Blue Demons on Planet Surf

Michael Panush

Dawn came slowly to the ocean world of Aquarius IV. It snaked its tendrils into the endless crystal blue seas that blanketed the planet, reaching down under the depths to the crystalline hotels and resorts that had extended underwater for miles like gaudy icebergs. It caused strange alien fish to begin to buzz around coral reefs that rivaled the massive cityscapes of distant earth for size and complexity. It struck the planet's few, great rocky cliffs as well, bringing light to the ancient gray stone that had been battered by the tides for eons. But there were some places on the so called Planet Surf where sunlight never reached.

The ocean glowed turquoise outside the window of Violet Starr's suite in the Grand Coral Hotel. Violet stood by the window and stared out at the reefs. She pushed her short black hair behind her ears and finished the buttons on her shirt, then tightened her belt and grabbed her short trench coat. A giant fish floated by the window, resembling an overgrown pink feather with two bulging eyes at the end of the stem. Ultra modern furniture, all pearl white and shining chrome, filled the bedroom. An automated sculpture, something like a giant steel spiral, twisted to the side and sprayed coffee in a waiting cup. Violet let the coffee steam.

The door opened behind her. Her bodyguard, the Martian Korzon Kord, stood in the doorway. He silently walked over to her and they watched the giant fish move away with a single swish of its sinuous body. "You don't like it here," Kord said. He wore a pale seersucker suit and a silver bowtie. It clung tightly to his muscled, green skin. His pointed ears were slicked back.

"No," Violet agreed.

Kord let out a slow moan - a little thunder for his normally rumbling voice. "And why not?"

"It reminds of...of too many things." Violet turned away from the window, which encompassed the entire wall. "All of these trappings, the robot servants everywhere - it reminds me too much of the past. My family used to live in joints like this." She clutched her arms, feeling the bones beneath her skin. Her grip was firm. She sucked in the processed air. "Too much luxury. It breeds a kind of complacency. And when emergency comes, you're not ready. My family certainly wasn't."

"Well, my clan lived as warriors on the barren surface of Mars," Kord replied. "And we still weren't ready for the Alphan Invasion." He paused and cocked his green head. His pointed ears wiggled. "Besides, the war was a long time ago."

"No." Violet headed for the door. "It doesn't seem that long ago to me." She walked to the door. "Command called yet?" He was her boss, the anonymous representative of the Terran Alliance's feared Intel Division. Command was the one who had dispatched Violet Starr and her team to Aquaris IV. She had accepted without complaint and now they were about to receive the assignment.

They stepped into the center of the suite. A large view screen was built into the wide window overlooking the ocean. The screen was filled with buzzing static. It clicked and shifted endlessly, a gray blizzard that refused to fade. The rest of Violet's team was there, waiting for her. Harvey Zero was sitting on the slim couch, looking at various types of Aquarius IV's marine life in his pocket-sized personal computer. The Brain Boy's electronic green eyes glowed against his spectacles. He was wearing a dark Hawaiian shirt splotched with red for the vacation. Their cat, Bartholomew, was curled up at the boy's side. Bartholomew was a Chameleon Cat, a genetically engineered color-shifting feline. He was sporting zebra stripes now, mimicking the hologram of a tube-shaped sea creature spinning around above Harvey's personal computer. The boy closed the program when Violet walked inside.

He struggled to open up another, long rage communication program. "My mistake, Miss Starr," Harvey explained. "I merely wished to examine some of Aquarius IV's wildlife. It is quite richly detailed and fascinating. I could list the number of fishes from memory - but it would take an estimated seven years." Despite the electronic implants in his brain, Harvey was ultimately a twelve-year-old boy. Alien worlds still had the power to fascinate him.

That wasn't the case with Violet. Still, she hoped Harvey at least was enjoying himself. "That's okay, Harvey," she said. "Has Command called? Patch him through. Let's find out why exactly we're all here."

Bart slinked over to her, waving his glowing blue tail. "What's the matter?" he asked. The cat could talk - unfortunately. "Don't like a little sun and surf?"

Before Violet could respond, the static on the screen shifted and took shape. Soon the outline of a figure was there, like a man walking in the distance through the blizzard of black and white. It was only the outline - nothing more. Command was always a little paranoid. No one had ever seen his true face. When he spoke, his voice was clipped and buzzing, stuffed with electronic feedback. It was a little difficult to make out his words. Luckily, Violet was used to listening to her handler at Intel Division. As always, his first words were a simple command.

"Violet Starr," Command said. "Report."

"We've arrived at the Grand Coral Hotel on Aquarius IV," Violet explained. "I'm going with the gentlewoman gambler cover of Satin LeStaine. Our lodgings are more than adequate." She paused. "But we'd all like to know why we're here."

An image flashed on the screen. It showed a tall and stately man with a hawk's nose and long, dark brown hair drooping down past his ears. He wore a pair of completely round, blue-tinted glasses and had a neat moustache and goatee. "This is Agent Augustine York of Intel Division, a specialist in psychological and hallucinogenic warfare. He was dispatched to infiltrate the new religious organization, cult and commune known as the Children of the Cliffs, which is active on Aquarius. He has failed to report in for three months." Another image flashed by. This one showed a guy sporting bright green hair that fell over his shoulders and a long shaggy beard, wearing a worn frayed vest. His eyes, piercing and cold, stared out from behind the tangle of green strands. "This is Quentin Palisade, the cult leader. We believe that York may have gone in too deep."

"He's gone rogue?" Violet asked. As usual, her team had come loaded with countless weapons. "Should he be terminated?"

"Examine the situation," Command explained. "Make your own decisions. I trust you, Violet Starr." More static crackled to life. "Communication ending." Then the static cleared. The screen went blank and Command's silhouette was gone.

Everyone stared at the empty screen. "Not too difficult a job," Kord said softly.

"Yes," Harvey agreed, looking up from his personal computer. "I already found the location of the Cliff Children. They reside in the large stone outcroppings around the equator of the planet. We can be there within the hour if we leave in the next eighteen minutes and six seconds." He closed his computer screen and glanced at Violet. "If you want to leave that is, Miss Starr."

"We'll go," Violet said.

"Ooh!" Bart pressed his glowing crimson head against Violet's leg. "A chance to play tourist and see the sights. Sounds interesting. Just keep me away from the water, if you don't mind. I've got a tendency to sink." He lithely leapt into the air and landed in Harvey's arms. "But you don't seem to like it at all, Violet. I don't think it's because you can't swim." Bart wriggled around in Harvey's arms as the boy stood up. "Or is it that these waters are just a little too turbulent?"

