Authors notes: Everything and everyone in this story is 100% true and accurate. It really happened, and these are real people and events I write about. Yes, there really is a boogeyman hiding under your bed. It's about 3m tall, reptilian and has four arms. And yes, it has been stealing your socks for several months now.

And you wanna know something else? I don't give a flying fuck if it's illegal for you to be reading this because of your age, sexuality, country-of-residence, or inside thigh measurement - I just hope you're enjoying it. In fact, it would make me very happy if reading this sort of trash was illegal, immoral or fattening wherever you come from. Stick it to The Man, man.

For anyone interested, I - along with a rather talented young author (plug plug plug) - also post to a Yahoo group. Here you can discuss the stories with the authors, and others who have enjoyed them. If you haven't already got a Yahoo groups sign-up, you'll need to jump through some registration hoops first.

PS: Yes, I am both immature and childish. Get over it.

PPS: I cannot say enough positive things about my editor, Richard.

PPPS: There is no PPPPS.

Taniwha - Part 07

   "Your Captain Hardy will not be happy with you."

   Antonio smiled ruefully at his stocky Russian lover, as they walked along the rough, unsealed road towards the small West-Coast settlement of Kauri Bay. He kicked a small stone, which went bouncing along the road kicking up small puffs of dust, before rolling into the weed-choked ditch.

   In marked contrast with the freezing cold wind and intense electrical storm of the previous night, the day had dawned clear and hot. The relentless sun had already roasted all the moisture from the road, leaving it parched and dusty. "No, you're probably right. He's gonna be pissed. Though he's got more important things to worry about, I reckon."

   After finally slaking their lust in the midst of the storm, something had subtly altered in their relationship with each other. Gone was the air of tension between them. It had been replaced, instead, by a feeling of relaxed intimacy. There remained strong undercurrents of desire, however.

   For Antonio, there was still something that had been nagging at him for some time. Whatever Vasya had gone through at the hands of the Vanguard, before they were reunited on the shuttle, had changed him. It was almost as if the young Russian had been brainwashed by the reptilian aliens.

   Vasya's reaction to the war-like reptiles seemed to be one of acceptance, bordering on admiration. And there were several things about events over the past few days which just didn't sit right with him. For one thing, it seemed more than conincidence that the Arbiter aliens had attacked so soon after the arrival of the Vanguard. Antonio frowned, as they continued their trek. Had the Vanguard deliberately brought the Arbiters here?

   But then that didn't make much sense to him, either. The Vanguard were techologically advanced enough that they wouldn't need someone else to do their dirty work if they wanted to wipe out humans. However, the fact remained that, in one way or another, because of the Vanguard, Earth was now in danger from this other race of aliens. Antonio was abruptly jolted back to reality when he bumped into Vasya, who had stopped walking, and was looking at him thoughtfully.

   "You have been very quiet today, da? What is on your mind?"

   "Huh, what? Oh, not much. Just been a strange few days, y'know?" Antonio shrugged expressively, and tried to smile convincingly.

   "Da, da that is has." Vasya didn't look particularly convinced, however. "Is it about what we did last night?" he asked, quietly, raising an eyebrow.

   Antonio's smile was more genuine this time, and he held his hands out towards Vasya, palms up. "Vasya, listen to me. I have no regrets about what we did last night, OK? You just gotta give me some time to get my head straight about all this stuff."

   Vasya nodded, a look of relief flashing briefly across his face. They both turned toward the small settlement nestled by the bay. At first glance everything looked normal, but then Vasya noticed what appeared to be several military vehicles next to the town's only gas station. He immediately stiffened and spun around to face Antonio, alarm clearly written all over his face. "We must not let them take Vanguard!"

   "What? What are you talking about?"

   Vasya pointed down at the vehicles he'd seen. "Your Captain has called in reinforcements. They are here for Vanguard. We cannot let that happen!"

   "What the hell's gotten into you, man?"

   "I... I am not sure," Vasya faltered, his movements jerky and uncoordinated. He suddenly looked uncertain as he turned back to face Antonio. "It will be bad - I know that much for sure."

   "Would you listen to yourself for a minute!? The Vanguard shouldn't be here. You know that! The army'll deal with them; that's what they do."

   Stricken, Vasya turned back toward the settlement again. The military vehicles were on the move, driving along the road in a convoy. "Vanguard are the only hope we have against Arbiters," he said. He turned back toward Antonio, with a look in his eye that actually scared the marine. "It is important that Vanguard are not captured. They saved my life. They healed you. We owe them!"

   Antonio grabbed Vasya by the shoulders and shook the young Russian, trying to shake some sense into him. "They're dangerous aliens! Saved you? They fucking nearly killed you! They destroyed your ship - with me still on it! - and brought danger to our entire fucking planet, Vasya! What's wrong with you, can't you understand that?!"

   When Vasya heard the distant sound of engines, he slumped in Antonio's grip, defeated. "What have they done to me?" he whispered in a plaintive voice, that struck at Antonio's heart like a bullet.

