2009.02.15 "What happens next?"

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"What happens next?"

I shrug. It is an unpleasant gesture, as it mostly just makes the large quills on my shoulders bristle in a way that most other beings don't like, but the fundamental meaning of the body language is still in there somewhere. "I don't know."

The human looks down, and takes a few deep breaths. "You can't let me live, can you?"

I cock my pointy head to one side and squint at him with my pinkish-red eyes. I find my talons clenching involuntarily, and force myself to relax them. This human has had a long history of asking awkward questions, and I've respected him for that.

"Are you going to kill me?"

He was looking at me now, with a hard look. The look of a seasoned professional. I owe him an answer, one seasoned professional to another. "Actually, I was hoping to be spared that particular task." And he knows me well enough to recognize how rarely I use words like 'hope'.

"So, you mean that you think you're going to die too?"

"Certainly seems possible."

"Is that my fault?"

I wince. Another one of those awkward questions. Yes, dammit, human; it is your fault that your mind was so easily read by the zarking mentalists. That they've tracked me down again. But not really your fault that you happened to see glimpses of my true self during our difficult times together. The fact that I don't blame you is impossible to parse from the fact that you have been used against me.

"Why did you save me back on Fourteen? Remember Fourteen? It's stuck in my head, now. I know that I had already seen too much by then, and that the mentalists were getting close, and that you knew what it all meant to you. I even teased you about what a risk it was for you to save me - and I didn't even zarking know then about how you actually needed to dispose of me. Why, Massetin? You're too zarking smart for that. What am I missing?"

I'm getting angry, which actually makes me more focussed and deliberate. A handy trait in a bio-engineered warrior species. "We've been partners too long, human. You've been seeing me more as a spikey ugly human than as a Massetin. I might be calmer than most of my kind, but battle lusts and pack loyalty still tend to override my reasoning."

He cracks a smile. The bastard. How can you not like a miserable being like this, facing doom, betrayed by his partner and friend, and still seeing humour in it. He's a better person than I am.

"So, you made a mistake?"

I nod.

"A tactical mistake?"

"Indeed."

"Even worse than I taunted you about afterward?"

"Much."

"Good."

From somewhere on the other side of the bulkhead, there is a screaming of deforming metal and a resonating release of suddenly-yielding material. Neither of us is smiling any more. Inside our heads grows an insistent whispering chant with many voices, "KILL KILL KILL".

The human looks at me, with more of his old resolve. "So, what did you say these things are?" I'm glad he didn't ask how they found us. That would have been annoying at this point.

"Not of this universe."

"And why do they want you?"

"The same reason why they wanted you - to get to someone else, because of something I saw once."

He re-checks his weapon. "Figure they'll kill me for you?"

"Yes. They don't let any witnesses survive."

"Well, they'll have to do it the hard way. I wonder how many of them it would take?"

I give him my most-honest look. "I'll be forever indebted to you if you manage to kill even one of them for me."