Buck Who? Chapter 29

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 29: Battle for the Installation

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            The C&C vehicle had opened up with every one of the weapons it could bring to bear. The Gatling lasers tore a swath of death and destruction through the defenders at the entrance. Bodies disintegrated, limbs were blown off as both organic and synthetic life perished.

            Babs watched in horrified fascination as the other android she had been fighting alongside was blown apart by the heavy weapon of the vehicle. She was all that remained, the only one who could possibly place the limpet mine and turn the tide of battle.

            Two thoughts tore through her mind. She was still getting used to having a body and did not want to lose it so soon after acquiring it. What if she was destroyed, would Otres be able to repair her?

            She ducked low and ran towards the dropped limpet mine. The C&C tried to get a lock on her moving form, but she moved so quickly and erratically, it was impossible. Reaching down, she scooped up the dropped mine and activated it. There was maybe five meters or less separating her from the vehicle. Babs was so close she could make out the faint blue tinge to the air surrounding the skin of the monstrous military war-machine.  A fraction of a second later, the vehicle’s main armament roared. She was grateful her new body was not in the line of fire and felt for whoever was the target.

            Was she close enough? Babs wondered as she threw the limpet mine at the vehicle. It flew through the air, straight and true, and as soon as it touched the shield, it began to work. The shield flared, glowing brightly as the limpet mine forced the energy to disperse.

            Babs did not have the time to admire her handy-work before something smashed into her with enough force to cause her CPU to shut down and go into standby mode.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            Joey and Ra’naa were in the thick of the battle. She tried to keep tabs on her friends, but the scene changed so quickly and dramatically, it was impossible. As it turned out, Joey was quite the accomplished martial artist and he wielded the molecular-edged blade with the skill and precision of a surgeon. The close-quarter battle was the wrong environment for her to bring her Sniper Rifle, so she relied on her assault rifle and her body.

            Initially they had come up behind the convoy, after the ambush. They killed several Purist soldiers as they attempted to flee the damaged rearmost vehicle. It was unsporting and the men did not have a chance, but Ra’naa pushed her feelings aside. They had killed – no, they had butchered innocent men, women and children. She knew she should not feel guilty about returning the favor.

            Before her were two soldiers, both dressed in heavy combat armor and wielding a variety of weapons. Their faces were covered by helmets and as such she could not see their eyes or the expressions they wore. Ra’naa did not need to. Their body language projected their feelings with ample clarity. They were angry and wanted her blood.

            One raised a large-bored pistol and even before he acquired her, he was pulling the trigger. Even over the din of the battle surrounding them, she could hear the thunderous report from the weapon. The round missed, but only just. She was already dodging to the side to try and break his aim, but he was persistent. The other soldier held his assault rifle at hip level and sprayed fire at both her and Joey. She felt several rounds smash into her body-armor and it felt like she had just been kicked by a Brute. The kinetic energy would leave nasty bruises and she was staggered. One had hit her right in the stomach and she felt like she was going to throw up.

            Joey was not quite so lucky. He cursed as one round smashed into his hip, destroying the teleporter he had used to such great effect. Four more rounds smashed him from his feet and he landed on his back in a tangle of limbs. He lay there, silent and unmoving.

            Ra’naa realized they had bitten off more than either could handle and she felt a cold wave of fear run through her nauseated stomach. If she did not do something to change the tide, she would be dead. At least she still had the assault rifle in her hand, and she allowed her body to fall back. As she let gravity take over, she lifted the weapon and aimed it at the two soldiers. Her finger tightened around the trigger and she unloaded the magazine in one long continuous stream of lead and fire.

            Most of the rounds missed, but several did find their marks. The nearest of the two danced and staggered as the armor he wore absorbed the worst of the energy. Like Ra’naa, if he survived the battle, he would have some impressive bruising to show off.  Unlike Ra’naa, he did not go down.

            Ra’naa frantically glanced around and saw Joey’s sword was lying on the ground, less than a meter away. She scrambled over to grab the weapon. Bullets may not be able to penetrate the armor, but she knew the sword would cut it like it so much tissue.

            She rolled to her feet, careful to keep the edge of the blade away from her body and stood facing the two soldiers. The one she had hit had just ejected the spent magazine and was in the process of slapping a fresh one home.

            The other soldier was adjusting his aim to fire upon her when his head snapped back and he fell to the ground, dead. The sudden and unexpected demise of his companion startled and distracted the other soldier long enough for Ra’naa to close in on him. She swung the blade down, aiming for his head.

