Fourteen seemed too young to be drafted into the Freedomer Corps, but R'ghin could do nothing about it. He yanked on his rompers, zipped them up and locked his helmet. The visor flashed a test pattern; a brief, uncomfortable pulse squeezed his body as the rompers went through its self-test.
The simcomp thrust him and the seven boys into a dirtside village.
A mob of maddened Downsiders spat and jeered. A barrage of garbage splattered into the squad; a reek gathered in R'ghin's nose. The boys went wild, launching themselves into the mob with stunsticks swinging.
All except R'ghin. He stood slack-jawed, baffled. He was baffled not by the sudden switch to virtual reality, because he had been through that many times now, but by the Downsiders. Real Downsiders don't act like that. He knew Downsiders; Franklyn, his best friend, was one.
Something cracked against his skull. Responding as he had been trained to do, he whirled about, facing a Downsider who swung again. R'ghin dropped. His rompers locked up, immobilizing him — he was a kill.
The other boys dropped, too.
Then the simcomp erased the enemy. Rompers unlocked. The boys detached their helmets; one bawled.
"Come on, pick yourselves up, men!" squad leader B'dang barked. "You fight like you've never been in a gravity field before." They had been dirtside for only two days; their city-ship legs hadn't adjusted to mining planet Lode DH6.
R'ghin's eyes drifted in and out of focus. "They're not like that."
"What do you know," one boy said. "You didn't help. No wonder we're not doing as well as the other squads."
"It's — it's propaganda," R'ghin said.
"Where do you get your facts, soldier?" B'dang asked, removing his own helmet, the anger in his eyes sizzling. His chin sported a sprouting of a dozen long hairs that hadn't yet seen their first trimming. He was only one year older than R'ghin.
"My dad said so."
"Your dad!" he jeered.
"A Downsider lived with us."
A silence of suspicion fell.
Most Freedomers shared space with the Downsiders only reluctantly. That's the way it was with the boys in his troop, and the way of the people where R'ghin had come from. Though a tiny population of Downsiders lived in City-ship 103, it kept to the Ghetto. The city-ship, a giant, free-floater unassociated with any star system, was one of a thousand city-ships that made up the great Denebola Hive. A million Freedomers like R'ghin filled 103. Each of the other thousand city-ships in Denebola Hive had its ghetto, too.
Once, R'ghin's father had explained this Freedomer reluctance of sharing space with Downsiders to him.
Five hundred years ago in its slow push into the Sphere of Humanity, mankind had split into two groups. These were the ancestors of Freedomers and Downsiders. Freedomers were fascinated by technology and exploration. Downsiders, on the other hand, put only as much stock in technology as they needed to survive. The groups quarreled frequently. The Freedomers, as any culture enamored of technology and exploration will, won more territory faster — and consequently got the upper hand. Most Downsiders living in these territories newly-captured by the Freedomers fled, but those who couldn't move fast enough were trapped. They ended up in menial positions in Freedomer society. But the Downsiders would not allow themselves to be absorbed into Freedomer culture; it was far too alien for them.
Still, things sorted themselves out. The populations more or less followed the split in the Sphere, which the galactic equator bisected into Topside and Downside. Freedomers took Topside for their own. By default, Downside fell to the Downsiders. The Downsiders did what they could. In their half of the Sphere, they lived simply and kept to themselves; those who were unfortunate enough to be permitted to live in Freedomer space Topside were like mice, just barely surviving inside Freedomer walls.
Franklyn had been one of those mice.
B'dang looked at R'ghin coldly. "Maybe the Downsider you lived with was different, soldier, but what you have seen here is based on fact."
R'ghin, mortally afraid of B'dang and the boys, said, "I didn't know him well."
That was a lie.
As they headed back to the barracks, R'ghin remembered Franklyn's last day in City-ship 103. Before Franklyn was taken away — before he himself was taken away.
R'ghin sat on Franklyn's cot in the cramped bedroom. R'ghin and his father didn't have much space in their apartment in the low-rent Seventh Shell of 103, but they gladly gave what they could to Franklyn.
"I can visit you there, can't I?" R'ghin asked.
"You wouldn't want to go dirtside." Franklyn, dressed in a black ramen, stuffed the last of his belongings into a travel bag with his thick, dark-skinned arms. He spoke with the quaint accent of the Ghetto where he had grown up with his kind. "Besides, I don't know which mining planet they're moving me to."
