Rogue Wave

Part 28

A sudden, abrupt spear of lightning lit up the sky as they emerged from the thick stone entryway of the building, making everyone jump and dive to one side, plowing into the deep banks of wet snow in pure defensive reaction.

Dev barely had time to secure her scanner before she was enclosed in a very wet, cold pile of snow, Jess’s long arm wrapped around her as she was lifted off her feet and taken out of the way.

“Damn it!” Jess grunted, as she realized what the sudden flare was.

A long roll of thunder rattled the air as the lightning faded, and they were coated once more in the dim amber halons and shadows. 

April popped up and plowed forward through the drifts, moving across the large open space that faced the front entry of the building, ringed by tall stone walls that were barely visible in the snow, walls thick enough to host a walkway across the top of them guarded by metal grillwork.

Jess got up and pulled Dev with her. “Sorry Devvie.” She brushed the snow off her.

“No problem.” Dev said. “The lighting was unexpected.”

Around them the fighters were also popping to their feet and moving forward, shaking their bodies to shed the wet snow from them.

At the front of the wide open space was another set of tall, thick gates, currently closed, but almost invisible in the storm.   Dev focused her scanner on them, searching past the metal structure to the area beyond, a wide, gated passageway that led off into the distance, towards the rest of the facility.

“Biologic returns, Jess.” Dev told her partner calmly. “There is a density of individual elements approaching and they are armed with class six energy weapons.”

“Let’s get to the gates.” Jess waved the fighters forwards.  “Let’s not give them a chance to get in here.”

Dev fell in behind Jess, taking advantage of the path she was breaking in the deep snow as they moved quickly forward. She turned as she walked and scanned the walls, but they were empty of returns, the scanner showing nothing of interest either on the walkways or what she now recognized as guard posts regularly spaced along them.

The cadets had allowed the mass of the fighters to proceed ahead of them, and like Dev were taking advantage of the cleared snow - striding along looking around at the scenery with the every appearance of enjoyment.

At the far edge of the open space everyone halted behind the closed gates, and Jess motioned them to move back against the stone wall. “Get those guns ready.”  She ordered, as she and April edged cautiously into the exposed area in front of the gates.

They were immediately met by heavy power bolts that flashed through the heavy steel braces, not quite on target and easily dodged.  Jess dropped to the ground and fit behind the lower brace, only the top of her head visible as she looked out.

April did the same and a moment later Mike and Mike crawled forward to join them, Big Mike dragging his projectile rifle with him and then cradling it in his hands as he peered out.

Dev stayed with her back to the wall just inside the gate, working with her scanner.

The enemy, she discovered, was behind a set of large, stone blocks that were set in front of the facility, at least four feet high that extended across the path on the outside of the outer fence.  She started working on the mechanics of the gate control system, glancing to one side to see Doug climbing up the wall nearby, hanging on to thin metal braces leading up.

Chester was waiting at the base of the wall, watching him, pulling on his gloves.

Dev edged over. “What are you doing?”

Chester glanced at her. “Getting up there to get at the control stations.” He said. “They got blasters up there. Maybe we can use em.”

Dev looked up at the guard stations. “I see.” She then turned and looked at the inner space.

“Front yard.” Chester was watching her. “Course, guns’r facing that way so it’ll only be good if they get in here.”

Dev looked at the yard, and then looked at him.

He smiled. “Even baby triggers got teeth.”  He winked at her. “Until you’re oath’d in, y’know?”

Yes.  Dev absorbed that, and reflected again on the creche lockdown and the takedown devices.  “I do know.” She remarked in mild tone, just as they both jumped a little at the sound of a rifle report and looked over, to see Big Mike observing the results of his firing and moving crab like down the gate a bit,, keeping his head below the level of the lower bar.

Jess lifted her hand and motioned the fighters forward, keeping her palm down close to the ground and pointing at Big Mike and then the area exploded into a swirl of snow and motion as the eager waiting troops belly flopped onto the ground and squirmed forward.

Blaster fire erupted and started coming through the gates in a barrage, lighting up the area in green flares of energy, as the fighters flickered along the ground at the base of the gates, providing brief, obscured targets.

April and Mike returned the fire with their hand blasters, somewhat weak and not that effective at the distance, and after a minute, she put her head back down and squirmed over to where Jess was sprawled. “No good.”

“Yeah.” Jess had her chin resting on her clenched fists. “Those damn posterns are a good place to duck behind.”

“They’ll bring up reinforcements.”

“And do what, keep shooting through the gate at us?”

“Pin us down, wait us out.” April concluded grimly. “Longer we stay here, more force they can send out there.”

Jess studied the landscape. “We could open the gates and rush em.” She suggested. “Get back on the sides again, let Devvie open stuff up.”

“Those are class six rifles with wide disperse.” April said. “Even that little Drake trick won’t stop them. They’re too far from us.” She concluded. “There’s no place to hide in the funnel there. On purpose.”

“Truth.”  Jess studied the enemy. “Mike, see the corner of that blockade stone?” She said to Big Mike, sprawled next to her, cautiously edging the muzzle of his rifle over the lower part of the gate.  “The back edge.”

“See it.”

“Aim for that, try to take the corner off.”

Mike turned his head and looked at her. “For what?” He asked. “Waste of a round. Aint’ got that many.”

“I want to see what it will do.” Jess stared at him, and in reaction, April squirmed a bit out of the way.

But Mike merely shrugged. “Ok.” He turned and put his head up against the rifle, aiming it carefully and pulling the trigger.  The gun recoiled and thumped against his neck and shoulder, leaving a smear of black against the side of his neck.

The round hit its mark and with an explosive crack impacted the stone, sending shards of splintered granite in every direction.   Several enemy dove out of the way, one of them exposing his side just long enough for a fighter to get off a shot that tore through his body, rupturing it in a cloud of blood counterpointing the falling snow.

“Nice.” Big Mike complimented Kirin, who took the shot. Then he turned his head and looked at Jess. “Back at the back, I wanna play hookem with ya.”

Jess chuckled briefly.

The energy fire intensified abruptly, it’s aim getting sharper as any elevation on the lower part of the gate was targeted. “Made em mad.” April said, with a cheerful grin. “The rest of you, aim for the corners, maybe we can knock off enough stone to make them run.”

The fighters squiggled forward in the snow and took aim, and a moment later the air was filled with concussive explosions.

Dev was just putting her scanner away when a scrabbling noise made her look sharply to her right, to find Doug in mid air dropping into the snow.  Startled, she ran forward as he landed, falling flat into the snow and deep into the drifts. “Hello!”

No I’m cool.” Doug dug himself out of the drift. “Listen, if we can get into those watchtowers I think we can get an angle on the bad guys. Looks like it might be good.” He said. “Can you open them? Chester’s up there hacking.”

Dev considered the question. “Possibly.” She said. “Lets investigate.” 

“Whoop.” Doug plowed his way back over to the thin metal rungs pounded into the wall and gripped one, preparing to pull himself up again. “Careful there’s some sharp edges.”  He started climbing up and Dev quickly followed him.

The climb up the wall was not extensive, and as Doug reached the top of the rungs he pulled himself up onto the walkway carefully, lying flat. “Don’t stick your head up.”

“Certainly not.” Dev pulled herself up after him and they squirmed along the top of the walkway over to the front guard station, sitting squatly on top of the wall. 

It was rough going, the top of the walkway was unfinished stone and had sharp edges.  Dev had the advantage of her size, and she was able to make her way across to the guard station without much damage.

Doug on the other hand had scratches and gashes all over his clothing and was bleeding from one wrist by the time they joined Chester.  “Ouch.” He lamented. “Stuck my hand were it didn’t need to go.”

