The gentle patter of space dust bombarding the cocoon like rain on an August window wrenched Joao from his hibernation. He had been having the most wonderful dream – specifically, a memory relived. Sarra and he were lying on a bed of moss beneath a towering waterfall in his home, Brazil. They had just finished making love wreathed in the roaring mist of the crashing falls. Giggling, they increased sensory input from their epidermal layers to feel the prickling procession of the maintenance crew: like a an army of ravenous ants, invisible streams of nano-swarms trickled from their pores, attacking and disassembling the alien biomatter that clung to them as the result of their lovemaking. Forgetting himself, Joao dug his fingers under her arms and wriggled. Sarra thrashed mightily between lilting cries, eventually becoming pinned beneath him. He kissed her, drawing her deeply into him, his hands at her thigh. The nanos went mad with confusion, a microscopic battle ensuing where the lovers' flesh met.

It was a good memory, one that Joao visited frequently. The rude awakening of the cosmic cloud engulfing his tiny cocoon annoyed him. Sarra and he had made love again afterwards, he recalled, their earth-shattering cries shaking a sea of panicked birds and monkeys from the jungle canopy. If only his hibernation could have been prolonged a little longer…

Joao read the time display by his left ear. He had been in torpor for nearly six hundred years, and yet it only seemed an instant. As usual, his arms hurt: losing a lover like losing a limb; phantom pains upon awaking, the lover amputated from his embrace, making his arms throb.

There was an almost imperceptible drop in pressure as a fine nanoswarm mist shot pfft pfft from the cocoon to collect debris from the passing cloud. Joao had been feeling sluggish lately – with any luck, the swarm would collect some iron, or perhaps even some potassium to recharge his stores. He lay suspended in a murky yellow gel that not only eased the strain of near-light speed travel, but served as a medium for the host of miniscule servants around him: the greenthumbs recycling his waste into the cultivation of energy-producing bacterial cultures; the censors prowling for alien tissues to assault; the stitchers rejuvenating Joao's atrophied muscles like maids bent over their needlework. The gel had the disorienting side-effect of making Joao feel like he was weightless inside an already weightless environment. Factoring that with the nagging confusion about up and down stemming from the lack of gravity, atmosphere, or good old terra firma, and space travel was an uncomfortable existence for Joao. Really, Joao hated being awake – for all the vastness of the universe the majority of it has very little to offer by way of scenery. Besides, even when he tuned his pain receptors to nil he still went mad with the throbbing ache in his arms that begged to clutch inside them something warm and slender.

He would attempt sleep again, though he knew it would take time to calm himself from the disappointment of his memories and the bleak reality of his waking. As he flooded his brain with melatonin and drifted back into hibernation, he prayed that this time he could have her before he awoke.

"I sincerely hope you reconsider." The man at Joao's right implored. "You may have been stuck at M-Class for quite some time now, but we believe you are more than capable of fulfilling our mission."

Joao sighed heavily, inhaling the blistering African air. In this valley, so the story went, a primitive named Louis Leaky found one of humankind's earliest ancestors petrified like a ghastly frieze into the wall of a gorge. There, in the coppery plains that birthed the species, Homo sapien sapien celebrated its 750,000th anniversary.

"Just take more time to think over it." The man strolling alongside Joao continued "Do you believe that is fair?"

"It is fair, Zimi – but don't expect me to change my answer."

"As you wish. You have accepted my compromise, and I in turn must leave you in peace to make your final decision."

Joao embraced Zimi mightily, and the two parted ways, Joao in his simple tunic, and Zimi in his sandals and toga – an ensemble that had begun as an ironic joke, but had become the vogue amongst the S-Class sapiens.

"One last thing!" Zimi called out hastily, dispersing the swarm of admirers that descended upon him the moment he and Joao had parted company. "Is there something that is keeping you behind? I know you have had attachment troubles in the past…perhaps, if you choose to stay behind, I could at least help you catch whatever you are after?"

