Number 21

K-beams swept across the burned sky of the doomed world, warping around the metaspace disjoints shielding the ugly, many-limbed warcraft sitting in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. It was the third day of the war in heaven, and already a score of worlds had been burned to ash.

Even in his psychically-sealed isolation cabin, Kit Amon could feel the pain of every thinking thing choking to death on what little hot air was left, or desperately clinging to life, skin parboiled away by oceans turned to steam. Three days earlier the people of this world had been shocked and appalled, along with the rest of the galactic extelligence, by the ferocity of the invaders’ surprise attack. As systems after system had fallen, and refugees – and ghosts of the dead – had fled from the fighting, shock turned to fear and anxiety; and from there to anger and defiance.

Now, the pain and anguish of the dying world left no room for anything else.

Kit tried to ignore the mental pressure bearing down on him, barely held back by the hastily-refurbished warpod. An Andromedan K-beam was bearing down on him: he flexed a mental muscle and the warpod’s dozen tentacles moved to a new configuration, changing the shape of the realspace/imaginary rift around him and sending the red beam flying wildly off-course. It carved a vast trench in the planet’s moon behind him, and the change in the system’s gravity was enough to show up on the warpod’s instruments.

Another enemy K-beam sped towards him at a ninety-degree angle to the first. There was no time to adjust the metaspace disjoint, and the beam passed within a kilometre of Kit’s warpod, the heat permanently blinding every sensor on his left-hand side and vaporising the fine membrane over half the warpod’s tentacles.

‘Shit,’ he muttered, ‘I’m half-blind and crippled here.’

‘Understood,’ said Jenny Han, half a world away: ‘I’m going to pool our sensor data.’

The feed kicked in just in time for Kit to spot a K-beam heading towards his blind side; the tentacles moved, and metaspace warped, and the beam crashed into the planet’s surface directly below him, drilling deep into the mantle and leaving a crater the size of a country.

He glanced at his power readout, then at the positioning of Jenny and the enemy warship (three days ago his stomach had turned at the sight of one of the almost-organic deformed-brain-shape warships; now he felt only anger and hatred).

‘I have enough power to fire and guide a single shot–’

‘You’ll never score a hit. Half your manipulators are damaged.’

‘I’ll drop my defences, focus entirely on the attack. You’ll have to protect me.’

He fired before Jenny could protest, recalibrating his metaspace disjoint on the fly: his K-beam looped over and under the warpod twice before shooting away in a narrowing corkscrew, towards the grotesque enemy warship. His gravitic sensors went wild as the warpod was shunted into realspace, but he ignored them to concentrate on his K-beam.

The Andromedan’s disjoint began two hundred kilometres from the warship, and Kit’s K-beam twisted around and around, following the path prescribed by the tear in space. Kit dropped his mental defences, allowing the last few anguished inhabitants of the world below to to see and feel what he was seeing and feeling. He twisted the very tips of his warpod’s tentacles, manipulating space-time-spirit down to the subatomic scale.

The Andromedan warship did the same, but with greater ease – it had twenty manipulators functioning to versus Kit’s six, and had the home-field advantage – and Kit could feel himself losing control. An alarm beeped: a gravity wave was rolling his way, strong enough to rend him apart, unprotected as he was.

A second K-beam arced up towards the enemy warship, peeling away from the planet’s surface. The Andromedan’s manipulators moved quickly, but creating the gravity wave and handling the two K-beams proved too much. Kit was able to gain some control again; he spun his K-beam around in a wide arc, and then plunged it towards the enemy’s front.

Working lightning-fast, the warship was just able to prevent the blow from being fatal. The K-beam scythed across its front, destroying eleven manipulators and burning away a quarter of the warship’s mass before crashing into the planet.

Kit felt a brief surge of satisfaction from the world below. He shifted all his concentration to reasserting the metaspace disjoint around his warpod before the gravity wave hit. He moved all the manipulators now, even the damaged ones, ignoring subtlety in an attempt to shield himself with a crude shell.

He was nearly done when the wave hit, tearing off all the warpod’s manipulators and crushing its hull; the last thing he saw before his vision failed was the metal of the warpod crumpling towards him.

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