This weeks story follows on from last weeks post. Hades' Station is a story set in the Tyme Universe,
Artwork by Samuel and Terri Pray. Created by Samuel using purchased stock, Filter Forge. Additional painting done by Terri in Photoshop.
"Bloody bastards, this was supposed to be my sack time." Phil grunted under her breath, the beam rifle held tight crosswise against her chest as she ran. Not an ideal hold if she needed to use it quickly, but at least this way she was less likely to lose it if she stumbled, or was knocked over. Always a possibility in a fight. Stuck with Jannerson - of all the people I had to go into this with, it had to be Jannerson. He wasn't a bad kid, or even a kid by normal standards, but he was still green. Too damned new for a situation like this.
Heat flared up from the fires caused by the attack and she paused, taking cover behind the burning remains of a small shuttle. Light flickered off tangled pieces of metal, casting fresh shadows to add to the chaos of the situation, but even with the fires, the wreckage and the smoke, she could see figures moving through the disaster. Men and - no, at first glance she'd stick with men - who moved with purpose, carrying weapons and picking off anyone that might get in their way.
Trained, well-armed and determined.
The apparent lack of women in the attack, the way they were armed and how they moved, all added up to the same thing. She wouldn't know for certain until she had one or two of the men - or their bodies - in front of her, but the odds were certainly leaning that way.
"Stay down, keep calm, then pick them off one at a time," she murmured and looked back for signs of Jannerson. "Where the fuck is he?" A movement caught her eye and for a moment she tensed only to relax a little when she recognized the man. Good. At least she hadn't lost him - not yet at least.
The blast knocked her back onto her ass, debris raining down around her even as she curled into a protective ball, hands over her head to limit the potential damage to her skull. She hissed through clenched teeth, forcing herself to stay still until the debris fall eased off enough to risk moving once more. "Fuck," she swore under her breath. "Damnit, Jannerson, where the fuck are you?" she turned, searching through the flames for her backup.
Her eyes narrowed on a downed figure. One that wasn't moving. She inhaled between clenched teeth, her muscles tightening with the need to rush at the downed figure, to check for signs of life or confirmation of death. No, hold position. Movement right now might give away my location and there are too many enemies on the ground.
The figured moved.
Relief washed over her. Alive, maybe hurt, but alive.
Brian rolled, moving onto his belly before he edged forward, finding cover before he looked around. Only when she was certain he was looking her way, did she move, raising her left hand slightly, just enough that he might be able to see it from his position on the ground. She didn't turn, didn't move to look to see what was going on, not until she was certain he'd seen her.
Footsteps. Rapid through the rain soaked ground. Splashes that carried through the air. She tensed and then turned slowly toward the sound. Mentally she cataloged the noise, breaking it down into the separate sources. Six, maybe seven men, working as a unit as they made their way through the landing zone. They moved together, well trained, barely making a sound except for the footsteps. Something they, no doubt, believed would be over looked, lost within the destruction of the area.
In most cases they'd be right.
Not with her. Not with the training she'd been through long before joining the Peace Keepers.
When your father was from Valhalla and your mother from Thanatos, you had choices denied to most people. For Philomena the option to train with the warrior cadets of Valhalla wasn't something she could turn her back on. Those years spent in the academy and then the advanced training programs had paid off, but also meant that soft billets, postings where she'd spend most of her time in dress uniform, weren't for her. She needed this. The adrenalin rushing through her system, every muscle tight, her skin tingling as she tasted the mixture of aromas that filled the air. In this moment she could hear everything, taste it, and feel it. Her senses screamed information at her even as her mind filtered through the dross to find the scraps of useful information that might serve her in this moment.
A muttered curse, low pitched, barely audible above the rain and crackling fire, but close enough that she caught the sound. She raised one hand in a stop sign, curled a finger and then pointed back to the ground, hoping that Jannerson would realize what the instruction meant. Damn it, haven't spent enough time with the newer members of the team. Not enough to drum into them the signals used. They were universal, or close enough to being such. Yet that didn't mean that the young man would understand her instructions.