            Reflexively, the soldier raised his assault rifle to block the blow. It helped, but the action also deprived the man of his weapon. The blade slid through the metal of the rifle and cut it in two. He cursed and threw the now-useless weapon at her, hoping to catch her off guard and drew a large hunting knife from a sheath on his hip.

            Ra’naa almost laughed – unless the blade was molecular edged or energy-based, she would destroy it as easily as she had his rifle. She crouched slightly; keep her legs slightly spread and equalizing her center of gravity so she would not be easily pushed over.

            The Purist held his knife at the ready, and with surprising grace, leapt back. The sound of a handgun boomed behind Ra’naa and she almost ducked, but when she saw the knife-wielding Purist stagger under the hammer-blows, she charged. It was the perfect distraction, and she knew it. The blade she had liberated from Joey swung through the air and the Purist howled in agony as it slid through his wrist, severing the appendage cleanly. The hand, still clutching the blade, fell to the ash-covered ground. The man’s blood pumped out with each beat of his heart and he grabbed hold of the stump, trying to supress the flow.

            Ra’naa did not bother with anything fancy. She plunged the blade through his belly and then ripped it up through his sternum, straight up to the man’s neck. His heart was sliced cleanly in two and she ripped through his lungs, slashing apart the ribs like they were made out of paper instead of bone.

            He could not even scream as he died, his legs buckling to the ground.

            With both targets eliminated, she turned and knelt beside Joey. The young man was conscious and wounded - dark blood stained his hips and pants. He was clearly in pain from the way he held his body, but he was stoic, refusing to make a sound. “How bad is it?” Ra’naa had to shout over the din of battle.

            “Bad enough,” he croaked. He lifted the handgun and it almost slid from his grip as he ejected the magazine. “Get back into the fight, I’ll be okay,” he said, his voice a little stronger.

            “No, I’m going to stay and watch over you,” Ra’naa was surprised to hear herself yell back. “We both lost too many today, and I’m not about to lose another.” She could feel his eyes studying her, right through the helmet.

            “Ra’naa come in,” she heard the familiar voice of her father.

            “Dad, kind of busy right now,” she replied. The Dragon-Exotic looked around and saw that none of the enemy soldiers were close enough to pose a threat. Feeling somewhat relived, she removed a small first-aid kit she had attached to her armor. Opening it, she pulled out the ever-present healing paste and liberally slathered it over the wounds. She did not bother to remove his armor or clothing, just used her finger to stick it through the holes and rips in the fabric. This time he did cry out in pain but she ignored it.

            “I’m covering you as best I can,” her father replied. “As soon as you can, get him back to the entrance, it’s about to be overrun.”

            Ra’naa cursed and then made a split second decision. She stood and looked at the young man at her feet. “Can you finish the job?”

            He nodded, his voice stolen from the pain he had endured. He picked up his handgun and slapped a fresh magazine home.

            “Sorry Joey,” she said and meant every word. “I’m going to borrow your blade. Once the battle is over, I’ll give it back,” Ra’naa yelled and then before the young man could object, she turned and ran towards the besieged entrance to the installation.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Tara nearly choked on the smell of the vomit intermingled with melted plastic and cooked meat. The near constant cacophony of screams and gunshots was causing her head to pound like a drum. She tried to stand and the pain in her stomach caused her to scream and she fell forward. Seeing the barrel pointed at her, she ducked.

            At that very instant, Bradly fired the main gun on his C&C vehicle. She could feel the fur on her back and head stand up as the magnetically propelled round missed her by only eight centimeters. It smashed into the door to the installation with a resounding clang.

            Tara screamed in fright and was shocked to discover she was still alive. The gods of battle were watching over her, of that she had no doubt. When she looked up, she could see Babs hurling something small at the vehicle. It looked like a squirrel trying to defeat a bear using an acorn and she had to wonder what the hell the android was thinking.

            The skin of the vehicle suddenly shimmered a bright blue and sparks erupted from several spots along the hull. Her eyes were instantly drawn to the android in time to see one of the Purists trucks ram into her at full speed. Her body folded un-naturally at the back and if she had been human, her spine would have been shattered, killing her at best, paralyzing her at worst. Tara did not like Babs. She considered the android to be a threat. Despite her feelings towards Babs, seeing the woman mowed down caused her to wince.

            She shook her head and fought back the desire to vomit again. She could barely hear because of the non-stop firing and she could not understand what had caused her such pain only moments before. Then her eyes came to rest upon the discarded micro-nuke launcher.

            It still had a round in the launcher, ready to be fired.

            If she could get to it…

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Declan cried as he ran for the nearest cover. Around him the gunfire continued, unabated. The sounds filling the air and his ears were horrific. In that instant he would have sold his soul to be in the cockpit of his fighter. Battles in space were clean. Hellish to be certain, but at least he was not being assaulted from every side by noise, smells and stark-raving terror!

