In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 24

In My Daydreams

Cassie turned to watch Jadzen walk toward the Ascendancy troops. Her lips twisted. “It had better be brilliant because there’s not much she can do if she’s just going to walk over there. I’m sure they’d be able to detect if she’s a suicide bomber or if she’s carrying a gun to shoot them or something.”

I thought about it for a second. “She’s a motivator. Maybe she’s hoping to use that? The impression that I got from Kals was that Jadzen was among their best before she decided to turn against the Ascendancy. I mean, Kals was in the same program or something and she could get past my anti-voice defense. We probably avoided getting taken over a few different times because she told me how she did it and I changed my system.”

Cassie cocked her head and then said, “I hope it’s something like that. I was figuring suicide bomb or that maybe she’d get close to the leadership and have the Waroo hit her position, killing herself and taking them out. That’s what I’d do, but I’d survive it. She won’t.”

Thinking about it, it made sense. She wouldn’t want to be reprogrammed into working against everything she cared about. Having the Waroo kill her and as much of the Ascendancy leadership as possible would give us a chance of fighting our way free and ending their reason for searching for her. They might still go after the Council or Kals, but neither had the political weight Jadzen had.

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made and that led to another thought, “What was I going to do about it?”

I passed those thoughts over to Cassie and then the whole conversation we’d had plus my thoughts over to Marcus and Katuk once I noticed that their implants had come online as well.

“That sounds right. Captain Tolker’s keeping everyone close. He’s not making it too obvious, but he’s got techs next to the shield generators. I think he’s hoping to get them back up again.”

I got a flash of Marcus’ perspective. He looked at Tikki who’d stepped over to one of the shield generators.

She frowned. “They can’t be fixed. Shield rams cause a surge in the shield matrix that burns out the generator and jumps to the next shield. I might be able to fix in an hour if I had the right parts and the pair wasn’t too bad.”

Kee was barely even trying anymore. Tikki had never claimed to know very much about shields and now she was diagnosing them. I wished she’d told Marcus back in the caves. I didn’t feel like pretending either. On the other hand, thanks to my implant, I knew the basics of shield technology if I thought about it and Tikki might not have an implant, but she had equivalent tech.

Maybe she was doing a perfect job and I was the problem.

Katuk stood next to Cassie and I. Over the implants, he said, “She must have some way to contact the Xiniti. If you check your implants’ tactical display you’ll find that our people are massing in spots around the edges of the Ascendancy’s forces. It looks as though we intend to attack certain units from both sides and then attack the main Ascendancy group from behind.”

Marcus broke in before I could reply. “Captain Tolker wants the three of you to come closer to the shelter—inside the inner ring if you can. He says to do it quickly, but be casual about it.”

Cassie laughed. “Right. We’ll do a casual retreat.”

“That’s what he’s suggesting.” Marcus shrugged.

Katuk, Cassie and I looked at each other. We weren’t far from the inner ring. If all Captain Tolker wanted was for us to be inside, it wouldn’t take much.

We moved, ash crunching under our feet as we made for the nearest open area between shield generators. We weren’t alone there at all. Ascendancy troops stood only ten feet away from us. They watched as we walked away, crossing over the line where the black and white ash ended and the normal dirt, grass, and leaf covered floor began.

They didn’t move to stop us, saying nothing either.

I didn’t feel safer as we crossed over, but I suspected that we must be or Tolker wouldn’t have made the request.

I checked Jadzen’s position. She’d passed beyond the inner shield ring and was walking toward a cluster of Ascendancy troops. Weffrik Aut, a seven foot tall Ascendancy soldier stood in front of the cluster. His hands held a rifle.

When she reached him, they stopped and began talking. I couldn’t hear them from this distance, but I could see their faces. Hers struck me as superficially friendly. She kept a controlled smile on it as she talked. Weffrik Aut’s face showed a wide smile as she walked up to him, but one that appeared increasingly uncertain as they talked.

By the end, he’d become expressionless. One of the nearby soldiers started talking and she replied to his question, leaving the soldier with his hand on his chin, staring at her.

I wondered if Jadzen might be so good that she’d be able to cut through whatever protections they had against her voice and take over the Ascendancy forces.

At the same time, I doubted we’d be that lucky.

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Semicoop

Dreaming big

Semicoop

 

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A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Feb 15, 2019 at 1:17pm PST

Ahh, one can dream… who knows? Maybe Netrunner will return one day? And if those ships have really passed, we would really love to see an Arkham Files themed movie! 😀 Somehow, some scenes of Fantastic Beasts really gave us those vibes.

Last week we decided to start off with Chronicles of Crime! At first, we didn’t want to start the game before we had finished Detective, but curiosity got the better of us. The tutorial was obviously really easy but explained the game well. One thing we noticed is that the scoring is very forgiving compared to, for example, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Detective. In the first scenario, there was one question we could have answered “better” and we still scored 130/100 points. The second case, we had one question completely wrong and we still scored 120/100 points. The bonus on solving a case relatively quickly seems to be a little bit too high. But nonetheless, we’ve really enjoyed the game and we were (positively) surprised how “dark” the plot was. We’re looking forward to playing the other cases!

ICYMI: The latest extra comics, sponsored by CoolStuffInc.com:
#018 – First Player

What game would you like to see be made into a movie?

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 23

In My Daydreams

What do you do when the moment you’ve been trying to avoid happens? This was literally all that we’d been trying to prevent from day one. Jadzen Akri would either surrender to the Ascendancy or die and there were so many soldiers that we probably wouldn’t be able to stop them.

It’s nice to imagine that you’d be able to pull a brilliant plan out of your butt in this situation, but when there’s nothing between you and hundreds, possibly thousands of enemy soldiers, you know better.

The reason you know better is that nothing is coming to mind at all.

At least that’s how I felt then.

You could argue that it could be worse. The Ascendancy troops on our side weren’t in any hurry to charge us after Cassie took her shot. The Abominator gun had burned through at least fifty of them in the short time Cassie had used it.

All that meant was that they’d target Cassie once they got over their shock.

I wasn’t at all sure what I’d do after I got over mine, but it turned out that I didn’t need to.

Jadzen Akri stood at the top of the shelter and said, “I surrender. If you’re willing to take me and only me, we’ll stop fighting.”

My suit buzzed, meaning that it was filtering out the command that went along with those words.

“You have to promise not to hurt anyone from the colony as I surrender or after as well as to leave the colony alone. You know that it’s only a matter of time before the Alliance brings enough ships to defeat you. They’re not going to allow the Ascendancy to take a piece of their territory.”

My implant assured me that she was correct about that. Losing territory to the Ascendancy would be a major black eye to whatever party was in power in the Alliance legislature now.

With Kamia dead, there wasn’t any reason to fear an attack on my implant. I turned on its network access, finding that I wasn’t the only one who had. I had messages waiting from the Xiniti on the planet. I resolved to listen to them when I had a spare second.

I didn’t at the moment.

In whatever part of my brain organized moments of worry, it struck me that Kamia might regenerate and so I glanced over at her body. I didn’t see a person. Only ash and her blackened, burnt and warped armor remained—that and her Abominator guns. They were glossy and undamaged.

In the ash that must once have been her head, I saw a glint of metal—probably an implant.

I turned my attention back to Jadzen, noting that in her hand she held the disc I’d given her, the one that called in my favor from the Waroo. It had changed color to a dull, flat black. From my implant, I knew that it had now been used. The device contained an ansible, allowing her to reach them anywhere they happened to be.

I wondered what she’d asked of them and if they were close enough to do any good.

From the other side of the shelter, a voice said, “I accept your offer. I’m Weffrik Aut of the Ascendant Guard, the current commanding officer of the Guard here and the acting commander of the Ascendancy’s ground forces.

“If you mean to surrender, leave your people and walk toward me.”

Jadzen climbed down from the top of the shelter, stopping to talk to Kals, Iolan, and a couple others.

Kals stood in front of her, saying something I probably could have listened to if I’d thought to zoom in on the sound at the time. It didn’t take sound to guess what she was saying. I got it all from the wideness of her eyes, the movement of her hands as she spoke, and the tension in her shoulders.

Her mother reached out and pulled her into a hug. It wasn’t long, but it was long enough. She said something to Kals as she pulled away.

Then Jadzen stepped around her and began walking toward the Ascendancy troops. The colonists stepped out of her way, many of them saying a few words, bow, or touch her armored shoulder as she passed.

They knew she was doing it for them, but I doubted they’d seen the disc.

Cassie turned to me and I heard her voice in my head. “We should do something. I wish I knew what—”

BURN THEM? An echo of the gun’s voice traveled over the link.

Cassie rolled her eyes. “I wish it were that simple, but after all she said about not doing what she’s doing right now, she’s got to have an angle. I don’t know what it is. Do you?”

“She called in my favor from the Waroo, but I’ve no clue what she asked them to do.”

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 22

In My Daydreams

Nick, Outside the Inner Ring of Shelter 454

Kamia’s mouth tightened and Katuk’s left leg kicked out. He fell over sideways into the ash. Glancing at me with a frown, she pointed her gun toward Katuk, intending, I assumed, to finish him off.

I aimed myself at her and activated the rockets (which had never gone inactive), making it the second time I’d tried that on her, but also the second time it worked.

It didn’t work as well as the first time, but I did hit her and she didn’t finish Katuk off. Her shield surrounded her, allowing me to knock her over, but not to do any real damage. Unlike earlier, her shield wasn’t sphere shaped, so she didn’t roll backward—not on the shield anyway.

She flipped over, coming down on her feet as I flew over her. I tapped the button on my palm that brought me upright and the suit’s internal systems flipped me over, leaving me floating above the ground, pointing in Kamia’s direction.

She turned her head, keeping both Katuk and me in view. He’d stood up again and his leg had stopped wobbling, bits of ash sticking to his silver armor. For a moment, I couldn’t tell whether Kamia viewed Katuk or me as the bigger threat.

But then the moment ended. Kamia pointed her gun at Katuk. It made sense. Even though I floated behind her, Katuk stood between her and the inner ring of shields.

Ignoring whatever pain she must have felt in her collarbone, she ran toward him as his body wobbled again. He fell to the ground, getting off a shot that shattered against her shield.

It wasn’t as if just stood there doing nothing, though. I dropped to the ground, firing off a laser beam at almost the same time I activated sonics on the other arm.

In the chaos of the moment, I didn’t get the sequence quite right. To get the most out of the laser, I should have fired it only after I knew her shield had gone down, but I knew I couldn’t wait that long.

She’d be at Katuk before I shot her at all if I waited. I fired both devices, hoping the laser might interact with the sonics and the shield, taking the shield down or at least distracting her.

I aimed the laser at her head to make it more distracting.

It didn’t matter, but not because Kamia wasn’t distracted. The shield did react to the sonics. For lack of a better word, it vibrated. My implant provided hundreds of new concepts and terminology related to force field design and implementation along with relevant equations.

