by Michael Arram



















  ‘A Petakh!’ cried Rudi.  ‘It’s a fucking Petakh!  They exist!’


  ‘Looks more like an angel to me,’ Henry yelled as he scrambled to the wounded child that had been shaken loose from the evil monster’s dripping jaws.  ‘Easy, baby,’ he comforted the kid and took a worried look at the child’s gashed abdomen, red and open.  ‘Rudi, what first aid you got?’


  The other children stood mute, staring at the winged apparition, who seemed himself suddenly bemused by his situation.


  ‘Rudi, for fuck’s sake!’ Henry urged.  His friend came to and began digging around in his pack.  Medicine had advanced considerably under the Oecumene, and it did not need advanced surgical skills to deal with major trauma any more, if you had the right equipment.


  In the meantime, the warrior angel had folded his great bronze wings into a surprisingly economical package at his back.  He knelt next to Henry, who got a whiff of the scent he gave off, like the best and most expensive deodoriser ever invented.


  The serene and beautiful face was close to his, as the creature inspected the trembling, injured child in Henry’s arms with concern.  He stroked the little boy’s head.  ‘You vill be fine, young fellow,’ he told him.  The child just stared back.  The timbre of the angel’s voice betrayed at once that he was not a mature adult, but himself a kid.


  ‘You’re not going to take him away are you?’ Henry dared to say to the vision, thinking back to humanity’s more primitive ideas of the creatures it called angels.


  The angel-boy looked puzzled.  ‘It vood be unwise.  Anything with vings in these skies is a target, and verr indeed vood I take this poor little vun?  Is there a hospital close by?’


  ‘One side, er ... people!’  Rudi commanded, and Henry laid the little one on the ground for him to deal with.  Rudi first injected the boy with a hypo spray, then he dusted the wound with another fine mist, pinching its gaping mouth shut.   He bound the kid’s abdomen with a metallic film, which immediately tightened and moulded to the boy’s body.  Lights blinked into life on inbuilt control units in the medical sheath as it took control of the injured kid’s metabolism and sealed the wound.


  ‘Okay, little one?’ Rudi asked.  The boy gingerly touched himself and said he felt no pain.


  ‘Good.  You don’t have to walk, but you can probably stand now.’


  ‘Nice work, Rudi,’ Henry acknowledged as they all got up and some of the other kids brought replacement clothing for the draconid’s victim.


  ‘Rudi?  So vood you be Rudolf Elphberg, sir?’ the angel politely asked.


  ‘I am indeed,’ Rudi responded, then was taken aback somewhat by the angel going to his knee before him, gripping his right hand and kissing it.


  Henry was distracted from the rather comical look on his friend’s face by a seriously irritating itch which had developed at the back of his head, as if a mosquito was trapped in his cerebellum.  It wasn’t painful but it certainly was distracting.


  The angel returned to his feet, and himself looked rather preoccupied for a moment, then he shook his head to clear whatever was bugging him.  ‘Imperial majesty, might I offer you my service to get you to safety?’


  Rudi did not choose to correct the being, but instead had his own questions.  ‘What is a Petakh doing on Earth?  Who are you?  How did you get here?’


  ‘Sire, the seraph Mendamero, head of my house, himself brought me here direct from Rodinija.  The Yaahl invasion is known there.  Soon all our forces vill enter the vorr to fight for Earth and our human cousins.’


  ‘This is amazing news, but I thought such travel impossible after the death of the great Maxim!’ Rudi responded.


  ‘Not so, sire.  Though Mendamero could not transport our entire Militia to Earth, he brought to Rodinija the knowledge that has allowed our scholars to complete our centuries of vork upon the vorm hole technology.  Soon portals vill open in Earth’s skies, and the People vill pour into battle to destroy the black plague of the Yaahl for ever.  Or so I hope.  Do your own armies still fight?’


