The control center was large and octagonal, and even the bulk of the fighters didn’t fill it to capacity as they flowed in and separated to let Jess come to the front and she did, striding forward to the front of the room.
They were facing a wall with a second level high thick window in it, extending out from the side of the room and made of heavy, riveted steel jutting out over an underside full of consoles. The rest of the room was full of banks and banks of comp.
It had been left in a hurry. There were overturned chairs everywhere, and on the floor in all directions, trails of blood heading to the long, wide metal stairs up to the second level’s landing, to a door that was heavy and thick and firmly closed.
Behind the glassed in compound was the admin hallway, it connected the main entrance, to the corridor leading to Basic, but the only way to get to that was through the closed door.
Jess exhaled. “Damn.”
April was next to her. “Too bad we sent the wrenchers outta here.” She remarked in a mild tone. “I don’t think even all these yonks could get through that thing.”
“That’s why I said damn.” Jess sighed. “That’s fifteen inches of multilayer steel with two inch pins into the frame. “ She walked over and trotted up the steps, to examine the door. The fighters roamed around behind her, turning chairs back over and looking at the consoles.
Mike Arias came up the steps. “Ain’t gonna be able to burn through it.” He said. “Maybe when the wrenchers get here with the rigs.”
Jess ran her hands over the door, which was clamped tight, with no handles on the side she was on. It’s edge fit flush to the frame and there was nothing to grab and nothing to haul on. The gap between the door and the frame wasn’t even wide enough for Dustin’s fubar, if he hadn’t had it with him somewhere on the other side of the compound.
She abandoned the door and went back down the stairs, going to one of the control consoles and peering at it. The screens were dark, and all the touch controls were unresponsive, and she felt only slightly better because even if Dev had been here, with everything powered down she might not have been able to do anything.
“Sup?” Big Mike eyed her.
“We gotta get past this door.” Jess told him. “The entry is on the other side of that metal wall. The controls of this place are all up in that damn bridge up there.” She glanced over the room. “They shut down everything before they ran.”
Big Mike studied the structure. “Sucks.” He said. “When the rigs get here, they can land in the playground and grab us.”
“True.” Jess agreed. “But by then they might be gone.”
April was climbing up along the wall on the underneath of the bridge, inspecting every inch in case there was some opportunity to get in that way. She took a step back and regarded it, then took another couple of steps back and looked at the clear panels. “Burn the plas?” She suggested. “We could get something from those tanks and set fire to it.”
“Its thick as.” Mike Arias added, as he came to join them. “No batt left in these handys to melt it.” He held up his blaster.
The clear barrier was, as he said, thick as. It filled the wall depth itself, the density warping the view through it a little.
For a long moment, Jess studied it, very aware of the time ticking by, aware of the fact that all the people in the room were watching her, waiting for her to tell them what to do.
Yuck. She did not at all like how she felt at the moment.
So she stared at the plas, irritated, her eyes flinching a little as they tried to correct for the warping of the view, looking past it to the empty control booth, seeing lit screens reflecting idly against the blank, painted back wall.
She could almost hear, somewhat self mockingly in her head, Dev’s assurance that she had some kind of wrencher mindset. Without a bio target, she had no kind of mindset apparently. “Damn it.”
“We can go out the other way and try to get past the big gates?” April suggested. “Better than hanging out here.”
“Yeah, maybe.” Jess shifted to one side a little, and the view shifted, the clear surface suddenly reflecting back at her reminding her of…
Of something. Of something, but what? Where had she seen that odd flash of imagery coming back at her…. Ah.
“Gimme that.” Jess turned and held her hand out for the battered blackened hatch cover that Mike was carrying around in one hand, twirling it around his finger.
“Sure.” Mike handed it over without demur, watching as Jess stepped forward and lifted it over her head, then leaped up and whipped it forward towards the plas in a powerful overhead motion. “Hey!” He yelped in surprise. “Lookout!”
The point of the hatch cracked into the surface and - instead of bouncing back as everyone in the room had expected, hands going up in reflex to deflect it away, it penetrated into the surface and stuck there, vibrating, the surface emitting a weird, crackling just audible sound.
Jess followed up her pitch and stood under it, then crouched and leaped up to grab hold of the hatch, yanking it back out of the surface and dropping down to the floor. There was an odd, uncomfortable grating sound, and where the hatch had stuck, a shower of substance fell down and dusted her dark hair.
“What the what?” Big Mike said, after a silent pause.
Jess examined the point of the hatch. “It’s not plas.” She turned and grinned. “Get whatever metal we got and lets crack it. It’s glass.”
She turned and took several steps back, then ran forward and leaped up into the air, turning the hatch in her hands to point the edge forward and slamming it into the dent she’d already made in it. There was a repeat of the uncomfortable, grating sound and where the point impacted, now a tracing of cracks erupted, spreading out across the surface.
“Glass.” Mike Arias repeated. “Shitballs.” He whipped his head around, as the rest of the fighters started to move forward, looking around them for some piece of metal to work with. “Needs to be heavier than those pipes kids.”
“How bout this.” Big Mike lifted up a cabinet, hoisting it over his head and pressing it upward. “Lookout!”
Jess ducked out of the way and moved aside, her hatch still clutched in one hand as he threw the cabinet against the glass surface. It impacted and fell, not doing much damage but it gave a platform for the fighters to climb on and they did, and Evan jumped up and thumped his claws into the cracking glass, pulling out sections of it as he fell backwards, whooping with delight.
“Sweet!” The fighters swarmed forward, dragging consoles across the floor, ripping cabling out of it’s place to give them a makeshift ramp to climb up on to reach the control level.
“Glass. Huh.” April said, as she watched, arms folded over her chest. “How’d you figure?”
Jess twirled the hatch in her hands, inspecting the powered sparkling residue on the edge of it, noting the tiny sharp looking slivers. “Careful!” She called out to the fighters. “Pieces got a cutting edge.”
“No joke.” Big Mike held up a bleeding hand. But then he shook it to scatter droplets of blood and laughed and went back to the task.
“How did I figure.” Jess repeated, now to April, and in a lower tone. “It reminded me of something I saw once. The reflection maybe.”
“Huh.” April mused. “That’s old ass tech.” She allowed. “Maybe other side? They have a lot of ancient crap. You see it over there?”
“Nah, I was underwater messing around near the base and found a big chunk of it.” Jess mused, watching the destruction. “Back in the day stuff, some window or something. This place is that old.” She concluded. “Waters off the base were pretty cool, had a lot of sunken crap to look at.”
April eyed her. “Take your word for it.”
Large chunks of the glass now started to fall out of the window and fall out onto the floor and there was a gap large enough for Evan, climbing along with his protected fingers to penetrate the control booth. “Hai!” He squirmed inside, then turned and started kicking outward at the edge of the hole, his boots sending large pieces of glass flying everywhere.
“Great. We’ll be outta here in a minute.” Mike Arias said, in a satisfied tone. “We’ll beat the wrenchers to em. Good deal.”
An entire panel of the glass suddenly detached and tumbled out of the control booth wall, falling and hitting the floor with an impact that broke it into thousands of smaller pieces leaving a huge gap behind.
“That’s big enough!” Big Mike yelled. “Get movin!”