Violet stood up as well. She walked to the purse in the corner and slung it over her shoulder. Her two silenced automatics were resting inside. "It reminds me of the time before the Alphan Invasion. That's all. My family would spend their time traveling to resorts and that sort of thing. We could have stayed in a place just like this. I think we were, on the moon, when the Alphans showed up."

Harvey hurried to Violet's side. The boy was always wanting to help. "Well, this is different," he explained. "We're all here with you. And you're much stronger now than you were then." He offered her a shy smile and his green eyes gleamed. "Besides, it's just for a job. It's a simple job, like you said. It's not like anything bad can happen."

"Yeah," Violet agreed. "Sure." But she didn't feel any better.

They left the suite and took the high speed elevator to the surface. It was the midmorning on Aquarius IV now and the sea glittered all around them. The roof of the Grand Coral Hotel was flat and round as a giant poker chip, with occasional bugles for entryways and small structures. Steel docks extended out from the rooftop, with luxury yachts, speedboats and other ships waiting to be taken out on the wide seas. Tourists were already heading for the day's outings. Groups of them, draped in Hawaiian shirts and flashing pencil-sized cameras, were waddling into large cylindrical tour boats that would traverse Aquarius IV. In the distance, clumps of rocket surfers sped over the waves, spume and smoke flying from their jet-powered boards. They darted over the waves like the schools of fish darted through the coral metropolis below the water.

The crew of the Calico stood together in the sun and ocean breeze. Kord had grabbed a Panama hat. Harvey had a small checkered coat. Violet pulled a pair of sunglasses from her pocket and set them on her thin nose. They weren't tactical shades with built in computers. Violet preferred not to be distracted.

Kord led them to the edge of the dock. He checked the numbers of the various boats, looking for the craft they had brought from the Calico. Violet walked over to join him, while Harvey ran to the edge of the wharf and stared down into the water. He was trying to catch a glimpse of some more fantastic sea life. Then Violet heard footsteps behind her. She swiveled around, opening her purse to reach for one of her guns. She froze when she saw that it was only a rotund man in a dark blue coat and matching ascot, his hands open in a friendly gesture. There was no threat. Violet was being jumpy.

He drew closer and grinned. "Miss LeStaine?" he wondered. "Leaving without saying hello?"

"I wonder who I would be saying hello to," Violet said.

"Hmmm. Perhaps my anonymity does prove troublesome, occasionally." He rested a ring-dappled hand to his chest. "I'm Hugo Haas. I own this hotel, as well as many more on many different planets." Now Haas was close enough to them, standing just apart from Violet. He had thin wafts of gray hair, but not a wrinkle on his smiling face. It gave him an odd look, like an old man with a baby's face. When he was close enough, his voice dropped to a whisper. "Intel Division contacted me about your assignment. I'm going to do everything in my power to help. I am nothing if not a patriot for the Terran Alliance. Their loose regulations allowed my present corporate success, after all."

"Thank you, sir." Violet did her best to be polite. "We'll just complete our mission and depart. We'll let you know if we need anything."

"Oh, I've already taken the liberty of seeing to one of your many needs." Haas clapped his hands. "You require transport to the cliffs, do you not? Well, behold." He gestured to the edge of the docks. A sleek golden watercraft was there, looking like a flat-backed, shimmering fish. "The Magnus 5000 Sea Dart. It will get you there, my friends - in style."

Violet exchanged a glance with Kord. He shook his head quickly. "I think we've got transport covered," Violet said. She followed Kord's finger. "We've brought our own watercraft. It's right over there. A String Ray X-40." Kord indicated their ship, which was at the far end of the dock. It was silver, featuring a sharp, triangular shape with gunmetal gray sides, a small cockpit in the rear and a humming plasma-based motor in the back. The only amenity the Sting Ray contained was a cooler next to the cockpit - and Violet didn't use it for drinks. "We're a little more familiar with that. You understand, Mr. Haas."

Haas's facade didn't crack. "By all means," he agreed. "And if you need anything more, don't hesitate to ask." He stepped back with a smile, adjusting his ascot as he walked inwards. "Good luck, Miss Starr and don't worry. Your secret is safe with me."

After he left, Violet and her crew walked over to the Sting Ray. "What do you make of that?" Violet asked, as she gingerly stepped inside. Bart leapt out of Harvey's arms and reached the cockpit in a single bound. "Haas, trying to play helpful? Normally, if locals know about Intel Division business, they do their best to stay out of the way and hope that it ends without too many fatalities."

"Maybe he is unusually stupid," Kord suggested. "Rich men often are."

Somehow, Violet didn't think that was the answer. She got behind the wheel and started the engine. Kord hopped in next to her. Harvey was the last to board. He reached one foot in cautiously, then slipped and fell. He emitted a little yelp and Kord caught him, then sat him down in the back. Harvey was shaking a little as the speedboat shot out from the docks. Violet smiled a little while she worked the controls at Harvey's sudden flush of embarrassment. Bart turned a merry yellow but made no harsh comment.

They roared away from the Grand Coral and hit the deeper ocean. Now the water was a pure, deep blue - fading to black in some places. The tides moved in and out and the Sting Ray bounced evenly as it rushed over the waters. Harvey sat back in his seat and stared weakly at the sky. "This travel must be scrambling my brain's circuitry," he mused. "It's quite a troublesome sensation." They zoomed past a school of Aquarius's flying fish, which leapt out of the sea and spread diaphanous wings that could rival the spans of terrestrial vultures. They soared over the Sting Ray, wriggling their bodies and causing a light rain to batter the speedboat.

"Sounds like seasickness to me, kid," Bart suggest. "Trying focusing on the horizon. That always helps. And if you're gonna hurl - be sure to do it off the side, okay?"

"Okay," Harvey agreed. He turned around and stared off the back of the ship. "Miss Starr?" he asked suddenly. "Mr. Kord? I believe we are being followed." Violet looked over her shoulder. Sure enough, there were half-a-dozen bulky hovercycles zooming over the ocean after them. Two men were riding in each of the hoverbikes. Violet watched as they drew closer, moving in a loose crescent formation. They were like a pack of predators, closing in on bigger prey.

"Harvey..." Violet said slowly. "Zoom in and transport the image from your screen to the ship's computer. Let's have a look at them. Hopefully, they're just tourists out for a joyride." Harvey nodded and tapped the side of his head. A second later, the computer screen in the Sting Ray's control panel crackled to life and showed a better view of their pursuers. Violet looked them over. "No," she said. "Definitely not tourists."

The men on the hovercycles wore tactical black jumpsuits. They had black holoclavas which obscured their faces in small clouds of compact holographic smoke, with only the gleam of combat goggles poking out. They were armed too, with pulse rifles held in the hands of the gunmen who rode the bikes, while others drove the vehicles over the crashing surf. One of them didn't have a holoclava. He must not had cared if anyone saw his picture. Violet saw a completely hairless human face, scarred with the rigid marks left by Crawler claws. Those giant insects had been unleashed by the Alphan Invasion, meaning he was a veteran - same as her. One of his eyes was missing, replaced with a glowing silver data orb. There was no pity in his scarred face.

