Demons Of The Past 03 – Retribution – Chapter 11
She realized she’d been momentarily stunned, tried to rise, found herself shoving rubble up and away. Murr stirred and began helping her. Whoever did that is going to be coming in–
The sharp twanging sounds of automatic rannai fire sounded out from the smoking hole and she could see the staccato flickerings of the packeted energy bolts streaming outward. Well, by the Seven. Hmmmseeth’s defenses managed to survive that blowback charge? That’s impressive.
Automated weapons wouldn’t hold their opponents for long — any group that used a focused blowback charge like that as a doorknocker wasn’t playing around. But it gave her plenty of time to clear her head. “Vick, talk to me, what’re we dealing with here?”
A disciplined strike force, Vick’s mental voice replied instantly. Personal mind-shields on all of them, unfortunately. I can of course penetrate them given time, but I have not yet done so; I would prefer to not demonstrate this capability if I do not need to.
“How many, and what are they? Mydrwyll?”
I sense . . . twenty individual screens. Visualizing the area shows three are Mydrwyll. The others appear to be human.
She threw a glance at Murr, but by the way the Mydr guide was preparing a barricade, it didn’t look like this was something he had expected. “Murr, I think we’ve got Imperial troops out there. How?”
The purple alien said something in his own language; from the tone, she was sure it was not fit for polite company. “Deduction: Someone’s been monitoring the Nets for specific queries. Couldn’t just take in Hmmmseeth, but knew he was a top contact point for outsiders. Further deduction: from your earlier conversation, knew Hmmmseeth had shipmates connected to your Varan.”
Towers and caverns, he’s got to be right. “So they paid someone well to watch for this.”
“Even more well to permit military landing. May involve very high-up people on Mydr.”
The automatic fire suddenly lessened. Blast it. They’ve got one, they’ll have the other down in a few minutes. “Hmmmseeth, we don’t have your twenty-five minutes!”
“I have deduced that,” came his distant voice. “Need at least five more, however. Minimum time to acquire material.”
“Collapsing Caverns.” She drew her own pistol, but knew it wouldn’t likely be of much use against . . . whatever came through the door. “Doctor Guvthor, Doctor Sooovickalassa, if you have any ideas . . .?”
Guvthor gave a sharp-toothed grin that looked far less civilized and far more eager than she was used to seeing. “By the Ancestral Forest, I think I do.” He grasped the largest remaining fragment of door and heaved it to a standing position. “Doctor Sooovickalassa, if you would . . . support me, so to speak?”
A hiss of amusement. I believe I understand. Yes, go when ready.
The immense Thovian lifted the door fragment by the handle in its center, now seeming to heft it easily, as though it were no more than an ordinary shield and not a multi-ton piece of armor plate. Looking to the side, she saw Vick’s right hand touching his forehead, a look of intense concentration on his reptilian face . . . and a faint glow surrounding him.
With his other massive hand, Guvthor reached back and freed the titanic axe, the Makthu Hok Guvthor. The two-handed weapon spun about, frighteningly well-controlled by Guvthor’s single fur-covered hand, and even as the second automatic rannai cannon in the entryway finally fell silent the Thovian was already charging forward, crouched low behind his impossible shield.
The EÃ¶nwyl sprinted after him; there was no point in reserving anything, a move this desperate would need all the backup it could get . . . and she really wanted to see this.
The smoke was clearing in the shattered entry lock, and a mass of figures was crouched in the main entrance. As they saw movement they opened fire, a hellish fusillade of energy bolts and even solid slugs that would have swiftly torn through even the power armor that Sasham Varan used to wear.
But Guvthor was not wearing armor; instead he bore before him something thick enough to have been armor for an Imperial patrol vessel, and the beams and bullets barely slowed him, even explosive charges from a Shockwave cannon rebuffed by the sheer impossible mass of E-steel. Before the massed fire could even begin to wear its way through, Guvthor Hok Guvthor was upon them.
He released the shield and its apparent lightness vanished; instead it tumbled implacably onward, a careening groundcar out of control plowing through the assembled assault force. Even armored figures were bowled over, some broken and bent by the impact. The great axe rose and came down, and she saw a torso go one way and the lower body another, even as his other hand batted one of the Mydrwyll assailants aside like a child.
But being in among them without his shield meant he was vulnerable.