The guard station was square and squat, and crouched where they were they could not see the enemy which meant, Dev concluded, they could not be seen in return.  Here on the top of the wall she could feel the strong push of the winds, and it was blowing flurries of wet snow over them.

Unpleasant.  Dev pulled her scanner around and set it on her knee as she knelt on her other next to the guard station’s wall and started it evaluating the door they were next to, where Chester was crouched with a probe, his tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration.

Below, she could hear the arms fire, the projectiles from the fighters, and the energy bolts from the enemy, and the infrequent sounds of disintegrating stone.

“Better hurry up before those guys run out of cartridges.” Doug said, as he pressed himself against the wall of the guard station. “How’s it goin, Chester?”

“Eh.” Chester twisted the probe delicately in his fingers. “This thing’s got mech older than all of us added up.” He worked a moment more, then they all heard a soft clicking noise.  Oooo!”

Doug reached out and yanked the door open as Chester scuttled hastily out of the way.  The heavy metal door swung outward and loose on it’s hinges, folded back against the wall of the station.

The two men hopped inside eagerly and Dev followed with a bit more circumspection.  Inside they found a bare, utilitarian space with mounted blasters on stanchions pushed up against plas covered windows, the surface covered with scratches and gouges.

Doug stopped in mid step, and his arms fell to his sides. “Well shit.”

The far end of the room, a thick, concrete box, was solid and had no windows, the only openings faced the front yard.  Dev observed that, then went over and scanned the blasters.  “These are not energized.” She remarked. “Perhaps they were deactivated due to the activity in progress.”

Chester was examining the one closest to the door.  “Look at this set of contacts.” He observed, swinging the weapon around for them to inspect. “Hasn’t been used in a long time.”

Doug looked closely at it. “Huh.”

“This seems suboptimal.” Dev concluded, moving back to the door, which was being fitfully blown back and forth by wind gusts. A flurry of new snow had piled onto the floor. “Possibly useful for shelter.”  She stepped carefully through the wet snow and went back out into the storm, turning and grabbing onto the door as the wind came up.

The walkway had a half wall and she peered over it, but the angle of the structure did not give her a view of anything useful aside from a tall, barely seen extension of the electrified fence wall and past that, obscured by snow, some smaller buildings.

She took a step back and looked up at the guard station thoughtfully.  Then she put her scanner over her neck and shoulder and swung it to rest on her back, reviewing angles. 

“Anyway, it was an idea.” Doug was saying, mournfully. “I guess we should head back down.”

Dev took another step back, then she ran forwards towards the station, dropping into a crouch just short of the wall and then springing up into the air, reaching for a hold on a protrusion just under the edge of the roof.

“Hey!” Chester scooted out and whirled. “What are you doing?”

In mid air, Dev deferred answering as she got hold of the protruding metal bar and used it to haul herself up and look cautiously over the edge of the roof of the station.  Then she reached up and got a hand on the partial wall that surrounded the top and swiftly pulled herself up and over it, falling down onto the roof of the structure.

It was perhaps four square feet, the top was made of made stone, and had a rough, almost granulated surface that was not entirely comfortable to rest on. Dev squirmed forward across it to keep her head below the level of the surrounding wall and got to the other side.  “Interesting.”

It was very windy, but the partial wall blocked that, and she was rapidly being covered with a thick snowfall, as an almost continual rumble of thunder rolled over head. 

She moved forward on her elbows another short distance, until her head was resting lightly against the partial wall’s surface, then she cautiously lifted her head up to see over the top, grimacing a little as the wind hit her face and made her blink furiously.

Ah.  This angle gave her a view of the approach, and she could see, through the flurries the blocks that the enemy were positioned against, taking shots into the gates.  She pulled her scanner around and started it up, watching the heat map as it showed the soldiers attacking them, and behind them, coming from the other large buildings, more signatures.

She judged the angles.  “This might be a useful position.” She watched as a section of ground between the stone blocks erupted as a projectile exploded into it, sending a shower of road fragments in a half circle radius. The enemy soldiers hastily ducked out of the way, but she could see one whirl around and drop to the ground.


She turned her head to see Doug’s hood framed face over the edge of the partial wall on the far side.  Lifting her hand she made a pushing gesture, then she got back down and started crossing the roof, her scanner still gripped in one hand.

When she got to the far side she looked down over the wall to see that Doug was standing on Chester’s shoulders, the other tech stolidly braced against the door, hanging on.  “This position allows a useful firing angle.” She said. “I need to inform Jess.”

“Yeah?” Doug looked past her. “Can probably only get a handful of the yonks up here, but yeah.”

“And on the other side of the gate.” Dev said.  She shut down the scanner and got it arranged, then she put her hands on the partial wall and vaulted over it, turning as she moved so in a moment she was hanging from the edge with her body dangling in mid air.

“Hang on Dev let me get down and…” Doug said hastily.

Dev looked at him, and smiled. “It’s fine.” She released her hold and dropped, bending her knees a little to take the impact as she hit the top of the walkway and rebounded, then moved briskly to the edge of the wall and the handholds down.

Doug managed to scramble down off Chester’s shoulders and they hastened after her. “‘Rocket, you get scarier every day.”


On either side of the gate a half dozen dark and snow obscured figures were climbing up the wall, led by Mike Arias on one side, and Jess on the other, far side of the gate, and the storm had intensified, repeated flashes of lightning sending blasts of gray green tinged light across the scene.

On the ground, the firing had slowed down, impeded by the higher winds and the storm whipping the fallen snow into an almost opaque screen that blocked even the night vision goggles of the enemy soldiers.

“Good job.” April patted Doug’s shoulder. “Now we can get somewhere instead of just sitting here getting hammered.”

Doug was lying flat on his stomach next to his partner, a happy smile on his face having been credited with the breakthrough by Dev just minutes earlier.

“This snow’s a pain in the ass.” April concluded, adjusting her hoodie. “If we’re gonna do this a lot we should get waterproof hoods.”  She glanced to her right and left. “Pain in the ass we can’t use comms.”

Dev was sitting with her back against the wall, tucked into her heavy jacket. “We are too close to adversarial entities that can intercept.”  She acknowledged. “It is unfortunate.” She added. “I will work on a system of comms that are encrypted for future use.”

“Now?” Doug asked. “That’d be handy.”

Dev just looked at him. “I need at least the systems in my carrier to compile. The scanner is insufficiently powered.”


“All right.” April squirmed into a more comfortable position.  “Let get ready to move.” She called out to either side of her, in a low, but carrying voice.

The rest of the fighters got right up against the gate, in a solid line with the lower brace protecting them from any incoming blaster fire.  Lying as they were, they were covered with snow, and all of them had hoodies up and snug around their heads, which they shook intermittently to move the coating of snow off it.

It was cold.  Dev, even in her heavy coat was chilled, and right now somewhat regretting not accompanying Jess and her squad up the wall as that would have the advantage of physical motion to combat the weather.

The tips of her fingers felt a little numb, and she had swapped her fingerless gloves for her full ones and had her scanner tucked into her jacket, watching as snowflakes dropped out of the sky and landed on her knees, large and clumpy and wet.

This gate was not electrified, and it opened outward.  She had unlocked the thick, hydraulic metal posts that extended into the ground beneath the gates and retracted them up into the gates structure, and the fighters were standing by to shove the huge metal barriers outward, clearing the snow ahead of them with a hydraulic assist.

Or not, as it were. Turning her head, Dev leaned forward to watch the progress up the wall, and saw that the fighters had already scaled up to the walkway and she thought she could see a tall figure pulling themselves up onto the roof of the guard shelter she felt was probably Jess.

So it should not be much longer.  She adjusted the front flap of her jacket more over her face and licked her lips, then she dug into one of the multiple pockets in her jumpsuit and fished out a package of seaweed crackers, taking one out and munching on it.