            Several rounds smashed into the ground, barely a centimeter from his groin. He looked and saw a single Purist soldier. The gods of fate and sex were on Declan’s side he realized. The soldier was fighting with his weapon, trying to clear a jammed round from the chamber.

            The former pilot did not need to be told to act. He raised his rifle and put several bursts into the Purist. The man’s body armor protected him from the worst of the incoming rounds, but in this case, quantity had a quality all on its own. Blood flew from numerous punctures in the Purists body and he fell, the weapon slipping from lifeless fingers to clatter on the ash-sodden ground.

            With a start, Declan realized he was on the ground. How the hell had he ended up there? The last thing he could remember was running for cover, and then fighting to keep his nuts from getting shot off.

            A trio of explosions lifted him off the ground and hurled him through the air. He felt flesh tear and bone crack upon impact and for just a fraction of a second, his vision went black. When he opened his eyes, the sight that greeted him stole his breath, though he tried to scream.

            His right leg was missing from the knee down.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

 

            “Good job Babs,” Max said to no one. He watched as the android launched the limpet mine at the C&C. The shield flared and then went out entirely. When the Purist truck rammed her from behind, he could not help but wince. She would have suffered significant damage, but unlike a human, they could repair it.

            Once the battle was won.

            For the first time since the battle had begun, he was starting to feel hope. There had been heavy casualties among his people and the android defenders, but they were taking one hell of a toll on the Purists.

            He sighted in on the back of another enemy soldier’s head and squeezed the trigger. The man’s skull flew apart and he dropped. Max slid the bolt back to eject the spent cartridge and slammed home a fresh round. He was searching for another target of opportunity.

            Something made him return his gaze to the C&C. He watched in stunned amazement as the commander’s hatch popped open and a figure in powered armor stepped out. Max could not believe the stupidity Bradly Travis was displaying. Max could barely comprehend just how lucky the sudden appearance of the figure leader of the enemy forces was. “Say goodbye, asshole…”

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            Bradly had to get the limpet mine off the skin of the vehicle. It had drained the shields to the point the main defense had shut off completely. He demanded answers from the crew and was informed the only way to get it back online was to remove the device.

            Which of course meant someone would have to go outside. Bradly was the only one wearing armor which could withstand the punishing barrage of weapons fire, so he decided he would be the one to perform the act.

            He was not being heroic for the sake of it, when it came to push and shove; they already lost too many fighters and vehicles. They could not afford to lose any more, especially the C&C. 

            Bradly took several deep breaths and closed his eyes in an attempt to calm his nerves. He was already hyped up on adrenaline and the number of kills he personally had achieved left him giddy. It helped against the fear he was experiencing as he pushed open the hatch and climbed out.

            The battlefield took on a whole new perspective as he viewed it through the visor of his powered armor. The air was filled with flakes of ash, kicked up from hundreds of booted feet, tramping from location to location. There was a heavy haze produced from the prodigious amounts of explosions and fires, even the weapons fire had contributed.

            Bradly was glad for his suit’s filters and internal air, as he knew the stench must have been overpowering and the audio system easily filtered out all the screams and fed him only the information he required.

            The leader of the Purist contingent knew he only had a few seconds to locate and remove the limpet mine. Even after doing so it would take too long for the system to reboot and pull enough juice from the power-plant to adequately protect the vehicle.

            He had to try.

            A second later he located the device and reached out to grab hold of it and pull it off when the hand of god slammed into the back of his skull and pitched him into the hard-skin of the C&C.

            Blackness welcomed Bradly into its embrace.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            “Gotcha, you son of a bitch,” Max chortled and emptied the last of the magazine into the prone figure. Unless the man was wearing state of the art powered armor, at the very least he would be nursing a concussion from the head-shot.

            Max Ahteen was quite content with the knowledge Travis was not in fact, using state of the art armor. He was quite certain he had killed the man but wanted to be sure. As he stood, he left the spent weapon on the ground and pulled out a pair of gauss pistols. With great loping strides, Max bounded out from behind his position and ran full-tilt down the side of the ash-covered hill.

            A few of the attackers did take note of his sudden appearance and fired several ineffectual shots in his direction. Not a single round came within four meters of his position, and he kept changing direction, never running for more than a few meters along the same path.

            The rear of the vehicle opened up and four men dressed in heavy combat armor, left the confines and protection it afforded them. They spread out in a star pattern, their weapons up to their eyes and firing at anything moving. The Purists moved in perfect synchronicity, killing a handful of defenders as they made their way to their fallen commander.

