"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 1"
By Susan-chan

Note from Ricki: This chapter is rated PG-13 (for language)
Rinnah is the creation of Susan, the basic world is borrowed with permission from deleria's "Double Helix", Gunsmoke, etc... by Nightow!

Following the Voices

        Days later a program kicked on in a small ship hurtling through space and emitted a soft chime in the quiet of the cabin. Next lights came on banishing the darkness. Lights winked on lighting up the command console. Monitors blinked with accompanying soft buzzing noises while flashing information across their screens. A tone sounded over the medical pod and sensor indicators began flashing faster and faster as the process of reviving the sleeper within began.

        Not long after being awakened, Rinnah sat sipping a nutrient drink contemplating her situation. She didn’t know if Rellyn had been totally fooled or not but she did know that Rels would be very busy for quite a while with her own problems to chase Rinnah around the galaxy. She grinned and took another sip and made a face. Bleah! It tasted like tea.

        Putting thoughts of her twin aside, Rinnah thought about the voices she had been hearing and what it meant. Oh, they were not her own; she already knew what that sounded like. No, these were alien to her but she could hear them. She had been hearing them since she had first come out of the revival process.

        It was coming across to her like a low-level murmur of voices being heard indistinctly from the another room. Try as she might, she was unable to distinguish any meaning amid the mumbling and muttering. One thing Rinnah did know and that was that the voices were of plant origin but not of her kind. Now wasn’t that fascinating... and made the decision. She would follow the voices.

        Rinnah pondered her situation. There really wasn’t any reason to return home, her father was dead and the Antressla believed her dead. If she returned she would always be in danger of being discovered and then have to go through the whole run and hide routine again. Besides she had always wanted to be a space explorer and here this chance of a discovery fell into her lap, how fortunate for her! I needed a vacation anyway! I wonder if I can find a nice quiet beach where they serve those drinks with little umbrellas in them?

        Now that she was curious, she had tried to contact back but no one responded to her mental hail. She finally decided that she was too far away or they were on different mental frequency. She could hear them but they couldn’t hear her, at least not at this distance.

        Trying sensors and maps hadn’t been of any real use to her in pinpointing where the voices were coming from. Rinnah had to listen then point her craft in the direction she felt would lead closer to the voices. In short, she was flying by the seat of her pants. Finally she had figured out that she could put herself in the medical alcove’s sleeppod and have it wake her every several weeks. That way if she needed to she could do a course change without having to stay awake to endure the empty alone time with the threat of terminal boredom. What was becoming evident with each course change was that the journey was taking the Peapod into the edge of unknown space. It was a very real possibility that she could be traveling straight into the heart of uncharted territory. Ah yes, the proverbial “middle of nowhere”!

        At first the black-haired hybrid had kept track of how many weeks had turned into months and so forth but she soon lost interest in that. She still set her sleeppod to awaken her every several weeks whereupon she would spend time sitting, staring out at the unfamiliar star patterns while listening. At her last listening session she was overjoyed to discover that she was definitely getting closer. By this point she had given up trying to make contact with them.

        Rinnah was amazed at what she was learning. They were a plantoid race but not like anything she had encountered or known before. For some reason she couldn’t understand, she was burning with a curiosity about these intelligent plant life-forms and wanted to meet them, see them... well okay, maybe not face to face but she sure was set on spying on them at the very least.

        At the next waking period Rinnah realized she was practically on top of the system where the voices were coming from. Barely able to contain her excitement she began the commands that would in due course have her orbiting the planet.

The Planet of Voices
        A few days later one very keyed up female half-plant, fairly vibrating with excitement, began the orbital sequence programs. She forced herself to relax tight muscles while settling back into the chair to wait until she was needed again.

        The first levels of descent went smoothly and they were well into the planet’s atmosphere when she felt the Peapod shudder around her. Rinnah’s eyes popped up in surprise.

        Immediately she knew what had happened, someone had shot at her! Reaching for her controls with one hand while the other flew over the console she jinked and flipped her craft in its flight path. The unknown assailant was out there somewhere but her board showed several stations were damaged, one being the all-important scanner. Damn! It had felt like how a concussion bomb hitting before exploding. Several more thuds, obviously the darting about wasn’t helping. If she only knew where the attack was coming from it would go a long way to helping her avoid the strafing she was at the receiving end of.

        Another thudding shudder rippled over her ship and she would have been catapulted out of her chair if she hadn’t been belted in.

        The Peapod didn’t have any weapons mounted on it so she couldn‘t fire back at her attacker. I told Jammer that even a pleasure craft should have a full military arsenal grafted to it! I would so enjoy being right if I weren’t actually getting peppered at the moment!

        Another several thuds hit the skin of Peapod. She looked down as her board lit up with every emergency light it had built into it. Some serious damage was being done and she still couldn’t tell where the barrage was coming from. C’mon Peapod gimme something to work with here! She pleaded with her ship. Of course that was like asking an abacus to spit out complex inverse spatial algorithms. The Peapod wasn’t a ship of the line equipped with battle computers and neither could it give an in-depth analysis of a battle and options for attack and defense.

        Rinnah made a snap decision based on practically nothing, going with her gut feeling that wherever the flak was coming from, it had to be from below. She entered a code of commands with a devil may care grin which soon changed to an uttered curse as nothing happened. The readout for the port side indicated the engine halo connection had been hit. It wouldn’t last long. Rinnah groaned. Nothing for it! Entering a new string of commands she felt the nose point ground ward.

        The Peapod dove, on one good engine, one failing engine and two mini- thrusters. Despite the damage the ship still should be able to land safely enough. On the heels of that thought, the Peapod rocked and lurched as another round pierced into her skin. Rinnah was getting seriously annoyed with the treatment of her ship. Whoever it was they were ripping Peapod to shreds!

        As the ship descended awkwardly through the different layers of atmosphere, jolting and jumping, Rinnah felt a trickle of sweat making its way down her side as she anxiously waited for the atmosphere engines to take over. When they finally kicked in they sputtered in and out sporadically. Great. She pictured a long half-plant, half-human smear on the planet surface before shaking her head in refusal of that possible future. My mother didn’t raise me to be road kill! She thought firmly. Swift hands began working the controls with feverish determination searching for another option.

        Slapping buttons and flipping switches with flowery invective spewing from her born of frayed nerves and boiler room poker games, she brought her ship out of a tumble into a controlled fall that soon changed to a glide.

        They were beginning to descend through a hazy patch when she saw it and threw curses at it. A great ship orbiting the planet like a great swollen whale. She would have shaken her fist in its direction if she had had a hand to spare. Throwing one last venomous curse at it before turning back to her console to plead with a damaged and unresponsive landing system.

        The Peapod was descending too fast for Rinnah’s comfort. Falling bricks have better hang time than this! She worked the controls and at the last possible moment did an emergency energy shunt from all the systems to the landing engines, gears and brakes.

        Too quickly the desert floor came slamming up under her ship’s belly as she managed to right Peapod into a long skid to plow through the sand.

        She looked up to notice she was headed for a cliff and started praying, throwing on the brakes and reached for the landing thruster controls which weren’t supposed to be used in this manner. Screw the specs! She threw the switch. The drag from the ground, the brakes and landing thrusters which cut out a few seconds after coming on, slowed her down considerably.

        Rinnah was reasonably certain the ship would come to a stop before they got to the edge of the cliff but didn’t let her breath out until they came to a jolting stop. The Peapod’s nose was several yards away from the edge of the cliff. Too close for her comfort. She shut off all the engines, what was left at any rate and sat back in her chair. She looked up at the ceiling. “Thank you Holy Hybrid, I owe you one.” And feeling very much entitled she gave herself permission to have her own private nervous breakdown.

