“Move it!” Talia shouted to the young man in front of her.
A shell hit the wall beside her head, sending small pieces of feracrete flying. One struck her in the cheek, slicing it open, causing a blossom of pain as the blood started to flow. Talia ignored it as she ran. If they didn’t find refuge soon, it would be the least of her worries.
She leapt into the shelter of an alley as a hail of bullets tore into the far wall moving down the street. Scream after scream announced the death of her squad and Talia pounded an gloved fist into the pavement. Those kids never had a chance and it was her fault! They’d followed her into the battle, trusting their commander and it’d cost them everything.
Sweat poured down Talia’s forehead as she listened to the sound of her heart. How stupid could one woman be? They’d suckered her right into an ambush. And where did that flanking force come from??
“Mom, you okay?” Dirrnyg looked down at her. “Damn, you’re bleeding.”
She reached up and touched her face and her glove came back red. “Looks like I got winged.”
“I guess you were right,”
“Basic isn’t anything like this,”
She dabbed at her cheek. “Doesn’t matter now,” she stood up. “Now let’s see if we can get out of here.”
“This place is crawling with Dragus,”
“Yeah, the gearheads were pretty damn smart,” she shook her head. “I figured they had more troops, but who knew!”
“That was intense!”
She moved down the alley towards the next street over. “Yeah, try doing this for nine thousand years. I’m on my sixth lifetime, remember?”
“What are we going to do?”
“That’s vague, Mom,”
She stopped and looked over her shoulder. “No, it’s not. That’s all we can worry about right now. Nothing we can do for the others.”
“For what, Dirrnyg? They don’t teach this shit in basic.”
“It was a dumb question is all.”
“The only dumb question is the one never asked,” she said.
The reality of the situation started to sink in as she lead them down the alley. There was a distinct possibility that this would be the day she died again, but did it have to happen on some backwater planet? This was supposed to have been a simple assault, but it’d turned into a major Charlie Foxtrot instead!
She stopped short of the next street and then leaned back against the wall. How many magazines were left? Four? Not nearly enough to blast a path of the LZ. And then there was the issue of Dirrnyg.
Wispy smoke rose from the barrel as she ejected the empty magazine and then inserted a fresh one. It was two miles to reach the LZ, most of it in an urban setting, with plenty of Dragus along the way. Damn, talk about a nightmare.
“How much ammo do you have left?” She asked.
He checked his belt. “Six magazines,”
“What’s the plan?”
“Avoid contact at all cost.”
The headset burst into life. “Talia, can you hear me?”
She dabbed at the blood again. “Yeah, Methos, please tell me you’ve got some good news.”
“Not really,” Methos said. “They’ve spread throughout the city. It’s going to be a bitch to get back to the LZ.”
She back at where they’d come from. “I’ve lost my team.”
“Told you to be careful,”
“Yeah, I should’ve listened,”
“Did they get Dirrnyg?”
“Nope, he’s with me,”
“That’s a relief,” Methos said. “Crios and I are moving around the southern edge of the city. You can’t join back up with us unless you run through the center of town.”
“Shit, it’ll be crawling with Dragus,”
“You got it,”
Methos chuckled, a cold and humorless sound. “Looks like I’m going to have to come save your ass again.”
“No you’re not! We’ll make it to you. I don’t want any more lives thrown away.”
“You sure? I can get there,”
“I’ll meet you at the LZ,”
She slipped down the alley and then peeped around the corner. Hmm, let’s see if they’ve covered all the bases. She looked things over and then cursed softly.
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“They’ve got two soldiers and a tank to the north three more and another tank to the south.”
“Yeah, they’ve got us cut off from the LZ,”
“What are were going to do?”
That was a good question. A large park lay on the far side of the street, it’s peaceful and tree covered area stretching several hundred yards into the distance. She looked at it for a second before tapping a button on her wrist computer and bringing up the city map.
“We’re going to use that park as our escape route,” she said. “It’s large enough to skip ten blocks and more than likely not covered.”
“I hope you’re right,”
She shrugged. “If not, you’ll die and I’ll be onto my seventh life.”
His eyes grew wide.
“I told you this wasn’t a game. Now do you see why I wanted you with me?”
“Methos, I’m going to work my way towards you and Crios. How long before you reach the LZ?”
“Twenty minutes minimum,”
A brilliant flash cast shadows everywhere and she raised a hand to protect her eyes. On its heel came a deep, rolling sound as the buildings around Talia swayed in rhythm. Windows blew out as a small mushroom cloud rose above the buildings.
She slumped against the brick wall and then slid to the pavement. Sweat poured down her forehead and Talia wiped it away with the back of her hand. Thirty people gone. If only I’d thought about the plan more…
What now? She didn’t have a backup plan and it’d take an hour for the ship to prep the remaining shuttles. Could she keep everyone alive until then?
