… Far away from any battlefield, A. Mercurius Serpentis reclined on a burgundy chaise lounge in a dimly lit waiting room connected to one of the infirmary’s sick bays.  The Reconstitution Center was unusually quiet.  The halls were vacant.  The Crisis Center was minimally staffed.  Most of the emergency teams were on call.  A’Meric brushed back his thick blond hair.  Something quite unpleasant was happening somewhere else.

The Serpent rummaged through a stack of magazines that he pilfered from the reception area, fanning them out on the floating quartz coffee table.  He grabbed one of the periodicals and squinted at the handsome celebrity on the cover.  The cover model winked coyly back, cocking his head arrogantly to one side.  It was a simple, responsive hologram with an illusion of depth.  There was no article inside to read, just more pictures.  On command, the hologram recreated the interview, tailoring the answers to the particular reader.

A’Meric tore through the cover, ripping through his own face.  He reached down and retrieved another magazine.  When did he find the time to grant all these exclusives, he wondered quietly.  Director Dar’Viathan had been right about one thing; the Regent-Chairman had seduced him with the prospect of fame.  A’Meric ripped up the second cover.  As soon as the page left the spine it burst into flames, crumbling to ash in midair the moment he released it – a little party trick he picked up somewhere.  In the past century, he attended far too many celebrations to remember which one, or whom he was hoping to impress.

The Serpent looked up through the glass partition.  Paul was laying in a rejuvenation chamber on the other side of the room, still in a coma.  The life support tubes of gaseous ectoplasm maintained his etheric body, but he was still semi-transparent.   His physicians were vague about his prognosis.  The fools had no clue if Paul was still out there somewhere clinging to his soul or if he would even return.  It would certainly be convenient for everyone involved if he didn’t, considering the great mess of things he had made.  At least, that’s how the Media Elect spun the news – the mutant human was entirely to blame.  The Regent-Chairman would have to endure the fallout: a political embarrassment, the diminishment of respect.  The gossip-mongers were already salivating at the prospect that she might be forced to step down.

A’Meric picked up another magazine.  He slowly tore the cover, lingering over the job.  It was a depressingly cynical, transparent act – tearing up the fame he had already lost.  Had he sold the last shred of his integrity for a hazy, orgasmic moment in the spotlight?  Or was this petulant act of defacing himself something unthinkable, something utterly unspeakable?  Was it shame?  Regret?  Humility?  In Yin’Dru?  A’Meric shuttered at the thought of being branded emotionally weak, made a leper and an outcast.

The room suddenly lightened.  The Serpent shuddered again, this time from a supernatural chill.  The Realm of Yin’Dru maintained a steady, tropical climate, but the room temperature had dropped a dozen degrees.  He sat up and gazed though the glass.  In the air above Paul’s chamber, a crack of light was forming.  A hairline vortex was opening, an inter-dimensional rip.  The breach was connected to the rift on the battlefield far away.  Both were connected to Paul, both were formed by his transgression.

A’Meric jumped to his feet and clenched his fists automatically.  His instincts sensed the Enemy incursion.  His etheric pulse quickened.  He suddenly felt impotent, which was unthinkable, and that filled him with rage.  The Enemy was attempting to seize Paul.  He had to protect him.  It was his last duty as official guardian, one final assignment he couldn’t fail.

There was no time to wait for reinforcements.  A’Meric rushed into the adjoining room and thrust out his palms, protecting Paul with the power of his own will.  The room began to tremble as blinding light fanned out from the rift, strobing on the infirmary walls.  Another presence was slipping into the room, a guardian from the other side.

“You can’t have him!” A’Meric shouted at the light.  “He chose to be here!  You lost him fair and square!”

“Be still, little snake.  I did not mean to startle thee.”  He heard a soft, beautiful voice calling out.  It was horrible, like some sappy, seventies, contemporary love song.  The command infuriated him – this blithe, arrogant voice from Yang’Ash, yet he found himself disarmed.  The Serpent lowered his arms.  He covered his eyes.  His strength was entirely sapped.  He had been caught with his pants down in a moment of personal weakness.  The shame of betraying Paul expanded in his chest until he could no longer hide from it.

The Angel appeared, flickering into the room like a projection of light, a primitive hologram, a mere fraction of her radiant beauty.  She had long, shimmering, silver hair, round cheeks, a narrow jawline with a tapered neck.  She was delicate and pristine like fresh fallen snow.  Yin’Dru had no use for snow, nor anything so pristine.  The Serpent dared to gaze at her image between the fingers of his hand.  Curiosity conquered his reason.  She had a bland, boyish quality of beauty – androgyny completely unadorned.  A’Meric was mesmerized.  She exuded only tender patience, none of the Enemy’s trumpeting blasts of self-righteous condemnation.  A’Meric’s smoldering rage struggled with a most unnatural attraction.  His own desire repulsed him, as if he were coming to terms with some secret sexual deviance.

“Be at peace,” she said, softly soothing his distress with the gentle flute of her voice.  “I have not come to harm thee.  I have not come to take away thy charge.”

“What the fuck do you want?” the Serpent shouted.  He couldn’t help himself.  He was under some kind of diabolical spell, dangerously close to tears, fueled by rage and remorse.  He was experiencing strange new emotions, sensations for which he had no point of reference.  If he had been his old, impervious self, he would have handily flushed the bitch back down her vortex, then bragged about the battle over a round of drinks.  But he was now cursed with feelings.

“Allow me to show thee.”  The Angel reached out and transmitted a rapid stream of images into the Serpent’s mind.  The transfer was painful at first.  The process met initial resistance.  Their minds naturally repelled one another, being habitually tuned to opposing frequencies.  She proceeded gently.  Her very presence here was a war crime which she seemed to easily disregard.  There was something quite unusual about her, and this subtle strangeness made it easier to telepathically tune into the Serpent.  Reluctantly, he let her slip inside.  The future fluttered through his mind in a rapid-fire slide show.  A potential future… the Cold War over… the Earth saved.

“What do you expect me to do?”  A’Meric asked, fighting any form of cooperation.  He was terrified to receive an answer.  Would he listen?  Would he even believe her?  This responsibility was never meant to be his.

“You have guided him.  You have served your purpose.  Now, you must give him up…” she replied, pointing down at Paul.

“I can’t do that!” he shouted.

“Yet you must.”  The strobing light froze, the glare retreated, and the inter-dimensional rift closed with a pop.  The Angel was gone.

A’Meric slumped back to his chaise lounge and rubbed his eye sockets with the palms of his hands.  He wanted to scream in frustration, but that would have made for a rather pathetic display.  He couldn’t get her image or her musical voice out of his mind.  A piece of her remained imbedded in his mind like a splinter.  The cheeky bitch had no idea what she was asking him to do.  She was asking him to commit treason.  Did it even matter?  Paul wasn’t coming back anytime soon.  Sliding into the cushion, the Serpent sighed in relief.