"No, thank you!" Joao bellowed back. Dusk was slowly settling, and the rising drone of insects hissing into the night had to be shouted over at un-enhanced hearing. "I'll be fine. Concern yourself with your own journey – it would be the most prudent course of action."

Zimi bowed graciously. Despite being one of the oldest and most powerful S-Class sapiens, Zimi was well known, even adored, for his humility. While others of his rank took on aspects of Jove or Venus, Zimi remained plain by comparison, falling into neither the Olympian vanity or Asgardian detachment of his peers.

Suddenly, Joao's brain swam in his skull. A cold tickle in his frontal lobe and a thumping sensation behind his eyes, and Joao knew he was being buzzed.

"Perhaps you stay for a girl, eh?" said the voice in Joao's head.

"Remember, you promised to leave me alone until I reconsidered." Joao buzzed back indignantly. "and mind your own business, anyhow. You are so elegant in public, but in private, to you friends, you are nothing but a rascal." And with a furrowing of his brow and clenching of his teeth Joao evicted the intruder from his thoughts, sending Zimi somewhere a short way off reeling in the grass.

Joao turned and focused towards the far horizon. The valley was alive with people, thousands, if not millions attending one of the most important social functions in years, camped in small groups laughing and drinking and being genuinely witty with one another like a grand Victorian idle. Joao's mind ferreted through the gathering, darting from one mind to the next searching for that signature thought-pattern. The gathering defeated him. Like multiple radio stations competing over the same band, the interference from thousands of minds packed in close proximity was too great – Joao's head felt scrambled, static murmuring softly in his ears. He took a different approach, scanning with his eyes, under rocks, through trees, all the way to the sea and when he could see ants crawling up a tree fifteen miles away he threw his hands up in growling frustration.

He settled finally on scent. Head upturned, nostrils flaring, Joao picked his way clumsily through the assembled masses in search of his quarry. He stopped at the crumbling banks of a river. There, among the hot stench of hippopotamus and silt, he smelled her. Perplexed, he looked over the muddy water. The floral odor tickling his nostrils told him she was there, but his eyes could see nothing beyond the lazy river and baking plain.

From the water she emerged, tossing her hair, arching her back, the water sliding down her gentle curves like beads of condensation. Joao swallowed. Her hair straitened and trembled, falling miraculously dry around her shoulders in luxuriant curls. The wet tunic clung to her supple body, perched precariously on her breasts. Joao felt seized by a sudden paralysis.

"Joao!" she cried exaltingly. Her mouth curled into a gracious smile, though her eyes steadied with dismay.

"Sarra! Good to see you. I've been looking for you."

"How are you, dear?" She beamed as she climbed the muddy banks. As she lifted each hand, the grime coalesced into large lumps that fell tumbling down the embankment, leaving her hands ghostly clean.

"I heard you were going up. I wanted to see you before you left. Can you indulge me for a few minutes?"

"Of course." Her hand was on his shoulder. Joao's heart began to pound. He corrected it, but she had heard. Her smile dipped slightly, and a few moments of awkward silence progressed. Eventually her voice, soft and elegant, broke the terrible quiet.

"I'm sorry, Joao, but I'm going up. It's my duty, you know."

"Is there nothing I can say to persuade you?"

"No. This isn't just a matter of obligation, either. I'm bored, Joao. I want to do something new, and I want to use my talents to do something…productive. Life is very pleasant, but it's only that – pleasant."

"I had hoped that the symbolism behind this location," Joao began, sweeping his hands gravely over the African plain, "Would remind you of how our ancestors struggled to get where we are today."

"I'm sorry, but I've made up my mind." Her smile had dissipated. She was the other Sarra again, the one with the stony gaze, the eyes you couldn't sneak anything past.

Joao sighed. He knew there was no way to reason with her when she got like this. Better to come back when she had forgotten all about it - except this time, there was no coming back. He furrowed his brow villainously and decided on another tactic.

