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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
The next (and very exciting) chapter in the Phoenix Feathers series. During the events of the BDM, Phoenix, an Academy escapee, along with Monty and the crew of the Stallion struggle to elude the increasingly factional Alliance forces that are pursuing him- while Phoenix begins to have visions of a mysterious girl from his forgotten past. In this chapter, the assault on the smuggler's base has taken a turn for the worse (nuclear warhead, anyone?), and Phoenix and his friends must fight through the enemy lines to deactivate the bomb, or die trying- but it's never that easy. PG-13 for violence. If you like (or hate, I guess...) what you read, please do comment! It makes my fingers fly over the keyboard.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 644 RATING: SERIES: FIREFLY
Phoenix Feathers Part III, Chapter 4
Disclaimer: Joss is Boss, and all I do is toil day in and day out (with his ideas and few original thoughts) to quiet my inner Browncoat. Aren’t those supposed to go on the outside? Hmm.
INT- TS334/E- HOLDING CELL (earlier)
Douglas Clarke just watched as Sheriff’s Deputy Max Jokaero shook his head in disgust over their present situation. He reckoned that any minute now the deputy was going to start throwing himself at the reinforced doors of their cell. Clarke supposed that lawmen like the deputy would at least be familiar with what it felt like to be imprisoned, but apparently that experience wasn’t included as part of their training. Didn’t seem right.
Clarke’s outward display of calm just seemed to further infuriate the deputy, who turned to the room’s third occupant- Clarke’s captain and employer, Patrick Montgomery of the Goliath-class freighter Stallion- with a snarl.
JOKAERO: Why don’t things ever go smooth with you people?
MONTY: Hold it. What do you mean, “you people?”
JOKAERO: I mean you Browncoats. You couldn’t execute a proper operation to save your life.
MONTY: We didn’t ask for this. You all came to us with this job.
JOKAERO: We had a narrow window to act, which meant we were stuck with…limited options. Look where that got us.
CLARKE: I thought it was going pretty well so far.
The two other men looked at him. Douglas Clarke wasn’t usually one for optimism, or talking in general. Given their dire situation, such a comment might have been dripping with sarcasm, but Clarke seemed quite sincere.
MONTY: Yeah, see that’s- wait. What?
CLARKE: Could be worse.
Clarke was actually thinking of the time that he first met Monty- in a prison cell on Beylix; Monty caught up in a sting operation by the local feds and about to forfeit his vessel, Clarke bearing a black mark freshly issued by the Alliance government’s Military Justice department and up on charges for assaulting an officer of the law (in actuality, he recalled that it had been more like the entire complement of an Alliance-friendly bar) by his drunken self. Clarke had come a long way since then- he was no longer a drunk, and he doubted that the great and powerful Alliance either remembered or cared that he existed.
JOKAERO: Not by much.
CLARKE: (shrugs) Could be dead.
JOKAERO: Well, not to worry. That’ll come soon enough.
MONTY: What are you goin’ on about?
JOKAERO: Our mission failed. All we can do now is cut our losses.
CLARKE: By which you mean…
JOKAERO: Wave off the cavalry. With the base defenses online, they’d be walking into a deathtrap. It’d be a massacre.
CLARKE: So instead you’re opting for suicide.
JOKAERO: Nothing so crude. (Jokaero holds up his left hand, revealing a small metal ring on one of his fingers) Ever seen one of these? Shiny-looking thing. Doubles as a distress signal. Pings a low-grade wave out to any Fed gear in the area. Not fancy, but it does the trick.
Clarke knew all too well the origins of that technology. The Alliance had pioneered a lot of tech during the War- tech that he had trained with and come to depend on in the field. Tech like Max Jokaero’s ring. Since then, these technological wonders had been adapted for civilian use, which had proven to be quite a profitable venture for the industry, but Clarke knew from personal experience that a concealed emergency signal was the least of the possible uses for such technology during the War years. Of course, such Black Ops technology had long since been retired by the peacetime Alliance government.
MONTY: You mean to tell me that we’ve been sitting around this whole time thinking help is on the way, when you’ve signed our death warrants with that little doo-dad?
JOKAERO: The mission comes first. I’m sorry.
MONTY: You must be joking.
JOKAERO: There’s nobody can help us. We’re the only friendlies on the station.
CLARKE: No. There’s Priscilla.
MONTY: Oh, Buddha. She’s all alone out there.
