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Last of The Fallen, Chapter 22

Written by mechjok :: [Monday, 20 July 2020 22:08] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 18 July 2020 09:32]

Last of the Fallen

The Citadel, November 19, 2001:

Alec finished packing his bag. His new suit was draped over the back of a chair, waiting for him; he'd used a telepathic prompt to let Julia sleep a while longer before he left.

He crept back into their room, sat down on the bed. Moonlight was streaming in the massive windows, casting the most beautiful face on Earth in a soft, clean light.

She stirred when he sat, her eyes fluttering open. "Hi," she whispered, smiling while she sat up. "Are you guys getting ready to go?"

He nodded briefly, cupped her cheek in his hand. "I have no idea how long this is going to take. We're going to use Seattle for overnights; if it takes too long, Somack and Thien will need to handle Durling on their own."

"Can I come to Seattle?"

He smiled himself. "If you want to. Byron's bringing a couple of transports later today."

"Then I'll be on one."

She scooted forward, kissed him full on the mouth. "I'll see you tonight, kellehan."

The Citadel was quiet, except for Adam. He came to his feet when Alec came out of his rooms, saluted, took Alec's bags.

"Shouldn't you be sleeping?" Alec led him to the lifts. Adam shrugged.

"I figured you might need a gopher. 'Sides, we're all up anyway; it wouldn't do for the Archon to be the only one unattended by his disciple."

Alec chuckled. "Very well. But once we're gone, you rack out. Hear me?"

"Yes, Dei'sho."

They walked down the Great Hall, Thien rounding a corner to join him. Rick Maddux heeled him along, also carrying a garment bag. Alec smiled thinly. "Gucci or Armani?"

Thien sniffed. "Those rag-merchants? Hardly. Hugo Boss. Crap in, crap out, Archon."

Alec laughed. "I see. What about the Elders?"

"Robes of State; Somack in his Vestments," Thien pushed the main entry open, motioned Alec to the dimly-lit airfield. "I couldn't make him wear a suit, not when he has to leave his Staff behind."

The rest of the Horsemen were standing around the ramp of the Gryphon, talking quietly. Gabriel nodded to Alec, coming to meet him. "We're all ready to go. Just waiting on the Elders and Dr. Sheridan."

Alec shrugged. "They'll be here. We have a few hours."

Stefan came down the ramp, collected the Knights' bags, went back up. Adam and Rick saluted, departed; Thien sucked in a deep breath once they were out of earshot.

"I will admit to enjoying the idea of a field assignment. I love this place as much as the next Knight, but the walls grow closer each year."

Connor grinned. "We might need a permanent ambassador. Doesn't hobnobbing with the Washington elite sound inviting?"

"I may spend a lot of time here," Thien replied, eyebrow cocked. "But I will wager I can still kick your ass. Perhaps we should find out."

The other three laughed. Carter came out of the Citadel, humping his bag and a large briefcase; Stefan dashed down the ramp, ran to meet him, collected his burdens with a shallow bow. Carter followed him to the ship, looking bemused. "Good morning, gentlemen."

"Good morning, Doctor," Alec smiled. "I apologize for the hour…"

Carter waved him off. "This needs to be done. Barely an inconvenience. And thank you for the new clothing; the fit is marvelous."

"Not at all," Alec glanced at his chrono. "Maybe we better…"

The doors opened one last time. Somack appeared, still struggling into his robes, Yamar and Vona behind him. The Cleric managed an embarrassed frown at Alec while the two Kalrist went up into the ship. "I overslept. My apologies."

Alec laughed. "We're not late, Master. No worries."

They climbed aboard. Morrigan motioned Gabriel over; once he sat down, she curled herself into his lap, dozed off. Cas and Isamu were in the cockpit, letting Alec perch himself on the tactical board. Everyone else found seats, enough room for everyone to stretch themselves out. Jian showed Carter how to fold the seats into a small bunk, settled himself down next to Vona, chatting quietly with the Kalrist.

Yamar patted Alec's shoulder, dropped lightly into the seat next to Cordelia. The decision by the Elders earlier that evening had been momentous; the Kal were no more. They were all Kalrist, now in name as well as ideology; the ranks of the Initiate were going to swell come morning. Half of those Yamar had spoken of would enter training. Once they had completed Basic, the other half would begin. Alec had expected wailing, teeth-gnashing, all of it- what he'd gotten was quiet, even determination.

And one other thing had happened.