  ‘They are so few,’ Rudi sighed. ‘But we just saw evidence that our troops are in action, even in Britain, where the aliens have struck so hard, damn them.  I have no information as to what’s happening in the wider world.  We have aircraft and armies, but the Oecumene has brought peace to the world, and mass violence is a rare occurrence these days on Earth.’


  ‘Then sire, I can fly you as cautiously as I may to verr your troops may be found.  I saw the human airships that took out the Yaahl platform head back vestward.  I can take you to their base.’


  ‘No can do, my Petakh friend.  To begin with, as you said yourself air travel would be very risky; the Yaahl, as you call them, have command of the skies.  Then there are these kids.  They’re my responsibility.  I have to get them to safety.’


  The courtly boy-angel bowed low his head.  ‘Your majesty is quite right.  The honour of the Elphberg is as unstained on this vorld as it is on Rodinija.’


  ‘You have Elphberg Petakhij?’


  ‘Indeed sire, House Elphberg is powerful on both Rodinija and Selene, vun of our moons.  It is the only vun of our houses other than the imperial house Macavoy that is allowed royal status.   King Maxim VI Elphberg verrs the gold armlet both in his great city of Radelngrad and on the Second Continent of Selene, vich is his imperial fief.  You may soon meet your cousin I trust.  He is a great soldier and a Marshal of our Militia.’


  ‘A descendant of Leopold Rudolf?’


  ‘Exactly, sire.  King Leopold voss the first to be granted the armlet ven the great Damien set up our imperium.  I see some memory of him survives in this vorld.’


  ‘That’s cos of Henry here.’  Rudi smiled at his friend, whose brown hair he ruffled.


  The angel gave a start and looked directly at Henry for the first time.  ‘Your name is Henry?’ he asked.


  ‘Sure,’ Henry replied, gaining a bit more confidence in dealing with this astonishing apparition who had flown into his life.  ‘What’s yours?’


  There was a pause.  ‘It also is Henry.’


  Now Henry laughed.  ‘You’ll be telling me next it’s Atwood.’


  His angel namesake gaped at him and did not reply.


  ‘No, come on.  This is bizarre.  You’re not telling me you’re called Henry Atwood?’


  ‘My name is Henry Gretason, grandson in the second degree of Prince Rafael Danason, lord of the South Riverlands and Chief of the Petakh House Atvood.’








  ‘So you’re not an angel.’


  ‘No, Alan, I am Petakh.’  Henry Gretason had the injured boy riding on  his shoulders, gripping his hair, and was quite happy about it.  He found the human novachek utterly charming.


  ‘Where do Petacks live?’


  ‘The plural is Petakhij.  Vee live on a very beautiful planet called Rodinija vich is 1200 light years avay.  But my ancestors came from your Earth.’


  ‘How?  No people here have wings like you do.  Can I touch them?’


  Henry opened his wings to half display.  Full display would have been incautious on the narrow woodland path.  The boy Alan reached out and felt the soft feathers.


  ‘They’re beautiful, and they smell so nice.  And they’re a lovely colour too.  Why do you wear armour like a knight?’


  ‘That is because I am on a mission, a dangerous one.’


  ‘Is all that metal uncomfortable?  It feels warm not cold.’


  ‘It is very special armour made by my people; it is almost alive, like a second skin.’


  ‘Why do you have little spiky horns on your head?’


  The questions went on and on.  As they walked and talked, Henry Gretason kept glancing at the human Henry walking just in front of him.  They were of the same House, though they were of different races!  How astonishing was that?  Did Mendamero ordain this?  The other question that was vexing him was the maddening presence of another unlinked empath in the vicinity.  How could this be?  He had thought it must be the young emperor, the descendant of the great Maxim, but it seemed not.  Which of these humans was it?  It had to be one of them, but how was he to know which?  Did even the human empath know he had this gift?