This activity was turning out to be far more complicated than they had supposed. 

The tension around her increased, and the cadets, who had followed them out into the front porch were huddled against the wall to Dev’s left hand side, unarmed and just watching as though unsure of what they were supposed to do.

She looked over at them, and thought that perhaps it would have been more optimal if they’d stayed inside and waited for the result of the activity.

As though sensing her thoughts, JJ got up and scrambled over to her, sitting down next to her with his back to the wall.  “Hi.”

“Hello.” Dev responded equably.

“Can you tell me what the hell is going on?” JJ asked, in a blunt tone.

“We are progressing with a diversion that will allow us to egress from this location and continue with our mission.” Dev promptly explained. “I would suggest staying behind the defensive perimeter in this location.”

JJ looked at her in silence.  Dev merely waited, chewing her seaweed crackers.

“You’re the bio.” He said then.

“Yes.” Dev agreed. “Biological Alternative, set 0202-164812, instance NM-Dev-1” She extended a hand to him. “Most people call me Dev.”

“Or Rocket.” Doug had been listening and he had his head cocked in her direction. “Don’t screw with her, baby trigger.”

After an awkward pause, JJ reached out and took her hand, briefly clasping it. “I’m just asking some questions, wrencher. Shut your trap.”

April lifted her head and turned it, staring at him from over Doug’s back.

Non optimal.  Dev put her crackers away but as she was about to respond she heard the sound of one of the projectile rifles firing from high over her head.  “We will need to proceed.” She got to her knees and then to her feet, lifting her scanner up and around.

“Get ready!” April left of staring and called to either side, shoving her blaster into it’s holster and getting her hands on the lower part of the gate, as the sound of firing now multiplied, until it was an almost continuous roar.

“Locks are released.” Dev said, in a calm voice. “Hydraulics are charging.”

The sound of energy weapons sounded, but none of the blasts came their way.

“GO!” April let out a yell, and got up off her knees, throwing her weight forward at the gate as a yell went down the row of fighters and they surged along with her, with big Mike in the center with one hand on each leaf of the gate.

For a moment, it resisted, then as Dev applied a setting, it started to open, the servos whining as it fought to open against the weight of the snow.  Then the weight of the line of fighters shoved against it and an opening appeared, and they all poured through, rifles strapped to their backs, knives and pipes out in their hands.

The sound of the fighting was thunderous, and as Dev stuck her head out around the gate framework she could see through the darkness and the whirling snow, a line of the Bay charging at speed, crossing to meet the reinforcements she’d detected coming at them full force.

“They’re going to go after them with sticks?” JJ asked her. “That’s crazy.”

“C’mon Dev!” Doug was dashing after the fighters, with Chester at his side, a barely visible Brent at Big Mike’s heels.

“Excuse me.” Dev shouldered her scanner. “I see a piece of metal there, if you wish to join the exercise. Otherwise, as I mentioned, please stay in a secure area.” She took off through the gap in the gates and then saw, on either side of her, large, dark figures jumping down off the walkway with joyous, booming roars.


The storm was their friend.   Jess landed on the ground from her jump off the wall and the snow not only cushioned her fall the swirling winds and snow obscured her as she bolted across the ground over to the blockade stones.

She sensed them coming at her, and with a moderately graceful motion she leaped over the nearest block and landed on an enemy soldier who was turning to avoid the plunging stab from a fighter nearby.

Just bodyweight enough knocked him out, and Jess let out a yell to inform of her presence as she got her hands around the back of his head and yanked it forwards, breaking his neck.

The halons speared erratically through the swirling snow, giving almost a strobe effect but Jess let her senses guide her, moving through the scrum of close in fighting, her instincts recognizing enemy and friend easily as the entire swarm started moving back away from the Pit.

It was chaos, and yet not, the fighters from the Bay yelling in delight as they encountered the enemy, outnumbering them, dodging the now erratic energy blasts to reach out with long arms and shove past the handheld weapons to take hold.

Jess spotted a pair of enemy moving back and to the side, preparing to turn and fire and she went for them, dodging bodies and crossing the yard just as they brought their weapons up.  She could see their eyes behind the plas opening on their helmets flicker as they saw her coming.

Then she was leaping towards them with hands outstretched, with all the energy of her motion behind her and they could not move out of the way fast enough, though they tried.

They tried but she had them, her fingers tightened on the edge of their armor, her body slamming past the two rifles and she bore them backwards against the steel fence that bordered the edge of the yard, the last border that restricted the Pit from the rest of the school.

She brought one knee up into the ribcage of one of them in a whipping motion, feeling the crunch as she impacted the half armor frontage, cracking it, the heavy plas breaking apart as the blow went through and hit the breastbone beneath it.

She heard the gasp, and then she was shoving him to one side as she pulled the second around and up and over her shoulder, scraping him against the fence and ripping his helmet off his head.

Jess found herself grinning as she tore into him, releasing all limits as she knocked the helmet away and rolled over onto him, her hands braced on his shoulders, her weight holding him down in the snow, his eyes staring up at her.

She realized she knew him. They’d met in the field. 

“Drake.” The word was rough and guttural.

“Drake.” Jess said, in confirmation.   Then she released one hand off his shoulder and got a knee into place as he tried to hurl her off, then she lifted her arm and drove it down, her fingers going for his eyes and thrusting through them, tips crunching the thin bone at the back of them and giving her a grip.

He writhed and screamed, and then she closed her hand and with the power of her shoulders yanked her body backwards, ripping his facial bones away from his skull in one wrenching move.   She threw the gore to one side and smashed her hand downward again, crushing the front of his face in and feeling his struggles cease.

The battle surged past her, and she quickly grabbed a handful of snow and washed the blood off her hands as she got up and moved with the action, the enemy now in full retreat back towards admin, running from them.

Running and turning and trying to fire but any slowdown was deadly as the fighters chased them right into the face of their fire without any fear at all. 

As she paused to watch, two fighters grabbed one of the enemy, in the dark ochre armor she recognized as their security ground troops.  They grabbed an arm each and yanked, turning and ducking to dislocate the enemy’s shoulders and exposing his back.

Evan appeared from the melee and leaped, extending both his claw enhanced hands and slamming them into the back armor thus exposed, then getting his boots up against the man’s hips and pulling himself backwards, the armor coming off with his motion as he tumbled into a backwards flip.

Kirin scooted under him and plunged her blade into the exposed flesh, the hilt grasped in both hands with a powerful overhead motion.

Jess chuckled.

Evan, hearing her, came over to her, his hands with their metal appendage claws utterly red. “You ripped his face off!” He said, pointing to the gore on the snow with a blood covered hand.  S’cool!” He said, holding up his hands. “These are sweet!”

Yeah for sure.” Jess agreed. “We gotta get more of em. Lets go!” She pointed at the admin building in the distance. “That way!” She quickly looked around and spotted Dev nearby, focused on her scanner, unfazed by the gore.  Devvie! They sending more?”

“There is a large contingent gathering past that building.” Dev reported. “They have class six weapons.”

Jess nodded. “Stop em!” She pointed at the running enemy. “Just take em down!”

The fighters let out a yell of response and swept forward, with April and Mike at their head, barreling through the open gates the enemy had left open on their way in the opposite direction.

“This is fun.” Big Mike finished one last stab, yanking his arm up off a slumped body, then fixed his big knife to the end of his projectile rifle. “Good stuff, Drake.”  He gave Jess a thumbs up.

“Good stuff.” Jess agreed, looking quickly around to make sure they weren’t leaving anything behind. “We get em all Dev?”

Dev was walking backwards, the parka hood only exposing her pale eyes, and a few wisps of her hair. “Yes.” She agreed. “Only the students are functional past this part, they remained behind.” She reported. “All of our participants of this activity have moved towards the next facility.”