Fighters started crawling inside, and Evan left off taking out more glass to scramble into the room and turn in a circle, looking for threats. He paused, with his hands outstretched, the light in the room catching a coating of glass particles on the tips of his claws. “S’go!”
“C’mon.” Jess fit the hatch handhold over her hand and headed for the end of the row of fighters climbing up the debris and entering the booth. “Lets get this done.”
It was a rough ride up. The rig, now able to retract was doing just that, hauling her upward at a high rate of speed. Dev managed to get herself somewhat upright, and twisted around to face the cliff rather than the halon lit yard and the fence below.
She could have braced her boots on the harness port, but she instead she tried to guide her upward careen by shoving gently off the rock face as she traveled up it.
Suboptimal, but no time to worry about it.
Dev looked up to see the overhang fast approaching and she quickly rotated back around and kicked out hard against the cliff, shoving herself upward and outward to try and clear the edge before it had a chance to scrape her off the cable and send her flying downward.
Being airborne wasn’t much better but at least she could see over the top as she reached it and saw the jacketed bodies rushing towards her, and the blasters and if cursing were something bio alts did she would have. But there was no time to ponder that, as the retracting rig yanked her through the air and over the plateau edge.
She had no option to stop it, her scanner was flying behind her smacking her in the back and her focus was trying to get her feet under her as she went headfirst towards her carrier and the presumed adversaries now reaching out for her.
Halfway there she was grabbed and she tightened her grip on the rig, clamping down her fingers as she felt people pulling on her, trying to rip her off the line. She kept hold of the cable, and she could feel them being dragged along with her as the high speed retraction continued.
Her jacket was pulled back off her head, and then yanked down her shoulders, exposing her skin to the cold, wet air and she quickly shifted her hands down further onto the drop harness itself as she felt the carrier approaching at a dangerous speed and she knew she had to get herself stopped before she reached it.
Knocking herself out by hitting her own vehicle seemed extremely non optimal, and the cadets, as she now recognized them, were savagely trying to haul her down.
Dev twisted in mid air, kicking out against the hands holding her, feeling her heel impact something and then she was at the side of her carrier as the rig fully retracted, the end of the harness coming up hard against the skin of the vehicle.
She only barely kept from being slammed into it and now with her shoulders against the comforting feel of her carrier she kept her grip on the rig and lifted her weight up by it, using her legs to punch out against the parka covered bodies surrounding her.
She felt no fear, but then, since her assignment downside she hadn’t felt any at any time. Doctor Dan had told her, once, that was part of her programming. And so, now surrounded by trained cadets who were trying to attack her, the major emotion she felt was intense irritation because they were preventing her from accomplishing her task at hand.
Jess was, after all, depending on her to do that.
There seemed to be five of them all grabbing at her, pulling her arms, trying to pull her off the rig, but they were all, she realized, younger than she was and though they were trying to wrestle her off the line with a lot of determination her grip withstood the pulling and her kicks were effective in keeping them back from her.
She drew in a breath. “STOP!” She yelled. “THIS IS NON OPTIMAL!”
“Grab her… get her down so we can get into these things!” A female voice shouted. “C’mon, it’s just an f’n bio!”
Dev felt someone hit her and she twisted with the blow to deflect it’s force, hearing the thump as the fist slid off her neck and hit the carrier. Someone grabbed her shirt and pulled it tight around her neck and she quickly sucked in a breath before they could cut it off.
She kept kicking and twisting, releasing one hand off the rig to grab the wrist of the hand grabbing her neck and squeezing it as hard as she could.
Then she heard a bellow of rage from the direction of the edge of the plateau, a guttural yell of a word she’d come to know rather more well than she’d imagined.
“YO!” Dustin struggled up over the edge, breathing hard, and threw his fubar forward to grab into the rock letting him pull his body up and onto the ledge, then he stood up and charged the group of cadets. “LEAVE ROCKET ALONE!”
“Fuck it’s one of the goons.” The female wrestling with Dev turned. “Shoot him.”
Dev yanked herself out of their grasp and got her feet on the ground, then she whirled around and swung the metal rig at the nearest cadet, who was aiming his blaster at Dustin and about to pull the trigger.
She hit him in the face with drop hook and ducked, as the female whipped her own blaster around and hit her on the shoulder with it.
Then Dustin was there, and sweeping across his body with his fubar in one hand and his knife in the other. He knocked the female cadet backwards with the force of his approach and then just dropped his weapons and grabbed her, lifting her up over his head and whirling around, sending two of the others back sprawling on the ground as the female’s legs sprawled out and smacked into them.
Dev quickly hit the other cadet in the head with the rig again as he was about to jump on Dustin’s back and a second later Dustin stepped forward and just threw the cadet in his grip off the ledge in a wide arc, sending her tumbling through the air to hit the electrified fence below them.
There was a huge surge of power, and the cadet was jerking and screaming, caught on the thick metal powered beams her body bursting into flames as it stuck to the steel, caught in the current.
Dustin then whirled back around and faced the rest of the cadets, who abruptly stopped moving. He reached down and picked up his weapons, his hoodie so saturated in blood it was almost black, his hazel eyes staring at them without blinking. “I tol’ja, don’t mess with Rocket!”
The sound of the other carriers retracting their rigs was suddenly very loud in the silence as the cadets stared at him, two still on the ground, the cold wind fluttering their hair as a brief flurry of snow dusted them.
“Fuuuuuuck.” The one closest to him on the ground exhaled.
Alarms sounded, wailing and far off, as the electrified barrier continued to spark and sizzle, and a moment later, the gate they’d come through swung shut, slamming to with a blue flash of electricity.
The wind gusted over them again, carrying the scent of burned flesh.
A second later the top of Doug’s head came up over the ledge and he was scrambling onto the ground, with Kirin behind him, knife clenched between her teeth. They jumped off the line and it whirled through the air to seat in Doug’s lopsided carrier.
Douglas was the next up onto the ledge with Chester right behind him, and then Brent hauled himself up and over the rim, rolling clear of the line to let tow headed Jake scramble up after him.
They all got up and then paused at the silent tableau. “Jackass baby triggers.” Doug finally said. “You okay, Dev?” He looked past them.
“Optimal.” Dev released her hold on the carrier rig. “Thank you.” She confirmed. “Let proceed with our task.” She shrugged her parka back up onto her shoulders and fastened it, then seated the drop rig in it’s housing and proceeded briskly along the side of the carrier. “We are wasting time.”
“Yeah let me get this rig off the ground.” Doug headed for his carrier.
The cadet she’d been hitting in the head dropped to one knee, his hand coming up to the bloody knot on his forehead. It was the dark haired, tall boy. “Shit.”
“I told you.” A young, male voice drifted forward. A tousle headed figure edged forward from behind the carrier and cautiously approached the scene. “That you were fucking idiots.”
“Oh shut up, Sutton.” The dark haired boy said hoarsely.
“Well he was right, Pickett.” The short, blond cadet JJ behind him came around to the other side of the carrier, both hands held shoulder high, palms outward. “We should have just sat here and waited for them to come back, and asked nicely.”
“Well.” Sutton put his hands on his hips. “Lara found out the hard way. Bye.” He waved briefly at the twitching body on the fence. “Not gonna miss your asshole attitude.”
“Excuse us.” Dev pushed past him and went over to the hatch of her carrier “Please get out of the way.”