        After a few minutes of indulging herself and doing some deep breathing techniques, she unbuckled herself, leaned an elbow on the console and tapped in queries. The intel scan was set and began gathering information. With a sinking feeling she gazed at the erratic blinking light on her board. She noticed the fuel cells were totally drained and the battery was near depleted. Running her fingers through her sweaty hair, she considered her options. All of which hinged on what the computer put together for her. After several long, interminable minutes, the computer gave her a map of the planet covering only the quarter the ship had landed in. With pang of yearning she thought of the Black Heart, a battleclass ship would automatically gather information and chart a map of any planet it came into orbit around.

        She shook her head, well she wasn’t aboard her old ship, she would have to make do with what she had. What precious little I have. So aggravating!

        Rinnah asked for details and was not surprised when it indicated it couldn’t. The readout did report that the environment was suitable for humans although on the warm side. No joke. She looked out the windows at the surrounding desert. I could have figured that out myself. The computer monitors winked off one by one as the last battery was drained. Thinking that was too quick of a drain she decided there must be a leak in the system somewhere.

        Rinnah headed for the storage locker that held all the equipment for ground survival, pulled out a pack and began filling it with the things needed for continued existence in a desert environment. She pulled out her tiny handheld scanner and turned it on. If she used it sparingly it should last several months. After asking for a reading of any human life signs she was surprised to see them registering on the screen. Glory be! In clumps too so that meant towns and cities.

        Then it dawned on her why it seemed odd. She had never heard of this planet and yet there were humans on it. Very peculiar. Maybe it was a lost colony. It was a rare occurrence but had been known to happen. But the voices were not generated by humans, she knew that much and began tapping in specific parameters to her next query. It responded with “no data available” to the request asking for a list of alternate life forms.

        Rinnah asked for a printout of a map showing the nearest human settlement, the terrain and scale. It came out, several small slips of paper at a time which she then had to tape together. What a pain. She then put the scanner in a side pocket for easy access.

        Breaking out the last of the desert gear and survival suit, she changed knowing that a desert got very hot during the day which wouldn’t bother her as much as a full human, and then very cold at night, which would.

        She pulled the poncho over her head and rolled up the heat blanket. Next she pulled a wide-brimmed hat over her head. Lastly she pulled out her weapons. There were military issue side arms but she passed over them to choose her family’s guns passed down from time out of mind. Her father had given them to her on her nineteenth birthday. Rinnah wasn’t particularly fond of guns of any kind but when she did use them was uncanny in her deadly accuracy. They had been altered of course, updated every generation or so. They were heavier than when the first ancestor had strapped them on but she had only carried and fired them at this weight so was used to them. She buckled the belt on and felt the familiar weight hanging from her waist and hips and then reached down and snapped the bottoms of the holster around her lower thighs to keep them from flapping about.

        Next she hung a Bowie knife behind her right gun and also chose a slender dagger which she slid into a boot sheath.

        Then, for her last act, she pulled the bottom panel out under the main computer and found the manual destruct sequence box and flipped it open after entering the code. Taking a second she punched two more sequences of codes, pulled three levers down and hit the red button located next to the levers. Why is the destruct button always red? She wondered as she backed out of the space. Scrambling to her feet she quickly climbed out the hatch door. It wouldn’t go off for another hour giving her plenty of time to get a good distance away, but with all the damage glitches she wasn’t about to take any chances.

        Rinnah regretted destroying Peapod, her father had helped her design it and it was as if a bit of them both were melded together in the building of her little flyer. Her eyes watered at the thought of losing yet another link with her father, but all her training was screaming at her to take this course of action. She was on an unknown planet with unknown inhabitants, some plants and some human. Who knew what to expect from that mixture. Going by the book, she wasn’t about to leave anything for an enemy to be able to use to their benefit and her disadvantage. If I weren’t so depressed I‘d salute myself!

The Art of Making Friends
        Rinnah was finding that she didn’t mind the desert heat. It was warm and uncomfortable but not devastatingly so. For the first time in her remembrance she was actually warm. It was the desert nights that were more intolerable than the days. The nippy night air sucked the warmth from her fingers and toes and she felt glad that she had the ship’s heat blanket to wrap up in to protect her from the night’s chill. And what was with all these moons? She had never visited a planet that had this many moons. When they all were up it was like having an unending nightlight with the cord out of reach.

        The first night she had not gotten a wink of sleep and her thoughts kept circling back around to the ship that had shot her out of the sky. With thoughts not at all conducive for drifting off to sleep, it was no wonder she was wide awake with fists clenched. Rinnah decided to scrap the first night as a total loss. It was too hard to wrench furiously churning thoughts away from the scum-sucking sky demon back to fluffy thoughts of counting sheep. She gathered up her belongings and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders setting off in the direction of the town.

        On the third day of walking, Rinnah had her first human contact. She was cresting the rise of a dune cursing the sand and paying little attention to her surroundings. She had never had much contact with sandy planets, just sandy beaches. Having experienced the one did not prepare a person for the other. There was sand in her teeth, ears, down her shirt, down her bra, in her boots, and up her nose. It stuck to her skin and crept down between any gaps in her clothing. Yet for all of its fine qualities it had an abrading effect, cutting into the skin like miniscule saw blades. She was desperately wishing for a tub of water to soak off the layers of grit and grime.

        Starting down the other side of dune still grumbling to herself about how maddening the sand was, she stopped short to realize that a noise was growing louder which was jarringly out of place after the silence of the desert.

        Engine noise. Technology.

        Coming around a cliff a lead jeep followed by two topless trucks traveled into view. They weren’t traveling in any particular hurry and she noted their route would bring them to pass right in front of the dune she was presently standing on top of. Vehicles! And from the look of them, pre-space flight or thereabouts. She perked up. She knew how to drive any one of those.

        Someone in the lead vehicle noticed her standing there and started yelling. Immediately the jeep slammed on the brakes and came to a halt. Fortunately, for them the following trucks stopped in time without causing a pileup. She decided to stay put and watch to see how they were going to react to a stranger traveling alone through the desert.

        Men poured out of the vehicles, all of them now with their eyes fixed on her while Rinnah quickly sought and found the leader of the pack. Though it didn‘t keep her from noticing that they were all wearing dull tan tank tops and faded fatigues. Quasi-military, ex-soldiers of some type, well armed and with attitude. Could this get any better?

        The obvious leader got out of the jeep in a deliberate, slow manner, his eyes locked on her. She sighed. She already knew how this was going to play out and no one had said a word yet. She decided to go on the offensive and hurry this up, she had a town to get to.

        The hybrid raised her voice above the noise of the idling engines which were still too loud for her desert attuned ears, “Howdy gents! Be much obliged if you could point me in the direction of the nearest town.” Her voice rasped out through a dusty throat. Ack! But looking at the comprehension in their faces, she could tell that they had they understood her speech.

        She reached for her water before she saw the group of men suddenly crouch and reach for their own side arms. Hmmm, jittery. Rinnah slowly lifted her poncho, pointed to her water bottle and then carefully reached for it. She kept her eyes on them and they on her as she popped the lid and took a drink and replaced it. Belatedly she realized that with the lifting of the poncho what they had suspected from the first was confirmed for them. The lone desert traveler was a woman. I’m so smart I scare myself. She thought with disgust. Rinnah, sometimes you are a special kind of stupid.