Technically, “vibrated” didn’t cut it as an accurate description, but outside of specialized technical discussions, it worked.

Her Abominator shield reflected my laser in all directions, but mostly upward, making the day even brighter and throwing lines of light into the colony’s shield. They crackled as they hit.

For all that, she still didn’t have time to shoot Katuk as he lay on the ground, struggling to bring his own weapons to bear. It wasn’t because the sonics took down the shield, allowing the laser beam through. It wasn’t because I gave up and punched the shield. I didn’t have time to try that.

It was because Cassie appeared out of nowhere, ducked under the laser light reflecting off Kamia’s head and cut through the shield, sticking her sword through Kamia’s armor and into Kamia’s chest.

When Cassie pulled out the sword, Kamia fell, losing more blood than I’d thought a body could contain. It pooled on the ground next to her body.

I remembered seeing Cassie leave the inner ring when we got close to the shields but I’d lost track of her.

Katuk pulled himself up, pointing his arms outward, ignoring Cassie and me. We didn’t feel bad about it at all. The problem with killing the leader of this group of the Ascendant Guard was that when she died someone else received a field promotion and whoever that person was, they didn’t like us.

The Ascendant Guard and all the nearest Ascendancy soldiers charged us, firing their weapons. Katuk fired back and so did I, but Kamia’s death had one more side effect. We didn’t have to feel afraid of using alien tech anymore.

Cassie pulled out her gun and pointed it in the direction of the charging soldiers. The bright beam burned anything that stood in front of her. In moments like that, you almost wish that your helmet didn’t dim the light enough to allow you to see all of it.

I’m not going to go into detail, but the Guard’s shields did not hold. Bodies turned to ash before my eyes. People screamed. The charge stopped in its tracks, allowing us to aim for an opening in the shield.

We turned and ran for it, allowing us all to be looking in the right direction when a group of Ascendancy soldiers hit one of the shields on the far side with a shield ram.

It does exactly what you’d expect. The shield went down on the far side and then, one by one, all the other shields winked out.

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Semicoop

Gaming Valentine

Semicoop

 

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A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Feb 8, 2019 at 3:51pm PST

It’s almost Valentine! And any board game can be romantic… with a little rhyming skill as we’d like to show with this week’s comic! And who knew that Cragheart from Gloomhaven had a soft side to him? 😉 In 2016, we’ve published our first board game poems which were about Netrunner and Eldritch Horror.

Last Friday there was a board game night at our local bouldering hall! We had a blast and played thematic games like K2, The Climbers and other fun games like Sakura and Dinosaur Tea Party. People were enthusiastic about the game night and they’re thinking about doing this on a more regular basis! Yay! It’s so great to see people get enthusiastic over playing games and having a great time. 🙂

This game night made up for our lack of playing games this week because I was simply too busy with work. We did play a game of Arraial last night and this time we did not forget the 2-player rule to take out eight cards. Last time we played it, we were already wondering why the rounds took so long, whoops!

This week we’ll continue our Gloomhaven campaign and hopefully, Heinze and I manage to squeeze in some more board gaming time.

 

ICYMI: The latest extra comics, sponsored by CoolStuffInc.com:
#017 – Ready to Ride

Share your board gaming poems with us in the comments!

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 21

In My Daydreams

Admiral Makri Tzin, Human Ascendancy Flagship, Hideaway System

Admiral Makri cringed as the flagship’s alarms began to ring again, watching his screen as more ships came out of jump.

There shouldn’t be that many ships ready to jump into this system, he told himself.

Despite the inertial dampers, he still felt it as the flagship accelerated and turned along with the rest of the fleet, changing formation to protect the Xiniti fleet’s most likely targets.

The Ascendancy reinforcements and the Alliance fleet that had followed them had changed everything and nothing. It had looked good in the first few seconds when he’d seen Ascendancy carriers and battleships materialize. When the Alliance battleships followed them through, all of them Hrrnna designed and manufactured, he’d known it was about to become more complicated.

It had. It turned out that the Ascendancy fleet hadn’t been one fleet but two—the Third and Fourth Edge Fleets, both of them recalled from patrolling the edges of the Human Quarantine to fight here.

As for the Alliance fleet, it had similar numbers to the Ascendancy fleet, but he could only make guesses as to the organization. The Ascendancy often fought Alliance forces, but that was mostly Xiniti or the Alliance Quarantine fleet which was designed to face Ascendancy forces. He knew those ship designs.

This fleet had no consistency. It had all of the standard, rectangular Hrrnna designed Alliance ships, but also ships shaped like spheres, saucers, wedges, and ramshackle designs that could never survive any atmosphere.

What he’d wanted to believe is that the Alliance was low on ships and thrown together their emergency reserves to fight here. It took only seconds of fighting for him to abandon that theory. The ships fought well, coordinated with each other as if they’d trained for years, and kept in formation.

Seeing that, he knew what they were. Everyone knew that the Xiniti patrolled the Human Quarantine, keeping the Ascendancy from expanding beyond the borders the Alliance had set after defeating the Abominators. He’d always assumed that the Alliance was weak, letting the Xiniti handle their problems, but this put a lie to that statement.

If he’d been in the Alliance’s position and if the Alliance weren’t weak, he’d have set up a force ready to take up the slack in case of emergency. Say, in case the Ascendancy united the human states within the Quarantine and decided to expand.

That’s what the Alliance fleet was—a multi-species force designed to work with the Xiniti. Admiral Makri doubted this was anything more than a small part of it. If he survived, he’d have to make that clear to the Ascendancy leadership. They had plans for what to do when they united humanity, but if they weren’t planning for this. They needed to.

Between the Alliance fleet and the new Ascendancy fleets, he wasn’t in a much better position than before they’d come out of jump. Certainly, there was more potential for cooperation than before, but the reality of the situation was that they’d left him to fight the Xiniti in almost the same situation as he’d been before they came through.

In many ways, it was now harder because a skirmish from their battle could interfere with his.

Instead of the game changer he’d been hoping for when they’d come through, he was back in the same place, slowly losing ships to the Xiniti.

He needed to do something. He checked the screens to find out what had just come through—more Xiniti. The ships peeled off to assist the Alliance. He’d have felt relief at that except that it meant that the Xiniti ships facing his fleet needed no assistance.

He’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but he had a mission.

Using his implant, he queried the most recent reports from the surface. Kamia had organized an attack on Jadzen’s position. They’d taken the outer ring and were hoping to destroy the inner ring soon.

It wasn’t going as quickly as they’d hoped. The colonists and their Xiniti helpers were resisting. No one knew how long they’d be able to keep it up. He needed to be ready in case it failed.

He connected to his implant, telling the battle computer to start simulating the reactions to different versions of his orders. “The core of it all is this.   We need to hold the space around the planet. We can’t let the colony survive if they defeat our ground forces. I need to know the different problems we might face if we try to burn the planet black when our forces down there lose.”

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 20

In My Daydreams

Kamia’s shield’s collapse surprised me almost as much as it did her, but I knew that it might be coming and more to the point, I was flying straight at her.

Of course, the fact that she didn’t expect her shield to go down, didn’t mean she wouldn’t try to dodge. When you considered that she’d been fighting Xiniti and winning, she had to be more than who owned Abominator weapons.

Even as I closed with her and despite the Rocket’s suit’s speed, she moved. She didn’t move enough to avoid being hit, but she did move enough to avoid taking both my fists to the middle of the chest.

I hit her in the left shoulder.

Her body armor didn’t protect her enough. Dull red, accented with black at the edges, it cracked as I hit her and to my ears so did she.

Technically, I heard it through my helmet’s internal speakers, but it was a moot point because I wasn’t wrong about that. I’d hit hard enough that a chunk of her armor had shattered and fallen off. I could see jagged white bone poking out through her skin underneath.

I didn’t absorb that all when I hit her shoulder,  and knocked her sideways, twisting left to avoid the blue of the inner ring of shields. Then  I dropped to the ground, running at her even as I wondered if she’d still be standing after that hit.

I’d broken her collarbone. Lee had made me break different bones in practice enough times that I knew what it looked like.

She should have issues with using the arm at the very least. She probably wouldn’t be able to use it at all. If I broke the other collarbone as well, or maybe a leg, she might have to surrender.

At least that’s what I told myself. In reality, it couldn’t be that simple. Her shield flickered back on and as it did, Kamia pushed the piece of collarbone back inside her skin with her other hand, grimacing as she pushed the broken halves back together.

I’d seen that before too—mostly when I fought Lee or even sometimes Cassie in practice. Kamia could regenerate.

Worse than that, while I’d shot all the nearest Ascendancy soldiers in their helmets, distracting them, distractions like that don’t last very long. They last for seconds and we were past that point.

Two Ascendancy soldiers, Ascendant Guard members judging from the shields glowing close to their bodies, swung around to run at me. Both of them were nine feet tall if my HUD was to be believed. That meant bigger than Travis, my previous standard for large, intimidating humans with claws.

Wearing the Rocket suit put me on the level with people larger than I normally was, but not this large.

They stood in between me and Kamia, blocking her from my view. It would have been nice if they were the only ones who’d had that idea, but far from it, all the nearby Ascendancy soldiers were heading my way.

In that moment, the smart choice might have been to activate the rockets and do some “strategic repositioning,”—otherwise known as retreating.

As good an idea as that might have been, it didn’t occur to me. I knew Kamia stood behind the two giants ahead of me and I knew I had to stop her from getting near the inner shield ring.

So I didn’t fly over them, I aimed the laser under my arm at one of them and put it on full power while bathing the guy in sonics meant to attack his shield.

This wasn’t an Abominator shield. It fell under the combined assault and the beam pierced the Guardsman’s armor and chest. From the soldier’s wide-eyed expression, that wasn’t what he’d expected to happen.

He fell over and I turned my attention to the other Guardsman. At any rate, I tried to do that. No matter how much downing the first Guard member might have surprised the other, he hadn’t stuck around to think about it.

He’d started moving almost from the moment I fired, running towards me with his claws out, throwing clouds of ash into the air with his every step.

In one of those sequences you hear about or sometimes see on TV, everything around me slowed down and I realized that he moved faster than I could react. There was no way I’d be able to dodge his claws. His claws glinted with the same gray color I knew from Haley’s claws. I didn’t know how strong this member of the Ascendant Guard was, but knowing that he was larger than Travis, he might be stronger.

I couldn’t assume that his claws wouldn’t pierce my armor. Travis’ could under the right circumstances.

I leaned leftward, hoping I could catch him with the sonics or the laser beam before his right claw met my chest.

It didn’t work, but not because he hit me. It didn’t work because I was no longer alone. Twin beams of burning light hit the Guardsman’s shield and it fell. Katuk’s beams cut into the Guardsman’s legs and the body toppled.

Katuk stood next to me as Kamia pointed her gun at us.

Not one for long flowery speeches, Katuk met her eyes and said, “One of us will get you.”