JOKAERO: Your ladyfriend-
JOKAERO: Wife-congratulations, by the way- can’t help us, Captain. The best we can hope for is that she makes it back to the shuttle in one piece, buttons up, and gets the hell off of this station. There won’t be any heroics today.
Monty’s face is twisted with worry and anger, but he remained speechless. Smuggling Clarke and Priscilla aboard the terraforming station hadn’t been an easy thing to do, and their captors probably wouldn’t take too kindly to finding Priscilla- yet another uninvited guest- sneaking around the corridors, looking for a way to crack the station’s security so’s the Feds could traipse in and have a look at the operation. No, if they caught her, it wouldn’t go well at all. Clarke reckoned that Monty was either about to cry- not a likely prospect for a man who spent his life toughing it out in situations that routinely went over his balding head- or he was figuring out the most appropriate way to beat the diminutive deputy into a pulp and crush the ring that was their death sentence into tiny bits. Clarke decided that, if it should come to that, then he wouldn’t get in Monty’s way. He wasn’t a big fan of people trying to get him killed either. That, and Clarke didn’t know of anyone that could stand toe-to-toe with Monty in a brawl.
Suddenly, the overhead light- a single light bulb- flickers, and a muffled explosion can be heard in the distance.
CLARKE: (drily) Well, somebody’s shooting at somebody.
MONTY: So we’re still in business?
JOKAERO: Oh, God. They’re dead. All of them. It has to be. They’ve been vaporized.
They stay silent for a long minute. Clarke closes his eyes to listen. Then, a second muffled explosion- closer, like it came from inside the station itself- perhaps a grenade? His eyes snap open.
CLARKE: That, or somebody’s a worked a miracle.
MONTY: I didn’t think you believed in miracles.
CLARKE: I don’t. But given the circumstances, I’ll allow it.
JOKAERO: But it’s not possible. My ring…
CLARKE: Can’t transmit outside the station. (off Joker’s surprised look) When I hit the airlock, the signal from my helmet commlink cut out almost at once. They must have some sort of shielding packed into the exterior panels that muffle any interior communications- keeps station communications quiet to any who’d be looking to listen in, and locking down any unauthorized senders on-site.
JOKAERO: Us, for example.
MONTY: You knew…
CLARKE: I suspected. It’s nice to be right every once in a while.
JOKAERO: (inspecting ring) Damn. So much for a contingency plan.
MONTY: So help is coming? What’s the plan?
CLARKE: Sit tight, chief. Priscilla put the time I bought us to good use. She must have found a back door into the defense grid and triggered it herself, then brought in the troops. I’ll bet things are pretty messy up there. It’s going to be a while. Just try and relax.
JOKAERO: Relax? How can you say that? People are dying out there- Listen!
(Clarke lunges at him, grabs him, face-to-face, whisper-quiet.)
CLARKE: No, you listen! This is the plan, remember? The plan we followed to the letter, and it almost got us shot in a filthy hole-in-the-ground in the middle of nowhere! If it wasn’t for my crew, we’d be dead. So sit tight and watch your little masterpiece play itself out, and pray that I don’t get tetchy. Because God knows I owe you for that little stunt you tried to pull just now.
Jokaero pushes him back, as hard as he can- which isn’t very, Jokaero not being of the brawling persuasion- and Clarke backs off across the room, laughing.
CLARKE: Aw, lighten up, funny man. This is what you wanted, right? Smooth sailing. So just…sit tight. (He slides down the wall to an easy sitting position)
MONTY: We ain’t out of this yet, Clarke. Like as not these boys won’t forget about us for long. Then they’ll come back and finish what they started, and when that happens, we’re dead, fretting or no.
Right on cue, with a clang and the grating of gears, the locking mechanism in the door starts to release. All three prisoners look warily over at the hatch.
JOKAERO: You were saying…
MONTY: (finding his voice) Like as not they’re lookin’ to shoot us dead right here. We’ve got to do this now, or not at all. You boys game?
JOKAERO: Agreed. Let’s take ‘em.
Clarke merely rises to his feet.
Without speaking further, they arrange themselves around the hatch. Monty stands along the wall on the near side of the inwards-opening door so he can leap on their captors as they enter. Joker takes the other side, so the opening door will shield him from view (and any return fire into the bargain). Clarke stands in full view before the door, a decoy.
The door opens. It’s a bad guy.