“Great. C’mon.” Jess dried her hands off on her bloodstained hoodie. “I want to get back to our party.”


The open gates let them out into a much wider area, full of multilevel buildings and snow covered lumps and piles a garish yellow in the halons.  To one side there were mid sized structures, with plas windows dimly lit and at the far end of the open quadrangle the half circle facility Dev remembered from their last visit.

She could see large vehicles parked in front of it, and they were energized, with many biologic signatures around them and as she scanned it, the vehicles started moving towards them, guns coming live.

Six of the enemy had escaped, the rest had been taken down by the fighters and now they all were gathering in front of a set of snow covered steps as they looked the oncoming force.

The steps gave them shelter, and Dev found Jess at the center of them, to one side of a thick metal railing.  She crouched down next to her, glad for a moment to gather intelligence. “That looks suboptimal.”

“The crates?” Jess asked. “Yeah I guess they got the word foot soldiers weren’t gonna cut it.” She rested her elbows on the icy step and regarded the tanks moving towards them, studying the tracked skids.

“What now?” April squirmed in next to her. “Can those projectiles pierce that outer layer?”

“Armored.” Jess said, her eyes sweeping across the quad as she shifted a little to peer past the railing, one of it’s support posts pressing against her neck and shoulder. “I guess we’ll find out.”

“They gotta come through that narrows there.” Mike Arias was on the far side of April. “If we can stop them there, we can maybe mess with them.”

The battle wagons were trundling across the parade ground in front of Admin and heading for the slope up to where they were gathered, the big mounted energy weapons swinging from side to side waiting for a target.

Jess felt for a moment at a bit of a loss.  She hadn’t really considered this scenario, most of her mental planning had been around penetrating the buildings and taking down the school guards who were, in her mind, pretty non consequential.

She hadn’t figured on them being here.  She also hadn’t figured on tanks being here, and looking at the outline she realized they’d brought them with in the transports. “They meant business.” She stated briefly. “They brought iron.”

“They were going to take the place.” April agreed. “That’s enough firepower to blow up the buildings.” She regarded the tanks. “Maybe we should just let them?” She added in a hopeful tone. “Before we mix it up.”

Jess watched the approach. “Too late. They know we’re here, and they’re after us.”

“They can scan us now, like Rocket’s doing them.” Doug said. “They’re coming right at us.”

The rolling units had rotating turrets with heavy energy guns, the thick steel skins protecting the soldiers inside from return fire.

“Doubt even these things’ll penetrate that.” Big Mike patted his projectile rifle. “But we can try.”

Jess leaned against the railing and exhaled, then she paused and looked up at what she was resting against. A long, heavy dense metallic brace, thick dense metal designed to resist being wrecked by a boisterous yard population.

She remembered, vaguely, sliding down it on her way between classes as a younger, bypassing the two long stretches of steps they were currently hiding behind.  There were no seams in the metal, she slid her hand over it. It was a solid piece.

An idea formed. 

“Hey.” She called out, moving her head to either side to project. “Lets get this railing.” She slid down the slope of the steps and got her hands on it. “Get it off the posts. We’ll use it to tangle em up.”

Dev’s brows jerked upward in surprise, as she looked at the railing, then back at the oncoming vehicles. “Put it into the tracking.” She said, after a brief pause. “To obstruct the progress.”

“Yep.” Jess shoved experimentally against it. “You got it, Devvie.”

“That’d be rad.” Doug brightened. “Can you break it off? Looks crazy solid.”

The fighters all scrambled over and in a moment there were twenty of them grabbing hold of the metal on the side Jess was on, and they all started shoving against the posts, buried deep inside the stone ground of the plateau.

Jess got her arms under the railing and dug her boots in, feeling the treads catch on the rough ground as she threw her weight against the rail.  “Go!”

More of the fighters gathered and got a hand in, and Jess felt the metal start to shift, a long, groaning creak moving up and down the railing as metal, an ostensibly immovable object being subjected to their kinetic force.

“Better hurry.” April yelled. “They’re at the narrows.”  She was kneeling at the edge of the steps, her head almost level with the top one.

“One, two.. “ Jess yelled out. “GO!”

Forty bodies surged along the length of the railing, up and down the long steps that led from the corridor to the Pit to the quad and the metal posts gave with a scream and a wrench as the railing came loose from the rock and they all almost went tumbling across the stairs, just barely catching themselves from cracking their heads against the far wall.

“Nice.” April said, swiveling her head back and forth. “Make it fast!”

Lets go.” Jess caught her balance. “We’re gonna stuff this thing inside the tracks on that first one, got it?”

Yo!” The fighters responded.

They reached down an picked up the railing, then broke into a run up the steps and into the gusting winds, emerging onto the upper level as an opportune swirl of heavy snow came down over them.

Jess was in the lead, on the front edge of the railing and she had one arm wrapped around the railing, carrying the weight of it across her upper arm.  Dev was just behind her, with April and Mike on the other side.

The tanks were trundling through the narrow strip of ground between the shadows of two buildings, a tall fence blocking access on either side.  Jess angled her steps to intercept the first of the tanks and moved faster.

The tank turrets swiveled, the rear tank shifting and trying to reposition to take aim without blowing the top of the tank in front, and the front tank emitting a deep red from the muzzle of it’s gun just before it erupted in fire.

The beam went wide, the oncoming fighters lined up in a row and presenting a narrow target.

There was no time for strategy.  Jess powered forward and as the tank shot again they closed with it, past the guns ability to aim.  She got the front of the railing aimed at the treads and let out a yell, guiding it into the front part of the vehicle’s track and then peeling off, grabbing Dev and hauling her to the side to let the rest of the line forward.

The weight and the motion of a line of forty Bay residents shoved the railing forward, jamming in into the track with a keening crunch of metal on metal, the railing sliding past the first track and under the vehicle carriage.

The tank jerked and shuddered, and rocked and that gave Jess another idea.  “Over here!” She yelled through the snowfall.  “Grab on!”

The fighters peeling off came galloping over and as the tank twisted and bucked, trying to continue it’s forward motion they started grabbing on to the edge of the steel shell and shoved.  “Push it over!” Jess instructed. “C’mon!”

Yo!” The fighters got the idea and everyone got their hands under the skirt of the tank and started pushing.

“This is great.” Big Mike had got himself in just to the right of Jess and had his big shoulder up under the edge of the tank, using his powerful thighs to shove up against the motion of the vehicle. “Oof this thing’s a…”

“Tank.” April leaned on his back and shot up along the side of the tank as a portal started to open. “Get your head back in there dingleberry.”

The fighters finished jamming the tread, and the end of the railing flailed around at the front of it, making horrendous clanking noise as the tank tried to maneuver and found itself being pulled to one side in the effort.

They all gathered at the side of it, getting hands on, trying to keep hold of it as it churned and swerved along the frozen ground.

Behind it the other tank had stopped moving, and now it’s hatches were opening and soldiers were emerging.  Jess tapped April on the shoulder and pointed, and April agreeably ducked past her and using the dodging tank as a shelter started firing.

“Yah!” Mike Arias scooted past Dev and joined her. “Keep em in the can!”

“If they start coming out we go.” April said.

Dev had ducked to one side, and Doug and the other pilots were with her, taking a knee and keeping clear of the line of fire. “This is literal nutsville.” Doug said, in a conversational tone as the fighters got purchase on the tank and one side started to lift. “Its like traveling with talking mech donks.”

“One! Two!” Jess called out, getting herself under the edge of the tank. “Three!”

They all pushed upward at once, and the tank lifted up on one tread, then with a horrible crunching sound came down on it’s side, the main gun firing off into the distance and hitting the buildings with a concussive roar.

