Chapter Five

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"Goddammit." Ortiz slammed her fist against the wall as a gaggle of passengers turned and fled from her detachment. She turned on Reza. "Every time passengers see you, they take off running the other way!"

"Just wait until we meet up with one of the other Marine detachments that are supposed to be here," Walker added, giving Reza a stony glare. "As soon as they set eyes on him, they'll take care of the problem for us."

"Then I will move forward on my own," Reza said. "You rescue the passengers, and I will try to slow down the advancing warriors."

Walker moved closer, raising the muzzle of her weapon. It wasn't quite pointed at Reza, but was close enough that the threat was clear. "So you can just switch sides and join them to kill the rest of us? I don't think so."

There was a collective murmur from the rest of the Marines, all save Eustus, who stood alone in defending his friend. "He would never do that! He—"

"Shut your mouth, little man," Stalin said in an icy voice. Unlike Walker, he made no pretense at all about where he was pointing his weapon: he leveled it at Eustus's heart. "You are even worse, a traitor who loves a traitor."

The dam Reza had built within himself to hold back the anger and resentment toward those who would never accept his honor finally broke and his blood flashed white hot with fury. His sword hissed through the air, the glittering blade slicing Stalin's assault rifle in half. As time contracted in Reza's mind, his body and sword moved with inhuman speed while the others reacted in slow motion. Pivoting to one side, he cut Walker's rifle in two, even as Stalin was just beginning to react to the destruction of his own weapon.

Moving with the grace and power of a fast flowing river, Reza turned and slashed, making his mark upon each of the Marines except for Eustus, Davis, and Ortiz.

When it was done, he allowed time to resume its normal flow.

Stalin stared at the remains of his rifle, the rear half held by his right hand, the front held in his left by the fore grip. A fountain of sparks exploded from the destroyed electronics and power pack.

"Shit!" Walker tossed the remains of her weapon to the deck as the power pack arced and flared. She looked up at Reza, her eyes now filled with fright. She found herself staring at the tip of his sword, which was a hair's breadth from her faceplate.

"I will tolerate no more." While the words were in Standard, he spoke not in the voice of a lowly private, but as a warrior priest of the Desh-Ka.

"Holy shit," Ortiz breathed. Taking her eyes from Reza. "Look at your name stencils."

Each Marine's name was painted on the front of his or her chest plate in black letters. Now those names bore a pair of deep horizontal slash marks that went halfway through the metal.

As one, they turned to stare at Reza.

"If I wanted to kill you, all of you, I easily could," he told them, lowering his sword. "I do not need to resort to treachery or subterfuge to do that. Those things are unknown among Her Children." His voice softened. "I did not return from the Empire to do you harm, but to offer my sword and my life in your service."

"Hey, why didn't I get some of those?" Davis's voice registered his indignation as he eyed the slashes on the other Marines' breast plates. He looked at Reza with a hurt expression. "I don't want to be left out."

Reza's lips turned up in a sad smile. Davis reminded him a great deal of his surrogate father, Wiley Hickock. With a few flicks of his wrist, he granted Davis's wish.

"That's better," Davis said happily.

"Okay," Ortiz said in an unsteady voice, "you made your point." While Marine officers technically weren't supposed to carry rifles, she always did, along with her sidearm. Now she handed her rifle to Walker and drew her pistol. With a look of disgust, Stalin threw the remains of his rifle to the deck and drew his own sidearm.

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