Monty screams a battle-cry and jumps the red-suited guard as he enters the room, his massive hands outstretched to pull the guard into his deadly embrace. Joker lets out a yell of his own and leaps around the door, aiming low to tackle the guard to the floor.
But as soon as they run forward, the guard springs into a blur of motion. He evades the two men with ease, flowing like water around their attacks. In the blink of an eye, Monty and Joker are on the floor in a heap, and Clarke stares dumbfounded at the guard standing calmly before him, weapon outstretched, grip first.
Clarke blinks, then slowly smiles. He reaches out and takes back his handgun from Phoenix.
CLARKE: Phoenix. You’re late.
MONTY: (muffled) Phoenix? When did you get here?
JOKAERO: Phoenix? I thought his name was Nick. (thinks about it) No, I get that.
Monty and Jokaero pick themselves up and dust themselves off- after all, top-secret smuggling operations don’t exactly keep their prisoners in hotels.
PHOENIX takes off his helmet and tosses it to Jokaero.
MONTY: You…You made it. (to Clarke) How did he make it? (Clarke just smiles and turns to Jokaero)
CLARKE: Deputy, meet our contingency plan.
JOKAERO: Well. That’s…fortunate.
CLARKE: For us. (checking the load of his pistol) How’s it look out there, kid?
PHOENIX: Not good. Best close your eyes and follow me home.
CLARKE: Never been one to walk around blindly. Probably shouldn’t start now, what with the gunfire and all.
JOKAERO: So we’re just going to sneak quietly back to base, is that it?
CLARKE: Why, you got some heroics planned?
JOKAERO: (quickly) Nope, I’m okay with sneaking. Or just waiting here. Away from the fighting, that suits me fine.
CLARKE: Fight’s going to find us sooner or later. Best make sure we’re with friends when it does. So let’s move out, yeah? (gets a reluctant nod from Joker) Captain?
Monty has been just standing there for the past conversation, staring at Phoenix, a strange look on his face.
CLARKE: (Repeating himself) Captain?
MONTY: (to Phoenix, dreading an answer) Phoenix…Where’s my wife?
Clarke and Jokaero look at him, then at Phoenix.
INT- TS334/E- MAINTENANCE CORRIDOR
Priscilla woke up in a daze. There was a high-pitched ringing in her ears, and everything seemed to be out of focus. She stood up unsteadily, reaching out for support from a wall. She touched her head with her free hand, and it came away bloody. Grimacing, she made her way back along the wall towards the starboard docking spar terminal, pausing as a quartet of Alliance soldiers hustled past her in close formation towards the portside terminal.
She reached the door. It had been forced open- evidently by a shaped explosive charge. If Priscilla wasn’t so out of it, she would probably have reacted to this; evidently the localized system shutdown that she and Phoenix had attempted earlier had been repaired. The desperate measure might have given the Feds a fighting chance to dock with the station, and even establish a foothold, but their improvised solution hadn’t lasted long enough to keep all of the powered doors unlocked. That had cost their forces time- something that they didn’t have much of at all.
Given the amount of shooting that Priscilla was hearing (though it sounded muddied and distant to her ears), their gambit had only partially been a success. While the Alliance forces currently had the upper hand thanks to their surprise assault, as well as their superior training and kit, Priscilla knew that if the bad guys had time to organize, they would potentially have the numbers to overrun the Alliance soldiers. Under different circumstances, Priscilla might have found the notion of the Alliance forces being outnumbered to be amusing- but this wasn’t the War any longer, and out here, a body needed all of the friends she could get.
The thought of her friends, most all of whom were in quite a bit of danger at the moment, snapped Priscilla out of her shocked state, and she stepped through the door into the terminal beyond. As she did this, the ringing in her ears gave way to a throbbing sensation. She reasoned that she’d have quite the headache when she got back to the Stallion. If any of them ever got back. But first things first- she had to find out how Monty and the others were doing.
She looked around the terminal and spotted Sheriff Rogers conferring with several Alliance troopers, and approaches them. There are several bodies on the ground, but none of them are allies. The boys in black certainly knew their trade, she’d give them that.
Priscilla realizes that they are reacting to the throbbing in her ears, (which is actually a klaxon)
ROGERS: …no time. How’s Alpha doing? Any word yet from Tenbrook and his lads?
CORPORAL: Too much interference, I can’t get through. I just sent Delta over to link up with them, but we’re stretched pretty thin here. They’re throwing everything they have down this corridor.