   Hating himself, but seeing the necessity, Antonio let Vasya go and started shouting. "Suck it up, Praporshchik Kolzak! Where is that man that Lieutenant Putin was proudly telling me about? You're supposed to be a hero of the Siberian Incursion, for christ's sake! It's about time you started acting like it, soldier!" He pushed at the unresisting Russian's shoulders with each sentence, emphasizing each point as he shouted.

   Antonio was aware that Vasya had been through a lot of emotional pain over the past two or three years, but it had tempered the young Russian. He knew that Vasya had risked an awful lot in opening himself up so much. So, seeing him in such a wretched state was breaking his heart. Resisting the urge to run his hands through the young Russian's hair in a calming manner, he let his hands fall uselessly to his sides, fists clenching, driving his fingernails into the flesh of his palms and almost drawing blood.

   He was certain now that something was seriously wrong with Vasya, and that it had something to do with the Vanguard calling himself Flows-Like-Water. When he first met the young Russian on board the Valentina Tereshkova, he had been a little moody on occasion, but otherwise quite happy and uncomplicated. His current, rapidly deteriorating, behavior was completely out of character.

   Antonio had watched the suspiciously acting Vanguard interact, often physically, with Vasya. Something about that behavior had raised his hackles. His extensive marine training had taught him to carefully observe potential problems, and to assess the risk factors they presented. The reptile's actions - and Vasya's subsequent reactions - seemed to him to be too closely related for mere chance.

   Antonio briefly wondered at himself. For someone who had never considered himself able to have any sort of close, emotional attachment to someone else - especially another guy - his over-protectiveness and irrational fears for Vasya, were very unfamiliar territory for the marine. It was a surprizing revelation to him that he'd never felt this way in any of his relationships with girls. If he was going to be a man about his feelings, he had to admit, at least to himself, that he was falling for the young Russian soldier. And falling hard.

   It wasn't long before the convoy of unfamiliar vehicles, definitely military, roared by, raising clouds of choking dust. The last vehicle stopped beside them, and a familiar looking face stuck out the window, glaring at the two of them.

   "Get in," Captain Hardy pointed to the back of the troop carrier, where several soldiers were already seated, clutching heavy assault rifles and staring at them curiously.

   Two of the soldiers dropped the tailgate of the troop carrier and gave them a hand up. After the tailgate was raised, the vehicle set off up the road, following the others. As they rattled back along the rough unsealed road, one of the soldiers looked at them both before offering his hand to Antonio, correctly judging that the Russian was in no mood to talk. "The name's Brendan," he said, shaking Antonio's hand firmly. "31st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Army. You guys don't look like you're from around here. What's going on?"

   Feigning nonchalance, the other soldiers pretended not to pay any attention to the conversation, but managed to fail miserably at hiding their interest.

   "You haven't been told?" Antonio asked, surprized.

   "Nah, mate. They haven't told us shit. Mentioned something about some well-armed terrorists hiding up in the bush near here." He paused briefly, grimacing, as the troop carrier bounced over a large pothole in the road. "But me and the boys reckon something else is goin' on."

   At that moment, two well-armed helicopters thundered by overhead, only a few dozen metres above their heads. Antonio waited until the noise had abated before answering. "Terrorists? Not exactly. Would you believe me if I told you it was aliens?"

   "Aliens?" Brendan laughed briefly, sharing the joke with his squadmates. "OK, seriously now, mate. What are we up against?"

   Antonio considered for a few moments. He hadn't seen any weapons on board the shuttle, but that didn't mean the Vanguard didn't have some hidden away. Not that they really needed any; their teeth, tusks, and talons were formiddable weapons in their own right. "Well, they're big, well armed and dangerous. They're being backed into a corner, so they are gonna fight like hell, I think."

   "That right? Huh, we got orders to take 'em alive, if possible."

   Looking at the other soldiers, Antonio didn't rate their chances very high, although the heavy assault rifles did alter the balance a little.

   A couple of minutes later, the troop carrier came to a stop behind the rest of the convoy. Brendan was the first to jump off, leading his squad up the road to group with the others. Antonio helped a sullen Vasya down from the truck and stood there, as Captain Hardy approached him with another soldier following him.

   "I'm not even gonna ask where you two got to last night. Right now though, I want you to stay here. You'll be taken back for debriefing once this is over."

   "Sir, what is happening? I thought you said they were free to leave after they let us go?" Vasya asked, nervously.

   Captain Hardy shook his head sadly. "I didn't think you were that stupid, son. We need every advantage we can get against the bugs they let loose on us. Their knowledge, and their ship, is a pretty big advantage that we are not going to let go." He turned to the soldier standing behind them. "Keep an eye on these two. Make sure they don't go anywhere."

   The soldier nodded, unlocking the saftey on his heavy assault rifle with an unsubtle «click».

   "Captain Hardy, sir! What happens if they don't surrender?" Antonio asked, before Vasya could interrupt.

   Checking his own assault rifle, Captain Hardy started walking towards the front of the convoy. "Their ship is our priority. The lizards are surplus to requirements," he said, walking away.