  As the noon of the day approached and they came down from the hills, the Elphberg called camp.  The children settled in a chattering group as rations were distributed.  Henry Gretason smiled to see his human namesake in amongst them, chatting, joking and comforting them in all their little worries.  And as he looked the human boy’s warm brown eyes caught his, and he felt the shock.  Of course.  It had to be.  The Atwood boy was the one: whether it was genetic or Mendamero’s magic, the boy’s mind was active and could link.  For the avian meledh to get the full benefit and fend off the recurring panic attacks, they had to bond.  But how could it be done with a human?  He was not meledh.  Was it even ethical to attempt it without permission?  A sudden wave of nausea soaked Henry’s body with perspiration.  His suit hummed with the strain of dealing with it.


  Henry made his decision.  He gave the armour the necessary command and stripped off the plates, standing nude amongst the humans.  He did not immediately get why he was being stared at by them, particularly in the direction of his groin.  Then he realised that the humans did not experience premenja.  He relaxed it, and his body shrank to a more slim and boyish figure, his penis dropping to the usual position and his fat scrotum re-emerging.  The little ones started gossiping, ten to the dozen.


  ‘Er, Henry …’ began the human Atwood.


  ‘Yes, my cousin?’


  ‘Oh … er, nothing.’


  Rudi grinned and butted in.  ‘Henry doesn’t realise that Petakhij don’t need clothing and don’t use it.  He’s English and a bit body-shy.  A Rothenian upbringing gives you different attitudes.’


  ‘I’m not a prude,’ Henry protested.


  ‘No, but you are all eyes.’


  ‘Shut it, your imperial and royal highness.’


  Henry Gretason grinned and nodded.  The cultural differences of avians from humans were known to him.  ‘Could I have a vord vith you, my cousin … in private.’


  Henry got up and followed the handsome and naked rear of the avian Henry as it sashayed elegantly into the woods.  They went some distance under the trees, Henry more and more fascinated by the dappling of the sunlight as it moved over the avian’s body.  In a clearing, the avian turned and confronted his human kinsman.


  ‘Do you speak Rothenian, cousin?’


  ‘Pretty well,’ Henry replied in that tongue.


  The avian kid smiled down into his face.  ‘Good.  I need to express myself as best I can, and for that I need my native language.’


  Close up, Henry could not but stare.  The avian boy’s body was lithe and perfect, the skin tone almost human.  He was entirely hairless below his head.  Henry was standing face to face with one of his avian kinsman’s smooth, flat pectorals, and he gazed hungrily at the boy’s nipple: dark brown, hard and prominent with a large aureola.  Henry’s penis inflated as part of his mind pondered licking and sucking at the nub.  Then there was the boy’s genitalia, the penis long and brown, even when soft, and pushed up by the plump cushion of his full, dark balls.  The strong and elegant feet were wide, with splayed toes. This was a creature who had never worn shoes, or any clothing apparently, other than his war armour.  The avian kid was stunning and sexy beyond belief.  He seemed both aware of and quite unfazed by Henry’s undisguised appraisal of his body.  He even seemed to expect it.


  ‘My human cousin, can I begin by saying how glad I am and grateful to meet you.  I know your descent.  The great Mendamero, my ancestor, had a brother Richard, whose image is still to be seen in the upper gallery of the Atwood house-tree at Hendriksberh.  You will be of his line, am I right in that?’




  ‘You know little of my people, I realise, so what I have to say to you now may puzzle and alarm you, but I must ask for your help.  The Petakhij are not human, and no more so than in our minds, for we are an empathic species.’


  ‘Your minds link?’


  ‘At several levels: as a species, as a family and amongst our meledhij, our … how would you say … our teenage friendship groups.  We call them usakamaradij, and I have lived and loved with mine since I turned fourteen.’


  ‘Lived and loved?’