(He gestures down the corridor leading towards the security checkpoint and beyond)
ROGERS: (Quietly, to himself) All they have to do is stall us. If we just had more time…
CORPORAL: Orders, sir?
ROGERS: We’re pulling back.
(Priscilla says something decidedly unsavory)
CORPORAL: What about Sergeant Tenbrook, sir?
PRISCILLA: What about my crew?
ROGERS: Look, miss.
ROGERS: If we fall back, they think they’re winning. Maybe they deactivate, or maybe they don’t. Maybe they fight us all the way back to the ship and blow themselves to pieces. Either way, we keep them divided, confused, and we give Tenbrook his shot. That’s a chance we don’t have if we keep up this stalemate. (to the Corporal) Do it, now!
ROGERS: And get Miss Ganlen to her ship. Tell them to cast off.
PRISCILLA: What, more misdirection?
ROGERS: Mostly I just don’t want any civilians on my conscience.
PRISCILLA: (Coldly) It’s a little late for that.
The gunfire down the hallway suddenly escalates as men in black armor spill back out of the security corridor and retake old positions in the terminal. Sheriff Rogers moves to a wounded soldier who is kneeling because his injured leg can no longer support his weight.
The man doesn’t look at Rogers- his weapon is trained down the hallway, and he regularly fires controlled bursts towards unseen enemies.
ROGERS: Looks like you took a hit there, son.
SOLDER: No, sir.
ROGERS: Son, I need someone to escort the lady here back to her ship. You’re it. Now get gone, you understand?
SOLDER: …Yes, sir.
He turns and Sheriff Rogers helps him limp over to Priscilla.
ROGERS: Off you go, now. Miss Ganlen, you are ordered to get your bird clear of this. When we need you, we’ll call. Are we clear?
PRISCILLA: All right.
She and the wounded soldier turn and make their way back down the Starboard Docking Spar corridor to the waiting Stallion. Priscilla weeps with helpless anger and shame at being forced to abandon her friends. She looks desperately around for a way to help them, a backdoor, anything!
Suddenly, Priscilla remembers her databoard. All was not yet lost! If she worked quickly enough, broke into the station’s security net and initiated a shutdown, finishing what she’d started, maybe she could- Yes, that was it. She could- would- save them all.
As they leave the terminal, Priscilla looks over at the spot on the floor where she had left her databoard.
There was nothing there.
INT- TS334/E- HOLDING CELL
(The four men look around as they hear the station’s automated self-destruct alert)
CLARKE: That can’t be good.
JOKAERO: ‘That’ is the station’s self-destruct device.
MONTY: (aside, to Clarke) Did we know about this?
CLARKE: Not as such.
MONTY: Dammit, Jokaero! You could have warned us!
JOKAERO: It wasn’t supposed to come into play. You know, disabled with the rest of the defenses. This complicates things.
CLARKE: You think!? So, what do we do?
(same time) MONTY: We run. JOKAERO: We stay.
JOKAERO: (cont’d) We can’t run. This place will go up unless we do something.
MONTY: Hell with that- We get back to the ship, and we get gone!
JOKAERO: We’ll never get back through the lines. Or would you rather that our men stayed behind to hold them off? No, we’re here for the duration. (pointedly) Which is that much shorter now.
MONTY: (reluctantly) So let’s get a move on, then. (notices Phoenix messing with Priscilla’s databoard) What’s that you’ve got, boy?
PHOENIX: (marveling quietly at the device) The music of the Universe on a page. Pages and pages of secrets…Such a nice present, and it wasn’t even my birthday. However shall I pay her back, precious?
CLARKE: By the time we figure that out, son, we’ll all be dead. It looks like a regular databoard to me.
MONTY: That’s my wife’s- I’ve seen her with it.
JOKAERO: Upgraded, too, by the look of it. Where’s the link?
Phoenix pulls out a small cylinder with blinking lights. This is Priscilla’s electronic lockbreaker- a wireless device that allows an external device access to the station’s security systems. Phoenix has somehow recovered it from the security guard who discovered and confiscated it during the initial phase of their operation. (Three guesses as to how!)
Phoenix reluctantly hands the lockbreaker and the databoard to Jokaero.
Clarke is quietly impressed. (When is Clarke ever “loudly” anything?)
CLARKE: Well, now, “Joker”. You think you can put this to use if we get you to an access point?
JOKAERO: I’ll do my best.