   Rangi watched with surprize, as the convoy of trucks and their air support had gone roaring along the road, past the gate at the bottom of the farm.

   "What's the army doing here?" Rangi muttered, ducking back into the farm outbuilding where he was hiding with Blue-Scale.

   Rangi's father had been stamping around in a foul mood all morning. Kuia had only just managed to stall him long enough for Rangi and Blue-Scale to get out of the house. Rangi knew that his dad was not always at his best the morning after a long night sucking down the booze. At least he didn't have to worry about his dad hitting Kuia - even he wasn't that stupid.

   "What is 'Army'?" Blue-Scale asked as he waved his arms around in circles, before lowering them and staring curiously at Rangi.

   Stifling a smile, Rangi went and sat down on the back of one of the farm's quad-bikes. "Armed forces, bro. Perhaps they're looking for you." He stopped speaking, and looked at the young Vanguard warrior suspiciously. "That yankee doodle, Antonio. He said there were more of you, didn't he? Have you guys parked your UFO around here, or something?"

   "Hrrr, you use some strange words, Little-One. What is 'UFO'?"

   "UFO. Y'know, flying saucer. Your spaceship."

   Blue-Scale turned to Rangi, eyes narrowing slightly. "Our shuttle is nearby, yes. Do you think the others are in danger?"

   Rangi shrugged expressively. "Dunno. I doubt the army is out on a social call, but..."

   Blue-Scale went over to the doorway and quickly looked around, nostrils flaring slightly as he huffed nervously. "Hrrr! They might need this one. You should stay here, Little-One. It could be dangerous. This one does not want you being harmed." He turned back, staring unblinkingly at Rangi with an intense look on his craggy face. "This one does not know what he would do if he lost his Little-One."

   Shaking his head, Rangi glared at the warrior. "Screw that, mate. I'm coming with you." He could have sworn the look the warrior gave him was one of torn indecision, as the large warrior froze in place for several moments.

   "Alright. But you will stay far from danger. Promise this one!

   "Cross my heart. Let's roll!" Rangi jumped into the seat of one of the quad-bikes, firing up the engine. He pointed at the other quad-bike next to him. "Get on, bro. Fire her up!"

   Blue-Scale winced at the noise, before turning to the bike and examining it briefly. He watched as Rangi backed his out the door, onto the driveway outside, before gingerly getting on and starting his own. Tentatively, he reversed his bike out beside the human, and stopped, looking around self-conciously. "This one is not so sure about this..."

   Laughing, Rangi revved the engine and shot off down the driveway, yelling "Don't be such a poofter!" over his shoulder.

   Doing the Vanguard equivalent of shrugging, Blue-Scale bunny-hopped his quad-bike unsteadily down the driveway, following the human. It didn't take him long before he got the hang of piloting the small, noisy vehicle. He soon caught up to Rangi, overtaking the surprized boy in a cloud of dust.

   Shielding his eyes from the dust, Rangi started giggling. The image of what looked like a small, four-armed dinosaur gunning it up the road, while crouching low and ungainly over the handlebars of a small farm quad-bike, was one he wouldn't be forgetting in a hurry.

   The sudden sound of gun shots startled Vasya from his funk, and he stared up the road, twitching. Antonio put a restraining hand on his shoulder to stop him from running off, while shaking his head. "Don't, man. Leave it be."

   Looking rather uncertain, the soldier guarding them licked his lips nervously, and gripped his assault rifle tightly. Antonio judged that the soldier was probably even younger than Vasya. And, judging by his reaction to the gun shots, he had never been in a real fire-fight before. Stuck between his agitated lover (who he thought was highly likely to do something silly), and a nervous kid with a hand-cannon almost as big as he was (with an itchy trigger-finger), Antonio realized it wouldn't take much to set something exceedingly bad in motion.

   Antonio's premonition was soon borne out by the sound of approaching engines. The soldier stepped around them to see what was coming, and Vasya took advantage of his momentary distraction. Hunching his shoulders, he launched into the unprepared soldier with an incoherent yell, ramming the kid into the side of the troop carrier and making a grab for the assault rifle.

   When Antonio moved to stop the frenzied Russian, Vasya was much too quick for the off-guard marine, side-stepping around him and continuing the assault on the dazed soldier. The soldier was no match for the battle-hardened Russian, and quickly lost possession of his weapon, falling to the ground, as Vasya rained rapid-fire blows into his face, and kicks into his stomach. Stepping back momentarily, Vasya raised the captured assault rifle above his head.

   "No, Vasya! Don't! " Antonio cried out as he tackled the Russian from behind, only just preventing him from smashing the butt of the weapon into the semi-conscious soldier's face.

   Tumbling through the dirt on the road beside the troop carrier, Vasya wrestled with Antonio, each of them trying to gain control of the assault rifle. As they rolled into the crippled soldier, the kid whimpered softly, making feeble attempts to push them off him. As two combatants rolled away again, the soldier tried to crawl further away.

