Jasmine let out a scream of anguish as she saw Ratchet crumpled on the ground. Still numb with shock, she turned to the portal, gripping her wrench tightly as the shooter stepped out, shreds of the strange energy clinging to him.
"Hey there, hot stuff. Sorry 'bout Goldy there. Itchy trigger finger, you know!"
The word she spat was unfamiliar to the listeners, with the exception of the Zenithi, a number of whom had spent some time of Fastoon before Tachyon's attack. One quickly covered Shona's ears with her wings.
"Easy there, sweet heart." said Fenris. "Words hurt, you know…"
Ignoring the drama, Clank and Mia hurried to Ratchets side. He was pale under his fur, breath coming in shallow gasps as he struggled for air. One hand clutched a nasty wound on his chest. Mia was quite good at healing and first aid, and she could clearly see he was losing a lot of blood….
Jasmine snarled at Fenris. Rage, fear and grief filled her. Instinct called for the Bonding to be sealed with a kiss, but instinct had been denied, and now her bond mate lay wounded. She swore there would be pain for this…
"Why did you do this? Where is the Guard? What have you done to them?"
"You know, usually the person with the gun asks the questions, but there really isn't anything I want to ask you. The Guards are, lets say, otherwise occupied. And why do you think I'd tell you my reasons? A little foolish, don't you think?"
Jasmine began slowly untwisting her wrench blades. It was imperative she keep him distracted long enough to take him off balance…
"Because I know you, Fenris. You have an ego the size of a planet! You're just itching to tell someone your clever plan. You're the type who likes to gloat."
"How well you know me, sweet cheeks. And you know why I did this? Power. I've spent too long being passed over. I'm still stuck as a stinkin' Lieutenant! I should be General by now! So if they won't give me power, I'll just have to take it. Ruler is quite a step up from General, don't you agree?"
"You know the Lombaxes are ruled by a council! The Elders would never allow this!"
"Really? There's a pneumonia epidemic right now. A lot of kids are really, really ill. The Council will agree to just about anything if there's the possibility of getting them back to Fastoon where they can recover."
"No, just ambitious. But none of this would have been possible without help. Remember that failed transporter Ginger built? The lady who found it was only too happy to help me with my plans. I told her the crystal locations and you're movements. I told her where to find Ishkhan nests and at what times the prison had the fewest guards. In return, she advised me, gave me tips on the best way to achieve my goal. I sabotaged the jump gate. I was just as keen to return as anyone else, but I knew they could fix it, and I also knew that keeping them scared and nervous would work to my benefit. And I was right! They were so twitchy, so focused on that gate, they were taken completely by surprise. And when I rule the Lombaxes, none of this 'goody two shoes" bull crap. Might is right, Jasmine! The weak will die, the strong will live. That's how it should go. And when we are strong enough, the Galaxy will be brought to its knees. You thought the Cragmites were harsh? Wait till you see the Lombax Empire! And why stop at Polaris? There are others! Bogon! Solana! Andromea! The Milky Way! All will fall to me! Emperor Fenris, ruler of the universe!"
He laughed insanely, and Jasmine crouched low in readiness to spring. She hissed orders quietly to the others.
"Shona, stay back. This could get dangerous. Mia, you and your crew take care of Ratchet. Clank, go through the portal and find the Guard. Fenris is tough. I need back up."
"But, Ratchet-" Clank began.
He disappeared into the portal. Jasmine drew her blades.
"But before that, Fenris, you have to go through me…"
Ginger had done her work well. The portal only gave Clank the faintest of tingles as he burst through, it's pearly, smoky substance curling around him like mist. He dropped to a crouch once he was clear, hands raised in case he encountered trouble. Often people assumed that because he spent much of his time as a backpack he was helpless.
He had stepped into a deserted laboratory. The first thing he noticed after the darkness was the cold. If he was organic, he would have been shivering. He could see signs of a hurried flight. Instruments were knocked over, computer screens still glowed, lines of code half finished. He cautiously moved forward…And fell flat on his face.