            Max lifted his gauss pistols and fired, sending a stream of hyper-accelerated slivers of metal at his opponents. One of the men grunted and pitched backwards, a flower of red blossoming on his chest. The armor they wore was excellent protection against standard firearms, but the slivers cut through the armor as if it did not exist.

            That got the full attention of the surviving men and they circled around their fallen leader. Two crouched and tracked him, holding their fire until they were certain they had a proper solution.

            “Dad, fall back!” Ra’naa’s voice cried out over the command channel, the panic and fear self-evident.

            He never had a chance to reply. Several heavy rounds smashed into his armored body, causing him to twitch and dance like a marionette who simultaneously had strings cut and suffered from electrocution.

            The last thing he heard was the sound of his daughter’s voice, screaming in near hysteria.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            Too much was happening all around her and Tara felt her vision begin to narrow. She could not concentrate or separate the various battles taking place all about. Tara decided her best recourse was to get to the mini-nuke launcher and see if she could inflict some serious harm.

            She thought she heard Ra’naa’s voice over the command channel, but was too focused on her goal to really pay attention to what she was saying.  She was almost on top of the weapon when two of the enemy Purists showed up, their intent as clear as her own. No words were spoken, no threats were uttered, they just raised the assault rifles they were carrying and opened fire.

            Tara kicked into overdrive, dodging and weaving away from the incoming fire as best she could manage. Avoiding the shots, she found she was losing ground, where the Purists were getting closer and closer to the discarded weapon. She snarled in rage, baring her sharp fangs and hissing like a broken steam-pipe. The pain in her stomach and the nausea she had felt all but forgotten.

            Dodging to the right, she found a shallow gully and dove into it. The bullets continued to smash into the ground where she had been only moments before. Still snarling, she tried to become one with the ash-coated earth. Then as suddenly as the fuselage had begun, it ceased. She grinned wickedly, knowing the two men must have fired their weapons dry.

            With her fur, tail and fangs came the agility of the great hunting cat. She leapt out of the gully, her own weapon held at the ready and charged at the two men. Sure enough, they were both slapping fresh magazines home and one was pulling back the charging handle. That made him priority number one.

            Tara figured her armor would provide pretty good protection, but she did not want to find out. She tightened the grip on the weapon and squeezed the trigger, sending a double burst into the Purist in the act of reloading. He staggered back as at least two or more of the hastily fired shots slammed into his center of mass, and the weapon fell from his grasp. She would have cried out in triumph, but the strap caught on his arm.

            Howling, Tara crossed the short gap between them and continued to fire, punching round after round into both men. It must have been like getting hit by a prize fighter, as both men jerked and danced with the impacts, but not a single round penetrated the armor. When she was close enough to touch them, she used the butt of the rifle to smash the face-plate of the nearer of the two.

            The impact failed to so much as crack the helmet, but it was still strong enough to snap the man’s head back and he fell flat on his back, un-moving. She dropped the now-empty rifle and un-sheathed her claws and fell upon the second man, who had yet to recover from the hammer-blows inflicted by the rounds.

            “Get the fuck off, freak!!” He roared as she bore him to the ground. Her claws tore gouges in the armor, but like the rounds, failed to do any significant damage.

            “Fuck you!” She screamed back and suddenly found she was flat on her back, the man on top. How the fight had turned around so quickly she was unable to say, but it had just gotten very bad. The Purist soldier straddled her and punched her so hard she felt at least two teeth knocked loose and her mouth flooded with blood.

            Twisting and screeching, she fought so hard against the weight of the soldier he was thrown free. When he landed, she was in a crouch on all fours, facing him. Her tail was twitching wildly and her ears were laid flat against her skull. Her whiskers were tight against her face and blood dribbled from her mouth. She snarled and spat a gob of blood at the man’s face.

            He tried to avoid it, but her aim was true and it splattered against his face-shield. He had been in the process of drawing a pistol when she spat, and it was halfway out of its holster when she landed on top of him. He managed to draw the weapon out fully but she latched on and dug her claws deep into the flesh. She managed to find the sweet-spot, the part of his hand were the jacket did not cover the glove. Claws penetrated soft flesh, hard muscle and she ripped back with all her might, severing tendons and veins.

            Howling, the man tried to get his fingers to work, but the weapon slipped from his grasp. Tara was not so handicapped, and she scooped up the weapon. In one fluid motion, she placed the barrel of the handgun beneath the faceplate, up against the man’s chin and pulled the trigger tree times in rapid succession.