"Do you think it's right?"

"What? The mission?"

"Yes. The mission. Finding alien worlds. Creating life if the world can sustain it, influencing a more Terran-friendly evolutionary pattern if life already exists, or installing ourselves as deities if intelligent life inhabits it?"

"Of course, it's the duty of every S-Class sapien. You said it yourself – we are living at the apex of our civilization. We can save other races from making the same mistakes we did, teach them the ways of our peaceful society…I can't believe you are questioning the sacred mission!"

"You can parrot the official line all you want, but you still haven't answered my question."

She drew herself close to him, placing a hand on his cheek. Joao flushed.

"This isn't about that, though. It's about you and me."

Joao was unable to stammer a response.

"I loved you. You taught me so much, back when I was still in M-class. But I've grown, and you, I'm sorry to say, haven't. You still can't see the big picture, or divorce your emotions from your reason. I've taken many lovers since you, as I'm sure have you. Let it go…If you love me, you'll wish me luck and let me leave with a clean conscience."

"Won't you get lonely? Bored?"

She pointed to her head and cooed softly, almost at a whisper: "I have my memories, and my fantasies. I have trained my whole life for this. I'll be fine."

Desperately, he seized her arm and pulled her towards him. A fire flashed in her eyes. Joao's arm tingled painfully. Her hair, moments ago resting over her perfect breasts, danced on her head, snapping with arching electricity. Joao tightened his grasp, and spoke through chattering teeth.

"D-d-do that all you want, I can take it. Y-you'll have to kill me."

"That's a dirty trick, turning off your pain receptors."

"Kiss me."

Sarra focused the discharge into a single, condensed bolt that sent Joao spiraling onto the grass. Joao drew himself up with deliberate solemnity, puffing out his chest. If this was to be their last meeting, he wanted to go out with a show of dignity and poise.

"Then I wish you the best of luck. I shall listen to the stars for the name Sarra, for I'm sure your people will become the mightiest in creation."

"A thousand years ago, I would have fallen for that." Sarra called haughtily as Joao swaggered away.

Joao had to think quickly. The first pods were being hurled into space the next day. For the first time in his life he felt the anguish, like expanding waves of electricity pushing against his muscles, of hurry and indecision. He paced for hours through the high, singing grass until finding himself in the shadow of the great monument.

The Artist had created something truly inspiring, no doubt his masterpiece. The artist, Joao realized sadly, was most likely an S-class sapien, and would be leaving with the rest, his considerable talent going up with him. For hours, Joao marveled at the image rendered in two-hundred foot high marble before him.

The monument, specially made for the occasion, showed humanity in its various stages, defeating its great challenges.

The first piece depicted proto-man, stooped and clad in animal skins, warding off a group of cackling hyenas. In his hands, brandished towards the skittering beasts, a crude weapon and flaming torch.

In the second installment, a bespectacled man was sitting at a desk. At eye level, he was holding a test tube containing a vaccine, carved so finely as to near translucence.

The third piece nearly jumped to life from the marble. It depicted a man in an old-fashioned lobster-suit wrestling over a rifle with one of the Kannai hordelings. So refined was the carving that the joints of the man's suit seemed prepared to rupture by the strain of the battle, and the thin segments of the Kannai's legs buckle. The warrior, though battered and broken, showed proud determination through his cracked visor. The true testament to the artist's skill, however, was in the face of the hordeling: driven steadily downwards, legs bowing, its pitiless insectoid face somehow conveyed a look of dawning horror, as if realizing it had chosen the wrong species to bully.

The final installment loomed above the rest, casting them in its shadow. It depicted man as he is now, towering, titanesque, the perfect fusion of biology and technology, standing astride the chasm between the mountains known as death and fear.