The EÃ¶nwyl was already raising her rannai pistol before she consciously thought of it, knew which of the men was going to shoot, fired, and her bolt caught his armor where it was already damaged, sent a convulsive shock of agony through her target, who dropped his weapon. A green and gold streak passed her, and Sooovickalassa was there, guarding Guvthor’s right flank as her pistol shielded his left. Murr scuttled up beside her and added his own fire.
The battle did not last long.
“It is . . . done,” Guvthor said, leaning heavily against the wall. Blood matted his fur in a dozen places, and she did not like the way he favored one leg. “But there will be more. A single task force? No, they will have planned for at least two or three more stages.”
I agree, Vick thought. And this corridor is very, very long. I do not see an easy way out.
“Hmmmseeth, you have your five minutes, but not much more!” she shouted, mulling possible actions in her head. Vick was, unfortunately, right. The corridor was kilometers long. They couldn’t use the same trick again. Maybe Vick’s constantly-growing psionic powers could get them past one, or even two, more groups, but once he started really using them the Imperials would be alerted. She doubted they’d use mass-destruction weapons on a world they had a very shaky presence on, but they’d sure try to use anything they could get away with, especially since — almost certainly — there would be a Kaital pulling the strings on this. Although on second thought, if there was, it would have to keep far, far away. This world had a very significant R’Thann presence, and the Kaital and R’Thann, as they had discovered, were ancient and implacable enemies.
Maybe they could go the other direction? Into the sea? A lot of weapons were far less effective underwater, and certainly both Hmmmseeth and Murr would be completely at home there, and Sooovickalassa seemed likely to handle water well. But they didn’t have an artificial lung for Guvthor, and she suspected he didn’t swim terribly well.
But if we can’t get through the tunnels and we can’t go through the water, what the Hells can we do, fly?
And suddenly it was there, the idea she was looking for. She waved desperately to get Murr’s attention.
The open eye section slid towards her. “Query?”
“Query, yes. Where’s the nearest transmission relay?”
He thought. “Answer: one point two kilometers down the tunnel.”
“And that’s on top of the tunnel, right? How high?”
“Three hundred twenty-seven meters.”
That’s high enough to give me the line-of-sight for transmission. “Vick, check me on this: the Mydrwyll and the R’Thann both like people to take care of their own problems, right?”
Correct. Though there are nuances.
“Neither Mydr nor Thann’ta actually want much to do with the Imperium, so they won’t care if we embarrass them, right?”
As long as we try to minimize casualties, yes. Self-defense is one of the sacred rights.
“Got it. Vick, Guvthor, take out the tunnel ceiling.”
They blinked, then Guvthor smiled. “Ah, I see. If our adversaries await us inside the tunnel, they will find it much harder to stop us if we are running along atop it.”
“More than that, but yes, that’s the start.” Guvthor and Vick grabbed up the fallen weapons of their adversaries and opened fire on the upper section of the tube.
Hmmmseeth scuttled up as the two scientists completed making a hole in the obdurately stubborn material of the tube. “I have what is needed.”
“Then let’s go.“
Guvthor handed her up, then the others. He tried to scramble up after them, but it required something of a jump — one that his injured leg could not manage. “I am afraid I am unable to –“
With an exasperated hiss, Vick glared at him. Drop your protections for a moment, you fool!
An instant later, Guvthor practically flew upwards, to land with a grunt on the gently-curved tunnel roof. “My apologies, I am indeed injured and not thinking clearly. Let us move onward.”
Even injured, Guvthor could limp along at a reasonable speed due to his sheer size. The others kept pace, the EÃ¶nwyl leading them. “Murr, I’m going to need your help interfacing with the transmission tower. I need to override its governors so I can punch a signal through their damned scramblers.”
“Understood. This is technically illegal –“
She reached into her pouch, yanked out the crystal and pressed it into his tentacles. “Take the rest, everything.”
A ripple of strained amusement shifted the creature’s hide. “I was about to say, but I am already targeted. Still, I will not refuse payment. My experience in the Enforcers included these sorts of maneuvers, although usually on the other side. I believe we can achieve what you want — look out!“
A line of figures below opened fire on the fugitives. Fortunately the tunnel ceiling — as Guvthor and Vick had proven — was very tough, but even so some of the shots punched holes straight through the glassy substance.
“Keep moving!” she shouted. “If we keep going they’ll never be able to make a big enough hole to shoot us through. It’ll take damn blind luck to nail one of us otherwise.”
Yes, but they could duplicate our own actions and come up here.
“I’m more worried about them calling in reinforcements from the ocean.”
