Our hero and his empress make a desperate gambit against their pursuers. To read the previous installments, click here. We ran. Aeliana kept up beside me, her long strides graceful even in
Our hero and his empress make a desperate gambit against their pursuers. To read the previous installments, click here.
Aeliana kept up beside me, her long strides graceful even in the bulk of the suit. My ungainly, half-exhausted run carried me over the shrubs, but not without having to periodically catch my balance.
My last rake of gunfire had left the Hypogean convoy in disarray. In the time they needed to regroup, we were putting respectable distance between us and their camp.
It wasn’t enough.
The roar of vehicles grew closer. I chanced a look over my shoulder and saw their oddly shaped military trucks stretched in a long line, heading toward us. “Damn it!”
“What now?” Aeliana didn’t break stride.
“They can’t see us in this bubble,” the wavering shimmer of bent light was still visible, “but they’re out in a line, so they’ll just run us down.”
There was a flicker of fear on her face. “Do you have any ideas?”
My thoughts carried me a few more steps. “The best defense is a good offense.” I caught hold of her arm and brought her to a stop. I turned to face the vehicles head on.
Her eyes were wide. “What are you doing!?”
“Catching them first.”
I remembered the Battle of Zama—Scipio opened gaps in the lines of his troops to allow Hannibal’s elephants to charge through, carried by instinct and momentum. The Hypogeans had momentum, we have invisibility.
I turned to look into Aeliana’s eyes. “Do you trust me?”
There was a moment of hesitance, but then the same fire I’d seen before. “Yes.”
“Then grab hold of me and don’t let go.”
She wrapped tight around my chest, just under my arms. It wasn’t distracting at all, no sir.
The trucks dragged nets strung out on poles—it was improvised, but I was impressed they’d put it together so quickly. If I timed it right, I could grab hold of one of those poles as they passed. If I misjudged it, we’d be a smear on the grill of a truck.
My nerves and muscles were as taut as cable as the trucks sped toward us. I shifted my steps, judging the gap. Aeliana’s steps moved with mine as she held onto me.
It came in a rush. Air was driven out of me, and my arms felt like they would be pulled from their sockets. There was a bright flash of pain along my side. But my lizard brain came through. My heels scraped the dirt and my arms clamped over the pole.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the gestures of the Hypogeans in the truck—our invisibility consumed some of the mast within the bubble.
I turned my head to Aeliana, still clutched to me. “Climb onto the pole.”
“Climb onto the pole!”
There was no reply, but one of her hands grasped the mast right beside my head as she slid off me. The pain in my side was almost unbearable, I nearly lost my grip. But then she was beside me.
“Shimmy over.” I pointed with my chin toward the truck.
The Hypogeans had weapons trained in our direction, mouths agape. They needed to take us alive, and they didn’t know where to point.
The driver stopped the truck.
I ended up on my back, twenty feet away. Aeliana landed just outside the bubble, and the Hypogeans dismounted to bear down on her.
I struggled to get the submachine gun from under my body. The same shooting pain lanced through my side—I’d cracked a rib. It was an effort to get the arm on that same side to work and pure torture to raise the gun.
Their focus was on her, and their weapons were at the ready but pointed at the ground. They hoped to take her alive.
I got the weapon up and leveled, the barrel shaking in my unsteady hand.
For a moment I couldn’t afford, I sat staring. Then I fired. Of the four, two died and two jumped into the dirt to avoid my aim. It was agony getting to my feet, but the adrenaline held back enough of the pain for me to get Aeliana to her feet and into the bubble. We headed for the truck.
As the surviving two troops got to their feet, I examined the controls. No pedals, but lots of buttons and dials. The color-coding made no sense to me, so I pressed the largest button. The engine came to life with a roar. I worked the levers on the steering column, and the truck shot forward. At least the steering wheel worked as normal.
With one hand I steered and with the other I handed off the orb to Aeliana. “We need to find Field Marshal Cyprianus, if he’s still alive. Is there some way of doing that?”
Aeliana took the orb. “If he has a functioning power focus nearby, yes.” I felt the brush of her lips on my cheek.
“What was that for?”
Keeping my eyes forward, I still heard the smile in her voice. “What a lady chooses to do is her business.”
Even with a cracked rib and a horde of soldiers chasing us, I couldn’t help the smile on my lips.
To be continued…