The sound was overwhelming.  Dev reached hastily for her ear buds, which had been tucked into one of her pockets and shoved them into her ears, as the heavy weapon fired again and again, blasting into the stone and concrete structures.

Windows blew out.

“Nice.” April paused in her firing at the enemy soldiers. “That’s what I want to see.”

Lets go peel em out.” Mike suggested. “You pull that hatch open I’ll just shoot down.”

The fighters followed Jess as she climbed rapidly up onto the side the tank, now facing the sky and pulled herself up and over to the top.  The back treads were cycling erratically, making a dangerous churn and moving the vehicle in jerky circles.

Jess got to the top of the tank and reached out for the hatch cover. “Lets see if this is open.”

It wasn’t.  Dustin immediately crawled over to her and offered his fubar. “Got a can opener here, cuz.”

Rather than using the pry bar end, Jess took the claw end and got it around the hatch fastening, finding an angle with it that would allow her to get some leverage and braced her boots against the edge of the turret, which was still firing.

She wrapped her hands around the tool and arched her body backwards, shoving hard with her legs and tensing her back as she pulled against the hatch with a curling of her biceps.

With a scream, it came loose and sent Jess tumbling off the top of the tank and down the other side of it, only preventing a plunge to the ground by grabbing hold of a second hatch handle and stopping her decent. “Get in there!”

She had no real need to say it. The fighters were already reaching inside the tank with long arms and yanking the guns that were being pointed at them out and backwards, tossing them to the ground.   She retrieved the fubar and started working on the second hatch, as she saw a hand come up out of the tank and get grabbed by Big Mike, who yanked hard on it and pulled a soldier out of the inside of the vehicle up onto the side of the twitching, still firing, noise producing platform.

“Just like a octopus, in the Bay.” Mike said, picking up the soldier and slamming him against the metal. “Boom boom boom.”

The hatch rapidly emptied and Evan went head down into it, extending his clawed hands a he let himself drop, letting out a booming yell in the process.  A half dozen others crawled up onto the side of the tank knives out, clamped in teeth.

Jess got the other hatch open, peeling it back like a seagull’s eggshell and breaking it loose from it’s hinges.  Then she turned and handed the fubar back to Dustin who had climbed up next to her. “Thanks!”

Yo.” Dustin peered past her. “Nice cuz!”

Jess chuckled, and turned back to the opening.

A head popped out and she used the hatch to slam it, her hand and arm braced into the hatch handle like a shield from another age.  It felt good to swing it, and she saw the broken jaw and teeth flying from the enemy as she whipped it back and forward again, impacting his skull.

His body whipped backwards and she grabbed it before it could slide back inside the tank, bracing herself and pulling him forward and out of the hatch and letting his body drop down the side to the ground.

A second helmet appeared and she drew her arm back, but she was spotted even in the down falling snow and the head disappeared and a blaster muzzle flickered in the darkness inside, a blaster beam exposing outward.

She caught it on the hatch and deflected it, then arched her body and let her shoulder drop to the surface beneath her and extended her arm into the void, fingers outstretched.

Stupid, really, she acknowledged as she felt movement under her touch, and she got a handhold on something metallic.

It vibrated under her fingertips and she felt a static charge and instinctively yanked her hand back as there was, from the inside of the tank, a sudden, high pitched wail.

A second later, it seemed, and Dev was up on the tank next to her, with her scanner in one hand. “Jess, you…”

“Triggered an enemy blaster. Yeah morons are me.” Jess got away from the opening. “GET OUT OF THE TANK!” She yelled as she felt Dev pulling her backwards.  “GET OUT! GOT BOOM COMING!”

The fighters scrambled back and jumped off the side of the tank, Big Mike hauling Evan out by his boots and leaping off into the snow as the whine stopped and was replaced by a concussive explosion, a huge flash of energy flare emerging from the open hatch that almost caught Jess as she backed off, and at the last second, she grabbed Dev and just flipped backwards into the air.

Blaster fire from the second tank flashed past her as she tumbled in mid air, and with the hatch still clutched in one hand she oriented herself to try and deflect it.

Beneath her, she saw April and Mike bolt from their hiding place behind the treads and head for the second tank, firing as they ran and the enemy blaster fire stopped as she reached the ground.

The snow made everything slick.  She almost slid into the fence, but Dev had gotten her balance and held onto her as they felt the ground shake as the tank systems went off in a chain reaction explosion that sent huge plumes of black smoke into the air out of every crevice of the vehicle.

The fighters had paused to watch, then Big Mike waved them forward. “Got another one over there!”  He pointed at the second, and they moved with him.

Wooo!” Evan had righted himself and clicked his claws like a lobster. “Yo yo yo! Lets go!” He raced past Jess and they headed for the second tank, which was now trying to back up, trying to get into position to use their turrets to attack with.

The first tank, now billowing with smoke, had gone quiet. The front gun had stopped firing, and now they could hear flames inside.

Jess took a breath, edging aside as the tank started to give off both heat and smoke. “Huh.”

Dev was checking her scanner. “This is now nonfunctional.” She said, in a calm tone. “And I am not getting any biologic signal.”

“Boom.” Jess said briefly, as she patted Dev on the shoulder. “Didn’t mean to do that, but never look a gift horse in the ass, Devvie. Lets keep going.”


They left the tanks behind, the first in ruins the second intact, but devoid of defenders whose bodies were scattered across the snow covered ground, still figures being slowly covered with white.

The winds had started to die down, and when they reached the admin building, huge and hunch backed the snowfall was lessening as well, becoming gusts of flurried flakes instead of a persistent deluge.

This close to admin they could see the landing field past the main gates, covered in snow, the carriers and transport draped in it.  On the other side of Admin was the round, squat, honey colored stone edifice of Basic, the long tunnel half buried in snow connecting it, the windows cut into the top of the dome dark.

At the rear of admin was a broad, long set of stone steps, at the top of which was a scan portal, and behind that, massive steel doors.

“Entry.” April was cleaning her dalknife in the snow, burnishing the rippled blade on the leg of her work pants to clean off the gore. “Where Hell begins.”  She glanced up at the doorway. “Go open that.” She nudged Doug with her elbow.

“Sure.” Doug got up and moved up the steps, and a moment later Chester and Brent followed him.

Behind them, the bridge building was in flames, windows blown out by the tank’s turret blaster, fire burning behind the windows on two of the six floors. On the far side of the landing field was the two story low, long housing for the techs.

It was eerily quiet. Aside from the sound of the flames behind them, and the crackle and ping of the tank cooling with it’s internal dead only the wind kept sounding, gusts and whorls over their heads. There was no sound from Admin, and no one had responded to the fire in Bridge.

“Wonder what’s going on in there?” April finished cleaning her knife and sheathed it. “They gotta know we’re out here.”

Jess had her hoodie pushed back and she was studying the wiremaps on Dev’s scanner screen.  The rest of the fighters were crouched on the steps, some of them sharpening their knives on the stone, the softly grating scraping sounds just audible.

There were some injuries. Cuts and gouges, most from clambering over the tanks, and bruises. Nothing lethal, and several fighters were applying snow to stop bleeding, seated on the frozen steps with legs splayed out beneath them.

“Nobody croaked.” Big Mike was tightening the fixing of his own knife on the end of his projectile rifle. “S’good.” He said. “Cept them. And whatever was on the other end of that blast rocket.”  He looked over at the building on fire. “Don’t hear no one screaming.” He put a hand to one ear in mime.

“Classrooms.” Mike A supplied. “No one’s there at night.  That’s secondary science and technical.” He looked over his shoulder. “Was, I mean.” He corrected himself. “Bye!”

The first tank was still exuding dark smoke into the air, dusting the snow around it in black, and every now and then a wafting scent of burning flesh came in their direction.

