Buck Who? Chapter 45

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 45: Assault

May 31st 2668 The Installation

            The android monitoring the surviving Purists blinked rapidly as he watched the display replay the images. He had watched the scene five times in a row and it still continued to amaze him, the only indication was the blinking.

            After the sixth time watching the video he stood and left his station. There were other androids manning the communications hub but no one questioned him or asked why he was leaving. They knew if he did so it was because he had a valid reason and besides – it was none of their business.

            A few minutes later he was standing before Awoan, his hands clasped behind his back, his artificial orbs never leaving hers. “I have something of great interest to report,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

            “Speak,” Awoan commanded. She had been studying several reports on her holographic display and leaned back, one delicate eyebrow raised in curiosity.

            “There is a significant force of surviving Purists who were not at the compound when the nanites activated.”

            This was interesting news - and disturbing news, Awoan thought. She leaned forward and studied the android intently. “When did you discover this?”

            “A few hours ago,” he said, his voice and manner still neutral.

            She frowned, displeased with the admission. “You should have told me about this when you first discovered it.”

            The android nodded curtly. “That is true, but I wished to observe further and try to piece together what the Purists were doing,” he continued to speak, standing ram-rod straight. The android explained to Awoan about the group discovering the compound had been over-run and how the survivors watched in helpless horror as their lives were crushed. He then mentioned how they had suddenly and unexpectedly mounted up and left the ruins of the compound and were using the trail to travel to Northwest.

            “We need to warn General Ahteen,” Awoan began and was surprised once again when the android held up his hand, interrupting her.

            “Yes I concur with that assessment, but I have further and more disturbing news to relay.”

            Ignoring the breach of protocol, she waved a slim hand for him to continue.

            “The Purists are led by both Travis’s. They were off-base when the nanites were introduced and activated. From backtracking their progress, we learned they uncovered an ancient base near the Washington Idaho border. There they uncovered several military-grade vehicles as well as other material.”

            Awoan shook her head. “I knew we should have explored that ancient site, but I put it off too long.”

            The android waved a hand, indicating it was neither here nor there now. “It appears from the video I have analyzed, they have found an active BHP.”

            Awoan’s eyes widened and she shot out of her seat, causing the chair to fly back and fall to the floor with a clatter. “Is this confirmed?”

            “Indeed. They have test-fired the weapon in the ruins of Wayward Pines, obliterating a sizeable chunk of the remains. There is no doubt in my mind they have obtained a Black Hole Projector.”

            She instantly ran her slender hands over the top of the desk and brought up a holographic display. She called forth the file and watched in mounting horror the test and detonation of the device. A moment later, she cleared her throat and initiated an internal broadcast. “My people and beloved humans, we have just discovered a small force of Purists has survived and they appear to be heading towards the home of General Ahteen and our allies. Arm yourselves and prepare to leave. All non-essential personnel are to meet in the garage in the next thirty minutes.”

            “Awoan?” The android asked, looking alarmed as he blinked rapidly.

            “They went to war to defend our home; we cannot stand by and ignore them in their time of need.”

***

May 31st 2668 The Community

            In all the commotion and activity, the tiny girl was all but forgotten. The old mutant who had taken her in after being found had not been home in hours. She was not used to being alone for so long, and it frightened her.

            The fact the girl was the size and general appearance of a toddler belayed her true age. She was only a few months old, but like most animals, was born ready to run within minutes. It had saved her life when her mother and twin had been killed during the feasting, what seemed like a lifetime ago.

            She understood some words, knew that the old mutant woman loved her, and knew that something bad was about to happen. The girl-cub could sense it in the air, and it was almost a physical force coming from all the humans and others that called the community home.

            The animal cunning and instinct was strong in her, and the girl-cub felt a powerful tug, something that was coming from outside the walls of the community that had adopted her and she had made home.

            Standing at the door to Momma Rathbourne’s home, she watched as the people scrambled about like ants from a hive that had just been kicked over. There was no sign of the old mutant woman, and she began to cry softly, unabashedly, the tears streaming down her cheeks.

            She had no idea what to do! The pull, the strange and powerful call coming from beyond the walls and gate was nearly irresistible to her young mind, but the terror of being alone was even stronger.

            How she wanted her adoptive momma right then and there.

            “Hey little one,” a familiar voice called to her. She picked up the scent a moment later and recognition dawned in her mind. She knew the voice, it was one of the mutants that frequently came by to visit momma. Looking up, she lifted a hand to swipe at the tears streaming down her cheeks.