  ‘We share our feelings and, once we reach a certain age, our bodies too.  The thing is this.  I am cut off from all that gives my mind focus, strength and comfort.  Mendamero tells me that this is the way you humans live, and I cannot express how awful such isolation appears and feels to me.  It is causing me distress and it is worsening.  There is every chance that at any point of crisis in the next days, I may be overwhelmed when I can least afford to be.’


  Henry pondered this vision of otherness, and the problems that went with it.  ‘Wow.  Amazing.  I’m sorry, but how can I help?’


  The avian suddenly took him by the shoulders and looked into his eyes.  ‘I ask you to believe me, cousin, when I say that you have the empathic gift.  I can touch your mind.  It’s a partial link, but it’s there.  I can try to complete it as I would with a usakamarad, and should I succeed my mind will regain its stability and I will function fully in this dangerous time.’


  Henry shrugged.  ‘Sure, go ahead.  I got no problem with that.’


  ‘You don’t quite understand, cousin.  Once made the link is permanent, your feelings will be mine and mine yours.  When the time comes for me to leave this world, it will be broken and you will feel loss.  It may not be as bad as what I now undergo, cut off from my people, but it will not be pleasant and it may go on for longer than you may like.  It could damage you permanently.’


  ‘Oh!  I see.  Look, cuz, we are really, genuinely, family right?’


  ‘We are.  Our hair and our eyes proclaim it.’


  Henry looked right into the darkly shining eyes of the avian boy, larger in the face proportionally than those of humans, and it almost seemed to him as if a light stirred there in their depths. 


  ‘Okay, so we’re family.  What sort of jerk would I be to turn down your request at such a time?  You’re the most decent Atwood I’ve ever met.  I like you, cuz.  I like you a lot.  Do what you have to do.’


  His avian kinsman relaxed, his smiling eyes seeming to sparkle.  ‘You are a brave man, Henry Atwood of Earth, and your sentiments are noble.  You are a worthy member of our house, and in the name of my prince, Rafael Danason, I welcome you freely within it and hope that one day you may visit the Atwood fief of the South Riverlands on the First Continent of Rodinija.’


  The pair were so close the avian’s breath was fresh in Henry’s nostrils, the taller boy having ducked his head so they were face to face.  Looking in those eyes, Henry impulsively closed with his cousin’s mouth.  It was like an electric shock to his system.


  Surprised, the avian drew back.  ‘Oh!  You too are gay!’ he exclaimed.  Then their mouths met once more, and this time, hesitant virgin though he was, Henry followed what his beating heart was urging him to do, and pushed his tongue through the avian’s lips.  He was making out with another boy!  There was no doubt they were both into it, for Henry was lifted and raised with a hand on each buttock.  He scissored his legs round the avian’s naked body, the formidable erection between them pressing into his own clothed crotch.


  He opened his eyes after the first rapture and found himself staring directly into the avian’s gaze.  Then the strangeness began.  His heart started hammering like it never had before; the eyes he was looking into seemed to grow bigger, and he felt he was falling into them.  The kiss ended.


  The avian gave a choked gasp.  ‘No!   It’s not possible!’


  ‘What’s … what’s happening?  Is this the link?’


  ‘No.  No it’s not.  This is the millenij!’


  And suddenly Henry Atwood of Earth was enveloped in the mind of Henry Gretason of Rodinija, and he would never be alone or unloved again.  All his weakness and sadness was cancelled.  He was complete in a way no human ever had been before, more truly married to another than any human had ever been.  But the other was not human.








  Henry Atwood knelt facing his … what in hell did he call the guy?  His husband?  His partner?  His avian other half sat on the grass with his legs splayed out and Henry was between them, his eyes mesmerised by the most gorgeous erection he had ever seen, in reality or on screen.  It was pretty thick and strained into a curve, it was also weeping copiously from the tip as surges of pre-cum pulsed out on to its purple head and ran down it as far as the boy’s glistening balls.


  His avian cousin’s mind was telling him to grab it and he did, grasping its slick stickiness and massaging it.  The avian boy groaned.


