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chapter nine
Part Six

If the question of crossing the line had crossed Sergeant Sherona Jones' mind before challenging her commanding officer the answer came when Finn nearly growled at her and that made her pause, but she didn't flinch and when he stepped back, into the hall between the cab and aft, she followed. Two buttons later they were alone. The doors on either side were soundproof to be sure, but transparent none the less which meant the rest of the squad could see the wild arm waving and tense body language.

“If we kill these people, that's going to ripple throughout the region!” Sherona had seen this on other missions, so called Peacekeeping tours that grew hot quickly because the people with the power exercised it too quickly. By the end of the month nearly fifty thousand armed Troopers were going to be crawling all over this zone. They were supposed to be a stabilizing force but they'd be seen as invaders if they didn't handle things properly, and that wasn't going to be good for anyone.

“I just lost a Trooper!” It was Finn's opening salvo and it pretty much summed up the situation for him. Deep in his psyche the Rule of Rome was etched. If you hurt a Citizen then the fury of the Empire would descend on you. It was going to be an easy flame to fan, particularly with those in the back. He stabbed his finger forcefully as he said, “You suggest we walk from that?”

She paused, trying to find the words even as her own fury simmered. She was the highest ranking non-com, the field leader of this team, and that meant it was her charge that was lost, but Sherona Jones had been through nine tours in her career and she knew how easy something like this could spiral out of control. “We're not going to repeat the mistakes of history, sir. We're defended! We can wait them out and complete the mission without slaughter.”

Finn paused at that word. It was exactly what he was thinking of doing. Not the minimum force that would've disarmed his opposition but total annihilation. He turned and toggled open the front cab then spoke to Hreha. “What's the rate of consumption if we elevate to ten metres?”

The Private did a quick mental calculation and responded, “Four point two to one.”

So each minute they were elevated would use up the same fuel as four point two minutes at normal height. He could live with that for what he wanted to do. Hreha was sharp and understood Finn's instructions on the first pass. Finnegan turned aft to let everyone else know.

The bodybag in the middle of the cabin was a stark reminded of his early pulse. The squad had a hard time taking focus off it. Finn fixed that quickly by giving a string of orders, most of which involved battening down things before they acted.

He and Jones took care of bringing their fallen comrade into the aft storage section. It wasn't the most respectful thing to do but it was the safest and most practical. More importantly they could hook the body bag up to a supplementary power source which would keep the body in near stasis until they made rendezvous, something they'd have to do as soon as this leg of the mission wrapped.

Once everyone and everything was secured, Finn led Jones forward where he stood in the door frame while the Sergeant took the passenger seat. She looked back at her Lieutenant, “are you sure about this?”

Finn smiled back down at her with a flash of mischief, “It's this or we carpet bomb the neighbourhood.”

* * *

Jessica Majors was the first of those struck to recover. Her eyes were red and watering still as she moved to Schmarchuk and Tilkey and confirmed they just had the wind knocked out of them.

Then she rushed back toward Caleb and Zimmerman, “Get over here and help us!”

The two youngsters moved hesitatingly, still worried about instant death raining down from above. As they came around the curve of the ridge and saw that Tilkey and Schmarchuk weren't dead they quickened, intent to recover the rest of their group and evacuate from this area.

Over the ridge the impact of being tossed began to wear off of Horst. His eyes fluttered open and his vision cleared just as the great beast began to rise, pitching forward, never taking it's menacing eyes off him. If the grav-plates of the vehicle weren't filling the air with their high-pitched whine the rest of his posse would've heard Horst scream.

It came above the ridge like the head a subterranean giant awaking from its earth bound slumber. It was such an ungainly contradiction of images, the rectangular house like box fixed in the air as though resting on invisible supports that all six of the posse froze in abject terror.

Had they been thinking, it might have occurred to them that the craft might be more vulnerable like this, but those are the thoughts of people who aren't facing magic for the first time. At some point in the gaping Anderson swallowed a bug without being aware of it.

* * *

“Keep at this station.” It was a Fleet term but fortunately Hreha understood what Finn meant.

Everyone aft struggled to stay in place. The deck was pitched forty-five degrees forward and even Finn found his legs growing fatigued compensating for the angle. Fatiguing but not giving in yet.

“Can you swing us around on this same pivot?” He motioned with his hand toward the group visible now through the fore windows. They were a pretty pathetic group, seven in total, not very well armed and in the back of his head Finn chided himself for losing an Astral to these amateurs.

Hreha took his instruction to mean keeping the facade of the Carrier facing their opposition and after working out the vector controls she did what he asked.

* * *

As the hovering beast suddenly lurched in the air to the left without ever taking it's “eyes” off them Tilkey realized wearing his newest underwear had probably been a mistake. No, it was definitely a mistake. Fortunately no one else in the group seemed to paying attention to any personal hygiene problems.

* * *

Finn slipped his EarComm on while nodding to Hreha, “Put me on PA.”

Hreha had never tried to hold a combat vehicle at this angle. She almost let go of the lateral grip without locking it first, which in retrospect would've been bad, very bad.

After twisting the grip so it would retain the setting, she flipped the external public address system open and linked it to Finn's piece.

* * *

Jessica Majors' vision was clear now and she didn't like what she saw but as the beast hovered above them she couldn't figure out how to get to her Long Rifle without getting them all killed. She opened her mouth to ask if anyone had their rifle with them, in the faint hopes that it could be brought to bear quickly enough when the booming voice of the Almighty appeared to fill the very air around them.

“This is Lieutenant Finnegan of the United Network Space Command - Buffalo Commons Peace Keeping mission. Put your weapons down and surrender now and you won't be harmed.”

Tilkey turned to Anderson confused, “Hey what?”

But it was Jessica Majors who understood it first. “They're not Indies.”

“Then who are they?”

“Feds!” she replied, not knowing any other term to use.

Majors had been on the trips to the trade space, she'd heard the stories of superior forces with God-like powers moving in on other settlements in the region. She'd even heard a rumour that these Network people had put down an entire army of Indies in a single day. She didn't know if it was true before today, but she believed it now. She realized that the battle had been lost before they'd begun, before Caleb had woken them for the ride out, probably even before the sun had set last night..

Then it occurred to her. These people would take care of the Indies that had been harassing her village and that meant it'd be someone else's neck on the line. Other people's lives at risk. Her and hers could go back to what they were doing, surviving in the Commons.

“Put down your weapons,” She said.

And they did. .

* * *