Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cassie cut into Kamia’s shield again except this time she wasn’t alone. With Neves out of sight, Jaclyn blurred, running up to the shield and hitting on the line where the shield was reforming after Cassie cut it with her sword.
For a moment, the blue glow of the shield disappeared and I could see Kamia’s eyes widen. At the same time, she grabbed for her belt while turning to run.
By itself, that wouldn’t have done her much good against Jaclyn or Cassie. What did help was that the shield reformed around her, but much closer to her body. If that had been all, she would have died, but it wasn’t.
A bullet-shaped bolt of force from the direction that Neves disappeared hit Cassie, knocking her over. A second bolt, glowing yellowish-red around the edges, flew toward Jaclyn, but she moved to the side, avoiding it.
In that moment I felt a painful pressure in my head. It didn’t feel like when Daniel got into my head. To say that it felt alien didn’t cover it. It felt orderly and emotionless. It broadcast pain, but without any feeling of anger or animosity.
For a moment it felt as if it might try to go deeper into my head than surface thoughts. In that instant, I felt more than the smooth, almost artificial presence it had shown so far. The being on the other end of the mental connection quailed and squirmed as it pushed deeper.
Daniel had set up defenses in my head—first one that hid information from an invader and later he’d set up a trap that used imitations of Lee’s mind. One attacker had literally gone mad after trying to probe my mind. In retrospect, it might not have been so effective if Daniel wasn’t working with me—someone descended in some way from Lee’s species.
But that wasn’t the most important thing on my mind then.
In the moment that the mental presence made contact with Daniel’s trap, warped as it might be by my association with Lee and my heritage, the contact recoiled and the connection ended.
I became conscious of my surroundings again, noticing that I wasn’t the only one who had been attacked—Cassie and Jaclyn stood with their eyes glazed over as I came to and jerked into consciousness a little after I did. Behind me, Marcus, Tikki and Kals didn’t seem to have been affected.
Kamia, though, had started running and the Ascendancy soldiers followed her, aiming their weapons at us to buy time for their escape. Cassie managed to dodge behind some trees as a hail of bright beams burned the ground and trees around her, sometimes hitting her armor.
Jaclyn and I were in much the same situation except that Jaclyn could still act. Even I could see her stumble from whatever injuries she’d taken before we met up, but every soldier Jaclyn hit stayed down. Kamia retreated behind a phalanx of Ascendancy soldiers, all of them firing weapons.
Even with my armor and Jaclyn’s speed, she’d still be hit enough to get past the armor, given time. Jaclyn wasn’t suicidal, taking out small groups and stragglers that hadn’t moved fast enough to join the main group.
As they disappeared into the woods, Cassie asked, “What do you think? Should we follow them? I mean look, I know it sounds crazy, but they’re going somewhere and it’s probably to join up with fresh troops and then come back. If we could take them out before they got back there, they wouldn’t get back.”
Kals wiped her bloodied knife on the body of a dead soldier. “Could you take them out? Because if you can, I think you should.”
“Absolutely not,” Jaclyn put her hand to her head and took a breath. “Normally, I might be able to stop them by myself, but not right now and not with Neves in the group. Next time we meet them, we’ve got to try something different. He absorbs force—like that guy we fought ages ago back home—Payback, right? I didn’t know it before I started fighting him. I thought he was your run of the mill tough guy, and all I managed to was power him up.”
She looked over at me. “That’s why I told you to shoot him. Next time, you or Cassie have to take him on. I’ll go after Kamia.”
From behind us, Marcus said, “I think I could take him—at least if he didn’t have time to power up first. Tikki could too.”
Barely loud enough to hear, Tikki said, “I could have.”
“Me too,” Kals added, “if we can get his helmet off.”
Jaclyn waved her hand in the air. “Okay, okay. I get it. I’m the last person who should have taken him on.”
“Yeah,” Cassie said, “but you should have been the one on Kamia. She’s got some kind of slaved Abominator AI on her that kept on trying to break into the gun and into me through the link I’ve got with the gun.”
That explained the mental attack. Unable to stop myself, I said, “Is that what that was? All I knew was that it didn’t feel like a human telepath.”
At about the same time, Jaclyn stared at Cassie. “You should have told us. I would have swapped.”
Cassie frowned. “You saw the sword cut through her shield. I was so damn close to taking her down I could taste it.”
Jaclyn shook her head.