“Every country’s a little different,” Lawson replies grimly. “From what I’ve heard, China and some others are planning to go nuclear. Most of the EU doesn’t want to risk the fallout, so they’re going with missile bombardment. The hope is that these big hulks of theirs can’t absorb much damage once you’re through the force field.”
“And America?” John asks.
Lawson smiles. “At my suggestion, we’re taking a page out of your book, John. Flying the biggest personnel carriers we’ve got right down their throats, boarding those ships and gunning down every goddamn alien we see.”
“I like it,” I say.
Lawson nods. He hooks his thumbs through his belt loops and looks us over. Then he nods to himself, like he’s satisfied we’re his best chance. Or resigned to the fact. Hard to say.
“I suppose that’s it,” the general says. “See you all on the other side.”
With that he walks across the field towards the convoy. Caleb, whose twin brother apparently never really existed, moves to follow after him.
“Caleb, wait,” John says.
With a nervous glance at Lawson, Caleb stops midstride and turns back to face the rest of us. He stands next to Nigel and Ran. The Japanese girl is unreadable as usual. Nigel, on the other hand, looks shaken up. All the bluster from before is gone. His ragged Misfits T-shirt still bears the bloodstains from Patience Creek. Even though Marina healed his wounds, this latest taste of combat left more than physical marks on the Brit. Daniela stands next to those two, watching over them. I’m not sure exactly what happened inside Patience Creek, but it seems like the hard city girl has developed some protective feelings for the two other human Garde.
“Our planet’s Elders sent us to Earth to keep us safe, so that we’d one day be ready to fight back and avenge our planet,” John says, addressing the humans. “Today is that day. Where we’re going next, it isn’t a battle that you’re ready for. We’ve trained our whole lives for it. Your training is just beginning. Your day will come.”
Daniela opens her mouth to protest. I catch her eye and subtly shake my head, shooting a look towards Nigel and Ran. She gets the message and stays quiet.
“Win or lose, tomorrow, your world will be a changed place. It’s going to need protectors. Eventually, you’ll need to step up.” John glances at Sam, who stands nearby and manages a smile. “For now, though, I think the future protectors need protecting. We all had charms burned into our ankles that would keep us safe, at least for a time. We can’t do that for you guys, but we can give you something else. . . .”
I’m not sure what John’s talking about until Regal, our hawk-shaped Chimæra, lands on Caleb’s shoulder. The boy jumps, settling down only when it’s clear the bird’s talons won’t pierce him. Regal spreads out his wings and ruffles Caleb’s hair.
Bandit, the raccoon, scratches at Nigel’s leg with his black paws until the Brit is forced to pick him up. Gamera, trundling across the grass in turtle form, ends up staring up at Ran. She bends down to run one finger over his scaly forehead, and, for the first time, I see her crack a smile.
“His name is Gamera,” Malcolm says to Ran. “I named him after a favorite old monster of mine.”
Ran stares blankly at Malcolm.
“He fought Godzilla,” he explains further.
At the very least she must understand “Godzilla,” because Ran rolls her eyes and goes back to stroking the turtle.
The golden retriever Chimæra, Biscuit, the one that Sarah was especially fond of, ambles over to Daniela, happily wagging her tail when Daniela starts to scratch behind her ears. I notice a flicker of something on John’s face; it’s hard to say exactly what in the near darkness, but he seems pleased.
And finally, with impossible agility for a feline of his girth, Stanley leaps into Sam’s arms. He laughs, and, at the sound, a tightness in my chest eases. I’d been so terrified that something horrible had befallen Sam at Patience Creek and that we were going to be apart when it happened—just like John and Sarah. Only now am I finally able to relax a bit.
“All right, Stanley, all right,” Sam says, holding the heavy, purring cat in his arms. “We can make it official.”
Nine scowls. “You need to rename that stupid cat.”
“These Chimærae will be your protectors until you’ve come to fully grasp your Legacies,” John continues, glancing at Bernie Kosar, who, in beagle-form, sits quietly at his feet. “And then they will be your most valuable allies. One day, hopefully, we’ll be able to help you more, train you like our Cêpans trained us. . . .”