        The men, twelve in all, moved a little closer but had relaxed their stances and were even nudging one another with leering smirks. This was not a good sign. Still they were trained enough that they looked to their leader and were still silent, waiting for his orders. Rinnah’s gaze flicked over the group in one quick sweep before settling back on the leader, the muscular man with no neck and thinning dirty blonde hair. His eyes were so deeply set that she couldn’t make out their expression. However, she could smell him, all of them for that matter, and wrinkled her nose. Whoo! And it wasn’t pleasant.

        Standing at the front of the group, the leader pulled up short halfway up the dune and checked her over. Lifting his head to look her in the face, she was finally able to see his eyes and read the rest of the scenario there.

        A short burst of mirthless laughter, “Look at what we have here boys...” After listening to make sure they were speaking the common tongue Rinnah had tuned out the rest of their comments. She was glad she had returned her right hand into the folds of her poncho. Slowly and carefully so as not to give a hint of movement under the fabric, she unsnapped her gun. Galloping star holes, she really didn’t want to go this route. Why can’t we all just get along?

        Interrupting wasn’t a good idea but it wasn’t going to make much of a difference either way, “Say gents, it’s hot out, we’re all dusty and sweaty so we don’t we just keep this friendly...”

        Someone in the back interrupted with a deep throated chuckle, “Oh, we want to be your friend...” which came to an abrupt halt as the leader turned to look back over his men, singled out the offender and said, “Shut up roach, this one’s spoken for.”

        There were two ways she could go with and both involved a great deal of gunfire and a third option that involved minimal gunfire. She opted for the third.

        All of a sudden the group of men who were still working their way up through the mob mentality of rushing the lone female blinked and gaped. She had vanished and then they felt a breeze go by them. Only a cloud of fine sand hung in the air where she had been.

        The pack rushed forward pulling out their guns thinking she had used some trick of the sun in their eyes to leap back behind the dune. When they reached the top they heard gunshots. Whipping around they had their second surprise. Starting to drive off was the lone female and as she swung around putting the two trucks between her and the now furious gang, she shot out the rest of the tires and sped away from the shots and curses being fired as their stolen jeep disappeared into the distance leaving a trail of dust to hang in the air.

        Rinnah was quite pleased with herself. Job well done sweetie! No blood spilled and she had a nifty vehicle to ride in. Is life good or what? On the seat next to her were a couple of canteens of water to boot. She reached over to grab one. Opening the lid mostly by feel with a few glances down, she managed to open the lid once she discovered it was a screw top and not a pop lid. Feeling a little embarrassed at not being able to figure it out sooner, she was glad no one was in the jeep with her to witness her fumbling with the canteen trying to guess out how it opened.

        Nothings screams “stranger” quicker than botching up the little things in a culture that even children know how to do. She would need to carefully watch mannerisms after arriving in town. Which, she grinned wickedly, should only be a few more hours at this rate. Mentally checking her map she decided yes, she was indeed close.

        Rinnah was much relieved. Good. They had a form of technology here she understood, even if a little primitive and they spoke the Earth common tongue. Wonderful. She wouldn’t have to learn a new language.

Candy Bars and Children
        The next morning she awoke to the sound of giggling near her. Eyes flying open she sprang to her feet somewhat groggily as she reached for one of her guns. The giggling abruptly stopped. Swiveling her head left to right, she caught sight of several little eyes peering at her from over the top of a rock and from around the side.

        When Rinnah had arrived at the edge of town the night before she had decided that the best thing to do was camp out one last night. It would be easier to gauge the mood and atmosphere of the town and the occupants with accuracy in the bright light of day rather at night.

        Rinnah smiled and sat down on her makeshift bed. She grabbed her bag and began rummaging through it. Muttering loudly she said, “Now where did I put those chocolate bars? On no, I have too many! I have to get rid of some of these but I sure can’t eat them all by myself. What shall I do?” She bemoaned the awful state of having to carry so many candy bars for such a long distance.

        Slowly, little heads poked up over and around the rock, eyes brimming with curiosity. One little brown-haired girl with braids came hesitantly around the rock. What a cutie, with the gap in the front from a tooth missing. The little girl smiled at the stranger and Rinnah was rewarded by two little dimples showing in her smile. She looked down as a smaller boy came out from behind the girl with the braids. He had the same color hair but a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. Obviously she was the leader of this litter as one by one the others came out from around the rock to gather behind her to stare at the stranger.

        A low chuckle tickled the back of her throat as she studied the pack studying her. She kept all her movements slow and easy under the worried gaze of the still tense pack. At the first sign of trouble they were ready to bolt. Rinnah reached into her bag to pull out the bars and placed them on the blanket in front of her, looked up and said,

        “Hello, I’m Rinnah. What are your names?”

        The leader stepped forward tugging on her brother’s hand. “I’m Jennifer and this is Jackie, my little brother.” One by one she pointed to each child offering their names.

        “Well, I have a problem, I am traveling and have left all my friends behind. I have way too many bars and I need help in eating them. Could you help me?”

        The group looked to Jennifer who nodded assent as she looked at the bars. Rinnah noticed that these children were a little on the grubby side. She figured it was a pretty safe guess to say that they were hungry. They all had their eyes riveted to the bars mounded on the blanket in front of her.

        Rinnah motioned for Jennifer to come closer and when she did started handing the bars to the child to pass them out to her crew. Once they were handed out the children unwrapped the bars with joyful squeals and fell to devouring them with thrilled intent. Only Jennifer kept her eyes on Rinnah with cautious deliberation as she ate hers.

        When Jennifer finished hers, she licked the tips of her fingers before seeming to come to a decision and asked, “Did you come here to help with our angel? Ma says she is dying and soon the town will be dead too.” She cocked her head at the Rinnah-stranger waiting with an almost mature patience for her years.

        Rinnah tilted her head, eyes rolling upward as she puzzled over the angel comment trying to put it into a context that would make sense. No, it meant absolutely nothing to her. Looking back to the child she decided to be honest and ask.

        “Sorry, I don’t know anything about your angel. I didn’t know towns could have angels.”

        Jennifer turned to look back at her group in amazement at the stupidity of this wanderer. Her posse mirrored back to her their own scandalized astonishment. Never heard of angels?! The wandering stranger must be suffering from sun damage.

        The small group of children were now giggling at the stranger’s foolishness. Over Jennifer’s shoulder Rinnah heard some of the whispered remarks, “..doesn’t know....who’s that dumb?... sun-addled, everyone here knows about our angel....”

        Facing Rinnah with a serious demeanor Jennifer gave her a pitying look as if the stranger was even younger than Jack. Pulling herself up into a straight posture she clearly associated with adults when in a seriousness situation, she informed Rinnah, “Many towns are powered by an angel. The angel lives in a glass ball and she makes the power for the people in the town. She also watches out for us and we take care of her. She is our good luck and a town flourishes when the plant angel is well.” She ended her speech, obviously put together from phrases she had overheard adults use.

        With only half a mind Rinnah listened with good humor to what she was sure was a local fairy tale. She was ready to shelve the tale as soon as the child was finished speaking until she heard the phrase, “plant angel.” Rinnah felt a shock go through her and she sat up straight to stare at the child with intent eyes, something that was not lost on the child.

        Rinnah leaned forward attentively but careful not to spook the wary child.

        “Why is your angel dying?’

        Another look revealed that the girl believed the stranger didn’t have anything between her ears except for blowing sand.

        Jennifer explained, “She is very weak and when that happens the plant engineers do a Last Run to squeeze the last of the power out of her and that kills her. It is a bad thing to lose an angel. We don’t want to lose ours, her name is Twila.” She went on to explain how they were used and who took care of them.

