspoken menace hanging heavily in the air. His eyes didn't move from his battered lover.

   "Someone who was not in a position to handle the responsibility they had been unwillingly given. They were unaware of their actions at the time . In time you will come to forgive him." The Observer clamped two hands around his chest to stop him dashing forward and interrupting the medics while they worked to heal the worst of the damage.

   "NEVER! They will die, screaming! "

   "That is possible. However, it will have to wait. Your young mate requires blood. Your blood." Giving the pack-leader a warning look to make sure he didn't intefere, Flows-Like-Water approached the two medics. "I have one here wishing to assist with providing the blood you require."

   Docile-Until-Provoked snapped his jaw shut and motioned for Sharp-Eyes to take care of it. Wiping his talons clean, the other medic turned away from the bench and grabbed some equipment, then approached the Observer with an expectant look on his face.

"Hrrr, no! This one," he said, quickly turning and grabbing the pack-leader. He pushed him between himself and the medic before backing away. "My blood is entirely unsuitable."

   Giving the Vanguard equivalent of a shrug, Sharp-Eyes dragged the unprotesting pack-leader over to the bench next to the body of his lover.

   Flows-Like-Water took the opportunity and left before they came looking for more donors, satisfied that he'd done his part, for the moment. Making his way from the lab, the Observer realized, with a twinge of annoyance, that his plan to off-load the bad news about the Arbiters onto the pack-leader was now no longer viable. As he wondered what to do next, events transpired to give him another opportunity.

   "Lizard! Stop right there. I want a word with you." Captain Hardy stepped in front of the preoccupied Observer, halting him in his tracks. "I'm after some straight answers, my demonic reptilian friend. And guess what? It's your lucky day."


   "My men tell me there was a bit of an altercation in the barracks, see. And someone got stabbed. Now, you wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?" He narrowed his eyes and watched the Observer suspiciously.

   Flows-Like-Water suddenly realized that, although not a perfect situation, now would probably be a good time to come clean with the human leader. He'd hoped to deflect the awkward questions onto the Vanguard pack-leader, but the poor wee thing had enough to deal with as it was. Racking his brain for a suitable human phrase to use, he snorted - perfect: When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. They could be such delightfully imaginative little creatures with their cunning use of language, the Observer smiled slightly. If for nothing else but that gift, they deserved a fate better than extinction.

   "This one has an answer that you need to hear. However, the answer is for a question you have yet to ask."

   "Some day, one of you lizards will give me a straight answer to a simple question. And on that day I'll drop dead from the shock. But I see it isn't going to be today." Sighing, Captain Hardy crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow, giving the Observer a speculative look. "It's not like I even give a shit if you kill each other off, you understand. But it's those bastards I report to; they tend to ask annoying questions when something like this happens. So let's just cut the bullshit, shall we? Give this old soldier a break. What do you say?"

   "Hrrr, very well. There is an Arbiter battle fleet approaching this planet. It will arrive here within a month. They are... Wait. You do not look surprised." It was the Observer's turn to give the human a speculative look. "You already know."

   "Time you started giving us primitive little humans some credit. Yes, we've known ever since they first arrived. Was there anything else?"

   "...How?" Flows-Like-Water spluttered, ego a little bruised despite himself.

   Captain Hardy just tapped the side of his nose and gave the Observer an enigmatic smile. "Now, back to my original question. What happened to the dead lizard?"

   "The youth is not dead -"

   "Pity..." the Captain muttered.

   Flows-Like-Water hid his annoyance at the interruption and continued. "However, he is dying. The medics are trying to save him in your exobiology laboratory."

   "And he got injured, how? " Captain Hardy spoke softly, making encouraging movements with his hands as if he was talking to a particularly retarded child.

   "There was a misunderstanding."

   "A misunderstanding."

   "Hrrr, that is correct. Must you repeat what this one just said? It is most irritating."

   "You see this face?" Captain Hardy grimaced at the Observer. "This is my not convinced face. I put it on whenever I smell bullshit. And right now you are fucking reeking of it, lizard."

   'Underestimate this human at your peril,' Flows-Like-Water thought a little ruefully. He couldn't very well tell the humans the truth, as they would put the pack-leader down like a wild animal. For the first time in many years the Observer was at a loss of what to say.

   "I do know it had something to do with your - what do you call him? - oh, that's right. Pack-leader." Captain Hardy walked right up to the Observer, standing directly below and glaring up at him. "Don't fuck with me. We're about out of time, and the last thing I need is some little lizard civil-war brewing right under my nose. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, MAGGOT?!"

