The guards stiffened to salute as Carath Ahliss walked briskly into the psigate control room, but she waved them down with a brief smile. “What's our status?”
“Portal is online, and we've gotten five batches out so far.” The soldier who spoke gestured through the glass of the control room's windows towards the portal room, where five glowing blue crystals circled a marble floor. On it, ten people waited, most of them human and the rest visibly injured. Soldiers outside the ring stood watch, eyeing the ceiling and walls suspiciously. “We made sure that the Matriarch went out with the first wave, along with the most wounded – there's no telling when the Varrn will manage to breach our outer defenses. Your son went out with the fourth group, along with that human woman, and we sent the rest of the aliens out in the fourth, the fifth and in this one.” He smiled faintly. “The timeshifter wasn't too happy with leaving so soon, but we didn't want any aliens getting caught up in this we didn't have to. I was going to ask about the last one.”
Ahliss shook her head. “He wishes to stay until the final retreat, and claims that his gifts will help ensure our safety. Something about altering narrative probabilities – my English is not good enough to understand the details, but suffice to say that he's naturally lucky.”
“Not lucky enough to not be here.” The guard grumbled. When Ahliss shot a glare at him, he quailed, and quickly added. “But I'm sure we're lucky to have him.”
“Indeed. Any word from the humans? We could use their assistance.”
“None good. There's some sort of disaster in Australia, and the United Nations have dispatched all of their teams. The SEA is sending a team, but they only have ten agents available, and they'll be at least twenty minutes. We've got to evacuate another four hundred people, so I estimate at least thirty minutes to finish, and the walls have been heavily damaged. We'll be fighting in the hallways soon.” He paused his recitation to give an all-clear signal to the team across the way. Blue light sparked between the pillars, filling the room, and when it faded away those on the platform were gone. The guard called out. “Send in the next group!” before turning his attention back to the matron. “I don't know if we can last a full twenty minutes, and we're completely surrounded. I have to suggest sending through anyone of importance in the next few minutes. All delegates and house leaders before wounded soldiers.”
Ahliss considered for several seconds before nodding. “I suppose you are right. We must think of our nation first. I suppose you've already discussed this with Shinn Kawral? With the Matriarch gone, he is next in order.”
The soldier bit his lip. “Ah… Patron Kawral passed through with the third group. He took some injuries in the retreat, and felt that they needed to be addressed quickly.”
Ahliss blinked. “Patron Kawral was injured? I wasn't aware of that.”
“Yes, ah… he said that he had injured his ankle, and was unable to move quickly.” The soldier started to sweat.
“Did he.” Ahliss's voice was flat.
“I see. Did he have any other serious injuries that required him to displace one of those that was wounded getting us here? A splinter in the finger, perhaps? I have heard that those can become seriously infected.”
The soldier shrugged helplessly. “I was not at liberty to gainsay his claims, ma'am.”
“No, I know that. My apologies.” Shaking her head, Ahliss turned away. “Make the arrangements for the remaining delegates to leave in five minutes. I will make sure that the military command left behind is aware of the situation, and see how long the aliens wish to delay their own departure.”
“Of course ma'am, we'll be ready.” As Ahliss left the room, she heard the guard already beginning to relay orders, and nodded with satisfaction. Whatever else might be said, her people were dealing with the crisis as efficiently as any.
Walking down the corridor, she ran into Lucky and Ash coming the other way. “Ah, excellent. I was just looking for you. I would like you to go through the psigate within the next ten cycles, while we can still be certain of getting you out.” She raised a hand to forestall objections. “I appreciate your desire to help, but I also don't want to have any foreigners trapped here.”
Lucky nodded glumly, but Ash shook his head. “I appreciate the concern, Matron, but I intend to remain.”
There was a pause.
“Remain how so?” said Ahliss.
“Remain in the sense that I will not be departing through the portal, now or at any time in the near future. I have been considering the issue, and as the Adari are staunch allies of the United States, it seems clear that, if requested, I may stay and do battle against the Varrn.” Ash shrugged.
Lucky frowned. “Ash, aren't you worried about dying?”
“On the contrary, I am still quite active on Earth. The loss of this node will be an inconvenience for me there, but not an insurmountable one.” Ash reached up to his chest cavity, sliding out a small metal tube. “If you could deliver this to me there, however, it would help me there to understand my activities here.”
Ahliss and Lucky looked at each other, before turning back to the tree. “Ash, old buddy, I can do that.” Lucky took the tube. “But when this is over, you need new pronouns.”
“I will look into them with any free time that I manage to create.” Ash promised solemnly.