A second later, they started shooting. The pulse rifles rattled out their fire, sounding like another layer of constant sound next to the hum of engines and the crash sea waves. Violet and her friends ducked down. Bart let out a panicked meow as he skittered under the control panel. Bullets ricocheted off the steel sides of the speedboat. Violet twisted the steering mechanism hard. The Sting Ray swung to the side. Sea water splashed up, stirred by bullets. Violet felt the spray striking her shoulders. Breath left her gritted teeth as she straightened the vessel and kept it shooting forward. Her mind raced, thinking of the best way to get out of the situation alive.

She talked quickly, soon as the gunfire stopped. The hoverbikes were moving up. "Okay," Violet ordered. "Kord, what have we got on board?"

Kord popped the cooler. An atommy gun was inside, the uranium-tipped bullets in the drum magazine kept cool and ready. He set down his sports coat, revealing twin ray guns in crossed shoulder-holsters. Then Kord grabbed the atommy gun and pressed it to his shoulder. Bart hissed. "A chopper? Little old fashioned, don't you think?"

"I am nothing," Kord replied. "If I am not traditional." He swung the atommy gun around and started shooting. The gun chattered and sprayed automatic fire into the ocean. One hoverike sped closer. Kord gave it a burst. His shells must have struck some vital engine because the ship exploded in a blast of cherry red fire. The driver was fried. The gunman on the back struck the water in pieces and sank. Kord switched the targets and kept shooting.

The lead from the atommy gun kept them busy. Violet ducked down next to Harvey, who was clutching Bart and keeping the cat away from the flying bullets. "Harvey," Violet ordered. "Those hoverbikes have onboard computers. Hack them. Also, start running the bald fellow's face through every database in the galaxy. I need to find out who they are and I need to stop them."

"Okay," Harvey agreed. He pulled out his personal computer and snapped it open. The boy typed with one hand while he huddled low. The hoverbikes were drawing closer, easily outpacing even the zooming speedboat. "And you and Mr. Kord will keep us safe?"

"Sure," Violet agreed. She turned back to the control panel and grabbed the steering throttle, then rammed it hard to the side. The whole speedboat lurched. It spun to the side, sending up choppy white waves as it came about hard. The hovercycles had to speed around her to avoid a crash. It bought Violet precious seconds. She swung the speedboat around again, then pointed the ship and slammed the throttle all the way down. The engine went from a hum to a roar. It shot ahead, cutting easily through the waves and gaining more and more distance.

The atommy gun clicked empty. Kord swore in Martian. It sounded like he was choking on something. He dropped the smoking submachine gun and pulled both ray guns, then raised the conical, finned weapons and started shooting. Brilliant bands of white lasers flashed out over the sea. A hoverbike sped close to them and Kord turned his ray guns and opened fire. He burned a hole through the head of the driver and the hoverbike careened madly to the side. Violet had to give the Sting Ray another burst of speed to avoid a crash. The hoverbike shot behind them - then slammed into another pursuing hovercycle. The resulting explosion send bits of smoking shrapnel splashing into the ocean. But more of the hovercycles were drawing closer and Kord couldn't hold them off for good.

"Harvey!" Violet cried. "Any updates?"

"On the hacking or the research, Miss Starr?" Harvey wondered.

"Which ever lets us live, you robot-brained bum!" Bart hissed.

"Well, I'm ninety-nine point nine percent done with the hacking," Harvey said. Another blast of gunfire whistled over Violet's head. The bullets were close enough to rustle her hair. "There!" Harvey cried. He punched one more button. All of the hoverbikes stopped. Some of them floated forward on their own momentum, but they did not keep following the Sting Ray. Harvey smiled nervously at Violet. "The research will take a little more time, though."

Violet nodded. "That's quite all right," she replied. She sat down in the bullet-ridden speedboat and sighed. "Kord, you okay?"

"Caught a grazing wound. I'll bandage it on the way to the cliffs."

A quick check of the digital map readout revealed that they were indeed nearing the equatorial cliffs. Violet sighed as she settled down in the seat. Of course, it was more than a simple assignment. She should have expected this.

They reached the cliffs in the middle of the afternoon. The towering cliffs were the one part of Aquarius IV that wasn't underwater. They more than made up for it, reaching straight into the cloudless gray sky like huge stone curtains that extended outwards for miles. As Violet drew closer, she could see habitation on the nearest cliffs. There were steps, carved into the stone and leading up, as well as small collections of houses on plateaus and outcroppings. On the jagged stony beaches at the bottom of the cliffs, Violet could see fleets of rocket surfers playing back and forth over the waves. She zoomed past some as she headed to the beach. Harvey waved. The surfers didn't wave back.

When they reached the beach, Violet engaged the anchor device and locked the Sting Ray, then hopped out and splashed to shore. Her boots handled the water okay, but Kord grimaced as the waves touched his dress shoes. Harvey carried Bart and ignored the sea water in his dark dress socks - the only kind of socks he owned - and sandals. They made their way to the gravelly beach and hiked up to the cliff bottom in silence.

There was the entrance to the commune, a spiraling stone staircase that led straight up into the rock. Violet looked up and then at the little village up near the top. "Seems like a hell of a place to live," she said. "One wrong step and down you go."

"And far from civilization," Kord agreed. "You humans are a strange people. You create every opulence you can think of - and then choose to live here." He nodded to the steps. "Come on. Let's not linger." He walked over first and started walking. Violet noticed that he was still wearing his ray guns in the shoulder-holsters. She was thankful for that.

They all headed up the stairwell together. It didn't take them as long as Violet thought. Soon they had reached a wide stairway that led into the first of the small villages. But this time, there were two guards waiting for them. They were both ragged, wild-eyed young men who looked like they could use a haircut. They wore salt-stained t-shirts and old vests, beaded necklaces hanging over their shoulders and clanking as they moved. Machetes, old fashioned steel weapons, rested in beaded fish-scale holsters at their sides.

One of the guards, who sported blonde dreadlocks, stepped into Violet's path. "Area up ahead's forbidden - except for true believers of the watery faith," he said. "You ain't one of the Cliff Children, lady, and you don't belong."

Kord stepped in front of him. He towered over the Cliff Child and let his sheer size give him the advantage. But the guard didn't quake. He stood his ground and his hand remained fastened on his machete. Violet had seen that kind of devotion before - the same sort of raw fanaticism that filled the eyes of the Alphan Invaders. Their soldiers, with their bulbous heads and gleaming, curved armor, would march to their deaths with a smile. Not that they ever smiled, of course. But they believed that they were right, the universe was wrong and there was no solution but endless violence. Violet knew that intimidation simply wouldn't work. She snapped open her purse just in case.