   "Otyebis ot menya! " Vasya hissed at the marine as they struggled, kicking up dust and stones from the road. "Unbju! " He managed to get the upper-hand when the marine's head smacked into one of the solid tyres on the troop-carrier, distracting him for a precious couple of seconds.

   Gripping the assault rifle in both hands, he thrust the weapon down, crushing it against Antonio's throat. The dazed marine tried desperately to force Vasya away, but he was no match against the Russian's solid muscles, no matter how hard he struggled.

   "Stop... Vasya! What... are you... doing? " Antonio managed to gasp out, as he fought a losing battle to breathe.

   As his consciousness started fading from lack of air, the relentless pressure on his windpipe abruptly ceased when a shadow loomed over them. Vasya was plucked up into the air and Antonio was surprized to look up and see a Vanguard standing above him, assault rifle in one hand, and a struggling Vasya in another.

   "Ahueyet?! " Vasya yelled, hammering his fists ineffectually against the warrior.

The sound of distant screams - human screams, alongside the roar of what could only be angry Vanguard warriors, drifted down the road, with the staccato chattering of assault rifles.

   Blue-Scale alternated his gaze between Vasya and Antonio. "This one thought you were bond-mates. Why are you trying to hurt each other? This one is confused. This is not a good time for you to be fighting."

   Rangi, who had come up behind Blue-Scale, shook his head and leaned down to offer Antonio a hand to get to his feet. "Russian Husky's gone mental, I reckon. Better keep that gun away from him, bro."

   Meanwhile, the beaten soldier had managed to scramble underneath the troop carrier and away from them. He had taken one look at the Vanguard warrior and gone running, as fast as his limping legs could carry him, toward the sounds of the other battle. Antonio had no doubt the soldier was heading back for reinforcements.

   Suddenly, the ground started shaking and there were alarmed shouts from the soldiers further up the road. With a rumble and a roar a large, angled shape virtually exploded from the side of the hill further up the road. Massive boulders and gobs of sticky clay flew in all directions. Refexively ducking, they all watched as the Vanguard cargo shuttle staggered up into the sky, shedding detritus as it gained altitude.

   The two helicopters that had been hovering around the side of the hill scattered to either side, as the shuttle passed by. Quickly recovering, they turned to follow, when the shuttle levelled off and turned back toward the hill. Soldiers, manning the mounted machine guns in each of the helicopters, opened fire on the shuttle, sending sparks flying from the muddy fuselage. It quickly gained speed and disappeared overhead, with the helicopters struggling to keep up.

   Blue-Scale lifted his head and let out a long, loud, mournful howl as the shuttle passed out of view. Still holding onto Vasya and the assault rifle, he lowered his head and turned to stare at Rangi, his eyes wide with horrified dismay. "They are gone! Why... Why did they leave this one behind?"

   There were a few stunned seconds of silence, suddenly broken by the sound of many weapons being cocked behind them. Spinning around, the small group stared back at several dozen mud-covered soldiers aiming heavy assault rifles at them. Captain Hardy stepped forward, aiming his pistol straight at Blue-Scale's head. "Don't you fucking move, lizard."

   Invokes-The-Storm waited impatiently, flexing his arms and stalking back and forth in the cockpit, as Obscuring-Darkness and Blocker worked feverishly on the control console.

   "We are working as fast as we can." Obscuring-Darkness didn't spare the time to even look over his shoulder, as he battled with the recalcitrant computer. He was trying to reroute power around the various damaged sections of the shuttle's systems, and it was slow, painstaking work even with the other engineer's assistance.

   Hating the feeling of helplessness, and angry at the fact that he wasn't outside helping the other Vanguard, Invokes-The-Storm turned and left the cockpit, making a bee-line toward the airlock. He was stopped halfway there by Flows-Like-Water, who was looking nervous. What he didn't know was that, uncharacteristically, Flows-Like-Water actually was nervous.

   Events were starting to spiral out of Flows-Like-Water's control, and he wasn't used to losing control like this; it made him uncomfortable. He'd had a neat little scenario in his head as to how events were supposed to unfold. Only, events were conspiring against him.

   He'd been stymied on several different occasions now, having to continually adapt his plans as the situation changed. When the first meeting between humans and Vanguard had broken down, he'd gone to 'Plan-B', as the humans so delightfully called it. The loss of so many Vanguard lives on the Lightning-Strike was unfortunate, but a sacrifice he'd been willing to make for the success of his mission.

   The fact that this crew been able to rescue the humans off their failing vessel, along with saving the Vasya human, was a happy coincidence for him. He'd hoped that the two races would have hit it off, but was disappointed. Again. When the shuttle had landed and become stranded, he'd taken the risk of suggesting that they let the humans go to Invokes-The-Storm. Flows-Like-Water had come to regret that suggestion as well, thinking that the humans might have kept their word. He had no doubt it was the Captain Hardy human that had betrayed them.

   Reluctantly, he was coming to the conclusion that, no matter what he did, he was unlikely to be able to cement any sort of relationship between humans and Vanguard. His people were not going to be happy with his failure, he thought ruefully. Like a lot of his people, he'd been arrogant. And it had come to bite him on the posterior.