        Rinnah’s breath caught in her chest and her heart skipped a beat as she brooded over the information. These people used plants for power but somehow the plants had evolved into a separate sentient race. Many things were powered by plants on her world but none were intelligent beings. How had this happened? What had happened to cause this?

        She remembered to smile at Jennifer and asked her where she could find the plant angel as she gathered up and packed away her gear. Then she took careful note of Jennifer’s pointing finger to the northeast side of town from where they were situated on the southeast side. Relief ran through her as she noted she wouldn’t have to go through the town. She didn’t feel confident enough to be able to mingle among these humans without standing out in some way. Look at the way the children were staring at her as if they expected her to sprout wings and fly away at any second. She suppressed a grin.

        As the children ate their second bar Rinnah passed around a couple of canteens to quench their thirst. Her thoughts were swirling with schemes and designs chasing around in her brain.

        Jack stepped out from behind his sister to ask with a lisp, “Are you here to help Twila?”

        Rinnah halted in her packing to blink at the child for a moment wondering what kind of answer she should give. She didn’t have to worry, Jennifer stepped in and answered for her, “No Jackie, she’s a strange stranger probably just passing through.” Rinnah nodded at Jackie.

        His solemn eyes looked at her and then asked softly, “I think you are here to help angels. Are you an angel too?” Jennifer gave her brother an irritated look and opened up her mouth to chide him when Rinnah, chuckling, answered, “I have been called many things and most of them insulting but no one has ever accused me of being an angel before, but I’m flattered that you think so.”

        Jackie went on, forgetting to be shy in his zeal. “Da helps take care of the angel. He’s a tek fishon.”

        Jennifer cut in correcting him, “No Jackie, ‘technician!”

        Taking up from there she looked up at Rinnah saying, “But the head boss came from the big city, and they are going to do a Last Run after the day is over.” Sadness filled her face.

        With mirroring sadness Jack said, “Da says it will kill our angel!” Jennifer put her arm around her brother’s thin shoulders, face suddenly too grim for a young child.

        “It’s not right!” Her eyes threatening moisture. “She’s ours and they are gonna kill her!”

        Now all the children were sniffing. Rinnah began to get panicky. She had never had much experience dealing with children let alone a whole platoon of them of them starting to cry.

        Unknowingly she hit upon the tactic all beleaguered parents quickly discover for the sake of their sanity when their child gets to toddler age.

        She tried to distract them.

        Waving her hands in the air to get their attention, she said in a rush, “Hey, hey, little ones, listen up, look over at me. I’m not going to let them kill your angel, okay?” What the hell was she saying? “Okay? Here, have another chocolate bar.” She swiftly passed them out noticing they were accepted but were left unopened. Instead, the children were looking at her with eyes shining with hope.

        The words had tumbled out of her mouth before she even realized what she had said. What am I getting myself into and why in name of star explosions did I say that I would help? I know nothing but nothing about these folk and now I’ve just promised to save their angel. Geez, I’m the one who could use help. Good going Rinnah, you big doofus!

        The children were looking at her wide-eyed as if she were some Greek goddess of lore who stepped out of the pages of a book of myths. Rinnah shifted uncomfortably under their worshipping gaze. God help me I’m committed.

        The plan had been to quietly and with stealth observe the people and their culture before trying to insert herself into it. And now that one was going up in smoke for a promise to plummet like a cannonball right into the middle of a situation with a screaming “HEY, OVER HERE! LOOK AT ME“! Well, as she looked the children over again with relief, at least they’ve stopped crying.

        Jack looked up at Jennifer and said with a smile, “Twila’s gonna be saved!” The children behind them smiled and Rinnah was amazed at how joy caused their faces light up and eyes sparkle. She was taken up with the moment before she realized they had a name for the plant angel.

        Twila huh? So they had a name for their angel. You don’t give names to things you don’t care about. She considered it. Standing up she was quite aware that the children had backed away from her for a moment as she stood to full adult height. Not looking at them she placed her bags in the jeep, letting them adjust to her as she made a pretense of studying the road she had camped beside. It led straight into town away from her intended destination.

        Turning to Jennifer she inquired if there was a road that headed in the direction of the plant angel. The child described a dirt road that skirted the edges of town which would take her to the back of a bakery building. There was an alley there that led to the street where the facility was that housed the plant angel. She wouldn’t have to go through town at all if she didn’t want to. Which was just fine by her.

        Before leaving, she handed out chewing gum, cookies and mints she had come across in her search through the jeep. That’s it, sugar ‘em up and send ‘em bouncing home! She laughed as she watched them chasing each other around her jeep with happy cries now that they had lost the last of their fear of her.

        Rinnah figured since she had arrived in civilization she should be able to keep herself supplied with food and other necessities fairly easily. Also, she had noticed there was a trunk of food supplies in the back that would definitely tide her over for several weeks if she was careful. And not only that but she had also found a large metal box crammed full of currency.

        Not knowing the money system used here the last thing she had the children teach her was how to use it.

        Again they thought she was dumb as dirt, what adult had to ask a child about money? But they had already decided that since she was indeed a strange stranger they set about explaining to her what they knew. Jennifer being the most learned of them was able to explain the whole double dollar system to her. Double dollars eh? Again, they were polite enough to not call her dumb to her face reserving that for after she left and they could giggle about her later, especially since she handed out to each of them ten double dollars in payment for the lesson.

The Birth of an Angel
        After Rinnah left them waving her off, she soon found the bakery, mainly by the smell, which led her to the alley. She parked the jeep but had backed it in just in case she needed a quick getaway. She had no idea what the situation would be that would call for a hurried departure but it never hurt to be prepared when in an unknown place. She lightly touched both of her guns with her fingertips hoping she wouldn’t run into a reason for needing them. Pulling the poncho over her head, she started down the ally.

        It was easy to find the building that housed the angel. It was a built of large, dingy white stones with the only windows set up high to break the heavy squat lines. It looked depressingly official and pompously self-important. She gave it a disgusted glance before heading up the steps. As she did, she reached and accessed the well pit of her inherited power and cast a cloak of glamour over her altering her features to appear as a middle-aged man with a beard.

        Rinnah walked through the front doors warily, eyes darting in all directions at once. She relaxed when she entered a small reception area with a bored-looking guard leaning back in his chair. His heavy lids were at half-mast and didn’t raise at all at her entrance though he must have heard her enter. Finally his eyes rolled in her direction as his only acknowledgment of her presence.

        Observing the dirt gathering in corners that looked like they hadn’t been swept since Rinnah was in diapers, she thought it a safe guess that they hadn’t had many visitors recently.

        As if it was a great inconvenience, and maybe it was to him, with a groan the guard sat up and slid the open book in front of him towards her when he noticed her approaching him. She looked down to notice that the pages in the book were all blank.

        The guard jerked his thumb at the register, “Sign in, name, date, and time of visit.” Because it is ever so important to keep track of all these pesky visitors milling about. Thought Rinnah to herself as she smiled at the guard who just grunted.

        Leaning back again his eyes dropped back to half-mast as he folded his hands over a belly straining to escape past the confining buttons of his shirt. His eyes drifted shut not caring if she stood there or left. Rinnah wrinkled her nose at the sour stench that wafted up from him and took a quick step back. She looked down at the register, pulled the pen from the holder and began writing with a flourish. When she was finished she looked it over a moment before returning the pen to its holder.

        Turning her attention to the double doors to the side of the desk she walked over to them and pushed through. Rinnah stared in disbelief at the cluttered, unorganized look of the place. Even if their plant angel was dying, why had they let things degenerate to this level?

        She had noticed that the town did seem to have fewer people where it could easily have supported many more. That had been pretty evident by looking up and down the streets at the lack of traffic and people traveling about, but still.