Behind his shoulder, the Kannai shirk pitifully, wretches clad in rags, banished to the outer reached of the galaxy. In his hands, the man holds massive chains that entwine around his bulging forearms. The chains bind at his feet humanity's final conquests: the germ, the double-helix, the nanomachine, the atom, and, wrapped in looping fetters, the Earth itself.

In his hours of quiet contemplation, Joao scanned every inch of the sculpture, marking his emotions as they came flooding to him. After he had finished, he turned away and inhaled deeply, greedily drawing the last fleeting scents of Sarra into him: the smell of pine, flowers, and fruit faintly masking a musky, animal odor that sent his heart into mad palpitations. When the final sliver of sun was wavering orange on the horizon, he set his sights towards the gathering. Joao began to scan the gathering for Zimi, and found that they were already tuned to the same frequency. Zimi's voice danced in his head, smirking.

"Yes, my boy?"

"I have decided. I want to go up."

His mind was a poor liar.

He constructed companions for himself, programming their traits to keep him always guessing, to distract his conscious mind from the fact that they were mere figments of imagination. He heard their voices through his ears, and felt their warm breath against his neck until, one day, he would remember their origins. The illusion dissolved, leaving him cold and ranting into the unsympathetic void. His friends were like breathing: thinking about it switched them from automatic to manual, and suddenly what seemed implicit and natural became as artificial as the nanos in his pores, or the shell enclosing his body.

In his waking hours he drifted without sight, sound, and sensation, pleading for the distant pinpoint of a star to appear through the narrow viewing portal, anything to break the monotonous field of blackness that stretched into oblivion.

He played back memories. He invented worlds. As the millennia wore on the voice nagging from the corner of his thoughts emerged louder, exposing his counterfeit lives as mere delusions. He slept less and less, taking no pleasure in his dreams as his mind took pains to remind him of their spuriousness. He feared he was going mad, reassuring himself with the knowledge of how his brain was structured – insanity was a physical impossibility, as it had been on Earth since a thousand years before the launch. Could he have gone mad, he would have embraced it. His reason was robbing him of his fantasies, hurling him unwillingly back into dark, featureless reality.

His only connection to the world outside the cocoon was the time display, humming dull orange by his left ear, giving Joao his only insight to the time that had elapsed since lift-off. He spent a year waiting in fevered anticipation for the moment when the nines would roll into zeroes. When it came, he could not help but feel sadness pulling down at his enthusiasm: the display read 100,000ya.

Was he dreaming? No, it was too cold, too painful. But why were the sensors buzzing and the nanos swarming wildly about him? Joao opened his eyes.

The gel glowed amber around him. Through the viewing portal, a shaft of brilliant light pierced his retinas, blinding him. The subtle gravitational pull of the star stretched pleasurably at his tissue, and he became aware of his body for the first time in millennia. The phantom pains in his arms, the dull ache that longed to embrace, now compelled to thrust outwards, past the confines of the cocoon, splayed out far into the dazzling light.

The shell continued on its slow rotation, eventually turning away from the radiant orb. He sensed something new again: position. The chitinous carapace had slowed to near repose. The instruments barked and hissed madly. Joao saw to his right something which jolted him into complete awareness. Probes had been sent out, and were returning with data, setting the screen alight with atmospheric samples: oxygen, nitrogen, methane, water, and pollen. Plants! After eons of drifting, Joao would have settled for the company an amoeba or virus. As his trembling hands threatened to rupture the chassis, the cocoon continued its revolution, revealing a grey sphere through the viewer. Joao's sharp vision saw a world enveloped in smoky fog. His naked eyes gobbled every detail as the ponderous circuit of the cocoon slowly pushed the spectacle out of view until the next go-round. In places the cloud cover broke, seductively revealing tips of continents and vast, swirling oceans.

The instruments clicked in one final, harmonious outburst. The incoming data scrolling on the display ground to a standstill. The pod pointed its nose to the dusky world and began its descent.