He looked around. He had tripped over a body. A thin, pale Lombax was lying on the floor, neck at a crazy angle as his unseeing eyes gazed up at the ceiling. A metal brace encased one twisted leg.
Clank sighed and respectfully closed the Lombaxes eyes.
Clanks head shot up as he heard the scared, female voice.
"Please, don't hurt me!"
He moved towards it.
"It is alright. I am a friend. I will not hurt you."
He peered around a desk. Encased in an energy net, a Lombax was struggling to rise. Her flame red fur and worn overalls were smeared with grease. She was clearly an engineer of some sort. By the way she was squinting, her eye sight was very poor.
"Where are you?"
"I am right here." He began working on the energy net, trying to find its shutoff frequency.
"H-he broke my glasses. I can't see you."
The net disappeared. Clank helped her to her feet.
"My name is Clank. Pleased to meet you. And you are?"
"Ginger. Head engineer of the Praetorian Guard. How did you get here?"
"I came through the portal."
"The portal- It worked!" Her face fell. "But it's all gone wrong! Fenris betrayed us!"
"It started half an hour ago. We were running a last minute diagnostic on the Jump Gate when the Ishkhan alarm sounded. They get inside sometimes. Standard procedure when the alarm sounds is to run to the shelter and send the code to the Ishkhan doors. They're big hunks of steel that slam down in the corridor and trap it. After that you can gas it safely. Its the only way to kill them without risking your life. This room is on the other side of the doors, so me and Bryant stayed. It was a delicate part of the diagnostic, we couldn't leave it. The others had just left when we heard the doors go down. Someone had set them off early. Most of the Guard are trapped, and the ones that aren't can't get to us. Each door is three feet thick!. We thought it was a malfunction, so we were trying to fix it when Fenris walked in. I thought he was going to help, but he pulled out a gun and ordered us to leave. Bryant, he…he got really mad. I've never seen that guy even get peeved, he was really shy, but he charged Fenris and Fenris…he…" She put a hand to her mouth and choked back sobs. "Fenris hit him. Hard. Bryant….hit the wall and…there was a…crack…" She covered her face and wept. "I can't hear him breathing. He's dead, isn't he?"
Clank nodded sadly.
"I am sorry…"
"I saw Bryant go down and tried to attack Fenris. My glasses came off in the fight and I couldn't see. He threw the energy net over me. There was nothing I could do…I had to lie there and listen to him gloat until the portal opened." She gasped. "Jasmine! Oh God, what's he done to her?"
"Jasmine is alright. However, my friend is not. Fenris hurt him. I must free the Guard."
She blinked muzzily at him. All she could see was a silver blur.
"I think the release switch is on the other side of the Ishkhan doors, I'm afraid." She looked thoughtful. "However…there are ventilation ducts. You might be able to fit through them. If you have some form of comm link, I can give you the instructions when you get there. It's vital you press the right button. If you get it wrong you could wind up gassing them instead. I can take you to the first duct. It won't be quick. I'm practically blind without my glasses."
"Lead the way."
Fenris holstered his gun, unclipping his wrench from his back. It was a standard Praetorian Omni-wrench, long and lethal. He gave a mocking bow.
Jasmine needed no further encouragement. Screaming like a banshee, she charged, head down, blades spinning. Fenris stepped aside neatly. Jasmine skidded to a halt as her attempt to charge direction at high speed nearly sent her head over heels. Fenris laughed.
"I've been in the Guard for longer than you have, Missy. I can't think of anyone who could outfight me, save for the General, and he ain't here right now, is he-ARGH!"
Shona had had enough. She had spent most of her short life in a cage, had endured torturous experiments, had seen things young eyes shouldn't. Then help had arrived, and she had found herself living in paradise, with a friend, and people she could trust. She regarded Jasmine and Ratchet with something approaching hero worship, and now the bad man had hurt Ratchet, and was about to hurt Jasmine. She had launched herself at Fenris, genetically modified claws and teeth sinking deep into his leg.