But then another figure appeared on the steps above them. "Hello there, lads!" It was Augustine York. He seemed much as he had in the picture. He was even wearing his canary yellow suit and armed with a large emerald-headed walking stick. He sauntered down the steps like a dancer emerging onto the stage. "No need to get upset. These are friends of mine. They've simply come to chat. They are guests, ready to understand the important things we are doing here. Just step aside and let them pass." He offered them a smile as he reached the step just above up. "I guarantee Brother Quentin will be delighted at your decision."

The guards stepped aside. Violet looked up at her rescuer. "York?" she asked.

"Brother Augustine," he corrected. "Now come up, please - and don't waste time."

Violet didn't. She hurried up the steps, her team following her. They joined York and hurried up the stairs. Once she was out of earshot, she leaned closer. "You know I'm Intel?" she asked, keeping her voice a whisper.

"I know you're something," York explained. "We don't get many visitors here. The few that do are known by the Cliff Children. You weren't and I was curious, so I let you in." He stopped walking as they neared the village. "Now, I would like your names and your backgrounds. There's a bit of a delicate situation here and I think I may need your help."

"I'm Violet Starr. I've been Intel with several years. Before that, I was a guerilla battling the Alphans in the War. I fought on the Moon, Mars, Venus and their aboard their spacefleet with the Planetary Marines. Korzon Kord was with me." She nodded to Harvey. "The kid's a Brain Boy, named Harvey Zero. The cat's name is Bart."

"Pleased to meet you," Bart said. "Now why haven't you reported in? Gone native or something?"

York grinned at the cat. "Charming creature. And I didn't report in because I've been a little busy." He pointed down the twisting stone stairway. "Certain events have transpired. Developments have occurred that necessitated my full attention. You know the type. Real bad juju." He headed up the steps, walking towards the large ledge at the end of the stairwell. York turned around and nodded to Violet. "But maybe we can put a stop to it. Would you care for some yogurt?"

"Put a stop to what?" Violet was starting to think that York had indeed gone in too deep. She had seen it happen before. The lies about deep cover swamped you. Fiction and reality, cover story and truth, melded together and fused. The result? Sanity taking a nosedive and an eventual crash. Agents who went that way usually ended their careers bloodily.

They walked past a large alcove. York stopped and faced it. "Have a look at this," he said, and gestured to the alcove. Violet, Kord, Harvey and Bart stared as well. There was a statue resting in the shade of the ancient stone and Violet knew it had not been built by human hands. The figure carved in the gray rock was extremely fat and primitive, like a Buddha with the features all worn away. Violet had impressions of two arms and two legs at the edges of the fat round belly, but the creature's head was the most interesting part. Its face was blank and featureless. The carvings hadn't faded. There simply hadn't been any carvings at all. Instead, there was a great mass of tentacles. They stood out from the rock, frozen mid-wiggle in the air. The statue's face stared straight ahead of them. Even though it had no eyes, Violet had the idea that it was watching the path.

As they watched the statue, York had pulled a refrigerated plastic case out of his coat. "Yogurt?" he asked Violet again.

"What could have made this?" Harvey asked. He turned back to York. "Mr. York, there is no known ancient culture on Aquarius IV - and yet this statue corresponds to several other carvings, found in various cultures throughout the galaxy. But none of those cultures visited Aquarius IV. So what could have carved this?" He paused, the curious boy in him taking over. "And what is it?"

"Perhaps you'll find out," York said. He waved the case, which was the size of a cup and had a matching spoon attached to the side, at Violet. "Yogurt?" he asked. "I won't offer again, you know."

Violet decided to humor him. She took the cup, undid the spoon and popped open the lid. The yogurt inside was the same gray as the rock. "Thanks," she said and had a bite. It was surprisingly sweet, with a hint of a fruity flavor. "So, what exactly do ancient ruins have to do with your assignment, the Cliff Children and Quentin Palisade?"

"Brother Quentin, please," York explained. "And let's find out." He turned around and kept walking, heading right into the village. Violet and her friends followed him. They walked onto the village, which was situated on a wide ledge jutting out from the cliff face. It was a primitive place, with a few power generators and huts and shacks made of cast-off corrugated steel and stone. Colorful tapestries hung from the cliff walls - prayer flags, catching the ocean breeze. But the whole place was deserted. York walked past the abandoned buildings and then Violet started to hear the Cliff Children. They were at the end of the ledge and they were all chanting.

York reached the edge of the encampment and came to a large stone amphitheatre carved into the cliff. The Cliff Children sat on the rough rock seats, all surrounding a small stone stage. Quentin Palisade was there. The ocean lay beyond, stretching out into the distance as a great gray curtain. Palisade was wearing a long black robe, which drooped to the floor. His bright green hair was pressed to his forehead with sweat. His head looked like an ocean rock, covered in seaweed. He swayed back and forth as his followers chanted, mumbling strange words that were in no galactic language. Then Palisade held up his hand and they all fell silent.

His mouth yawned open. "My children," he said. "It is time." He extended his hands, like a preacher at the pulpit. Violet and her friends stood at the edge of the amphitheatre, watching him. Bart flared an angry red. "There are powers on this planet. True powers, far greater than anything to be found in starships or ray guns. We have only to reach out - and awaken them." He nodded as several of the Cliff Children stood up. "Pass round the sacrament," he urged.

Some kind of pill was passed out. Each worshipper got one, a small, dark green capsule. Violet watched as the Cliff Children swallowed them down, free of water. One dead-eyed parishioner passed them and handed Violet a pill. She nodded in return and handed it to Harvey.

"I'll need a full analysis," she explained. "When we get back."

"Okay, Miss Starr," Harvey agreed softly.

"You needn't bother. I know there's some powerful stuff in there," York explained. "Venusian Dreamweed, for instance. Expensive stuff too. And it's strong. Incredibly, incredibly strong. It will loose your mind from your body like an arrow from a bow."He grinned at Violet. "You won't take it?"

"No..." Violet said. She found herself staring into the glowing sun above the waters.

"Ah. That's fortuitous, then," York said. "I already added one into the yogurt you ate."

The glowing sun swept down, flying towards Violet on twin wings of fire. She let out a gasp and sank down. Harvey and Kord caught her. Then Violet wasn't falling at all and it wasn't a clear sky she was looking at, but one speckled with stars behind a thick glass dome. She was lying against a cushioned deck chair on a balcony atop the surface of the moon. Violet knew where she was. She'd been there before, when she was an seventeen-year-old girl, headstrong and tomboyish - the youngest daughter of a wealthy galactic shipping family with no prospects before but a life of refinement and luxury. And today, on the moon, it was all going to change.