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Tieshaunn

Breaking Point 14.6

Tieshaunn

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Lady Light’s glowing form slammed into a growing stone-form that’d begun literally growing out of thin air around DiL, to the size of a five-story building in an instant, and disintegrated the whole thing in a blaze of light.

In the back of Basil’s calmed mind, he felt a short ache, as DiL changed her powers moments after assuming them, only to do so yet again when Lady Light disrupted her new abilities, before Basil could even see anything.

”Did you know your mother could do that?” he asked Gloom Glimmer, referring to that massive wave of light.

She took a step back from him, her cheeks red with tears and warmth, brushing her hair back behind her ears. “No. Yes. Kind of?” she temporized, seeming off-kilter. “In theory. I know she can, but I’ve never seen her do it, and it’s really risky to use it like thi-“ She realised she was babbling and clamped her mouth shut, her teeth making a sharp ‘click’.

Basil smiled at her, trying to be reassuring, even as his mind fired on all cylinders.

He really felt way too good. Prisca’s death, his failure, Amy, his memory… it was all still there, but for the first time he could remember, he felt like he could deal with all of that.

He also knew that this wasn’t how her aura was supposed to work. It bolstered those aligned with her, while weakening those which were opposed, but he’d never heard of it having this profound an effect on someone… another power interaction, perhaps?

Something to look into – if Lady Light, of all people, couldn’t help him solve his issues, then no one could. Especially if the theory he was building in regards to her power was correct.

Gloom Glimmer leaned in closer, looking concerned, as if trying to look deeper into him. Maybe she literally was, who knew? “Are you… are you still… you? You seem… different. From usual. And from… that time Osore hit you… too.”

”Mmmhm. Yeah. Your mother’s aura is having the oddest effect on me. Like the opposite of what your sister’s aura was doing to me, only even more so.” He chuckled in a way he’d never do, normally. Carefree. “I can not even remember the last time I felt so… light.”

He turned his head away, looking out over the rooftops. “Anyway, we should go to Hecate and Polymnia. Join up and figure out what to do.”

”Y-yeah.”

”Do I need to carry you?” he asked her, turning back to look at her again as she walked up to stand by his side.

She blushed again. “N-no. Thank you. I don’t have much power, right now, but I can still hop some roofs.” As if to underline that, she took off, running and leaping over the gap between their and the next house’s roof, moving as nimbly as any parkour runner.

He looked after her, blinking in surprise; then he shrugged and followed her.

***

They reached Polymnia and Hecate – both fortunately alive and well – within a minute.

Before anyone could say anything, Gloom Glimmer all but jumped at her friend, who equally rushed towards her, and they embraced each other so tightly, Polymnia actually lifted Gloom Glimmer off her feet (she was taller than her while in armor).

Basil joined Hecate while the two girl friends exchanged quick words, clearly intensily relieved that the other one was still alright.

”Hey,” Hecate greeted him again, giving him a brief hug. He wanted to hug her back, properly, but he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be quite comfortable with that right then, so he just gave her a one-armed squeeze. “How’s…” She trailed off, her eyes flicking from him to the other two girls.

”Much better,” he replied, releasing the breath he’d held. “Lady Light’s aura is lessening the effect, if not countering it outright.”

”Oh. That’s good,” she sighed, relieved. “So, no more nosebleeding?”

He tilted his head to the side. “I should have thought of checking that,” he said after a brief delay and took his mask off again.

“Let me,” Hecate interrupted him when he began to reach up, pulling a delicate green handkerchief from her bag. Spitting on it, she rubbed at his upper lip, nose and chin. “Just some dried blood,” she told him, while he held still, having experienced one of Vasiliki’s little ‘cleansings’ before, and learned that it was futile to resist. “Seems like the bleeding has stopped, yeah.” She smiled in relief, pulling her hand back and showing him the dark stains on it.

”Thank you. That is a relief,” he replied. DiL changed her powers again, halfway through the reply, and he sent another signal through the device the Dark gave him.

”You’re different,” she observed, her eyes hidden underneath the enchanted shadows of her hood. “Is everything… I mean, are you still… you?” She sounded afraid as she asked, though he couldn’t tell whether she was afraid he might be someone else, or that she might offend or anger him by asking, or both.

”I am pretty sure I am,” he tried to assuade her, smiling to take the tension out of it as much as he could. “It is not like I have recovered any memory that is missing, but… my head seems clearer.” He turned said head to look at the distant battle. Lights were flashing, and he was pretty sure that Lady Light was wielding a glowing sword the size of a schoolbus, using it to literally slice DiL’s current defense apart – some manner of fractals in the air, visible only by how they were distorting light around them, rather than due to reflecting it directly.

A dull ache announced another change in powers, and Lady Light reacted faster than Basil could press the button, letting that huge blade dissolve into light and reforming it into something too small to make out at this distance.

”Yeah, her aura is… I mean… wow. I didn’t know she could crank it up like this,” Hecate replied, whispering in awe. “She must be covering the entire area inside the Desolation Field.”

Another dull ache, a second after whatever Lady Light used now impacted some kind of distorted shadow inbetween her and DiL, dispersing it with a massive, yet silent shockwave.

“I don’t know how long she can keep it up, though,” Gloom Glimmer interjected, stepping closer to them, her right hand clasping Polymnia’s left, tightly. “She must be burning the candle on both ends to get this kind of output, and I… I don’t know why she’d be so reckless, this time.” She looked quite troubled.

“Maybe because you’re here,” Polymnia suggested, her voice soothing. “She launched that wave the moment you were in danger of actually being hurt, didn’t she?”

Gloom Glimmer’s shoulders slumped, along with her head.

Before anyone could follow up on that, they were interrupted by static crackle from Memento’s communication devices.

To all those who are still able to fight,the Dark’s multi-layered voice spoke to them, made even stranger than usual by coming from multiple speakers at once. We are preparing a significant attack on DiL. Lady Light is going to buy us the time we need to do so. Until you are given the signal to attack, conserve your strength, take care of each other and prepare yourselves.

“This is Rounds speaking,” the leader of the New Lennston United Heroes followed up, sounding winded, but still determined. “I concur with the Dark’s plan. Everyone, take care of yourselves and each other. Stand strong and don’t give up hope.”

“An attack…” Gloom Glimmer whispered, her gaze still focused downwards, mostly at her feet. “I’ve never heard him phrase any move against Bree like that,” she elaborated, when the others looked curiously at her, though she didn’t raise her head. “Could he actually have a plan to… get at her?”

Her voice was thick with a mess of emotions Basil couldn’t even begin to decipher. Though he was pretty certain guilt factored in.

He’d become all too familiar with guilt, lately.

”But, what could… how… she’s untouchable!” Hecate protested.

”Hanabi was able to affect her, during the Okinawa fight,” Basil interjected. “And no one has heard from him, since. It might be that he’s been preparing some kind of weapon, maybe even a Magnum Opus.”

”That sounds like something Dad would do,” Gloom Glimmer agreed. “Track him or her down and whisk them away to prepare for this.”

They all took a moment to digest that, the only motion between them being Basil’s fingers when he signaled another change of powers.

”Wow.” The simple whisper was all that Hecate seemed able to say, in response.

“That’s… really amazing, really… but what do we do?” Polymnia asked, her right hand’s fingers tapping out the words while her eyes were on Gloom Glimmer, her expression concerned. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but apart from Gloomy, we’ve all been pretty useless so far, and she’s out of power for now. Or nearly so.”

Hecate took a deep breath, holding her staff close to her chest with both hands, as her hood briefly twitched towards Basil, before focusing on the other girls instead. “I think… we should just, try to protect people. Get them out harm’s way, wherever we can. Search and rescue.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was doing before. Rounds has all the juniors – except Gloomy – on Search and Rescue. Not that I wouldn’t do it anyway, I’m pretty good at it. Tracking people via sounds and all, I can do that, and I have the strength to carry them to safety,” Polymnia just kept speaking, until she suddenly stopped, blushing when she realised she’d started rambling.

Hecate nodded, straightening up a bit. “Alright, let’s-“

”Someone is coming,” Basil interjected, a mere moment before a blur rushed up onto the roof and crossed over to them so quickly none had a chance to react, before it slowed down and stopped.

”Yo, glad  to see you’re still alive!” Outstep greeted them, his grin visible as he wasn’t wearing his usual racer-inspired helmet, instead donning a red-tinted visor covering the upper half of his face. “I’m running high-speed evac to the medical station, who needs a trip?”

“We’re all fine, thank you,” Polymnia replied, looking him over. “Glad to see you’re still alive… I think.”

”Aw, come on now, Jugs,” he grinned, blurring over to her right side, one arm wrapped around her shoulders, “We both know you’d be inconsolable if I actually croaked off.”

She turned her head, looking at him with a saccharine smile. “Call me ‘Jugs’ again and I’ll liquefy your balls from the inside out,” she spoke in her usual, chipper tone of voice.

He stepped back from her, raising his arms as if in surrender. “Alright, alright.” He looked them all over again, still smirking. “So, anyone need some rapid transit, if not medical evac?”

They all shook their heads, even Gloom Glimmer.

”A-are you sure?” Hecate asked her. “Polymnia said you’re almost out of power…”

Outsteps gaze snapped over to his dark-haired teammate. “That true, princess?”

She gave him an annoyed look – a glare, almost – and Basil was actually surprised he didn’t physically feel the temperature drop between them.

”I’m fine,” she all but snarled. “Got two new powers already. I’m good to go.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” he replied, deadpan. “But seriously, if you need a timeout, tell me. You ain’t no use to anyone if you get yourself killed by your mass-murderin’ sissy. Nevermind what your dad will do to me if he thinks me the least bit responsible for it.”

Gloom Glimmer’s left eye twitched when he mentioned her sister, but she just turned away from him. “I’m staying, as are the others. So go help someone who actually needs your help, Outstep.”

He shrugged, looking them all over one more time. “Alright. God be with you, Gearhead, Witchgirl, Princess, Jugs.” He turned into a blur and rushed down from the rooftop, before anyone could react.

“He’s such an asshole,” Polymnia complained quietly.

”He kind of reminds me of some of my relatives,” Hecate whispered, lowering her head. “One of my uncles and his sons are pretty much all like that.” She sighed.

Basil put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it gently. “Your family is way too stubborn to die,” he told her, softly.

She choked on a laugh, her shoulders shaking briefly. “Y-yeah. You’re right.” She took in a deep breath, squaring her shoulders. “Let’s get going.”

“Yes, let’s,” Gloom Glimmer agreed, as the air began to shimmer and distort around her, though curiously – at least, to Basil – her eyes remained blue on white.

He wished he could just sit down with her and talk about her power, try to determine the ins and outs of it. Maybe run some tests, put her under some of his scanners…

Not the time, not the time, he admonished himself. Not that it ever seems to be the time.

Instead of pursuing that line of thought, he checked his communicator, as did the others, to see where Memento thought they could do the most good, each of them requesting the system give them search and rescue tasks.

Unsurprisingly, there were loads of them.