        She shook her head, her military training shrieking at the neglect and loose organization that left such an important installation open to attack or threat of theft. What they needed was security, real security, security with teeth! Of course, she thought, it would be much harder for her to walk in like this if they had all the security measures in place she had listed in her head.

        If this facility was her responsibility to guard and defend a person wouldn’t be able to waltz in off the street and walk in like she had just done. Good thing for me that I’m not in charge, I sure would hate to have to arrest myself! Grinning at the irony of it, she pressed forward to the great bulb set on a platform off to the one side of the room, near the wall.

        Rinnah pulled her cloaking glamour around her even tighter. Looking up she saw sunshine trying to poke through windows filthy with grime and dirt to throw dim, speckled patches of light on the floor at her feet. The place had a rather unpleasant musty tang to it. She sniffed disdainfully. This was taking care of their angel eh? She must be on her last legs indeed if this is how they treated her.

        Near the far end of the building she noticed three men with their heads together discussing something while moving about the place from one set of instrument boards back to another.

        Walking toward the bulb she noticed it was much larger than she had imagined or had expected. She thought it looked more like a giant’s crystal ball that had been abandoned. It had a lonely feel to it that intensified as she got closer.

        Reaching out to an alien mind was not easy but she was able to make a link without too much difficulty. Then an avalanche of pain hit her and she staggered several steps sideways tripping over her own feet before she managed to right herself. Such pain! Every fiber of her being was throbbing from a burning sting and ache lancing up and down her nerves. Rinnah gulped for air as sweat broke out all over her body.

        In the distance she became vaguely aware of a man saying, “You’re head engineer, it’s your call. We’ll start whenever you say it’s time.”

        Rinnah looked over to see three men huddled together. The one who had just finished speaking was a tall man with a stoop. The man he was speaking to was shorter and stockier with white hair. The third kept nervously tugging at his ears. The first man reached up and adjusted his glasses. The shorter, white-haired man glanced over at the bulb considering. Pursing his lips he said in a nasal voice that grated on Rinnah’s ear, “We’ll start the Last Run this afternoon. I want to go over some numbers one last time.” The three men turned away heading toward a corner office in the rear of the building. Other than those three she didn’t see anyone else in the place. Rinnah lifted up eyes to the ceiling and mouthed a silent “Thank you.” She didn’t need any added complications at the moment.

        Rinnah slowly climbed the stairs, the hurting angel’s pain coming through to her clearly and intensely and they weren‘t even linked up yet..

        Once reaching the platform she tried to peer through a dense haze filling the bulb. She edged over to the side of the bulb that was closest to the wall. She eyed the orb with irritation. No sentient being should have to be sealed up in a giant glass ball. Every fiber of her being screamed at the injustice of it. It wasn’t right. People weren’t supposed to be put on display like tropical fish. Placing her hands on her hips she studied the glass ball with a frown. Why would anyone need to keep a being caged up in something like this? Just smacks of sadism, that’s what.

        She shook her head, frowned and closed her eyes a moment to call forth her power from its resting place and threw it around her. Rachel and her had called it her ‘no-see-me‘ mask. Rinnah checked the physical camouflage and then added a mental one as well so that she would be invisible to prying eyes on both levels.

        If cameras were monitoring the place they would be pick up her image as it was but she was betting that if they had such things in place at one time, they weren’t being used any more. Rinnah was unable to influence technology or trick it with illusions, they would see right through her bubble of ‘no-see-me’ she had erected around herself.

        Knowing there was safety for the moment, she gazed in through the glass. Before leaning against it, she threw the front of her poncho over her left shoulder to drape down her back so her hands wouldn‘t get tangled. Then placing her palms on the orb Rinnah closed her eyes and listened for any telepathic voices. Yes, there was one!

        Opening her eyes she peered through the vapor looking for the being whose heartrending call she had just heard. Try as she might she was still unable to penetrate the obscuring tendrils of rising haze.

        The suffering angel was calling out for someone. Someone who was supposed to come and help but hadn’t arrived and from the content of the call, the angel didn‘t think the expected person would come in time. Rinnah felt an answering sorrow and sympathy rise up for this dying angel. To be so alone and forgotten! It just wasn’t right. Well, I’m here and I’ll be with her! She thought determinedly.

        Now that she was in close proximity Rinnah was confident it would be easier to cross the gap of diverse frequencies. Her brow knotted in concentration and effort. She sent out a ’pathic equivalent of a greeting.

        Rinnah registered a faint presence with barely enough energy to forge a link back with her. Instead of using words she relied on a the sense of mindspeak without them. A listless question came with just enough strength in it to be inquisitive, if it had been in words it would have been a “who are you?” The hybrid replied softly and gently reaching across a fragile link to touch the fluttering life force within, “*A friend you haven‘t met until now. I’ve come to help you*.” Then she had a thought and added, “*The children sent me to help you*.”

        Rinnah felt a warm glow return at that before distress and anguish again came back across the link to her. The plant angel let it be known that she wouldn’t be able to watch over her children anymore. With the clarity of a mind to mind link Rinnah knew the angel was referring to the town’s people. Yet even as she “spoke” Rinnah could hear other voices underneath, a whole communication network of various personalities with many different opinions, thoughts, feelings, decisions and plans. Each represented an angel somewhere on the planet.

        Right away Rinnah saw the whole set up on the planet and the alpha male at the head of the chain. She mindfelt him and knew immediately she didn’t like him. It wasn’t exactly a cohesive whole as some of the family agreed with him, some didn’t. Overall, there was an unmistakable hostility towards humans. She wondered if no one was coming to help this dying angel because of the blatant affection for her human “children“.

        Without realizing it Rinnah got sucked into the flow of the communication and heard a strong male mental voice demand with shock and anger, “*Who are you*!?” Ow! She winced. That loud yell was still ringing between her ears. She had been too open and hadn’t been braced or shielded against such an intense stab in her direction. Rinnah sensed the masculine presence turning his complete attention in her direction as he reached out to grab her with what felt like two powerful arms. This wouldn’t be a problem except she was entwined with the plant angel and a little busy at the moment.

        Oh shit. Like a deer in a hunter’s sights, she bounded away with all the strength she possessed, extricating herself in a near panic from the cloying, merging flow of voices she had unintentionally fallen into. Almost panting, she thought a smile at the plant angel who had listened in on the exchange with puzzlement. Rinnah came out of the flow with a budding headache from the alpha male’s overpowering rage. What a fun guy!

        Feeling queasy to her stomach, Rinnah shoved the family and alpha male off to the side to concentrate on this poor being in front of her. This one needed her right now, she could ponder the download of information later when she was alone.

        Either the mist had cleared a little or Rinnah was seeing through the globe with new eyes. Something that looked like a round pod appeared in the middle of the glass orb.

        She blinked trying to clear her eyes even further and thought to the angel, “*Are you inside that big round pod thingy?*

        “*Yes*”, came the answer, “*I am here*”.

        Rinnah felt a moment of frustration. She needed to be touching the other to do the transfer and pull her through the glass. Having never done something like this before, she didn’t think she could get to the middle, could the angel come to her? With difficulty came the answer. “*I am in much pain and that makes the leaves loose. They are very loose now. I can push them aside and emerge.*”.

        “*I need you to come to over to me. That’s the only way I can help you, and I promise, I can help you. No smoke and mirrors*“. A question mark came back at Rinnah on the heels of that last comment although the angel may not have known what Rinnah was talking about, she did know the meaning behind her remark and felt trust in another being other than those who made up her family for the first time in a long time.