  ‘Please take those stupid clothes off for me, Henry,’ he urged.  In seconds they were both naked.  Never mind there was a gang of small kids just a few hundred metres away.  Henry went back to stroking the avian cock.  His libido was raging out of control and his own cock was larger and stiffer than it had ever been.  He bent down to suck at the sweetness of the avian’s precum, and as he did felt his ass grabbed and a wet finger massaging his opening.


  ‘Oh, orsum!’ Henry Gretason groaned. 


  ‘Jeez!’ Henry Atwood responded.  ‘What the fuck’s happening to me?  What’s millenij?


  The avian pulled him close, licking his own lubricant off Henry’s sticky hands.  Their erections were pressed between their bellies and a copious pulse of fluid spurted from the avian over both of their members and stomachs.  Henry felt trickles of it running down between his balls and thighs.


  They kissed again, long and hard.  When the avian broke off, he gasped out ‘We’re mated, Henry.  Indissolubly.  It’s beyond my control, neither of us can live without the other ever again.’


  Henry’s personality struggled to assert itself against the flood of sexual longing that was unhinging him.  ‘Extreme way to get rid of a … headache.  You could have warned me.’


  A quirky look not unlike his own crossed the avian’s face as he stared into Henry’s and stated, ‘Not a zemec, at least.’


  The single finger in Henry’s anus had become three and were very insistent, helped by the surges of pre-cum that was soaking their crotches.  He could hear squelching as his ring was worked at, loosened and massaged.


  ‘What are you doing?’


  ‘I have to take you Henry.  It’s what happens.’


  ‘But you’re huge, and I’m … well, sorta a virgin.’


  ‘You should see my usakamaradij before you talk of size.  There’s no choice.  I have to do you or we’ll never get any control back.  I’m insane for your pretty little body.  So kinky.  It’ll be like screwing a novachek.’


  Henry was pushed back on the grass, and his legs forced back.  Without much more preparation his cousin placed his erection at his hole and pressed in.  Henry stifled the yell he wanted to scream out to the clearing.  The sharp pain hurt like fuck, though he knew the avian was doing his best to restrain himself.  After what seemed an age of groaning and twisting Henry felt he was fully impaled.  He felt down between them and was aghast at the size of what had swelled inside him.


  By a superhuman effort the avian was not yet thrusting, though the struggle to refrain was bringing sweat out on his brow, which dripped from the points of his horns on to the human’s face.  Instead, they kissed, and then a thing occurred which changed it all.  Henry wasn’t just feeling the pain of his deflowering, he was also experiencing his own tightness on his mate’s cock.  He was both fucking and being fucked, for he felt what the avian was feeling as he took him.  He knew that the pain in his butt was likewise being shared by his lover, and then it was gone.


  Henry could see his own hard cock mimicking his mate’s, as its fluids blurted out between them.  Then Henry arched against the body above him and white ejaculate dripped on to his belly, forced out by the pressure on his prostate.  At that point the avian began fucking and Henry entered a world of pleasure beyond his imagination.  They yelled together as his mate pulsed cum into him, and he himself ejaculated again, this time in several spurts.


  With a supreme effort, Henry Gretason pulled out of the human boy and knelt up over him, his cock still hard and straining.  It was also streaked with the human’s wastes.


  ‘Oh, that doesn’t happen with us.  That’s your shit.’


  A dazed Henry Atwood pushed himself up on his elbows.  ‘Er … sorry. If only I’d known I was going to lose my cherry, I’d have done something.  Let me get some grass to clean you up.’


  ‘It’s okay, I don’t mind.  Really, it’s sorta sexy in a grubby way.  Henry …?’


  ‘What, Henry?’


  The avian laughed and cuddled the smaller body into his warmth.  ‘This millenij.  It’s really special.  It doesn’t happen to every avian, because it’s a rare thing for two minds to be able to lock together this way.  It can only happen if … well, we were intended for each other.’