   Observers, Flows-Like-Water's people were generally reluctant to become involved with any other alien species, and for good reason. In their ancient past they had tried to assist other races, to help them develop and evolve. The ruins of their abject failures littered many worlds in this sector of space; ruins that both fascinated and confused many of the other civilizations that arose, millenia later, from the ashes.

   Flows-Like-Water had memories of his people's last visit to Earth, 6000 years previously. Like all of his species, he had access to the genetic memory passed onto all Observers. The Atlanteans had misused the technology they had been gifted, with tragic results. The humans of that era had almost succeeded in making themselves extinct. Thankfully, enough remained to rebuild the various populations of the planet, although the Observers had gone to great lengths to make sure that no trace of their technology was left.

   While loathe to interfere in the conflict between Vanguard and Arbiter, the Observers had realized that Arbiters were starting to upset the balance of power in this sector of the galaxy. While Observers didn't consider the Arbiters too much of a threat to them, they were concerned that the Vanguard, and many other species, would soon fall prey to the hive-mind race. While the Vanguard often weren't much better than Arbiters in that respect, at least they had - until recently - kept each other at bay.

   Many Observers had argued against becoming involved at all. However, the majority had decided, in their self-appointed role as galactic caretakers, that biological diversity would be threatened if the Arbiters were allowed to triumph. So, having learnt their lesson millenia ago, they decided to sit back and observe.

   Unfortunately, the Vanguard had faltered; their cultural development was not capable of long term stability. This had prompted the Observers to try and find another species with whom the beleagured reptiles could ally. Humans were a controversial choice, given past failures, but a logical one. So agents, like Flows-Like-Water, were dispatched in order to influence certain decisions.

   "What do you want?" Invokes-The-Storm snapped, splaying out all 16 of his talons in a display of irritation.

   The gesture was not lost on Flows-Like-Water. "There must be something I can do to assist."

   "I do not have time for this!"

   "Please! I feel somewhat responsible for our current situation -"

   "Can you handle a shock-lance?" the warrior interrupted him, squaring his shoulders and regarding him through eyes narrowed by stress. He was not coping with the current situation very well, and a simpering Vanguard was the last thing he needed to be dealing with right at the moment.

   "Hrrr, no, however -"

   "Then you are of no use to me." Invokes-The-Storm roughly pushed the surprized Observer aside and continued towards the airlock.

   Flows-Like-Water watched the young warrior grab two arms full of shock-lances from a weapons rack near the airlock, and then leap into the middle of the pitched battle. He was suddenly distracted by a twinge from one of his legs. He looked down in alarm. The lower half of his leg had started losing definition as his concentration was broken. The amorphous Silicon particles that made up the bulk of his body quickly snapped back into their camoflaged state as he regained control. Slips like that could cost him dearly. Quickly glancing around, he was relieved to see that none of the few remaining Vanguard had noticed the slip. "Well, fuck me," he muttered quietly in pefect English.

   Most of the surviving Vanguard had been outside when the armed humans arrived, trying to remove some of the larger rocks that were preventing the shuttle from safely taking off. Most of them were prevented from retreating back to the shuttle by the humans, who were slowly advancing down the treacherous slope toward them. The humans were all armed with some sort of rapid-fire projectile weapons, and were starting to inflict damage on the outnumbered, unarmed reptiles.

   "Vanguard! Hear me! " Invokes-The-Storm roared loudly. Using all four of his arms, he started throwing shock-lances out to each Vanguard.

   While the shock-lances were formidable weapons in close-quarter fighting, they were no match for projectile weapons in a pitched fight. He grimaced, wishing he could trade in 100 shock-lances for just a couple of gauss-rifles.

   Grabbing the last two weapons for himself, Invokes-The-Storm crouched down, then leaped out from the cover of the airlock and landing on agile feet beside two of the humans who were slogging their way through the mud. With a growl, he swung one of the shock-lances in an arc through the air, smashing it into the legs of one of the humans. The human collapsed to its knees, screaming, as the bones in its legs were shattered. With his other rear arm he jabbed the other human in the stomach with the second shock-lance, discharging it with a loud «CRACK!» That one grunted loudly as it doubled over, falling forward into the mud, unconscious.

   He spun around, and saw three humans closing in on two injured warriors. They were taking shelter behind a partially buried boulder, but their position was about to be overrun. One of them was down, leaning against the boulder for support. His knee-joint was a mess of caked mud discoloured by black Vanguard blood. The other warrior had blood streaming from several wounds on his chest and neck, obviously caused by the human weapons. He was starting to stagger from the blood loss and wasn't going to last much longer.

   Splaying out his taloned toes for traction in the slippery muck, Invokes-The-Storm hunkered down and sprinted towards the two warriors. When he screamed out a war-cry, the three humans spun around and were raising their weapons to fire when he barrelled into them at full speed, forward arms stretched out with talons outspread. Two of the humans went flying, crying out as bright red blood sprayed from deep cuts made by the warrior's razor sharp talons.