        With a crackling invisible energy rising to fill the bulb that Rinnah could feel like a heat storm riding across the surface of her skin, the angel emerged from her home. Rinnah’s mouth dropped open. The angel was truly alien and beautiful. The only thing out of place was the stiff black hair, sticking up all over her head like hay sticking out of a scarecrow. At the same time it managed to give the impression of oily lifelessness. Set against the black was one shining lock of white streaking back from her temple.

        The intriguing fascination of otherness drew her eyes and held them captive. Right then she couldn’t have looked away if her life depended upon it. She had never seen anything or anyone like this in her life.

        The plant angel floated listlessly towards Rinnah with limbs twitching and shuddering in pain. With her face pointing at Rinnah, but with eyes without pupil or iris to speak of, she could have been looking anywhere. However she felt the force of a stare upon her studying her as much as Rinnah was studying the angel. She wasn’t worried about the angel being able to see her true features as her form was still hidden mentally and physically.

        With a tenderness Rinnah had never been aware she possessed, her power flowed up and reached out to the angel scooping her up and gently assisting her in her gentle advance towards the glass. And in doing so was able to siphon a little energy from herself to the weak angel. Even that little bit was helpful as the angel immediately perked up and began floating closer on her own. That’s when Rinnah saw them.

        To her surprise and revulsion there were bloated appendages attached to the angel’s back and the mere sight of their glistening and pulsating bodies made Rinnah want vomit. There was something perverted and sick about these fat pulsing bodies fastened like a living chain to the angel’s back. Against her will her stomach did heave and she had to take several deep breaths to calm it down again. Finally she told herself not to focus on that, Just look at the angel, see the pretty angel? Not looking at the winged headless cherub things helped her stomach immensely. Rinnah made sure she kept her eyes locked on the angel’s face and ignored the parasites riding on her back moving around like.... stop! Don‘t think of that, look at the angel‘s eyes and face!

        Rinnah cast her power over the angel and let it rove over and through her body scanning, gathering information.

        When she was finished gathering she asked aloud and in thought, “How badly do you need those?” Even though she was pretty sure she understood the relationship between the angel and cherubic things Rinnah wanted to hear what the angel had to say.

        With the slight infusion of Rinnah‘s energy the plant angel was able to think more clearly, “*To live here, yes, they are my life line*.” Yeah right, thought Rinnah wrenching dubious eyes away at the last second as they started to drift toward the fat slug cherubs.

        “Would you like to live out here rather than in there?” A little fear along with a joyous desire flooded the link. “*So much so, yes!*”

        “Well, I checked and you have all the normal organs a being would need plus some I have never seen or heard of before. I think you could survive out here just fine. Do you want to?”

        “*Oh yes. And then you can take me to Steffen*.”


        “*Yes. He used to be one of the technicians who care for me. He cared about me even when he couldn’t see me*.” Rinnah would have sworn the angel was blushing. “*He would talk to me every day. I think he even might have been able to hear me*.” She added shyly. Well I’ll be thought Rinnah dumbfounded. Our little angel is in love! “*Then one day they told him not to come back because he was bad for me!*” The anger thought behind that was definitely hostile. Looking up at Rinnah she demanded, “*Take me to him. I want to be with Steffen*.”

        Oooooo keeeeey. She was getting in deeper and deeper and now she was smack dab in the middle. From hungry, sniffling children to angels in love. Where would it end? Shaking her head at her idiocy and lack of sense, she reached across and forged the link, building it layer by layer until it was like a telepathic blood vessel between the two of them.

        Rinnah was deeply surprised at herself. She had hated Plants most of her life. Mostly her mother’s people the Antressla, the only plantoid species she had known about until now. Yet, here was a helpless, vulnerable, and dying plant who loved her humans. She was encapsulated in this glass globe and had these ugly body-shaped appendages attached to her back with lines leading back to a bud or pod of some sort. Rinnah shuddered. Rinnah determined she wasn’t going to let this precious life go without trying her best to bring some touch of renewal.

        With a wry grin she thought, Okay, there‘s gonna be a newborn coming into the world. With that Rinnah bent her mind spiraling inward to encompass the area that the two of them inhabited.

        “Put your palms on the glass.” Instructed Rinnah and placed her own hands higher on the surface of the globe. Taking a deep breath in preparation, she closed her eyes and concentrated even deeper while angel brought her hands up to meet hers on the glass.

        The glass was cool, smooth, and hard, but Rinnah ignored it and thought her hands beyond it. Knowing what she was expecting yet gave a start of surprise as she felt her hands slowly move through the resistance. Her nose and eyes crinkled in pleasure. She reached and felt the angel take her hands. Rinnah laughed with answering pleasure as she felt the angel’s amazement and delight. Plant angels rarely had the joy of touching humans and she was awed to be clasping hands with this human. She couldn’t wait to tell her family! Rinnah panicked. “*No, wait, not yet, tell them later*” and let out a whoosh of relief when the angel reluctantly agreed.

        Rinnah concentrated and pulled up, directed the flow of the energy and power. It sprang up like a geyser and began flooding the link. She heard the angel gasp as a river of new life poured into her reviving, lifting, satisfying the thirst, washing away tears and sorrow. Both laughed together. Rinnah kept pouring and allowing every little bit to surge through their communing link.

        Now fully linked Rinnah could feel the blood, air, nutrients, waste removal, and other bodily functions operating throughout the plant angel’s body through the bodies on her back. She followed every nerve and blood vessel with care. First she called the organs in the angel’s body to come to life and take over the role from the parasites on the angel’s back. Then with more precision and delicacy than any surgeon, she shut off the flow outward, dampening any pain endings and freeing the angel one body at a time.

        Feeling time rushing by, she felt sweat trickling down her sides. The last vessels, ligaments and even down to the last cells were closed and sealed off. To Rinnah everything looked good under the hood, time to see if the engine could run solo. The angel should have enough energy as Rinnah had transferred power over to her at the same time. Starting to feel incredibly weary she cracked open her eyes to take a quick glance to see how the angel was doing and was startled into opening her eyes in a stare.

        The angel’s hair was completely and sparkling white.

        Rinnah grinned and released one shaking hand to give the angel a thumb’s up sign. The angel cocked her head inquiringly and with a responding smile lifted her own thumb in a corresponding sign.

        Letting out a deep breath of relief, Rinnah reached with her free hand and again entwined her fingers in the angels. Now came the hard part. Slowly and carefully exerting more power into the link to surround the angel she began ’pathing her towards Rinnah, thinking her beyond the glass and pulling her along inside the same link. Like a newborn sliding from her mother’s womb the plant angel emerged in a second birth into the world outside the bulb.

        As the plant angel took her first deep breath Rinnah couldn’t help a small cry of triumph that escaped from her lips. She was glad no one was near enough to hear it. What a feeling to bring a new life into the world! She wondered if this was how mothers’ felt when looking at their newborns.

        Rinnah embraced and repositioned her so that her guns weren’t poking the angel in her side. It wasn’t easy though as the angel was covered in some sort of slimy afterbirth goo and the angel’s wobbly knees refused to support her full weight. And now that neither were hooked by mindlink or by the angel’s physical bond with the plant family, Rinnah dropped her physical mask.

        Rinnah adjusted her grip but in doing so made a misstep that sent them both stumbling back. She was grateful when she felt the platform’s edge slam against the middle of her back halting their backward progress. Leaning against the rail for a moment to catch her breath she felt the angel sliding again from out of her grip. Holding onto the angel was no easy task. It was like trying to get a grip on a greased pig at the state fair. Scrambling she wrapped her arms around the sagging angel and hauled her upright. Yet no matter how she positioned her hands the angel slid through to almost collapse at Rinnah’s feet. The plant angel tried to help but had little control over her limbs. After a few times of that Rinnah got fed up and clasped the angel’s goo covered body to herself and felt the wet slickness of the slime soak through to her skin.