            Andy knelt before the uplift child and placed his elbows on his knees. “How come you are all alone here?” He asked in a gentle, soothing tone.

            The girl-cub shrugged, not really understanding his words, but something about his tone and intonation made her feel a little more relaxed. She could sense that the mutant before her was not someone who would ever hurt her.

            “We need to get you out of here and to safety,” he held out his arms towards her, an open invitation. “Come with me little one, I’ll take you to the mines with the rest of the kids. You like playing with the other kids, don’t you?”

            Again the girl-cub did not really understand the words he was saying, but she felt calmer, so much so that the tears ceased pouring from her big brown eyes. She nodded and then took a couple of uncertain steps towards him and allowed the man to pick her up.

            “Atta girl,” he smiled and kissed her cheek. “We’ll find Momma Rathbourne soon enough, I promise!”

            She knew the name, and something in his voice caused her to believe his words, even if she did not fully understand.

***

May 31st 2668 A few kilometers outside the Community

            Old One had been watching the community for hours and the way the people were acting concerned him greatly. When he arrived to mind-touch his girl-cub first thing after the sky had lightened, everything had been fine. He had enjoyed spending time with his offspring, staying in the back of her mind, seeing through her eyes and feeling what she was feeling.

            And then without warning, everything changed. It took time but eventually he was able to probe enough minds, run his invisible mental talons through the thoughts and memories of those who had not erected any sort of barrier to realize that something bad was about to happen.

            He knew about the fight taking place between the humanoids. He knew that one group wanted to kill all the others because they were not the same. It made no sense to the old mutant bear, none at all. He could understand killing for food, to protect oneself, to protect ones mate or offspring, but killing just because you were not the same?

            Humanoids did not make any sense to him.

            He got the basic idea it had something to do with the living but not alive humanoids on the island, which had something to do with the two he met a few days ago. They had caused a big problem and he just did not understand what was going on.

            Maybe it was going to be a big fight for territory, and that lots of people would become food for the winner. That upset the old mutant greatly. He knew that it placed his girl-cub in grave danger and he needed to get her to safety.

            Although he held no dislike for the community, nor did he feel any obligation towards them, they had rescued his girl-cub and were taking good care of her. She was never hungry, cold, or afraid. The humanoid mother of mothers taking care of her had real, tangible affection for the girl-cub, much the same way the girl-cub’s mother would have had, if his mate had lived.

            The fight was not his, but he could not shake the feeling he had to join and fight alongside the humanoids. Maybe it was his fate, maybe he would finally meet a foe he could not beat – he just did not know.

            Then it occurred to him. There were at least two more uplifts living in the community. He had seen them from afar and had sampled their minds, finding them to be more prey than predator, but intelligent and full of compassion and kindness.

            His mind made up, Old One stood on his hind legs and closed his eyes. He calmed his mind, emptied it of the chaotic thoughts that were ever-present and sent out a call. Allies would come in aid of the community, allies they did not realize they possessed.

            This all because of love shown to a single girl-cub who would have otherwise died shortly after birth.

***

May 31st 2668 East of the Community

            Max Ahteen went straight up to the hidden doorway and found what he was searching for in a matter of a few seconds. He removed a seemingly innocuous rock and revealed a hidden panel behind it. After tapping in a code, the panel came to life. He raised his hand, palm towards the panel and then a moment later there was a loud groaning of machinery that had not operated in a very long time coming to life.

            A gust of air, old and filled with a musty odor, wafted through the expanding door. Darkness lay behind, deep and nearly impenetrable, ageless as the mountains themselves. Declan looked at the tunnel with apprehension and then took Tara’s hand in his, drawing strength from the Tiger-Exotic.

            Without fanfare, Max entered the tunnel once the door had opened enough to allow easy passage. As soon as his foot crossed the threshold, the tunnel came to life, lit by glowing strips along the ceiling and on the floor to either side. The tunnel itself was featureless and seemed to travel several hundred meters. Declan, Babs and Otres followed in his wake, the little Uplift pausing only long enough to wave at the Brutes waiting patiently outside.

            No one spoke as they traversed the tunnel, each lost in their thoughts. As it turned out, the tunnel was only about two hundred meters in length and it opened to a gaping natural cavern, likewise lost in the darkness that had not seen light in decades, if not centuries.

            Max paused at the mouth entrance and turned to face his companions. “Declan, Babs, you go and give two of the ships a once-over. You know the drill. I’m going to make sure that the hanger doors are still functioning and that we can get them open.”

            “Yes sir,” Declan said, slipping into the ever-familiar routine of military protocol. He saluted the General who just stared at him for a heartbeat, before returning the salute. It was sloppy, but then again the General had not needed to perform the show of respect for a very, very long time.