Fenris roared in pain, leg jerking spasmodically, sending her sprawling. He snarled and raised his wrench.
"You can't." said Jasmine. "No Lombax could harm a cub. It's against instinct. You're a terrible person, but you're still a Lombax."
Fenris looked at the child's angry face, and lowered his wrench.
"You're right." He took something out of his belt. "I can keep her out of the way, though."
Just as Shona leapt for his face, the small dome generator hit her dead centre, sending her backwards to the ground, pinned under a small dome of shimmering air. She hammered at it with her little fists, desperately attempting to escape.
"See?" he said smugly, ignoring the tiny squeaks of a Lombax cub in distress.
Jasmine bared her fangs.
"What kind of Guard are you? Don't you remember the oath you took?"
"Hah! It's just a bunch of words. Who cares about that any more?"
"I do." She took a step towards him. "I'll admit it. I'm not the best Guard. I should have hit Sergeant by now, and I'm still a corporal. But I don't care. Because I took an oath! To protect the weak, to free the oppressed, to act with honour, and integrity, to never shrink from a fight, and to never allow evil to go unpunished. I may not be professional, but I am a Guard! And I have lived by those words, every day of my life!"
Ignoring the stand off, Mia looked down at Ratchet's pale face. His eyes were closed, eyelids fluttering as he fought for life. She assessed his wounds, nodded to herself, took a run up, flapped her wings and vanished. She reappeared on Elysium, wings still whirring. She sank her teeth into a curtain of moss dangling from a branch, ripped off a hunk, and teleported back to Fastoon. The moss was a special variety, famed for its healing qualities. With any luck, it would slow the bleeding. Mia gently draped it over his chest, and he moaned. His breathing was slowing even as she watched.
She leaned down and whispered in his ear.
"Hold on, Ratchet. You've come too far to give in now. Jasmine needs you. If you die, she will be unable to win, and all is lost. Hold on for Jasmine, Ratchet. Hold on."
Only Mia heard the whisper, soft as a breeze.
His heartbeat strengthened. Mia sighed with relief, only to have the relief drained away as she saw his chest. The juices in the moss were working, his bleeding was slowing, but it wasn't slowing fast enough. The moss was already stained red. It needed pressure. She fluttered up onto his chest, placing all her weight on his injury and wishing Zenithi were heavier. She was barely making an impression…
Jasmine hissed at Fenris, fighting a rising tide of grief and panic. It wasn't called bonding for nothing. She could feel Ratchet's life slowly draining away. A burning desire filled her, the desire to make Fenris pay, to punch that grinning face and go on punching long after punching was no longer necessary…
She leaped without warning, screaming a battle cry. Her blades slashed across his chest, but his armour was in better condition. There was a loud clang as her blade was turned aside. She had gotten too close. Sparks flared in her vision as his fist smashed into her jaw. She staggered back, panting and spitting blood as she sank down to her knees…and sprung up, and hit him dead centre, bearing him down to the ground, struggling to land as many blows with the butt end of her wrench as possible. Fenris countered with a blow to her midriff, nearly breaking a rib. She ignored the pain, sinking her teeth into the spot where his neck joined his shoulder. He roared in agony and flung her off with all his strength. She flew through the air, performed a graceful hand spring as she neared the ground, charged, and went into a skid, knocking his feet out from under him. With no armour, Jasmine had the advantage for quicker movement, but Fenris was older, and stronger. He had trained for longer. She was good. He was better. In one swift move he jumped to his feet and punched her in the stomach. Hard.
The air was forced out of her body in a rush, and she bent double, fighting for breath. Through the red fog of pain, she saw Fenris approaching.
"Dearie dearie me. And here's me thinking you'd be an interesting fight. That was easy. Now, just what am I going to do with you?"
"That can't be right."