CLARKE: Great. So where to?
MONTY: Command and Control. Closest and biggest. All those computers…
CLARKE: I remember. All right, I have point. Monty, you take rearguard.
JOKAERO: There must be dozens of hostiles between here and there.
CLARKE: Sounds like fun. (to Phoenix) What do you say, kid? You up for it?
Phoenix takes his helmet back from “Joker” and puts it on.
Clarke steps up to the hatch, checking for enemy contacts in the hallway beyond. All clear-for now.
CLARKE: Shall we?
The small group steps out of the holding cell and into the corridor beyond, making for the Command and Control room at the heart of the station.
INT- TS334/E- MAIN CORRIDOR
Clarke leads the group at top speed through the corridors. Monty, deputy Jokaero, and Phoenix follow him closely.
Workers and guards only occasionally run past them, hardly paying them any notice- at first. Then they turn a corner, get through a door (with some help from Jokaero and his databoard skills), and the flow of traffic seems to be going the other way- moving ahead and inwards, instead of branching out and away towards the main fight that seemed to be taking place on the far side of the station.
Clarke kept his heavy pistol ready, but out of sight. In all the chaos, they’d kept their heads down and so far had managed to avoid a fight- which was good, because time? Not so much on their side. The same went for numbers, armor, and ammunition.
It happened just as they were approaching the last turn-off to Command and Control.
Clarke had risked a glance around the corner. They had made good progress- Clarke’s memory and particular skills had served them well. Now they were within striking distance of the enemy, and they just might take care of that troublesome self-destruct device to boot. There had been no sign of their allies since they escaped from the holding cell, but the Feds had to have some penetration, otherwise there would be no need for the smugglers to initiate a self-destruct- something they had wasted no time in doing once the alarm was raised. One might almost think that the bad guys would rather die than defend themselves. What kind of operation detonated in the face of discovery, rather than as a last resort? To Clarke, it was all so backwards- and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around if and when it all made sense.
Chances were, though, that none of them were going to be around in a few short minutes.
He didn’t see anyone ahead of him, so he had slid around the corner, gun out and ready. Monty had followed close behind him- Joker and Phoenix had fallen behind a bit, as the sheriff’s deputy worked feverishly to write in last-minute adjustments to Priscilla’s computer virus on his databoard.
Then Clarke heard a hatch bang open behind him, followed by several gunshots, whose loud reports echoed up and down the corridor.
Monty jumped at the sound, swearing out loud. He pivoted with the grace of a much younger, much fitter man, and sprinted back around the corner, Clarke followed cautiously in his wake.
They found Jokaero leaning against the wall of the corridor, absently massaging his arm and staring at a tangle of bodies on the floor. Monty went to him.
MONTY: What happened? You all right?
Clarke crossed to the bodies. There were three workers, all armed, all dead- and one smaller figure in a red jumpsuit- Phoenix. Clarke knelt down to examine him.
JOKAERO: (cont’d) They came out of nowhere. I didn’t see…He was so fast- pushed me out of the way. How did he even-?
CLARKE: He’s all right! He’s all right. Thank God they put some padding in these bloody jumpsuits nowadays.
Clarke helped a dazed Phoenix to his feet. He took the boy’s helmeted head in both of his hands and angles it to look into the eyes behind the faceplate.
CLARKE: Hey, kid. You good to go?
Monty collected an automatic rifle from one of the erstwhile ‘workers’ and checks the magazine.
MONTY: Looks like just about everyone’s taking up arms. They must really hate ‘you people.’
JOKAERO: That, or they’re thinking about something a lot scarier than Alliance justice. Either way, I vote we go shoot them now.
CLARKE: Music to my ears. All right. Door's right around the bend. Captain, you're to stay close to ‘Joker’ here. Don’t let anything near him.
MONTY: (nodding) You got it.
JOKAERO: And you?
Clarke hefts his big pistol up.
JOKAERO: …right. Lead on.
The group moved off down the corridor, moving quietly but swiftly. As they approached the door leading into the station’s Command and Control centre, Jokaero readied his databoard to hack the door security.
When they get close, the door suddenly SMASHES OUTWARDS under the body of a Fed trooper who has been broken like a rag doll.
Quick to act, Clarke rolls across the body, comes up with a grenade, primes it, tosses it through, and covers against the far wall in one smooth motion.
CLARKE: (to Phoenix) I go high, you go low.
