Trees & Shields: Part 9

“Reinforcements? From where? Are they landing more ships?”

Rachel shook her head. “It’s just people they already had on the ground—people who landed today mixed with some survivors from the ship you fought before.”

So that meant we had a chance. I wondered if Four Hands was among them and if he would do anything.

I said, “The battle’s just continuing then and they aren’t coming back to the planet?”

Rachel closed her eyes, breathing. “They’re fighting the Xiniti all over the system right now. I don’t think they have any ground troops that they can spare and even if they did, they don’t have any ships near here.”

I nodded. “I guess that’s good news. All we have to do is survive until the Xiniti win, Alliance ships show up, or maybe the Cosmic Ghosts take out the Ascendancy fleet.”

I thought about it some more. “That’s not bad odds. I think we’ve got more people technically—even if the colonists are ex-terrorists and not professional soldiers.”

Rachel took my hand, gave it a squeeze and let go. “Provided more Ascendancy ships don’t show up and blow the Xiniti to Hell while dropping thousands of troops down here. Also, assuming the Ascendancy doesn’t give up and drop a rock on us.”

I looked over at her. “Was squeezing my hand supposed to take the edge off that?”

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just as much in the dark as you are. More Ghosts are on their way. I don’t know when they’ll get here, but I think we’ve got a good reason to hope.”

I looked out at the second ring of blue, glowing shields going up around the shelter as we talked. The plant floated next to Captain Tolker, coordinating the defense. In that moment, it wasn’t hard to be optimistic.

The flashes of light in the distance made it a little harder though. I knew it had to be the Xiniti and they were trying to be louder and more obvious than they had to be in order to give the new troops time to set up. If the Ascendancy killed  these Xiniti, I suspected it would hurt us more than we knew.

Their constant attacks meant that the Ascendancy couldn’t ever put it’s full force against those of us defending the shelter.

“That’s a long silence,” Rachel looked at me and then out toward the shield rings. “Look at it this way. We’ve made it this far. Despite the Cabal, The Thing That Eats, the Nine, and all the others, we’re still alive. If you think about it, we shouldn’t be. All of them are out of our league.”

She wasn’t wrong. I needed to calm down and not keep on seeing all the ways that this could go wrong tonight. Chances are, the next big problem would be something that I didn’t even have on my list.

Plus, if I managed to relax, I might be able to get back to solving problems instead of worrying about them. A fight was at core a series of technical problems. I could handle them the same way I did at home—backing off for a little while, assuming that the Ascendancy gave me the time.

I didn’t want to even think about what it would be like to go through an even longer fight like the last one. We’d been far too close to losing.

To be fair, we were in a better position now. The trees were down all around the outer ring, all of them turned to ash by the ship’s main gun. The Ascendancy’s troops could try to jump over the shields, but they weren’t going to jump 100 feet high.

I wondered how much of what I was feeling came from not sleeping much and running for half the night.

I kept that thought in mind as I watched our people put the Ascendancy dead into a pile next to our dead (no one I knew). Making a pile next to the shelter didn’t feel quite right, but you didn’t want the bodies underfoot either. A pile made sense. They could handle them appropriately later.

Captain Tolker looked up at me on the shelter and then around the camp. “Everyone in the first battle should rest if you can. We’ve got four times as many people as we did before. So you should sleep, eat, whatever… They’ve withdrawn. I’m sure they’ll be back, but you’ll do better if you’re not tired. Take a moment. We’ll wake you when we need you.”

“That means you,” Rachel said, yawning. “And me too.”

Falling asleep turned out to be easier than I’d have expected. Between the nervous energy from the fight and being overwhelmed by all the things that could possibly go wrong, you’d think it would be impossible. It seemed like it would be, but then sleep took over anyway.

When I woke, the sun was rising in a direction I’d arbitrarily decided was east. I was still on the roof in my armor. I didn’t see any troops around us, but I didn’t believe they’d gone. They could easily be hiding in the forest on either side of the shield ring.

Captain Tolker must have agreed with me because he had troops manning weapons next to the rings, waiting for an attack.

Even as I thought about it, they made contact—not as an attack, but by voice. A  calm, female voice said, “I am Kamia of the Ascendant’s Guard. Surrender or we’ll kill you where you stand.”

5 thoughts on “Trees & Shields: Part 9”

  1. Possible edit:
    “A fight was at core a series of technical problems.”

    “A fight was at its core a series of technical problems.”

    “A fight was at the core a series of technical problems.”

    1. I don’t see anything really wrong with just “at core”. It’s maybe a tad brief (or you wouldn’t have found it unusual), but still technically correct. However, being a strong proponent of comma usage, I believe it should actually read like this:

      “A fight was, at core, a series of technical problems.”

      BTW, Jim, I loved the interaction between Nick and Rachel. The uncertainty of it all is a nice bit of reality.


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