            It was a tribute to the manufacturer of the helmet that the rounds failed to penetrate. She could hear as each round tore through living matter and smashed into the helmet, where they ricocheted, causing unimaginable damage to the Purist’s skull.

            He was dead before he realized it.  Far easier than it should have been.

            “You fuckin’ bitch!” A voice cried out and she felt something metallic touch the back of her skull. It was scorching hot and she cried out in pain as it burned through her hair to brand the flesh beneath.

            In a single heartbeat, she knew she was about to die and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. Twice in a matter of a few minutes, who would have figured!

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            System Error… Rebooting, please stand by…

            Babs suddenly became aware of the blackness surrounding her. It was so disorienting, she could not quite remember where she was or how she had got there. Then in a millisecond, the memories returned. She was just outside the entrance to the Installation and was in the middle of a fight against the Purists.

            Her new body, one she had only had for a scant few days, had just been terribly damaged during the fight. She tried to open her eyes but all she got was a flashing cursor. Then her body came back online in an instant. Diagnostic graphs and tables appeared in her vision, and she could see how much structural damage she sustained.

            Her spine had been snapped, but unlike a human, she was not paralyzed from the damage. It just made it all but impossible for her to stand and she would not be able to walk until after repairs were completed. It was so odd, her legs still worked, and she could use them to scramble around to face the C&C. Babs could also use her arms to help move her form.

            “Assholes!” She shouted in genuine anger. “I just got this body and you’ve broken it!”

            Fortunately, she was still holding her handgun and the magazine was nearly full. She scanned the nearby terrain searching for targets and saw several men in heavy combat armour standing protectively around the form of a man in powered armor. The sight caused her to take pause – how had anyone managed to take him down? The defenders were firing in all directions, trying to hold back the incoming tide of androids and the few remaining warriors from the compound.

            It was in that instant Babs came to the realization the Purists had been all but defeated. She could hear the remaining vehicles pulling up to enclose the C&C vehicle and the leader of the group.

            Raising her pistol, she brought up the targeting sub-routine and it analyzed the armor worn by the defenders. Several red-highlights appeared to be overlaying the armor, indicating the crucial weak-points. They were what she needed to target if she wanted to inflict significant enough damage to wound or kill the Purists.

            She adjusted her aim and began to squeeze the trigger, putting at least two rounds into each highlighted spot. The armored soldier jumped and danced with the impacts and went down in a welter of blood and torn armor.

            The former AI turned android grinned wickedly and switched targets. She allowed the program to play over the immobile suit of powered armor to no avail. The suit was simply too strong for her rounds to penetrate. Shooting him might just annoy the man, so she decided to give her full attention to the remaining guards.

            “Babs!” Ra’naa’s voice echoed loud and clear in her mind, thanks to the built-in communication link.

            “Busy,” she responded and fired upon another man. By now the surviving soldiers were converging on the C&C vehicle, adding their weapons fire to the blizzard of spent ammunition.

            “Dad’s down, we need to get to him!” Ra’naa insisted. “Forget about Travis and help me!”

            “No can do, Doc,” Babs said as she fired the magazine dry on her weapon. Another guard went down, the rounds having penetrated the weak points in his armor. Already there were four more men, all surrounding and trying to haul Bradly’s armored figure off the ground and into the C&C.

            “Why the hell not?” The Dragon-Exotic demanded angrily.

            “Back’s broken, the maroons ran me over with a truck. I can’t walk.”

            The string of curses Ra’naa let loose would have caused a preachers ears to spontaneously combust. “Where are you?”

            “Near the C&C vehicle.”

            Just then the Gatling lasers and the vehicles main cannon opened up nearly simultaneously. Several mega-watts of laser ripped through her body, nearly cutting her torso in half. She shook and screamed as the energy wreaked havoc with her systems, causing her to nearly black out. Babs knew her best bet would be to play dead, and once she had control of her form once again, she lay perfectly still, even though one of her legs was on fire. The android body did not feel pain, so she let it burn. “Ouch,” she muttered over the link.

            “What happened?” Ra’naa demanded.

            Over the link Babs could hear her heavy breathing and the sound of battle. It was an odd sound, like an echo, hearing the same noises repeated a fraction of a second later. “Gatling Laser nearly destroyed me.”

            “Seriously?” Ra’naa half-laughed. “You don’t sound too concerned about it!”

            “If I make any movement or give any sign I’m still functional, they will finish the job,” the android admitted. “Sorry, Doc… unless you can find Declan or Tara, you’re on your own.”

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            Everything hurt.

            Bradly had no idea where he was.

            When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing but blackness all around him. His body felt like it was being simultaneously squeezed and hammered upon by unseen forces. Every muscle, every joint, every single hair follicle seemed alive with pain. He opened his mouth to speak but all he could manage was a weak moan.