SLOW MOTION- We follow the grenade as it sails through the door at head height. It flies past a pair of the defenders within, spinning crazily. Their heads turn in confusion as they try to track the projectile before-
INT- TS334/E- COMMAND AND CONTROL CENTER
Clarke spun inside, gun out and searching for targets.
The group had entered through one of two entrances to the control room, positioned about halfway along the side walls. Banks of computer consoles and screens dominated the front of the control room- immediately to Clarke’s left; To his right was a series of stairs leading up to a raised observation section.
The nearest control station- and probably more besides- burned intensely. Smoke from the fire flows out through the open hatch and up into the control room, which meant that some extra concealment was in order.
Clarke noticed shadowy forms of enemy troopers- unarmored workers, probably, as a last line of defense- spread throughout the large room, as well as around a dozen corpses- most of them seemed to be workers, but there were a few black-armored bodies mixed in with them as well. It was still clear enough for him to see the last surviving Special Ops sniper lying prone on an elevated walkway, reduced to firing his rifle one-handed thanks to his wounds. The soldier shuddered as yet another bullet found him; his gun fell silent at last.
No sooner was he through the door than Clarke took a stray hit to the right shoulder. He was slammed back against the door frame, hissing in pain. Phoenix ran past him, a red blur in his combat jumpsuit, and was immediately lost in the smoke.
Clarke tried to stand, but found that he was pinned to the wall by the projectile- a large metal bolt. Evidently one of the defenders had brought a flechette gun to the party- these “needlers” were ideal for punching through the thick armor that the Special Ops teams favored. Against an unarmored person, a flechette round could spear clean through flesh and bone alike.
Clarke reached up with his left hand and tried to get a firm grip on the good inch of the shaft protruding from his right shoulder. He yanked on it, but his fingers slid off, slick with his own blood. Clarke gritted his teeth against the pain and snarled up at Monty and Jokaero, both of whom had instinctively stopped in their tracks to try and help their wounded comrade.
CLARKE: Get a move on! There’s no time-
Monty ducked as a near miss from enemy fire rang out against the hatch, and hastily returned fire with his rifle, shooting into the smoke above them at enemies unseen. Clarke knew that there was nowhere to hide in the space beyond the entranceway- his companions have to move, or else die in the killing ground that lay between the consoles and the raised observation level.
Immobile, his shooting arm useless, and without a good position to provide supporting fire, Clarke did the only thing he could do- he tossed his prized handgun to the unarmed deputy, Jokaero.
CLARKE: You know how to use that thing?
JOKAERO: Not really my style-
CLARKE: Keep your head down, use the desks for cover, and stay close to Monty. He’ll watch your back. Go!
Monty and Jokaero duck left into the rows of computer consoles, making for the front of the room, leaving Clarke behind. Phoenix is nowhere to be seen.
CLARKE: (mutters) Give ‘em Hell, kid.
Clarke tries again to pull the spike out, fails. Screams as the motion grates the bolt against the bones in his arm. He flinches as another ricochet zips past, hitting a nearby power station and sending sparks everywhere. He opens his eyes and finds that he is look at the body of the Special Ops trooper lying next to him by the door. Clarke smiles sadly.
The gunfire increases.
Joker and Monty made their way through the maze of consoles, Monty in the lead. They stayed low, which gave them some cover from the fire raining down from above and behind them, but it also limited their visibility. More than once an opportunistic enemy trooper stumbled through the chaos on top of their position- more than once, they were saved by Jokaero’s quick reflexes and the stopping power of Clarke’s heavy pistol, which threw the unarmored workers up and backwards over the surrounding computer consoles. Monty was in the lead, and the big man used his incredible strength to knock down any defender that he met amidst the smoke and confusion of the advance, every step taking the two men closer to the terraforming station’s main computer console.
Monty popped up with the automatic rifle to keep the smugglers’ heads down. He pivoted around and squeezed off short bursts with the cool efficiency of a battle-hardened veteran. Jokaero saw the Stallion’s captain get winged by a round, two, his brown leather duster ripped into by yet more bullets- bullets that the big man hardly seemed to notice. But then Monty saw something that made him slow, stop.
JOKAERO: Captain, what the hell are you doing- what-
Jokaero gathered himself and stood upright, leveling Clarke’s handgun at-
PHOENIX, alone in the center of the room. The boy was armed with a brace of sleek automatic pistols- Buddha alone knew where he got his hands on those- which he was wielding with a unearthly grace. It was a level of gunplay unlike any other, almost too fast to follow.