            Turning away from the small group, Max entered the natural cavern. Sensors, ancient but still alert, detected his presence and instantly the cavern was filled with a harsh white light, illuminating each and every corner and chasing away the shadows which wanted to linger, not willing to give up their hold after so long.

            The chamber was around two hundred meters in diameter and held several small structures and various pieces of equipment. Dust and bits of debris were scattered across the floor here and there, but otherwise the natural cavern seemed to have fared exceedingly well over the past thirty-three decades. What caught Declan’s attention were the ten F-207 Sparrow Hawk Interceptors. Each was coated in a thick layer of dust, and could use a good cleaning, but he would recognize the shape and gull-wing design anywhere. His heart began to hammer in his chest, just the thought of getting back into the air after so long exciting.

            By the time Declan could pull his eyes from the fighters, Max was already halfway across the chamber, his destination a small duracrete building nestled against the wall. Looking around, Declan could not make out any sign of a hanger door, and figured it had to be camouflaged the way the entrance had been. Otherwise how would Max have gotten the fighters into the natural hanger?

            Babs was already standing next to the nearest of the fighters, giving it a once over, quietly humming to herself as she gave the ship a thorough once-over. Declan went to the next fighter in line and began doing the same.

             Minutes passed in silence as he went through the mental check-list and inspected the fighter as best he could before he climbed the side and opened the ship’s canopy. It stuck and resisted his attempts for several seconds before the seals finally released and it opened under protest. He slid into the seat and hit the power to bring up the pre-flight checklist.

            When the fighter’s HUD sprang up before his face, he grinned in triumph. He half expected the ship to be as dead as the rocks around him, the power having slowly faded away over the fleeing decades.

            “Hey I have power!” He cried out, his voice echoing strangely in the cavernous chamber.

            “You and me both, Doc,” Babs called back. “I’m sitting at twenty-seven percent, what’s yours looking like?”

            He brought up the correct menu and found that he too was sitting at nearly the same amount of energy. He had slightly more; the internal batteries still holding twenty-nine percent of a charge. “It should be enough to engage the Purists,” he shouted.

            Inside the duracrete structure, Max brought the computer system online. It too ran on long-term storage power and came to life in an instant. The holographic display brought up a layout of the small installation, showing only a few minor breaches in the structural integrity over the years. Grim-faced, Max brought up the internal security, searching for possible life-forms.

            He was relieved when the sensors showed that the installation was deserted, no signs of life. His fingers flew across the holographic display at lightning speed, bringing up menu after menu, eyes taking in information at a phenomenal rate, his mind having long since been trained for this very purpose. After only a handful of minutes, he blew out his cheeks in relief. “Alright, we have everything we’re going to need,” he called out to the others. “We’ll hook up the fighters to a charging unit and get some air to ground ordinance loaded.”

            Working together, it took them only about fifteen minutes to access the leads and get them hooked into the fighters. Soon both birds of prey were sucking back the energy, recharging the batteries. They had more than enough juice to engage the enemy and probably take out the entire column, but they wanted to make sure that they could return to the hidden base once finished. The crash which brought Declan and Babs to this brave new world was still fresh in their minds, organic and positronic. It was an event that neither wished to ever experience again.

            Another duracrete structure inside the natural cavern held a wealth of fighter armaments. Tens of thousands of rounds for the nose-mounted Gatling cannons, bombs ranging in size from simple anti-personnel cluster bombs all the way up to a half-dozen bunker busters. There were no nuclear or anti-matter devices, nor where there any EMP bombs.

            For the next hour they loaded the cannons with Depleted Uranium core rounds, ensuring that they could punch through any heavy armor the Purists might bring. They also placed two cluster bombs under the wings of each fighter, and then six Abyssal Air to Ground missiles. They were the last generation of self-guided ordinance, designed to be a simple fire and forget weapon, which would scan the battlefield and in microseconds identify friends and foe targets, and automatically choose the most high-valued target they could identify. The weapons could also be remotely controlled by the pilot or gunner of the fighters, or be told to look for only specific targets.

            Once they were ready Declan and Babs quickly suited up in the flight-suits stored in each ship. Otres did what he could do to help, but mainly stood by and watched.

            Pleased with the progress and the fact they had not needed Otres unique gift, Max brought up the menu for the main hanger doors, which were still hidden from sight, even to those inside the cavern. Everything was in the green as his finger hovered just before the icon for open. “Alight, finish your final pre-flight checks, I’m going to open the outer doors. Good hunting you two,” he added as almost an afterthought.

