Trenith exhaled and kept on watching as the Ascendant Guard members kept on walking through the forest, their shields keeping the flames away from their bodies. One screen showed a map of the forest. If there were any doubt they were walking in our direction, the map killed it.
Trenith’s eyes moved from one screen to another. “We don’t have long. The outer circle is mines. The inner circle is force fields and lasers. There isn’t anything else. We’d hoped to be able to evacuate to the nearest neighbor, but with all of their people coming, we just have to fight. There’s nowhere we can go that they can’t find us. So, I’d get outside the force fields and get ready to fight.”
“God,” Cassie said, “when I said ‘traps,’ I was imagining more than that. That’s practically nothing.”
Eyes wide, Trenith could only say, “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. We were going to use the caverns for big stuff like this. This was where we’d go if one ship did a flyby.”
Jaclyn looked over at Cassie. “You’re not going to make it any better by arguing with him. We need to get out there.”
Cassie took a breath, “I know. Let’s do it. Let’s go off to the side to those trees there. Maybe we can flank them.”
Noting the trees that Cassie was pointing to on the map, I said, “We can try.”
On the screen, the forest floor fell out from under a group of Ascendancy soldiers following behind Neves and Kamia and the soldiers disappeared into a pit.
Cassie stared. “That’s more of what I imagined when I was thinking of traps.”
Trenith shook his head. “We gave up on pits years ago. We kept them up, but we decided they’d be a waste of time and we were right. Watch them.”
Even as he began the sentence, soldiers began crawling out of the pits, claws extended. Some of them were stained with dirt. A few bled from scrapes, but none of them seemed badly hurt. If they were anything like Haley and Travis, they wouldn’t be. Even if they’d fallen, they’d have caught themselves on the wall before falling all the way down.
“Let’s get out there,” Cassie walked toward the door and we followed her out into the dark.
We weren’t alone. Kals followed us out.
She wore what my implant classified as light armor—a gray jumpsuit that darkened as we stepped out into the night. I didn’t doubt that she could be useful, but given the real possibility of death, I wondered if risking Kals meant risking that Jadzen wouldn’t be able to make good decisions if Kals died.
Maybe I was being sexist, but I’d like to think that I would have been just as worried if Jadzen was a guy and Kals was his son as opposed to her daughter. Either way, I didn’t try to stop her. As a trained motivator, she might be able to stop the battle without a fight and she probably wouldn’t be as effective back inside.
I didn’t get a chance to finish my meditation on the wisdom of risking Kals. Marcus used the comm. “I’m going to stay here by the door. I’m going to be most useful if they manage to get close.”
I didn’t argue with him. He was right. My HUD gave me a visual of him lengthening enough to fit on one side of a tree. Tikki slipped into the trees near him and it made sense. They were both better off close.
The rest of us squeezed our way between the trees and it wasn’t easy. They weren’t any less close than they had been before we went inside. We pushed through, step by step, tree by tree, making our way to the spot on the map Cassie pointed out. All the while, I listened for the sounds of footsteps or the sounds of explosions.
I didn’t have difficulty finding them either. The trees were close and the Ascendancy soldiers big and broad-shouldered. When I pointed my HUD in their direction, I heard the scrape of armor against tree, creaks as someone pushed trees sideways to widen the path.
For all of Cassie’s complaints, it wasn’t a bad place for a fight if you wanted your opponent to fight the terrain as much as they did you. Of course, it’d be nice if you weren’t fighting the terrain too.
Plus, even if mines and force fields weren’t a wide variety of traps, they had their uses. The Ascendancy set off mines three different times on the way in. They had no chance of sneaking up on us.
When they finally did come within sight, they knew that the colonists knew they were there. How could they not? So instead of sneaking in, Kamia pulled a device from her belt and held it to her mouth.
“Jadzen Akri. This is Kamia of the Ascendant Guard. We know where you are and we have more than enough troops to catch and kill you and all your companions.”
Kamia wasn’t wrong. I counted 40 soldiers standing in the dark behind her, some of them stepping away from the main group to surround the building. That would be enough soldiers to handle everyone she knew about.
“If you value their lives, surrender now.”
“One,” Jaclyn said. “Two…”
When she said, “Three,” we were to find out how well she’d accounted for us.