   The remaining human was knocked backwards into the mud. He managed to let loose a couple of wildly innaccurate shots, in panic, before Invokes-The-Storm stamped one of his taloned feet down hard on the human's shoulder. He heard the sound of splintering bone. The human's agonized shriek was cut short as a shock-lance was discharged into the side of its head by one of the badly injured warriors nearby.

   Covering them as they retreated back to the shuttle, Invokes-The-Storm looked around. He could see only one Vanguard who was lying either dead, or unconscious, not far from him. All of the others, using the weapons that he'd provided, had managed to make their way back to the shuttle. Several shots rang out, and he felt a sharp sting as something hit his tail, and another hit his arm.

   Ducking down again, he sprinted over to the motionless Vanguard lying out in the open. He threw himself down into the mud beside the body and, spotting the splintered remains of a tree-trunk nearby, grabbed the body and slithered toward it. The rest of the humans had spotted him and started concentrating their fire, but Inovkes-The-Storm still managed to get himself and the other Vanguard into temporary cover behind the trunk.

   "Leave... me..."

   Shocked, he looked at the Vanguard. It was one of the medics, and she was still alive, although barely, judging by the severity of her wounds. "Not while I have anything to say about it," he growled, risking a peek over the top of the log. The humans were rapidly closing in on their position. Splinters of wood exploded in front of his face so he ducked down again.

   "It is over... for me. Go," the medic pleaded with him. "But leave one... shock-lance. Hrrr, please... Go!" she gasped, coughing up blood.

   Closing his eyes to hide his despair, Invokes-The-Storm snapped his jaw shut in acquiesence, and gently laid one of his shock-lances across her chest. He guided her two forward hands so that they were gripping the shaft of the weapon. Smiling weakly in gratitude, she located the controls of the weapon and twisted, activating the weapon's power-pack into an overload sequence. "Ancestors honor you," he hissed softly to her.

   Seeing that their position was about to be overrun, he rolled to his feet and sprinted for the shuttle airlock, weaving and leaping to avoid being shot. 50 metres short of the airlock, there was a deep rumbling which knocked him to into the muck, as the ground shook beneath his feet. With a groan of overstressed metal, the nose of the shuttle started slowly inching forward.

   Seizing advantage of the distraction, Invokes-The-Storm staggered to his feet. Putting all his energy into a final sprint, he took off and leapt through the air in the direction of the airlock. Crashing to one side of the hatch, he managed to grab onto the edges as the shuttle started shaking in earnest, struggling to free itself. Several pairs of hands reached out for his, dragging him inside, as with a final violent jerk, the vessel broke free from the debris and lurched into the sky. Mud and rocks blasted free from the backwash of the thrusters.

   As the shuttle gained altitude and disappeared, a group of about a dozen armed humans surrounded the dying medic, pointing their assault rifles at her head. They looked at each other uncertainly as the medic coughed up more blood. By the time the whine from the overloading shock-lance power pack finally became audible to them, it was too late. Sensing something was dangerously amiss, they started backing away nervously.

   "Hrrr, filthy... vermin," she snarled, glaring at the hideous, alien faces as they stared wide-eyed back at her. "Ancestors curse you!" she roared as the power pack exploded with a blinding flash and massive concussion wave.

   As the smoke cleared, only two of the humans were still moving, covered in blood, and crawling feebly away from the gently steaming crater. Nothing remained of the medic.

   "Yankee-Doodle went to town, riding the baloney-pony. Stuck a feather up his arse and called it Russian-Husky." Rangi muttered, trying to distract himself, but feeling more than a little bitter. And nervous. The two emotions battled each other for supremacy, but bitterness was fighting a losing battle.

   In a period of less than 24 hours, he'd gone from being an ordinary small-town mechanic, to an alien colander. 'Not colander, you stupid hori,' he mentally chided himself. 'Collaborator.' He stared at the cold, featureless concrete walls of the small cell where he was being held, and started shivering.

   When they'd been captured by the soldiers, he'd watched, horrified, as they had subdued Blue-Scale with some sort of electrified netting. It had not only incapacitated the confused reptile, but caused him a great deal of pain. As soon as the warrior had been rendered defenseless, several of the soliders then proceeded to beat him violently with the butts of their rifles, making the warrior cry out plaintively to him for help.

   When he'd tried to stop them, Captain Hardy had punched him viciously in the stomach, knocking him to his knees in the dust, gasping for breath. The yank marine and Russian husky had been split up, and were being held seperately for debriefing, or so that Captain Hardy jerk had said. They'd then been taken to some military camp to wait for... God only knew what.

   Rangi had blustered and threatened bloody murder, but his captors had completely ignored his demands, and then his plea's, to talk to his father, a lawyer, even the cops. Nobody knew where he was and, even if they did, it wasn't likely they'd be able to get anywhere near him. To his credit, he'd denied them the satisfaction of seeing him cry, but it was becoming ever more difficult to keep the tears at bay.