In the cavern beneath the temple, the well of pure reality shone with a light that wasn't natural.The Zenithi in charge for today, a big silver female named Raura, shook her sleek head as she gazed down into it. No one had ever seen anything like this. It wavered, flashing between pure black, pure light, and balanced. The line of crystals on the rim that displayed the current status of the Balance flashed from normal green to warning red and back. No one fancied going inside the Balance to find out why. The sheer amount of energy crackling around prevented this. It would be fatal. Raura felt a nudge. A young Zenithi looked up at her, worry stamped on it's face. By the fluff still poking out between its scales, it was about 15. Zenithi started young.
"What's happening, Raura?"
"There's only one explanation. There's a wild card out there. Something has occurred that's thrown the Balance off kilter."
"So why is it flashing like that?"
Raura gazed into the well and knew instinctively.
"History is flapping loose. Two possible paths are formed, but there is no telling which one it will take. The constant shifting is putting a stress on the Balance. It's weakened enough as it is, we don't need this!"
"What do we do?"
She waved her head from side to side slowly, a sign of a worried Zenithi in deep thought.
She looked at the equipment, years of experience coming to her aid. She could read them like a book now. Raura noted the direction of the imbalance and began snapping out orders.
"Go and get me Angela! I want a Lombax for this! This is happening on Fastoon!"
"But, this cavern is secret…" one began.
"Did I say I want an argument? Do I look like I want an argument? No! Go now! Hurry!"
A Zenithi nodded and disappeared, soon reappearing, dragging a confused Angela with it. To her credit, she recovered from the shock of seeing the crackling well quite quickly. Lombaxes are an adaptable race. Barely a year after the arrival in the Lombax Dimension, they had 10 different words for snow. (All of them, regrettably, unrepeatable.) She took it in her stride, nodding at Raura.
"The Balance is off kilter. Something has gone wrong on Fastoon. We need to find out why. Were you born there? We need someone who knows their way around it well, and if there is a problem, we will need someone who can fight."
Angela's face darkened.
"Oh yes. I remember Fastoon well. If someone's betrayed the Lombaxes, well…" She bared her teeth. "They'll soon regret it. Get me a weapon and someone to teleport me over there! I'll sort this out or die trying!"
"Feeka, get a gun from the storeroom. Chyran, you're taking her to Fastoon."
Feeka appeared carrying a blaster. Angela took it and held up an arm for Chyran to perch on.
"Good luck." Raura said quietly.
Angela nodded grimly, and disappeared.
"Be careful, there is a fallen chair in front of-"
"Watch out for that cupboard-"
"Argh! My head!"
Clank sighed. Ginger hadn't been exaggerating when she said she was nearly blind. She had managed to hit nearly every obstacle on the way there. But they had made it. In front of them, a wall of steel blocked the corridor. His sensors picked up muffled sounds behind it.
"Where is the vent?"
"It's near the ceiling, I think."
Clank looked up, scanning the wall carefully. He spotted it, quite high up.
"I can see it, but you will have to lift me up. I will guide you to where it is."
Ginger lifted him up.
"Alright, left…left…too far, right a little…there!"
Clanks laser took care of the grill. It hit the floor with a clang, and he slipped inside.
"Are you able to contact my comm link?" Ginger asked.
"Great. Good luck."
Clank set off through the ventilation shaft. It was a veritable maze, twisting, turning and doubling back. He was on the right track, though. The faint sounds of the trapped Guards were slowly growing louder. He rounded a corner…
And groaned. A grill blocked him. He shook it. It rattled but held. He could see a vent on his side, and one on the the other side of the grill. He peered through the vent, and smiled as he saw exactly what he wanted to see.
General Cross hammered desperately on one of the Ishkhan doors. His arms burned with exertion, and his voice was hoarse with yelling, but he still hoped against hope someone could hear them. A large portion of the Guard, and most of the Project workers, milled around aimlessly in the space between the Ishkhan doors, shock stamped on their features. A few wept openly. General Cross exchanged a glance with Councillor Silk, who was sitting slumped against the wall. She sighed, and turned away, eyes dull.