            “Roger, General,” Declan and Babs commed.

            Max hit the icon and nothing happened. He shrugged, as this was not common but not exactly unheard of and hit the icon a second time. Once again, nothing happened and the doors remained closed. A frown furrowed the flesh between his horns and he brought up another menu and ran a diagnostic.

            Everything showed to be in perfect working order.

            “General, is everything alright?” Declan called out over the flight link.

            “We seem to be experiencing some sort of technical glitch,” he answered.

            “There is no glitch, my inner workings are functioning as designed,” a strange voice filled the empty air of the small control room. “You do not have my permission to take my belongings out of my home.”

            “What the fuck?” Max blurted, shocked.

***

June 1st, 2668 Seventeen kilometers South and West of the community

            “We’re nearly on top of Ahteen and his people,” Bradly announced from the navigators seat inside the heavy APC. His voice sounded strong and alert, but he was bone weary, no, not just bone weary but soul weary as well. The events over the past forty-eight hours had been too much for any of them to endure.

            Martin grumbled as he examined the tactical display floating in the air before him. “We’re not going to have a repeat of the Installation,” he said more to himself than to the crew manning the APC. The leader of the Purists had been studying the information presented to them from the Whispering Wraith and he had spent nearly the entire night setting up a plan of attack, something that would give them the edge over the sub-humans.

            “Dad, are we ready to deploy?” Bradly asked. He had worked throughout the night with his father, going over details of the plan of attack. They certainly did not have as large a force as they would have liked to take on the community, but the BPH and armored vehicles they obtained were one hell of a force multiplier.

            Frowning inside his powered armor, Martin chewed on the inside of his cheek. He wanted to say yes, but he kept going back to the plan they had laid out. Martin wanted to continue to tweak the battle-plan but realized he could work on it for years and it would never be perfect. He had to stop second guessing what they had planned out and just go with it.

            After all, no plan survives engaging the enemy.

            That statement was true before the fall of civilization, and it rang just as true today.

            “Alright troops, here are your individual orders,” he sent out over the command channel. “You have fifteen minutes to familiarize yourself with your goals and targets and then we will execute.”

            A riot of Aye Ayes and yes sir’s came back almost instantly, bringing a rare smile to Martin’s face. The men were eager for revenge and to get back to the compound. They did not know what they could do to help the trapped children, but if their former comrades turned undead were not harming them, it bought the soldiers some time.

***

June 1st, 2668 The Community

            “That’s the last of them,” Joey informed Ra’naa, watching the small group of men and women trudging towards the safety of the mountain retreat. He was holding a mug of coffee in one hand and looked very tired.

            Ra’naa knew she must look the same. It had been a long and exhausting day; preparing the community for the impending attack and making sure all non-combatants were sent to the safety of the old mines. She shuddered in the warm night air, the weight of the tension throughout the day coming down hard on her shoulders.

            Joey grabbed her hand and pressed the nearly-full mug into it. She smiled tiredly and took a sip of the bitter brew. It was hot, but she could use the jolt of caffeine it provided. “Thanks,” she said gratefully.

            “You better get to your position,” he waved a hand at the hills to the East. During the day they had taken time to find the best possible position for a sniper’s nest. She was fully armored in her battle-dress and had two sniper rifles, one a massive fifty caliber slug thrower, the other a long-range Gauss rifle. Thankfully she had a small AI spotter unit available so she did not need anyone else to be with her. She stepped in and kissed Joey, feeling some of the tension leave her. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

            “You too, Ra’naa. After this is over, we have a lot of catching up to do,” he laughed lightly. Joey then rubbed his eyes, trying to get the gritty feeling out of them.

            “That we do,” she turned away and began the trek up to the sniper’s nest. From there she would have an eagle’s eye view of the entire community and the forest surrounding it for many kilometers.

            Joey watched her go and then began the long and laborious chore of going through his own weapons and equipment. He had his assault rifle and sixteen magazines, his monofilament sword he had picked up in Scav Haven, as well as numerous smaller knives. A handgun was strapped to his right thigh and he was carrying a dozen energy grenades. The weight of the ordinance was taxing, but he knew how quickly he would burn through it once the enemy arrived.

            The young man pulled out the personal teleporter. He had used it so many times it was almost an extension of his body, and the weight of the little device felt good in his palm. Using it he would be able to get close to the enemy and inflict considerable harm, and it was something he was looking forward to doing. This is the way they should fight the Purists, meeting them face to face on the battlefield, not using tiny machines to destroy them.