“Jess.” Dev said, suddenly. “There is activity at the front of this facility.”  She swung the scanner around. “Motion detected on the landing field.”

“They gonna try blasting us from a carrier?” April was leaning on her elbows, observing over the edge of a step. “That’s gonna suck.”

As they watched the front door to Admin slammed open and dark figures, outlined against the halons started running out, carrying sacks, heading for the landing field.  They were ochre colored, and carrying long blasters strapped to their back.

“We better get into that door.” Jess said, her eyes flicking back and forth from the door to the field. “Whatever they’re doing, it ain’t good.”

“Hurry up, Douglas!” April called out. “We got trouble!”

Big Mike chuckled. “We are trouble.”

Jess got up. “Cmon, to the door.” She waved the fighters up and forward. “If the wrenchers can’t get them open lets blow them apart.”

“Ho ho ho.” Big Mike got up and did a little jig in the snow. “I aint never had this much fun.”

“The door scan is deactivated.” Dev announced.

“Bummer.” He sighed, slinging the rifle back on his shoulder.

Doug and Chester were swinging the Admin doors open, big grins on their faces, stepping back to clear the way for the fighters to come swarming up the steps. “Ain’t lost my touch!” Doug held up his scanner. “C’mon I can hear yelling!”

Jess could hear it too when she crossed the threshold, from the steps into the wide, dun colored hallway she remembered standing in, with her class in Basic, getting ready to enter to Bridge.

Far off she could hear voices, and alarms, but she paused for just a second and let that memory overtake her of being that eleven year old child, even then the tallest of her classmates, and the strange feel of the new blue jumpsuits they wore.

Just changed, from the soft dark golden shirts and shorts of Basic and for the first time wearing sturdy boots, all their belongings packed in packs they carried on their shoulders, breath coming a little short, tension prickling along their skin.

It had been morning, they’d been turned out of bunks and returned after mess to find their new gear waiting, with ten minutes to change and report.   She remembered standing in the rotunda, all of them quiet, the move unexpected, mouths a little dry, not quite ready for the change.

Knowing it was coming, but never when, never what day.

Now she swept through going the other direction, the room seeming to her smaller, dingier, older than she’d remembered it to be, with the odd smell of cleanser and polish filling her nose, and the walls echoing with the sound of their boots on the stone tile floor.

The rotunda narrowed at the back to a big hallway, and halfway down the hallway was another set of doors, these just swinging portals that were unsecured.  On either side of the passage were long rows of doors, all closed, all silent at this time of night, admin offices and med, and the side hallway with the big metal grate that was psych.

They poured down the hall, the fighters looking at everything with interest, their tall frames filling and overfilling the space, guns in hand, the smell of blood and damp wafting from them, and a tinge of the smoke from the tank.

Jess strode with them, one of them, experiencing a sense of anticipation as this force coursed through the hall, big and lethal and ready to do whatever she wanted them to.  Impossibly different than her past, when the whole point had been you being a team of one, maybe two.

Never had there been a mission with more than five of them, there were so few of them, they were intended to be single points of chaos.

This? Jess glanced across the restlessly moving forms keeping up with her, filling the space. This was chaos unlimited and she loved it.

“Jess, armed force ahead.” Dev tugged her sleeve. “Approaching at speed.”

Jess grinned. “Hai!” She boomed out a yell, and the response was so loud it made her ears itch, an echo off the concrete block walls.

Then the inner door swung open and they were face to face with armed enemies and it was game on. Jess let out a roar and lifted up her tank hatch shield and in the face of blasters they charged, moving so quickly the soldiers barely had time to bring up weapons, or hands, or even prepare themselves.

They crashed together and the weight of the Bay residents shoved everyone backwards, back through the hall, and past the heads of the enemy soldiers they could see many running forms, and hear doors slamming, and a siren suddenly blaring loud and very urgent.


Jess bounced off the wall and went to her knees to slide across the blood slick stone floor and end up next to Dev. “So, listen.”

“I am listening.” Dev had been running analysis on the activity taking place past the battleground. She was tucked against the left hand side wall of the wide corridor, behind a blocky outthrust that housed a wide, steel, closed door and several concrete steps up.

Doug and Brent and Chester were on the other side of the hall, like her crouching behind the steps on the opposite side, keeping out of the way of any errant plasma blasts.

“We’ll get you guys in that door up there?” Jess pointed at the end of the hallway, that spread out into a wide set of steps and at the top, a set of double doors behind a thickly barred gate. “Get in there and get to the rightmost console closest to the control room.”

“Yes.” Dev replied. “Understood.”

“Crack into it and take over control.” Jess said. “Then we can shut down the landing field, and turn off the navigation comp and remove the power from the grid.”

“I will certainly attempt all that.” Dev said in a mild tone. “So far, the security in the facility does not seem significantly advanced. It should be achievable.” She closed her scanner and got it swung around and arranged on her back. She studied her partner. “You are well?”

Jess had blood all over her, including a swath that was covering half her face, making her pale blue eye on that side stand out in vivid clarity.  One sleeve had been ripped off her hoodie and the yellow light was picking out the burns on her left arm and turning them almost black.

Hooked around that arm was her makeshift shield, torn off the tank, it’s inner surface scorched black with blaster hits and smeared with blood. Given all that, she appeared to be in an excellent mood.

I”m great. You?” Jess answered cheerfully, as though in confirmation. She reached over and wiped a bit of black dust from Dev’s forehead, leaving an unfortunate smear of gore behind it.  Her eyebrow lifted, and she looked around, then she just shrugged and held her blood covered hand up. “Sorry about that.”

“I am doing quite well, thank you.” Dev said, as she took the edge of her sleeve and rubbed the blood off her head. “This operation seems to be proceeding successfully.” She observed, looking around at the fighters.

Yeah we’re kicking ass.” Jess patted her arm. “C’mon!” She let out a yell and bolted down the hall, which was quickly clearing of active fighting -  the Bay residents in the last stages of some individual conflict with the enemy.

They got up from kneeling and wiping of blades on enemy uniforms, the hallway full of the smell of burned flesh and blood, tannic and harsh.  There were two bodies on the far end smoldering, light blue flames emitting from their joined figures.

“Nice of em to shoot each other.” Big Mike commented.

“Yea that was sweet.” Mike Arias agreed, checking the charge on his blaster. “Save me the batt.”

Overhead the lights were blaring yellow halons, with interspersed red beacons and there was an alarm going off unceasingly, a harsh blaring horn that grated on the nerves. 

Jess led the way down the hallway towards the head end, passing long lines of closed doors painted in thick, mid green paint with gashes gouged in the surface, darkly rusted, and worn surfaces around the handles.

This was admin, and ahead was big, octagonal central where everything was run from. Heavily defended, layers of concrete and steel, and that huge rolling steel door over the entry. 

Once inside admin, there were branching hallways, buried in concrete and steel, that let you into the command center, and past that, to the entry, and on the other side, the long peach colored hallway with it’s cheerful yellow and green stripes, that led to basic, and the housing of the child intakes.

To Jess’s eyes, the focus was on penetrating command. She viewed the bars and doors as temporary impediments, after all she had her gang, and she had her wrenchers -  what more did anyone need to get into anything?  She felt almost buoyant as she powered up the broad steps, ringing steel under her boots with an almost musical sound.

The hallway was empty now, there were no more enemy coming at them, and they’d left all the combatants behind them, dead, with all her own people intact, save some bangs and bruises and one dislocated elbow.

Beyond the admin, she could hear running boots and yells, too far off to be heard with any sense to them, and the overhead sound of the alarm, a low to high yowl of anxious protest, was irritatingly loud. She looked up at the speakers.