Black despair welled up inside the General. After all this time, all the hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears, they had been betrayed. His fists clenched. And by one of their own, no less! Now they were trapped, with no one coming to help them…
All eyes turned to the voice coming from the ventilation duct. It was polite and friendly, with the faint edge that identified it as a robot.
"Who's there?" the General called up.
"A friend. One moment…"
The vent shook as something hammered at it. Then the cover flew off, and a small, silver robot tumbled to the ground. It picked itself up and brushed itself off, looking up at them with large green eyes.
"Am I by any chance addressing General Cross?"
The Lombax nodded.
"You are. And may I ask who you are?"
"I am Clank. I came through the portal to aid you. Fenris has attacked my friends and-"
The rest of his sentence was drowned out as an excited chattering filled the room. Councillor Silk sprang to her feet and hauled Clank up to eye level.
"The portal worked? It's open?"
Clank saw the desperate look in her eyes and nodded.
"It worked perfectly, madam."
he lowered him gently, staring off into the distance.
"But it is useless if you are trapped in here! Fenris has plans! Terrible plans! I can release you if one of you would be kind enough to help me into that vent over there."
Grinning like a cub, Councillor Silk scooped him up with one hand, ripped the vent cover off with the other, and posted him inside.
"Good luck, Clank. You're our last hope…"
It was a relatively short trip this time around, and he quickly located the vent he needed to go through. He dropped down into a room lined with computer monitors. Muffled thuds could be heard coming from the other side of a door. Fenris had clearly made sure no one else would interfere. The door had been electronically locked with a secure code. The rest of the Guard were going nowhere.
Clank activated his comm link.
"I am through. Where do I go from here?"
"Do you see the big terminal on the left wall? The one facing the window?" Ginger responded.
"Yes, I am in front of it right now. What next?"
"The password is 37598. You can't do anything until that's keyed in."
"OK, now this is vital. You must press, and only press, the small blue button third from the end at the top right of the keyboard. Anything else, and the Guard is dead."
"OK, here goes…"
There was a shimmer of air as Angela arrived on Fastoon. She winced at the devastation. Last time she had seen it, it had been a thriving Metropolis. She had been five years old when she had last set eyes on Fastoon. She had a pen pal in the Bogon Galaxy. The two had been good friends. When her pen pal had invited her to a sleep over, she had spent all week begging her father. He had been unwilling. Bogon was a long way away. But he had eventually crumbled in the face of her persistence, and had relented. She had spent a happy weekend in the Bogon Galaxy with her friend, before her father was due to pick her up.
He never arrived.
Concerned, her friends father had travelled to Polaris to find out why. He returned pale as milk, reporting an empty and broken planet. It had been the single worst moment of her life. With no place else to go, her pen pals family had adopted her. Her friend became her sister. She had recovered, and adapted to her new home, but the loss of her people had left a scar that bled anew as she beheld the shattered city.
She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts, and went to move off, falling flat on her face instead. She took a moment to curse her lack of tail and continued, trekking over the city.
Chyran nudged her suddenly.
The sound of combat drifted over the city.
"It's coming from the Court!"
Angela primed her blaster.
Jasmine staggered to her feet, growling. Her rage was slowly draining away, replaced by fear. And something else. As Ratchet's life slowly drained away, she could feel herself growing weaker. She could even feel his wound, a phantom pain in her chest. She forced herself to take a step towards Fenris.
"It's not over, Fenris! As long as I can stand, I will fight you!"
The smile slipped off his face.
"This isn't fun any more. Now, you're just annoying…"
Jasmine charged, and he swung his wrench. Her face went white. Mia winced as the crack of bone echoed through the hall, and Jasmine collapsed, clutching her leg and moaning. She gritted her teeth against the pain and began dragging herself towards Fenris, still doggedly attempting to stop him. He laughed at her feeble efforts.
"Face it, Honey, you've lost. I could kill you, but then, if you're dead, how would you know you've lost? I want you to know you failed for the rest of your life." He looked thoughtfully at Ratchet. "And I know just the way to do that." He cocked his gun. "It'd be a kindness, really. He's nearly dead anyway."