        The plant angel’s legs were trembling and too weak to hold her up yet and Rinnah didn’t feel much stronger. She couldn’t carry the angel anywhere, they were both too exhausted from their recent telepathic surgery. She knew for certain that they weren’t going to be leaving the building any time soon, both were going to have to recuperate right where they were at. She looked around searching for a safe place to hide and they couldn’t just stand here on the platform. Rinnah stuck out a trembling leg and waited for the angel to take a step with her. She made sure to place each foot carefully as the last thing either needed right then was to fall down the stairs and break their necks.

        Inserting an idea into Rinnah’s thoughts, the angel sent an image of a crawl space that had been built between the platform’s foundation and the wall when her bulb had been installed many decades ago. All the builders were long dead and only she remembered it was there. She suggested they both use it as a place to hide and rest. In total agreement, Rinnah moved for the bolt hole. It was slow going but she finally managed to get them over to the wall.

        Under the curve of the platform, flush with its side was a panel. She would never have seen it herself if the angel hadn’t pointed it out to her. Even looking directly at it she had a hard time seeing it. She set the angel down against the wall and then considered the panel and how to get it open. Finding a very small latch she pulled and pressed before it reluctantly popped open. Crawling in she found the a dark space under the curve of the globe and the straight line of the wall. She found another panel but it had an obvious handle sticking out that she grabbed it and pulled. Opening the door she peered in at a generous sized crawl space that would accommodate them both with ease. Backing out she found the angel had fallen asleep. Gently she shook her. When the angel opened her eyes Rinnah put her arm around her and helped to rock up on her hands and knees.

        Rinnah let the plant angel go first and followed behind her. When they were both safely hidden behind the panel and crawl space, Rinnah hooked her no-see-me bubble into the tiny organ in her brain she had inherited from her mother’s race. It would supply enough energy to the bubble to keep it in place around them if anyone were of a mind to search for them telepathically.

        She looked over at the angel and smiled softly at her already sleeping face. Pulling off her poncho she laid it over Twila. Then unbuckling her gun belt and removing it, Rinnah lay down next to the formerly caged angel. She reminded herself to look for clothes for the angel when they were safely away, heck even if they weren’t, get the girl some clothes. On that thought Rinnah tumbled into a deep dreamless sleep also.

Pondering the Empty Glass
        The suns were just setting when a man climbed the stairs to the plant angel facility. He wore a tattered cloak wrapped around him that could have passed as a beggar’s blanket as it fluttered about him in the evening breeze. His ebony black hair glinted as the last rays of the setting suns touched him.

        He didn’t look around or seem to notice anything going on about him but appeared to be deeply absorbed in his own private thoughts. If that was the opinion others came to in gazing at him they would have been wrong in their assessment for he was acutely and keenly aware of everything in his immediate environment.

        He passed through the doors and arrived in the reception room. Coming up to the desk he looked down frowning in disgust at the sleeping human. He started to go around the desk towards the double doors when he noted the blank register with just one line written in it. He stopped, curiosity momentarily overcoming his sense of mission. Leaning over he spun the book around so he could read it. Someone had signed in during the morning hours. His frown deepened as he read the name, knowing that the sudden silence of his sibling and the person who wrote the name were connected. How, he didn’t know yet, but he was going to find out. Another quick glance at what was written there, a pretense of a name that wasn’t a name, Ringing Cry of Freedom.

        With a snarl and sharp flick of his wrist, he sent the register sliding off to the side of the desk. He spun on his heel and strode through the doors entitlement oozing out of every pore. He fairly exuded ownership of wherever he happened to be. Sharp ice blue eyes surveyed the room rapidly taking in the presence of the vermin and just as quickly dismissing them as beneath his notice. He was looking for something out of the ordinary, something that was above the normal level of animal life as he knew it. Yet, there wasn’t a trace of anything or anyone out of the norm.

        Knives let his eyes scan the room once again in case he had missed something, which he doubted. With growing mystification and rising anger he turned his gaze to the sight of his sister’s deflated life support bodies now a congealed black puddle on the floor of the globe. He didn’t like being perplexed. Muscles in his arm were twitching and he made an effort to control the rising force tingling along his arm.

        He contemplated his questions again: Where was she, how had she gotten out, why couldn’t they contact her and most importantly, who had gotten her out? What if this being went about the planet loosing plant angels left and right? The flesh on his left arm shuddered and small spikes started growing from his skin. It was harder this time to pull them in.

        He threw his mind around the room questing, searching for his missing sibling to no avail. He scanned again. Still nothing.

        Disturbed and upset more than he would allow himself to admit, Knives made another effort to calm the blood pounding in his veins even as his eyes began glowing. Now was not the time. He had to stay in control and think! He despised mysteries, especially when they involved his family.

        His family. He could feel their panic, fear, shock and questions frantically buzzing in his head beating at him for answers as to what had happened to their sister. He shook his head even though none of them could see it. It vexed him to admit it but he spoke out loud even as he communicated to them, “I don’t know.”

        Two plant engineers came in through the front doors and seeing him they approached. They stopped and with widening eyes they took in the now clear bulb with the black puddle on the floor. They stared at it then turned to him with questions and accusations forming on their lips. He turned to face them.

        They were filth and he didn’t want to listen to their tiresome prattle. They obviously had no more idea of what had happened here than he did. He stared at them and concentrated.

        The two engineers gasped, clutched their chests and dropped to the floor dead.

        He turned, already forgetting them as he contemplated the empty bulb. Was it Vash? Had Vash done this? No, he doubted Vash would know how. And besides if Vash had shown up and gotten this close the whole family would have known and lashed out at him, punishing him for his presumption to dare defy the ban of the family’s punishment on him.

        No, it had to do something with that brief, interloping, if intriguing presence that had mysteriously out of nowhere dropped into the family network and just as quickly left. He was haunted by it replaying the moment in his head over and over ever since. It was that unknown ‘person’ who had done this, of that he was certain even without having any proof to back up his suspicions.

        An unknown player had just entered the game and had absconded with one of the minor pieces but still, one of his pieces, and no one, not even Vash could get away with that.

        The unknown would pay for stealing one of his.

        The unknown wouldn’t be able to hide forever.

        He knew he had nothing to go on to find the unknown, this ‘Ringing Cry’ but all he had to do was wait. Sooner or later Ringing Cry would leave a trail of clues for him to piece together and then he would strike. Unfortunately for him, his forte was not being a passive player. He had always been the initiator, the aggressor, the one that came up with a plan and took action. It maddened him to have to sit on the sidelines and wait on the actions of his prey. One could never tell if that unknown element would disrupt the delicate plans already made and in place and tip the balance of the scale in another direction. He humphed. Yet, he could do nothing else for now.

        He turned, walked out the double doors, stopping briefly in the reception area finally, through the front doors and down the steps. No one saw him leave.

Raising an Angel
        Hours later Rinnah awoke. Pulling herself into a sitting position, she stretched both arms over her head letting out a great yawn. Prying her eyes open she wondered where she was until memory kicked in. Then she became aware that her head was hurting. A little tug in her head reminded her that her ‘no-see-me’ cloak was still hooked in and was operational. She unhooked it from the organ and instantly felt the pain lift. They probably didn’t need it now anyway. Still her neck felt sore and stiff. Reaching up a hand to knead the aching muscles on her shoulder she thought over the day’s events. She was still a little tired from the all the exertion but was unable to sleep any more.