Big Mike, as though reading her mind, went over to the nearest one and examined it. “Yo, claws, c’mere.”

Evan came over, flexing his hands with incisive sound of metal on metal. “Yo?”

“Grab hold of that wouldja? Pull it off.”

Obligingly Evan reached up with his hands open and cocked, and jumped a little, slamming his hands into the grill over the speaker and closing his fingers.

The claws sunk into the grill and he wiggled a little, then yanked hard, and lifted his feet up, adding his weight to the effort, rewarded by the grill coming loose around the speaker and almost hitting him in the head. “Yo?”

“Nice.” Big Mike got under it and peered into the hole.

“Hang on.” Chester came over with a pair of cutters in one hand. “Don’t waste a shell and anyway the sewage pipes run overhead here.”  He reached up into the ceiling, shoving his fingers through the tangle of cabling.

Obligingly, Big Mike stepped back. “Clean water’d be all right.” He commented. “Love a plunge right now.”

Ooooh.” Evan’s eyes lit up. “That’s gonna feel sweet when we get back to the Bay.”

F’n yo.”

A moment later the wailing stopped. 

Jess was up against the rolled down steel bar barricade. It had horizontal and vertical welded pipes and she got her hands around a set.  Immediately, she had ten fighters crowding in next to her, all that could fit on the upper step, and they reached down to grab hold of the bars bending their knees.

The roll down was clamped into housings on the top of the steps.   Jess saw Dev and Brent going to the side of the wall nearby with scanners out, but she took a breath and readied her body. “Ready?”

Yo.” The fighters all chorused.

“Go.” Jess commanded, and gripped the bars tightly, straightening her knees and pulling upward, her hands clenched around the pipes palm up.

The fighters moved with her, and a half second later they could hear and feel creaking in the structure, and a second siren sounded, this one much lower, and a single undulating note.

“Hang on.”  Big Mike said, from the bottom of the steps.

“Don’t f’n shoot us.” Jess growled. “Pull up!” She instructed the fighters, as she curled her arms and felt the strain along her back.

Hoyah!” The line along with her let out a short, gruff grunt, and then there was more creaking beneath their feet, loud enough to hear over the low siren.

“Jess.” Dev leaned over. “Would you rather I open the lock?”

“And miss all this fun?” Jess said, through clenched teeth. “Just give it a second more.” She took a fast breath. “Heave!”

The fighters surged upward again, and as they did the gate came loose from the internal locks and flew up unexpectedly, the sudden motion throwing the construct up and into it’s upper housing with a crash.

Yo!” Dustin shook his hands. “Ya boom!”

Dev trotted up the steps with her scanner. “Excellent.”

“Get in there, Devvie.” Jess patted her back. “Not sure we can just haul our way through that one.”

Another siren started wailing and beneath their feet they could feel and hear the lock retainers cycling. Jess glanced upwards at the gate, but it was stuck in it’s upper position, shaking back and forth.  She took a step back and ran her fingers through her hair, pulling it back off her face as she flexed her shoulders, burning a little from the lifting of the gate. “At least they’re not sending more targets at us.”

S’good.” Evan concluded, as he came up the steps to join them. “Yo Dusty, pry on that yeah?” He pointed at the steel door jamb.

Dev blocked out all the chaos and focused on her scanner.  Doug and Brent came up alongside and joined her, their heads leaning together as they watched what she was doing.

Rocket’s got it.” Dustin said solemnly, pulling a wrapped package from his hip pocket and unwrapping it. He put the contents into his mouth and chewed, moving his head back and forth as though listening to a silent bit of song.

The sirens were getting louder, and in reflex, Dev paused and put her ear buds back into her ears, before going back to her screen and reviewing scan results.

There were a huge number of signals flying by. There were electronic commands in the air, trying to shut the portal over their heads.  She reviewed the messages, but disregarded them as the mechanism reported being jammed thoroughly by the unexpected upthrust.

She could feel motion and rumbling under her boots, though, and it gave her a sense of urgency.  She could hear engines in motion nearby and she searched for command and control signals she could subvert.

Doug was now busy with a panel near the door, prying it away from the metal housing with a screwdriver from his toolkit. “Maybe I can get you a link here.” He muttered. “They used to have a kill switch here… remember that, Brent?”

Brent was at his elbow. “Nah.” He said. “I didn’t screw around inside here much.”

Chester squeezed through the waiting fighters and came over to him. “That was the evac siren.” He said. “We better get a move on if we want to get at em.” He looked over Dev’s shoulder, balancing himself with a hand on Doug’s arm. “Whatcha doing Rocket?”

Dev looked up. “These doors have a pneumatically closed piston mechanism.”

“Well, get in here, and do what you did back at Base 10. This place’d look good in some pink.” Doug peered inside the hatch he’d opened. “Something’s in there.”

Obligingly, Dev moved over to the wall and, looping her scanner over her shoulder, reached up to the crossbar on the wall and lifted herself up to peer inside, bringing her head level with Doug’s. He edged out of the way to let her inspect.

“Want some light?” Doug flashed his hand lamp on and beamed it inside the hatch.

Jess remained on the steps, her arms folded, a muscle in her thigh twitching. Each new sound from the inner compound made her jump slightly.

Dev stuck her entire head in the hatch, twisting her neck to peer towards the inside of the structure.  She released one hand off the crossbar and reached behind her to take Doug’s light from his hand, and focus it past her face, holding on with her other hand suspending her body in space. “Hm.”

“Dev?” Jess spoke up. “What’s the odds?”

Dev put the flashlight between her teeth and reached into one of her pockets, removing something and then extended her hand back inside the space.

“Can I help? Hold something? Let you stand on my head?” Doug asked, after a moment of brief silence.

A loud bang sounded, suddenly. The fighters all tensed, turning and looking around them, as Jess dropped her hands to her sides, and cocked her head to listen.

Then, with an anticlimactic thunking chunking sound, the doors Jess was standing next to unlocked, and started to open.   With a grunt, Dev threw herself backwards, dropping to the ground with a cable in one hand, twisted steel strands glinting in the overhead halon light.

“Thanks Dev!” Jess grabbed the right most door and hauled it all the way open, as Big Mike took hold of the other one, and the fighters rambled up the steps and crowded after them.

“Not an issue.” Dev examined the steel cable, waiting for the fighters to get through before she, and Doug and the rest of the wrenchers followed. “I was not exactly expecting the mechanism to be held shut with this.”

“No looking horses in the ass, Rocket.”

Dev dropped the piece of twisted steel and entered the inner compound, finding yet again more hallways.  It was, she thought, worse than Base 10 had been, and it had taken her a month to learn her way around that facility.

Now, the inside of the halls were brightly painted, and had cloth covers on the walls. She was momentarily taken aback, as the overhead lights went from garish yellow to a warm white, and the floor she was walking on was padded with sedately weaved carpet.

On the walls there were also pictures, and as she passed she glanced at them, visuals of some of the areas of the school she suspected, and students sitting in classrooms, listening attentively.

“This is what they show the families.”  April was striding next to her, and apparently guessing her thoughts. “Nice, huh?”

Dev’s head swung from side to side. “I”m not sure I understand.”

April chuckled. “You understand.” She disagreed. “You come in here when you dropped the little kid off?”

Dev paused. “No, Jess didn’t want to enter.”

“Yeah. I get it. This is basic. This is what the family sees, what they get pictures of, after you get taken in.” April said. “They don’t take pictures after you go to bridge, and by then, your family doesn’t care anymore anyway.”

“I see.”

“Anyway, we’re gonna trash it.” April said, with a satisfied sigh. “Nothing’s gonna stop us, Dev. I like it.”

Dev absorbed the cheerful hallways, as they reached a branching corridor heading off to the right, wide and also brightly lit, with interspersed pops of color, shapes and figures. Then they were at the entrance to control.