"NO!" Jasmine cried. He ignored her, and began walking towards Ratchet. Mia glared up at the rogue Guardsman.
It was hard to believe such a delicate creature could make a noise like that. It was harsh, and loud, and piercing. It was rage and anger given voice. And it was a command. The Zenithi attacked. Fenris found himself covered by scaly bodies, teleporting out of range as he swung at them, before returning to the attack. Still watching over Ratchet, Mia continued to caw out orders.
A lucky grab from Fenris saw a pearly white male grabbed by his tail and hauled, wriggling, into the air. Fenris snarled in triumph and swung his wrench, but he hadn't realised one important fact:
They may be smart. They may be gifted. But at the end of the day, a Zenithi is only a lizard.
The tail came off in his hand.
As he stared in shock at the still twitching appendage, the Zenithi it had belonged to grabbed his wrist in his talons, swung his head up and tore savagely at his upper arm. The wrench slipped from his fingers as he clutched at his bleeding wound and swore.
Mia called softly, and one of the Zenithi teleported over to her.
"You watch Ratchet. I'm going in."
She slunk towards the struggling Lombax, noting with relief that none of the Zenithi had died yet. From what she had seen, Fenris was deadly. But there was a nerve point in the ear. If she could hit it, it would all be over…
She crouched, tensed, leaped…
And Fenris saw her out of the corner of his eye. As she jumped, wings whirring, he turned and batted her aside. She landed in a heap, one wing broken. The rest of the Zenithi howled in shock, leaving off the attack as they hurried to their leaders aid. Fenris sneered, and loomed over Ratchet. The Zenithi guarding him hissed weakly up at him.
"You think a bunch of flying lizards is gonna stop me? Hah! Sorry, Jasmine, but as the saying goes, survival of the fittest…"
The sound of fighting grew louder as Angela approached at a sprint. She heard screams, thuds, the harsh, unearthly shriek of an angry Zenithi, and quickened her pace…
Fenris pointed the gun between Ratchets eyes. Slowly, with great effort, the wounded Lombaxes eyelids flickered open. He looked at the merciless smile and cold eyes, and closed his eyes with a sigh.
"Say goodbye to your boy friend, Jasmine…"
Mia raised her head weakly.
"Shona, cover your eyes! I don't want you to see this…"
The young Lombax buried her face in her hands as Fenris tightened his finger on the trigger…
What happened next was so fast Jasmine could only recall it in hind sight. There was the thud of feet as Angela reached the hall, her cry of despair as clumsy feet tripped over the lintel, and the flash of reflected light off the blaster flying from her hand. It tumbled end over end in seeming slow motion, the whole world seeming to grind to a halt…
Then it connected solidly with the side of Fenris's skull, and time came flowing back.
Fenris blinked, gun slipping from his fingers and firing harmlessly at the ceiling. For a moment, he staggered, then his eyes rolled up in his head and he toppled over.
The Balance clicked into place.
For the first time, light and dark spun in perfect equilibrium, untainted by Kaos and anchored safely. The change was felt by everyone, the ripples spreading across the multiverse. Everywhere, various races paused in their activities and something righted in their souls that they hadn't even known was wonky (And on a space train bound for Zanifar, a pale Lombax hiding in the cargo hold lifted her head to the stars and smiled).
There was stillness in the Court as the moment of perfect Balance caught them off-guard…
And General Cross burst through the portal, Clank and the Guard at his heels.
"Freeze! Don't move, Fenris! I-"
He took in the scene, and smiled grimly at the slumped Fenris.
"Well done, Jasmine! You-Jasmine?"
She had crawled over to where Ratchet lay, and was weeping softly, supporting herself on one elbow as she gently stoked his cheek. Clank hurried over to his friends side and gently supported his head. The General turned to one of the Guards that had come through, who was attempting to pry a rescued Shona off his legs.
