The house which had been given to the human telepaths was on the opposite side of the spaceport city of Uvew from the House of the Speakers, the home base of the colony of Huka telepaths. But the impact of the alien attack could be felt physically throughout the city as the ground shook, and the resulting explosions sent a wave of debris and heat rippling outward.
Before they could even wonder at what might have happened, the humans gathered in the house saw the Speaker who was with them, a Huka called Peyula, shriek in pain and horror, take two steps and collapse to the ground, trembling.
Sabriye Hlasek had kept her seat during the shaking, but now jumped to her feet. “Peyula!”
“Mother … Mother … sisters … no …” The stricken Huka was babbling in her native language.
One of the other humans hurried over. “Sabriye, what’s the matter with her? Should I try to scan her?”
“You can try.” But Sabriye was looking out the window, wondering what was tying this to the impacts.
Camille Mubarak knelt by Peyula’s head, reaching out for her gently. “Peyula, let us help you,” she said, closing her eyes to aid her concentration as she reached out for the alien’s mind. As the contact was established, she gasped aloud. “My God,” she said. “They’re gone. They’re all gone.”
“They can’t all be gone,” Sabriye said automatically, but her stomach lurched.
Not far away, they could hear the sounds of the alarm from the House of the Guardians, as the Huka mobilized to respond to the disaster. The street outside was rapidly filling with vehicles, all racing toward the source of the explosions.
“Sabriye,” another of the telepaths spoke. “You did most of the communicating with the Huka. These people live in colonies, right? Each to their own. And the teeps — the Speakers — they’re the same way. So –”
Peyula shrieked aloud, and Camille groaned, struggling to maintain her scan and translate the Huka’s words. “Bolts from the sky — sister — Mayuna, don’t leave us —”
Sabriye pushed her palms into her eyes, trying to think. “Bolts from the sky… Find out if the planet’s under attack. Carefully.”
“I’ll do it,” said the man who had spoken a moment before, Armand Tientsin. He grabbed a jacket and quickly left the house. On the floor, Peyula had lapsed into silence, and Camille, still kneeling by her head, had quieted with her.
The paranoia that had finally been starting to recede was rushing back on Sabriye. “Camille, try to make her comfortable. We might have to move quickly.”
Camille was shifting, to sit cross-legged on the floor with Peyula’s head and shoulders in her lap. Camille rested her hands on the glossy, greenish-black shell that covered the Huka’s upper back. “We can’t just leave,” she said. “I think I finally understand what’s happened. Their telepaths are dead — dozens, hundreds all at once.”
“We stopped here because we thought it was safe, remember? If it’s not…”
“Nothing’s happened to us,” Camille said. “And we can’t just leave them. They helped us, offered us shelter and sanctuary. Now they need our help.”
“What can we do?” she asked bitterly.
“You told us that the Huka Speakers are all linked, any one can instantly reach any other one, like the Centauri Emperor’s telepaths — or when you help us tie our minds together. Right?”
Reluctantly, Sabriye nodded.
“So, with so many of their telepaths suddenly dead, a good chunk of that link has just been blown away. Gone. And what’s left is unraveling. Scan poor Peyula yourself if you don’t believe me.”
Sabriye didn’t answer. She did believe Camille, and was wishing she didn’t. A long-distant voice rose up from her memory: I raised you better than that.
Several minutes passed in silence broken only by Peyula’s whimpering. Then the door opened again and a breathless Tientsin burst in. “Didn’t make it all the way across town,” he said, “didn’t need to. The word’s coming back.” He caught himself, took a deep breath and made himself release it slowly. “Some kind of orbital bombardment has destroyed the House of the Speakers,” he said. “There might be a few survivors underneath what’s left of the structures — but basically the entire colony’s been wiped out.”
Ill, Sabriye sat down heavily.
“Bolts from the sky … My God …” Camille murmured, then said louder, “Who could do such a thing? Why?”
Tientsin only shook his head. “We could all name a few. Without any good reasons either,” Sabriye said finally, faintly.
Camille began, “I had heard there were Rangers in the system –”
“No way.” Tientsin was not shouting, but he didn’t need to. “You remember that big dustup a couple of blocks over, last week? That was the Rangers. Helping the Huka, against some would-be drug dealers.” He locked glances with Camille for a moment, then said, “I’ve made friends with one of the Huka Guardians who patrol this district. She told me all about it. No way would the Rangers do something like this.”
Camille nodded, accepting, and looked back down at Peyula. The Huka lifted her head, trying to speak. She could only manage a few words in her own language, but it was enough. The human looked over to Sabriye again. “We have to help them now, Sabriye.”
There was a long pause. Sabriye knew the right answer, but she also knew it could be the most dangerous thing in the world for them. “All right!” she finally answered, testily.
Neither of the others answered for a minute, then Tientsin sighed. “I’m really, really tired of running,” he said. “Especially when it means leaving dead friends behind. I’m willing to take whatever risk we need to. Just tell me what to do.”
Sabriye took a breath. “We can do a couple things. Some of us can help find any survivors. Some of us…. We have to try to stop the link from unravelling.” Even as she said it, it seemed impossible, what else was there but to try?
Copyright (c) 2005 Jamie Lawson and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.