Brian froze and then nodded, deliberately, once before sinking back down against the rain soaked ground. Phil let out a long, slow breath before she turned her attention to the attackers and the risk they posed.
Two - no, three members of the group lingered, hanging back from the main party. Which means there are more of them out there, more than seven. Or the group wouldn't have split like that - would it? Her jaw clenched as she watched the three, she didn't know enough about the Raiders and how they operated in teams like this. Not enough to make an informed decision - but that wasn't going to stop her from acting. Not this time at least.
She focused on her breathing, keeping it low and steady to prevent being heard. She shifted her beam rifle, adjusting her grip until she was able to, safely, bring it up into position, settling her trigger finger on the guard. You didn't place your finger on the trigger until you were ready to take the shot, no matter how confident you might be. She flexed her fingers before resting her finger once more on the guard and looked through the sight, tracking the movement of the three who had held back from the main group.
Grouped close enough to make this work, but far enough apart that the rest of the team might be able to use the sounds to pin point my location.
Did she have time to dart to another location after the first shot? She frowned, glancing around. No, but after the third it was a possibility. She could do this. It wouldn't be the first time she'd used her sharp shooter skills. Not a sniper. She'd never officially taken on the role of a sniper - but this would be the closest she'd ever come to it.
With Brian behind her, hopefully watching her back, she was free to focus on her targets.
A younger, less experienced version of herself would have had an issue with shooting the men in the back. Not this version of Philomena. She aligned the sights, keeping both eyes open as she aimed, mentally working out the movement that would allow her to track from target one to three in a smooth, fluid movement. Only when she was ready to take the shot did she take a breath, exhale half of it, slip her finger from the guard to rest it on the trigger between her first knuckle and fingertip.
She inhaled, let out half the breath in a slow, steady exhale, paused and squeezed the trigger.
The beam of energy struck the first target between the shoulders, but she'd already moved onto the second man before the beam hit, squeezing the trigger and shifting her aim to the final man. A man who now turned, weapon in hand, in her direction. She didn't hesitate. This time the beam took him in the chest, directly over the sternum. With the final shot taken she let out the remainder of the held breath. Under better circumstances she'd have followed the double tap rule. One to the center mass, one to the head, but the beam rifle left a large burn mark in the torso. It was a weapon that only someone wearing heavy duty field armor - not something her targets wore - would have a chance of surviving if it struck the center mass.
Philomena pulled the beam rifle in close, rising from her firing position into a half crouch and sprinted away from her scant shelter. She waved, using a follow me sign, to Jannerson and didn't look back. Either he'd follow or he wouldn't, wasting time by looking back at her companion wouldn't help. Not this time at least.
Hot rain lashed against her cheek, washing the grit and dirt from her features. Cooler than before, which meant the storm was moving away, leaving only a normal rain fall in its wake. That, at least, was a small blessing. With a low grunt she slid into place behind a half destroyed wall.
"Captain?" Jannerson's voice, close behind now, and a moment later he slipped into place beside her. "You - damn, you killed three of them."
"Yes," she spared him a glance but little more than that. "Maybe you expected me to make them a cup of something nice and hit to drink and welcome them with a smile and open arms?"
"No - it's just..." He shook his head. "Sorry Captain."
Young, too damned young for this. Except he wasn't. Neither of them were. What would Jannerson say if he was to ever find out how close they were in age? Barely eight years separated them but more klicks beneath her belt than he would ever understand. There would be too many questions, ones she would never be able to answer without increasing the questions that would follow her answers. Her life, her choices before this time, this place, were none of his concern.
"We track the rest of the bastards down and we kill them." There was no other choice.