Sutton sidled closer to Dev. “Actually we just want to come with you.” He said, mildly. “Not all of us are morons like those other guys.”
Dev touched the hatch and felt it unlock and start to swing open, releasing the scent inside of electronics, and metal and just a bit of the Bay. “But you did not try to stop them.” She remarked. “From harming us.”
“No.” Sutton agreed. “And I’d have jumped inside if they’d taken the lot of you down and stole this thing.” He said. “That’s what we’re trained for.” He added, after a brief, somewhat awkward pause. “Y’know?”
“Yes, I am aware.” Dev smiled briefly. “However, that would have been non optimal since this vehicle would have blown up without my presence or Jess’s inside it and you would have all been made dead.” She vaulted into the carrier, almost unreasonably happy to be inside again.
She seated her scanner into it’s holder on the side of the pilots station and dropped into her seat, reaching over to activate the carrier’s subsystems.
“Hey maybe I could have disarmed your comp.” Sutton edged to the deck of the carrier and leaned inside to watch her.
Dev looked back at him and smiled briefly. “Unlikely.”
“Pretty confident for a bio.” Sutton shot back, then was slammed against the side of the carrier by Dustin’s brawny arm. “Oof! Okay gorilla! I’m just talking smack!”
“Yo.” Dustin picked him up and started walking towards the edge of the ridge, holding him by the neck and the crotch. “Hai!!” He let out a yell as Sutton twisted and squirmed in his grasp, to no avail.
“Dustin!” Dev got up and went over to the hatch. “Please release that person and board, we do not have time to waste.”
Obediently, the Bay resident dropped Sutton on the ground and returned to the carrier, vaulting inside as the other carriers spooled up. “Not cool.” He made a face at her, and she patted his arm. “S’lucky my cuz wasn’t here.”
“That is a valid statement.” Dev concluded, glancing out to see the other carriers preparing to fly. She saw the windscreen on Doug’s slide open and he waved at her, perched almost sideways in his pilot’s chair.
Sutton got up and came back over. ‘Okay.” He put a hand on the deck of the carrier. “I’m an asshole. Can I come with you anyway?”
The rest of the cadets were clustered against the back wall of the ledge, as far away from the carriers as they could get. “Sutton, get over here before you end up a French fry too.” JJ called out. “We’ll figure out what to do when these lunatics leave.”
He looked over his shoulder. “I don’t think they’re lunatics.” He said, in a flat tone. “I think they’re the winning side and I’m not into losing.” He added. “So fuck off, the lot of you.”
Dev regarded him with some interest. She nudged him with her boot and he turned abruptly back around to face her. “Have you taken aeronautical platform based targeting in this school yet?”
Sutton stared at her. “What?”
“Have you?” Dev asked again. “If not, please step back so this hatch does not harm you when it closes.”
He looked bewildered. “We took basic mods last week?” He ventured in a questioning tone. “Not sure why you care?”
“Possibly optimal.” Dev nodded. “In that case, please board, you could possibly be of use.” She said. “However, if you intend on causing a disruption it will be suboptimal for you to join us and we will eject you at altitude.”
“I’ll be good.” Without hesitation he boosted himself up and into the carrier, without a glance behind him. “Going with you could be a fast ride to dead anyway?” He said, brightly. “But better than freezing to death out on this ledge.”
Dev went forward in the carrier and pulled her flight helmet off it’s holder, putting it on and activating it, as the systems started to spool up around her. She stripped out of her parka and slung it over the back of her pilots chair, then sat back down in it. “Flight, Bay 1, stand by to lift.”
“Ack.” Doug answered. “Closing hatch, lookin forward to being upright.”
“Ack.” Chester responded. “We’re ready.”
“Go.” Brent said.
Sutton looked around wide eyed, then took a seat gingerly near the exit. “This is… interesting.” He looked at the ring of fighter positions and the stripped down interior.
Dev sealed the hatch. “Please put on restraints.” She said, as Dustin went to his usual place, the first fighter seat aft of her station. “Dustin, please take the gunner position.” She powered up the landing jets and boosted, blasting the ridge and sending rocks and snow to pelt the rest of the cadets as the carrier lifted. “It is possible I will need you to operate the offensive systems.”
“Hoyah.” Dustin happily hopped over into Jess’s seat, putting his fubar and pipe down on the ground and putting his boot on top of them. He pulled down the restraints and buckled them, as Dev got the engines spooled up. “Oh yeah!”
“Hey you sure you can fly this thing?” Sutton suddenly asked. “Not tryin to be a jerk again but I got time on the sims.”
Dev glanced in the reflector, a faint twinkle in her eyes. “We will find out in a moment.”
Dustin looked around and stared at Sutton. “Put ya belt on.” He warned.
“I’m holding on, Tarzan. We’re not going that far.” Sutton said. “It’s on the other side of the school, right? That where we’re going?”
“K, no problem.” Dustin tightened down the restraints. “Yo yo, Rocket, go!”
Dev boosted up over the yard, quickly getting the carrier up over the level of the Pit, glancing in her onboard scan to watch the rest of the flight join her, even Doug who had, in fact, managed to lift his lopsided vehicle without issue. “Stand by to maneuver.” She adjusted the sidebands.
“Right behind ya, Rocket.” Doug responded. “Go go go.”
“Yes.” Dev shoved the throttles forward all the way and engaged the boosters, and the carrier went from a standstill to full speed like an actual rocket taking off, throwing them all against the back of their seats, and Sutton out of his to slam against the back wall of the carrier as grav pinned him there.
“Oh crap.” He grunted hoarsely.
“Tolja.” Dustin wiggled happily in his seat. “This’s gonna be the BEST!”
Dev held her course steady, coming over the burning school buildings and zooming across the large campus towards the landing field, where she could already see the transport in motion. “Non optimal.” She frowned.
She glanced in the reflector and then abruptly cut speed enough to drop Sutton off the wall, then she pitched the carrier nose down and reversed for the seconds needed to throw him forward, up to slam into the bulkhead next to her.
She lowered the jumpseat in time for him to land on it. “Put on restraints.”
“Oh fuck yes.” He scrambled with them, blood running from his nose. “You are a maniac.”
Dev returned her attention to flying, righting the carrier trajectory and redlining the engines, moving into smooth barrel roll as she came over the central part of the school and whipped through the rising smoke from the burning buildings.
“Got incoming!” Doug called out on the sideband. “TU’s lifting!”
“Please engage them. I will focus on the transport.” Dev checked her angles and nudged the throttles again. “Jess has requested that it not be allowed to depart.”
At the last curve in the hallway before it straightened out to the entrance Jess halted, throwing her arms out to either side in an abrupt gesture.
April slid over to her. “What?” She mouthed, almost silently.
Jess’s ears twitched. “I hear energy weapons.” She uttered softly. “Must be a rear guard at the door.”
The fighters were all gathering up behind her. Evan cocked his head a little. “The whiny whiny?”
Jess nodded. “Batts spooling to discharge.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Okay. Front line, we’re gonna go around that corner and dive for the floor, and shoot.”
The fighters in front, ten of them, nodded in understanding, removing their long rifles from their backs and cradling them in their hands. “Yo.”
“Shoot on two. Go, drop two.” Jess whispered. “K?”
“Yo.” Big Mike uttered back.