            “Sir, you’re alive!”

            Again Bradly Travis tried to speak but he was incapable of making any intelligible words.

            “Don’t worry, we’ve got you sir, we’re loading you back into the C&C now. The battle’s lost, we are down to thirty seven men and three trucks and your command vehicle. If we don’t leave now, we’ll never make it back home.”

            It all came rushing back to him – the attack against the installation, the mutants and exotics working with the androids. The limpet mine and his attempt to get it off the C&C. He licked his lips and swallowed past a parchment-dry throat. It helped enough so he could speak, albeit weakly. “Shield back online?”

            “Yes sir.”

            There was a heavy bang and he nearly passed out again, but he felt his body being adjusted so he was in a sitting position. A second later there were several loud clangs and shouted curses. Then he felt the vehicle begin to move.

            “Hang tight!” The voice warned.

            Bradly tried to grip something, but he could barely manage to move his arms. The suit felt as if it had been hit by an EMP round, which he surmised was quite possible. As the C&C picked up speed, the jostling became worse, so bad in fact he smashed his head against the inside of the suit’s helmet, causing him to black out.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation

            The killing shot never came. As suddenly as it had appeared, the burning barrel of the weapon was gone. Where the barrel touched her flesh, she was certain she could still feel it burning, causing deep damage, right to the bone.

            Tara whipped about, the handgun at the ready and her claws extended. The would-be attacker was still there, but the weapon was slipping from his fingers. A neat hole was visible directly in the center of the faceplate.

            Despite what she saw, she still pulled the trigger on the handgun and pumped nearly a full magazine into the body. It jerked and staggered under the hammer-blows from each round and by the time the firing pin clicked on an empty chamber, the body was lying on the ground.

            It was also at that time she realized she could hear herself screaming with inarticulate rage and fear. Taking a deep breath, Tara forced her raging emotions to calm, something she was not all that well versed in doing.

            At least there were no more targets preventing her from reaching the discarded Micro-Nuke launcher. Tara silently thanked whoever had taken out the last soldier and with several dodging, bounding leaps; she scooped up her prize. The device was heavy and very unwieldy, but she managed to heft it up and onto her shoulder.

            Tara figured her best chance was to crouch and take in the battlefield. Scanning the area, she spotted the C&C vehicle, as well as several of the Purists trucks. They were beating a hasty retreat towards the entrance to the little valley.

            “Oh no you don’t,” she snarled and peered through the sight on the unfamiliar weapon. At least it seemed simple enough to operate; she had the handgrip which housed the trigger and several other buttons. As she peered through the sight, numbers began to appear and a targeting reticule flashed red over the rearmost truck. She shook her head. “No, not that one, the lead vehicle!”

            Trying a different tactic, she adjusted the aim of the weapon until the C&C vehicle was in the dead center of the sight. As it had before, the targeting reticule highlighted the C&C and began to flash. She waited with mounting impatience as the flashing grew faster and faster until it was a solid red. The same tone as before was heard and she squeezed the trigger.

            The launcher jerked powerfully in her arms and the little nuclear bomb flew from the end, straight and true, the lead vehicle its primary target.

            “Gotcha, you son of a bitch…”

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            Behind Ra’naa the battle was starting to wind down. The few remaining enemy vehicles had joined up with the C&C and they were forming a wedge behind it, driving towards the nearly blocked exit from the little valley. As the much reduced convoy made its way, stragglers and surviving members of the Purist forces ran to catch up.

            Only a few managed to make it to the safety of the vehicles, as the remaining androids and community fighters took out their rage against the survivors, mowing them down without a shred of mercy.

            She came to a skidding halt, seeing her father lying on the ground. He was covered in blood and it did not look as if his chest was moving. Ra’naa felt panic threatening to overwhelm her but she stamped down on the feelings. This was not the time to give in. Later? For certain, but right now she needed to stay level-headed.

            Dropping to her knees, Ra’naa placed her fingers against his neck, checking for a pulse. The flesh was still warm and the blood was slick under her touch. She felt immense relief when she detected the pulse, strong and steady.

            He was merely unconscious. 

            Knowing the danger to her father was past; she returned her attention to the battlefield. The C&C vehicle was moving, its shield flaring on and off as the defenders tried to pump round after round into it, but nothing they possessed had enough power to overload the defenses.

            The other vehicles were behind it, dodging and weaving from side to side in an attempt to not only evade the incoming fire, but to get close enough to allow stranded members of their force to climb aboard.

