All's Fair, Part Twelve: Moment of Triumph

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(March 20th)

Jhim tried to surge for cover, raising his laser, only to be caught in a wave of dizziness that sent him stumbling to his knees. The brownstone roof beneath him caught his fall, and he pitched sideways with a wince. Turning his head, he saw his cousin collapse to the ground, breathing shallowly, her face a mess of pain. She muttered quietly. “R-run…”

“Foolish girl.” Kyall shook his head with a smirk. “She really should have shielded herself instead of you. It wouldn't have mattered, of course, but tactically it had a better chance.”

“You're an esper.” Jhim's voice was faint. “You're a damned telepath.” He blinked, trying to fight the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. “It's against the Rites for any gifted to occupy a position of power.”

“Look around you, Jhim.” Kyall waved a hand expansively. Below, the Yocanu watched solemnly, waiting for the signal to strike. “Your city is in flames. There are alien mercenaries walking the streets. Is there anything that you see that suggests I care at all about the Rites of Conquest? Anything at all?” He chuckled. “Think about it. I'll wait.”

“But you… you would have had to hide it your entire life. You would have had to…”

Kyall rolled his eyes. “I would have had to mentally dominate the esper sent to test me for powers on my fifteenth birthday, I would have had to organize a conspiracy among my family to ensure that no stronger esper ever came across me, I would have had to casually alter the memores and thoughts of hundreds of people over the last twenty years in order to get where I am. I did it, Carath. You really don't need to explain the logistics to me.” He sighed elaborately “Honestly, Artificer Jhim. I thought you were supposed to be smart. But then, with my powers battering your brain, I'm more than a little impressed that you can still speak.” He leaned in closer. “Let me explain this for you. I do not represent your culture. I do not care about your history, or your Rites. You Adari think that everyone on Sayleen is exactly. Like. You. We aren't. Some of us recognize that the purpose of the Rites is, and always has been, to keep the Adari in power. Your people had trouble with espers ruling the government for a thousand years, so your people wrote it into the rules. Your people have espers, so the Rites support espers. Your people have alien friends who won't get involved in our affairs, and our people have aliens who will, so no aliens. It's very, very simple.” He shrugged, as Jhim collapsed to the ground. Walking over, he leaned down. “You still with me?”

Jhim's arm shot up, holding his laser. Kyall hopped nimbly to one side as the shot impacted harmlessly against the roof's rim. “Ooh, nice shot.” He tapped the side of his head. “But I'm inside your skull, Jhim. I can see your plans.”

“Then kill me.” Jhim muttered, struggling to one knee again. His laser swayed dangerously. “Or I will kill you.”

“Hmmm… no. I don't need you dead. I need you beaten. I need you crushed beneath my power. I need the nexus, Carath. And I will have it.”

“The…” Jhim's eyes rolled back, and he collapsed again. Kyall stepped forwards cautiously. He nudged Jhim with one toe. When that failed to provoke a response, he tried a larger nudge. When that didn't work, he laughed.

“And he goes down. Nothing to it.” Taking a step away, he swayed suddenly and grabbed at the rim of the building for support.

“Sir! Are you well?” Below, the Sayleen ranks were reforming.

“Beautiful. Come up here – we have a captive, and he knows quite a lot about how one of the Adari Five Families operates. He will be a profoundly useful source of information.” Kyall grinned, seeing a familiar form approaching down the street. “Clockwork! Should you be out so openly?”

“My calculations demanded it. I see that you have succeeded in your primary objective.” The gold-clad man smiled broadly. “As impressive as ever, Patriarch.”

Kyall bowed dramatically. “Not at all. He did have quite the phenomenal will, though. For a moment I thought I would have to physically beat him into submission.” He hesitated. “What do you mean about your calculations?”

“The tree should have been shadowing you. I imagine he will appear momentarily to… ah ha.” Clockwork smiled.

Kyall spun. Jhim wasn't lying on the roof anymore, and neither was his cousin. Instead, the two of them were being held gently in the boughs of Ash, who was perched on the building across the way. The Patriarch whistled softly. “You are a quick beast, aren't you?”

Quite. I must apologize for the delay, and for not remaining to enjoy your hospitality.” As he spoke, Ash tensed to leap away. He paused. “Hm.

Clockwork grinned. Standing directly behind Ash was Warzone, alongside ten Yocanu soldiers. All ten had weapons trained on the ninja tree. “Hm indeed. I believe you can avoid the first few volleys, but will fall around the forth.”

Your calculations seem accurate. But I wonder if you have taken Sayleen physiology into account.” Ash said blandly.

Warzone chuckled, and raised a gun that looked more like a cannon. Clockwork held up his hand. “Hang on. If he has a trick, he'll spring it between the first and second volley. Let's talk for a moment.” He directed his attention to Ash. “I'm not sure what you mean. Those Sayleen you're with aren't waking up any time soon.”

Based on my studies of human anatomy, I agree.” Ash said. “Sayleen physiology, after all, is nearly identical to that of humans. Despite the fact that Sayleen are herbivores, their physical appearance and major organs are nearly identical, and they can subsist indefinately on a human vegetarian diet. It is a feat of convergent evolution which is truly staggering.”

“Yeah, it gives scientists conniption fits.” Clockwork shrugged. “I don't really see the point.”

You do see it, you merely overlooked it.” Ash looked as smug as a tree could. “If the Sayleen are that similar to humans, their natural diet must be similar to that of humans. I extrapolated that Sayleen plant life would seem to be nearly identical to Earth plant life. And if that is the case…

Clockwork's eyes suddenly got as wide as saucers. “Prepare for battle! Incoming….!”

But it was too late. A volley of leaves filled the street, as explosive seed-pods blasted through Warzone's troops, knocking them off-balance. As Clockwork dove behind the sheltering figure of a Varnn vanguard, he watched in horror as twenty tree-ninjas, blue-barked and covered in podlings, roared into the fray, covering Ash's escape.

Ash leapt nimbly into the compound, depositing Jhim and Leszlie into the waiting arms of a medical squad. He turned to Lucky. “I am happy to report that my diversion was successful. Sayleen plant life can, in fact, be converted into reanimated mechanical assassins.

Lucky gaped. “Uh… good to know?”

Ash beamed. “Very.

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