“Was that what I think it was?” Methos asked.
“Great…that means we’re well and totally fucked,”
“Tell me something I don’t know,”
“Please say you’ve got a plan or is this one of your ‘can’t miss’ schemes that’s totally backfiring again.”
“I’ll get back with you on that one,”
“Sometimes I wish you’d use that damn brain of yours!”
Crios jumped in. “Then why are we in this situation?”
“They surprised me,”
“Right…” Methos said. “Face it: you were outsmarted again.”
“Can you do better?”
“I thought so, now pipe down.”
“I’m going to pipe you when we get back,”
“That’s if we get back,” Crios said. “Talia, are you sure you can make it to us?”
“Am I sure? No. Will I try? Yes.”
“Just remember that Dirrnyg is with you. He only has one life,”
Talia sighed. “Don’t remind me, please. It’s stressing enough to get both of us out of this jam without you adding to it.”
“Had to make sure you understood,” Crios said.
“Hang on a second, ok?” Talia took on last look around. “Come on Dirrnyg, and don’t drag behind either.”
He sounded like a chastised child. “Yes, Mom,”
She stood up and then sprinted across the deadly opening before leaping over the fence. The tops of shrubs scratched against her armor and then she was clear. She hit the ground, using her arms to absorb the blow, and then forwards rolled as Dirrnyg landed beside her.
A quick glance and she let out a sigh of relief. Good, the monstrosities didn’t see them. She motioned to Dirrnyg and then started to sprint from tree to tree, moving deeper into the foliage and away from the Dragus shock troops.
“Hey!” Methos snapped. “Are you there?”
Talia skidded to a stop behind a boulder and then sat down. “Yeah, just needed to concentrate for a second,”
“Where are you now?”
“Great. I’m over here working my ass off and she’s goofing off. Cheikra, what did I do to deserve this??”
“If it’ll make you happy, I could just walk up to the Dragus and let them blow me away,”
“Please don’t,” Methos was silent for a second. “How are you on ammo, sis?”
Talia chuckled. “I’m down to four full mags.”
“This just keeps getting better and better,”
She closed her eyes and listened to the pounding of her heart. Methos as usual was putting things mildly. The situation was so bad that the odds of surviving were growing slimmer and slimmer by the second. What had she been thinking when she said “yes” to Dirrnyg?
“Talia,” Methos said softly.
“I’m sorry for snapping at you. It’s not your fault.”
“Forget about it, you needed to blow off steam.”
“They got us this time. Have to admit I didn’t see it coming.”
Talia raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t like Methos to be apologetic after an outburst. “Something up?”
“They’re moving to seal the city,” Methos said. “We won’t be able to make it to a LZ.”
“I’ll find a way. Just hang on until I get there.”
“Do you want me to meet up with you?”
She got to her knees and crawled over to peer around the boulder. Two Dragus soldiers stood at the entrance to the park and started to scan the area. Talia looked at them for a couple seconds and then furrowed her brow before she cursed. They were tracking her digital com signal!
“Cut off your com unit!” She snapped as she closed the system down.
“Got it,” he said. “What’s up?”
“The bastards are using our com transmissions to track us,” she muttered. “They’re going to be looking for us.” She picked her rifle up off the ground. “Come on, we’ve got to keep moving.”
Damn, the gearheads were getting too smart for their own good! Learning to track communications was something new for them. Why it took the networked computers that served as their leadership so long to think of that amazed her. It would’ve been the first thing she went after, but then that’s something that always separated Gahl from machine.
She sprinted across a short opening and baseball slid to a stop inside a large grouping of trees. It took a couple seconds for her eyes to adjust to the gloomy darkness. Sweat dripped into her eyes, making them burn, as she listening to the pounding of her heart.
Please, please, please, let them think we moved on!
Beside her Dirrnyg fidgeted and she resisted the urge to snap at him. It wasn’t his fault. He was learning what combat was like. With any luck he’d survive to tell the tale to other soldiers and more rooks would survive to fight another day.
She reached over and touched him before looking over and raising a finger to her lips. Didn’t they teach those kids anything?? It seemed Dirrnyg didn’t have a clue that noise could get a person killed on a battlefield . That was going to change because when they got home she was going to fix the training curriculum. Let the politicians have kittens if they want, but what the DI’s were teaching didn’t help keep the kids alive.
The Dragus soldiers moved deeper into the park before stopping. Thank Cheikra she killed the com unit! A couple seconds longer and they’d know exactly where she was. Right now the gearheads only suspected someone might’ve survived their dragnet, but if no one moved and stayed silent the biomechanical monstrosities would move back to covering the streets.