The doors were open, and aside from the sirens and horns, the sounds of running and motion were gone.

They could see inside admin, see the small tables and consoles, and boards against the wall, and the shambles of things knocked over, bits of cloth on the floor, and on the dark gray carpet, darker spots.

Lets go.” Jess strode towards the entry, then hauled up abruptly as Dev wound her way through the crowd and caught up to her, grabbing her elbow. “Sup?” She looked down in alarm. “What’s wrong?"

“They are attempting to prepare to fly.” Dev said, urgently. “The large transport, and the carriers.”  She showed Jess the scanner. “Scan shows they have a number of biologic signatures on board that match ours and they are in flight prep.”

Jess’s pale eyes darted at her. “Ours?” She asked, warily.

Dev pointed at her, then at some of the fighters. “Flight winds are dropping. They will be able to leave very soon.”

“Shit I hate being right.” April exhaled in disgust. “I guessed it, didn’t I? they’re grabbing spirals.”

“Damn.” Doug had his hands on his hips. “I”da thought the last thing on the planet those dingdongs would want is more of these guys. They’re gonna grow up and eat them for lunch.”

Big Mike leaned on his rifle. “Nah they ain’t stupid. They know the only way to beat us, is with us.” He remarked placidly. “So lets go kill em and move along.”

For a long moment, Jess froze, unsure of what to do.  Then she pointed back the way they’d come. “Go get the rigs.” She told Dev. “We’ll take admin and try to stop them.”  She shoved the nearest fighters forward. “Get in there and get into the control room.”

The fighters surged into motion, pouring into the control room.

“Ack.” Dev got her scanner around her neck, and turned, breaking into a run back down the corridor, rapidly disappearing into the distance.

After a shocked pause,  Doug, Brent and Chester bolted after her.  “Hey wait for us! Rocket!” Doug yelled. “C’mon! Slow down! We’re coming!”

Jess pointed her hand at four fighters at the back of the group. “Go with them, and make sure they don’t get stopped.” She ordered. “We might have left some walking.”

Yo!” Dustin lifted his fubar up and bolted off, with a handful of the Bay born at his heels, pounding down the carpet and heading after the techs at top speed.

Lets go wreck.” Big Mike was hustling the rest of the gang into the admin hall. “And out that front door.”


Dev was running as fast as she could, outpacing the rest of the group she was with as she led the way out the back entrance to the administrative facility, crossing from the relatively sedate internal corridors back into the still snowing weather outside .

The tank was still on fire, and now she raced past it, aware of the sound of running boots behind her.  She looked back, relieved at seeing familiar faces, and then leaped down the broad steps and started across the parade ground.

It was a long way to back to the escarpment.  As she reached halfway across, the snow slowed her down and the rest caught up with her, plowing through the fresh snow and sending a spray of out outward in their path.

 “Hope nothing happened to the busses.” Doug said, as he caught up.

“Hope we can put your skid back on or you can take off sideways.” Chester added. “Hey is that a shadow or..

The snow exploded into three enemy soldiers, throwing themselves at their knees in desperate rage, swinging empty blasters like clubs at their knees.  Dev leaped into the air as they dove forward and cleared them, to land plunging into the deep snow and staggering back into a run.

The fighters bowled into the enemy ferociously, driving them to one side as the techs dodged past.

Dev took a moment to fasten the parka flap over her face as the chill numbed her skin. She kept moving forward, looking behind her to ensure the pilots were at her heels.

The fight behind her was silent, just thuds and cracking sounds, and the odd crunch of metal striking bone but already two of the fighters were rising from slumped forms and plunging after them.

They kept running, out across the parade ground and through the funnel, passing now snow covered bodies as they approached the propped open gates that led to the Pit.  “Watch out for more bogeys!” Doug warned.

Yo!” Dustin caught up to them as they reached the pathway into the Pit, the doors still propped wide open as they’d left them.  He bounded through the snow, his fubar clutched in one hand, his knife in the other, his rifle forgotten, strapped to his back.

“Hope those kids don’t do anything stupid.” Chester said. “Some of em were looking sideways at us.”

“Even baby triggers ain’t dumb.” Doug said, as they plowed through the drifts. “Let me get in front of ya Rocket, before you have to swim up those stairs.”

Dev was glad to let him take the lead, and he made a path through the fresh drifts, the snow still falling now but much more lightly.  They powered up the steps and into the Pit, Dustin and the fighters sweeping ahead of them as they got into the hallway with weapons out.

But the space was empty, ringingly empty, the stone floor lit by the overheads and stretching out towards the central space they’d found the youngsters in originally.

Of the kids themselves, they saw no sign.

In silence they ran through the hall and through the housing, also empty, tables overturned and chairs in disarray, the box of protein bars emptied and on it’s side.  They moved through the back entrance and down the passage, and out the back door to the Pit, once again outside.

Through the yard. Dark and cold and silent, save the hum of the powered fence, and across to the rear of it, to the gate they’d left open.   Dev had been afraid she’d have to unlock it again, but it was just exactly as they’d left it, standing wide open to the ledge.

“Hold it.” Brent suddenly said, as they prepared to pass through. He pointed at the outside path, where there were dark and distinct footprints in the fresh snow. “Got company.”

Dev exhaled. “Nonoptimal.” She said. “But we have to get the carriers.” She moved forward and went to the wall, feeling along the stone for the drop rig. “Lets hope they have not disturbed them.”  She found the metal under her finger tips and tried to move it.

“Frozen?” Doug had found his and was tugging at it. “Damn it.”

Dustin came up behind him. “Yo.” He got the claw side of his fubar between the frozen steel cable and the rock, and yanked hard, his feet leaving the ground with the force of the motion. “Got to go, yo, got to go.”

Dev felt up along the drop rig cable and found a handhold, pulling herself up to inspect it. She braced her boots against the slick stone and pulled against it, but the cable was fixed fast in the ice.  “Now would be a good time to have a blaster.” She remarked.

Well we ain’t got one.” Doug called out. “April doesn’t let me carry one since I burned her boots accidentally.”

Dev pulled her scanner around with her free hand and keyed it, bringing up a link to her carrier, resting on the ledge above.  It came live and responded, and she engaged the retract, feeling the cable shift under her fingers.

Over their heads, the sound of the rig spooling up was clear and sudden a deep and singing whine along with the thumps and clicks of the carrier itself as it energized.

“Well, they know something’s up if they’re up there.” Doug went to the bottom of his rig and took hold of the belaying hook at the end, pulling it and stepping back so one of the fighters could help. “Don’t zip up there without us Rocket, mkay?”

“Here, grab that, yo dude.” Brent went to the last cable. “C’mon.”

Dev could feel the strain of the retractor pulling the cable. “Nonoptimal.” She studied it, as she heard the distinct sounds of ice crunching from overhead, of the carrier’s skids moving against the ice. “Seriously nonoptimal.”

She put her scanner back over her shoulder, transferring both hands to the steel and getting her boots more firmly settled.  She started yanking at the cable, jerking it as the carrier was pulling from above, aware of the minutes passing and the sound of her own carrier possibly getting ready to come down on top of her head.

She could hear faint cracklings and a scraping sound and redoubled her efforts, pulling with all her strength against the cable and shoving hard with her legs as she arced backwards.

Without warning, the cable came free and she swung outward, then back down towards the cliff, slamming into it as the rig retracted, hauling her upward rapidly, thumping her against the mountain as she tumbled through the air.

“Dev!” Doug yelped. “Oh crap! We gotta get up there!” He yanked frantically at the rig, then grabbed his own scanner as Brent was, opening comms with his carrier overhead. “Shit shit shit!”


Continued in Part 29