“We come around the corner and shoot with these.” Jess held up her hand blaster to April and Mike. “Go for the back line when they jerk upright and try to dive.”
April nodded, and smiled, and Mike Arias edged up behind her. “Lets go.”
Jess took a breath, and hoped she wasn’t making a stupid blunder. “Ready. Ready. Go.”
There was a surge of motion, and the row of fighters came around that last corner and dove for the ground, as a huge wash of energy release came over them and hit the corridor wall, blowing a huge hole and sending stone shrapnel into the rest of the waiting force.
Then the rifles all let off, just as Jess, April and Mike came round the corner standing, leveling their hand weapons and catching enemy soldiers as they tried to dive out of the way of the projectiles that blew up the front line of troops.
The end of the corridor was covered in blood, and their hand weapons kept heads down. “Go!” Jess yelled behind her “Down the hall!”
The other twenty six fighters swept around the corner and surged forward at full speed, jumping over the prone riflers and heading for the rearguard who were struggling to move back and out of the way, tripping over the body parts now scattered around the floor from the projectile’s force.
The end of the corridor was in chaos, and by the time the fighters reached the enemy position they were all fleeing, pulling back and leaving a half dozen dead behind them. The prone line then popped up and barreled after them, and the three ex Interforce brought up the rear, weapons held now in reserve.
“Good plan.” April complimented her. “Now we just got to get through the welcome center. “
“Hopefully they’re all still running and we just chase em down outside.”
Then they were at the end of the hall and through the doors into the rotunda, a large, beautifully stone lined space that reflected the mountains that surrounded the facility, layers of sedate, desert colors with the walls full of historical pictures of the school.
As the entered the last of the enemy were going through the outer doors into the dark and halon light spear streaked outer yard and the landing field beyond it.
On the floor there were two bodies, dressed in school staff clothing. One had nothing left of their head, the other was moving just a little.
The floor had blood on it.
“Get after em.” Jess pointed at the door. “Stop the bastards.”
The fighters happily complied, redoubling their speed as they raced out of the door and out into the chill of the yard, fitful snow still drifting across it.
Past them, there were moving flight beacons, and on the far end, the transport was trundling into motion, engine cowls lighting up and landing jets flaring, starting to lift.
Dev could see the transport’s landing jets fire, lifting it off the ground and the engines showed white hot in her wiremap. “Suboptimal.” She muttered.
“Shoot em?” Dustin asked, hopefully.
“I would rather not risk damaging the children.” Dev said. “Please just hold on a moment.” She glanced to her left, and without a word Sutton tightened his restraints, bracing his boots against the chair struts and pressing his back against the jumpseat.
She made for the transport, judging the line of flight, then was aware that the enemy carriers were coming for her in a triangle. She abruptly slammed on the afterburners and pitched the engines upward, sending them up and over the incoming vehicles as her sensors indicated incoming fire.
Unsure of whether it was from the enemy or her own escort she zoomed upward and out of range, then came up over the top of her arc and went briefly weightless, causing Dustin to squeal in delight but then pitched the craft around in a tight curve and headed back groundward.
The transport was lifting and about to engage their mains, the fuselage clearing the fencing of the yard and she watched the trajectory, plotting the physics of the motion in her head.
Well. She settled her boots more firmly in the thrusters. Jess had asked her to prevent the transport from leaving. “Clear to southern trajectory.” She called into the sidebands, and pushed the controls forward. “I am operating.”
“ACK!” Her other three carriers responded instantly. “We’re doing evasive! Holy crap we can’t see you on scan!”
Ah. Dev adjusted her side thrusters. “Yes. Please take care.”
The carrier dove in a sharp angle, coming plunging down out of the clouds and through the drifting snow right at the transport, matching it’s speed, and on a collision course as she sought to intercept the flight line.
“What the hell are you doing?” Sutton asked, his head almost turned around completely watching through the window.
“Complying with my instructions.” Dev said, calmly. “I would put your head back against the seat.” She adjusted her seat a bit more forward and ratcheted down her own restraints, as the proximity alerts started to sound.
The wiremap went red as the trajectories lined up, and in her comms she heard Doug yelping in the background, but she took off the autonomic systems and went full manual, ignoring the wails.
She focused on the transport beneath her, and as it lifted she dropped, cutting her engines, the carrier moving at speed as she slammed the bottom of it onto the top of the transport’s cockpit and nosecone bringing the full weight of the vehicle onto it along with her forward motion.
The carrier rocked violently, slamming all of them against restraints and setting off more alarms, and as the ground rushed abruptly towards them Dev lit off her engines at full power, sending a blast of jet energy backwards right into the front of the plane.
She felt the explosion before she heard the rumble, the outgassing from her engines interacting with the transports outer skin and the cracked overlay her impact had ruptured, and she kicked the landing jets hard on to shove them up and away.
The carrier lifted up off the transport and rocketed up into the air, fighting to gain altitude. She made a tight turn just over the fencing, barely clearing it, proximity alarms whooping wildly as she came around to face the landing field.
Below her the transport plunged back to the ground, slamming hard into it, pieces of the wings breaking off as it abruptly lost momentum and crashed back to earth, shedding pieces of metal as its engines impacted the stone.
“Whoooo.” Dustin’s eyes were rounder than usual. “Wooooow.”
“There.” Dev got some altitude under her and swept the airfield quickly, seeing her three colleagues engaged with the six enemy escorts, making turns and sweeps to stay out of range. “Now. Lets see what can be done about this situation.”
Sutton had his head pressed back against the jumpseat, his eyes large and wide as sea scallops. “You are out of your fucking mind.” He said, in a clipped tone. “Let me out of this thing.”
“It would be better if you turned to the right there, and manipulated the targeting schema.” Dev said, as she turned the carrier onto it’s side, swiping past the admin building almost at ground level and coming up behind it. “Dustin, now please prepare to fire the weapons.”
“Oooooh yeah!” Dustin reached both hands up and pulled down the triggers, his fingers wiggling into the gloves and flexing. “S’go!”
Sutton just stared at her sideways.
“Our chances of surviving to allow me to land and let you egress would be enhanced if you assist.” Dev told him. “Input on the right, second panel, it’s unlocked.” She opened up the weapons systems and lit up the board next to Dustin.
The lights in the carrier morphed to red, and she saw the indicators go on for the external running lights. “Flight, please arm.” She said, briefly. “We do not have opportunity to land. Please try not to damage each other’s vehicles.”
“Oh boy.” Doug said. “Stay out of each other’s flight lines.”
“Don’t touch nothing till I tell ya!” Brent’s voice sounded, off mic.
“Lookout!” Chester cut in. “Got a twofer heading your way Brent!”
Dev picked one of the enemy carriers and headed for it. “Please attempt to add these objects to the targeting database.” She told Sutton. “And stand by to invert.”
“Stand by to what?”
The enemy carrier let loose a barrage at them at close quarters, and Dev immediately rolled the carrier over and caught the blast on the bottom shields.
“Fuuuuuuuuck!” Big Mike yelled, pointing. “You see that?????” He looked back over his shoulder at the rotunda doors. “Drake! Get over here!”
“Stop them!” Jess yelled as she ran through towards the doors, hopping over bodies. “Don’t sightsee!”