“I suppose we ought to split up,” he commented, seeing the sheer volume of the requests for help.

“No,” Hecate countered. “At least, not entirely. We should go in pairs, I think, so we can support each other.”

“True en-” He was interrupted as the ground shook, causing them all to stumble before they caught their balance again. The buildings beneath and around them groaned, what window panes remained unbroken shattered, but the overall structures held. “Hrm, this is only going to get worse. Yes, I agree, we should go in pairs.”

“I think I should go with Hecate,” Polymnia spoke up, causing them all to look at her in surprise. She just shrugged at their questioning looks. “Don’t look at me like that. I think it makes sense to split so there’s only one gadgeteer to a pair, in case our tech does break down after all. That is still a threat, being within the Desolation Field. And I think I should be the one to go with Hecate, because I have more functioning tech left than Brennus, so I can support her better, while he will have Gloomy to cover him.”

Basil exchanged looks with the other two. “It does make sense,” he agreed with his fellow gadgeteer.

“I suppose we ought to get going, then,” Hecate said, looking at him one more time. “Good luck and… don’t die. Seriously.”

“I will not die. That is a promise,” he replied, calmly, as his eyes briefly found hers in the shadows of her hood.

Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia exchanged similar words, before they split up, the two girls running off and leaping onto the next rooftop.

”Let’s not dawdle,” Gloom Glimmer said softly, her eyes following her friend until she dropped down to the street.

”Aye.”

They left towards their own target.

***

“You didn’t have to do that,” Hecate whispered to Polymnia, once they hit the street and started running. Using the occasional smoke-leap, she was easily able to keep pace with the physically superior gadgeteer, even had the advantage now and then, when they had to cross particularly treachery spots, like collapsed buildings or car wrecks melted together into jagged spikes, and worse.

“Perhaps not, but I think it’s for the best,” Polymnia replied in a conversational tone, once again at odds with what she was actually doing, running and leaping in the direction the arrows on their armbads were showing them. “I know things are messed up between you two right now. Some distance might be good, so you can get some perspective. And so you won’t be getting too distracted while on mission.”

Hecate blushed, glad that the (slightly) younger girl couldn’t see it under her hood. I’m such a mess.

”Thank you,” was all she said in return, her voice thick with emotions she couldn’t really put to words, even if she’d tried.

Somehow, she was quite sure Polymnia got it, anyway, as she just smiled at her and said, “Don’t worry too much. I’m sure it will work out.”

They turned a corner, and immediately saw where they were meant to help – a five-storey building had collapsed inwards, rubble piling up into a mound the size of a two-storey building, but even without Polymnia’s hearing, Hecate could make out people screaming from within.

“We’ll have to dig them out carefully,” Hecate said to Polymnia, the two of them walking up to the rubble. “If we’re too careless, it might collapse entirely and crush the people within.”

“I can hear children in there,” Polymnia stated with a serious expression, stepping forth and climbing onto the rubble. “Let’s start from the top and work our way down.”

Hecate joined her, as they got to work as quickly as they could. “How does Gloom Glimmer do it?” she asked in a whisper which a normal person would likely not have understood, even if they’d been leaning in to listen.

“How does Gloom Glimmer do what?”

***

“How do you deal with your father being who he is?” Basil clarified as he and Gloom Glimmer jogged down the street, pushed onwards by her power, which was generating sonic waves that reflected off the buildings and street around and beneath them, coming back to push the air against the two of them from behind, buyoing them onwards and onwards.

Gloom Glimmer, whose long-legged strides would have been entirely silent even while running, with her feet being essentially clad in soft – if padded – almost velvet-like fabric rather than proper shoes, kept quiet for a few seconds, easily keeping pace with him, her billowing, heavy cape only magnifying the effect of the pressure from behind, even if it occasionally looked a little silly how it’d push at her and flutter around.

Just when he thought she might not have heard him over the melodic, drum-like waves of sound she generated, she opened her mouth again.

***

“She doesn’t, really,” Polymnia replied quietly, looking sad even as she continued to tear through the rubble, tossing chunks the size of her torso aside as if they weighed nothing. “He’s her daddy, but he’s the Dark. She loves him, but he’s a murderer and enabler of murderers, and all kinds of other criminals and crimes. She wants him to be proud of her, but she can’t feel that way about him. It’s a real mess.”

”I… I guess,” Hecate replied, surprised, in spite of having asked in the first place, that she got such a reply. Even so, her arms and hips kept working, lifting off broken pieces of concrete with rebars and wiring sticking out or attached to them, not as quickly or as easily as Polymnia, but faster than normal. “I didn’t actually think you’d…”

“She’d want me to tell you,” Polymnia assured her, softly. “Perhaps hoping that it’d help you work through what you found out about Brennus.”

Hecate choked, swallowing, her eyes stinging with tears – and it wasn’t the dust causing them. “I just… I don’t understand how… how he could keep it from me, for so long… and… even though I told him otherwise… even though I really, really get family, I… she’s so… how can he just… accept her, after all that she’s done?”

***

”I do not, really,” Basil echoed Gloom Glimmer’s own reply, while using the gauntlet on his left arm to smash through the shards still stuck to the frame of a broken window in the third storey of a small apartment building, his getting carried off by Gloom Glimmer’s power and over to where she was helping two older men carry their respective wives out of a shattered supermarket, leaving trails of bloody footprints behind them.

”You don’t mean that like I did,” Gloom Glimmer observed, somehow, even over the distance.

Basil climbed into the apartment. The window had been broken by the body of a cape, who’d been sent flying through it and landed on a couch opposite of the window with such force, the couch had shattered and he’d smashed into the wall.

Kneeling next to him, Basil quickly examined the young man – perhaps just a teen, though older than himself, he was wearing an outfit reminding him of a classic Wild West Gunslinger, with a zig-zagging, blood-red pattern worked into his black leather pants and matching vest and hat, as well as a red scarf wrapped around his lower face, to hide his identity. He was still holding onto a heavy, magnum-sized revolver in his right hand. Basil could see three blood-red bullets in the cylinder, as well as burned, cracked brown in the other three, likely already spent shots.

He might have been a cowl, considering the dark tones and harsh lines of his outfit, or perhaps one of the ‘edgy’ kind of capes that were all the rage in the USA these years.

Either way, the bleeding wound on the back of his head looked bad, and he was likely only alive because the couch had cushioned his impact.

Basil was quite sure he should have bled out by now, considering how much blood was on the wall behind him, on the floor around him and sticking to the back of his head, but he hadn’t. Perhaps some enhanced toughness or low-level regeneration.

It wasn’t doing him much good beyond barely keeping him alive, though, so he used his first aid supplies to wrap up his head, sheathed his revolver in its hip holster and then carefully lifted him up over his shoulder.

One wasn’t supposed to move injured people, especially not in such a fashion, but it was liable to be less dangerous to him than remaining there, unconscious and unable to get to safety if the destruction spread here.

“What I mean is that I have not been, nor am I dealing with it,” Basil continued the conversation, walking to the door with his unconscious cargo, straining a bit under the man’s weight. “I have been telling myself that she is my sister, that I love her and she me and that that should come first. Some half-formed but never pursued thoughts of redeeming her. Add a great deal of procrastination on the subject and spotty memories, and…”

He opened the door easily enough, from inside, stepping out into the stairwell and immediately making his way down.

”And that’s not all,” Gloom Glimmer’s voice reached him, so clear it was like she was sitting walking right next to him. “You mentioned issues with your memory. Malign ones, most likely. Do you think someone is actively manipulating you?”

She left it unsaid that his sister was the most obvious candidate for such manipulation, but he knew she thought of that possibility.

He would have liked to defend her, to say that Amy wouldn’t do such a thing, that she herself was being affected… except now, thinking – reasonably – clearly for the first time he could remember, he was honest enough to admit that…

”Yes, I think so. And yes, much as I hate to think so, Amy may well be responsible. I think she is also being manipulated, but it would hardly be a challenge for her to pretend that she is, on the off-chance that I might become suspicious,” he replied, and his heart broke a little to admit it out loud.

God, I wish Henry was here. He gets this stuff so much better than I ever could.

He stopped, just a step away from the front door of the building.

Where’d that thought come from? Who was Henry, and why…

No time. Focus on the here and now.

“I can feel… something, off,” Gloom Glimmer said, percussive air helping him move faster towards her and the four survivors she’d found. “I’m sorry, I might be able to do more, but I’m running on fumes here. But there’s definitely something or someone connected to your mind that’s not supposed to… but it’s so subtle, I would never have noticed it, if I didn’t know to look for it in the first place.”

He joined her and the other four, handing the wounded metahuman off to one of the two men, whose wife could walk on her own, and described to them how to get to the next teleportation node, based on the map that he’d seen when he’d used Memento’s network himself, while applying some first aid to them – the other man’s wife was worse off, with a cut on her thigh quite close to a major artery, and a bad hit to the head, but there was just no time for him and Gloom Glimmer to escort them, not when they could move on their own and there were so many other people to help.

”Focus,” he admonished her, gently, without accusation in his voice, watching the survivors leave. “There’s more important things to worry about, right now.” He looked at his armband, and saw that the arrow was pointing him down the road, opposite of where the survivors had gone.

She looked at him, her gaze so overflowing with sympathy and sadness it made him flinch – inwardly, at least. “There always are, aren’t there?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“Hrm.”

***

After nearly five minutes of careful work – and some rather close calls, when the ongoing battle shook the ground and threatened to collapse the rubble – Hecate hit something weird.

The concrete shifted and revealed… nothing. And yet there was something there, something flat, hard and invisible, through which she could see some movement deeper within, obstructing her progress.

“Some kind of force field?”

Polymnia stopped and leaned over, taking a look. “Something’s been preventing me from mapping the insides of the rubble with sonar… perhaps that’s it?”

“Can somebody hear us!?” a voice shouted from within, a young woman’s, perhaps. “Please, you’ve got to move the rubble aside! I don’t think he can hold out much longer! Don’t worry about it collapsing!”

Hecate looked at Polymnia, who seemed as surprised as she herself felt.

“Might as well,” Polymnia stated, and they leapt off the rubble, starting to just tear it away by main force, throwing aside chunks from the base.

Within seconds, the rubble shifted and slid off… an invisible box, about the size of a minivan, outlined by dust.

Within were eight civilians – two women and six younger children, all of kindergarten age – sitting on the ground, and a man standing in the center, his legs spread apart, his arms reaching out, palms facing  away from him, as if pushing against something.

He was wearing black pants with suspenders and a horizontally striped white shirt with black stripes, as well as white and black make-up on his face and oily black hair now matted with blood.

“Le Pantomime!” Polymnia called out, rushing forward as the box disappeared, and the man fell forward.

She caught him as gently as she could, and Hecate stepped up as well, worried. She’d heard of the hero from France – he was quite famous, even across the pond.

To her horror, she saw a terrible wound on the left side of his head – she could actually see a bit of his brain!