"Get me Doc McAngus. That fellow doesn't look good."
He walked over to Jasmine and helped her up, lending her his wrench as a crutch.
"Well done, Corporal. You've made me proud! Saving the Lombaxes and stopping Fenris-!"
There was a meek cough behind him.
"Actually, sir, that was me who stopped Fenris."
He turned, and froze. For a long moment, the two Lombaxes stared at each other in shock.
"Angela! It is you!"
He swept her up in a strong embrace.
"I thought you were dead!"
"I thought you were dead!"
"All these years…"
"You've grown so tall! Look at you!"
A gentle cough behind him reluctantly dragged the General back to the present.
The dark brown Lombax unclipped his large first aid kit. He was short, and neat, moustache immaculately trimmed. Doctor McAngus was widely considered one of the best doctors the Praetorian Guard had ever seen. He was from the high mountains of Fastoon, and still spoke with the thick, mountain accent.
"Ye wanted tae see me, General?"
General Cross nodded, and led him over to where Ratchet lay, barely breathing. Clank looked up at the doctor, eyes dull with worry, Ratchets head in his lap. Doc McAngus hissed through his teeth as he examined Ratchet.
"Ooh, ah dinnae think ah can save him, General. The puir wee laddies on his way oot, a'm afraid-Urk!"
A strong hand grabbed his collar and jerked him forward. He found himself staring into a blazing pair of purple eyes.
"I'd like a second opinion, Doc."
"Whut ah meant to say was-" he said quickly.
"Ah'll see whut ah can do."
He bent down and began working on Ratchet.
"Ah may be able t' save him, General, but whut the laddie really needs is a hospital. Ah just wish there was one we could still use…"
"There is, sir."
All eyes turned to the soft, pleasant voice. The General found himself looking into the large yellow eyes of a small…creature, a strange amalgam of bird and lizard, covered in tiny, coral rose scales. One feathered wing dangled at a crazy angle.
"Fastoon hospital sustained only light damage during the initial attack. Many rooms should still be functional."
Doc McAngus nodded, still striving to pull Ratchet from deaths doorway.
"Great. Send me some stretcher carriers. I willnae let this laddie die!"
"Yes." said the General, looking at Jasmine. "Do everything you can for him."
He had never seen her like this. Jasmine had always seemed larger than life, now she looked smaller, ears drooping and eyes downcast. He read everything he needed to know from her expression.
"You'd bonded with him, hadn't you?"
She nodded. General Cross sighed.
"I truly am sorry you had to go through this. I should have seen what Fenris had in mind."
"It's OK, General." she said, voice dull.
"Come and sit down." he said kindly. "Let's get some nano-tech for that leg of yours."
She nodded, and allowed one of the Guards to lead her away, looking back longingly at where Ratchet was being gently lifted onto a stretcher, a worried Clank at his side.
The General felt a nudge on his leg, and looked down at the little creature.
"I apologize. I forgot to introduce myself. I am Mia, Guardian of the Zenithi."
"I should probably mention, we have a number of criminals in our cellars who I believe belong to you."
"They can stay there for now. We have nowhere to put them till we fix the jail." He smiled. "I still can't believe it's finally over! We're home…"
The Court was filling up as Guards and Project workers bustled around at cross purposes. Councillor Silk was strutting up and down, issuing a stream of orders and grinning.
"Good to see her happy for once."
He reached down and pulled a remote from the unconscious Fenris's pocket, tossing it to a passing Sergeant.
"Go and let the rest of the Guard out, will you?"
He turned back to Mia.
"If you don't mind me saying, I've never seen your kind before."
"Long story. I'll tell you later, but it seems you're going to have a lot on your plate shortly."
General Cross smiled as he looked over at his daughter, helping the other Guards.
"Yep, it's going to be busy, busy for a while. We finally made it."
He glanced at Jasmine, who was slumped against the wall, staring at the ground. As he watched, Clank and Shona joined her in silent sympathy.
"But at what cost…?"