   An indeterminate amount of time later, he heard footsteps approaching his cell. Backing away from the metal door, he apprehensively watched as it opened, and a couple of strangely uniformed men entered, pointing tasers at him. "Turn around and put your hands on your head," one of them barked at him in an emotionless voice. Doing as he was ordered, he felt his hands being roughly grabbed and wrenched behind his back. Some sort of zip-tie restraints were attached to his wrists.

   "Ow! Man, you're hurting m - Ooof! " His complaint at the rough treatment earned him a punch in the kidneys from one of the soldiers. He collapsed onto the cold concrete floor, gasping from the pain.

   "Get up," the 'talkative' man ordered, bending over and grabbing Rangi roughly by the hair, and pulling him to his feet again. "Now move," the man said, pushing him bodily into the corridor. They continued to push and shove him until they reached another room being guarded by a couple of soldiers in regular army uniforms. They opened the door, and stood aside deferentially, as the other two pushed Rangi inside.

   Once inside, he was forced into a metal chair in front of a fold-up table. There was no other furniture in the room, aside from another identical chair on the other side of the table. He heard the door close quietly behind him. "What do you want with me?" Rangi asked, cold sweat dripping from his face. The nervousness he was feeling was threatening to develop into outright terror. The dimly lit room, the guards, and the situation, would have almost been comically stereotypical, if it weren't quite so horrifyingly real.

   Sheer, blinding, red-hot agony answered his question, as one of the men discharged a taser into the small of his back. Rangi fell off the chair, writhing and screaming on the floor, not even noticing as his bladder let go and he wet himself. Sobbing, he was picked up by two pairs of hands a couple of minutes later, and roughly thrown back onto the chair. Rangi dimly heard one of the men muttering, "Disgusting. The little baby's gone and pissed his pants." The other man sniggered quietly.

   Sauntering over to the table, the 'talkative' man crossed his arms and perched on the edge of the table, all traces of amusement dropping from his face. "You're fucked, you know," he said in a menacing tone, eyes not leaving Rangi's face. "You're not going to be rescued. There's no lawyers, or friendly faces where you're going."

   The other man came around and crouched down beside the chair, turning the taser over in his hands, watching as the dim light played across the shiny, plastic surface of the device. "My friend," he said, nodding vaguely in the direction of the other man, "is going to ask you a few questions. Now, the thing is, I'm not as patient as he is." He reached out and roughly grabbed a handful of Rangi's hair, jerking his head up and back. Activating the taser, the man brought it up to Rangi's face, waving it back and forth in front of the terrified boy's eyes, as a fat, blue spark snapped and sizzled between the two electrodes. "So I better like the answers you give. Christ, you stink," he said, switching off the taser and taking a step back, wrinkling his face in disgust.

   Out in the corridor, meanwhile, the two uniformed soldiers stared at each other, pale and wide-eyed. Prior to the prisoners arriving, the base commander had told them to follow any orders given by the American special agents. They thought it was some sort of joke when what looked like a small dinosaur was off-loaded from an armoured troop-carrier, and taken into the stockade bunker. When a young Maori kid and a couple of strangely dressed soldiers were also locked up, they began to wonder just what in hell was going on.

   "Fuck this shit, mate. I didn't sign up to listen to them torture some kid! Corporal Kevin Lee whispered to the other soldier guarding the door beside him.

   The other soldier turned to him, and swallowed nervously. "Me neither, but orders are orders. I think I got this covered, Kev. Go check on the others. See what you can find out," he said, looking in particular at a heavily reinforced metal door further down the corridor.

   Nodding gratefully, Kevin slung his rifle over his shoulder, turned and walked toward the reinforced door. He stopped beside it, and stared at the small LCD screen set in the wall beside the door's electronic lock. The image in the screen showed the strange looking creature that had been brought in earlier, lying on the ground, unmoving. Unmoving because it had been chained down to several massive, hastily installed metal bolts in the concrete floor.

   Hearing footsteps, Kevin turned and nodded to a couple of heavily armed American marines who stared at him suspiciously as they marched past.

   The faint, muffled sound of screaming coming from the room he'd just left, made him wince sympathetically. At the same time, movement caught his eye. He watched, fascinated, as the large creature started writhing around, struggling in seeming desperation against its restraints.

   Quickly looking around, Kevin waited until the marines had turned a corner and disappeared from view, before placing his palm against the door's electronic lock. With a subdued «snick», the lock disengaged, and the door swung open slightly. Slipping inside, he pushed the door closed again, and stood there, staring wide-eyed at the creature. It had stopped struggling and just lay there. The only noise in the room was the faint rattling of the chains as the creature panted heavily.

   "Just what in the hell are you?" he asked quietly, squatting down and studying the creature curiously.

   It opened all four of its eyes at the sound of his voice, and stared at him, remaining silent. It had obviously been treated quite roughly. Thick, black blood was still dripping sluggishly from several cuts on various parts of its body, and one of its eyes was nearly swollen shut. The black, skintight clothing it wore was covered in mud, and torn in several spots. But it did lnot hide the masses of bulging muscle underneath. Whatever this creature was, it was strong.