The guns seemed to be pointing in every direction at once, flickering around and about his hands, barely pausing in their deadly arcs as he fired them at enemies near and far. Phoenix was spinning as he moved through the open space, gunning down targets on all sides. Station defenders- those positioned on the catwalk above and those sheltering amongst the consoles below- were redirecting their aim, throwing everything they had at this new threat.
It wasn't enough.
Jokaero couldn’t believe his eyes. In one moment, he thought he saw the kid-turned-killing-machine tag two well-concealed defenders with one short burst- without looking. How was such a thing possible?
Monty turned away with a joyful whoop at the turning of the tide, and moved off to fire on the few surviving enemies on the perimeter with renewed intent.
The deputy looked on as Phoenix continued his twirling motion down into a crouched position and dropped his empty pistols to the floor, scooping up another weapon from a nearby body. The boy stood upright easily, racking the slide of the appropriated pistol, and turned to face the bewildered deputy.
Jokaero just stared. The terrifying being behind the expressionless helmet and red body armor stared back wordlessly.
Amidst the shrill klaxon and the cries of the wounded men all around them, there was a brief moment of silence, as if Mother Nature herself had paused for thought. Then-
From nowhere, a man appeared behind Phoenix. He wore a business suit that seemed entirely out of place amidst all of the blood, smoke, and death in the control room. It was as if a hole had opened in the cosmos and the man had been deposited there, not unlike an adventurous girl named Alice that Jokaero remembered reading about in an old childhood story from Earth-That-Was.
The man brought up one blue-gloved hand and- was he carrying something? Jokaero couldn’t see from across the room. There was a buzzing in his ears, now, too. The Suit turned almost lazily to point the object at Phoenix, and the high-pitched whine intensified. The object- whatever it was- had to be a weapon.
For Joker, things seemed to be moving in slow motion. His gun- Clarke’s gun- refused to come into line. His cry of warning sounded weak even to his own ears.
Nevertheless, Phoenix heard him and spun around, faster than any man alive.
Inside his helmet, Phoenix’s eyes widen.
(The neural disrupter fires, and Phoenix is hit at close range with the full force of the weapon. The inside of his helmet is splattered with blood. We are mercifully spared from seeing the full extent of the damage, thanks to the full-body jumpsuit he is wearing, but there is nothing left to see. His broken body is thrown down, his gun spins off across the floor, and he lies still.)
Jokaero yelled in horror and outrage. His pistol finally swung into line, and the deputy used both hands to keep the weapon steady. He fired two, three, four times- each time scoring a solid hit on his adversary. The Suit made no attempt to dodge the incoming rounds, and staggered, falling to one knee as the shots found their mark. Jokaero keeps pulling the trigger, but the weapon clicks empty.
The Suit stood up. With no change of expression, he advanced purposefully towards the deputy, stepping over Phoenix without a second glance. The Suit walked calmly down the rows of consoles that Jokaero had been using for cover. He raised the rod weapon again- it hummed online. Jokaero flinched.
With a furious shout, Monty barreled into the Suit from the side, knocking the weapon out of his hands. The two combatants went to the floor in a heap.
Jokaero managed to look away; he runs over to the terraforming station’s main console, pulling out Priscilla’s databoard as he goes. The deputy inserts the pocket-sized computer and began to tap away at the screen, working feverishly to bypass the station’s security systems. Moments later, he heard Monty’s surprised cry from the room behind him.
Jokaero turned to see Monty grappling with the Suit. As he watched, a bright spray of blood appears across the captain’s chest. Monty recoiled, and with a blur of motion the man with blue hands effortlessly tossed the Stallion’s massive captain into a bank of computers like a broken rag-doll. Monty hit the stack of equipment and collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
The Suit turns to Jokaero with a chilling smile; blades (nearly invisible because they are vibrating so rapidly) shake off the last droplets of Monty’s blood and retract behind panels secreted in the forearm segments of his blue body armor- armor which is now exposed beneath the tattered remains of his shredded business suit.
The demon-man steps closer.
The beleaguered deputy dove behind a nearby console to reload Clarke’s handgun, but was very unpleasantly surprised to find that he had no rounds left on him.
Jokaero bit his lip. He glanced out to gauge the approach of the Suit as the man walks down the aisle towards the last row of consoles, then spins out the other way and makes a dash back down a parallel row of computer consoles towards the exit.