            “Dad, what the hell were you doing, trying to get close to Travis like that?” She demanded, returning her attention to the fallen man. She began to unbuckle his armor when his hand reached out and stroked her face.

            “I wanted to kill that son of a bitch,” Max answered. He coughed and winced, feeling his chest.

            “Stay still,” she ordered and continued to remove his armor plates. A minute later his black underlining was visible and she could see where he had been wounded. As it turned out most of the rounds had been stopped by the armor, but a few managed to slip past the gaps. She unzipped his liner and examined the injuries more closely.

            “How bad is it?” He half joked.

            “One round has penetrated into your side, I don’t know how deep, but I’ll have to cut it out.”

            Max winced. “Fine, but we need to get a final tally on what this battle cost us.”

            Right then and there Ra’naa realized the gunfire had stopped. She looked up just in time to see a bright flash coming from where the Purists were gunning their vehicles. At the exact same moment, she found herself lying flat on her back as the overpressure wave from the micro nuclear detonation obliterated the remaining trucks in the convoy.

***

May 15th, 2668 The battlefield leading to the installation.

            The pain was worse than anything Declan had ever faced before. His whole world was awash in red-hot agony. It was so bad he could not think, he could only scream. The stump where his leg had once been spurted blood like a fire-hose and he had the strangest sensation. Somehow it managed to cut through the agony – it was as if his leg still attached. Declan could have sworn he felt his toes wriggling in the phantom boot.

            One of the surviving androids ran over to him and stood there, laser rifle in his hands, staring down at the horribly wounded human. He shook his head and raised the rifle and took careful aim.

            Through the pain, Declan could see what was about to happen and he threw his hands up. “Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad!” He cried in terror. “I’m not dead yet!”

            Ignoring his pleas, the android squeezed the trigger. The rifle he was using was one of the later models used during the final wars. Instead of the beam of energy being invisible, it was ruby-red. The laser was a thermal-based weapon. As the beam instantly cauterized the stump, Declan nearly passed out. He thought the pain was bad before? What he felt then was something akin to a cool breeze caressing his face on a warm afternoon.

            This felt like someone had wrapped the ends of his nerves in razor-wire and then dipped the stump into a pool of molten lava, filled with iodine and lemon juice. The pain was so exquisite, he could not make a sound, just lay there clutching the flesh above the stump as tears streamed from his eyes.

            The android dropped the rifle and then pulled out a small pack from behind his waist. In smooth, practiced motions he pulled out bandages and an injector. The android placed the device against Declan’s neck and depressed the plunger.

            A cool liquid entered his bloodstream and he felt instant relief from the searing agony. In mere seconds the pain was all but gone. When Declan’s vision finally cleared enough, he was able to recognize the android. Instead of trying to kill him, the android, a EMT model, did the only thing it could do to possibly save him.

            “Sorry I had to cause you so much additional pain,” the android said in a soothing tone as he began to wrap the stump of Declan’s leg in the bandages. “You were bleeding out, and it was the only way to save you.”

            “It still hurt like a motherfucker!”  Declan burst out angrily. Now the pain was replaced by a feeling of disconnection, almost as if he was an observer in his own body. He also realized how dizzy he felt and how thirsty he had become. It was a very bad sign, indicating how much blood he had lost.

            “As soon as I can we’ll get you to the infirmary. Several of our humans possess type O blood and they will be more than willing to donate what you need.”

            “Can someone give me a new leg?” He demanded, and then started giggling. “See if you can match the skin-tone, otherwise Tara is going to be really pissed.”

            The android looked at him strangely and then finished tying off the bandage.

            “Hey, what happened to all the noise?” Declan asked, realizing that he had not heard much in the way of gunfire for the past half-minute.

            “It appears as if we’ve won,” the Android told him. The medic stood, brushing his blood and ash covered hands on his coveralls and turned towards the only source of noise, the retreating vehicles.

            There was a flash, brighter than the sun and a split second later, a concussion wave knocked the android off his feet and Declan was flat on his back. The wave of overpressure passed so fast it was as if it had never existed. The air was filled with fine ash and the temperature had to have risen at least fifteen to twenty degrees Celsius in the past few seconds. Sweat broke out over Declan’s body and it was not from the pain of his injuries.

            A nuclear device, albeit tiny, had just been detonated.

            When Declan opened his eyes, he could see a roiling fireball climbing into the sky, already several hundred meters up. He brought his eyes back down to the surface and could see a large, glowing-hot crater. The debris from several vehicles was still raining down, most no larger than a softball in size.

            What pissed him off the most was the C&C vehicle. It had been tossed forward by the blast and the concussion wave, but the shield had saved it from total destruction. The rear of the vehicle was pitted and blackened, showing where the shield had finally failed, but it was still moving for all it was worth.