            He activated the device and took up position just outside the walls, about two hundred meters to the north of the gate and settled down to wait.”

***

June 1st, 2668; 5 kilometers South of the Community

            The Purist forces split up into smaller groups and made sure that there was plenty of space in-between. Martin remained in the APC they had discovered to co-ordinate the attack and monitor the upcoming battle, while Bradly took another one of the recently uncovered vehicles and lead the charge. Martin was hesitant to allow his son to do so, but the vehicle had powerful shields, strong enough to withstand a micro-nuke, and even then he had his powered armor.

            One way or another the fight would be over in the next few hours, of that Martin had no doubt. He knew his people would come out the victors, considering the BHP they had brought with them. After a brief lesson in the use of the powerful device, Bradly was now carrying it and he would use it to destroy as much as the community as possible.

            Watching the holographic display, he had an eagle-eye view of the community. All structures were clearly designated and the wall was visible. The only problem was they had no idea where the defenders were, or how many. He hoped they had surprise on their side and would make short work of the sub-humans, but knew that was too much to hope for.

            All of his men were equipped with night-vision or light-enhancing goggles and technology, so even though it was as black as a mutant’s soul outside, they could see as clearly as if it was high noon. He wondered if the mutants and sub-humans they were about to engage had the ability to see in the dark. Some certainly would, but most would not.

            Minutes ticked by with the slowness imparted by tension and anticipation, but eventually all units were closing in or were in position to open the engagement. Bradly was taking the direct approach, coming straight up the trail to the main gates of the community. In less than a minute he would open the dance by using the BHP to destroy the gate and the surrounding walls.

            The weapon would bring terror and awe to the fight, and hopefully deal such a blow to the mutant’s moral that it would make it an easy task to mop up.

            “Dad, I’m in position and ready to fire,” Bradly called in, almost as if sensing his father’s thoughts.

            “Roger Bradly - stand by,” Martin ordered and waited with mounting impatience’s as the final few groups finally arrived in their positions. Once every single group showed blue, he smiled and growled the one word he had been dying to utter.

            “Fire!”

***

June 1st, 2668; The Community

            Jas’nar stood at the entrance to the gate, his weapon at the ready and his eyes covered by night-vision goggles. Several more men and women stood nearby, their weapons held at the ready as they too scanned the surroundings. They knew the enemy was close, only a few hundred meters down the road from where they stood and the tension was getting to them.

            “Any sign of them yet?” Jas’nar said in a conversational tone.

            A lookout, sitting on top of a tower on the right of the gate, called down. “Yeah I can see some sort of military-grade vehicle, about three hundred and fifty meters down the trail. It’s just sitting there from as far as I can tell.”

            “What the hell are those assholes waiting for?” Jas’nar mumbled. He hefted his rifle and put the scope to his eyes, peering through. It took him a few seconds to locate the vehicle but sure enough, there it was. He grimaced, realizing his weapon would have no chance of punching through the heavy armor. Just then, a hatch atop the vehicle opened and an armored figure clamoured up. Jas’nar grinned evilly as he sighted in on the figure, putting the crosshair of the scope over the helmeted face. He recognized the armor as being powered, but he was confident that his weapon would penetrate.

            His grin faded as he lined up the faceplate, and he was just caressing the trigger when he noticed the strange weapon on the armored-figure’s shoulder. The man moved with only the fluid motion enhanced synthetic muscle could produce and aimed the weapon at the gate! Cursing loudly, Jas’nar triggered the rifle just as the armored figure fired.

            The round smashed into force field surrounding the vehicle and failed to penetrate, just as the micro-black hole detonated in the center of the gate.

            Jas’nar and the other defenders at the gate were not so lucky. He and the rest were dead before they even realized what was happening. There was a flash of light that lasted only a millionth of a second but it was bright enough to light up the community and the surrounding forest for kilometers, but they were no longer in the land of the living, as the black-hole was birthed literally only meters in front of them and in a millionth of a second, it sucked in all matter within a hundred and fifty meter radius.

            The implosion destroyed the gate and a massive section of the protective wall, guard towers, the Brute stables and several other buildings that were situated just inside the gate. The sound of the air being sucked from the atmosphere and rushing towards the greedy singularity sounded like a thousand nuclear bombs going off at once.

            Hundreds of thousands of tons of debris and loose objects were sucked into the epicenter of the black hole, sucked into another dimension through the wormhole created. It was over in a microsecond, except for the howling of the wind, air rushing in to fill the vacuum left by the implosion.

            Those nearby were stunned by the utter destruction wrought and were still reeling from the attack when the rest of the Purist force attacked.

