Nick, Shelter 454
We waited for the Ascendancy troops to arrive. Captain Tolker, the guy who led the briefing, turned out to be a mercenary who the resistance hired, but then became notorious enough that the Ascendancy decided that he was a resistance leader. In the end, he found himself here with everyone else.
I didn’t know where had he been before, but he spent the wait getting acquainted with those of us he didn’t know and encouraging those that he did. Though I’m no authority on leading troops, he seemed good at it.
I’d assigned myself to be behind the front line amid the melee fighter whose purpose was to jump in if a shield or tree went down and handle things until they could get a shield working again or have everyone fall back.
He stepped up to me, still larger even though I was in armor, and looked me up and down. “You’re one of the human Xiniti. I’m sure you’re very good, but tell me what you can do so that I know you’re in the right place.”
“My suit protects me, increases my strength, allows me to fly, and controls bots and weapons. My standard ammo doesn’t do much against Ascendancy armor except when using multiple rounds per soldier. My laser punches through, but it’s got limited shots. My sonics will stop big groups but only for as long as the sound continues.
“So,” I continued, “I decided I was best off as backup.”
He nodded. “That sounds right. I may have a mission for you later. Jump when I call you.”
“Sure,” I said, wondering if I should have said something that sounded more military.
Captain Tolker didn’t appear bothered, nodding and moving on to talk to Jaclyn. I didn’t hear much of what he said to her except that I did again hear, “… tell me what you can do, so I know you’re in the right place.”
As they talked, I checked my bots. I’d released the observation bots and the spybots, figuring that an early warning would be better than no warning.
I didn’t see anything special moving in the woods through a few of the bots had to dodge birds as well as small, raccoon-like predators.
I hoped that I’d designed the pattern to be tight enough. It’d be sad and pointless to send out the bots and leave a hole open that an army could walk through.
Out in the night though, small animals chased each other, but so far nothing else.
“I’m still surprised that this is everyone,” Marcus stepped up and stood next to me. “Wasn’t Crawls-Through-Desert supposed to be here or something?”
“I know. I get the impression that he’s gathering more people and he’ll show up with them when he shows up.”
Marcus’ mouth twisted. “Yeah. I’m hoping that happens before we get attacked instead of after afterward. I mean, it’d be awesome and all to be saved by them at the last minute, but we’d have to survive through whatever happens before that.”
I thought about that. “Almost dying that way would probably be less fun than it would be in the comics.”
“Yeah. Exactly. That or Lord of the Rings. Thing is, you read the books, right? Tolkien made it clear that every battle in those books was hard won. People died even in the easy battles.”
I nodded. “Tolkien fought in World War I. I’m sure it was miserable every step of the way. I think he was in the Battle of the Somme and I don’t know much about it except that I guess it was particularly bad.”
Marcus nodded. “I think I read that somewhere. Hey… I’ve got a totally different question. What did Tikki do to me? I know she healed me, but I feel like it was more than that. She’s been a little different since then. I don’t know how.”
I glanced over at her. She stood next to Jaclyn, talking. Both of them stood behind Cassie next to one of the force shields.
“You’re right,” I said, “but it’s way too complicated to get into right now. She’s going to tell you later, probably after the battle when there’s time.”
Marcus looked at me without saying anything for a moment. “I hope it’s not anything bad. Anyway, you should take a look at this.”
He pointed to a force shield to the left of us. Standing next to it with guns were Dalat and Gemman. Standing next to each other in combat gear, Dalat still looked small next to Gemman’s bulk.
“They were going to do their best to remove anything from their heads whether it was implants or motivator suggestions…” I tried to sound optimistic.
“Yeah,” Marcus said, “Maru was—back when Alyssa could mess with his head. People have to know about them, right?”
“Jadzen does.” I glanced in their direction again.
Dalat appeared to be deliberately controlling his breathing, taking in a little breath and letting out a long one. Gemman stared at his gun, opening sections of it, inspecting them and closing them. Then he closed the last and stared out into the darkness, practicing how he planned to stand while firing out of the hole in the shield.
They weren’t the only ones doing things like that. We were all waiting for hell to be unleashed in our general direction.
I considered asking Jadzen or maybe asking Kals to ask Jadzen what was going on with those guys, but in that moment one of my bots caught sight of the Human Ascendancy soldiers crawling through the woods.
Hell was on its way.