Read past episodes and catch up on the story here. *** Our hero tests his cunning against a swarm of enemies to rescue his empress.
Read past episodes and catch up on the story here.
Our hero tests his cunning against a swarm of enemies to rescue his empress.
The camp was in chaos.
Though I was shrouded in my bubble of invisibility, it did nothing to mask the sound, and the Hypogeans had lines of men sweeping the camp. When I wasn’t scurrying like a hare from the fox, I was doing my best impression of moss and pressing my body into any out-of-the-way corner I could find.
They were moving Aeliana, that I could sense. Still, they were somewhere inside the camp, but how long would they remain? Making my way through avenues of tents and temporary buildings was tricky enough, but the hordes slowed me to a crawl. I smacked my leg with my fist and tried to think of some way forward.
Dawn rose. As another squad passed by, I noticed the Hypogean troops wore darkened goggles over their too-large eyes. That set my mind to the gallop.
I reached my mental grasp for the program in the orb and traced its contours. It allowed the orb to bend light waves to create invisibility. What else could it do? I traced its Escher-like structure in my mind and pictured electromagnetic waves. Something in the structure of the program felt like my image of those waves, so I gave it a mental tug.
And my invisibility dropped.
The squad was nearly beyond me when one of them noticed, turned, and pointed. Eight troopers snapped around to face my position and raised their weapons.
The moment lasted an eternity as I froze in panic and mentally tugged at the “program” almost at random, till it was ready to come apart.
It was like a star exploded in my face.
My eyes were dazzled by a light that outshone the sun, even behind my hand, but the Hypogeans almost doubled over, groaning from the pain. I took the chance to snatch the goggles off of one and put them over my eyes. He shrieked and buried his face in his arms. A toe kick between the legs put him out of action.
With the goggles, I could stand the glare, though the after-image left large blotches that took forever to fade. I didn’t wait, though, and ran on, the bright light running ahead of me. My hope was that, with the uniform, goggles, and glare, I would pass for a Hypogean.
Everything hung on that hope and the speed of my legs, because I sensed that they were rushing to move Aeliana…somewhere.
I heard the rattle of machinegun fire and puffs of dirt and dust that went up to my left and right. Shots were sprayed at the glare of the light but hadn’t hit me. I redoubled my speed and fiddled with the program some more, hoping to convert it back to invisibility. In a blink, the bubble-like wall of watery, shimmering reflections reappeared and the crack of gunshots stopped.
Once again among troops, I gave another tug to the program and reignited the light. I let off a few shots from my sub-machinegun, pointed in a random direction, and cried out as I ran that way. Then I ducked into an alley between two buildings, switched back to invisibility, and let the Hypogeans pass as they ran to follow my charge.
I waited for a quarter-minute and then pumped my legs, driving toward the place I felt Aeliana heading. My thought was that the momentum of the charge would carry troops along, disrupting the sweeps.
I still had to duck other sweeps, but my progress was far more rapid, and I closed the distance.
Still clad in invisibility, I broke from the thicket of tents and buildings to see a line of troops headed for squat, oddly shaped vehicles that sat on large tires. Aeliana was among them. I could feel it, even if I couldn’t see her.
The touch of the knotwork in the orb became more and more familiar. I could picture its contours as I felt them. My sense of Aeliana was also more precise. It gave me a very dangerous idea.
From the cover of an earthen berm, I switched to the blaze of light and stitched machinegun fire across the line of troops, careful to avoid the place I sensed Aeliana. There was some return fire but only a few shots. I went to my stomach, crawled in the dirt to the other end of the berm, and then broke from cover in a sudden rush.
I bore down on Aeliana’s location, where she was flat on the ground, hands over her head. One of the soldiers by her lifted his weapon, and I shot him with the last round in my magazine.
I dropped my empty weapon, took the dead man’s firearm, and caught Aeliana’s hand to yank her to her feet. I switched back to invisibility as I ran with her toward the camp perimeter, beyond which was wilderness.
Some distance from the troops, between her puffs of breath, she said, “How did you…”
I caught her meaning, “I was just playing around with the…let’s call it a program, and I figured that if it bent light waves, it could do other things with them as well.”
She was incredulous, with a slight edge of hysteria. “It took me years of my brother’s tutoring to accomplish that level of control, and you accomplished it in a few minutes, just by fiddling around!?”
I was starting to worry. “Um…yes.”
Her tone was almost a growl. “You know you could have incinerated yourself, right?”
“How could I have known that?”
There was an uneasy silence, broken by a clamor behind us, of troops and vehicles.
I felt like I would collapse, but I increased my speed. “Questions later! Run now!”
To be continued…