His new shield hung on the front of the locker holding the Shal'kyrie. Yamar and the Augurs had forged it in the old style, using their geomancing skills to mold a quantity of ore they'd dug from the vein that had created the Sword fifteen thousand years before. Yamar called it the Ra'kyrie, the Spirit of the Compact.

Isamu ran the engines up, kicked the lighting to tactical, eased the stick back. In a few moments, the sturdy transport rose through the enviroshield, bucking slightly in the heavy winds, then shot away at a good clip.

"Washington Alternate One reads online, Archon," Cas murmured, crosschecking his boards. "The back-up faber is producing the necessary vehicles; Michael is monitoring their progress from Seattle."

"Good," Alec stretched in his seat.

"D.C. in… two hours, eight minutes, Archon," Isamu reported. "Cruising altitude of four hundred thousand feet, speed is Mach four-point-four. That puts us in Washington at seven-forty-six AM EST."

Washington, D.C., November 18, 2001:

Drake Wells rolled over, slapped the alarm off. Paige Marlowe mumbled, reached for his arm, pulled it back around her.

"Ten more minutes," she whispered. "I'm so tired…"

Drake snuggled up to her, kissed her neck softly. "Today is a day we absolutely cannot sleep in. The Archon is coming."

She groaned, already pushing the blankets down. "All right. I'm getting up."

Her red hair framed an elfin face, bright green eyes above high cheekbones. Her nightie clung to every curve, showing off a spectacular body. She set one leg on the floor, twisted on her knee to catch Drake's hand, tug him up for a kiss.

Her fingers tangled in his close-cropped dark hair, his blue eyes twinkling. When they came up for air, she laid her head on his chest. "What do you think will happen?"

"Nothing," he climbed off the bed, pulled her along with him to the shower. "Alec's not stupid. We're needed here, just like Brendon and Lissa. He'll come with a small cadre, let them run tests on a couple of guys, work on the treaty, and never bring us up."

Drake clicked the water on, helped Paige get her nightie off. She led him into the massive shower, let him explore both of her breasts before she started lathering his back.

Drake had been inserted into the Secret Service during the second Clinton term, less than four years out of Basic and assignment to the Washington Cell. A more typical recruit than the Horsemen, Drake had been brought into the Order at sixteen. He'd done two years in Basic, then scored some remarkable coups while in Washington by short-circuiting four different attempts by Sultane-sponsored terrorists to take out key members of Congress. The last attempt had sent the newly-crowned Horsemen hot on the trail of Sultane himself, a chase that ended with the four Knights decimating most of the arms dealer's Mid-East operation, and come within a whisker of bagging Sultane. The same operation that had earned the Archangel the Arion nickname Whishkan Kurske. The Silent Death.

Harold Campion had been on Clinton's detail; when he went down with a wound sustained in an aborted Arion attack on the White House, Drake had been chosen to replace him. An excellent warrior, known for his skill in defensive applications, a crack shot among crack shots, and a formidable thinker, Drake was considered by many to be the perfect bodyguard.

By contrast, Paige had been sent to the Detail for the exact opposite reasons. Opinionated, outspoken, and forceful, she was considered too wild to be among the Activator Corps. But her abilities were spectacular, another of the great finds of the last decade. When she had actually demanded full-on combat training, a training that would have been physically impossible, Somack and Sorala had had no choice but to find a different slot for her than at the Citadel. Gabriel, oddly enough, had suggested they send her to one of the covert teams- an opening had come up then on the Service, then later the Detail, giving Paige the action she had craved.

The Elders' plan had worked. Now seven years removed from the Citadel, Paige had matured into a calm, poised woman, very confident in her abilities but more tempered in her opinions. More willing to wait a precious few seconds rather than charge ahead. Plus, she had become an excellent member of the Detail, beyond her Activator powers. A win-win situation for everyone.

They'd met when Paige had come to the Detail, and like Somack had probably figured, fallen in love. Now looking down the barrel of reassignment in the near-future, they had started to talk about marriage in the Cathedral, raising their own family in Boston or maybe San Francisco, under the watchful eyes of Archangel.

Right up until the Culling.

Unlike Connor, Drake and Brendon had gotten the word the minute the Kaldec landings had been spotted. They'd been on guard for insurgency, scanning minds near to the President, waiting for further orders. Then the change in command, the breaking of the Compact, and all the rest of it.

The dust had settled. Alec, Archangel, was in charge. Drake secretly approved- the man had the right combination of skills for the situation at hand. This was no time for a brooding chessmaster; right now, the Order needed someone running around with his hair on fire, settling problems with the blade of a warlance.