   Suddenly, the creatures ears perked up slightly and it started struggling madly again, making a high-pitched keening noise, as if in distress. Even fainter than before, Kevin could make out the Maori kid's screams coming from the room back up the corridor, although they were almost drowned out by the rattling chains as the creature tried to shuck off them off. He stepped backwards, nervously. The creature started huffing and growling.

   "Hrrr, Little-One!"

   Kevin shot to his feet, grabbing his assault rifle and unlocking the safety, pointing it at the creature. "Did you just say something?!" he asked, incredulously.

   The creature stopped moving and regarded him intently. "Little-One. He is being hurt! This one must protect Little-One!"

   Shaking his head in disbelief, Kevin couldn't believe what he was seeing or hearing. "Holy shit, you can talk! A fucking talking dinosaur." He stopped speaking, suddenly realizing what had been nagging at the back of his mind for several minutes. This thing had four arms as well as two legs. Okay, so not like any dinosaur he had ever heard about, then...

   "Release this one... Please."

   Kevin realized that the voice he was hearing was sort of electronic translation. The hissing and rumbling was the creature's real voice. "Sorry man, can't do that. For all I know you're some sort of demon. Shit, I shouldn't even be in here." He backed away and opened the door, poking his head into the corridor to check the coast was clear.

   He was about to leave when the creature let out a peculiarly deep rumble, and started thrashing around wildly, trying to break free of the chains pinning it down. He heard the Maori kid screaming again. It sounded like the poor kid was starting to lose his voice.

   "HRRR! Sssssssssssssssssstop the pain! Releassssssse thissssss one!"

   The realization hit Kevin as he was about to close the door - it was the kid being tortured in the nearby room that was driving the demon creature crazy. He hesitantly re-entered the room, squatting down near the creature's head, holding his assault rifle at the ready. "What's that kid got to do with you?" He was a little taken aback when what looked like black blood started dripping from around its eyes as it stared at him. There was an expression on its face that almost looked like despair.

   "This one has to protect Little-One. This one's duty. This one likes Little-One. Must get to him, please assist?" The blood continued to drip down the creature's face from around its eyes.

   His arm seemed to have a mind of its own, as Kevin reached out to wipe away the blood streaming down the creature's snout. Snatching his hand back as he realized the potential danger he had just put himself in, he shook his head. "What would you do. If I let you go?" he asked, quietly.

   Regarding him silently for a few moments, the creature let out a long, deep breath before responding. "Hrrr... We will leave this place. This one needs to know why."

   "Why, what?"

   "Why do they hurt Little-One?"

   Kevin blinked, looking blankly at the creature. "Dunno. Something to do with you, I guess." He fell over backwards in fright as the creature let out a roar which reverberated thunderously inside the small concrete cell. As his ringing ears recovered somewhat, the creature locked eyes with him.

   "More are coming, this one can hear them approaching. Please, human. Release me," it begged.

   He hesitated for several long seconds, while the creature stared at him with its enigmatic black eyes. "If you eat me, I swear to god I'll kick the shit out of your spleen. From the inside," Kevin warned the creature. Shaking his head at the insanity of his actions, he knew he was blowing away his military career, and risking the same - if not worse than - torture that the kid was getting by what he was about to do. "If anyone asks you, I was defending myself when you managed to get free from those chains. By yourself, I might add."

   Kevin took careful aim at one of the large bolts that the chains were anchored to, and squeezed the trigger, just once. Sparks flew from the chain, but it didn't break. He squeezed off another couple of careful shots, aiming slightly toward the wall and away from the demon reptile. The chain was looking quite badly damaged by this time, so he stood back and motioned for the creature to try straining against it.

   With a rumbling growl, the creature strained. There was a small squeal of twisting metal, then a «ting» as the chain parted company from the bolt. It only took a few more seconds for it to wriggle free from the loosened chains, before it got to its feet. Kevin wasn't a small man, he stood almost two metres tall, himself. This creature was at least half a metre taller than he was and, although Kevin couldn't read the expression on its face, he could have sworn it was extremely angry.

   "Whoa there, big guy," he squeaked through a throat tightened by sudden fear, as the demon reptile took a step towards him. It raised all four of its arms, the muscles writhing like mating anacondas under the remnants of its clothing. Adrenaline kicking in, in the split second before it grabbed him, Kevin tried to raise his assault rifle. However he was far, far too slow. His weapon was knocked out of his hands, and he raised his arms to shield his face as the creature roughly grabbed him and pulled him in toward its gaping jaws.

   Closing his eyes, and expecting to be torn in half, Kevin was surprized when he felt the creature's hot breath, along with something warm and wet, sliding up his neck and face. Opening one tentative eye, he discovered that the creature was licking him, with a long, black, forked tongue.

   "Hrrr... Friend," it purred at him, before letting him go.

   Kevin slumped to the ground, on rubbery legs that were no longer able to support him, and watched as the creature charged the door.

End of Part 07