“I’m goin but check out your boat!” He jumped off the steps and started running after the escaping enemy, who were heading as fast they could to the one escort plane remaining on the runway, engines lit, one soldier standing at the hatch yelling and gesturing frantically.
The enemy fighters made no attempt to turn and fight, they had weapons stowed and were just hauling along as fast as they could over the rocky ground, some slipping a little in the snow cover.
“Oh hell he’s right.” April got outside and skid abruptly to a halt. “Rocket’s doing a crazy!” She threw up her hand to shade her eyes from the halon lights. “Shitballs!”
Jess got out into the front steps and hauled up herself as she spotted the mottled, coppery halon dusted form of her carrier twist and plunge out of the sky at full speed, heading for the large lifting aircraft. She took a breath to yell, then her jaw snapped shut and her eyes popped wide open as Rockstar abruptly cut propulsion and dropped onto the cockpit of the transport with a loud, crashing sound that echoed across the field.
“What th..” April was next to her, voice rising in shock.
Both aircraft veered in mid air, then with a booming roar the carrier lit off engines and landing jets and set the cockpit of the transport on fire, sending it crashing back to the ground in flames, parts of it flying off in a cloud of sudden particulate and dust.
Rockstar peeled to one side and lifted, veering off and just clearing the gates as it swept around in a tight turn, coming over them as they ducked in reflex, the arming lights flashing on as the craft boosted and sped up towards the enemy.
“Did I just see that?” April said, almost breathless. “Did she just knock that f’n plane out of the air? What the what the what the what???”
“Yeah.” Jess almost hiccuped as she took it in. “Damn.” She took a breath. “That’s less insane when you’re watching from the inside for sure.” She marveled, watching her carrier pivot gracefully. “Can’t imagine what that must be like for the other guy.”
“Dev did that on the way back from space.” Jess said. “In the shuttle.”
April was momentarily silence. “Glad I was somewhere barfing.” She said, after a pause. “Had no f’n idea.”
Jess’s eyes briefly twinkled. “Tougher than she looks.”
“Crazier than she looks.” April shot back.
Jess chuckled and checked the charge on her blaster. “C’mon.” She jumped off the steps and headed for the transport, tilted to one side and in flames. “People to kill, things to blow up.”
“Doodley do.” April chuckled again. “Best day ever.”
The Bay fighters had caught the last of the enemy soldiers before they reached the waiting plane, and seeing that the craft hastily closed it’s hatch and started into motion, lights flashing as it lurched forward and gathered speed rapidly.
As Jess caught up with them, they left the enemy soldiers behind on the ground and chased after the plane, racing across the cleared rock surface, weapons strapped to their backs.
“Damn.” Jess paused for a moment to watch the plane roll out, and as she stood there Big Mike arrived and without preamble plunked his rifle muzzle down on her shoulder. “Hol’ still, Drake.” He sighted along it’s barrel and pulled the trigger.
The projectile hit the airplane’s tail based engine as it trundled away from them, and it veered crazily as the engine came apart, the projectile tearing through it’s intake and blowing out the other side. It abruptly stopped it’s forward motion and tipped to one side.
“Nice shot.” Jess complimented Mike.
“No kicking my ass this time?” Big Mike grinned. “Almost out of plugs though. Only got two more.” He looked regretfully at his armament sling, tucked along his side. “Lemme go see if we can crack that clam back open.” He ran after the fighters, who had caught up with the plane and were now gathered around it, looking to tip it over, shoving it upward along one side.
It’s hatch popped open and the muzzle of a blaster appeared, only to be whacked by a steel pipe and knocked clear, the weapon falling out of the craft and falling to bounce across the ground. Fighters quickly hopped out of it way and two of them grabbed hold of the hatch and started to force it all the way open.
Evan leaped up and thrust his claw fitted hand inside, and yanked backwards, and an enemy soldier came falling out of the craft, arms flailing. He had a hand blaster in one hand and Evan just pulled him to the ground and kneeled on his arm, pinning it, as Emily rolled in from the other side and backhanded her knife into the man’s chest.
Half of the Bay squad was heading for the transport, which was on it’s side, the entire forward section in flames. One wing was broken off, and an engine had scraped off onto the rock ground, and was also in flames, illuminating the field in lurid greens and oranges.
April checked the level on her blaster. “You want any witnesses?” She asked Jess, with the faintest of chuckles as they ran side by side towards the wreck.
“Nah.” Jess said. “Lets just get our peeps out. Rest of them can burn.”
“Hope those yonks in the busses don’t shoot each other.” Mike Arias caught up on the other side. “That was crrrrraaaaazy.”
Jess tipped her head back and watched as Rockstar did a roll over, and caught a blast on it’s under shields, then continued flying upside down under the enemy carrier only to blast up behind it, then arc back over into a turn that brought them up level on it’s tail. ‘Yeah.” She watched a blast of somewhat erratic fire emerge and hit the enemy. “Me too.”
They both broke into a run, as the sound of the carriers boomed overhead, and the firing started, one of the barrages flashing past them and hitting the admin building taking apart it’s roof.
Dev found that just having Dustin keep on the triggers provided her with a stream of destructive force that she could affect the aim of by positioning the carrier. She kept her eyes flicking between the available power in the systems as he happily kept up firing, laying a somewhat random pattern of fire in front of them.
She dropped and spun and turned in the air, and the blasting moved with her, cutting across the sides of the enemy carriers as she worked the thrusters to change position almost continually.
“Okay.” Sutton had finally focused on the targeting. “I got em plugged in.”
Dev nodded, then she spotted two of the enemy carriers coming at Doug from different directions, hammering him with short range fire. “Stand by.” She went vertical again, turning the craft on it’s tail and heading skyward, then twisting into a spin at the apex and coming back down towards one of the two enemy craft.
The spew of firing caught it across the canopy, and its shields flared in response, she felt the return fire from another enemy on the bottom of her own shields and boosted them.
Below them she could see the transport’s flaming fuselage lighting up the sky, turning the underside of the carriers on both sides lurid red. She kept aiming her gun output on the target she’d selected, and closed in on the top of the carrier.
Abruptly it disengaged and fled, zooming off away from her as she then turned her attention to the second, only to find it being chased off by Doug, plasma bombs emerging from his forward battery and lodging themselves into the enemy carrier’s upper deck.
In a moment, it imploded, a huge energy release that spread out across the field. “Please stop firing.” Dev said, as she boosted up away from it, sailing up and over the school grounds. The guns stopped and she glanced in the reflector, to see Dustin wiggling in the gunner chair grinning. “Excellent work!”
“One down!” Doug caroled into her ear. “Kirin FTW!”
“Big boom!” Kirin sounded delighted. “Check that out!!”
Dev pulled a tight turn and scanned the air, then saw that the other carriers had converged on the transport, and were blasting it and the ground around it. She looked at the ground and saw the tall figures of the Bay ducking for cover.
“Suboptimal.” She said, briefly. “They are trying to destroy the transport.”
“And the Drake and co.” Doug said. “Can’t have that happen. C’mon!”
“Yes.” Dev adjusted a setting. “Please get ready to resume firing, Dustin.”
“Those are TU’s.” Sutton said suddenly from nearby. “The new ones. They got a sensor pack just behind the cockpit.” He was tapping on the screen. “Maybe I can zero in.” He muttered. “Keep my mind off the insanity around me.”