“How… how is he still…” She gulped, staring at him.

“He saved us… caught the rubble when it collapsed, after a piece hit him on the head,” the woman who’d called out earlier explained. Hecate barely spared her a glance, since she didn’t seem to be hurt, but she was pretty sure they’d happened upon a daycare of some sort. She kind of looked like a daycare worker, to her, not that she’d ever been in an actual daycare.

“We’ll get him the help he needs,” Polymnia soothed them, calmly, her eyes on the teary-eyed children clinging to the two women. “And we’ll get you all to safety, I promise.”

Hecate nodded, kneeling down to take care of the children. That was something she had experience with, at least.

***

Basil leapt over a slagged car wreck, following the arrow on his armband, moving on his own for now – their armbands had sent him and Gloom Glimmer in opposite directions, and he could only hope that they’d be reunited after, but for now, he was on his own.

They’d been guided to four more crisis points, after he’d saved the gunslinger, and had managed to get no less than nine people to safety, capes, cowls and civilians both, though they’d come across several corpses as well.

Gloom Glimmer had taken those much harder than Basil had – he couldn’t rightly say that he was all that upset about seeing dead people, much as that unnerved him.

Reaching a street corner, the arrow rotated, guiding him towards a roundabout, when it suddenly disappeared.

The display said ‘Target Deceased – Await New Directions’.

Not again.

He started to move back, tapping his fingers as he felt DiL change powers yet again – the fifth time this minute – and started to move back towards where he’d split from Gloom Glimmer, just in case, when his armband beeped.

Looking down at it, he saw a new arrow pointing away from where he’d come.

Great. I really hope you know where you’re guiding me, Memento.

He ran through the shattered streets, his progress much slower than he would have liked – there were cracks and fissures all over, and parts had been flooded where pipes had burst open.

There were corpses everywhere. Floating in the water, slumped over broken cars, mailboxes, torn apart by huge claws or impaled on shards of glass or rebar, and worse besides. Men, women and children, dead by the dozens. Hundreds or thousands, probably, across the city.

There was nothing he could do for them, so he moved on, following the arrow, while regularly glancing at the flickering, often distorting feed from his ravenbot, flying far above, keeping an eye towards the battle, so he’d have at least a moments’ warning to dodge, if anything came his way.

At least Lady Light seems to have DiL well in hand for now, he thought, only to immediately chide himself for jinxing it.

As if to affirm it, he felt a sudden drop in air pressure, at the same time as he sensed DiL changing her powers again, followed by the building to his right all but disintegrating as a projectile shot through it faster than the sonic boom that followed it, blasting his ravenbot out of the air.

Basil managed to avoid instant death just barely, reversing his boots’ wall-walking function yet again – and even so, he would likely have been hit, at the very least losing his legs as he shot backwards, if he hadn’t been gripped by an additional force and pushed away faster.

Dust and debris filled his field of view, the street cracking – but they could not hide the white glow within, light blazing forth so powerfully it penetrated even the thickest dust cloud, turning billows of gray matter into something almost ethereal.

He landed on his feet, barely managing to catch himself, and staring at the center of the glowing dust cloud.

DiL’s presence was all but entirely gone from his mind, the pressure she created entirely blotted out by her aura, as she rose out of the dust, a humanoid figure shrouded in so many layers of nearly solid, sometimes liquid, light, it was impossible to make out any details, her side towards him as she flew up and towards DiL again, trailing ribbons of pure light behind her, less than a hundred meters between them…

Only to stop, and turn in mid-air, the motion nearly inhumanly graceful in spite of its abruptness, and his black eyes met a pair of bright, blue ones, even through the layers of light enfolding her and the distance between them.

He remembered the sensation of staring into Emyr’s eyes, back in that twisted world Legend had created – a thoroughly discombombulating experience, it had made him think of staring into an infinite expanse of darkness, losing perspective and with it, very nearly his balance. There had been an intensity to his gaze, as if he was somehow projecting his will through the mere act of crossing eyes, that had caused Basil to hesitate for a moment.

Gazing into Lady Light’s bright blue eyes (so reminiscent of Gloom Glimmer’s) was so much more disorienting than that, by several orders of magnitude. If Emyr’s eyes had been windows into a vast, dark depth of will, then these were… were…

He did not have the words to describe them, no simile that encompassed the sensation.

Without even noticing himself falling, he found himself sitting on his butt, briefly seeing double as he stared up at her in a daze.

Lady Light distant form twitched, the humanoid silhouette he could barely make out moving as the ribbons of light shifted with the barest hint of a delay, the gesture as graceful as it was unreadable, at this distance, and turned away, flying off towards DiL again, moving so quickly she left behind several after-images.

Basil looked down at his right wrist, where he felt something close around it. A band of… something, like nearly solid light, wrapped around his wrist there. It looked white, at first glance, but as he raised his hand, it shifted through all colours of the rainbow, each motion causing a change in its colouring and pattern.

It felt warm, solid and heavy.

Looking at it from various angles, he knew what it meant.

‘I will find you again.’

***

Memento’s armband had ended up leading him to a young woman in a flowing costume, layers of rainbow-coloured fabric forming a hooded robe with wide sleeves, soaked through with some kind of clear, viscuous fluid which also surrounded the site where she lay, having been blasted through a wall and into a backyard, just off the street. A loading dock, perhaps, for some smaller company – it was hard to tell, considering how damaged everything was.

A quick check showed that she was unconscious, and had a bleeding wound on her forehead, but was alive and not in immediate danger of dying after some basic first aid to stem the bleeding, so he picked her up in a fireman’s carry – not the best way to transport someone with a head wound, but he had to choose between being gentle and being fast and that wasn’t really a choice at all, not in this situation.

Getting to the nearest teleportation node was mercifully less eventful than his way to the woman, and he even had some attention to spare to reboot his ravenbot and have it fly back towards him; fortunately, it had only taken cosmetic damage from the sonic boom of the attack which had deposited Lady Light so close to him.

I wonder what she saw, he could not helpt but wonder. He felt it in his gut, she’d seen right through him there and whatever she’d seen or sensed had piqued her interest.

If Lady Light can’t help me…

He looked ahead, focusing on where he was going – the broken streets were very treacherous, with crevisses, holes leading into sewers and other traps for the unwary pedestrian – as he also considered his brief meeting – if one could call it that – with the lady and also ran several ideas through his mind, his power having apparently taken a lot of inspiration from hers, with ideas for manipulating matter and energy in weirder ways than he could ever recall doing…

Fuck, why does it have to work so well now? I wish I could be like this while in the lab and with a few weeks or months’ worth of time to just tinker around and experiment.

He didn’t even know whether his lab was still uncollapsed. The structure was reinforced, and on the outskirts of New Lennston, away from the center of the fighting, but still…

Due to the interference from the Desolation Field, he couldn’t even reach it to find out whether or not Eudocia was well. Her casing wasn’t that tough, and even light damage to her insides could cause the delicate energy fields within to collapse. Rebooting her from such a collapse, if he even managed to, would mean resetting her to her initial state, all her experiences and growth irretrievably lost.

Can’t think about that, not now. I need to focus. Put it off until I can find her and then we’ll see how things stand.

He ran even faster.

***

Through some stroke of luck, he reached the node at the same time as Gloom Glimmer did. She was generating sonic blasts which bounced off the street, gently juggling several people atop them and moving them towards the node.

The survivors – a family, mother and several children – were staring around with varying degrees of fear and wonder on their faces, as Irene dropped them next to the node and explained to them how to use it.

The mother held her youngest in one arm, and the other two held each other by the hand, while one held hers, as they touched the node together and disappeared.

“Brennus. I’m glad you’re… safe…” Gloom Glimmer began to greet him, until her eyes fell on the rainbow-hued armband, widening at the sight of it.

“A brief run-in,” he explained, as he walked onto the childrens’ playground that the floating tesseract had teleported to. “I did not even get close to her, but she must have sensed something, and she made this band.”

“Mmmhm,” she temporized, brushing a lock of fine black hair back behind her ear. “It’ll let her track you down, so long as you’re within her range.”

He nodded, his suspicion confirmed. “Looking forward to it. If anyone can help me…”

She nodded right back. “It’ll be mom.”

They used the node to teleport to the field hospital, appearing within a huge tent, filled with people – some in scrubs or less formal clothes, taking care of the majority of those present: the injured.

Dozens upon dozens of them, capes, cowls and civilians alike, arranged  in an odd spiral pattern around the nod, with a circular empty space around it, the rigidity of the pattern broken up at seemingly random intervals by intersecting pathways.

On second thought, there’s an odd rhyme to it, Basil thought, looking around, before his eyes fell on an obvious metahuman standing nearby, facing them with a clipboard held in their hands.

She was a woman or girl – probably a girl, based on what he could see of her face – wearing a skin-tight, black bodysuit, though skintight in a different way from what he usually saw – thicker, suggesting padding and even some manner of armoring. It wasn’t completely black, though – there were dark blue patterns on it, only visible when the light hit them at the right angle, tracing the contours of her body in a way  that emphasized her modest curves, without being the least bit obscene. The flat soles of her boots and the palms of her hands, as well as the undersides of her fingers were all blue, and there was an emblem on her chest, fitted so delicately to her body’s shape, her breasts didn’t distort it at all – a single circle, followed by four ovals around it, like ripples extending from it, only they weren’t centered around the circle; rather, the circle was near the bottom of the symbol, with the ovals’ long extending further above than beneath it.

Her face was hidden by a black mask which covered the top half, and reached up to the crown of her head, keeping her long, straight blonde hair out of her face, while leaving her lips – painted dark blue to match the color scheme – and jaw exposed.

“Calculass,” Gloom Glimmer greeted her with a smile, holding out her hand towards her.

The girl smiled back, if a little nervously. “Gloom Glimmer. I’ve heard a lot about you – wouldn’t have thought the opposite was true. It’s an honor.” She shook the offered hand.

“Dad taking on a new apprentice isn’t something to ignore – he’s never done it in my lifetime. So I made some inquiries,” Gloom Glimmer replied with a smirk. Then she pulled her hand back, smoothing her face out more seriously. “Where do we put this one? Wounded cape, head trauma and several broken bones.”

“Possibly internal bleeding, as well,” Basil added quietly, studying the girl more intently now. The Dark’s apprentice… that did not exactly bode well. Some kind of math-related power? An esper? The name’s pretty obviously pointing in that direction.

Calculass didn’t hesitate to reply, pointing to the beginning of the spiraling pathway. “Third branch, then left, right, left, cot twenty-nine,” she advised, far more confident and steady in her speech than just moments before.

“Thank you. I hope we’ll have some time to hang out in the future, under better circumstances,” Gloom Glimmer replied with a smile, walking past her. “Also, love the costume,” she added with a thumbs up.

“Thanks. I’m kind of shocked that costume design is one of the boss’s fields of expertise,” Calculass grinned at her, briefly.