Her head rolled to the side, just as it had before. Violet felt the same fatigue after a day of bouncing around in zero gravity through the floating arcades that made up the Lunar Resort her parents were staying at. Her father was standing stiffly on the balcony, looking up at the stars. He seemed larger than life, like he always did. His mother was talking to him, something about social functions that Violet didn't want to hear. Her father was already in his tuxedo, his mother in an evening gown. Her sisters and brothers were getting dressed as well, but Violet hadn't prepared her own clothes. Her parents were talking to her, but Violet hadn't been paying attention then and she couldn't make out the words now. She wished she could. These would be the last words here parents would ever say.

She stared up into the sky and then she saw them - just as she had before. Violet looked at the flying saucers, the silver discs coming down in a giant swarm like hornets from a disturbed hive. They could rival the stars with their number, all sleek and featureless and topped glowing domes of darkened glasses. Violet knew what they were - Alphan warships. But just like she had then, she lay down in the wicker deck chair and watched. Streams of burning plasma erupted from the bottoms and sides of the saucers. Lunar structures flared to life and shattered in bright fire. Her family stared in silent horror as the cities around them were bombarded. Rubble and lunar dust floated out into the dark sky. Violet was crying now - just like she had then.

The door behind them opened. Alphan soldiers stepped inside. They wore their curved silver armor and had chalk gray skin, thin lines for mouths, bulbous heads and dark, round and pitiless eyes. Violet turned around and watched her two older sisters go down before the Alphan laser rifles. Her father was cut down by a beam saber. Her mother sank down over his body and, once again, Violet watched the Alphans press their gun barrels to her head and open fire. Her brother tried to help him and they shot him too. Then they grabbed Violet's arms and carried her away. They must have thought that the scrawny, awkward little girl presented no threat to them and they were right.

Violet tried to close her eyes as the lunar suite shifted and changed around her. The floor went blue and wet and then it was the surface of Aquarius IV's ocean. Violet hurtled down and struck the water. She descended quickly, passing the blue upper depths and the great metropolis of coral and then she was into the dark and chilled areas where even Terran biologists had yet to venture. She floated down into pitch darkness and was aware of something watching her from below. It was big, huge enough to stretch for miles on the sea bottom. It was massive and formless, just like the ocean around it. Violet watched as it twisted around and she knew it was trying to talk with her. She didn't want to know what it had to say.

Her eyes flashed open. She was looking at the gray sky above the cliff. Kord, Harvey, Bart and York looked down at her. "Oh god," Violet said. She sat up and wiped her eyes on her sleeve, then did her best to straighten her coat. "There's something under the water - something massive. It's been sleeping for centuries and it's going to wake up."

York nodded sagely. "That's right," he said. "The Father of Demons. I think you understand now."

Kord held out his hand and Violet took it. She came shakily to her feet, still feeling like her limbs were made of jelly. "He brought me back to the moon," she told Kord. "Right when the invasion started and I lost everything to the Alphans." She sighed. "I think he knew what would get to me the most. It's like spies, watching me and making reports." Violet looked at the amphitheatre. It was all empty now - apart from Quentin Palisade. All the other Cliff Children had returned to the village. "But that drug, it must have had something amazingly strong in it. Besides Venusian Dreamweed."

"But you're sure you're okay?" Harvey asked.

"Fine," Violet agreed. Then she looked up and saw that Palisade was walking over. She fell silent. York turned to face the cult leader. Palisade moved to the steps above them, so he could easily look down. He smiled beneficently.

"Guests, Brother Augustine?" he asked York.

"Yes," York agreed. "I'm afraid she was not ready for the Cliff Children's way of life."

"The universe is not ready," Palisade agreed. "But it will be - very soon." Then he walked away, leaving them behind. He moved away, his hands folded inside his robes. Brother Quentin walked back into the village and the Cliff Children bowed as he past.

Bart curled up next to Violet. She scratched the cat's back, appreciating the warm. "So," Bart asked. "What now?"

"Let's go back to the Grand Coral," Violet suggested. "We've got plenty of data to research." And she needed a rest, after going back to the moon when her original life ended forever and became nothing more than a half-remembered dream. Nobody argued. Violet looked at York, but he didn't go with them. She supposed that was a good idea. They needed somebody there, to watch after Palisade and the Cliff Children. With that entity in the water, there was no telling what would happen.

It was the evening when they returned to the Grand Coral Hotel. Violet didn't say anything to her friends. Her team took the elevator down, returned to their suite and then Violet hurried to her room and locked the door. She ransacked the liquor cabinet, grabbing Martian whiskey and a tumbler. It took three drinks of the stuff to make her feel like herself and then she sat on the bed and stared at the ocean outside her window. The dark waters and the strange coral formations made her uneasy so she shut the window and stared at the blank, blonde wooden wall instead. After a while, there was a knock at the door. Violet walked over and opened it.

Kord stepped inside. He saw the bottle on her nightstand. "Drinking?" he asked.

"We did it often enough, during the War." Violet sat down on the bed. "You know how it was. Spend the day in some Martian cave, waiting out Alphan bombing runs while we sipped whiskey just like this - but worse - and waited to go out during the night. And under the stars we'd hunt them down and blow their bases to ruin and kill their soldiers with high-powered sniper rifles from miles away." She held out the bottle to Kord. "We loved it."

"You were such a little fireball," Kord said. "All the Martian scouts and the other partisans and the few Planetary Marines - we all loved you." He held out his hand and Violet took it. "You remember your former life, do you not? I do. I remember my childhood in the clans, of learning to wield a war axe and my father's dreams. I remember when he sent me away to college on earth and how proud he was of me. But more than that, I remember his death and the death of my clan at the hands of the Alphans and their traitor Martian allies."

"The memories don't go away, do they?" Violet asked.

"Wounds heal," Kord agreed. "But scars remain." He sat down next to her on the bed and squeezed her hand. "And all that we can do is be strong." Kord fell silent. Violet did too. "Harvey Zero is finished with his research," Kord finally said. "The boy works fast. Shall we go and see what he discovered?"

"Why not?" Violet agreed.

They stepped outside of her room and walked into the main chamber. Harvey sat on the floor, beside the coffee table. The personal computer was glowing in his arms, adding a ghostly green to the dark room that matched the Brain Boy's eyes. Bart sat in the corner, a glowing pearl-colored pile. Violet switched on the light and Harvey looked up at her.