For the first three days, Joao lay on his back in the grass, laughing into the rain peppering his face. He had fallen upon emerging from the cocoon – the sudden rush of amplitude, atmosphere, and gravity had pummeled him to the ground. As his body set to the task of adjusting, he took stock of his surroundings.

The sky was bleak and ashen, the thick clouds casting the heavens into perpetual gloom. Forests of scaly trees stretched far into the horizon, girdled by wide meandering rivers that oozed into raging seas – all fed by the perpetual drizzle issuing from the dark nimbus clouds overhead. Amongst so much relative clamor, Joao was nearly overwhelmed, battling the reflex to slip into protective torpor. His nose twitched, attempting vainly to dissect the profusion of alien scents. His eyes ached. When at last he stood, he felt his own strength and ran, leapt, and whirled laughing about the coarse grasses and spindly trees of his new home.

He flaked the hardest stone he could find into a broad dagger. Hand over foot, dagger clenched in his jaws, fighting for purchase on the slick, rotting rock, Joao climbed the highest mountain in the vicinity. At the summit, he bellowed a defiant howl at the winds, and slashed his proclamation into the mountainside:

Hear me,

For I, Joao of Earth,

Hereby claim lordship of this world

That shall henceforth be known as 'Sarra'

Joao took then to wandering the world, acquainting himself with the native life. After three years of bleak, cheerless winters and wet, torrid summers he settled upon the beast that would become his people.

They were small, slight marsupials covered in mossy gray fur, clinging raggedly to each other in the treetops. They spent their days pouncing on insects or picking fruits, their large, nocturnal eyes scanning fearfully for the giant weasel-creature that stalked them by night. Joao chose these creatures as his familiars not for their opposable digits, their semi-erect posture, or their primitive social habits, but for a behavior he found most human of all Sarra's inhabitants: curiosity. As he explored the vast ranges of copses and jungles, the creatures perched in the trees, keeping always at his flanks, gazing at him with cautioned interest. Joao's mind was made when one day, napping beneath a tree, losing himself in dreams, he awoke to a padded hand pawing gently at his face. Delighted by the antics, Joao sat up, frightening the young creature, who bolted to the safety of the canopy and his mother's pouch.

Joao's first stage was selective breeding. He built a pen and went hunting Sarranians. His heart ached with sadness as he leapt into the trees, tearing the frightened beasts away from their mothers and lovers as they wildly barked and beat at him. His pen had become a place of great despair for the Sarranians. Often, Joao would find himself on the verge of tearing away the gate and setting them free, needing to remind himself of the necessary evil of the endeavor. Through several generations, Joao cultivated bipedalism and language in his subjects. After a few centuries, they were ready for the next stage, an infusion of his own DNA – not the best stuff, Joao scolded himself – no need to rush. Many of the mythical gods had created failed races before man, and Joao doubted he had the kind of patience for trial-and-error. His exile in space had not taught him patience, but the exact opposite. Time had become a commodity. It was something lost to be made up for. So, he struggled like the mortal men of old, racing towards conclusion as if his years were destined to expire.

As he manipulated the genomes of the Sarranians, he built the foundation of his civilization. He started as the proto-primitives had, working in stone, mastering one technology in order to advance to the next. He mined copper and tin with his bare hands and smelted it in pots constructed from river clay. The mastery of bronze enabled him to pursue iron. By the time the Sarranians were walking fully erect, Joao had constructed a magnificent villa for himself. A hundred years later, the more clever Sarranians were working as his servants, bussing his dishes and scouring his floors. From Iron came steam, and from steam fossil fuels and beyond.

His people grew with him. Their gaunt, knobby fingers became short and dexterous. Their long, frightened faces flattened, the deep lines dissolved, and they viewed their world with deeply set, intelligent eyes. The soiled, matted fur that had covered their body rested only on their heads, backs, and feet. No longer did they bark simple commands to one another in high, fractious voices: the Sarranians spoke with purring elegance, rolling their R's and savoring their L's in richly nuanced language. They cleared forest and planted crops, assisted by iron picks and heavy beasts. In his temple, surrounded by electricity, machinery, and the sounds of feet slapping against the floor, Joao felt like a man again.