            The surviving defenders fired after the vehicle, but the range was too great and the weapons did not have enough punch to make any difference.

            At that very instant Declan knew they had won the fight. He looked at his bandaged stump, the pain gone, but he could still feel the leg where it was supposed to be. Yes, they won, but what was the final butcher’s bill?

***

May 15th, 2668 The Installation.

            At some point over the years since the end of the final wars, the androids had greatly expanded upon the original base. Before there had been the above-ground installation, where many of the sensors and weaponry had been housed. The only portion of the base that had been underground was an emergency control center and a fallout shelter, large enough to accommodate twenty people.

            The underground complex now covered several levels and was the home to androids and humans, and had the facilities to meet the needs of both.

            Max woke up, feeling as if he had just been run over. Every part of his body hurt and when he tried to sit up, it felt as if someone was tearing his side open. He lay back down with a groan and tilted his head so he could see.

            Other than a pair of flimsy hospital pants, he was naked. His scaled torso was covered in old and new scars and there was a clean, white antiseptic bandage on his side. He remembered where he had been shot, and after a brief glance around the room, knew he was in an infirmary. Whoever had patched him up had done a good job.

            Then he realized he was not alone.

            Across from him lay an unconscious Declan. The man had sunburn where his clothing had not protected him and Max realized with a start that Declan’s right leg was missing from the knee down. The former pilot was hooked up to numerous machines and he appeared to be resting comfortably.

            Directly to his right he saw his daughter, Ra’naa. Like the others, she was sleeping peacefully. She took looked sunburned and was hooked up to an intravenous bag, which dripped a clear fluid into her veins. Max could easily read the bag. It was RadBGone.

            Next to his daughter he saw Tara was likewise lying, sleeping. She too had an intravenous bag hooked up to her arm. It should not have surprised him; they were all pretty close to the micro-nuclear explosion.

            The room was filled to overflow capacity. He saw quite a few familiar faces and a few he did not recognize at all. They must have been the humans who lived with the androids. Then again, how many had they lost?

            As gently as he could, he lay back down on the bed and closed his eyes, allowing sleep to take him once again.

***

May 15th, 2668 South of the Installation

            Without the rest of the convoy to hold them back, the C&C Vehicle smashed through any and all obstacles in its path. Where they would have been bogged down trying to find detours the wheeled trucks could negotiate, the remaining vehicle did not have that issue.

            They were nearly fifty kilometers away from the battlefield when Bradly finally regained consciousness. His head was pounding and he could not sit without assistance. He had to drink nearly two liters of water and one of the surviving crewmembers injected him with a painkiller.

            At last he was able to hold his body in a sitting position without assistance and be able to speak. The first word to come out of his throat was not pleasant. “Fuck!”

            No one in the vehicle spoke. They all knew what sort of unmitigated disaster the assault had become. Out of the entire force, only seven, including Bradly, were returning to the compound.

            The last person Bradly wanted to speak to at that moment was his father. He was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt his father already knew the results of the failed raid. Odds were his father had watched the entire debacle via the satellite they controlled.

            Frankly, Bradly was more than a little surprised his father had not tried to contact him.

            Anger bubbled up from his soul, and he could feel his flesh begin to heat. Every single time they had encountered Ahteen, they had suffered losses. This time it was a defeat unlike anything they had ever experienced since the founding of the compound.

            What made it so hard to endure was the fact the defeat came at the hands of such an inferior combative force. They had the weapons and the manpower – it should have turned out differently.

            It had not.

            He realized after months of light to no casualties, he and his men had committed the worst possible sin. They had grown complacent and overconfident and as a result, they had paid the piper.

            Carefully he reached up and removed his helmet. He figured if it was not for the chemical cocktail swimming in his blood, he would be a screaming wreck. Even the simple matter of lifting his arms caused a dull ache to run along every nerve ending. “What’s the status of this vehicle?”

            The answer came back instantly. “Shield is permanently offline. The nuke fried it, hopefully we will have a replacement back home.”

            Bradly bit his tongue to prevent another curse from escaping. He knew he owed the men inside the vehicle his very life, and it was unbecoming of him to take it out ono them. “What else?”

            The same man replied. “Other than some external damage to the rear, she’s ship-shape,”

            “Good,” Bradly commented and coughed. When he looked at his hand, he was incapable of speech for nearly a minute. The phlegm was speckled with dark spots of blood. Was it from the wounds he suffered, too much radiation, despite the drugs they had consumed to prevent just such an occurrence?

            Bradly figured he would find out soon enough.