Iron & Glass: Episode 12 – Against All Odds

Read past episodes and catch up on the story here.        ***         Our desperate hero mounts a rescue without a plan.         It wasn’t going according to

Read past episodes and catch up on the story here.       

***

        Our desperate hero mounts a rescue without a plan.

        It wasn’t going according to plan.

        I intended to follow the enemy patrol from the shadows, letting the sound of their footfalls mask my own, till they made their way back through the perimeter of their camp.

        It was my bad luck one of the men heard a noise. It was my good luck I caught the hint of movement. In a split-second decision, I decided to (literally) jump first and ask questions later, since I was doing so much of it lately. I tackled the trooper with the fanciest symbol on his uniform, he was probably in charge.

        After a struggle, I was stuck awkwardly pressing the barrel of a submachine gun under the jaw of the Hypogean, faced with six armed men staring back at me, and one of them unconscious on the ground. Their deep-set, too-large lantern eyes, set in blunt, sloped features, caught the moonlight like the eyes of wolves.

        With my free hand, I rooted around for the crystal orb in my torn, ragged flight suit, worn over an equally ragged uniform. Blood from a cut on my forehead obscured one of my eyes, so I had my head cocked to keep them all in view.

        I got grip on the crystal and drew it out. The six took a step back almost as one at the sight of it. I touched it to the temple of my hostage and he drew back with a hiss, brought up short by the gun barrel at his throat. 

        “Can you understand me?” I spoke into empty air. “Speak!”

        “Please don’t kill us…” One of the soldiers said, his face pale as a death mask in the moonlight.

        For a moment, I was bewildered. All of their faces had similar expressions. Why would six armed soldiers be afraid of me? I opened my mouth to ask a question, but closed it before I gave the game away. I looked closer at them.

        And what could I have that could threaten all of them? It wasn’t the submachine gun—they were carrying the same model. It had to be the orb!

        But did that make sense? I was pretty sure I couldn’t incinerate them with beams from my eyes and Aeliana possessing an orb hadn’t stopped the Hypogeans from single-minded pursuit. But these soldiers’ wary eyes watched the sphere closely.

        I inspected them. These men weren’t dressed in the all-black uniforms of the troops that chased Aeliana and me through the bunker complex. Instead, they wore a dark gray garment of a simpler design. Common grunts, by the look of them.

        Maybe the black-clad troops were commandos? If those were special forces, did they have access to information that regular grunts didn’t? I decided to go with it.

        I scowled. “Toss your guns away from you, with the grips toward me. Then put your hands on top of your heads, with your fingers interlocked.”

        After a moment’s hesitation, they complied.

        My mind froze in a moment of panic, without any plan. But through the orb, I felt a pull…the same pull that drew me to Aeliana the first time. I had a path, if not a plan.

        I showed my teeth. “Turn around and march in front of me, shoulder to shoulder. I’ll give you directions as we go. If any of you try anything, you all die.”

        If Aeliana was anywhere, it was probably the center of the camp, which meant lots of men between me and her. Could I keep this up that long?

        Then another memory surfaced, that Aeliana believed that I had the Inheritance, that I could use the orb. I decided to test that as well. As I had before, I grasped the pull I felt through the orb, and this time I willed words through the connection. “Aeliana, are you there?”

        For a moment, the sensation felt more like a twist than a pull, then words and the sense behind them, though not the voice, tumbled into my mind. “Michael!?”

        I smiled to myself and sent words back. “I guess I do have the Inheritance…”

        The feeling of relief and joy was palpable in her reply. “Where are you?”

        “Just outside the camp, headed toward you, with a human shield of prisoners in front of me. These soldiers are different from the ones we ran from. They’re superstitious about the Ancestors’ technology. Not sure how effective it will be, though.”

        “How…” She broke off. “What do you need from me?”

        “I need to know where you are and what you’re doing. I assume you have access to your orb, seeing as how you’re talking to me.”

        “It only has to be in proximity, not contact, once it has synced with you. But it’s close. I’m not sure where I’m being held, but these interrogators keep taking me from my cell and into a room with one of the power foci—”

        I interrupted. “Was that the crystalline fountain I saw when I first came?”

        I could feel the frustration in her words. “Yes, now focus…they brought me to a room with a power foci and my orb, which they charged. But they haven’t let me use it. They alternately make demands and ask questions through an interpreter. I think they’re debating among themselves. They want control of the Inheritance, but they’re afraid of what I’ll do with it.” 

        “Couldn’t you do something right now? You just said it only needs proximity.”

        “For communication, that’s true. For more, it needs contact with a wielder. We’re not sure why, whether it’s a limitation or a security measure, but it’s a hard limit.”

        I saw the lights of the camp as I came close with my prisoners. “Is there anything you can do on your end? I’m near the camp.”

        Her fear and concentration came through, then elation. “I’m not in contact with the orb, but you’re holding on to yours?”

        “Yes—” Through the connection, it was like something was shoved into my grasp. I couldn’t see anything in my mind’s eye—it was more like tracing out a shape by touch. But I felt all of its contours at once. It wasn’t a static shape, but something like an Escher-esque knotwork I had to take a mental hold of before it fell apart.

        I gasped at the thing shoved into my mind and my orb lit like a star. “What is this? What just happened?”

        A wry tone came across with her words. “Look around you.”

        The immediate space was lit and there were shimmering, wavering reflections wherever I looked, almost like the inside a soap bubble. The man I held at gunpoint stood rigid and motionless, while the rest kept walking, heedless of the light. Despite my wonder, I hadn’t lessened my grip on the gun. 

        She continued. “It bends the light around you, prevents you from being seen. My orb is broadcasting power to yours from the foci.”

        My tongue worked as I searched for words, though I spoke only in my mind and felt the “thing” there that was transmitted by the orb. “So it’s a computer program…Never mind. I’m coming for you.”

        I shoved my stunned prisoner from me and ran toward the camp.

       To be continued…

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