Paige shared his thoughts. She had entered Activator training when Alec had been in his last months of Basic, had watched him do things that made even the Triumveres stare in awe. She'd watched him defeat Morrigan in the Challenge, been with both him and Jian Chang on their first field mission against the Arions, seen him carve down four Primes like he was whacking weeds in his backyard. She respected his ability, knew that he would pull them all through with as few lives lost as possible.

Both of them shook off their reverie, sharing a small smile. They'd performed the Klist'ra, the Spirit Bond, the year before- it seemed to grow stronger each passing day. Drake gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, stepped from the shower to shave.

Today, he had to look his best. The Boss was coming.

Isamu brought them in. The sun was starting to rise; they'd raced it all the way from Tibet. Now Alternate One flipped open, letting them drop through the warehouse roof, settle to the pad on flexing struts.

"Okay, everybody, grab your gear, let's get suited up," Alec twisted from his seat, nudging Carter on his way past. "We gotta roll in ten."

It took nine. Morrigan emerged from the ladies locker room, clad in a conservative Armani that did absolutely nothing to hide her stunning beauty. Alec and Gabriel stopped talking long enough to admire her as she curtsied demurely, straightened up with a twinkle in her eye.

"I'd forgotten how much fun it is to dress up," she rolled her shoulders just a little, adjusting the drape of her jacket. "Do I look acceptable?"

Alec opened his mouth, closed it. "Uhm, yes."

Gabriel stepped closer, whispered something in her ear, making her blush. She kissed his cheek, took her place alongside Alec. "At your leisure, Lord Archon."

He glanced around the hangar. Everybody was ready to go; Stefan would drive the second limo, then join them inside.

"All right, let's get this over with."

 

They navigated their way through Beltway traffic, coming in from Maryland. It took them forty-eight minutes, putting them at the exit for the White House at twenty to nine.

Yamar shook his head slowly, gazing out the windows. "No wonder these humans are so difficult to reason with. They have divorced themselves from the Green; one could scarcely manage a coherent thought in these conditions."

"They are a factious people, that is certain," Somack agreed. "But if they may still produce children such as these, there is hope for them yet."

He gestured around the limo cabin, taking in the Knights. Yamar nodded sagely.

"Certainly. But we shall see, Lord Somack, whether they are wise enough not to shatter their glass on the steel of the Order."

Alec glanced up from his datapad. "We aren't here to break them. We're here to teach them. So they don't break themselves by accident."

"So speaks the Archon," Yamar murmured. "You are right, Lord Somack. Best to wait and see."

The limo stopped at the White House gate. Alec glanced at the guard, probed gently at his mind. Bemusement, concern, and a certain curiosity at the unexpected guests- guests that were not to be pressed beyond the most basic of security procedures. In a matter of moments, the limo was moving again, pulling up to the circular entrance to the West Wing.

A.J. Bartlett and David Lyman were waiting there, along with a pair of Secret Service agents. The Marine on duty snapped to attention, popped the door open, and saluted Alec as he alighted from the car first. Fifteen years of Order training rushed back; he returned the corporal's salute snappily.

Alec turned back to the vehicle, helped Morrigan from the car, then Vona, waited for Somack, Yamar, and Cas to disembark as well. The Kalrist had their imagers set for roughly Caucasian dimensions, making the White House Chief of Staff glance back and forth between them all, especially after Isamu slipped out of the front seat, took his place behind Alec, carrying the bags.

Bartlett shook it off. "Welcome, Archon Collins, to the White House."

Alec stuck his hand out, ending a tense moment of protocol. "Mr. Bartlett, the pleasure is mine."

"This way, please," he motioned the party into the building, leaving Lyman to handle the introductions from the other car. "I thought, in the interests of expediency, we would leave the formal introductions until we made it to the Roosevelt Room. Please, excuse the impropriety…"

Alec waved it off. "Mr. Bartlett, we're all on new ground here. There's nothing to forgive."

That ended conversation until they entered the Roosevelt Room, complete with it's namesake's Nobel Peace Prize. A small group clustered around an easily-recognized man, who turned at the opening of the door, came across the room. "Mr… excuse me, Archon Collins, it's a pleasure to meet you. I am Roger Durling."

Alec forestalled another stumbling block, going to meet him with his hand outstretched. "Mr. President, it is an honor."

They shook, both grips firm, Durling's the barest of damp. The most powerful man in America gazed into the eyes of the most powerful man on Earth, tried to decipher what was there, unaware of the fact that the man shaking his hand was doing the same thing.