“That ain’t even the weirdest hobby dad has, believe you me,” Gloom Glimmer called out, raising her voice as they moved further away, sticking close to Basil. “And you’ll get to know way more of them, you poor, unfortunate fool!”

Basil didn’t see whether Calculass reacted, before the sound of another incoming teleport took up her attention again – his own was on walking the right way to where to put down his charge, while his raven was looking around at the wounded all around.

There were so many of them. Calculass’s system – at least, he assumed she’d been the one to plan this layout – managed to cram an incredible amount of people into the tent, while still allowing for easy movement. People had been distributed based on the wounds they were suffering from, and whether or not they were metahuman. There were even allowances made for those whose powers made being treated, or just being near others, problematic.

It was kind of impressive, managing to impose order on such a chaotic situation.

Guess that’s to be expected of the Dark’s apprentice.

They reached the assigned cot, and Basil put the woman down on it, as gently as he could. Two nurses got to work before he’d even stepped back.

He turned towards his companion, to suggest moving out again, but stopped.

Gloom Glimmer’s expression was fragile in a way he could not recall seeing before, her eyes glued to a boy half her apparent age lying in the cot next to the woman, his eyes glassy, yet occasionally blinking as he stared up into nothing, a good fifth of his head simply gone, from just above his left ear over towards the center of his forehead. Wires and catheters were connecting to the exposed brain-matter, then to some kind of gadget which apparently kept him alive, somehow.

Occasionally, the device would spark, and the boy would twitch randomly before settling down again.

She didn’t seem able to look away.

Basil took her arm by the wrist, gently tugging on it, guiding her out of the tent and into the bright, distorted daylight outside. The field hospital had been set up at the outskirts of the city, where the surrounding woodland stabbed into the urban sprawl, and had been tamed into a park, which had in turn become a popular place for family picnics.

Now, it was overrun with emergency vehicles coming and going, dropping a share of the injured and otherwise needy here, before moving on to pick up more people, or deliver others to another field hospital (they were being spread out amongst multiple locations, if they couldn’t be moved out of the Desolation Field entirely, to reduce the chance of DiL wiping them all out with a single attack).

Gloom Glimmer looked around at the chaos, her expression downcast. “This…”

Whatever she was about to say was cut off when another, familiar voice interjected with a shout.

“Ba-Brennus!” called Amy, flying over from where she’d been helping to load people onto and off of several vehicles.

A not inconsiderable part of Basil relaxed a great deal upon seeing her safe and whole.

In fact, she looked utterly untouched.

Before he could get in a word of his own, she was upon him, pulling him into a nearly literally bone-crushing hug.

“Ugh. Spine. Still. Needed,” he gasped the words out, barely, though he couldn’t honestly say he disliked it.

He would’ve hugged her back, if he’d been able to move his arms to any meaningful degree, but since her grip on him wouldn’t allow him to, he merely patted her sides with his hands.

No one around seemed to have the time or inclination to pay attention to them or care about what was going on, and he was pretty sure that wasn’t due to Amy using her power. The situation was just that messed up.

“I should kill you, you damn idiot,” Amy croaked, squeezing even harder for a moment, before she mercifully let him have his lung function back.

“I was worried about you, too,” he replied with a groan, trying not to show just how much her hug had pained him. Damn these cracked ribs. “You don’t look like you’re hurt at all, though,” he replied, and he couldn’t help but sound a little bit accusatory.

She somehow managed to look both embarrassed and annoyed at the same time, rubbing the back of her head while shifting on those ridiculous stiletto heels of hers. “Boss’s orders. We’re to hold back until the big attack starts, make sure to conserve our powers and stamina.”

“What is his plan, anyway?” Basil asked, curiously, assuming that she, as one of his lieutenants, surely had to know.

“Dunno,” she replied.

Or maybe not.

“This whole thing is rushed like crazy. From what I get, he was hoping she’d take longer to reappear, or skip one battle and use his grand plan the next time, after more prepwork. But I guess New Lennston’s too important to not go all out in defending it,” Amy elaborated.

“He’s always loved this city, even when he hated it,” Gloom Glimmer agreed with a thoughtful nod, her left hand’s fingertips touching her chin. “Plus, losing New Lennston to DiL, after we lost Old Lennston to her… the hit to morale would be tremendous and it definitely is unacceptable.” Another thought seemed to come to her, and she looked up at Amy. “Where is Dad, anyway?”

“At the memorial plaza, preparing to set off the big pl-“, she started to reply, only to be interrupted by a deafening shriek.

The sound was akin to a woman’s wail, amplified a million times over, with odd, discordant harmonics mixed in to make it more cacophonous than Basil would have thought possible.

Its origin was emminently obvious – DiL herself was not visible, but the chaotic twist of space around her was, as her new power twisted realtiy in a way that gave Basil vertigo even by looking at it from halfway across the city.

From that central point, jagged lines of twisted space were reaching out, spreading across the sky and into the ground, before fading back again.

Whatever they touched was destroyed, matter twisted up in such a fashion as to reduce entire buildings to rubble, condensed into deformed masses a fraction of their original size.

He couldn’t see far enough to tell how it affected any metahuman it hit, but those whom flew high enough for him to see and got struck by one of those flowing arcs dropped and didn’t come up again.

Several tendrils lashed out towards Lady Light’s glowing form, causing Gloom Glimmer to gasp where she stood next to Basil, but they were deflected with a flash of light, and she pressed the attack, trying to force DiL to change away from such a lethal power.

Not that any of the powers she took were ever harmless.

“Fuck, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do much at all, even if I was allowed to,” Amy shouted, and yet was barely heard nonetheless.

Gloom Glimmer raised her right arm to snap her fingers, and the cacophony died down, letting everyone relax and focus on their duties again.

Considering how dire the conditions of most of the people being treated were, that was vital.

“How long can you keep that up, princess?” Amy asked, rubbing underneath her ears with two fingers each, as if to rub the pain away.

Basil really missed his full helmet now – the hearing protection in his spare mask wasn’t nearly up to its level.

”This power’s pretty fresh,” Gloom Glimmer replied, without looking – she was wholly focused on the spectacle in the distance. “A few minutes, I’d guess. Up to twenty, if we’re lucky.”

”That will not do,” Basil stated simply. “She has to change her powers again, and quickly – if not for our sake, then for that of everyone else in this city, particularly the other medical camps.”

Gloom Glimmer frowned, clenching her left hand into a fist, tightly enough it started to tremble. “Yeah… and we can’t… shouldn’t… just rely on mom, so-“

A new, yet all too familiar voice cut her off, reverberating through the artificial quiet Gloom Glimmer’s power had generated.

“I hope you don’t mean to finish that sentence the way I think you do,” the Dark spoke, as calmly as was possible when your voice sounded like a ghostly chorus.

Gloom Glimmer’s face brightened up, as she all but flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around what may have been his waist – it was hard to tell, with how formless his current appearance was – and made a gleeful squeal.

“Don’t think you being cute is going to distract me from the issue, young lady,” he continued, even as he hugged her back tightly enough she almost seemed to disappear into the shadows, and mussed her hair with one hand.

“I’m not trying to distract you! Just glad you’re ok,” she replied, stepping back after one more tight squeeze, combing her hair back with her fingers.

You are glad that I am alright?” he asked, six glowing eyes growing incredulously wide as he bent over so much he nearly made a right angle, putting his face at the same height as hers. “You’re the one who’s been in danger, young lady!”

“That’s all part of wearing the cape!” she replied, looking up at him with a smile, looking positively re-energized. “Speaking of which, it seems like my powers are finally, properly, back.” She looked down herself, and Basil followed her gaze to see that she was levitating a step or so above the ground, in the center of a circle of swirling dust.

She raised her hand, and tiny motes of light in all colors of the rainbow began to dance between and around her fingers, seeming to somehow… suck in the light, the area immediately around their small group growing darker, even as the motes burned brighter.

“Irene, my sweet, don’t you dare go out there now!” the Dark stepped in, reaching for her hand with his own.

Gloom Glimmer pulled back, floating to put a few meters between them. “You know I can’t just stand by – I have to help mom. Wish me luck!” she replied, completely ignoring his protests, as she saluted Basil, and shot off towards the fight.

“No listen to m-  why do you just ignore your father!” he shouted in exasperation, his hands disappearing in the shadows of his head, as if he was reaching past the wraith to pull on his hair. “Why’d you have to take after me so much!”

Amy put her hand over her mouth, her shoulders shaking as she tried not to make a sound.

It didn’t help, as he whirled around and pointed a long, misty finger at her.

“You. After her. Keep her safe.”

He didn’t wait for a reply, or even an acknowledgement, and simply turned around and walked away, back to where Basil could see Rounds and several other of the higher-ranked capes and cowls congregate.

“Damn. Babysitting duty,” Amy groused, her arms and head dropping. “Noooooot looking forward to this!”

Basil took her hand into his, squeezing it tightly. “Just make sure you’re safe,” he said, his eyes returning to the distant battle, following the fast-flying form of Gloom Glimmer as she approached the blazing sun that was her mother.

“I should be the one saying that, considering your track record…” she continued to grumble, before floating up a bit to kiss him on the top of the head. “Be safe, little brother.”

He pulled his mask down, and kissed her on the cheek. “You too, sister.”

She nodded at him with a wry smile, then turned around and flew away – only to jerk to a stop, his hand having shot up to grab her by the wrist before he even consciously chose to.

“Basil?” she looked at him, her eyes widening when she saw the overwrought expression on his face.

“I…” he began, struggling himself to put what he was feeling into words.

Why do I feel like this is the last time we’ll talk to each other? he thought, miserably, unable to find the right thing to say, as he felt his face contract, nearly crumbling.

She floated closer, wrapping her arms around his head to pull it against her bosom, her feet a good deal above the ground.

Don’t be silly, she spoke into his mind. We’ll talk again so much, we’ll both grow sick of it and refuse to talk at all anymore.

He didn’t have it in him to laugh, or even chuckle. Instead, he looked up at her, his arms having found their way around her lower waist, hugging her tightly.

I love you, Amy, he said in his head, unable to get the words past the knot in his tongue.

She gave him a brilliant smile in return, looking down with the gentle expression he’d missed so long. I love you too, Basil.

Once more, she kissed him, this time on his forehead.

And then she flew off to fight an enemy he could do nothing against.

Looking after her, tears running down his cheeks as he put his mask back on to cover at least the lower part of his face, he couldn’t help but feel the same as before, like that had been a farewell.

Just like the last time he’d seen Prisca, held her, kissed her. Felt her disappear.

And yet again, there was nothing at all he could do.

***

Silver light flowed from Rounds’ palm, where it met Bismuth’s cheek, washing over her like a second skin, clinging tightly for a moment before the silvery Bismuth stepped aside, separating from the original.

At the same time, two new windows, paired together, appeared in his mind, one to the half of her power that he could use himself, and another to the silvery apparition, giving him an innate sense of her state and location.

