Avalanche – Snippet 22

If it hadn’t been for Johnny and Sera…I don’t think any of us would be here right now.

Going Out Strange

Cody Martin and Mercedes Lackey

The entire world had gone to hell, or close enough to it to not make much of a difference. Everything inside of John wanted him to drop what he and Sera had been doing, and just search for whoever the hell “Zach Marlowe” was. But they couldn’t. There was far too much that needed to be done, and not nearly enough time—or warm bodies—to do it. The world was reeling from the latest wave of Thulian attacks. With the fall of Metis, something had fundamentally changed, and not for the better. Instead of the “pop up” attacks by virtual suicide squads of Thulians, which had become almost routine for everyday citizens, the current strikes were far more frequent. And effective. Before, the small-scale and usually short attacks seemed to be about inciting terror as much as the damage inflicted. The destruction, as horrible as it was, had always been localized. Now, the attacks were swift, brutal, and terribly catastrophic. The Thulians were striking seemingly at random, and more often than not several different locations at once. The targets were seldom guarded, or if they were, the Thulians made sure to mount a large enough force to completely overwhelm any defenders. The effect was that any places that were attacked were virtually wiped off the map, and the Thulians usually retreated before any retaliation could be exacted by security forces.

The various governments had not reacted well to the constant barrage of attacks. In many countries, martial law, curfews, and resource rationing had been put back into effect. It was the only meaningful response that the world governments seemed able to provide; before, Thulian attacks were repelled, with at least some of the invaders being killed. Now, only the bodies of the innocent were left when an attack ended. People, if they hadn’t been already, sure as hell were scared now. Even with that, the reaction from normal people surprised John. There wasn’t widespread looting and rioting in most countries, like there had been after the first Invasion. Communities had learned how to deal with that sort of thing early on, and had come together in the face of the latest atrocities instead of coming apart. As proud as it made John to see that, it just wasn’t enough. We need to stop these bastards, not just clean up the mess after they’re through.

Unfortunately, that’s all that John had been doing, at least for the last few weeks. He and Sera were called up and sent out at the first sign of attacks within range of Atlanta, along with ECHO, CCCP, and conventional military forces. Everyone was stretched thin, with most of the heavier assets—both metahuman and front line security forces—being assigned to strategic targets. The Thulians had been avoiding anywhere that had a significant metahuman presence, though they hadn’t been as reluctant to attack regular military units if they were small enough. The chain of command was hesitant to release any of those forces to pursue the Thulians or come to the aid of places that were under attack, for fear that they were diversions to open up the more “important” targets. Naturally, centers of government were protected. But world leaders had been very careful to guard power distribution centers, main arteries of transportation, ports, and other less obvious targets that were still incredibly vital to keeping the world functioning.

It made John sick to his stomach when he and Sera had arrived at the first attack that they had responded to. They had been too late, and there were no survivors. They had been told that it used to be a county hospital; when they arrived, it was nothing more than a pile of smoking wreckage on blackened concrete. The second attack made John absolutely furious. It was the wood-to-electricity plant that he had helped defend, back before the attack on the North American Thulian HQ in the Superstition Mountain Range. With ECHO’s help, and that of a beleaguered pair of National Guard squads, they had prevented a pop-up attack from cutting off power to 27,000 homes. In a sick twist of irony, the plant was already scheduled to close down when it was destroyed; it was part of the reason why it had been undefended for the second attack. But since it had still been producing, it had been manned, and everyone in the plant had died.

He still remembered the name of the soldier that had died, in the first attack. Fieldhouse. Sergeant Fieldhouse. Another name to add to the list of those lost. John was tired of losing people, and he aimed to do something about it. The problem was…the Thulians had anticipated that. They knew the response times of defenders, and made sure to keep their distance. By the time John and Sera knew about an attack, even close ones, it was already too late.

They were at Victoria’s flat on guard duty when the latest call came in. John had been lounging on the couch, napping, while Sera was flipping through a dog-eared copy of “Super Summer: A Metahuman Romance by Victoria Nagy”, sitting in the well-used overstuffed chair next to him. A particularly loud klaxon sounded off for a full second before going quiet; John jumped and almost rolled off of the couch at the sound, jarred from sleep. Sera, bemused, calmly set her book down and stood up.  “There is an alarm,” she said, and vanished into the Overwatch room.  “Hurry!” Her voice came through the open door.

John practically leapt off of the couch, running as soon as he was on his feet and pulling on his nanoweave jacket. “Vic, what’s the sitch?” Vickie was sitting at her computer, her eyes flitting between the array of monitors, constantly going back to the one that was dedicated to 8-Ball. Her fingers never stopped moving, flying over the keyboard or switching to one of three mice. The entire workspace had scattered cups, crumpled up aluminum cans for meal replacement drinks, and other detritus that gave testament to how long Vickie had been awake and working. With all of the attacks, she was burning the candle at both ends and in the middle trying to keep on top of it all and keep everyone fed with up to date intelligence.

“8-Ball’s predicting an–there it goes.”  A map popped up on her main screen, showing the area just east and a little north of Atlanta.  A red dot marked “Riverside Military Academy” and a wedge of six of the little orange diamonds that Vickie used to designate Death Spheres descending on it.  “Shit.  That’s basically a private high school for troubled youth….”

John shook his head. “It fits their pattern of going after soft targets. We knew they’d get nasty sooner rather than later.” He leaned in, pushing aside a Gamma Bar wrapper to place his hand on the desk. “What’s the distance?”

“Fifty four miles.”

“Damnit. That’s just at the envelope of our operating range.” John cussed again under his breath, leaning back from the station suddenly. “Is there a quick reaction force in range?” He already knew the answer, but forced himself to ask it out of habit.

“Based upon the latest pattern, no. They’re going to hit the school and fade away before anyone arrives. They know our response time. Even if jets get diverted—which we don’t have any that aren’t down for maintenance or already putting out another fire—they wouldn’t reach the target in time to do anything but harry the Thulians before the bastards retreat and melt away.  Dammit,” Vickie swore, taking two fistfuls of her short hair, and pulling.  “If only there was a way to put rockets on you two!”

John almost swore himself—but stopped short when goosebumps rose on his arms and the back of his neck. He had been watching all of the footage from the first Invasion the last few weeks; trying to parse out the differences in the tactics that the Thulians were using now versus then, and how to combat them. It occurred to him that he’d been paying attention to the wrong part. He wasn’t a master strategist. He was a trigger-puller at heart, a door kicker, the man on the ground. He didn’t need to be thinking about the larger picture; he needed to focus on what he knew, what he was strongest at. Who he was strongest with; Sera. He whirled to his left, putting his hands on Sera’s shoulders and turning her to face him.

“Darlin’, I need you to think back. To when the Kriegers first showed up an’ you an’ the Siblings started kickin’ ass. How y’all got around.”

She nodded.  “But we moved by folding space….you and I cannot do that, not even together, I don’t–” Her brows furrowed.  “Hmm….”