Alec released the President's hand. Time to rock the boat. "Sir, may I present Lord Yamar, son of Ghent, First Elder of the Kalrist Colony of Shamballah, the Lady Vona, daughter of Wornalla, Minister of State for the Colony, and Lord Somack, son of Tibers, High Cleric and First Triumvere of the Order."

Their imagers flickered off, revealing the Kalrist in all their splendor. Both Yamar and Vona had chosen cobalt and crimson Robes of State, a gesture that Durling wouldn't possibly appreciate, Somack clad in his red and gold Vestments. The three formed a precise row, bowed from the waist fractionally higher than they would for Alec.

Durling's eyes threatened to leap from his head, but he covered it as quickly as he could, returning the bow.

"You honor us with your welcome, Mr. President," Yamar's rich bass filled the room, washing over the group of dumb-struck humans around the coffee tray. "In the name of the Kalrist people, and the Order, we thank you."

Durling gestured to the other humans in the room. "Archon, First Elder, First… Triumvere?" he waited for Somack to incline his head, "Minister of State, please, allow me to introduce my Secretary of State, Antonia Bretano, and my Secretary of Defense, Dr. Dennis Bunker."

The two stepped to Durling's side. Toni Bretano was slender, willowy, and very Italian, her dark eyes trying hard to not be scared out of her head. Dennis Bunker, all six-foot-one, two hundred thirty pounds, glanced back and forth between Alec and the Elders, managed to bow in reply when the Kalrist did.

David Lyman came in before Durling could introduce anyone else, the Horsemen splitting off to stand outside the room. Lyman glanced at them quizzically, shrugged it off. Alec finished his introductions, letting him look the rest of the room over.

Admiral Elijah Fitzwallace had the grip and bearing of a lifetime Navy man, staring suspiciously right into Alec's eyes. Alec stared back, matching the man's squeeze, gave him just a touch more. The admiral dropped his hand, kept his eyes on him.

Dr. Thomas Ryan took his hand next, surveying him with a detached, studious air. Once Carter appeared, he snatched his subordinate's arm, dragged him to the back of the room.

Morrigan stepped back from greeting Admiral Fitzwallace, glanced covertly over her shoulder while he tried not to wince, rub his hand. "These people do not seem very trusting, Archon. I could kill one or two, demonstrate that they have little choice in this matter."

"Stop terrorizing the Ambassadors, Morrigan," Alec held his arm out; she hooked her elbow in his. "Let's get some coffee, get settled."

Ryan steered Carter to the back of the room, flicked his laptop open. "Talk to me."

"These guys are the real deal, Tom," Carter pulled his own laptop from his case, set it up next to Ryan's. "I've been there. Massive installation in Tibet, hundreds of soldiers. Almost three thousand Kalrist, but until last night their military was exclusively human. Four hundred Knights, two hundred of their Techs, then two hundred… Activators. I have no idea what they can do, but I have something for you to look at."

Carter typed in some commands, inserted a CD-ROM. It keyed up in a couple of seconds, started to run.

Ryan's eyes narrowed, watching the rerun of the Battle of Shamballah, then the skirmish in Chicago, then the second attack on the Citadel, right before Alec had… died. "Explain to me."

"Actualized psychic potential. Enhanced physical attributes, most notably speed, agility, reflexes. They all have some degree of ability to manipulate energy, the more capable have matter control powers as well," he picked up a pitcher of water, poured himself a glass. "Backed up with amazing technology, fifteen thousand years of combat techniques and strategy, and a clear mission. These guys make Recon Marines look like kindergärtners on their way to the bathroom."

Ryan hit replay on the CD-ROM. "And the mission?"

"Protect Earth. At any cost to them. At a minimum cost to the planet," Carter took Ryan's arm. "They are for real, Tom. Or they are the best liars in the history of the world."

Ryan watched the movie again, nodded slowly. "You want us to sign off on this, don't you?"

"Tom," he began slowly, "these guys wiped the floor with the Arions. Collins recruited the Velorian Protector into the Order. I've seen him fight the Kaldec, the other aliens. It's true, everything he's said. It's a war more ancient than our world, and it's being fought in the shadows. The Order is trying to keep it from exploding into the limelight."

"Carter, I need an idea of what they can do…"

"See Collins?" Carter pointed, feeling his temper rising. "He could kill every person in this room, including the other Knights, before the first body hit the floor, probably kill every person in the White House before they could escape. Tom, I'm telling you…"

Roger Durling stepped up to Ryan's side. "Drop it. We're going ahead with it."

Ryan started. "Sir, he could be controlling your mind…"

"Or yours, Dr. Ryan."