Joao was sitting atop his alter, meditating quietly when the priest entered.

The high priest was old and crumpled. His robes, made when he was still a young man, enveloped him completely. The hems dragged at his feet, continually needing shifting and adjusting to keep his steady amble unobstructed. Approaching the altar, he bowed gracefully, the heavy material draping over the onyx floor.

"Great God, I have news."

"What is it, child?" Joao boomed from his seat high on the gilded ziggurat.

"There have been reports of something falling from the sky in the valley to the West."

"Yes. I sensed it, while it was still beyond the world. It was transmitting radio signals, however faintly."

"Our informants say the object is a vessel, matching the description of the one you arrived in."

"Yes. That is what I deduced."

"Then that is all, great lord." The high priest said, kowtowing backwards from the platform.

"Thank you." Joao uttered, rising to his feet. "I shall go there myself to investigate." Joao threw a cape of metallic scales around his shoulders and made for the high, incised doors of his temple.

The gathering crowd of Sarranians parted before him, averting their eyes to the ground in the presence of their god. The air, heavy with dust and precipitation, hung slothfully in the clearing. Steadily, Joao strode through the meadow of mangled, splintered trees radiating from the crash sight. The pod imbedded in the crater fluttered softly. Gently, it split lengthwise, spewing a turbid stream of jelly into the crater. Before the slender hand emerged from the chrysalis, Joao was smitten with the odor that had teased his unconscious mind for millennia: fragrances of Terra, of woman, of lover.

Sarra fell from the pod, staining dusky red from the soil sticking to her mucus-covered body. Writhing, gasping, eyes fighting for focus, she lay on the earth of the planet bearing her name.

Joao scooped her in his arms. She was as light as leaves, as supple as string. He cleared the dust from her eyes. Seeing his face, they widened in recognition. She expelled one final, wretching glob of gel from her lungs and cried out hoarsely.

"Joao! I can't believe it! Have I finally gone mad?"

"No. It is me."

"What happened? I can barely move. My eyes, my arms –"

"You have been breathing fluids in zero gravity for so long. You will adjust, soon."

Shimmering crystalline tears began to tumble down her cheeks. Deliriously she threw her arms around his shoulders, smearing him with clay.

"It was awful. I was so lonely. I wanted to go insane, but couldn't. My mind tried to rationalize everything I was feeling, so all I had was this…voice telling me over and over again what was real and what was fantasy. Madness would have been a release."

"Yes, I understand! I too was subjected to the same torments. But you are here now, with us, safe from even your own thoughts."

"Us?"

"Yes, us." Joao said with a sweeping motion of his arm, indicating the frightened assembly of Sarranians huddled around the wreckage. Upon seeing spectators, Sarra commanded her nanos into full damage control, casting the detritus off her body until, within minutes, she stood before the crowd in full splendor.

"These are…?"

"My people, yes."

"You've done well for yourself."

"They are a good and gentle race."

"So what do you call this planet."

"Sarra."

Sarra flushed, turning away coyly. Joao smiled. The more daring spectators ventured a few steps into the clearing, intrigued by strange interaction between the demiurges.

Joao felt her tears again, rolling down his chest as he embraced her.

"Do not be sad. You are home now."

"It's not that, Joao."

"Then what is it?"

Sarra pried herself away and stood before him, grave eyes commanding full attention.

"Shortly after leaving Terra, I got stuck in the tail of a comet. I circled the solar system in a long, elliptical orbit for about five thousand years until I was able to break free of the comet's gravitational and centrifugal pull. During that time, I heard broadcasts from Terra. It was the Kannai, Joao. They invaded. The Earth has been destroyed. They've been searching the universe ever since, killing us off as they find us drifting helplessly through space."