        Rinnah wearily ran a hand through her hair before looking over at the newborn plant angel. She was still asleep but twitching and sighing as if on the verge of waking. Before leaning back against the wall she pulled her gun belt to her and buckled it around her waist and thighs. She was in deep thought as to what would need to be done first when they emerged.

        Casting her mind around she was pleasantly surprised to find the place was empty of the presence of any humans. That was a plus for them. The two of them must have slept the day away and into the night. Not believing her good luck she leaned over to shake the sleeping angel’s shoulder. The angel’s eyes flew open with momentary panic before she too remembered where she was.

        Rinnah reassured her anyway, “You’re okay. You’re out of your glass prison, with me...., uhm..” Hearing her hesitation the angel supplied a name for her, “*Friend*.”

        Rinnah grinned at her, “Yeah, ‘Friend‘, that’s me.” Hoo boy. It would be more accurate to say sucker for a sob story. The angel sat up seeming to be surprised at her stiff muscles and then down at the poncho blanketing her.

        “Well I checked and no one seems to be here at the moment. My guess is that it is the evening shift so we should be able to make it out of the building without too much trouble.”

        The angel nodded a puzzled agreement and spoke into Rinnah’s mind as she noted We will have to work on teaching her how to speak later... once we get her some clothes. The angel said, “*Always there is at least one human with me all the time, even the dark hours. I have never been left completely alone before.*”

        Rinnah thought that over. Maybe with the angel gone from the bulb, no, that didn’t seem right. If what the angel said was correct, Rinnah was beginning to get a bad feeling in her gut.

        “Well, we won’t find out anything just sitting here. Since no one seems to be around, let’s blow this joint.” At the angel’s confusion she explained, “It means we’re leaving.” She would have to remember not to use so much slang.

        Before Rinnah unlatched the panel and pushed it aside, she gently took the poncho and pulled it over the angel‘s head. It was better than nothing. Crawling out halfway, she looked behind to make sure the newly rescued angel was able to follow. Before venturing on, she listened intently for any noises. Not hearing any, she crawled forward and opened the second door panel. Swiveling her head back and forth she didn’t see anyone so based on that and not hearing any mind’s nearby or voices, she crawled the rest of the way out, stood and then helped the angel to her feet. Rinnah noted with satisfaction that the angel looked less wobbly and more in control of her limbs.

        As they stood there a moment, letting the angel get used to standing on her own, Rinnah said to her, “Some of the children called you Twila and I need to call you something besides just ‘plant angel’. What would you like me to call you?”

        The plant angel inclined her head with thought, the glistening white mane falling about her face and shoulders like a silken veil. Gee, some angels have all the luck as she ruefully pushed her fingers through her own unruly obsidian locks.

        *Call me Twila. I like it.*

        “Okay then. Twila it is!”

        Rinnah put her arm around Twila’s waist. She was doing much better standing and walking, but she didn’t think she could stand and walk on her own for very long. She guessed that Twila’s legs were going to be crampy and sore as she switched from being a floater to a walker. However Rinnah felt a twinge of maternal pride and delight to see Twila put one firm foot in front of another. That’s my girl! Fast learner for a newbie.

        They had gone several yards when she felt Twila halt. Rinnah lifted her eyes up to gaze around the room but her gaze immediately fell upon the sight in front of them. Two dead men sprawled on the floor.

        Twila’s mental voice sounded like a small frightened child and she started to shiver, “*He has been here.*”

        “Who has?” Asked Rinnah.

        “*My brother Knives.*” Knives? Cute name.

        “You have a brother? So why are you so afraid of him?”

        “*He came to help me.*”

        Rinnah mulled that over. Twila’s brother had come to help her and she was afraid of him. Does this is just scream of dysfunctional family or what?

        Glancing at the dead bodies Twila tried to explain dropping the words into Rinnah‘s mind like stones tossed into a still pool of water. “*He loves us but he doesn’t love me. It’s the ‘us’ he loves and protects. He could just as easily kill me if it would help the ‘us’. If it would be good for our kind. For the life of all of us, one may be sacrificed.”

        “Sounds like a nice guy.“Rinnah said, guessing that this brother Knives was the alpha male she had inadvertently bumped into while tapped into the family link. “And you were the ‘one’ eh? Well, not on my shift sweetie.” saying with iron determination.

        “*My brother is a fierce protector. He lives only to save us from extinction.*” Her ‘pathic voice got quieter as she went on, “*He doesn’t approve if any of us feel fondness for our humans. I am not sure if he came to rescue me or not.*”

        Trying to alleviate Twila’s fear a little she said, “I’ve run into these anal-retentive, control freak, A-type personalities before. They aren’t much fun to take to the bars, but by gum can they ever get a bathroom floor clean enough to eat off of!” Rinnah gave herself a mental kick as she saw the little pucker of puzzlement form between Twila’s brows.

        “*If he came to absorb me, then I would cease to exist.*”

        Rinnah halted in shock, “Whoa, hold the phone, what the hell are you talking about when you say “absorb”?”

        Blinking at her, Twila answered, “*Yes. He would absorb me into his body. He has that ability.*”

        “And you say he is some great plant angel protector!?“

        Totally outraged now, she made no effort to squelch her tirade, “Not from where I’m standing! Sounds like another sorry snot-nosed excuse for a Hitler-wanna be.”

        Rambling more to herself than the angel, she continued, “Destroy one species and absorb your own. Yep, a textbook case. Somebody should do something about him, he’s a menace to society. Is there a law enforcement agency around here where we can turn his sorry butt in to? Hm, maybe we can sic the Ladie’s Historical Aid Society, or a fund-raising church choir, or get a religious cult to pamphlet his sorry ass until he’s drooling or running in terror, ha, better yet, have the Girl Scouts sell him cookies until he keels over....” Her angry muttering trailed off as she began concentrating in making sure they stayed upright.

        Twila’s eyes went back to darting around the room as if expecting her brother to step out of the shadows towards them. From what Rinnah had heard though, he didn’t sound like he would have waited letting them trying to figure out what had happened. He would surprise them and take then advantage of their weakness.

        It bothered Rinnah to see Twila so afraid of him, it was a little unnerving. With a grim set to her lips she turned them away from the globe and started walking towards the door. Twila let herself be half-guided and half-carried.

        There might not be anyone around now, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be coming sooner or later and discover what had happened. She was assuming that most of the staff was dead, courtesy of Mr. Uptight and Arrogant.

        They pushed through the doors as Rinnah cursed herself for not remembering to pull up the power to throw the glamour cloak over them. A swift glance over at the guard told her that she wouldn’t need to.

        The guard was still sitting at the desk in the same position as when she had last seen him. He had his hands laced over his protruding stomach but this time his head was tilted back in what looked like an uncomfortable sleeping position to Rinnah. Only this time, he wasn’t sleeping. He was dead, bullet hole through the brain kind of dead. She would have turned away then but something intruded on her heightened perception making her aware that something else in the room was different.

        Twila looked around also but didn’t have any reactions and complacently let herself be carried as Rinnah took a step towards the desk. Her eyes scanned it and halted on the register. There it was. The new element added to the scene.

        Looking down, she read what she had written when she had signed in earlier. Underneath it was a newly added line it written in a meticulous, precise, and well-rounded hand. “I will find you and make you despair of life.”

        Rinnah humphed. Promises, promises, If I had a star dime for every time I heard something like that! Just another genocidal run-of-the-mill psychotic killer.

        She turned with Twila and started for the door desiring to be done with this place filled with the stench of spilled blood.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 2
Back to Chapter 0 (page 4)

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