Alec drummed the back of a chair halfway across the room, gazing at Teddy Roosevelt's Nobel Prize. "Shall we put our cards on the table? Yes, I am a telepath. No one in this room, human or Kalrist, is strong enough to stop me from making them think… exactly what I want them to think. The fact, Dr. Ryan, that you are capable of objecting so strongly is because I am not influencing your mind."

He turned to face them, smiling slightly. "It gets better. Mr. President, you could bring your entire Detail into this room, armed with whatever weapons you chose, and I would be able to incapacitate all of them in under a minute, half that time if I am not concerned with whether they live or die. Dr. Bunker, I could kill you by looking at you. Secretary Bretano, I could make you take all of your clothes off and sing an aria from Wagner while you dance naked on the table.

"We could make you do what we want, or we could take back what is rightfully ours. Instead, we are willing to attempt to compromise. Now, you may bargain in good faith, or we can do this the hard way. The choice is yours."

Durling quelled Ryan with a stern look. "We elect to pursue a treaty, Archon Collins. Your statement of good faith is sufficient for me."

Alec kept his eyes on Ryan. "Very well, Mr. President. Shall we begin?"

The Citadel:

Torik rose with the first light, stretched himself. The suit of blacks that he'd worn, in one form or another, for almost twelve thousand years, leapt off his bureau, landed in his hand, flooded up his arm. It coated him quickly, fitting like a second skin.

He flexed, testing the range of his limbs, summoned his warlance and utility belt the same way. Today was a great day- today was the beginning of the future.

The Kalrist were whole once more.

Sorala was entering the corridor the same time he did. He gave her a grand flourish, smiling brightly. "Good day, My Lady."

She laughed. "Awakened in a grand mood, didn't we? Not daunted by the task before you?"

He waved it off. "Training the Kalrist will be of small challenge. Yours will be far more taxing, I'll wager. The children will prove adept, but I have my doubts about the Velorian."

"An open mind, Lord Torik, is the first step on the path to enlightenment," she replied primly. "We owe the Archon that much."

"Of course we do. And doubts merely make the victory that much sweeter," he offered his arm to her. "If anyone can train them, it is you, Sorala."

 

She ascended to the East Tower's observatory, the highest point in the Citadel. Her four new students awaited her, along with three others.

The girls and Cat stood at one side of the room. On the other stood Kara, Sharon Best, and Deb Kincaide.

The four Initiates dropped deep curtsies. Sorala nodded them to their feet, studied the other three women. "I am not certain you were informed, but our training classes are only for Initiates. In the early stages, it's best if they are conducted privately."

Surprisingly, it was Sharon who replied. "I was interested in entering training myself."

"As was I," Kara's voice stayed low, soft. "I think… there is much to learn."

Sorala frowned. "Protector, I am not a warrior. I teach mental discipline, not physical. As for you, Scribe, this training is in direct violation of the oaths that bind you to your position. By definition, membership in the Order demands a willingness to actively oppose tyranny, rather than simply making a record of it."

"I understand that," Sharon's voice was even while she flushed scarlet. "And it's time for me to stop standing by. I owe your Archon my life, and Deb's. That debt isn't going to be repaid by keeping a Chronicle."

"You owe the Archon nothing," Sorala replied firmly. "If you think you do, that is your first mistake.

"Protector, be certain of the path you are choosing. This is a discipline, and a training, to make your training on Velor pale by comparison. My first task is to break you, to see what is inside in the places you hide from all save yourself; the second is to see if that inner core is strong enough to be a foundation for what you will become.

"Many who have started have not finished. Strength of limb will not help you; only strength of heart. There is no shame in choosing to not face what may lie within. But once you begin, there is no turning back. You either succeed, or you fail."

Kara set her chin. "I'm ready."

Dani shook her head sadly. "Why don't you just go?"

Kara started. "What? Why?"

"Look, Kara, you don't have what it takes," the girl folded her arms. "If you did, you wouldn't have sent me away. If that isn't proof that you don't belong here, I don't know what is."

"I sent you away to be safe…!"

"And you almost got me killed!" Dani shouted back. "How many people died in Kualu Lumpur? Where you sent me to be safe? And when you came to the rescue, all you managed to do was almost get yourself killed!

"You can't make a good choice, Kara! You can't do anything but screw up, not when it counts!"

Dani turned to Sorala. "Please, Lady Sorala, make her go."

"Life, my child, is full of difficult choices," she said softly. "You must decide if the voice of your heart is telling you that your mother is unworthy, or if that is the voice of wounded pride and hurt feelings. If it is the former, if you may truthfully tell me that, then I will ask her to leave."