"We could radio."
"They won't allow them. They won't allow you one, either, now that you're in the Corps. Besides, radio won't be very practical as far away as you're probably going."
R'ghin dreaded service as much as he did losing Franklyn. Service was a big unknown for him. But that wasn't the worst part. "Then how are we going to stay friends?" he asked.
"Your Freedom Council doesn't want us to stay friends."
"But we've got to stay friends. Forever."
"When this war starts, it will go on — forever. It'll take years for soldiers from Homeland to get here."
Downsiders never thought of the ghettos scattered among the worlds and hives of Freedomer space as truly being home. For them, home was Homeland, a dry, dusty planet in the Epsilon Eridani system Downside.
"The first battle won't happen until you and I are old and gray," Franklyn said.
"I don't understand."
"It's simple. There's no such thing as a faster-than-light drive." Running his broad fingers through his tight curls of black hair, he explained.
FTL travel was still a dream, and men and women had crept slowly as they explored their small nook of the universe. Although the Sphere was only relatively tiny in relation to the rest of the Milky Way, some forty-two light-years in radius, it had taken humanity eight hundred years to push known space out that far. It had explored and settled the Old Earth system with primitive chemical rockets, scooping out asteroids and recycling their insides into construction materials. As it reached for the outer planets, however, propulsion methods went through a period of rapid experimentation, much like life on Old Earth did at the end of the geological Silurian period: a riot of bizarre creations ending in countless dead-ends.
But even this didn't produce an FTL drive.
It took all that time for humans to fill only a million cubic light years. They traveled by solar sail ark. They traveled in sleeper ships. They even took some of their great, hollowed-out asteroids and put nuclear pulse engines in them or turned them into ion scoops. And when they had filled up the thousand stars in the Sphere, they filled the spaces in between with city-ships and their great collections of city-ships called star-hives.
All without an FTL drive.
"So what this means," Franklyn continued, "is that it will take scores of years for the first soldiers to arrive Downside."
But for R'ghin, it also meant something else. Something that he dreaded almost as much as losing Franklyn. Anyone inducted into service was guaranteed never to see his clan again.
Not because the inductee was guaranteed to die. No, it was because the inductee would be traveling such a long distance that, even at a significant fraction of light-speed, he wouldn't return home until his clan was dead and gone. The Corps was selling this as the ultimate honor for the heroes R'ghin and countless children like him were supposed to become. R'ghin was about as prepared as he would ever be; he had some hope he would be back.
"I know," R'ghin said. "But what I meant was, I don't understand what the war is about."
"Freedom Council claims there is an FTL drive. Or that Downsiders are at the brink of building the first one." He paused to let this sink in. "Freedom Council fears that if the Downsiders succeed, it will mean the end of Freedomer superiority. Rebellion and, quite possibly, civil war."
"But there isn't one being built, is there?" R'ghin asked.
"Without an FTL drive, telepaths are the glue that keeps Freedomer civilization together. Downsider civilization, too. They're rare among Downsiders, but rarest among Freedomers, and that is a source of friction for some. But telepaths do have a drawback — rumors spread faster than light. We Downsiders deny these rumors of the FTL drive, of course."
"So Freedom Council is going to war over this?"
"Not yet. And maybe not for centuries, not until the Council has everything in place. Right now, they're only taking what the Council calls preventive measures. One is the sending out of advance troops — though some of my people take that in itself as a declaration of war. And here's another measure. The Council is rounding up us Downsiders for our own protection. To save us from Freedomers who've had their prejudice aggravated by the rumors." He looked at R'ghin with his dark, sad eyes. "Do you believe that?"
"I guess so."
"It's not true. They're moving us only to protect themselves. Your people fear we are saboteurs, terrorists."
"My people!" R'ghin cried, hurt. "But we love you."
"I love you and I love your father," Franklyn said. Despite the Freedomer hatred of Downsiders, there were a few Freedomers who took them gladly into their lives. R'ghin's father was one. Franklyn had moved in with him not long after R'ghin was born. "Telepaths are responsible for this war, and I think it's telepaths who will be the only ones to stop it."
"But they say you did something wrong. Did you?"
"You know me, friend. But they'll tell you otherwise in your training."
R'ghin folded his arms. "I don't want you to go."
Franklyn pulled a red bundle out of his bag. "This is yours."
