Chapter 30

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Locusts buzzing in her ear, so loud.

Burning and buzzing and burning. Gaea was afraid.

To Black's amazement, the effort was working. The thousands of lasers firing on the thing all at once began to beat it back. It flinched and fled, disappeared into the darkness. Coward.

Black barely noticed when the front line simply evaporated. He was light-headed with the sheer unexpectedness of this victory, staring at the screen as it showed him the cloud retreating into camouflage. Then twenty cruisers were gone.

They didn't spectacularly explode, or even break apart into a pleasing shower of metal parts. They were wholly consumed. Then, as the light of the weapons array coursed and flared, he saw it.

It was a whip, thousands of kilometers long, almost perfectly black. He watched as it drew back, and lashed in a leviathan arc, down onto the center of the fleet. Everything it touched dissolved to become part of it, making it larger, more powerful.

He ordered the fleet to fire on the object.

Obediently, the ships responded. In an instant, the barrage focused on the flailing whip, illuminating it from all sides. It's stealth, at least, had been compromised. When it came down again, most of the ships in its path managed to dodge it, flaring their engines momentarily to slip past the rushing shape, and only a few were lost.

Black allowed himself a chuckle.

Lash, fight, put out the fire, put it out.

Burning, why, why, she only wanted the green, the beauty, why red red red.

Locusts swarming, rushing to kill the fire. Black was better than red. Nothing but pain.

Fire fire fire, no no, please no more. Red, red, angry red.

Angry, flaring red anger.

Put it out, put it out.

The blue cloud rushed forward again. Maybe a desperate last stand? Who knew, just keep the fire on that whip.

Suddenly, the screens and data streams flickered before him. The dim interior of Roma Shipyard flashed into the brilliance of the afternoon sun. The smell of pine trees filled the air. There was grass and loose gravel under his boots.

Black looked up from the trail and at the imposing bulk of the Alps. They were beautiful today, grey, shining things frosted with snow. The air down in the valley was warm, and there was a slight breeze ruffling his hair.

He walked with someone else, though he was unable to turn his head and look at who it was. The crunch of boots on gravel came in harmonious sets of two, accompanying the buzzing of insects and the occasional chirp of a bird. He and his partner stopped on the top of one of foothills and beheld the spread of the Swiss valley below them. Trees marched down the mountain slopes, vibrant in the setting sun. The shadow of the Alps was beginning to slide peacefully down to embrace the valley. A thin ribbon of white rapids course its tumultuous way down between the stony giants, with a few tiny settlements like pearls on a string.

Finally, he turned toward his partner. It was a woman, but her face was obscured behind a veil of lost memory. It didn't faze him; he felt his heart swell and smiled. Together they sat, bathing in the beauty of the scenery before them.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Black spotted a streak of light burning through the crystalline sky. It was bearing down from the northeast, out of the darkening clouds. Elegantly, it dipped down and disappeared behind the jagged peaks. He wasn't sure what it was, and was soon able to forget about it.

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