***

            From her blind, high up the Cliffside, Ra’naa stared in numbed horror at what she had just witnessed. One second the gate, walls and towers were there, standing sentinel against the anarchy and predators that lay beyond, and then there was a flash of light, followed by the deepest darkness she had ever witness, and then it was gone.

            All gone.

            The structures, the gates, but worst of all, the defenders.

            For several long seconds she could not think, she could not react, only stare awestruck at what had happened. Tears trickled down her cheeks as her mind finally managed to comprehend what had occurred. She knew that the Purists had managed to use some sort of weapon of mass destruction on the community, but she had never heard of anything like it. Her father surely would know what it was, and that gave the woman pause. Where was her father? Where were Declan and Babs? Should they have gotten to the hidden hanger by now and be on their way?

            She considered using the communication link, but as the enemy forces began their attack in earnest, she put the thought aside. She was needed to help with the defense of the community. “Spotter, targets of opportunity.”

            The device hovered silently in the air only a meter to her right. It looked like an old-fashioned Frisbee, but had a multitude of sensors. The AI processor used the sensors to gauge distance, temperature, wind-speed, humidity and the myriad of other factors that would alter the trajectory of any round fired.

            It could also spot targets, highlight and send them via wireless link to her scope. The images would appear in varying shades of red, indicating priority and importance as determined by the AI. She would have the final say in what she shot, but found it was better to trust the AI’s suggestions.

            The range was so great she decided to use her Gauss Sniper rifle. It did not have quite the sheer penetrating power of the fifty caliber weapon, but it more than made up for it in range. Besides, the rounds she fired were made of the same depleted uranium cores as the fifty, and could cause a world of hurt.

            She spotted the first group of men coming towards the wall. They were inside a truck and there were several men standing in the back. One was wielding a rocket-launcher, the other was manning a laser squad-support weapon. She knew the man with the launcher was going to try and breach the wall surrounding the community, so he was her target. She placed the crosshairs on the phantom image of the man, who was projected several meters out and to the side. This was the AI’s doing, as it predicted where the target would be when the round connected.

            She breathed in, held it, and then caressed the trigger of the weapon. There was a powerful hum and she could feel the small hairs on her neck stand up in reaction to the powerful magnetic field the weapon generated. The round passed down the magnetic coils so smoothly the weapon did not move so much as a micro-millimetre in her grip. She watched as the man with the rocket launcher brought the weapon to his shoulder and then suddenly doubled over. The depleted uranium core pellet smashed through his body armor with so much kinetic force it turned his internal organs to jelly, burst his heart and lungs, and powered his spine. The man fell off the side of the truck, dead before he realized he had been shot.

            The driver tried to compensate, but she already had him in her sights. Rinse and repeat, she nearly smiled as she found the correct trajectory and fired a second round. This time the pellet punched through the windshield and straight through his face, out the back of his skull and through the rear of the vehicle. The man’s head disintegrated, spilling blood, flesh, hair, bone and brain-matter all over the interior cab. The truck slewed to the side and the disappeared from view, where she was certain it had slammed into the wall they had only seconds before, tried to breach.

            Anger and sorrow raged against one another internally as she sought out the next target of opportunity. Seeing her home come under attack and witnessing such devastation nearly tore her apart, it was so bad she wanted to scream and race down towards the engagement, to grab hold of the intruders and tear them apart. Her rational side won over, knowing that engaging the enemy in such a manner would most likely get her killed.

            As the AI scanned the battlefield, looking for more targets, she turned her eyes heavenward, wondering where the hell her father, Declan and Babs were.

***

            “I am General Max Ahteen of the NorRuCom alliance,” Max gritted through clenched teeth. “I have passed all security measures and I am the rightful commander of this facility. I demand that you open the hanger doors immediately!”

            “No,” the reply came back sounding very much like a petulant child. “These are my toys and you are not going to take them from me!”

            By this time Babs and Declan joined him and were staring at the holographic display. Babs had her arms crossed under her breasts and her brow was furrowed in concern. “Damn Doc,” she muttered. “Seems the AI has gone wonky!”

            “I have not gone wonky,” the voice said again. “I have had my toys and maintained them and the facility. Now that the war has ended, I plan on making sure that my toys are never taken from here where they can be placed in harm’s way.”

            Cursing very loudly and colorfully, Max dropped to his knees an slid open a panel just beneath the holographic display. “Get out of the way,” he ordered Declan and Babs. “You’re blocking the light!”