R'ghin took the bundle and opened it. Inside was a milky-blue crystal obelisk, mounted on a dark base, that seemed to gather the light from around them and shine it back, ten-fold. "Thank you, but — what is it?"
Franklyn smiled grimly. "A focussant."
"You're a telepath! Why didn't you tell me?"
"You know I don't keep secrets from you. This was my grandfather's. He was the one in the clan who was practiced in the art of aeyrling. Aeyrling," he added, seeing R'ghin's puzzled look, "is similar to what you Freedomers call telepathy. The focussant was just a training device for those who might become aeyrlingers. And now it's just an heirloom."
A small slot was cut in its base. Tucked into the red bag with it was a tiny chatbox card. But it wasn't like the ones that gave chatbox access for home distance learning; it was keyed differently. Two of its ten credit dots were still bright orange; it had two sessions left. R'ghin packed the obelisk away carefully. Mournfully, he gazed on in silence as Franklyn continued to gather his things.
That night, the city-ship police escorted Franklyn away.
And not long after, they took R'ghin, too.
They gave him time enough to throw a few things in a bag and to say goodbye to his father. R'ghin left with tears in his eyes. His father told him what he had hoped was not true: they would never meet again. The Corps had scheduled R'ghin to go by sleeper ship to a system two light years from the Denebola Hive. He would pass all four years at fifty-percent light-speed in electro-sleep — sleep-time. He understood the concept of sleep-time, though he had spent all his life, like most his age, in waking-time. Waking-time was ordinary time, or, for those who traveled, time you spent out of a sleep-sack on long trips, the time when you consumed air, food and water; your account was debited by the minute for waking-time. But sacked and in electro-sleep — sleep-time — you used about as much of the ship's resources as a piece of luggage. But four years!
And that was just for training. From there, who knew where they would send him?
R'ghin promised himself that if the Downsiders ever did invent an FTL drive, he would be one of the first to ride it.
That was four years ago. Four years ago, sleep-time. For R'ghin, it was more like a week. Of course, the Corps didn't count sleep-time. But he did.
After dinner, R'ghin and the boys had a few hours of unscheduled time. There were many different types of time in the Corps. Besides waking-time and sleep-time, there was free-time. Free-time was R'ghin's chance to lay on his bunk and recount his misery. The boys didn't much like him from the start. With the new revelation that a Downsider had lived in his home, things would only get worse. He needed a way out —
Someone slapped his head. "Coming, soldier?" It was B'dang with the other boys. He grinned, and the little hairs on his chin stuck out in weird ways. "We're going to pound Downsiders in the holo arcade."
"No. It's free-time."
"Fine," B'dang said. "You did so well today, your skills obviously don't need honing like ours do." The other boys laughed with B'dang, and together they bustled out.
R'ghin gritted his teeth. A way out — the focussant. He had been allowed to bring 10 kilos of personal belongings to camp. A bookreader with some reading chips, holoclips of his father, the few civilian clothes the Corps would let him wear during free-time, and the focussant. Of course he had brought it; it was the only thing he had to remember Franklyn by. But would it work for him? He saw no reason why it would. After all, he'd scored a miserable 40 on the Shelton Psychophysical Test. Had he scored significantly higher, he might have had a different career ahead of him. But he'd never had the opportunity to use a focussant before. The Council testers probably hadn't even heard of such a thing.
The focussant. If it worked — it might be a way out.
It was unlikely anyone would return early from free-time; the arcade was a powerful draw. But to be safe, he'd go Outside.
He pulled on his dirtsuit, then slid his finger and thumb down every velock strip to seal the seams. The planet was warm enough, even at night, that he didn't need the dirtsuit's optional heat-retention layer. He strapped on his rebreather, which consisted of a mask that fit over his eyes and nose, and a snorkel-like apparatus attached to a canister and designed to present no impediment to normal speech. The atmosphere was thick on Lode DH6. It was mostly carbon dioxide, very little oxygen, and a lot of airborne dust. The rebreather filtered out dust as well as letting in fresh oxygen and recycling unused oxygen. R'ghin always found breathing through it a little awkward; unlike some of the boys, who came from worlds or city-ships with enough water to actually practice snorkeling in, R'ghin came from 103, which spent its energies in constructing other avenues of entertainment. R'ghin hadn't even had a chance to learn how to swim. Of course, now that he was on bone-dry Lode DH6, there didn't seem to be much of a chance that he'd learn in the future, either.