"There is no but. This is what we do. This is what is expected of us." It's what the people of Hades' Station would demand. Those who attacked their home deserved no mercy, no moment to find a foothold on this world and she would give them that. Her duty was to protect the men, women and children who called this place their home. "We kill every last man of them, and drag their bodies into the main square to show the people of Hades' Station that those who are assigned to protect them cannot, will not fail them. No matter the cost."
Brian Jannerson paled. "Understood, Captain."
No, you don't, but that's the nature of the beast. Death, life, duty, they all take the place of family in the service. Especially if you're posted to a hot zone. Like Hades' Station. "There are at least four more of them here."
"Stores," Jannerson mumbled.
"What?" She turned, shifting her weight.
"The weapons stores, the reserves – they're out here."
Shit, how did I forget that? "Where?" She closed her eyes and tried to bring up the mental map of the landing zone. Storage buildings, the tower, hangers and...
"Five hundred feet north east from the tower, low storage building with the weapons locker access through the floor, down two flights of steps - coded access." Jannerson recited, his tone monosyllabic. "Access code required is keyed to senior personal only."
A small blessing but one she could work with. "They'll have a code breaker with them." A dedicated data pad with a program that would work its way through all of the possible codes until it found the right one and opened the lock. "They'll get in, but it won't be quick, or easy." Which is why the trio had been left behind, and why the destruction of that part of the team hadn't sent the rest of the attackers gunning for them.
"They need time - those three, they were a distraction."
"Yes," she shot him a quick look. "But they'll be watching for someone coming in after them." Close confines, dark, skilled fighters - they had to be or they wouldn't have been picked for this mission. "The rest of the attacks, they're a cover for this. They get those weapons, take the tower and we've lost vital ground. They'll be able to bring in extra men, weapons, attack craft and we won't be able to fight them off without an unacceptable loss of life." People she was sworn to protect would die if they - no, if she failed. "I'll do this alone if I have to."
"You don't have to, Captain."
That was it. No bold statements, brave words, or declarations to fight unto the death.
She rose, checking their surroundings before nodding in the direction of the building. Smoke curled up into the air, adding to the haze that reduced visibility. The distant sounds of the chaos in the city were nothing more than background noise. With a single nod she was ready to move, her rifle pulled in diagonally across her chest. She didn't have to check to see if Jannerson was following her, he would either do it, or not, either way her choice was made.
She darted, not making the mistake of running straight. Even if she'd only counted seven she couldn't be certain that there weren't others out there, watching - waiting for someone stupid enough to strike back. She moved, slightly bent over, head moving, eyes scanning from side to side as they moved. And it was they, she could hear Jannerson following close behind, but didn't have time to turn and check. Instead she relied on her senses and instincts, knowing that either they would pull this off, or they would die.
The dying part - that was something she didn't have time for.
Something sliced through the air, scorching her left shoulder, enough to sting but not enough to cause her to stumble. She hissed through clenched teeth and skidded into cover behind the remains of a smoldering skimmer, turning on her hip before she'd come to a stop, searching for the one responsible for the shot. Jannerson slid in behind her, flattening himself against the ground, his shoulders shaking as he gulped in air.
"West, broken wall, metal pole in front of it, two fingers left of the pole."
She inhaled, took a quick scan at the wall and ducked back down, letting her brain process what she'd seen in that split second. She blinked once, twice, three times until she was certain she had everything in place. One man. A beam rifle? No, something less powerful but still a rifle. Smart enough to seek cover, not skilled enough to kill her on the first try. "Got it. Good eyes." Eidetic memory? Maybe, maybe not. "Well done."
His ability to take in that amount of detail on the run was a skill she could use, as long as they survived this moment. Right, focus on the moment, not on what I'm going to do when I've put these bastards six feet under.
"Keep your head down," she kept her voice pitched low as she searched the ground. "There. That rock, get it, count to three and then throw it. I need you to hit the drum we passed on the run here. Can you do it?"
"Yes, Captain." No doubt, no hesitation. "On three."