Dani studied her… mother for a long minute. "I can't."

"Then she must be afforded the chance to do. Or do not."

Dani inclined her head slowly. "Yes, Master."

Sorala returned the nod. "Then we shall begin. The first step is to learn to center our minds, and our thoughts, to become as one with the world around us…"

"… the greatest weapon at any Knight's disposal is his mind, Mr. Fah," Torik's gravelly voice never skipped, the master sparring with five Initiates while he instructed Adam. The boy stood to the side of the raised practice platform, spinning his warlance in time to Torik's, utilizing the same training technique Alec had used the day before. "There are forces in the galaxy that surpass the human body in every respect, except one- the mind, the spirit. The human spirit is the greatest force of all in this universe; a Knight is the pinnacle of that spirit."

He parried two sweeps, back-kicking a third Initiate out of the dueling circle. "Tell me, boy, what would you choose? Strength of arm, or strength of heart?"

"Heart, Master," Adam traded hands on his lance, spinning it behind his back. "The strength of the body fades; the strength of the spirit is enduring."

"Excellent," Torik upended an Initiate, tagged his chest; the boy rolled out of the circle immediately. "Whirl that lance faster, Mr. Fah. I can see the blade clearly."

The boy obeyed. "Good. Now, you must learn the difference between focus and center. You must be centered and completely in touch with the universe around you at all times- that is a Knight's advantage. To be aware of where you are, and where your opponents are, at all times. Otherwise, you will enjoy a very, very brief career."

He hopped up, jump-kicking the last two Initiates from the ring, landed nimbly. "Sloppy, gentlemen. I will expect better tomorrow, understood?"

The five Initiates lined up, bowed. "Yes, Master," they answered in unison.

"Very well. Three circuits on the ramparts; off with you. And take Mr. Fah."

Pavel Bondarenko nodded, motioned Adam to follow. The six boys formed up, ran off, Julia stepping up to the platform. Torik smiled her way. "And good morning to you, child. What may this aged tiger do for you?"

She smiled back. "Can you… will you teach me to fight?"

Torik opened his palm; a towel rose from a bench, flew to it. "Certainly. But if what you seek is combat training, any of the Horsemen would be better choices. Particularly the Archon. Or perhaps Morrigan. I instruct philosophy as much as technique; then the boys go to individual senseis for more practical applications."

Julia sighed, hugging herself. "I think I need both, Master Torik."

"I would disagree," he toweled off, hung it around his neck. "For one lacking in formal training, you are a spectacular combatant. You stand well, you practice discipline, you fight capably. Those are the basics; more comes from training."

"I feel like a third wheel…" she began, only to have Torik raise his hand gently.

"Nonsense. Discard such thoughts- certainly make no mention of them to the Archon," his voice was stern. "He would erupt in a fury like none you have seen. No one, not even the Archon, has demonstrated the courage you have, Julia. You had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by entering our conflict. More importantly, you have awakened the heart of a man who we all desperately need to lead us now. For that alone, the Kalrist and the people of Earth owe you a debt of gratitude we may never repay."

She blushed, looked away. "I could do more if I could fight…"

"Then I will teach you," Torik pulled his towel off, tossed it aside. "Now. Balance yourself, in preparation for battle."

Julia complied. Torik took a slow turn around her, murmuring to himself. "Not bad. Shift your feet a fraction- very good. Now, watch what I do, then do it yourself."

Much as Alec had started with Adam, Torik began to move. Slowly at first, then more rapidly as Julia mimicked his movements very quickly.

The White House, Washington, DC:

"… in return for the Denver database, in it's entirety," Thien paused for a moment to give a significant glance to Admiral Fitzwallace, "we are prepared to make available the following technologies."

Cas had extracted a holopod from his tech case. He balanced it on his palm, used his TK to float it into the middle of the table. Once it was in the exact center, it flared to life, producing a perfect replica of a human male, save the external genitalia.

Durling nodded slowly. "Holography. That would be a boon to mapping, construction, urban planning…"

Somack chuckled. "You are thinking too mundanely, Mr. President. Holography has applications in every conceivable science and industry. However, you might wish to look more closely- Thien was referring to the information contained in this particular image."

Bartlett leaned closer. Every single fiber, down to the pores on the transparent skin, was clearly visible. It hit him like a thunderbolt. "Oh My God. You've mapped the human genome?!"

"Several centuries ago," Somack confirmed. "Should you so wish, we will make as large a cross-section of our military available to you for studies. You will find each of them completely free of any manner of genetic defect. Many of the widespread diseases of your varied cultures are easily managed through applied genetic therapies."

