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chapter five
Part Seven

"You can't imagine what you're up against!"   Dani Bennett was yelling, and Spottyrivers looked at Kellam wondering why had bothered bringing the Foreman to him.

"We can hold our own."   He tried to speak calmly, although he was sure his frustration was starting to show.   They had guns, they'd been practicing, they knew this land, and back-ups would be arriving soon.

"No.   You can't.   They outnumber you!"

The fool woman had no way of knowing their numbers.   It wasn't just the few who had come down here.   He knew that as it grew dark another party of twenty-four more would be coming down, each of them heavily armed and ready.   MaQ had warned them it would be necessary.   "We have others coming."

Dani turned to Kellam, "How many are in your village?"

It was nearly two thousand, he told her so.   Her face screwed up tight before she spoke, "Even if everyone of them had weapons and could use them it wouldn't be enough.   The Network has thousands of soldiers, better trained and better armed than you."

Spottyrivers turned and took hold of his Cody Rifle which he held up for her to inspect, "Better than this?"   It was a smugness that he believed with great fervor; he'd seen these weapons in action during their training, they were like magic compared to the old guns.

Dani had heard enough; she'd also had enough.   Without thinking about her personal safety she stepped forward, taking Spottyrivers by the arm with a force that seemed impossible for her lithe little frame.   Her hand dug deep into his armpit, which caused enough pain that Spottyrivers willingly went where she wanted him to go.   She took him to a large display in the corner of the room.

It was an overhead topographical map of the area compiled by a variety of sensors her team had put in the region the first day they landed.   None of these people would've known that because they'd never seen the region in map form, at least not with these glowing green lines.

Dani dragged the Chief here because she's seen the red blips moving around the display.   She stopped in front of it and pointed to the moving icons.   "Those are flying combat craft!   Each one capable of destroying this dam!   Destroying it!   Each one of them is better armed than your whole village!   You go up against those," she paused between each word now as she spoke very deliberately so there would be no confusion, "and... you... will... die!"

The statement echoed around the large room, somehow rising above the humming of the maintenance equipment that remained running.   Spottyrivers looked at the display, there were six of these flying devices, moving pretty fast, even over water.   And elsewhere, sprinkled on either side of what he guessed was supposed to be the river, were smaller dots, easily twenty of them.

Spottyrivers suddenly began to make sense of this map.   His mouth dropped as he realized that two groups of these invaders were very near where his people were supposed to have dug in.   He swallowed hard.   They'd lost the war before it had even begun; perhaps that is what the three bell tones were supposed to tell him.

* * *

Martine frowned at the false negatives she was getting.   She knew her shooter was around here, and they should've found him by now.  She turned when Hornet 3 reared up behind them, slowing as it moved closer.   When she made eye contact with Vogel she knew why he was approaching and motioned her noncoms to step aside.

The sensation of sitting in a Hornet cockpit was a little like standing directly at the glass door of an elevator as it ascended.   It was a distressing perspective when the motion was horizontal and positively alarming when the axis changed, as it was doing now.   Vogel, strapped in as he was, didn't shift in the chair, but as he changed the pitch on his craft a small part of his brain felt as though he would simply crash, cockpit first, into the ground with an embarrassing, as well as potentially fatal thud.

Vogel had two reasons for doing this maneuver.   The first was that they knew the shooter was in this approximate location when he or she fired.   If that person was still around, the sensation Vogel was feeling would seem even worse to them as this giant beast loomed mere centimetres over them.   The second reason was because the sensors grew more sensitive the closer they got to what they were scanning.   Consider their prey was eluding them so well Vogel wanted to be as thorough as possible.

And he was a good enough pilot that, if need be, he could bring his craft to within a dime's thickness away from contact.   It wouldn't be easy, but the growing smile on Vogel's face gave away how much fun it was.

So he toggled the thumb controls on his left grip and began to guide the sensors through the various scan options while hovering so close to the ground that he could read the manufacturer's name in the boot print one of the Astrals had left behind.   He shook his head at that; a trade name in the print meant someone wasn't wearing standard issue boots.

At this distance he was using the seismographic tools, hoping to pick up the slightest of heartbeat vibrations in the ground.   And barring that, breaths and other human pattern noises would do.   He also triggered the chemical detectors and began zeroing in on the exhalations of their target.   Small amounts of CO2 gas would be present naturally, but not in the same chemical soup only the human body could mix.

Even a breathing tube would give the clues they needed to back trace to source, and plugging it would force their quarry out in no time.

* * *

Winnie's eyes were like saucers as he watched the rumbling beast close in on his friend.   He didn't even know if the rifle he was clutching tightly would have any impact on such a creature and frankly he was too scared to try.   But Bear was over there.

And so where the invaders, they stood very near the monster, showing no fear, not being harmed, and more importantly unprotected by it.   If Bear was dead then he should avenge him.   If Bear needed to escape then he should divert them.   If Bear was their captive then he would liberate him.   Winnie knew he'd die doing this, but he also knew he couldn't wait any longer.   He had to intervene in the only way he knew how.

Without further waiting, without hearing any more doubts, Winnie brought the Cody rifle up, slid the barrel out through the peephole he'd made with it and then, using the electro-sight he aimed the weapon at the most vulnerable targets he could find.   With a resolve more becoming someone several decades older Winnie pulled the trigger and all hell broke loose.

* * *

"What do you suggest?"   The claims he had just heard had shaken him, in fact Spottyrivers was trembling.   He didn't let this foreigner see that and shifted his weight off the weakening leg in order to hide it.   One didn't show fear in a negotiation.

"You've got proof of ownership!"   She was referring to the paper, the Executive Order signed by United States President Shea over a century earlier.

"We've shown proof before!"


Spottyrivers dryly responded to this statement.   She herself had replied that first day with, "It's just paper."

Dani shook her head.   They just weren't getting it, they didn't understand, couldn't understand how a bureaucracy worked because they had no experience with one.   She reached for, but stopped short of touching the Executive Order he held.   "This proof?   You've shown this proof before?"

"No," Kellam answered.   His brow furrowed.   They'd brought their Treaties down with them the first time they spoke to Dani.   Before all this was necessary.   "The first time, you saw them.   You said they proved nothing."

"This paper is different."   She tried to explain about the Executive Orders.   She tried to convince them copies would exist elsewhere, in Presidential Libraries, in Museums, in public record.   "This is more than just a receipt, this is an historical document and it carries weight."

The trick now was to get up there before full-fledged hostilities broke out.   Dani's brother was in Ground Operations, she'd seen the haunted look in his eyes from certain missions he had been on.   Missions that he refused to speak of even now.   He'd been a gentle soul before the "Siege of Sierra Leone", now he looked like a ghost.

* * *