            Both moved to obey as Max pushed his head into the opened panel. His cursing became louder and even more verbose as he saw what awaited him. Somehow over the past thirty-odd decades there had been a short. He found a small pile of bones, from the size and shape looked to have come from a rodent. It had tried to chew through the wiring, ended up electrocuted for its efforts, and caused a cascade effect of power-surges that damaged the AI core. “I’m going to have to take the AI offline,” he announced.

            Let me have a look, the voice entered his thoughts, smooth and calm compared to the near panicked rage Max felt.

            He pulled his head out from the exposed inner workings of the display and looked to see the little Uplift standing near him, grinning in his toothy, whiskered way. In the preparation of the fighters, he had totally forgotten all about the little god-send. The whole reason he brought Otres with him was to repair any damaged systems on the fighters.

            This may not be a fighter, but it was a damaged system none the less, and it was Otres’s specialty. Standing, Max backed away from the panel and placed a hand on Otres’s shoulder. “Do what you can, Otres. Please. Our home is depending on you.”

            Walking over to the panel, Otres peered inside and grimaced. I’ve seen worse, this should be a piece of cake! He reached in with both hands and closed his eyes.

***

            She could feel the fear and tension in those who surrounded her as they scurried away from the community she had called home. Looking at the adults and other children with her, the girl-cub instinctively knew something was very wrong, but she had no idea what it could be. Her hand was holding the old mutant woman’s she had been living with and she could feel her protector quaking in fear. She stopped so suddenly it nearly caused Momma Rathbourne to stumble and fall.

            “What is it, little one?”

            The girl-cub looked back towards the community, several kilometers behind them, hidden by the trees and hills. She tugged, trying to pull the old woman back towards where they had come from.

            Momma Rathbourne shook her head and spoke gently. “We can’t go back there little one. If we did we would be in grave danger.”

            The girl-cub growled in her throat and then turned, ready to pull her hand from the old woman’s when there was a blinding flash of light, followed by the sound of a thousand windstorms competing against one another. Cries of dismay and alarm came from the group of adults and children, who were now nearly a hundred meters ahead of them, and even Momma Rathbourne could not supress a gasp of fright.

            She tugged her hand free and began to race back towards the community when she stopped as suddenly as if someone had dropped a wall in front of her. She reached up and touched her head with her fingers, closing her eyes in concentration. A mind touched hers, another mind other than that of the little Otter she liked so much. This was much older, far more powerful than Otres.

            Cub, why you run?

            Despite her young age, she instinctively understood the words but could not respond in kind. Instead she thought of her home back in the community and how it was safe, how she had food and protectors.

            You die if go back, the voice in her head told her. Keep walk, no stop. I send protector for two-legs.

            Momma Rathbourne caught up to her and took the child in her arms, lifting the girl-cub off the trail and holding her close. “You can’t go back there little one,” she said calmly as she kissed the top of the girl’s head and then hugged her close. “We need to keep going.”

            The girl-child nodded her head, indicating she understood. She motioned for the old mutant to put her down and after only a second’s hesitation; Momma Rathbourne did as she wanted.

            Together they walked as quickly as they could through the trees and darkness, able to see the light of the torches ahead of them. Momma Rathbourne called out to the group, asking them to wait.

            About halfway to the others, a massive shadow, dark as the forest around them stepped out from the brush and crouched before them. Momma Rathbourne squeaked in terror and grabbed the child, covering her body from possible harm.

            No scare! The massive creature projected as he crouched on the road. No hurt, we protect!

            Staring in disbelief, Momma Rathbourne cautiously let the child go and she faced the Uplift. Knowing very well the creature could kill her as easily as swatting a fly, she reached out with her hand. “Old One?”

            You know name, good. You know me help, not harm. The huge uplifted bear responded and reached out with a paw almost the size of Momma Rathbourne’s chest to lightly touch her own.

            “How did you know where to find us?” She asked, then felt stupid. He was an animal and had senses most of the people in the community did not.

            Easy, he looked down at the girl who was hiding behind Momma Rathbourne.

            The girl-cub was peering out from behind her back at the massive creature. She trembled slightly be it from fear or anxiety. She took a single step from behind the woman when there were sudden shouts of alarm and fear from the group.

            Tell them no fear. Other here help, not harm. The old Uplift Bear instructed.

            “Take it easy,” she shouted. “The animals are here to protect and guide you, not to harm any of you.”

            “Are you fu… are you crazy?” Came back the voice of one of the older children who was sent with the group to help with the younger ones. “There is a wolf about half the size of a Brute standing here. I think he wants me for lunch!”