He took the red bundle from his locker and stepped quickly through the empty corridor. The exit opened and closed behind him.
Lamps erected around the distant mining pits lit the rubble at his boots faintly in the night; there was always just enough light to see by. Under his soles, the regolith shook from the activity of the mining machinery a good two kilometers away. If he just barely touched together his upper and lower incisors, the shaking underfoot made them chatter. The machines labored night and day.
Once around the corner, he knelt down with his back to the meteorite-scarred weathershield. He took care with the chatbox card as the wind tried to wrestle it away. It fit the slot.
Now what? He turned the obelisk over. Suddenly, he saw a dimple of light in the crystal. No — in his eye. The dimple became a rip in his field of view. It grew ragged and silken, a shimmering aurora flickering with yellow. He could even feel it. Fluttering like a stowaway moth on a ship, beating against a light panel. It touched him inside, here, there. As if with a purpose.
The touch seemed familiar. A memory of Franklyn filled him, the strong arms, thick with dark hair, the olive-skinned face. The moth beat more strongly, more persistently.
Arms picked him up. Tossed him high. He was flying. Below, he saw long, low structures, much like his own camp, organized in regular rows.
Then he knew.
Franklyn was there! He was sure of it.
Now he fell, gently. The domed roof of one structure loomed up below. Surprisingly, he drifted through the roof softly, like a hand breaking spider silk. Then he found himself in an ill-lit room. Shimmery, evanescent shapes walked around him. Whereas they seemed to step on the ground, he seemed to float. This, he thought, must be what it would be like to be a ghost.
The movement of a dark shape in a corner caught his eye.
But suddenly, the fluttering aurora blinded him with dazzling violets and greens, and ceased.
He found himself kneeling in the regolith of Lode DH6. Dizzy, he picked himself up, dusted his knees and looked about.
Darkness. The light from the distant mining pits seemed even farther away; he could hardly see his boots. Deep inside, he felt empty, abandoned, lost. Something had plucked him out of Franklyn's presence, or had plucked Franklyn's presence out of him. What had torn them apart?
He wrapped the now-dark crystal and card in their cloth — only one orange dot remained on the card — and quickly went back to his bunk. He was safe; the others were still at the arcade. After efficiently vacuuming the remaining dust from his jumpers and his rebreather, he put them away carefully.
He fell back in his bunk, confused. How could that have been Franklyn? He had denied being a telepath.
Thoughts of him kept R'ghin awake all night.
The next simcomp session took place Outside at a Downsider POW camp. For once the squad caught the Downsiders by surprise. As the enemy fled, the boys began to pursue gleefully. But B'dang held them back; their goal was to free the prisoners.
Inside the barracks, the boys found the POWs dead. The enemy had tormented them horribly: fingernails had been torn off, tongues burnt with welding torches, and the soles of feet broken. When the boys saw all this, they viciously set upon the enemy again, but too late. The squad dropped only one Downsider.
B'dang stripped the rebreather off the dead man, smoldering in his laser-burnt dirtsuit. "Have a good look, men."
It was Franklyn. Horrified, R'ghin fell to his side.
"Praying for the enemy?" B'dang asked, poking him in the back. "Get up, soldier."
R'ghin stumbled blindly to his feet. How had the simcomp come up with Franklyn's face? "That was my friend," he blubbered.
"Excuse me, soldier?"
"He was my friend."
"This proves it, doesn't it, what he really was?" B'dang began to walk off as if it were no surprise that R'ghin knew the dead man.
"But that was my —"
B'dang turned. "The simulations always use roundups. This roundup, your friend" — he stressed the word with contempt — "is probably in the Downsider camp near here."
"But he isn't like that —"
"This is the way they are." B'dang's rebreather wheezed. "Listen to me, soldier — R'ghin." Suddenly familiar with R'ghin, he put his hand on his shoulder. "When you knew him, he was only play-acting — he wouldn't have survived on the city-ship otherwise. But now that he's back with his people, he doesn't need to play-act anymore. He's just like all the rest."
"Can you really trust him, knowing what you know about the enemy now?"
Then it hit him. Franklyn had to be a telepath. It was the only explanation for the other night. He flushed with anger.
In the next session, R'ghin didn't wait for the signal to begin. Franklyn's treason hurt him greatly. When the enemy appeared, he leaped out of formation and went wild.