“It is doubtful they have any such,” Guvthor assured her, his voice strained but still confident. “We were at a location with only a single way in or out, and no resources to escape to the ocean. I am afraid that they will come to the same conclusion as Doctor Sooovickalassa, however, and I am not capable of running.”
“You don’t have to run very far, Doctor,” she said. Four hundred meters ahead of them, the slender, dark needle of the transmission tower waited. “That’s our destination. Though we will have to somehow keep them off us once we’re there.”
“That will be something of a challenge, I am afraid. That tower does not look conducive to serving as much of a fortress.”
“No, and I need it to stay intact.”
Guvthor shrugged, and Vick rattled his crest. Hmmmseeth buzzed a dismissal. “Statement: We are committed. Either we will succeed, or we will die. But we will die trying to fulfill our Debts, and that is all we can do.” From a toolbelt around his body he drew a gently-curved stafflike object of crystal and metal; she recognized it as a skip-laser rifle.
“Trust me,” she said, as the tower drew nearer, “I am not planning on dying today!”
The transmission tower, like most such structures, was an openwork construction of beams and antennas. It was probably mostly E-steel, but that just meant they could make the beams thinner than other materials would have allowed; it would still be relatively fragile.
On the positive side, the test and servicing panel was at the base of the tower. Murr rippled his way up to it first, examining the seals. “Standard anti-tampering work. I’ve got a key-code for all these public support installations.” In a moment, the opaque seal-shield slid back. “Access granted. Query: What will you be transmitting from? Directly from the console or –“
She pulled back her sleeve, showed her commlink bracelet. “Can I interface through this? Transmit at close range and relay?”
“Hmmm . . . standard Imperial protocols?” At her nod, he bobbed slightly. “I can arrange that. It will take a few minutes to perform the override, however.”
A sharp detonation caused her to look back; about three hundred meters away, rannai and Shockwave fire was systematically cutting a hole in the tunnel ceiling. “A few minutes is all they’re going to give us.”
“In either direction, I am afraid,” Guvthor said, pointing. In the distance, a squad of human figures was advancing from the direction they had been going.
Collapsing walls, she cursed mentally. “Hmmmseeth, keep up as much constant fire as you can across that hole they’re making. With luck they’re going to be really reluctant to stick their heads up, armored or not, and that’ll buy us time. Guvthor, Vick, start trying to take out the group that’s already up here. I’ve got to stay with Murr so I can act as soon as he’s ready.” She turned and added her pistol to the suppressive fire Hmmmseeth was providing.
For a scientist whose primary study was statistical, Hmmmseeth was an excellent shot. Skip-lasers required a well-trained sense of distance and many hours learning how to reflexively tune your firing impulses to cause the bolt to emerge exactly where you wanted it to. A good shot with a skip-laser, however, could judge it well enough to literally shoot targets on the other side of a wall, and Hmmmseeth was doing exactly that every so often — aiming down, to the area where the group doing the cutting must be standing, and squeezing off shots whose effects were obvious by the way that they disrupted the otherwise carefully synchronized fire from below. Helps that we know we have no friends in that direction. That might just keep them slowed down enough.
Vick stepped out, pulled a glassy cylinder from his pack, aimed, and hurled it up and out. It described a swift, high arc and came down almost exactly in the midst of the approaching Imperials. Instantly a detonation of fire and force shattered the tunnel beneath them and sent soldiers flying. Some plummeted into the sea to either side, while others fell helplessly into the gaping hole; a few others lay motionless on the shining surface of the tube. As the smoke cleared, she could see there were still multiple combatants standing, but that terrible blast had cut the forces against them by half, at least.
“Grenades? When did you get grenades, Vick? And I don’t recognize the design –“
An impression of a laugh coupled with a steamkettle hiss. I have no grenades. That was an empty collection bottle.
She blinked, then grinned. “Oh, that’s clever. They don’t know you don’t have grenades –“
– and so they will not assume that detonation was psionic in nature. Exactly.
“Interface is ready!” Murr said sharply.
She activated her comm. Transmission . . . clear, finally! If I can just get off the right commands . . .
A glint showed in the direction of the city. “Vick, Guvthor, what –“
“It appears,” Guvthor said, with not a trace of his usual good humor, “to be an Imperial troop transport. As I recall, they generally carry fifty troops, or twenty-five in full combat armor. This may become . . . difficult.”
“Fallen Towers.” She tapped out the commands as fast as she could; despite her preference for hands-on controls, she berated herself for not at least fitting neural links on the comm. “Murr –“
A bolt splashed off the E-steel just between the two of them, perilously close to the controls. “Tzil! Murr, what’s the code for the spaceport tower — emergency code?”