“Get behind a tree,” she whispered. “And don’t move until I tell you do.”
She moved across the grass and then ducked into safety before leaning back and closing her eyes. Nothing to do now but sit and wait.
Talia leaned back in her chair and set the mug of steaming coffee down before rubbing her eyes. After examining Nexus Eight, she could see why the Cabal picked it. While the system itself was nondescript, there was nothing simple about entering it.
Eight planets orbited the central star. Six gasbags and two rocks lived in mid-town, with a massive Oort cloud hanging out in the suburbs. If a ship dropped out of h-space anywhere near the limit, then it’d have to pick its way through the vast debris field, allowing the defenders plenty time to blow the base and then run for it.
Something Rickman said earlier troubled her. The Cabal had discovered a wrecked Dragus craft and managed to reverse engineer some of the technology. While they’d only gotten far enough to adapt the technology to a current heavy cruiser frame, it wouldn’t be long before they could build a working Dragus ship.
I can’t allow that to happen.
So, that put them in the position of needing to destroy that ship first and foremost. Yes, it would allow the base personnel a chance to prepare for their arrival, but there wasn’t a chance in hell she could leave that ship in one piece. It’d outclass everything mankind had in his official arsenal and shift the balance of power in such a way that the Cabal would have free reign in human space.
Armed with particle beams, she could destroy the Valiant if she hit the right spot. However, what the Cabal scientists didn’t know was that particle beams were only secondary weapons. The Valiant, by virtue of her fusion beams, still held the high cards.
What would be the best way to make it into the system? A jump would be the most efficient, but that ran the risk of landing smack in the middle of any enemy stationed as a picket. And the last thing she wanted was to end up in beam range of the Defiant before being able to take a quick sit rep.
Why did things always have to be difficult? The mission should be a simple smash and hold, no different than thousands of actions she’d commanded during the war. Back then, though, she had a fleet to operate with, and not just a single ship, which forced her to be both aggressive and cautious at the same time.
Maybe it’d be better just to be direct and drop in close to the planet. While hiding behind a gas bag had merits, they’d still be twenty minutes out. On the other hand, if she hit the Defiant and her consorts head on it wouldn’t allow the Cabal to escape.
Oh boy, she could hear Methos right now. Another ‘can’t miss’ plan that would probably have major issues before all was said and done. And Methos would more than likely be right, since she always ended up bailing her out when things went south.
The door chimed and Talia looked away from the hologram. Who in the world would be dropping in at this time of night? Methos would be the prime suspect but she was asleep, as was Crios. And Dannae was otherwise indisposed; so it couldn’t be any of them.
And Reyes knew better.
She watched as the four marines from two days ago filed in and then raised an eyebrow. This should be interesting.
A private looked at Talia. “Skipper,” she said softly. “We came to apologize and accept discipline.”
“It was insubordinate of me, Skipper. I-we all-deserve to be in the brig.”
“Take a seat, all of you. It’s not your fault when you’re thrown into an unnatural situation. One that’s as much my fault as yours, but what’s done is done. I’m curious, what’s changed your mind?”
“Skipper, it obvious you’re an experienced warrior, and we were wrong to doubt your loyalties.”
Talia shrugged. “I’d feel the same way in your shoes, which is why I let it slide.”
“Can you tell us something though, Skipper?”
“What was your life like before?”
She sipped at the coffee again. “It’s hard to describe, Private…”
“Things weren’t like this, Brady. My people had been at war for thousands of years before the four of us were created in the effort to turn the tide. They felt if their Field Commanders were stronger, faster and smarter that we’d win.”
“We haven’t seen combat yet, Ma’am,”
“Consider yourself lucky, Georgia. It’s not like what you see in the movies. Everything is lightning fast and you have to make a decision right then. And the cruelty an enemy will do to you, or a non-combatant, goes beyond description.”
“When did you die?” One of the men asked.
“I died eleven times for the Republic that I swore allegiance to. Ten times others survived, which made it worthwhile.”
The marines looked at the floor.
“The last time, I died outside the capital building. I gave my life to give what civilians could escape the time to reach the evacuation centers. What was left of my fleet sacrificed themselves cover the escape ships.”
The girl looked at Talia. “I’m sorry, we didn’t know…”
Talia sighed. “Basic only teaches but so much. Listen to Crios and Methos when they give orders. They’ll do their best to keep you alive.”
She watched the marines leave and then leaned back in the chair again. Children. None of them could be older then nineteen human years and would face combat for the first time. Their odds of returning alive were probably less than fifty-fifty, but she’d never tell them that. Hope, and the trust in their commanders, gave them a better chance of coming home in the end.