I couldn’t do anything about the death and destruction now and I reminded myself that we’d done this because we didn’t have the ability to meet them in a fair fight without losing a lot of civilians.
Looking past the force fields, I saw that not everyone had died. One hundred, maybe two hundred of the Ascendancy’s people had run out the other side of the field and were watching as the last of the creatures ran across the field and out towards the forest and fields on the other side.
As much as they must have been terrified and freaking out after watching their ship die and their crewmates trampled by giant space elephants, some of them were with it enough to begin firing at me. Flashes of light hit my suit and I felt heat across my chest.
I dove, dipping below one hundred feet, the height of the force fields. They stopped firing or at least stopped hitting. I wheeled around, heading back toward the rest of our group. “Hey everyone, you saw that, right? Do we have any reason to go after the rest of them?”
“No,” Jaclyn waved at Katuk and the both of them turned around to join Maru, Cassie, Marcus and the dog.
Even as I turned, more shots came across the field at me, none of them hitting for the moment. Checking my HUD showed that some of the Ascendancy soldiers had taken cover behind the corners of the fields and were shooting at the group of us. We weren’t close, so they weren’t hitting, but they’d hit if we stuck around.
I flew across the dead and damaged, finding that Cassie and Katuk were firing back, Cassie with her gun and Katuk with a gun that had formed on the right arm of his armor.
Through my implant, Jaclyn said, “Nick grab Cassie, Katuk take Maru, and I’ll take Marcus and the dog.”
Marcus’ body warped and shifted as he dove toward Tiger, surrounding the dog’s body with grey goo and sprouting wings. “Form of winged dog crate!”
Tiger whined and bent over to sniff his stomach, barely having time to try it before Marcus grabbed Jaclyn’s shoulders and she started running.
“Tell you what,” Cassie told me as I stepped toward her, “put me over your shoulder and I’ll keep on firing.”
“Don’t shoot my legs, okay?” I picked her up and gave the rockets fuel.
Gasping as the Rocket suit shot forward, pushing my shoulder into her stomach, she said, “This is the worst way to fly!”
Even as she said it, she’d already started firing. Beams of bright light shot backward, throwing up chunks of soil, bouncing off the force fields, and keeping the Ascendancy soldiers back behind cover.
She didn’t shoot my legs, but I was happier when I wasn’t watching her fire.
We kept up with Jaclyn and Katuk, staying low and whipping around the corner. Cassie stopped firing. “It looks like they’re heading toward the landing field.”
“They probably don’t know about the team that destroyed the shuttles.” I landed next to everyone and let Cassie stand on her own two feet.
Cassie watched the Ascendancy soldiers go. They were running about as quickly as Cassie or Maru could run—much slower than Jaclyn, but fast enough that they’d be down there in minutes.
Katuk watched them for a moment. “Crawls-Through-Desert, the Ascendancy group is running in your direction. Do you require assistance?”
The plant’s response came in a short burst. “How many of them?”
Katuk glanced toward the field and said, “Perhaps one hundred.”
I followed his gaze. He was right. They’d left maybe half of the survivors and sent them into the field to search for people to save. I didn’t begrudge them that. I’d have helped if I could.
The plant said, “We’re going to hide. Get over here and extract us. Watch for the Agent and the Guardsmen and while you’re at it, don’t underestimate the rest of them. They’re probably all powered and all marines.”
The group heading toward the landing field had already disappeared behind the town of Landing. The plan had been to hit the group and then withdraw. Crawls-Through-Desert’s group was only large enough to do its job—take out the force field. We hadn’t gone any larger because Hal’s prediction was that the survivors had a good chance of heading to the tunnels if Agent 957 still led them after the attack.
Jaclyn turned to the group of us, “You know what this means?”
Marcus’ mouth twisted. “More dog crate duty.”
“More flying,” Cassie holstered the gun. “Let’s get it over with.”
Maru frowned. “We don’t have time to waste.”
“Then let’s try to stay together. Follow each other’s position with your implants if you get separated.” Jaclyn glanced over at Marcus and he started to change.
Cassie looked up at me. “This time around just carry me. It’s still going to be awkward, but at least I won’t get the wind knocked out of me.”
It felt like it took more time to get ready than fly over there. We passed the town of Landing in a blur, touching down next to the lower edge of the town’s force shield, allowing us to look down the hill at the shuttles. At first look, the damage wasn’t obvious. They were all intact. The force shield around the landing area was even still up. The Rocket suit’s sensors showed warm spots under the shuttles where the beams cut pieces out.
Crawls-Through-Desert, Tikki, Kals, a small group of armed townspeople, and Asan and Sian, the techs responsible for the force shields stood waiting for us there.
That was the good news. The bad news was that we could see the Ascendancy troops on the other side of the landing field, standing out against the grass, the force fields giving them a blue glow. Judging from the soldiers’ armor and equipment, I knew they’d be over here soon.
The plant’s fronds rustled. “We need to move.”
We weren’t going to be able to carry all these people across the fields and over to the caverns or take on all of the soldiers directly.
Sian and Asan looked at each other. “We can open the shields and cut through town. We know where the explosives are. They don’t.”
We looked at each other. It seemed like a bad idea whose time had come.