“On your feet and start moving, you son, or maybe I’ll play a few games with your precious colonel right now.”
The former admiral obeyed. He turned his back and walked toward his place of execution, holding himself straight and silent, as he had faced the first of another set of executioners five years previously.
He wanted to tell Islaen how much he loved her, how much he loved them all...
Sogan said nothing. He dared not distract her. If Ecke’s attention wavered even for a moment, she and the others had to be ready to seize their chance. There would be only the one.
It would not come, the Arcturian believed, until he was about to enter or had actually entered the water. The Elainen’s hunger for his death, his desire to gloat over it, could well distract him then. He did not grudge the dying if it bought Islaen Connor her life.
* * * *
Varn Tarl Sogan left the sand and stepped onto the solid surface of the pier. For all his courage, his stomach twisted, and a shiver coursed through him at the thought of the death he must accept. There had been no movement behind him. He realized he would have to go through with it. It was over for him. Destruction would come here on Elaine of Avalon. He, War Prince and former admiral of the Arcturian Empire, was about to be shredded and devoured by a school of voracious fish.
His shoulders straightened. No. He was not quite ready to accept death as inevitable, not yet. He would have to go over the edge of the pier, aye. He did not have to enter the ocean, not completely.
The Commando considered his position. He was near the left edge of the pier now. By slanting his walk, he would bring himself to the very edge by the time he reached its end, just above the strong pillar supporting it. Ecke had ordered him to lower himself slowly, to dangle for a while. That would give him the moment he needed to get his arms and legs around the piling. A theatrical scream at that point would doubtless give his friends their opening.
Another shudder coursed through him, body and heart. The water level was very high, and some part of his body would be within the barracands’ reach.
Sogan gathered his courage. What had to be endured must be. The fish might well still kill him. They certainly would if he failed to hold on, but he would not have to do that for long. It would all be over within minutes. He would be able to climb back up then or be pulled up. Vishnu’s ravagers had almost eaten the legs off him, and a renewer had healed the damage. His unit had theirs with them, and the village hospital had both renewers and a regrowth facility, as did the Terra’s Charm.
His throat closed in an agony that exceeded any dread he held for his own fate. If Islaen were slain, it would not matter what the outcome was for him. Nothing would matter for him then.
* * * *
Tomas Dyn watched the War Prince make his march to death, and a cold fury filled him. That fine man was going to die and maybe the Federation’s other greatest heroes with him to feed the hate of this thing, this creature that defiled not only Elaine of Avalon but humanity itself.
That was not going to happen. He would see to that. Dyn knew what his companions were thinking, what they must be planning. He also knew that their success could only be partial at best. He alone was close enough to do the job properly. He had been nearest to the renegade from the start, and slowly, millimeter by millimeter, he had drawn closer still. There would be no need for anyone else here to die. Maybe even Varn Tarl Sogan would not have to die if he moved quickly enough…
* * * *
The former admiral stopped at the end of the pier. He was shaking slightly. That did not matter. He had cause for fear, and no one was close enough to observe his weakness in facing it.
He looked down at the quiet surface of the sea.
Something seemed to be there just beneath the surface.
His eyes closed momentarily as he fought down his terror. The barracands. They were waiting, watching…
He willed his eyes to open just as the waters parted. Slowly, deliberately, a massive form rose out of the sea to tower over him, a great, scarred head with two large eyes and slender, razor-toothed jaws extending ten feet out from it.
Panicked screams and shouts sounded all along the beach as those jaws closed on the War Prince’s chest, lifted him bodily off the pier, and disappeared with him beneath the surface of the ocean. There was no splash, only a ripple which flowed outward briefly before dissipating, leaving no sign behind it to mark where the sea creature or man had been.