Startled by the non-standard attack, B'dang regained his composure quickly. He gave the signal to move in behind R'ghin.
The boys overcame the Downsiders in minutes. R'ghin licked three of them personally. None of the others had taken down so many.
B'dang approached R'ghin with an angry glare. "You don't break formation! You wait for my signal!"
R'ghin, who was just beginning to recover rationality, nodded slowly. The flush of the win drained out of him.
R'ghin, who was just beginning to recover rationality, nodded slowly. The flush of the win drained out of him.
"If this had been real, soldier," B'dang said, "you would have gotten us killed. Yes, you surprised the enemy — but you also surprised your buddies."
"Ever hear of teamwork?" a boy yelled.
Fire pumped into R'ghin's cheeks at the insult.
"Okay, soldiers, game's over," B'dang said.
That night in free-time, R'ghin lay alone in the barracks. With his visor tapped into the net, he scanned topo maps of Lode DH6, looking for the camp he had seen. Or trying to. Mostly, he struggled with the idea of Franklyn as a traitor.
He raised the visor. It was B'dang. "It's free-time," R'ghin said.
"I know. Listen, maybe I was too harsh today. You did go in with the right attitude. Whatever fired you up, keep it stoked." He smiled. "Maybe we'll beat the other squads yet."
The first real kindness anyone had shown him. "That was my Downsider, Franklyn."
"I thought it might be. Servant?"
"My dad's suitemate." R'ghin understood B'dang's grimace. Among Freedomers, suitemate was one step short of marriage. Freedomers looked down upon marriage — casual relationships were the norm — but marriage to a Downsider was the worst.
"Well, you do know them better than any of us."
"I thought so, too." R'ghin sat up in his bunk. "But I was wrong."
B'dang's eyebrows lifted.
"Franklyn — my Downsider — is a telepath. He told me he wasn't, but he's been one all along."
B'dang scowled. "Freedom Council needs telepaths. But not Downsider ones. You should have said something sooner."
"I didn't think of that." A Downsider telepath could wreak havoc. Already, R'ghin had heard, the war-that-was-not-yet-a-war was taking a nasty twist. A Downsider ghetto telepath had recently reported to Homeland that the Freedomers were making the first FTL drive, not the other way around, as Freedom Council claimed.
"What proof do you have?"
"His focussant." He explained how he had gotten it; anger ran in his veins like hot solder as he did so.
B'dang turned away. "This is important stuff, soldier. Your Downsider, a spy." He turned back and looked at R'ghin with a piercing eye. "How can I believe you?"
He couldn't keep it secret any longer. Slipping off his visor, he scrabbled under his cot. He unwrapped the crystal and handed it to B'dang. His captain's eyes lit up as he whispered, "You've really used it?"
R'ghin nodded. "And he's shown me where they're keeping him, the camp you told me about. We should tell somebody."
"Yes, we've got proof. But maybe we can use it to our advantage — to get ahead of the other squads. Nobody knows the secret of your Downsider. We can be heroes. We can be the ones to capture him."
"But he's already in a detention camp."
B'dang smiled. "The roundups aren't locked up like you might think. There are a hundred million Downsiders in the Denebola Hive. The best detention camp for them is an entire planet. Gravity is their prison guard."
"Why don't they attack us?"
"We have the guards. At the perimeter line a couple of klicks from here." B'dang put on his official look again. "This mission will accomplish two things, soldier. First, it will render a valuable service by uncovering an enemy agent. Second, and most important, it will prove —"
"— that we're not complete screwups."
During the next free-time, B'dang explained the mission.
"I think we've found the camp. I've filed an exercise plan that says we're going beyond the perimeter for two hours. But once we've gained our real objective, we'll radio for help. All right?"
Everyone nodded. At first, the boys had been skeptical about a plan that centered on R'ghin. But when B'dang told them about his focussant, they were eager to get started. R'ghin enjoyed the new respect they gave him.
After a day of much planning and practice, the next night the boys slipped their stunsticks under their dirtsuits and headed out.
They had never marched far in such heavy gravity. Though R'ghin's legs had strengthened after several days dirtside, they toiled in the loose sand. His rebreather worked hard to condition the air. His mask fogged up. He grew hot.
