CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" EQUUS "
Senior Leftenant Paul Algiers did what was natural. He took a step back and watched as the incongruously large Hornet floated into place over the spot every piece of equipment said was the best-guess as point of origin for the three shots that had been fired. Like everyone else, Algiers had his back to the dam, and like the rest, he continued to glance, from time-to-time, to each side, making sure no one was sneaking up on him. He continued to do this until the three shots tore into his shoulder blade from behind, knocking him to the ground and forever screwing up his golf swing.* * *
Martine had been the first to respond. She dropped and twirled, switching from her scanner to her rifle in a motion so smooth it had looked practiced. Something she would deny.
"Spread out!" she yelled, she wasn't the ranking officer but she wasn't the sort to wait either. She glanced over to see Hastings and Corporal Dolenc, their Field Medic trying to help the bleeding and prone form of Algiers. A shot ricocheting off Hornet 3 past her left ear brought her focus sharply back on the situation.
The Squad followed her lead, taking cover in the trench on the inward side of what had once been a road. Their weapons, once activated, immediately began isolating where the shots were sourcing from. They didn't need orders to return fire; that was automatic.
Vogel immediately pulled back from the search, pivoted the Hornet and ascended, getting out of the Squad's way while hopefully attracting the shooters aim. It didn't work that way, but from this vantage Vogel was able to pinpoint where the shots were coming from. He flipped the Command Link active with his left thumb, while the right one dialed up the Arc weapons, "permission to take out opposition?"
Tremblay was huffing more than he should as he rushed, along with Alpha Squad, toward the water's edge and the fight. Alpha would reach the approximate location of this new shooter in just under a minute, Bravo updated they were two minutes from being in view of the location. The options ran quickly through his mind as he sought to isolate the best one. They needed to neutralize this shooter. He'd already caused injury, possibly fatalities to someone on Charlie Squad, and that someone needed medical immediately.
But an east bank shooter eliminated the idea that the three on this side were at the boats and already dead. That meant two more shooters were in-ground on this side and the one on the opposite bank had managed to completely evade their detection. This was bad news all around. If he ordered a swift kill on the east bank sniper, he neutralized that target, but the others would bide their time and strike at them later, presumably when they were most vulnerable.
The west bank shooter could appear at any moment and that would put a number of his squad in the crossfire. He'd just as soon kill anyone with a gun who wasn't in a recognized uniform right now, but the big picture was coming together for him. They still had captives somewhere in that dam and escalating this wasn't going to help them.
He had to tell Vogel to hold back, they needed to either capture or contain this shooter.
Bear had made his way through to the other side. He was crouched under the rotting tree trunk, whose roots he'd dug beneath the moment they'd arrived.
The thin tunnel tracked underneath the large root of this tree directly to his blind. He was glad he'd done it this way. He didn't dare look around the tree at the invaders searching for him, but the shadow and rumble from the metal beast they had sent to find him had been visible to Bear even from this location. Had he been less panicked he would've realized the monster had terrified him so much that he'd emptied his bladder on the spot. It was Bear's good luck that Vogel wasn't chem-searching for that!
That was the least of his problems right now. The shots from the other side meant one of his tribe was engaging these people, it had to be Winnie. Bear couldn't imagine why Win would've started something now. If these people had tamed sky-monsters then one could only wonder what other miracles they could perform.
Bear wasn't going to get away from this, he just knew that now. These people had killed his brother, two others in his tribe and they would kill Winnie and the rest as well. It was only a matter of time before they would find him and then it would be his time also. Spottyrivers had been a fool to suggest their little band could going up against them, Bear had been a bigger fool to follow.
He looked down at his Cody Rifle. It was larger than the weapons these invaders used, but that didn't seem to matter. The green people outnumbered them. He wanted to surrender, hoping they weren't the savages he feared they were, but he couldn't stand.