"Cancer?" Lyman asked quickly. Yamar chuckled.

"Of course. Millenia ago. Parkinson's disease, ALS, cystic fibrosis, acquired immuno deficiency syndrome, all of them. Most of the chemical imbalances of the mind- we do still practice a manner of psychology, but you will find our therapies and techniques more advanced."

Cas glanced at Alec, recalled the pod, slid a holopad to the center of the table. He keyed it up, a blocky mechanism springing into being. Thien gestured breezily. "Next, early generation fusion reactors. Unfortunately, given current mainstream technology levels, they are considerably larger than the ones we use, but they nonetheless function in a like manner. Input isotopes are common water- the immediate byproduct is oxygen as the hydrogen is liberated. However, most types of refuse may be practically applied as well…"

"Excuse me," Bunker held his hand up. "How do you manage a stable fusion reaction within a tempered casing? I mean, one error…"

Cas shook his head. "It's done by varying both the core heat and the pressure, alternately controlling the magnetic confinement field…"

"Cas," Alec called softly, watching Durling and Bretano. The Tech flushed red.

"Uhm, all of that will be covered in further technical briefings, Dr. Bunker," he went back to work, the fusion reactor replaced by a bulky series of energy chambers.

Bretano looked it over, wonder on her face. "What is this?"

"This," Thien paused dramatically. "is a food replicator. Something we brought along to demonstrate."

Stefan set one of his tech cases on the table, flipped it open, slid it across the table to David Lyman. The man glanced down at it dubiously. "What does it do?"

"Ask it for food, and it'll give it to you."

Lyman raised an eyebrow. "Chicken noodle soup."

The device clicked. In a second, it opened, offering up a steaming bowl with a spoon and a side of crackers. Lyman's jaw hit the floor.

"It's a portable unit," Thien continued. "It's not as capable as a full-up model. This particular type can only feed one hundred people for fourteen days; we use it for emergency relief kits."

Durling's mouth was open so wide Alec could have walked through it. Somack tried not to laugh; Yamar turned slightly, covering his mouth while he grinned. Alec kept his chin propped in his hand. "Continue, Ambassador."

"Of course, Archon," Thien's voice never rose or fluttered; Cas prompted another holoimage. "Next, we have, again, early generation bio-remedialism techniques; I believe that your Forestry Service may find this of particular interest…"

"Enough," President Durling managed to gasp. "You… are you offering all of this to us?"

Alec nodded.

Durling glanced at the replicator, then back to Alec. "Why?"

"You aren't ready for the weapons you might find in Denver," Alec replied slowly, "but you are ready for these technologies. The driving force impeding peace on this world, Mr. President, is need. Need for relief from poverty, from hunger, from disease. If you eliminate the fundamental needs, doesn't it follow that fundamental behaviors might change as well?"

"Maslow," Bartlett murmured. "Hierarchy of needs."

"Correct, sir," Alec smiled slightly. "We are the guardians of this world, Mr. President. We take that calling very seriously. So seriously that it is time we worked to effect fundamental change in our world.

"We understand truth. We foster knowledge. We foster freedom. We believe that it is not merely the duty of the strong to defend the weak, but to also improve their lot in life. By following this path, we may accomplish that goal."

"The United States has enemies, sir," Fitzwallace rumbled. "Yet you are offering us nothing we may use to defend ourselves, or to protect that which you offer…"

"Respectfully, Admiral, that remark is incredibly short-sighted," Alec replied. "Applied properly, gifted to the rest of the world under the auspices of the United States of America, you would very quickly find that you would have no enemies. Instead, you would find a world of peace, and prosperity, where children do not go to bed hungry.

"However, we are not so naive as to believe that you would accept this notion of tech for weapons. So, we come to a compromise…"

Bretano nodded. "Your mutual defense treaty."

Morrigan smiled. "Of course. In return for the surrender of the weaponry, schematics, and database, we are prepared to defend US soil against any extraterrestrial incursion. As we have already demonstrated, the Supremis- whom you refer to as the Omegans- are of little substantive opposition. Should they attempt to return, to lay claim to this world, we will beat them back. As often as they may arrive."

"What about the other aliens?" Ryan asked quietly. "Doesn't a promise of defense sound a touch hollow in the face of your own little war?"

Somack's eyes narrowed, pinning Ryan in his sites. "Do not make the mistake of confusing the Scourge with the Arions, Dr. Ryan. The Arions seek conquest; the Kaldec desire annihilation. And they will use the crushing need of this world's people to achieve just that."