Just when he could stump along no longer, they stopped. They had reached a windy hilltop. From here, R'ghin could see the roundup camp. It was in sad shape compared to the nearly-spotless Corps camp. The weathershield wasn't simply scarred with meteorite impacts but deeply pitted and, in some places, deeply gouged. The wind had ripped off whole panels of plating, laying open the rusting infrastructure that showed through like the exposed roots of teeth. The wind sucked away all sound. B'dang signaled silently.
R'ghin headed for a large outcrop of red rock while the others moved to a smaller one nearby. He squatted down by the outcrop with his back to the wind. The sand was like fine flour; he nearly toppled backward as his heels sunk in. Grit whirled up around him; despite the protection of his rebreather, his teeth still crunched sand. He unwrapped the bundle. Carefully, he clamped the card with its last live dot between his gloved knuckles; it wouldn't do to have it blow away. Then he pulled out the milky crystal with his chilled fingertips.
Already he saw the first glimmer of yellow.
But the wind whipped suddenly. He lurched into the rocks, clutching the focussant to his chest. The wind snatched the card from him, and he made a futile grab for it. Once the chatcard had tumbled across the sand and out of sight, he looked back into the focussant. Surprisingly, the dimple continued to grow. A fluttering that touched him here, there —
R'ghin. Outside. Why?
R'ghin's jaw dropped. He didn't need the card at all!
But fear squeezed his heart. Franklyn must be a powerful telepath. How could he hide his thoughts? Yet he went on with the plan. I want to see you.
Miss you, friend.
Friend. Sudden misgiving damped the fluttering. Was he doing the right thing? But a war was on. Come out.
Yes. Wait, friend.
R'ghin chewed the inside of his lip. Franklyn was just like all the other Downsiders. Everyone had said so. He bundled the crystal up, struggled to his feet. He signaled to B'dang.
The squad slid down the hill, split forces on either side of the weathershield's single-airlock entrance. R'ghin stood on the crest. In the glow of the mining lights, which were much closer to the roundup camp than to his, he would be easily seen.
The door opened, a square of blue light. Franklyn emerged. He wasn't wearing a dirtsuit and rebreather, just his jumpers. "R'ghin!" The wind tore at his words.
In R'ghin's head, a dam broke. He had to stop them! he thought, and raced down the hill.
But before he could reach them, the boys leaped out. Stunsticks stabbed. Franklyn fell at once. But they did not let up — though the sticks discharged quickly, they continued to use them as clubs. Bringing them down hard, again and again.
"Stop!" R'ghin cried, ripping at their dirtsuits.
The boys stepped back. R'ghin knelt down. Bloody mud caked Franklyn's face, matted his hair.
"I'm sorry — we had to —" R'ghin faltered. No, they did not have to. They could have just told a superior. Maybe they would have been believed. Maybe Franklyn simply would have been put under closer watch.
"I'll radio for assistance," B'dang said. "We were just supposed to capture him," someone else said. The others were silent; they knew their punishment would be harsh.
Or, R'ghin thought, maybe he just shouldn't have said anything at all. How far could friendship go? But now their friendship would go, could go, no farther. Franklyn was a traitor, but he felt himself a worse one. He ran his fingers across Franklyn's gored dirtsuit. "Why'd you say you weren't a telepath?" he said, his words drowning in sobs.
Franklyn's eyes opened slightly. "I told you the truth. You contacted me."
A chill went through him. "But I scored so low —"
"When you took the test, you hadn't yet trained with the focussant." Franklyn closed his eyes.
B'dang and the other boys heard Franklyn's words. They moved away fearfully from R'ghin and whispered among themselves.
A new flood of tears ran down R'ghin's cheeks; he'd made a mistake, a terrible mistake. "I'm sorry —" he began. He searched the battered face for some sign of forgiveness. But it was expressionless: void of forgiveness, void even of pity.
Why had he believed what B'dang and the others had told him? Why hadn't he believed what his one true friend had said instead? You know me, friend. The memory of those words swept over him; it was the last cold ray of sunlight pushed before the racing storm. "Friend — " R'ghin began again, but his tongue was thick in his mouth.
Franklyn tensed, lay still. R'ghin saw a wingbeat of light flutter through his tears. For a moment he thought —
But the light grew into headlamps speeding toward them in the sky. Flying through sheets of blowing dust, the MP skimmers landed.
R'ghin promised himself that, whatever happened, he'd make it up to Franklyn.