Unshielded engines were a spaceship’s weak point in combat. That and anyplace they predictably thinned the shields—like weapon hardpoints. Anyone who’d trained on spacecraft knew it. There were a host of techniques to minimizing your chances of dying—ranging from special shields to keeping changes of direction brief. It wasn’t as if you slowed down very quickly in space.
Most of the defenses were oriented toward spaceships though because any living being that attempted to sneak past working engines would quickly become well done.
I had every reason to hope that didn’t apply to Izzy.
Turning my eyes away from the spaceship above us, I finished off what passed for a briefing. “Well, there’s the enemy. Remember, it’s big, but it’s doable. We can win this. Oh, and I’ll probably have to talk to a few of you before we go. You can probably guess who—Tara, Bloodmaiden, Paladin, and the Mystic.”
I used the comm to call Tara. Half a head taller than most of the women, Tara stood at the edge of the group, already whispering to people and pointing at spots in the trees.
I couldn’t see her very well between the transparency and the darkness, but I could see her. She turned to face me, square jaw pointing in my direction, giving me a level gaze. “Rocket?”
“Hey Tara, you’re going to be in charge of everything on the ground, and I didn’t ask you about it beforehand. You’re okay with that, right?”
She didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
It was the closest I planned to come to asking her if she was comfortable taking orders from me given what had happened to her father. Then I tried to pull the next question together in my head. Giving people orders wasn’t easy when you were still working out details of the plan.
“What else?” She asked.
“We’re going to need to convince them to turn on their engines. If we don’t manage it ourselves or get lucky, we’ll need you to do it.”
She nodded. “You can count on me.”
“I’m sorry to drop that on you in addition to keeping the civilians safe.”
“I was made for this. I’ll be fine.”
“Great,” I said, and left it at that. I could have pointed out that, unlike her relatives, technically she hadn’t been “made,” and that her people, even though they were genetically engineered soldiers, had apparently been created to destroy humanity instead of save it.
I didn’t because she could handle everything I needed her to, and more.
Hey Daniel, I thought, you know what I want you to do.
Stick with Vaughn, Sean and rest of them? Daniel sent back to me. I was planning to do that anyway.
Thanks, I thought.
Then I walked over to Jaclyn, Izzy, Bloodmaiden, and Alex. Bloodmaiden and Izzy appeared to be talking quietly about something. Alex must have successfully healed her because the cuts in her armor no longer glowed.
Alex was talking to Jaclyn. “Sorry,” he said. “I can’t do much for you. You know how it is.”
Jaclyn shrugged. “I’m not that hurt. It’ll heal.”
Alex frowned. “I don’t like being useless.”
“What’s up?” I stopped next to them.
“Nothing new,” Alex said.
Jaclyn said, “Don’t worry about it. Paladin can’t heal me, but I’m not badly hurt.”
I’d seen her get hit by one of the aliens’ weapons. I still wasn’t sure what kind, but it had been powerful enough to slow her down, burn her, and damage her costume.
“You’re sure? Why can’t Paladin heal you?”
Jaclyn glanced upward at the spaceship, but said, “The same reason his dad couldn’t heal my grandfather.”
Alex put his hands in the pockets of his long coat. “We can heal them, but it’s ten times as much work. If I heal her now, other people could die because I’m too tired to do anything.”
I’d always wondered why Jaclyn’s grandfather hadn’t gotten his eyes fixed.
“Ok,” I said, and stepped around them toward Izzy and Bloodmaiden. “You’re doing better, right?”
Bloodmaiden nodded. “I’m not about to die if that’s what you mean. What’s the plan?”
“Tara’s going to run things on the ground, so run this by her first, but we need them to turn on the engines. If you were to spear someone in the control room, I’m pretty sure they’d move the ship. They’ll probably pretty much annihilate everything around where you might be standing, so you’ll want to plan for that too. Uh… Maybe stand away from everyone else have Portal gate you out?”
She grinned. “I’ll work something out.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave it there, but I’d already taken enough time talking. It was all necessary stuff, but with the ship in the air above us, it would be better to act sooner than later.
“OK,” I said, and texted Rachel and Travis to join me. Izzy and Jaclyn were already near me after all.
Naturally that’s the moment when the aliens started talking to us—talking in a loose sense anyway. A voice from the ship blanketed the area.
I didn’t recognize the accent, but there were moments where it reminded me of Chinese, and others where it sounded Slavic. Mostly though, it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard. Nonetheless, it was obviously spoken by a creature that had learned it the hard way. It didn’t sound like a computer.
In a deep voice, it said, “You will surrender now, or we will burn you to death.”
On the comm Tara said, “Move away from the front of the building. Portal is gating people out, but don’t wait for her. Move towards the woods. Don’t go near the parking lot.”
Daniel blanketed the area with the thought, Ten seconds.
Everyone moved. I grabbed two kids, both girls that couldn’t have been over the age of ten, and ran to the forest, turning around to run back and grab more—except there weren’t more. There were enough of us that we’d managed to grab practically everyone at once. Jaclyn and Jody alone must have accounted for more than ten people each.
That was good because light blazed over the parking lot. I saw car windows crack, tires pop, and a car exploded, followed by more cars.
The light traveled across the parking lot, hitting the sidewalk which also cracked, throwing chunks of concrete in random directions.
The building’s lawn had already been hit by the first ships’ weapons, but this burned up the entire front in an instant—grass and dead aliens alike. Bits of burning ash floated in the air, drifting in all directions.
Children and adults both screamed while other voices tried to hush them.
The spaceship’s engines glowed, moving it closer to the building. I checked everyone’s locations in my HUD. We needed to take off now.