  ‘You mean we truly love each other because we were made to truly love each other, even though we’ve only known each other a few hours and we’re from two different species.’


  ‘That’s the sum of it.’


  ‘It’ll take some getting used to.  I’m fifteen.  Think of all the sexy guys I could have sampled, but won’t get to sleep with now.’


  His avian cousin kissed him.  ‘You’re amazing.  You’re making a joke of this, and yet I know you’re as moved by it as I am.  As for other guys, you needn’t worry.  Only zemecij tend to be exclusive.  If you want to, you can have any of my usakamaradij, though the sex won’t be any way as good as what we have together.’


  ‘Because we share orgasms.  Yours was unbelievable, by the way.’


  ‘You’d better get dressed, my pretty mate.’


  ‘I am your mate.  I’m already used to the idea.  Bizarre.  Love at first fuck.  Can I do you later?’


  ‘Read my mind.’


  ‘You really want me, don’t you.  Flattering.  Oh, this gets progressively more awesome as every minute passes!’


   Henry Atwood struggled up and into his clothes, though the state of his crotch rapidly led to damp patches in his leggings.  ‘Your cock’s not going down, cuz,’ he observed.


  Still reclining, the avian shrugged.  ‘So?’


  ‘You mean you walk around like that openly back home?’


  ‘What’s the problem?’


  Henry shook his head and muttered, ‘Awesome.’  Together they rejoined the refugee column and found it packed and ready to depart.  The proud display from the avian drew all eyes, the little ones never having seen such a sight, at least in public.


  ‘What’s happened to his … thing?’ little Alan squawked as the avian resumed premenja and his armour.








  Henry Atwood walked alongside his avian cousin and now life-mate, who still had little Alan on his shoulders, though the boy was now more interested in looking around him than in interrogating his steed, and eventually he dozed, resting his cheek in the avian’s thick and fragrant hair.


  The implications of what had just occurred in the woods were beginning to come home to Henry.  ‘So what happens amongst your people when you do this millenij thing?’


  Henry Gretason took the human by his shoulder, which he gently massaged.  ‘If it’s between meledhij, which it usually is, we would normally go off on a marital tour.’


  ‘Oh!  Like a honeymoon.’


  ‘I don’t know.  The idea is to go together into a quiet place as our minds attune, to meditate and explore our feelings … and screw non-stop.’


  ‘Ah!  Only partly like a honeymoon then.  Do you avian kids live together or with your parents?  Oh, together, you said that already.  You realise that in human terms I’m too young to marry.  I have my own parents to consider.  I’m hoping they’re safe still in Whitby.’


  ‘Is this Whitby a big settlement?’


  ‘It’s a small and picturesque port on the Yorkshire coast.’


  ‘Ah, then it’s probably safe for now, especially as Mendamero is putting forth his power across England.’


  ‘And this Mendamero, is he your ancestor, Chancellor Atwood?  How come he’s still alive after all these centuries?  How come he’s so powerful?’


  ‘He had passed beyond the human state even before the avians settled on Rodinija.  We call him a seraph.’


  ‘And he lives on your planet?’


  The avian shook his head.  ‘He is known and seen there, as it seems he is not any longer on Earth, but he had been gone for two centuries before he reappeared there and I met him.  Let me tell you what I know of his story.’


  Henry Atwood of Earth listened to his cousin’s tale with growing amazement as a new window opened for him on to the Universe and the powers that stood behind it.


  ‘So you’re descended from genuine angels?’


  ‘My forefathers were the archangels Rafael and Gabriel, but they were fully Petakh when they mated.  They produced six children, four of which were boys, which is why House Atwood is so numerous … and so poor.’


  ‘Great, and there was I thinking I’d walked off with a prince.’


  ‘But I am a prince of my people, a Durchlaucht, just not a very wealthy one.  These horns I’m growing give me high rank on Rodinija.’