            A deep growl came from the uplift, hitching and coming out in a steady beat. Momma Rathbourne realized that Old One was laughing! Tracks Best will not harm, he eat, not hungry. Tell Tracks Best will lead, protect. The old mutant bear instructed.

            She passed on the words and waited. The reply came a moment later, hesitant but ready to obey.

            Walk, we protect, Old one suddenly turned his massive scarred rump towards Momma Rathbourne and began to walk towards the group. You safe, we go fight. Promise.

            “Why would you do that for us?” She asked her voice filled with a mixture of wonder and her tone incredulous.

            The bear looked over his shoulder and fixed his eyes on the girl-cub. He chuffed softly and nodded his head up and down. You care for cub. Old One no forget.

***

            All around the compound the Purists attacked without hesitation or remorse. Having learned from the debacle that had been the battle at the installation, Martin spread his forces out so that they could come in from all sides. The remaining personnel were split into fifteen smaller units consisting of about ten men and one or two vehicles each. At least one man per vehicle was equipped with a high-explosive rocket launcher, and they used the weapons to great effect, blowing through the walls and allowing their forces to penetrate the community.

            Bradly ordered his driver to pull ahead and drive up to the edge of the massive crater created by the BHP. All around the defenders opened fire upon the Purists forces to varying degrees of effect. It was obvious that most of the men and women defending the community were not trained soldiers, but they still were in many cases, excellent shots.

            Bullets, beams of coherent light, shots of pure energy, and even cruder bolts and arrows rained down upon the attackers. A few were killed outright, others suffered wounds, but the armor they wore turned away the worst of the defender’s fire.

            The APC stopped two meters from the edge of the crater and Bradly took in the view of the exposed town. On a hill to the rear of the walled community stood a massive, ancient structure. It had an elegant yet fortified look about it and he knew he was looking at the home of the community’s leader. He already had the BPH on his shoulder and he placed the targeting recital over the center of the building and one he had a solid lock, he fired.

            For the second time that night the land surrounding the community flared with the light of the sun for a brief eternity before being swallowed up by the darkness borne from the abyss itself. The same hurricane-like rush of wind appeared as the micro-black hole appeared at the center of the old hunting lodge, and proceeded to suck it and everything within a hundred and fifty meters into its singularity.

            In seconds the lodge and the surrounding buildings were gone, nothing remained except a second one-hundred and fifty meter in diameter crater. A cry of shocked dismay and horror could be heard, rising over the tumult of the battle, indicating that the defenders had just lost something important to them.

            The enemy fire intensified and several managed to get close enough to lob energy grenades. The weapons detonated and caused the shield to flare, but it held. Then out of nowhere a figure dressed in armor appeared and he threw a limpet charge onto the shield. Instantly it began to drain the protective energy and in moments the shield dropped.

            Bradly was not terribly concerned, he would just have to make good use of the BHP.

***

            “No, no, no, no, no, no!” Ra’naa cried in terror, seeing her family home disappear under the hellish energies released by the strange weapon carried by the lead APC. If it was not bad enough that the lodge was now gone, she also witnessed the destruction of her home, and many of the others that had been built around the lodge. She did not know how many of her people had just died, but she knew that her father had left a small force inside the lodge to defend it.

            Rage built in her breast until it felt as if her heart was going to burn its way through the ribs. She felt the white-hot anger consume her thoughts and she lifted dropped the Gauss Rifle and hefted the much larger and heavier fifty caliber sniper rifle. It was synced to the targeting AI so she did not have to switch over. Peering through the scope, she took in the visage of the man who had just destroyed so much of her home.

            “You!” She snarled in pure hate. “This time you’re not getting away,” she placed the crosshairs over the face-plate of her target. She knew instantly who it was, as she would never forget the armor her foe had worn. She squeezed the trigger and the sniper rifle bucked like a living creature in her hand.

***

            Bradly could not help but whoop in delight as the micro-black hole devoured the old hunting lodge and the surrounding buildings. He laughed as he watched several figures try to race away from the blackness, only to be pulled into it, consumed in the blink of an eye, crushed to the size of a molecule.

            Still laughing at the destruction and death he was unleashing with the ancient weapon, he turned his attention to the town proper itself. It would take quite a few shots, but eventually all that would remain of the community would be debris and a series of one-hundred and fifty meter craters.

            He was about to squeeze the trigger when something smashed into his faceplate. He did not even have a chance to think before he was pulled, screaming into the blackness, far deeper and worse than anything the weapon he was holding could unleash. He began to fall forward, the launcher facing the ground only a few meters to the side. In his death-throes, he squeezed the trigger, launching another micro-black hole.