"Oh, hello," Harvey said. He seemed to be trying to avoid upsetting Violet. "Well, Miss Starr, would you like to see what I've discovered." He nodded to his personal computer and then pointed to the main view screen. The boy had linked them. Now the bald gunman's face filled the screen. Violet looked at his snarl and saw the cold steel eye staring back at her.

"You've identified him?" Violet asked.

"His name is Mason," Harvey explained. "I could not locate his first name. He's a former Planetary Marine, a veteran of the Alphan War. Mason has been working as a mercenary throughout the galaxy. He's been wanted by planetary and intergalactic governments for roles in starship-hijackings, bank robberies and even a few assassinations." Harvey paused. "As a gun-for-hire, he doesn't exactly work for cheap. I doubt the Cliff Children would have the necessary funds to hire him."

"Not much money is worshipping wierdo underwater gods," Bart agreed.

Violet nodded. "Okay," she said. "So someone knows we're here and hired a merc to murder us." Sounded like business as usual for Intel Div. "What about those drugs? Did you run some anyalysis on them?"

Harvey nodded. "They are a complex chemical compound," he explained. "Venusian Dreamweed is the base but several other hallucinogens and narcotic materials compose the rest of the pill." He glanced up at Violet. "It is extremely potent and, again, expensive to manufacture." He closed his personal computer. "And someone would have to have contacts on Venus to get the Dreamweed."

"Contacts on Venus..." Violet repeated. It was ringing a bell, but she could place it. Then there was a pounding knocking on the door. Violet looked up. It must be room service or some hotel maid. "We're a little busy," Violet said. "You can come back later, if you'd like."

The door was slammed open. Mason and two of his black-suited, holoclava-masked goons stepped into the room. All of them were carrying pulse rifles. They didn't waste any time with insults or warning. They just raised their guns and started shooting. Violet grabbed Harvey's shoulder and yanked the boy to the ground. Bullets filled the air and sprayed into the suite. Graceful automatic sculptures shattered and broke. The couch ruptured and spat fluff as bullets gouged into the cushions. Violet ducked low and looked across the room. Her purse was sitting near the door, her main pistols and other weapons inside. She glanced up and saw Kord. He was pressed against the wall, holding Bart close. Kord slipped open his jacket, revealing the Martian dagger in a scabbard his belt. The two warriors exchanged a glance, they both nodded.

Kord and Violet moved together. Kord grabbed the nearest gunman, yanked out his knife and drove into the holoclava-covered face. The gunman shrank down as the blade struck through. Sparks flew from the wound. He collapsed as Kord dragged the knife down and gutted him. The merc struck the ground, circuitry spilling from the wound. He was a robot. Violet should have known. The second of Mason's goons aimed his pulse rifle at Kord and fired. Kord took the shot, straight through his shoulder. Then he punched his dagger into the gunman's throat. Smoke billowed out of the holoclava and the second robot whirred and died.

By then Violet ran to the corner and grabbed her purse. She leapt down, struck the carpeted floor and rolled under the coffee table. Mason aimed his rifle at the table and started shooting. Ornamental glass shattered. A blizzard of the pale glass flew through the air. Violet rolled to the side and popped her purse. Her silenced pistols were waiting for her - but she wanted Mason alive. She needed to make him talk. She grabbed another weapon instead, a thin cylinder of weightless black plastic with a button on the side. Violet pressed the button.

The beam blade rushed to life. A machete-sized blade of shining energy emerged from the plastic handle. Violet rolled out from under the coffee table and stood up, swinging the beam blade at Mason. His pulse rifle went down to meet her, still spitting lead. Violet hacked his gun in two and it finally fell silent. Then she pressed the blade to his throat and held it. Mason went still. He glared at her and dropped the remains of his gun.

Violet grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back. She yanked the sidearm from the holster at his side and tossed it to Kord. "Everyone okay?" she asked. "Harvey? Bart?" While she talked, she moved Mason to the far wall. Violet held him there, still keeping the beam blade at his throat. He hadn't said a damn thing.

"I'm in perfect physical health," Harvey called. "Though my n-nerves are a bit shaken."

"Staying with Miss Starr will do that to you," Bart added.

Kord walked over to Violet. He held his dagger in one hand and his ray gun in the other. "Fine," Kord said. "And feeling better, now that we have him." He ignored the wound in his shoulder, the blood flowing freely down his arm. "Who hired you?" he asked Mason.

"I'm saying nothing," Mason promised.

That was okay. Violet had some frustration she needed to get rid of anyway. She pulled back her beam blade and pressed the flat of the blade close to Mason's face. "You know how hot this beam blade gets?" she asked. "It's made with stolen Alphan technology, so it can pretty hot. A bit less than the surface of a sun, I think." She pressed it closer, holding it right next to Mason's skin. "But it'll melt that fancy metal implant you have in your eye. Think of that molten metal, rushing down your skull and burning your face from the inside out." She kept her hand on his throat. "Let let's that happen and then we'll see if you're willing to talk."

"I want immunity," Mason whispered.

"I'm not an Alliance Ranger. I'm Intel Division. We don't give immunity. You'll get a bullet in your skull if you're lucky." Violet made the threat casually. She saw Harvey wince when she spoke, but ignored it. It was for the mission.

Now Mason closed his good eye. "It was Haas," he said. "Hugo Haas. He hired me outside of Pluto, when I was working for some of the big pirates. Kept me on call in case he needed me and then, when you guys showed up, he brought me in to take you out. I tried twice, failed twice and now you're going to kill me - so at least get it over with."

Hugo Haas. The name made Violet's mind race. He knew about her team's purpose, so of course he could hire an assassin But that left one question: why? What was she in danger of uncovering that Haas was willing to kill an Intel Agent to protect? Violet glanced back and Kord and Harvey, who was crawling out from under the couch and all of a sudden, she knew.

Harvey realized it first. "Mr. Haas is backing the Cliff Children," she explained. "He has hotels on Venus - so he must have contacts to get the Dreamweed. And he has more than enough money to hire Mr. Mason and buy the other chemicals needed to synthesize those pills." Harvey came shakily to his feet and opened his personal computer. "I'm not entirely sure why. What would Mr. Haas gain from the Cliff Children's awakening of the terrible entity - this Father of Demons - that your and Mr. York mentioned?" Then Harvey glanced up. "Oh no," he said. "I'm reading some seismic activity. I think the awakening is happening a little sooner than we thought."

The ground shook. Violet stumbled to the side. Mason slipped away and tried to run - until Kord slugged him hard, slammed him against the wall and knocked him down. Violet struggled to stand as machinery groaned throughout the Grand Coral. She looked at the window. The glass was starting to crack. Spurts of water struck through the glass. It splashed on the carpet in blue streams. Violet looked out the ocean. The sea seemed hungry. It had been let off the leash and now it was coming inside. The Grand Coral was going to sink.