Dev leveled out and started her run. “Dustin, please commence fire.” She said, feeling the shudder through the skin of the carrier as her guns cut loose again, a golden flare bursting out before her as she came to speed and headed directly for the attacking carriers.
“Think I got it.” Sutton said, eyes flicking over the screen with intense focus. “Yeah if you can get through shields there it’ll…”
Dev barrel rolled as the nearest carrier tried to get her in their scope and they were nose to nose for a brief moment before she dumped speed again and dropped under the craft, shutting her windscreen and getting between it and the Bay fighters and taking the blast along the upper fuselage.
Shooting past the craft she cut the mains and hit the landing jets, turning the carrier almost in it’s length and bringing her firing along it’s side as the jets boosted her, stitching along the side of the craft at a three quarter angle.
The huge flare would have blinded her if she’d had the windscreen open, but the wiremap merely noted it’s presence and she cut in the mains again to send her up and over it’s self destructing in mid air chaos.
Mindful of the blasts still issuing from her forward guns, Dev pointed herself sky ward and got up and away from the unstable air. “Like that?” She asked, as she rolled the carrier over again. “Dustin please cease for a moment.”
She slid the windscreen open and Sutton was stretched against the restraints trying to see through it, as the flare from the explosion faded.
“Two down!” Doug’s voice called out. “Brent’s got another one!”
Below her, Dev could see the Bay fighters on the move again towards the transport, and as she watched, she recognized Jess’s tall form as she reached the aircraft and grabbed the edge of the cracked open loading door.
She took the targeting data and send it to the rest of the flight. “This might be useful.” She reported. “Our student passenger has assisted.”
Chester chuckled. “Go baby trigger!”
“They’re coming back, c’mon!”
The ingress hatch proved no match for Jess and her gang as they grabbed onto it, and got boots up against the fuselage to haul it outward and down. Against the whine of the pneumatic systems trying to close it was the sounds of chaos inside, and the ferocious snicking of flames.
“Morons wanna cook?” Big Mike was next to her, his fingers hooked around the edge of the door, one big boot braced against the edge of the opening. “Open the f’n door jackass!”
Jess got enough clearance to get her torso up onto the inside of the hatch, took a deep breath of cold air and slide inside, greeted with a hugely dense cloud of smoke. She had her knife out and one hand spread ahead of her, and a dark figure jumped at her with a flash of blaster fire.
It came past her head as she felt her body move instinctively to evade it and she grabbed the hand holding the blaster, twisting her wrist to direct the fire at the ceiling of the plane.
Behind her she heard the rest of the fighters entering, and she slashed her knife hand in a backhanded motion that caught another armored figure coming at her across the chest, her point getting lodged in his body armor and deflecting him to the side.
Someone else grabbed her from behind and she swung her elbow at them, hitting their battle helmet and knocking it half off their head as they shoved a muzzled into her back and she dropped to a knee unexpectedly, the blaster firing past her left ear as it slid up her body.
She heard it hit the roof and a shower of sparks fell around and over her, but her hair and clothing were so wet with snow and blood they sputtered out immediately.
Before he could shift the blaster to target her head she rose up again and brought a knee up to hit his hand, sending another blast past her to hit a panel on the inside of the wall near the open hatch and that then burst into flames.
He was cursing. She grabbed his wrist and clamped down, pushing him away at the same time, and when the blaster fell from his now nerveless fingers she booted it away from them and right into the cockpit fire.
He saw, and tried to yank himself free from her but now she grabbed him with her other hand and turned suddenly, pulling him off his feet and then with a bend of her knees and a shove she tossed him through the air after the blaster, right into the fire.
His armor ignited and he screamed, his arms flailing as he tried to beat off the flames until the yell abruptly cut off as the armor turned black.
Jess turned around and scanned the area, cocking her head to listen for more targets, the inside of the transport invisible with the dense smoke. She also could feel the heat of the fire advancing, and realized they were running out of time.
A figure she recognized in her senses as friendly surged past her, and a moment later, she heard the sound of a rifle firing and hoped to hell they wouldn’t hit anything that would ricochet right back into the cabin of the transport.
But she felt a gust of wind at her back as she grappled with two enemy soldiers and the smoke suddenly started to clear, billowing out of both the hatch behind her, and the new hole in the planes fuselage on the other side as the smoke was sucked out into the colder, oxygen rich air.
Behind her, the fire surged forward, and the roar of the flames filled the inside of the plane, sending a suffocating wave of heat over them.
A thick metal pipe suddenly appeared from behind one of her adversaries and was gripped across his throat, and then the soldier was pulled over backwards and she was left with only the soldier on her left, who was trying hard to wrench her arm behind her to dislocate her shoulder.
Jess went with the motion unexpectedly and let him spin her around. She continued the motion as he got behind her then she reached over her shoulder and grabbed him by the helmet, her fingertips catching on the rim of it as she yanked him forward and snapped his neck on the edge of her shoulder bone.
He fell behind her and she turned to face the inner part of the transport, to see the air clearing, and then April’s shorter form traveling down the seats, her dalknife held out.
“Hands off, hands off!” April was barking, moving fast, slicing through the restraints holding down the dozen small figures strapped to the seats. “Up and out kiddos! We’re from the Bay!”
Behind her, in the aft, the remaining enemy soldiers were trying to get the back loading hatch open, trying to escape. Jess headed in that direction, letting out a yell as she moved past April, and saw the two Mikes engaged with four enemy soldiers behind the last row of seats.
One of the figures struggling to open the hatch turned and saw her coming, and Jess could see the eyes staring at her, and the expression of dismay, and, yes, terror as she swooped at him, spreading her arms out to either side to keep him from running past.
She could hear the rest of the fighters breaking apart inside of the cabin, and then, the kids started yelling as they pulled themselves out of the restraints, coughing with the heavy smoke.
“Hai!” Small, high voices yelled out and were answered by the Bay born in booming roars, and Jess smiled and joined them, the noise rattling the ceiling panels overhead.
The soldier in front of her dropped onto his knees and held his hands up, averting his eyes from hers, and that was something she’d never seen one of Them do before. Not one of the enlisted. Not one of the agents, like she’d been.
There had always been a wariness of her, from Them. Just her name warranted a caution, she knew it, but there never had been a sense of fear, not from the front lines who were shaped and trained for just this purpose.
Now it was different.
The remaining four soldiers gave up trying to force the hatch and turned slowly, the faces behind the helmet shields pale, eyes staring.
The back end of the plane was twisted and warped from it’s sudden crash and Jess took a second to look behind her, realizing that the entrance hatch was now engulfed in flames.
Past the roar of the flames, she suddenly heard the roar of engines and her perceptions and her focus swiveled. She bounded forward and grabbed the kneeling man, throwing him out of the way and then reached for the others, but they dove out of her grip in either direction, falling to the floor and covering their heads with their arms, with no effort at all to grab their holstered weapons.
That suited Jess’s goals. She went to the loading hatch and ran her hands along it, seeing the twisted metal of the pneumatic extenders holding it shut.
She felt the rush of bodies behind her but it all felt safe, and she knew from the feeling and the smell of blood and iron that it was her people. She held a hand out. “Gimme a pipe.”