   Not for the first time, the Observer found himself being intimidated. And by a mere human no less. He really didn't like the emotion. It was useless and annoying. Not to mention rather embarassing. Inspiration, when it struck, came from an unlikely source.

   From the corner of his eyes he spotted the Vanguard engineer, Blocker, loping toward the exobiology laboratory. Very closely followed by the human scientist, Dr. Ling. During the past few weeks Flows-Like-Water had observed the human/Vanguard interactions closely. Of particular interest to him was the relationship the warrior Blue-Scale had struck up with the human, Rangi Hohepa. Much to his delight, it seemed that, more recently the human scientist had started developing some sort of attraction to the young Vanguard engineer who had assisted in setting up some of the equipment in the exobiology lab. Instead of a male-male pairing like Blue-Scale and Rangi, this was a male-female pairing. If his understanding of Vanguard body language was anything to go by, Blocker did not seem displeased by the attention, either.

   "Hrrr, this one does not wish to discuss private matters between two individuals. However, you need to realize the injury was a mating accident. It was not a malicious assault." Flows-Like-Water did his best to subtly emulate the human body language which indicated embarassment. Unknown to Captain Hardy, the Observer was studying his reaction with a peculiar intenseness.

   "Mating accident? "

   "Mating accident."

   "I don't buy it, lizard," Captain Hardy said, unknowingly betrayed by a note of doubt creeping into his voice.

   Gotcha! "Our mating habits are not something we Vanguard like to discuss. Especially not with aliens." The human's face face reddened, indicating discomfort. Going in for the kill, the Observer decided to play on the bigotry this human had displayed in the past. "However, when two Vanguard males engage in a rutting frenzy, it can get violent." He raised both sets of shoulders in a human-style shrug.

   "Jesus H Christ! Faggot lizards?! You've got to be shitting me!" came the indignant explosion.

   Hook, line, and sinker! Ah, these delicious human phrases. So perfectly wonderful.

   Shaking his head in disgust, Captain Hardy stormed away, muttering angrily under his breath. "First my own men, and now it's lizards. Christ!"


   "...breaking news. We are not alone! In a shock announcement today, the UN has announced the existence of aliens here on Earth. Over the past few weeks we have brought you reports from all over the world of large, demonic or reptilian-looking creature sightings. Now we can tell you that these aliens, calling themselves 'The Vanguard', have been working in secret with the military for several weeks.

   "We've been told very little about them, other than that they mean us no harm, and became stranded here when their UFO crash-landed. Military spokesmen have specifically denied any connection with the Roswell incident in 1947, or the mysterious explosion in space 10 years ago. Leading extra-terrestrial expert Dr. Joseph Hokum, of the Bureau of Investigative Gravitics and Astronomical Scientific Study, had this to say -"


   "... [laughter] No, they don't come from Uranus and they're not Klingons. They call themselves 'The Vanquished', and are most likely from Venus."

   "But why are they here, Dr. Phlegmstein?"

   "That's the easy part. Conquest. Pure and simple. There's no other reason for them to invade -"


   "...AMPIRES! Intergalactic, blood-sucking, virgin-sacrificing VAMPIRES! They're not even making a secret of it, calling themselves 'The Vampires' out in the open. Husbands, lock up your wives and daughters. Hell, lock up your sons, you never know -"


   "...[grainy, enlarged picture of a Vanguard warrior surrounded by a military escort] You can see by their musculature that they come from a world of much greater gravitational pull than the Earth."

   "It has been suggested by some that this is just a prelude to a much greater invasion force, however the UN has been quick to stifle speculation, stating merely that 'they come with peaceful intentions'. Sadly you only need look at the Spanish and Portugese Conquestadores' so-called peaceful intentions many hundreds of years ago in Central and South America, to get a feel for what these demonic creatures are capable of."

   "Thank you both. That was biologist Dr. Darwin of the Waikato University, and Reverend Killjoy from the Holy Church of -"


   "...eports of strange lights in the sky. Noted Astronomer Dr. Starg Azer is scathing about recent attempts by the government to cut vast amounts from the budgets for maintaining the VLA large radio-telescope arrays. In an interview with CNNN earlier today, Dr. Azer stated that, now that we know there are other alien civilizations out there, we should be doing more to hunt for their existence. [cut to Dr. Azer standing in front of a large radio-telescope dish] 'If these Vanguard aliens do turn out to be telling the truth about their peaceful intentions, who knows what other friends are out there just waiting to be discovered -'"


End of Part 15