4.8 Protector

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Torth vessels drifted against a backdrop of stars and moons, tiny with distance. Alex doubted any were close enough to be a threat. If they contained people ... there must be more than a thousand; too many for him to keep track of, or to pay individual attention to.

No one else seemed to understand how frighteningly easy it was for him to kill. Or how hard it could be to stop.

"What if those ships have slaves?" he asked.

Thomas gave him a demanding look. "They're mostly Red Ranks, I'm sure."

Mostly. Thomas didn't sound certain. If he knew that everyone in those ships was a Torth, he would have said so.

Even if they were all murderous Torth ... Alex remembered Red Ranks screaming and flailing as they fell to their deaths. He suspected the Red Ranks had been coerced into trying to assassinate him, the same way Thomas had been coerced into torturing Cherise, and sentencing Alex to death. That would make them all innocents.

"I've killed enough people today," Alex said.

Thomas gave him an incredulous, outraged look.

"I'll push them back," Alex decided.

He reached out with his awareness, skipping across miles of vacuum where nothing existed. At first, he only sensed microscopic puffs of dust, barely there. Nothing big or threatening.

Thomas's voice became insignificant as Alex unraveled across thousands of miles. Millions? Billions? He had no way to measure the distance.

Then his awareness encountered tiny capsules. These were too uniform and well-put-together to be dust.

He explored the capsules with his Yeresunsa sense, becoming one with the strong material of their hulls. Life pulsed inside each tiny capsule. He could not discern whether each electric spark was a bug, or a Torth, or a slave, or some other type of alien. They were so little. So fragile.

He pushed them as gently as possible. If he shoved, he might crush them by accident. He took his time with each one, slow and careful.

Insignificant voices chattered near his core self. Friends. Alex heard snatches of their conversation, and he considered joining in, to assure them that he could do this; that he wouldn't get worn out. But sweeping enemies away absorbed most of his attention.

He fell into a rhythm. His awareness drifted across space, vacuous and relaxed, until he encountered a capsule of life. Then he rolled, collecting dust and vapors and heat, and moving them all against the capsule, counteracting its tiny propulsion. Often, he caught more than one capsule in his pushing sweep.

He swept until the capsules were more than twice the distance they had been. Then he withdrew and drifted elsewhere, searching for more. He always found more within moments.

"Alex."

The voice sounded tentative and faraway, until he recognized who was speaking—and touching his arm. He was so surprised, he slammed all the way back into his human body.

He shuddered. After engulfing endless miles of space, he felt vulnerable and fragile; downright tiny.

Everyone looked wary of him, or scared. Only Margo stood nearby. Since Alex sat on the floor, she was at his eye level, her gaze fixed on him as if no one else in the universe mattered.

She offered him a gourd-canteen. "Will you drink? You look dehydrated."

"Thanks." When Alex reached for the canteen, it felt like he was ungluing himself. His whole body was stiff.

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