* * *
Vogel directed the other five Hornets into their positions. One rushed towards Tremblay's group to pick up the Squad Medico, Pepperidge and get him to Algiers. Two were taking up aerial support, making their presence known to anyone who wanted to join this battle. While the other three tried to get in between the shooter and Charlie Squad.
Vogel swiveled his Hornet so that it flew sideways, facing the source of the ambush. His hand flipped the ballistics switch. He knew exactly where this coward was, which meant he also knew where he wasn't. Maybe a string of 20mm rounds a metre to his left would shake the shooter up a bit.
* * *
Winnie thought he jumped out of his skin when the flying beast let loose a string of large caliber shots directly into the ground beside him. He felt each thud as they slammed into the ground and cringed thinking his time had come.
It hadn't. None of the shots had struck him. Winnie opened his eyes to see that none had even come close. He smiled. The beasts were terrifying sure, but they couldn't hurt him. He decided that maybe they were exactly like the paper dragons from his favourite boyhood fairy tales and trained his Rifle on one of them.
Half drunk on an rush of adrenaline, Winnie switched the Cody to full automatic, aimed his rifle at Hornet 3 and pulled the trigger hard.
* * *
What the hell was this idiot doing? Vogel banked his craft hard to port, hard, but not fast. This was a golden opportunity to draw the opposition fire away from Charlie Squad and allow Bravo and Alpha to close in and capture their shooter.
The steady stream of bullets, which had to be in finite supply, pinged against the armoured hull and super-dense glass canopy of the craft without damage. A few made it through the hull at less critical areas, a stream of six deflected off the back end of the rotating lower weapons pod and were caught inside the rotator assembly. One ricocheted off the outer flaring of the portside thrust cluster and jammed into the caliper housing where it quickly melted under the intense heat of the station-keeping thrusters.
Vogel waited patiently while Sergeant Major Rozmin Storey led a small squad of her noncom troopers up the leeward side of this canopy cover and then, after figuring out exactly how the shooter was imbedded under soil, dropped a boulder on the barrel of the Cody rifle, abruptly forcing the butt of the rifle up and into the chin of Winnie Coldwater, knocking him unconscious. It was an extremely unsophisticated disarming technique, but Storey never argued with what worked.
Immediately the rest of the Squad began digging Winnie's unconscious form out from beneath his ground cover. All the while Vogel hovered overhead, scanners running full, using a method called "reverse engineering" to break the code of how these people were avoiding detection.
* * *
Dani raced up the number six stairwell, hoping they weren't too late. The battle above could be heard even through the three feet of reinforced concrete, not so much because of the firing, but because of the rumbling thunder of the Hornets and the ricocheting pings of bullets flying this way and that.
Behind her were Spottyrivers and Kellam Middlechild. The older of the two having a hard time keeping up, while the younger, the Chief of these people, seemed hesitant to rush toward what sounded like Armageddon.
"We can't go out there!" It was Chief Spottyrivers. More convinced with each step that they should simply turn around and go back down the stairs. There had to be another way out of this facility, a less obvious and visible way.
Dani stopped. She was in far better shape than both of them, which struck her as odd. Surely her society required much less physical exertion than theirs did. "We'll go up together. It'll be fine."
They hesitated and she saw that. "Your people are dying up there!" She didn't know for a fact that it was true, but she couldn't imagine it not being accurate.
Spottyrivers looked at Kellam. His nerves aside he was still the Chief of this tribe. He came to the realization that even if his life were lost today, as long as he was the last one on his tribe to die this day, it would be worthwhile.
They reached the top landing and Dani grabbed the handle on the door with both hands and pushed down the locking hinge before shouldering herself into the door. The damn thing had seized with age but its stubbornness wasn't enough to stop her.
They burst out onto the top lip of the dam, very near dead center between the two banks. The sunlight was blinding for all three of them, which was just as well because Spottyrivers would surely have fainted had he seen Hornet 3 pivot in the air directly before them.
* * *