"One," she shifted her hold on the rifle.
"Two," Jannerson murmured, edging out a little toward the end of their cover.
"Three," Eyal moved, raising her rifle the moment she half felt, half saw Jannerson throw the rock. She was in position even as the sniper moved to target the rock. Her finger moved from the guard to trigger even as she exhaled half of her breath, took aim and fired.
A low grunt, a stumble and the man went down, his weapon dropping from his hands, falling even as he fell back.
"Don't move. Not yet."
"Captain?" He turned, frowning.
"We don't know if he was alone." Which meant moving, something her instincts screamed at her to do, would have to wait. If he had backup they'd be watching, waiting for the right moment when they could strike. Not a mistake she was going to make.
Eyal did another quick glance, checking for signs that the sniper hadn't been alone.
"We have to move. The longer we give them uninterrupted access to that door, the harder it's going to be when we confront them." The weapons in that storage would give the attackers the upper hand. "On three."
They moved together, keeping close to the ground as they covered the distance between their current hiding place and the entrance to the weapons storage. She dropped to the ground at the side of the low entrance and signaled Jannerson to copy her. She shifted her weight, leaned against the outside wall of the entrance and did a quick glance before she pulled back and went over what she'd seen. Nothing on the steps, though the door had been left open. A distant light, which spilled shadows into the stair well. No sounds, nothing that hinted at someone being down there, except for a single smudged footstep on the fifth step down.
Why only there? There would have to be other marks. It wasn't smudged enough to come from a jump and it was a single footprint...
Pieces clicked into place.
"Shit!" She turned, grabbed Jannerson by the shoulder and ran. "Move. Now!"
Twenty paces. They made it twenty paces before the explosion knocked them off their feet, sending them flying, buffeted by the impact. Eyal lifted her hands, one still wrapped tightly around the rifle, to ease the blow before she hit the ground. With the rifle held tight against her abdomen, she curled in on herself, trying to take the majority of the landing on her shoulders and side. It didn't work. Not fully. Pain erupted in her left shoulder, vibrating down her upper arm even as she rolled back up to her feet, shifting the beam rifle in her grasp.
Where the fuck are they coming from?
"Captain?" Jannerson called out. "Behind you!"
She turned, dropping to one knee even as she lifted the rifle into position. Three men, outlined by flames, ran at her, weapons in hand. Blades, not side arms. Odd. She didn't question, didn't pause, she simply fired.
One man dropped even as she turned her focus to the second, taking him out, but the third - he'd be on her before she had a chance.
The third shot came from behind her. A side arm. The pitch of the shot, the color, the way the man dropped instead of stumbling back, all told her it was likely a standard issue side arm. Jannerson. She turned, her rifle still firmly held in her good hand, ready to shoot if the need arose.
Brian Jannerson smiled, his side arm in hand, beads of water glistening across his features.
"Nice work," she turned, checking the area for signs of anyone else even as she reached for her com. "We need to clear the rest of the area, make sure there isn't anyone else. Raiders like to leave traps. Even if we've got them all, then we'll have to be on the look out for booby traps. Until the area has been completely checked, then nothing will be cleared to land."
"Yes Captain, understood."
They were gone. Her instincts screamed at her that they'd got the last of them, at least in this location but nothing was ever certain when it came to the Raiders. Philomena Eyal rolled out her shoulders and turned, slowly, taking in the scene. The destruction, death, smoke, fire and tainted air. Torn metal, twisted forms, destroyed vessels and buildings but the fundamentals to operate the landing zone were still there. Untouched despite the attack. Communications, the vital structures that held fuel, parts and tools were all intact.
Not something that should, or would, happen if this had been a general attack.
Whatever this was, however many of them had landed, this was only the beginning. The Raiders wouldn't give up, wouldn't turn their backs on Hades' Station, they wouldn't stop until they'd claimed it as one of their colonies...