"But that's impossible! There no way they could have –"

"But they did! It seems they copied much of our technology since the last time we met."

Joao dug his heel into the ground. He cast his gaze on the sun, lazily smoking behind the thick clouds.

"It is alright. There are still two humans left in this universe. We shall start over, me as god, and you as my queen."

Her chin quivered, battling for composure. Her discipline failing, she collapsed onto the ground wailing in hysterical fits.

"You don't understand! They followed me here! They attacked me in space – I did everything I could to evade them, fight them – but it's just a life-support pod, not a battle cruiser!"

"They are coming here?'

Sarra nodded bleakly, the capacity for words drained away.

"Very well." He shot an outthrust finger towards one of Sarranians lurking at the fringes of the crater, who jolted backwards and fell to his knees.

"You!" Joao commanded, his body surging with anticipation. "Send for the high priest! Tell him to fetch my battle gear."

"My lord." A creaking voice answered at his back. Joao turned and saw the priest, accompanied by four strapping young men at a respectful distance of twenty paces.

"Ah, I just sent for you."

"I apologize for the presumption, god, but after you left, I heard reports that the enemy descended upon the southern continent. Nothing but ashes remain. Please forgive me, but I took your armaments." The priest bent to an impossible angle and placed a heavy satchel on the ground.

"I know it is a sin to touch your instruments of destruction –"

"No, you have done well. Who are these men with you?"

"They are warriors, lord, trained in your temples to the East."

The young Sarranians bowed elaborately, revealing the bows and assegais lashed to their backs.

"What is the meaning of this? You know the practice of the martial arts is forbidden."

"Pardon me, but these men are priests. They use the discipline as a form of meditation to better worship your lordship. Regardless, they are capable and eager to fight for you."

"I'm sorry, but they could be of no help. Send them away."

"Perhaps with more powerful weapons…"

"No. I would not put the weapons of Earth into Sarranian hands– that would be a curse upon the people, and the most vile of blasphemies."

"You are wise in all things, magnificent one."

The priest genuflected and turned the sulking warriors away. Joao strapped on his sandals, testing the flight function in sporadic bursts of levitation. Lance and wand were taken into hand. He turned to Sarra crumpled on the ground.

"If I don't return, consult my body servant at the main temple. He will shelter you." Seizing her by the arm, reeling her inwards, he thrust his open mouth upon hers. She allowed him duly, neither withering away or fighting the percussive impact of his kisses.

His cape fluttered. The scintillating metallic scales climbed his shoulders and tumbled down his body, descending into place like falling dominoes. In the mid-afternoon haze, Joao, god of Terra, shown like polished stone. The spectators fell down in awe, chattering in tongues, entranced with religious ecstasy. Sarah resumed her position, dirt-smeared, wide-eyed, gazing at him from the ground with frightened reverence.

"You look like a living mirror."

"It will refract much of the power of their light weapons." He said, ascending into the heavens. "Hopefully, that much hasn't changed."

Following the scent of burning and death, it did not take long for Joao to find the Kannai.

They were near the temple, thousands filling the distant sky, wasps and fleas supported by the watchful aegis of a hulking, gargantuan battle cruiser. The hazy sun glinted off their chrome shells, casting the surface of the normally gloomy world into unnatural illumination.

Joao flanked them from the trees. Taking them by surprise, he pierced through their ranks like a javelin, cutting them to pieces by thrusts of his lance. A wasp swiveled the turret in its abdomen and blasted Joao with a fusillade of heat and light. Joao staggered, recovered, and flew back on the attack, deactivating his pain sensors, possessed of a berserker frenzy that stunned the Kannai into hesitation.