“Whatcha need Drake?” Big Mike was there, shouldering in next to her, and behind him, the roar of the flames was loud. “We gotta get to getting outta here.”
“Door.” Jess pointed at the hatch. “It’s jammed shut.” She pointed at the pneumatic cylinders. “Sucks to be us right now.”
“Move.” Big Mike shoved her gently out of the way. “Ever’body get hold of this.” He put his pipe between the cylinder and the skin of the transport. “We gotta get this shit open.”
Six of the fighters were there, clustering around him and Jess allowed herself to be nudged aside, looking down to see April next to her, her face smeared with blood, freshly glinting in the light of the flames.
She was wiping her blade off with an almost ethereal calmness, ignoring the chaos around her as she used the shreds of her hoodie to clean the blood channels of it, and the spined notches before she reseated it back into it’s sheath resting just above her heart.
The heat was getting oppressive. Behind April there were clusters of smaller bodies, and everyone was starting to cough, the burning interior sending waves of hot gas over them, and sparks, but there was no panic.
Not even from the kids, and as Jess glanced around, she spotted Tayler there, standing behind Mike Arias, his shirt pulled up covering his mouth and nose.
He had a bruise across one whole side of his face, and his right eye was swollen shut, but at that moment his left eye caught Jess looking at him and he lifted one battered hand up and gave her a thumbs up, visibly happy.
“Better hurry.” Jess said, feeling the irony of the situation. “That was a lot of crap to go through just to croak.” She returned Tayler’s gesture with a wave.
The six fighters all took hold of the cylinder and started pulling at it. Big Mike had his pipe and was levering it, brawny arms tensed to pull against the ceiling. There was no room for anyone else to join them.
Jess started looking around, judging the flames, pulling her ripped hood up and bringing it around her face. The fabric was damp. The smoke itself was not that much of an issue anymore, but the flames were closing in, and were already consuming the first rows of seats, hungrily consuming the bare fabric webbing that was their basic construction.
“Pull.” Big Mike said. “Pull.”
Boots stomped in a rhythm. “Go. Go. Go.” The rest of the fighters started chanting, and a second later, the kids all joined in, the thunder of all those impacts shaking the deck of the plane, sending showers of debris from the burning ceiling down over them.
With a sudden crack, the piston came loose from the ceiling, which was already darkening from the heat. “Next!” Mike pointed to the second one on the other side. “C’mon, we’re moving!”
But there was no time. Jess realized suddenly as she felt a wash of heat behind her. She looked over her shoulder to see the flames closing in. “Stop!” She let out a yell. “Start jumping on it!” She pointed at the bottom of the ramp “Everyone!” She jumped in place and came down on the ramp.
Immediately the fighters got the idea and joined her, the six on the far end, and Big Mike, and then the rest that were on the top of the loading ramp.
“Jump! Jump! Jump!” Big Mike started another chant.
The sound now was thunderous, a deep booming as twenty large bodies leaped and pressed down their weight at the same time, in unison, following the rhythm, once per second, the six fighters in the front moving to the very back of the ramp, leaning almost against the aft wall of the transport.
“Get closer!” Jess yelled, waving everyone forward. “Need more weight!”
The heat was now overwhelming. Jess blinked and felt sweat covering her. She jumped and felt a motion beneath her. “Go!”
Everyone clustered behind her and pressed forward, jamming the area, jumping, chanting, without panic, unafraid.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
The entire transport shook and started to collapse into the fire.
With a sudden crack, the other piston broke loose and the ramp abruptly fell out from under them as they landed, sending everyone tumbling forward and down and out from the intensity of the heat into the stunning cold and a fresh lashing of snow.
Jess managed to keep her balance and landed on the ground on both boots, falling into a crouch and rapidly hopping back up and away from the plane. “MOVE MOVE MOVE!” She bawled, hearing a low, almost subaudible rumble.
The fighters, the kids, the enemy soldiers, all were rolling out along the ramp that had collapsed down onto the ground. The fighters heard her and scrambled up to their feet, looking around to identify the danger.
April caught the rumble and had no need to ask. She bolted away from the plane, and waved her arms at the rest of them, pointing towards admin. “GET OUT!” She shoved one of the enemy soldiers ahead of her, but there was no need, as the soldier, too, understood the sound and was moving as fast as he could.
The stunned and exhausted kids, were slower, unsure of what to do, but they caught the urgency and started stumbling after the fighters, and Jess took up the rear, chasing them as she heard the impending explosion start to happen behind them.
The force rolled out as the transport finally collapsed and it’s power packs exploded, sending a huge blast of energy outward in concentric waves that picked up the last few lines of them and flung them through the air with the pressure.
Jess angled herself into a mid air tumble as the pressure faded, and got her feet under her as she fell to the ground, hopping twice to keep her balance and then spinning around with her hands outstretched to fend off debris.
The wind, though, was in her favor and the field of parts aflame and particulate was blowing to the far side of where the transport had been, now reduced to a smoldering pile of burned parts.
The rest of her gang was picking themselves up off the ground and looking back, then at her. Jess took a breath and waved her hand towards the building, as the snow started to come down harder.
“Daaaaaaamn.” Big Mike was dusting off his knees, which were ragged and cut and bleeding from landing on the ground. “What’s the deal now, Drake? We done?”
Jess was standing there, her head moving back and forth. Overhead, she could hear, at altitude, engine roars but on the ground, aside from them, nothing was moving. The airfield was covered with wreckage, still burning, of the transport and..
Her eyes studied the ground. At least two enemy carriers, maybe three. She continued looking. Maybe four, and a smile appeared on her face. On the far end of the field, the two Interforce carriers they’d seen were parked where they’d started, covered now in snow, dormant.
Then the sound of engines suddenly got louder, and she looked across the field, to the end of it, where a speck appeared near ground level and started heading in their direction, moving fast.
Them. Jess recognized the profile of it. “Lets get inside.” She pointed at admin.
Evan had already run up the steps and was examining the doors. “Locked.” He tossed back over his shoulder. “Yo!”
A squad of fighters, getting themselves in order, faces covered in soot from the fire, clothing burned, approached the steps and started getting out weapons and pipes, this door just the last of the morning’s challenges.
“Auntie Jess!” Tayler arrived at her side. “Wow!”
Jess had one eye on the approaching carrier, and spared a glance at her nephew. “Hey Tay. You okay?” She studied the battered face. “Looks like you made out worse than you did on station,”
“Yeah.” But Tayler grinned. “But ya got us.”
Jess smiled. “We gotcha.”
“I told them ya would.” Tayler swallowed with some difficulty. “Is Rocket here?”
Jess pointed up at the clouds. Then she started moving backwards, as the carrier adjusted to a strafing run that she recognized. “Lets go over here, Tay.” She looked over her shoulder. “Hurry up with that door.”
“What we go..oh crap.” April had veered her way. “F’n shitheads.”
“Well.” Jess started moving faster as the carrier targeted them, coming in faster. “We blew them all up, kinda get it.”
“They shot first.” April retorted. “And they were swiping the Bay kids. C’mon.”
“I didn’t say they didn’t deserve blowing up.” Jess waved the group back. “We may.. no damn it the fence.” She looked past the fence, to the huge main gates, which were locked in place. “Damn this place.”
She wondered in fact where Dev was, cursing the lack of comms.
