I woke up in my dorm room. I glanced at my clock. 0558—two minutes before my alarm. I waited for it to beep, then turned it off instantly. I didn’t want to wake up Laura.
I glanced at her. She was still sound asleep, clutching one of my pillows to her chest like a teddy bear. I smiled. She had been doing that since we were kids. Of course, if I brought it up, she was liable to throw it at my head.
I stood, stretched, and checked the calendar. It was Monday, January 7th. The ambassadors were still in New York, sussing out the last details of the peace treaty. Adam was still there too. He said he wanted to keep an eye on Saki in prison, but I knew he wanted to be close to Lily. She was going through a lot.
At least Malcanthet was confirmed dead. I was tempted to ask for Adam to send us her head in a box, but I had to have faith in his judgment. If he said she was the one who had died in that fire, I had to believe him. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any DNA or dental records for her, so we’d never know for sure. And even if—though, even though—she was dead, there were still the Malcatari to worry about. None of them had been captured. The Riven didn’t know anything about their numbers or safehouses, so they could be anywhere by now.
I sighed and shook my head. I kept getting wrapped up in my thoughts. The city was mostly fixed from the Rampage and the war. Most of the cultures were relatively quiet, and trade with America would bring new prosperity.
It wouldn’t last, of course. It never did, not in Domina City. But for now, I just wanted to enjoy it.
I jogged up the stairs to the roof and started my morning work out. It was still dark, not to mention cold as ice. Every breath felt like knives in my lungs. But that kind of thing was good for you. Kept you sharp, alert.
It used to be that Akane came up here to exercise too. Nowadays, she spent all her time at NHQ. Butler had even talked about setting her up with her own wing for the kensei, rather than making them stay in the old training rooms. It was good. Great, even. But still, I didn’t like change. I missed the days when it was just the two of us, fighting monsters and struggling in school.
It was a stupid wish. Not only was it impossible, it was wrong. Incorrect. Those days fighting beside Akane had been hard at the best of times, and I had lost a lot of good friends. I still had nightmares about friends being eaten whole by gargants, or crushed under a croaking wave of poisonous jumpers. I had grown used to them, but just a few nights ago I had woken up screaming. I had been remembering the time Mohamed’s sister had all her flesh melted off by an invisible gas.
Things were better now. Not just for me, for the entire city. I had a small but growing gang of hirelings who handled most of the actual monster slaying, and it was safer since they had powers and better resources. Akane had her kensei, Adam had his CS-squad, Laura her work with Clarke. Even Robyn seemed to be doing better. I wasn’t sure what the story was with her fliers, but she seemed happy enough.
This was better. It really was.
Then why did I feel like I was going to die of boredom?
I sighed and continued my exercises. I needed to take Laura out to a movie or something. Hadn’t Lord of the Rings just been released on the mainland? Things were always delayed here, but maybe the treaty could speed that up.
There was a deep, echoing boom that seemed to shake the very air. I glanced up, but didn’t see anything, so I continued my exercises. It was probably some flier playing with their powers. Maybe that was what a sonic boom sounded like.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
I spun around, falling into a fighting stance to face my opponent.
It was Elizabeth—no, Silk. The elegant silk dress, blowing gently in the breeze, was only the first clue. Her face was soft and sad in a way that Elizabeth had never been able to fake. She stood on the roof as if she had been there the entire time, and was looking up into the sky as though something terrible was happening up there.
I followed her gaze. I didn’t see anything.
“What?” I asked. “What wasn’t supposed to happen? The treaty?”
She turned to me a smiled. “Oh no, the treaty is proceeding wonderfully. Exactly the right number of mistakes and concessions on both sides. Domina and America will both come out the stronger for it.” Her smiled faded. “If they survive.”
My phone rang. Laura’s ringtone.
I picked it up reflexively. “What’s going on?”
“Get down here right now,” she said, her tone iron and urgent. “We need to be at NHQ five minutes ago.”
“Laura, Laura, slow down. What’s happening?”
“There’s a ship, Derek!”
“From Lemuria, or Ceres?”
“From somewhere else! It’s an alien ship!”
I felt my heart stop beating. I glanced at Silk. She just nodded.
Laura heard me and thought I was talking to her. “It looks like a small scout ship. We’ll figure out the rest later. Just get down here!” She hung up.
I stared at the phone for a minute, then looked at Silk.
“They are called the para,” she said. “And they should not be here.”
I swallowed. “They’re aliens.”
“Yes. From three-thousand light years away, to be precise. That means it should have taken them three-thousand years to get here. Not two-thousand eight hundred.”
I paused as I tried to sort that out in my head. Space was not my area of expertise. “In the original timeline, it took them longer?”
“Yes. But that’s not the issue. They were traveling at the speed of light using their fastest means of propulsion. They were scheduled to arrive in a little over two hundred years. It is impossible for them to get here earlier.” She met my eyes. “I’m not sure you’re ready.”
I stood tall. “We’ll fight. We’ll survive.”
Silk frowned. “That’s the problem. I was hoping that this time, it could end without bloodshed. But your society has not advanced enough yet.” She sighed. “Though neither has theirs.”
“So we have options,” I said. “Other than fighting.”
There was another boom, this time loud enough to knock me to the ground and make the whole ‘scraper shake.
I flipped onto my back and looked up. The clouds were parting, and a massive ship was coming through. It was wedge-shaped and large enough to cast a shadow over the entire city. It had a dozen glowing white engines on its underside, each of which must be large enough to hold a building. Oddly, it was painted in a random rainbow of colors, symbols and signs that I couldn’t understand.
“You have options,” Silk said, looking at the ship hovering over the city. “But I doubt you’d like any of them.” She looked down at me sadly. “Good luck, little hero. I am afraid that you will sorely need it.”
Then she disappeared, right in front of my eyes.
The ship remained. I saw tiny specks, like smaller ships being launched from the main.
I took a deep breath and jumped to my feet. I watched the ships for a moment, then nodded to myself and walked over to the stairs down.
The time for boredom was over.
Behind the Scenes (scene 314)
Yes, I had the para planned out the whole time. They are thematically parallel with Domina in many ways, as you’ll see soon.