He slashed and jabbed recklessly with his lance, pausing periodically to husk off the corpses impaled on its glowing shaft. He threw crackling bolts of energy with his wand, cooking the invaders in their shells until they burst with steam and gore. Everywhere, bolts flew by him, and amidst his wild assaults he evaded them as deftly as a fly eluding falling rain. He pushed further, towards the head of the serpent, the battle cruiser. Crowding the hordes between him and the monstrous vessel, he slew them like fish in a pond, the plummeting wreckage pock-marking the earth below. Breaking through another line of defenders, Joao corkscrewed beneath the battle cruiser and shot himself high above it, where the arc of his wand would be widest. Joao lashed out viciously with the wand, the battle cruiser shuddering from the deep line scored across its midsection. Rumbling, belching fire, the wounds erupted into blazing fissures. Slowly, like falling timber, the great ship tipped and tumbled to earth, setting the forest alight. With the head cut off, the horde turned to panic. Wasps collided with one another mad-dash for escape. Fleas lowered their heads and plowed through their smaller comrades towards the safety of the treeline.

The battle became a massacre. Joao, fueled initially by terror and desperation, now found himself slaying out of pure, maniacal bloodlust. He pulled wasps apart at their slender midsections with bare hands. He tore the Kannai from their armored fleas, breaking their bodies into balls before discarding them onto the forest floor. Where streaking bolts from his wand struck the ground there were scars; long, sharp ridges of glass melted from sand.

Eventually, he grew bored of running the enemy down like beasts. The defeated limped away, into cover of the forest. Joao had no worries –without the battle cruiser and the life- support system it provided, the straggling few survivors would be dead within two weeks. He surveyed his work and found it good, thousands of bugs dead the way bugs should die: belly-up, legs curled in deathly spasms.

He flew back to the crash-site, brushing off the cheers and shouts of the jubilant crowds below. He flew hard and straight to Sarra kneeling in the dirt, her nerves frayed with doubt anticipation. It was not the same Sarra who had mocked his gentle words, or towered aloof and contemptuous of his pleading advances. This Sarra was small, needy, desperate. She tried to speak, but was silenced by flurry of kisses he planted on her neck. Sweeping her into his arms, Joao picked her limply off the ground and flew her to his favorite waterfall, throwing her down on the mossy bank with a savage, brusque gesture. This Sarra cowered when he advanced. This Sarra scrambled on all fours and pleaded when he grabbed her by the ankles, pinned her at the wrists, and pulled her legs apart. When her hair buzzed with electricity, he turned his pain receptors to maximum, letting the jolts work him into frenzied climax.

Like the trickling of water in his frontal lobe he hears her buzzing, shouting stop stop no. He buzzed her back, words garbled into bestial grunts and howls. He powered his trunk through the last few inches of resistance between her thighs. The sky blackened with birds, fleeing the earth-shaking cries and moans. For a moment, he felt her again, warm, soft, pulsing with raw, animal energy…

…The gentle patter of cosmic debris against the cocoon snapped Joao into awareness. He awoke with a shout and a cry, battering the walls of his floating sepulcher until knuckles were swollen and raw. Like a gushing stream, tears frothed from his eyes, diffusing into the gel encasing his body. The nanos swam through the jelly, humming in his ear, busying themselves with reconstructing the valuable stocks of water, salt, and protein issuing from his whimpering sobs.

He checked the time display by his left ear, forgetting he had smashed it in an earlier fit. He rocked from side to side. He punched and kicked. Nothing, nothing would break through the hard chrysalis. It was irrational to want death, his mind told him. A compromise in shell integrity leading to catastrophic depressurization would surely have fatal results. He obeyed his mind, having learned not fight it. He could not control how he felt, but he could control how he thought he told himself unsurely.

His arms hurt. He remembered the brief, furtive moment inside Sarra, cursing her bitterly. It was the closest he had ever come, rape apparently a more believable scenario for his subconscious then all the others.

Somewhere up in limbo, Joao heard his mind speaking to him.

You will never have her

Shut up shut up shut up.