She thought quickly. "We've got to go the cliffs," she said, pulling a pair of electro-cuffs from her purse. She slapped them on Mason's hands. "First, we've got to warn them. Harvey, I'll need you to hack the hotel's alarm system and send out an immediate evacuation. Make it by air, if you please." She looked at the boy. His fingers were already dancing over the controls of his personal computer. "Sound possible?"

In answer, Harvey pressed another key. The alarms started to sound, a high-pitched beeping that resounded through the Grand Coral. Violet pushed Mason in front of her while Kord walked to the door. It was time for them to go as well. Kord pushed open the door, Harvey stopped to grab Bart and then they walked out into the hall.

The leaks were worse there. The water covered the floor and it was rising, coming to cover Violet's knees. She could see shapes moving in the water, flashing around them and vanishing into shadow. Violet cursed as she gripped her beam blade. "Stay close," she hissed. Then the water shattered. A tentacle emerged, whipping around and aiming straight for Kord and Mason. It was a massive tentacle, standing as tall as Violet and featuring no suckers or marks of any kind. It was dull gray, the color of stone.

Violet slashed out with her beam blade. It hacked the tentacle in pieces. Thick black blood sprayed from the tentacle and it thrashed madly about and stirred up more water. Harvey leapt out of the was the tentacle crashed down. More guests were appearing in the halls, tourist families struggling through the water in time to reach the hotel. If anyone noticed Violet's beam blade or Kord's ray gun and dagger, no one said anything. They pushed their way through the reached the packed elevator. Violet's heart was pounding. Seeing the destruction of the resort kept on bringing her back to the moon and what had happened there.

The elevator brought them to the dock. It was pure chaos on top of the hotel. Hotel workers were struggling to get everyone out. A storm was rippling through the water. Crashing waves rose and fell, battering the sides of the hotel. Yachts and luxury boats vanished in the undertow. More tentacles rose out from the water and swung wildly around. Driving rain started to fall.

Mason looked back at Violet. "What now?" he asked. "Still gonna kill me?"

"Get to an escape craft," Violet ordered. "Go back to Pluto. Give up pirating and the criminal life or I'll hunt you down and kill you." She gave him a push. Mason stumbled forward, slipped on the slick surface of the docks and then fell to his knees. He scrambled up in seconds and hurried away. Violet sighed. She probably should have killed him.

Kord pointed down the dock. His green skin was speckled with rain and his soaked sports coat hung limply on his frame. "There!" he said. "The Sting Ray waits for us!" He looked back at Violet. "You sure about this?" he asked. "Going to the eye of the storm. Dealing with whatever entity the Cliff Children have conjured up. Maybe going off world would be safer."

"Safer," Violet said. "But not the right choice. I've been helpless before, Korzon. I'm not anymore." She broke into a run. Harvey slipped after her, supported by Kord. Bart was hissing and yowling at the rain. The Chameleon Cat was drenched but Violet didn't care. She reached the Sting Ray and clambered inside. The speedboat was rising and falling with the pulsing waves. Violet managed to make it to the control panel as the others piled in. Harvey collapsed inside, still trying to hold Bart. Rain had covered his glasses.

Violet powered up the Sting Ray and spun it around. She powered it up and put every bit of energy into the engine. Then it was off, cutting straight into the waves and speeding for the cliffs. Violet tried her best to hold on. It was like riding on the back of some bucking animal while the world came apart around her. Violet knew that Aquarius IV depended on her - and all she could think about was her memories. They were boiling around her like the seething sea. She fought them down and drove on into the roaring ocean.

The cliffs had been changed by the rising sea level. The gravel beach was gone. The water had risen, consuming the stairwell and reaching up for the village too. The water was white and frothing and there were creatures in it, electric blue monstrosities that bobbed and vanished in the waves. Violet watched them as they scooted nearer. She drove the Sting Ray up to the nearest stairwell, maneuvering it close to the patch of stone not yet sunken. Water was running down the stairs, making countless trickling streams. Violet engaged the speedboat's anchor and prepared to leave - when something leapt out of the turbulent sea and tried to come aboard.

It landed on the nose of the speedboat and crept closer, moving on four thin limbs tipped with a single, scythe-shaped claws. The creature was about twice as big as a man, but thin and lanky. It matched the statue she had seen in the alcove, with the same featureless face and long, tentacles drooping down and wriggling with their own independent power. Violet snapped open her purse and reached for her pistols, but the creature was quicker. It lunged over the speedboat, claws outstretched. They would have reached her if Kord hadn't blasted it twice with his ray gun. The shots burned through the blue skin of the aquatic monstrosity, leaving smoldering yellow wounds behind. It rolled off the deck and splashed down into the rising water.

Harvey popped his head up. "Ah," he said. "That animal conforms to no known Aquarius IV species - or any other species in the galaxy." He clambered over the deck and splashed onto the partially submerged stairwell. Kord hopped out next and helped him up. "But it does match several mythological creatures from various cultures around the galaxy. All of them are demons."

"Demons," Violet muttered. "Great." She stepped onto the stairwell and peered up. The winding stairs led into the darkened cliff. Rain was coming down, forming shimmering curtains of driving water. She could see more of the demons, hiding in the crevices and alcoves. They were the children of the entity and Quentin Palisade's cult had woken them. Violet gripped her beam blade and flashed it to life, then started up the pathway.

Kord, Harvey and Bart followed her. The Brain Boy carried the cat, who was so annoyed at the water that he forgot to complain. They moved slowly, slipping on the slick steps and struggling as the stairwell twisted and turned. About halfway to the village, more demons emerged from the cliffs to welcome them. Violet watched as the demons drew closer, their clawed feet clicking on the stone and stirring up fallen water. She gripped her beam blade tightly and pulled one of the pistols from her purse. Kord drew out his own dagger.

"What's the plan?" Kord asked.

"We fight our way through," Violet suggested.

They charged together and the demons moved to meet them. Then it was up close and bloody, the kind of fight Violet and Kord had battled in Martian trenches, Venusian groves and the steel corridors of Alphan starships. Violet swung her beam blade around into the neck of a demon. The head left the body. Yellow gore sprayed from the wound. Violet's beam blade kept hacking down. Another demon lunged at her from the side, slashing its long claws against her chest. The claws bit down like hungry mouths, sucking deeply into her flesh. Blood rained down and joined the falling water. Kord reached her and blasted the demon in the face with his ray gun. Another demon pounced on him from above. Bart hissed and Harvey squeaked in panic. Violet's pistol flashed, the silencer whispering the gunshot, and the demon collapsed on the steps. They kept fighting their way up.