One of the armored figures had reached the top of the tunnel behind them, and Murr was now trying to support Hmmmseeth. However, he managed to duck back and punch in another code.
She sent the last transmission and then turned away. “That should do it. They’re still trying to jam everything, but I think this was getting through.” I hope it’s gotten through.
“Meaning no disrespect, EÃ¶nwyl,” Guvthor said, firing around the antenna base which provided some meager cover. “But whatever it is had best be very fast. Doctor Sooovickalassa and I are formidable, yes,” another two shots, and return fire that scorched his fur, “but that is a troop carrier and it is almost ready to land. Our hand weapons will make no impression on it, and I doubt that even Doctor Sooovickalassa can take twenty-five power-armored Imperials by himself.”
I am a Master of the Dawning Light, Vick’s mental voice said with a chill certainty. Perhaps I cannot . . . but many of them will fall first.
“That still ends with us falling,” the EÃ¶nwyl said. “Not my plan.”
“Then what is your plan?”
A brilliant spark of light shone out, far down the line of the tunnel, so far that it had to be from somewhere in the center of the city itself, and the EÃ¶nwyl grinned. “That.”
A distant, thunderous roar punctuated by a whipcrack boom reached their ears, but even before that they could see the spark growing, becoming a graceful white arc swelling with terrifying speed.
The troop transport swayed, then slewed around, heavy rannai fire bursting from its two defensive emplacements, but The EÃ¶nwyl was a screaming sword of vengeance ripping through the air so fast that sound itself lagged far behind; the sound they had heard must have come from its initial launch. The mere shockwave of its passage sent the transport spinning out of control, dipping downward to a fatal encounter with the waves; it tumbled half-over and began to sink, the armored figures inside desperately scrambling to avoid being taken down with the foundering ship.
The EÃ¶nwyl pulled up scarcely a hundred fifty meters away and even though it was now streaking its way almost directly upward, hurricane-force winds buffeted the little party; Guvthor went to one knee and Vick held on grimly to the tower.
The triple-pointed Atlantaean hull nosed over and dove, slower than before but still fearfully fast, and the soldiers that had made it to the top of the tunnel were tripping over each other in their haste to make it back down.
Now The EÃ¶nwyl slowed, flaring up and back, drifting down to a jet-supported landing that nonetheless made the tunnel’s roof creak dangerously . . . and lowered the boarding ramp.
“Observation: A most effective move indeed, EÃ¶nwyl!” Murr said.
“Everyone on board now! They might be sending something bigger!”
“Undoubtedly they will be,” Guvthor said, forcing his injured leg to support him now that refuge was so close. “Yet they will still need at least a few moments to recover their wits! I know that I would, my friend!”
The EÃ¶nwyl noticed Murr hanging back. “Murr, aren’t you –“
“I am curious, but you will be traveling far indeed and I have made no such preparations. A benediction: I wish you good fortune!” The Mydrwyll agent gave a complicated gesture with its tentacles that she sensed meant something like a very deep bow, and then slid swiftly off the tunnel into the water. His natural element; they’re not really after him anyway, and they’ll never catch him now.
She bounded up the ramp, ordering it to close after her as she saw the other three were already inside. “Everyone get secured somehow! This might be very, very rough!”
This is not an unfamiliar circumstance in our adventures.
“True,” said the Thovian with a booming chuckle, “though I might wish it were otherwise!”
She commanded the ship to lift and drive for the sky even before she reached the control deck and relied on her experience — and a bit of that strange sense — to know when to grab on and when to move.
Strapping in, she scanned the indicators. There are Imperial vessels closing in . . . but only two. Marjaav or equivalent — wonder where they came from, didn’t see them on our way in. Not very close, though, far around the arc of the planet. And there’s so many other vessels in orbit . . .
She detected a missile launch from the nearest; this close to the planet the effective range was long, but there was still a chance of hitting The EÃ¶nwyl.
And then the missile blew up in mid-flight. She picked up a general-wave transmission.
“Command and directive: this is Mydr oversight control. No weapons may be fired or discharged in near orbit without Mydr permission. Endangering of customers and allies forbidden. Information: Imperial vessels in violation of basic directives. Command: Cease activity immediately or be destroyed.”
As a mass of Mydrwyll — and a few R’Thann — vessels converged on the vastly outnumbered Imperial vessels, the EÃ¶nwyl began to laugh.