I flipped from screen to screen in my HUD. The Ascendancy had sent a lot of troops. My gut said it had to be hundreds. According to my implant (which had noted the distance between the bots, the number in the pictures, the probable distance between them and made guesses about areas the bots didn’t cover), the number was more like thousands. Specifically, it was more than I thought had landed.
At any rate, that was the implant’s estimate. The number it had seen was 750—which was still an awful lot.
Around that time, beams of light appeared in the woods around us, accompanied by the screams of Human Ascendancy soldiers.
That would be the Xiniti that escorted Jadzen here. We’d been told that they’d retreated in the woods to reappear when they found it useful.
Here they were forcing a large force to divide in order to attack them as well as us. Not only that, but they’d just ruined the Ascendancy’s best chance to catch us unawares.
All in all, it had to drive the Ascendancy’s commander crazy. The Xiniti were mobile enough that even as I watched their beams would appear in one place, stop and reappear somewhere else.
For all that, the Ascendancy’s troops kept on coming. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to call it bravery. Even if it wasn’t the only reason they moved forward, they had motivators whispering in their ears through their communications systems.
Also, there were an awful lot of them. So a small number of roving Xiniti caused chaos, but the Ascendancy had enough people that they could devote a part of their force to watching for the Xiniti and firing whenever they saw any hint that they were there.
It worked well enough for them, I guess, in that they could keep on moving forward, but because the Xiniti could run past the edges of a loose formation and start firing at the group from inside it, the Ascendancy had to change to a tighter formation.
By the time they reached the clearing, they were marching in a long, rectangular shape. It didn’t mean that they were immune to the Xiniti’s attacks, but it did allow a lot of people to fire back at once.
It seemed like the entire right side of the group responded as we watched, blasting holes in trees, starting small fires, but not killing any Xiniti that we saw.
That might have been reassuring except that they only stopped firing for a moment before the whole formation charged us, splitting in half so that one side went to the right of our position and the other side went to the left.
We didn’t just let it happen. Captain Tolker ordered everyone to fire. Of course, we weren’t the only one firing. As the Ascendancy’s troops charged, they fired on us, blasts of energy hitting the shields and blazing with light.
Blasts hit trees and branches fell to the ground, sometimes hitting people. Tikki stopped a large one that threatened to hit the hand to hand fighters as well as knock over a shield generator pole. Her field slowed the branch enough that Marcus and I could throw it out and over the side.
The other defenders weren’t sitting still. Cassie’s gun killed any soldier it hit, burning holes through their armor and dividing the formation further back than they had at first, seemingly to avoid running headfirst into her fire. She divided the rest of her shots between the streams of troops going to the left and right.
It reminded me of nothing more than the invasion by alternate universe dinosaurs—except that the Ascendancy’s troops had better armor and could dodge better.
At the same time, Katuk fired a white beam that incinerated whatever it hit. It didn’t penetrate as deeply, but it burned away armor and skin just as well.
By that time, I’d begun to feel useless, but I was okay with it. This was the kind of fight that could kill any of us, and surviving untested wasn’t bad.
This is the sort of thought someone probably shouldn’t have in combat as the world appears to go to extra work to make sure that you know that you ’re wrong.
The Ascendancy soldiers had broken into two groups, each going around either side of the shelter’s shields and meeting on the other side to surround us. Because of the trees and the colonists’ ability to return fire without getting shot, they couldn’t get too close.
That must have been the origin of their next plan. Just like Travis and Haley, the Ascendancy’s soldiers were effective climbers, able to swing and leap through a forest. It wasn’t a surprise that a group of them jumped into the trees, leaping from branch to branch in an attempt to leap over the shields.
I saw it through my bots and warned everyone, even firing up at them, but they still landed in the middle of us.