Then they were in the Cliff Children's village - which seemed seconds away from falling into the sea. The crude stone houses had collapsed in the downpour. The generators were gone. Demons leapt above the ruins. The bodies of the Cliff Children lay in the soggy wreckage. The demons were cutting them with claws or ripping them apart with tentacles. Harvey turned away and closed his eyes from the carnage. The rain covered his face, so Violet couldn't tell if he was crying or not. She heard a few gunshots coming from the direction of the amphitheatre and broke into the run. The demons followed.

The few survivors were there, clustered together in the center of the stone arena. York was with them, wielding a steaming plasma cannon. He brought it to his shoulder and fired, casting volleys of gleaming plasma into the ranks of the demons. The shots steamed in the rain. Quentin Palisade was there as well and so was Hugo Haas. York spotted Violet and waved to her as they pounded down the slick steps of the amphitheatre.

"Good day there, Violet!" York said cheerfully. "Nice of you to join us. You know Mr. Haas, I take it." He looked at Haas. The intergalactic hotelier looked sick as he watched the demons. "Apparently, he was behind this whole mess. Of course, he didn't think this would happen. He just wanted the demons to wipe out all the other hotels on Aquarius IV. Monopolize the business and all. Quite the brilliant scheme, really." York nodded to the demons, now massing on the edge of the amphitheatre. "Pity how it all worked out."

Violet glared at Haas. "And you tried to kill us."

"This wasn't supposed to happen!" Haas turned to Palisade. "Brother Quentin, how come you are not controlling them? You promised me that you could control them, to make them attack only the targets that we specified!" Quentin was staring ahead blankly. "Goddamn it!" Haas roared. "Are you even listening to me?"

"There is no controlling them," Palisade muttered. His eyes were rolling back and his hands were outstretched. "They will be unleashed on the galaxy. They will spread from planet to planet like a plague and wipe them all clean. The Father will be made full." Then he grabbed Haas' arm. "Come," he urged. "Let us feed them." Then Palisade ran straight for the demons, dragging Haas with him. Haas screamed and struggled, but he was still carried along. They ran into the demons. They didn't run out again and then their blood mixed with the rainwater on the stones.

Violet shuddered. The blue demons were massing and there were more emerging from the stones with each passing second. She looked at York. "There has to be a way to stop them," she explained. "Some gambit or strategy. An off switch to send that Entity back to sleep. You were with these whackos for months. What do you got?"

York reached into his pocket. He withdrew another pill. "Someone strong takes this and deals with the Father on his own terms. Then they put their mind against his and send him to sleep for another couple millennia." He gripped as he held out the pill to Violet. "And hopefully don't wake up catatonic or completely insane."

"Why not you?" Violet asked. She took the pill. "You know this stuff better than I."

"Because, my dear, I am a coward," York explained. "I was with these whackos for months and did nothing to stop them." There was sadness in his smile. "And I've been an Intel Agent for even longer and always hated the work. I am a coward - but you are not."

"Miss Star..." Harvey said suddenly. "You shouldn't take that pill, if you don't want to. I know it really freaked you out last time and left you in a state of distress." He reached out and took her hand. Violet clasped his. It was very cold. "Please," Harvey said. "Don't hurt yourself."

But Violet still rested the pill on her tongue. She looked up, into the rain, and swallowed. "It's okay, Harvey," Violet said. "I've been hurt before." Then she sank down and struck the stone. Harvey tried his best to catch her. Violet heard shots around her and saw the blazing blasts from Kord's ray guns as the demons charged. She could only hope that they'd hold out. Her mind slipped away from her body, like a foot leaving a shoe. She moved upwards, into the storm sky. Violet floated through the clouds and weaved around lightning. Then, the dark clouds were darker waters and she was thousands of miles below the surface of the ocean.

She was in the dark place again. She sped down, straight for the entity - the Father. It was waiting for her, lurking in the dark. It still stretched out, dark as the water and amorphous. But now it was flared with angry red veins and long tentacles were stretching out and reaching for the surface. Violet looked down at the entity and it looked back. Time seemed to slow. Violet knew that it would send her back to the moon when the Alphans came. It would bring her back to the moment her life was shattered forever.

She didn't care. Violet stared right back.

The entity was confused. It knew her fears and she did not weaken. Why?

"Because," Violet said, though she could not tell if the entity heard. "I am stronger than my fears. I have blasted them to atoms, a thousand times. And though my life is changed now and my friends are called murderers, monsters and oddities, I have been made stronger than what I was. I wouldn't change who I am- even if I could. The past holds no more terrors for me."

That was enough. The darkness recoiled. Violet gasped and sucked in air and suddenly she could feel the rain on her face - and something else. It was blood, creeping out of her nose. Violet rubbed her palm against her face and sat up. Kord, Harvey and Bart were around her. The cat curled up next to her and Violet patted its back. She felt a slight warmth on her face and realized that it was the sun.

Bart looked at her, his fur turning a peaceful blue. "You're okay?" he asked, with none of his usual jocularity. Violet looked past him. The demons were creeping back into the darkness. The rain had stopped. Once more, the entity was asleep. "Apart from the nosebleed, I mean."

"Splitting headache," Violet explained. "But I suppose I am." She stared up at York. "How is that possible? The entity's mind was so advanced and it was so ancient. How did I make it go back to sleep by just a single thought?"

"It's a psychic beast," York explained. "It devours those thoughts - but yours was poisoned." He laughed to himself. "We slipped the beast a psychic mickey, you might say. Sorry for not filling you in on the gory details, but you might have resisted." Then he pointed a finger at the sky. "Looks like we have some company."

Sure enough, the forms of Alliance gunships were hovering in the sky. They had doubtlessly been dispatched the moment the storms started. Violet watched as they settled down, their engines humming over the now gentle crash of waters. Aquarius IV had been changed forever. The cliffs had been submerged. She wondered how many hotels had collapsed and vanished for good under the waves. Hopefully, evacuations had saved most of the tourist and staff's lives. Violet didn't want to think about it. They were just more deaths, caused by greed and fanaticism. The universe was full of those already.

"You should go," she told York. "Stay rogue. Don't let them catch you."

"You have my thanks," York said. He nodded to them all. "Once again, you're braver than me." Then he turned away and slipped back into the stones, moving past the battered shacks and into the caves. He must have had an escape route planned.

Kord and Harvey helped Violet to the amphitheatre. She sat down and Bart jumped into her lap and curled up. Above them, the sun continued to rise and turn Aquarius IV's waters golden. The gunships began to descend. Violet wiped the blood and rain from her face. She stared at Harvey, Kord and Bart. They were her family now and she could do for them what she couldn't do on the lunar resort when the Alphans came. They sat together and let the sun's warmth dry the rain water from their clothes. They watched the sunrise together.

-The End-