The Suit takes his time in following- first he checks that no more enemies are staying behind to ambush him when he turns his back. He then turns and LEAPS OVER one of the consoles after Jokaero, moving with unnatural speed and grace.
The Suit closes the distance quite quickly- the fleeing deputy had barely broken out of the rows of computer consoles and turned towards the door by the time the Suit was on top of him.
JOKAERO: Jesus, God! Help!
The Suit leaps over the last console and lunges downwards at Jokaero, vibro-blades extended for a killing thrust to the base of the neck, when we hear-
CLARKE: (yelling) Down!
CLOSE-UP of Clarke’s face, one eye screwed shut, lips pulled back in a determined grimace.
CLARKE: Eat this, you bastard.
Jokaero drops flat and Clarke, wielding the dead trooper’s sniper rifle left-handed, the long barrel balanced between his knees, just owns the suited man with a perfect headshot. The high-powered round, designed to be deadly at a range of over a thousand meters almost twisted the man’s head clean off.
The Suit fell to the ground, and stayed put.
JOKAERO: (Looking back) Mercy me. Remind me never to make you angry.
CLARKE: It’s a little late for that. Aah…
Jokaero went over to him and examined his injury. He ducks as the sounds of gunfire coming from the corridor outside. Pretty soon, they will be overrun by a second wave of base defenders.
JOKAERO: Looks survivable. Just stay put.
CLARKE: (chuckles at that- he doesn’t have much choice in the matter anyway, what with the giant spike in his arm and all.) Did we get it?
Jokaero turns and looks back the way he came. The camera ZOOMS back to the console, where the forgotten, innocuous-looking databoard sits plugged in. It pings and text scrolls across its face, reading UPLOAD COMPLETE. The alarms cut out.
JOKAERO: We did.
CLARKE: And the Captain?
JOKAERO: Doesn't look too good...
CLARKE: Dammit. (coughs) I was really looking to die alone.
JOKAERO: I bet.
(The two men share a look- while they don’t necessarily like each other, they can respect each other. They switch weapons- Clarke reloading his pistol meticulously, Jokaero looking horribly out of place carrying the big sniper rifle. The deputy moves back behind the cover of a nearby computer console and sights his weapon towards the far door. They cover the different entrances to the room as best they can.
Things are bad- Last Stand kind of bad. There’s just too many enemies left in the base for two men to fight on their own. For all Clarke knew, the body of the Alliance sniper lying next to him could have been the last friendly on the station, killed in a last-ditch attempt to take the CnC. It didn’t matter now- escape was impossible. There wasn’t much else to do except make a good account of themselves before the end came. At least ‘Joker’ seemed to have momentarily forgotten his distaste for handling a weapon.
Clarke hears a noise, peeks around the door. He sees that a bunch of defenders- led by at least one guard decked out in red body armor- are setting up to rush the door. Clarke pulls back from the rain of shots that they send his way, and returns fire left-handed down the corridor. Jokaero traverses to support him and over his head at the enemy, the whine of the sniper rifle almost inaudible next to the roar of Clarke’s heavy pistol. Clarke reloads his weapon with his last few bullets, as if they were the last grains of sand slipping through the hourglass of his life. Eight shots. Seven. Six…
Clarke grimaced. Everyone had to go sometime. Maybe Koyi and the others on the Stallion had made it out okay. He supposed he could live with that idea for a few moments more.
A defender runs into the CnC from the far entrance. Clarke and Joker tense- they can’t repel an attack from two directions at once- but the defender turns and fires his rifle back down the corridor at an unseen pursuer. Almost immediately he is hit by return fire that lifts him off his feet and throws him to the ground, his chest and face a bloody ruin.
The next men through the far door are friendlies in matte black armor. First among them is SERGEANT TENBROOK, his armor sporting a few new dings, pits, and even what could be a laser burn. Opposition has undoubtedly been much heavier than anyone had anticipated. His left arm is hanging at an awkward angle, and he is wielding his shotgun one-handed.
The assault team has finally linked up with the remnants of the infiltration team.
Tenbrook takes a moment to examine the advance team’s handiwork. He takes in the carnage, the wounded…the stillness in the control room, which still burns at multiple points.
And one body lying quietly in a battered red jumpsuit.
TENBROOK: Medic. MEDIC UP!
Saturday, March 27, 2010 3:44 PM
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