Ten other pairs were already in his mind, filling it nearly to the brim, much like the ten – now eleven – apparitions filled the space around him.

Just one more, and he’d be at his limit.

The sheer power accumulated in him was already such that he felt it pull at his very sanity. Overwhelming, to have all these options at hand.

Lamarr’s spatial manipulation alone may have distracted him for hours, if he wasn’t currently limited to the area within the Desolation Field.

Bismuth stepped back, her head held low, mirrored by her apparition. Even if he couldn’t feel what his apparitions felt – and they usually mirrored their progenitor’s feelings – he’d have no trouble figuring out what was affecting her.

The many things that were wearing down on her.

So much to work out. So little time.

He turned his head away from her, not to dismiss her, but to focus on more urgent matters.

His eyes fell on the shadowy, almost wispy figure that was the Dark, standing at the edge of the terrace this camp had been set upon, looking out over the devastated city, and the battle raging on in the distance.

Watching for his daughter, Rounds thought. I suppose even he has a modicum of decency.

He hated it. Hated, that the children were fighting. That they were risking their lives. That they were being exposed to so many horrors.

That he hadn’t been there to shield them from it.

He would never agree with the wide-spread practice of putting children in costumes and throwing  them at the horrors of the world, telling them to be heroes, no matter what the statistics said.

But here, if anywhere, there was nothing he could do. Even if he could forbid it, most would fight anyway, to protect their home from her. And  there was no way he’d be able to divert the resources to restrain them, at such a time.

Shaking his head, he walked over to his enemy and stood by his side, followed by his silvery apparitions. Three of them – Wary Wu’s and two of Gloom Glimmer’s – were focusing on the fight, constantly feeding him new information, which his half of their powers picked up on and further processed, before throwing it back at them, in a constant back and forth.

Normally, copying esper powers like this was a great boon to him, but right now, with both DiL and Gloom Glimmer in the fight, they were all but useless.

At least he was pretty certain they’d warn him in time in case he had to block an incoming attack.

Pretty certain, but not completely so, which was why all the other apparitions where also focusing on the battle for him, ready to leap into action.

He himself, meanwhile, rolled his shoulders, the body armor he wore over his suit shifting, glittering with reflected light as the individual plates it consisted off changed their orientation slightly. He’d never liked how sparkly and ostentatious it all was – at times he felt like he was wearing jewelry, rather than armor – but that arse Patrid had beat the importance of proper public relations into his head a long, long time ago.

“I hope you didn’t come over here to ask me for a copy of my power, Rounds,” the Dark spoke without turning to look at him. Not that he wasn’t perfectly capable of looking straight at Rounds while seemingly facing the battle. And also focusing on that in equal measure.

With a chuckle, Rounds shook his head. “If it’s anything like Lady Light’s power, then I want no part in it.”

That caused him to turn his head and look down at him.

He’d never admit it out loud, especially in front of him, but even after all these years, getting the Dark’s full attention was a thoroughly discombobulating experience.

“She allowed you to make a copy of her?” he asked, intently, his voices not sharp, but definitely more forceful than during his almost casual remark before.

“She let me try,” Rounds replied, putting an emphasis on the ‘try’ part. “It didn’t go over well.”

The Dark chuckled, turning away again – and as soon as his immediate gaze left Rounds, he felt like a weight had dropped off his shoulders.

I wonder whether he uses a power to cause that, or whether it really is just his presence.

“I imagine it wouldn’t, no,” the wispy supervillain continued. “She must trust you a great deal, if she revealed herself to you so.”

“I suppose so,” Rounds said, his eyes back on the fight in the distance.

Lady Light and Gloom Glimmer seemed to be trading off now, moving back and forth, alternating in their efforts to curtail DiL’s destructive performance.

As much as he hated seeing her in such danger, he couldn’t help but admire how well Gloom Glimmer was managing to keep up with her mother.

Still, holding her off was not going to be enough – in fact, either DiL was slowly adapting to them, or sheer coincidence was causing her powers to last longer and longer, the seconds stretching on between each switch. Occasionally, Rounds could even make out individual powers without the use of his added abilities, before she was forced to change yet again.

Unsustainable.

He turned his head away, and looked at the other figure standing nearby.

Hanabi’s form was hidden behind his voluminous, old-fashioned purple, black and gold robes and the tall, black hat he wore, from which a curtain of white cloth fell, obscuring his face – in fact, his entire head.

He was kneeling in front of a circle of thin bamboo rods tipped by various, weirdly shaped fireworks in all colors of the rainbow, driven into the ground where he’d had Rounds crack the pavement for his preparations.

A rough map of the area within the Desolation Field had been carved into the earth, with more bamboo sticks driven into various points, holding up even more fireworks.

At the same time, a dozen heroes and villains were setting up full-sized fireworks all around the city, mirroring the markings on the map, he knew.

“Are you sure this is going to work?” he couldn’t help but ask, as nervously as he ever felt.

The whole thing had sounded way too good to be true, when it’d been explained to him.

“Nothing is certain,” the Dark replied calmly, staring out into the distance. “It should work, based on my understanding of the powers involved, and the principles behind them. But you know the difference between theory and practice.”

Rounds grunted in affirmation, not sure how to reply to that.

Well, there was one reply…

“I really, really hope this will work.”

“So do I,” was the answer, though he didn’t sound like he meant it.

Before he could dig into the meaning behind that, he felt an odd tremor, one which went through the ground and the air at the same time, rippling through his body in the oddest way, like he was being stretched and compacted at the same time, for less than a second.

Wha-

He turned to look at the battle, at the alarm his apparitions of Gloom Glimmer expressed through their link, only to see Lady Light’s blazing form dart towards her daughter, so fast he could barely follow in spite of his enhanced senses, touching and repelling her, launching her out of the way of an advancing ripple in the air-

And then Lady Light and five other fliers just disappeared, all at once, along with a diagonal cross-section of a nearby building.

The Dark took a step forward, in seeming shock, and Rounds was not far behind, when the aftermath hit them.

Air rushed in, towards where the attack had hit, filling in the vacuum created, violently stirring up dust, leaves and rubble before it died down again.

Did she just kill… no, don’t be stupid. She wouldn’t go down like this!

His apparitions stepped forth, focusing any applicable power they had, but the Dark was faster than they.

“Some manner of spatial manipulation… offensive teleportation? I can still feel Gwen, but she’s… far,” he said, more to himself than to Rounds, as if to reassure his own worries.

In the distance, Gloom Glimmer’s form flickered, violently, and a massive blast of blackish something lanced out, smashing into DiL, splashing over her form – and evidently penetrating her outer defenses sufficiently to force her to change her powers again, as the signal sent from the young vigilante whom could feel these changes told them.

Still, Rounds’ stomach dropped into his knees, and not just because the effect of Lady Light’s city-spanning aura was gone now.

They’d just lost their strongest, best fighter, and there was no way to tell how long it’d take her to return to the battle.

“Damn it, we have to mobilize our people again – I won’t have Gloom Glimmer try to hold her off on her own!” he shouted, raising his hand to his ear to transmit the order.

A soft, almost gentle voice interrupted him, speaking with a strong accent.

“It is nearly done, Lord Dark,” the kneeling form of Hanabi spoke, his voice barely rising above the sound of the blowing air, or the distant battle. “My greatest performance shall begin presently.”

The Dark relaxed, almost imperceptibly – if it wasn’t for all the esper powers at his disposal, Rounds would have missed it.

“Your timing is as impeccable as your artwork, my dear man,” he spoke, calmly, nodding his head towards the heavily enshrouded villain from Japan. “Begin as soon as you are able.”

Hanabi inclined his head, deeper than the Dark had, and took out a burning stick incense-covered wood, reaching for the many fuses of all the fireworks worked into the array in front of him, all tied together at various points in such a fashion that the flame would reach each firework at the same time.

Which would trigger all the fireworks spread out across the city, simultaneously.

Still…

“Impeccable timing? You are joking,” Rounds all but snarled, though he wasn’t really angry at the Dark – at least, not in this case. “If only we could have launched that a minute sooner, we’d still have-”

“No,” the Dark disagreed, his voice firm. “This is better. It will be harder for us, but better this than having Gwen participate.”

His voice turned soft, almost human, as they watched Hanabi light the fuses.

“No mother should have to watch her child die, much less participate in the killing.”

Rounds opened his mouth, not sure whether to disagree, agree, or laugh at the sheer, gutwrenching wrongness of it all, but he closed it again, not sure at all about it.

“Prepare yourselves,” the Dark spoke, and his voice was repeated across the entire city by every single one of Memento’s communicators. “Our grand gambit is almost at hand.”

The lit fuses disappeared into the fireworks, flashing with heat and light – but instead of launching the fireworks, they consumed them, burning them up in a single, bright flash.

All over the city, a hundred and eight matching fireworks shot up into the air, trailing paths of rainbow-colored sparks in ever-shifting, complex patterns that made one dizzy to merely look at them.

The glowing tips of these rising spears flew up as high as the Desolation Field allowed them to go, turning its bright, shifting colors into an even greater mess as they added their own, darker lights.

Then the lights spread, connecting to each other in a grand net of light, before each strand collapsed into total blackness, a dark, dark net spreading out over them – only to disappear.

And with its disappearance, DiL dropped out of the sky, crashing down onto the grand plaza of New Lennston.

With his enhanced eye sight, courtesy of the Falconer’s apparition, he could see her nude form, lying amidst the glowing mass of her ridiculously long hair, her face as expressionless as ever, yet conveying something almost akin to confusion, as she lay there, her arms and legs touching the ground as dust settled on her unblemished skin.

Then, the dust began to swirl around her, forming an expanding sphere, as everyone stared at the jaw-dropping sight.

“The gambit was successful! DiL’s absolute defense has been nullified – penetrate her lesser powers, and we can finally put her down!” the Dark shouted, spreading his message all over the defending forces. “Put an end to this wretched tale!”

He hadn’t even finished his announcement, when a great cry rose.

A hundred voices and more joined together in utter, unbridled awe, fury and sheer, unrestrained hope, screaming it to the sky, as everyone who was even remotely able to do so charged into the battle.

Even Bismuth joined her voice to the others, her passion reignited as she shot forward, launched by a pillar of crystal shooting up beneath her feet.

Rounds stepped forth to join them, only to stop at the edge of the terrace, looking back at the wispy, barely substantial form of the Dark.

The King of Supervillains stepped up next to him, standing at the very edge of it as well. “You should go,” he said. “I’m too weak to contribute right now, but I’ll do what I can to coordinate our assault.”

Rounds’ reached for his sword, drawing it out of its sheath, gripping it tightly. “What you said earlier… the same applies to you, doesn’t it?”

The Dark turned his head again, looking down at him. “What do you mean?”

Rounds looked up at those six unblinking red eyes, trying to ignore the sheer weight of their gaze. “No mother should see or help their child die – nor should any father.”

The shadowy figure looked at him, for a moment longer, before averting his face, focusing on the battle again.