“They coming to shoot us, Drake?” Big Mike was just behind her as she came to the front of the building. “That’s the gig? I got a plug left.”
“They’ll hit us before they’ll be in range of those guns.” Jess watched in almost fascination as the carrier closed in. “Yeah, they’re gonna take vengeance. I think maybe that’s the only one left.”
Mike looked right and left. “We got nowhere to run to, with that fire.” He said, in a calm voice. Then he waved his arms. “Yo! Get front of the kids!”
The fighters working at the door kept working, but the rest of them gathered in a wedge in front of all the kids who stood there, unsure of what was going on. “Siddown, kiddos.” April told them, as she moved forward and nudged her way between the fighters to come to Jess’s die.
Mike Arias was right behind her, and they stood shoulder to shoulder next to Jess and Big Mike, and the fighters packed in behind them, as the carrier closed in, coming in over the burning hulks of the airplanes on the field, firing lights coming on.
“Here we go.” April said, with a small inhale and exhale. “We did good.”
Jess nodded thoughtfully, then almost started when someone behind her put a hand on her, and she turned her head to find all the fighters there reaching out to take hold of those next to them, just settling hands on shoulders, staring ahead of them at the oncoming craft, with that unblinking stare.
It felt bittersweet, but right. Jess spread her arms out and put a hand on April’s and Mikes shoulders. “We did good. We are the Bay.”
“Hai!” The answer came back, and then there was a touch at her hip, and she looked down to see Tayler standing there, wrapping his arm around her leg.
The carrier started firing, hitting the ground in front of the burning transport, knowing there was no need, but wanting them to know they were going to die from it.
Maybe expecting them to scatter and run in fear. Or cower. Or hide their eyes. But there was no where to run. The burning planes blocked one route, the gate the other, admin the last and Jess understood that neither she, nor anyone with her would run from anything.
So they stood there, all of them, stolidly facing the oncoming craft and it’s fire as though death was of no importance, merely an artifact of a life well lived and a fight well fought. A truth written into their very DNA.
At the very back of them, near the wall, seated against it, overcome with the smoke and the fighting the enemy soldiers just watched, their blasters seated in their holsters, hands on their thighs, resting their heads against the wall of admin, watching the carrier approach with quiet acceptance.
Jess knew she had about ten seconds to think, and she dismissed all the thoughts of disappointment, and regret, and just focused on hearing in her head Dev’s voice. Nothing profound, just the commonality of their brief time together, and precisely, that look of sweet exasperation, Dev sitting in her pilots chair that Jess had never thought she’d be able to fill, leaning on the arm, looking around at her.
That little sparkle, and the look of profound affection for her.
And then the humongous noise of the sound barrier being broken scared the living daylights out of her and she yelped in pure, shocked response, her body reacting without any thought as she dropped to the ground with everyone around her as a pressure wave thumped into them from above just as the fire from the carrier reached the ground in front of them and abruptly cut off as another target appeared.
The roar of engines and the intense blast of outflow so close to them it violently fluttered the clothes on their bodies and ripped away some of it, catching Jess’s hood and pulling against her throat as the abrupt sound of firing erupted overhead, powerful energy release that prickled the skin on the back of her neck.
The concussive thumps she’d only ever heard from inside the carrier as plasma bombs were launched, so loud and so violent it took her breath away and she somehow twisted her head around and squinted to see the a huge form coming over them going head to head with the oncoming enemy carrier.
Landing jet outflow blasted them briefly then the carrier surged forward right at the enemy, and started firing point blank at it, right at the cockpit, and as she watched, with a head on crash imminent in this insane game of seagulls the enemy at last tried to divert, swerving to one side.
Rockstar kept firing, a heavy barrage that thumped it almost sideways as it tried to turn, but one shot hit the starboard engine intake and it wobbled in flight.
Jess closed her eyes and grimaced, feeling the disruption in the air.
There was a horrible sound of metal crashing overhead and debris started to rain down on them, hot and sharp, then the sound of afterburners roaring into full power shaking the air as the enemy carrier was impacted wing to wing.
Rockstar powered upward and lifted itself and it’s adversary up into the sky and over the admin building, only to have the enemy carrier pitch violently nose up, lose lift, and fall down sideways on top of the structure, coming apart in mid air and raining down in pieces onto the roof of admin, collapsing the dome in the front of it.
The front doors of the admin blew open with a roar of air, as the roof collapsed under the weight of the enemy craft, sending the fighters who had been working on it flying, but they grabbed the railings and landed on the other side as bodies came rolling out across and down the steps.
The rumble of Rockstar’s engines moderated, and as Jess lifted her head again she saw her carrier move off and turn in a gentle circle, covered in blast burns, one engine scored with black burns, but intact.
On the horizon, against the growing light of a new day, three more carriers appeared, armed lights flashing as they dropped down from altitude, heading their way.
“Well, shitballs.” April got up and dusted herself off, straightening out the remains of her hoodie that had become wildly tangled. “Rather be inside the bus for that stuff. That was nuts.”
“F’kn yo.” Big Mike spit a mouthful of gravel out.
“Wow!” Tayler’s one uninjured eye was wide and round. “That was so cool!”
Jess almost, helplessly, started laughing at that. She took a step forward and made a downward gesture towards the hovering carrier, and watched as the armed lights quiesced, and the landing jets flared to lower it to the ground. “Hope that was all of them.”
“Is that Rocket, Auntie Jess?” Tayler was staring at the carrier.
“Sure is.” Jess let her hand rest on his shoulder.
The roar of engines grew louder and the three other carriers of Bay Flight 1 came in over the landing field wreckage, battered and beaten and with visible damage but intact, their wings lazily rocking side to side as they approached.
Rockstar landed, and the windscreen slid up, revealing the inside of the carrier, where Dev was busy with systems, and behind her, Dustin was snoopy dancing around the gunner’s seat. Dev looked up after a second and met Jess’s eyes, freeing one hand from the controls to give her a thumbs up.
Now Jess did start laughing, unable to contain it.
She looked around at the utter destruction of the school, the burning buildings, the burning enemy craft, the bodies, the blood, the battered fighters around her, the half burned hoodie on her body and lifted her right hand, returning the gesture.
Mike Arias was on his feet, hands planted on his hips, his hoodie in shreds fluttering against his body, snow falling on his shoulders. “That.” He said. “Was pretty fucking epic.” He nodded in satisfaction. “My kinda day.”
Rockstar’s hatch popped open and Dev hopped out, fastening her jacket before she walked briskly across the debris strewn ground, heading straight for Jess as the rest of the flight circled, looking for some place to land.
Sutton jumped out after her and instead of following, he dropped to the ground and kissed it, pressing his face into the rock while Dustin jumped over him and headed for the rest of the fighters, pausing only to turn somersaults and lift his hands up in joy.
“Hello Jess.” Dev said, as she came within hearing range. “The flight is functional, however, we have taken some damage.” She said. “We have neutralized all observable targets.” She looked around the area briefly and added. “I apologize for all the mess.”
Jess waited for her to stop speaking, then she just grabbed her and lifted her up off her feet, planting a kiss squarely on her mouth and squeezing her in a ferocious hug.
Big Mike thumped Dustin on the back as he arrived. “We’re the f’kn Bay.”
“Aint no doubt now.” April exhaled. “We sure damn are.”