He shifted his gaze to Durling. "We can protect you from the Arions. We will protect this world from the Kaldec. Is the man in you so afraid of progress that you would ignore a gift that could change the future of humanity? Would you condemn all of the Earth's children to misery… over politics? If so, then you, sir… you are an unmitigated fool."

He rose smoothly. "We are finished here. These humans have nothing to offer us. This was a mistake."

Cas and Stefan quickly packed their gear; Alec stood, extending his hand to Morrigan. She got up, linked her arm with his. "I… truly thought better of you, Mr. President. A pity. Very well. Your path has been chosen; accept the consequences."

He gave Durling a curt bow, departed at the trail of the procession. Before the door was all the way closed, an aide dashed into the room, leaned to Fitzwallace's ear.

The admiral blanched, his chocolate skin milking slightly. "Mr. President, Site Eighteen is under attack."

Carter got to his feet, yanked the ID badge from his neck. "Collins was right. This was a massive mistake. Mr. President, I hereby resign, effective immediately. Good day, sir."

His badge skittered to rest in front of Durling. Carter left his laptop, hurried from the room despite Ryan's bellowing in his wake.

Bartlett reached for the phone, punched a button. "This is Bartlett. Do not let our visitors out of the building! Crash the West Wing, go to lockdown!"

Durling had leapt up once Carter had gone, ran around the table, flung the door open. Carter had already vanished; Durling trotted to the end of the corridor, caught a glimpse of the West Wing Entrance…

Twelve Secret Service agents were strewn about the lobby, the door blasted off it's hinges. While he watched, a shape shot out of the skies, settled itself on the Front Lawn, it's boxy fuselage opening eagerly. The Kalrist delegation scampered aboard, Carter pausing to glance back at Durling, standing in the lobby, watching them leave. Then he was in the craft, and it was lifting off.

Armand Weitsmen dragged himself off the floor, rubbing his jaw. Durling crouched down next to one of his Detail, offering his shoulder for the man to lean on.

"I'm sorry, sir, but they bum-rushed us," he drew a heavy breath. "The three they had on guard dropped the uniforms before anyone even saw them coming; then the redhead grabbed the doors, ripped 'em right outta the wall. We didn't have a chance."

"Don't worry about it, Armand," he eased the man against a chair, nodded when Bartlett waved at him. "Get some more men down here; I'll be back."

Bartlett's face told him everything he needed to know. "How bad is it?"

"He did exactly what he said he would," the Chief of Staff's voice was low, almost panicked. "The four hundred soldiers in the facility are dead, to a man. All datalinks in and out have been compromised- everything we've gleaned from the site has been wiped from the database. And they found the depot in Arizona. It's… gone. Along with the sixty-some odd personnel that were there along with it."

Durling growled wordlessly. "Damn it! We should have…"

"We should have gone along with them, Mr. President."

Durling nodded slowly. "Yeah. We should have."

Isamu leveled off at three hundred thousand feet. "Which way, Archon?"

"Seattle, Issy," he replied, stripping his jacket off. He wadded it, flung it the length of the cabin. "I should have listened to you, Lord Yamar."

The Kalrist's face softened. "I… had hoped for a better reception, Lord Archon. It seems we all have things to learn."

Alec grunted. "Dr. Sheridan…"

"Under the circumstances," Carter replied quietly, "I think you should call me Carter. Lord Archon. I've made the only decision I could have made- I formally request political asylum with the Kalrist nation."

Somack nodded. "Consider it granted, Doctor."

Alec stepped past them, leaned down next to Cas. "We're going to need to put that theory into action. Quickly."

Cas glanced up. "I figured as much. I talked to Genji; he's prepping the Citadel for it now. Tran took a field team with a couple of Pegasus gunships to the Santa Cruz archipelago- he's pretty confident he can find an atoll we can use."

"One lift?" Alec asked. Cas bobbed his head.

"Yeah. We prep a bio-rem generator, fire it at a usable plot, then bring in the Exodus to burn down to the bedrock. Figure we use the contragravs, take fourteen hours to move it."

"That's a long time to be hanging up in the air, Cas."

The Tech shrugged. "We can't exactly drop the throttle; it'll be bad enough going that fast. We're gonna have to coast in for the last three hours or so, otherwise the foundations will collapse when we set it down."

Alec considered it for a moment, sighed. "Yeah. Let's make plans for it. Devise a roster for flight support; I don't want any unwelcome visitors. And tell Tran to hustle- we need to do this in the next forty-eight hours."

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