  Henry Atwood reached up and touched them.  ‘They’re not very sharp.’


  ‘They have to be kept blunt, or they rip the furniture up, so Welf tells me.  He’s one of my usakamaradij in Petakhrad Three, and he already has a full-grown set. Welf’s a prince of House Skipper; they’ve got serious money.  But he’s a nice guy and he’s gay like us.  I always hoped he and I were destined for millenij.  I certainly got that wrong.’


  ‘Ah, regretting the holiday romance thing already are you?’


  The avian Henry looked fondly down at his human counterpart and reached to tousle his thick hair.  ‘You idiot.  I’m beginning to see now how we mated.  I love your cheek.  People always tell me I’m a little straight-laced.  You’re going to balance that out.  The problem is where that will be.  Will you come with me to Rodinija, or must I stay on Earth?  That would be a problem, as I’m still in zharpulavnij, and in lodge.’


  ‘What’s zarpul … whatever?  Are you sure it’s Rothenian you’re speaking?’


  ‘It’s another problem for us.   Has your erection gone down?’


  ‘Er no, and my pants are all wet with its leaking.’


  ‘Your human body is translating our fierce avian adolescence into its own terms.  Lucky for you premenja blocks a lot of it.  But once I relax it, all you’ll want to do is fuck and be fucked.  It’d be better if you were on Rodinija where sexuality is different from this world, as I understand.’


  Both Henrys walked the road in silence, though communing fitfully in their minds.  The human found the warmth of his mate’s feelings for him constantly growing, and his for the avian.








  The small column of kids encountered human troops as they reached the Welsh frontier.  A refugee camp had formed at Chirbury, and soldiers of the Dragon Guard were deployed to protect it.  The green, red and white colours of the Welsh principality and the blue of the Oecumene welcomed them.


  There was a dangerous moment when the Welsh troops sighted the avian.  Rudi had expected it and stood with his arms outstretched between Henry Gretason and the Welsh guns.  He protested volubly as they cuffed the avian with ties and pushed him unresisting to the ground.  The little kids too began shouting their anger at what was being done to their winged friend.


  An officer turned up, and stared as Rudi identified himself, demanding access to the Imperium promptly.  Making a quick decision, he saluted.


  ‘Now release that man.’


  ‘But sir …!’


  ‘He is a friend and ally of the Oecumene.  Please don’t waste my time, I need to contact my grandmother.’


  The officer went white.  ‘Your … imperial majesty, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you.  The Imperium is gone.  None of your family survived the destruction of Strelzen.’


  ‘Strelzen … is no more?’


  ‘All of the great European cities are little more than rubble, sire.  The black animals struck at the heart of the Oecumene, it’s a miracle you escaped.’


  White-faced, the Twelfth Emperor turned and walked blindly towards the two Atwood boys.  The human Henry could see that his friend was struggling between an overwhelming grief and a realisation that he still had to act his new role, for he was Earth’s sovereign.


  ‘Rudi!’ he began.  But the young emperor held up his hand, mastered himself and turned back to the captain.


  ‘Does resistance continue?’ he asked throatily.


  ‘We’re rallying, sire.  In England the alien attack seems to have faltered, though we cannot understand why.  All their craft across the Midlands have crashed and burned.  Their bodies litter the landscape like dead flies.  Our skimmers and air cruisers are roaming freely, picking off the remainder.’


  ‘Do you have access to the High Command?’


  ‘Yes sire.  Before it was hit, the Imperium overruled the Chancellor and commanded the withdrawal of our forces from the cities.  So, much of our military infrastructure is intact and the Imperial Guard is still in the field across Central Europe.’


  ‘Get me a line out urgently.  I have vital intelligence for the Imperial Staff.’


  The captain saluted.  Once he had withdrawn, Rudi slumped to the ground, head in hands.  Both the Atwood boys went to him, the avian spreading his wings above and around the weeping emperor.