Chapter 18: Once More Into the Breach, My Friends

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I let a slow, completely unnecessary breath sigh out of my nostrils as I looked over the cluster of tents and gear that seemed to get larger with each passing moment, helped in no small part by the nearly full regiment of N'vorn we had managed to recover from the nucleonic cloud.  It had taken the rest of the night following me coming back to my senses and recovering my own body, and the better part of the next day as well to get that far.  

Sahdael and Thek both had worked nonstop, the Seer drawing out life essences from the cloud in a steady stream and Thek keeping his cloning bed humming as it rebuilt body after body to accept those essences.  It certainly didn't hurt that Nah'tem also threw himself into the effort with a ferocity I had seldom seen before, either during my time as a human or after, as a Risen.  It was as if he thought every effort he made, every drop of sweat he let fall to the ground, washed a bit of his dishonor away and purchased redemption for the Ha'shadar that ironically had been brought back wholesale to sanity by their nuke-fueled deaths.

Speaking of those recovered N'vorn, they worked as hard as their commander did.  Now calling themselves the Nor'kani, or 'Redeemed' in the N'vorn tongue, they too appeared to want to free themselves of the dishonor they incurred as brain-dead Ha'shadar.  It was a dishonor that was explained to them with fiery words and in great detail by Nah'tem in their sinuous language.  

Fueled by those words, Nor'kani field techs now labored harder than any I had previous experience with, like a couple orders of magnitude harder, to construct additional mini-forges and cloning beds per Thek's specifications.  And the regiment's regular soldiers worked side by side with the humans to build up the camp's infrastructure and defenses, which the humans were calling Camp Fire Edge.  Even now pairs of soldiers, one human and one Nor'kani in new, unadorned armor, marching perimeter patrols. already working together in Fire Edge's defense.

My eyes narrowed in thought when I saw that.  If I closed them and just listened to the sounds, I could almost imagine it was one of the camps I was assigned to as a living soldier over three hundred years ago.  Almost.

Then I let another sigh ease out of my nostrils.  The thing was these N'vorn may be soldiers like I was, and look almost human.  But they weren't human.  This wasn't some backwoods war that I was fighting in the name of freedom and the American way.  And the guys we were fighting certainly didn't have the same weapons as we did.  Well, okay, maybe they did.  But they certainly weren't playing on the same field as we were, and definitely not by the same rules.  No military I knew was willing to roll a nuke strapped to a suicide bomber into an enemy's base and trigger it, taking out a regiment of their own soldiers in the process.

Not to mention, would the Nor'kani be as willing to pay for my mistakes as the Risen seemed to be?  I had to stifle a snort at that.  'Willing to pay ... nice one, Max,' I darkly mused.  'They just happen to get all the blow back from your epically bad ideas, that's all.  Like taking on the ravagers, instead of evacuating.'

Only Sahdael's ability to sense and communicate with the life essences, along with Thek's cloning beds had saved the living from that particular debacle.  Now, if only I could find a way to do the same for Boost, and the other Risen that were obliterated in the explosion.  Not to mention, Legion and Naveaia.  Either that, or find a massive cosmic rewind button that I could push, to take me back to the moment I decided to stop listening to Nah'tem's advise and go bulling arrogantly ahead like I always did.  You would've thought that Boston would've been enough to teach me to stop doing that.

Grimly I pushed the thought chain aside, knowing that if I stood here too long, beating myself up, I wasn't going to discover a way to free the Risen essences trapped in the nucleonic cloud.  Already some of the Nor'kani's instruments were reading slowly rising levels of radiation in the crater, indicating that the cloud was beginning to leak through the cracks.  If I didn't act quickly, it would dissipate and release the trapped essences to continue their journey to the next stage of existence.  Then I would have truly lost them.

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