When he replied, his voices were so soft they were almost human again.

“Monsters don’t count.”

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Semicoop

Input Error

Semicoop

In programming games like Lords of Xidit, there’s a big chance that some things don’t go as planned and that your entire “plan” falls apart.

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A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jan 26, 2019 at 3:12pm PST

Lords of Xidit can be quite unforgiving on this part. If, for example, another player first takes away the last of the units and then walks right up to that enemy you planned to defeat, you end up just walking one step behind that player without getting anything. We personally didn’t really mind, because the rounds play out rather quickly – better luck next time! We really enjoyed our first play, the game really surprised us and we are looking forward to playing it again. The only downside to this game is that it requires at least three players, so we can’t “just” play it whenever we want.

So we managed to squeeze in some board games last week! We played a game of Fog of Love and for the first time, lost the game! David and Roxanne both were really unhappy in their relationship. We’ll see if our characters are more in tune next time we play the game. A friend of ours also brought a game called “Castle Flutterstone”, it meant for children, but that should never stop you from playing something, right? In this dexterity-game, you launch fabric bats at the cardboard castle, or rather, you try to shoot them through the windows. Like this.  It’s fun and silly and will keep you entertained for at least ten minutes. 😉
We ended that night with an amazing game of Clank! in which one of the players delved deeper into the dungeon to grab the most valuable artifact of the game WHILE THE OTHER PLAYERS HAD BOTH LEFT THE CASTLE. And despite this act of foolishness the player managed to escape on the very last turn with only one health left. And… he… won. I would describe that as the best first game of Clank! experience one could have, period.

We also played our second game of Rajas of the Ganges and this game really elegantly fixes the problem of counting up points for 10 minutes after the game is over. By turning the victory condition into a race it retains all the fun of a worker placement game but it adds the excitement of a racing game.

ICYMI: The latest extra comics, sponsored by CoolStuffInc.com:
#016 – Nowhere to run

What was the last game that pleasantly surprised you?

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 19

In My Daydreams

I wouldn’t have been able to find her without the implant. There were too many people moving too quickly for me to pick out details. Beyond that, the frequent blasts of energy didn’t help, forcing my helmet to darken to protect my eyes.

The implant buffered the last few minutes of whatever I’d seen or heard and could sort through it with a computer’s attention to detail. So when I started to look for her, the implant tracked her through the last few seconds and made her blink in real time.

I wondered how many things I could have used that for since we’d gotten here.

Even with the implant, it still wasn’t easy to pick her out of the crowd when needed. She ran with other members of the Ascendant Guard, shielded by even more Ascendancy soldiers.

I needed to get over there and take her out before she took down the inner ring’s shields except there was a problem. Like us, they had implants, and unlike us, they weren’t afraid that Kamia would target them if they stayed connected.

The upshot of that meant that if they saw me flying that way, almost everyone in the Ascendancy forces could shoot at me. That meant that even if I were willing to die to take out Kamia, I might not make it over there.

For the record, that kind of noble suicide was far from my first choice.

The problem was that I didn’t see another obvious option so I decided to do my best to avoid becoming an inspirational story.

I shot upward and then down like a ballistic missile, going on the theory that  most people don’t look up and that even if they did, they wouldn’t be shooting at me much on the way up and I’d be moving too quickly for them to get off a good shot on the way down. Also, I was assuming that even if my theory was wrong, I’d still take less damage than if I flew over the top of the group.

It didn’t turn out to be that simple.

By the time I flew over the top of the remaining shields in the outer ring and dove toward Kamia she’d already moved closer to the wall. Worse, I realized that Cassie wasn’t firing at her with the gun—which she should have been because Cassie knew how much of a danger Kamia was.

Instead, Cassie frowned and put the gun into its holster, pulled out her sword, and ran in our direction. At the same time, I realized that Kamia had smiled. It didn’t take much to figure out why.

At the same time, the notion that they wouldn’t fire at me much on the way down? That turned out to be wrong. Despite all the different noises, at least one of them must have picked out the whine of the Rockets amid the white noise of energy blasts.

Then they’d passed on my position to all their best friends and everyone who could took a shot at me. Fortunately, while I might have been wrong about how easy it would be for them to hear me coming, I’d planned ahead.

As I flipped over, I’d fired off as many of my regular bots as I could. They might not be able to penetrate the average Ascendancy soldier’s armor, but that wasn’t their job here. I set them to target the front of soldiers’ helmets and explode.

Once they hit, I turned on the sonics, setting them to alternate between high pitched frequencies that would hurt or maybe deafen the soldiers and frequencies that I’d found worked against their shields.

While it didn’t destroy them in an instant, it worked okay. Small explosions in the soldiers’ faces left them stepping back into other soldiers while the Guard members with working shields didn’t do any better. They had to wipe bot bits and soot off their shields.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t a target though. Ascendancy soldiers that weren’t right below me started firing from the moment I started downward. I didn’t get hit more than three, maybe four times before I twisted and aimed for Kamia.

The bad news was that it wasn’t exactly a surprise to her that I was coming. She didn’t have much warning, but she had enough to turn and bring up her gun. At the same time, her expression—a dropped jaw and wide eyes—didn’t show confidence.

This time her gun’s opening shot grazed the side of my suit without penetrating and I aimed both arms sonics at her shields, giving the strongest blast I could without risking damage to the sonics themselves.

Her shield went down in a flash of blue-white light.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 18

In My Daydreams

Cassie wasn’t going to turn the tide of battle all by herself, but you never knew for sure. I remembered having to pick up Cassie from the top of a office building in Washington D.C. during an invasion by humanoid fish creatures. We’d arrived to find that fishman corpses covered the roof. It wasn’t all her work, but the majority of it was. I don’t know how many she killed that day, but it was definitely in the hundreds.

Kamia didn’t know that story, but it didn’t take much to guess that Cassie could cause problems. The Ascendancy troops were already avoiding that section of wall—or even anywhere near it.

The burned bodies lying on top of the ash Hal created acted as a warning sign. If that weren’t enough, one of the Ascendancy soldiers must have caught a particularly powerful blast. The beam had turned everything above his knees to ash which fell apart, leaving only the soldier’s boots and the still smoking remains of his legs.

Gruesome? Yes, but it was also a convincing argument for staying out of Cassie’s range.

Cassie wasn’t someone who let you get out of her range though. When they started avoiding her section of shield, she ran to wherever the Ascendancy appeared to be strongest and swapped herself in for whoever happened to be there.

If that weren’t enough, Rachel was also out there using an axe I’d made for her. It looked like a purse, but transformed into a playable electric guitar—which transformed a little bit more to turn into a double bladed axe with an edge like Cassie’s sword.

Guitars are sometimes called axes, so it had seemed funny at the time I designed it.

Not that I saw all that at the time, but that’s what was going on in the background. It’s demoralizing when an axe appears out of nowhere and decapitates the guy next to you.

So, despite the fact that the Ascendancy had broken through the ring and outnumbered the defenders several times to one, they hadn’t broken through the inner ring.

From the distance came the sound of shattering wood and then a deeper rumble. I couldn’t be sure, but I suspected that might be Jaclyn and Neves fighting.

As I felt the rumble in my feet, Kamia turned her head toward the fight around the inner ring and then back at me, firing her gun.

If she’d ever wanted me to convince our group to change sides, she’d given up on it, possibly because I’d never given her a reply. That was okay though because I’d been watching her and that meant I didn’t get hit in the middle of my chest or my head.

Her shot hit my right side and I felt the heat. A few error messages appeared, but less than the last time.

She ran through the open section toward burning chaos of the main battle, joining the soldiers that were still running through. In the moment I fully intended to go after her, but she must have been communicating with the other Ascendant Guards the entire time. As she ran, plasma bolts hit my side and back.

I’d upgraded the heat protection on my back as well—which was good because that level of heat might have started the fuel in my rocketpack burning in past suits.

That didn’t mean that I didn’t see error messages appear in my HUD, but they weren’t as bad as they could have been. I took in the situation in an instant, realizing that I had two attackers—both of them the flying Ascendant Guard members I’d seen earlier.

Neither of them wore force shields which made sense. That could interfere with flinging plasma bolts at people. Plus, both of them were covered in flame and I could easily imagine a shield causing problems with that.

Again, not that I spared much thought on it. In the moment, I knew it without thinking about it. My next actions had about the same level of thought.

I shot into the air and a twisted around, firing the sonics at the one that was coming straight at me with a dull, roaring noise. The man went out of control, putting his hands to his ears and careening off to the right, hitting one of the outer shields with a burst of blue light and falling to the ground.

He didn’t get up.

The other one hit me in the air, wrapping his arms around me and preparing, I suddenly knew thanks to my implant that he was about to send out more energy in a burst than he’d normally use in hours.

I threw his arms off me by pulling my arms away from my sides, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough to avoid the blast.

So I shot him with the laser under my arm. His eyes widened and his mouth made a noise halfway between a gasp and a scream. Then he dropped to the ground, fire exploding all around him.

Trying to get the image of his face out of my head, I tried to find Kamia in the crowd below.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 17

In My Daydreams

They came through in a giant wave. The colonists ran or fell, burned by the Ascendancy’s energy weapons or ripped to pieces by the claws of their soldiers.

It wasn’t as if the colonists left them unopposed, but the sheer numbers of the attackers verses the numbers of the defenders meant that for every beam aimed at the Ascendancy soldiers, the soldiers aimed three or four back.

The colonists weren’t stupid. They retreated to the inner ring as their people fired out at the soldiers.

Anyway, that’s what was happening around me as I stood next to Kamia, having knocked her to the ground. What was happening near me was a little different. The soldiers ran past with barely a look at the two of us. On the one hand, that surprised me, but on the other, I supposed it was possible that they’d been told that Kamia could take care of herself.

Worse, it also struck me as possible that they’d been ordered to leave the Xiniti and us to Kamia and Neves.  Whatever the reason, I realized that unless I stopped her now, she’d take down the inner ring too.

She rolled sideways in a move that ended with her standing on her feet. She smiled, her face all sharp features, thin like the rest of her body.

“You should give up,” she pointed her gun at me. “There’s no hope now. They don’t need me to get the inner shields down.”

Keeping my eyes on her, I said, “Really?”

“They’ve got shieldbreakers. I get the shields down faster and easier, but they’ll do it without me eventually. I’m not here to handle the shields. I’m here to handle you—Xiniti born and Xiniti adopted.”

It struck me that if we were talking, she wasn’t fighting, and that I should encourage her to keep that up. I might learn something worth knowing in the process.

“Surely we’re not that big a deal,” I began.

Keeping her gun pointed at me, she said, “You’re enigmas, all of you. When the Xiniti bring in outsiders, they have standards and all of you appear to be keeping up the quality as well as the mystery. Where are you from?”

“Can’t you tell from my accent?” I felt confident she couldn’t.

At that, amid the hiss of energy weapons and screams, she laughed. “It’s such a nice accent. It’s average in every way—the way we all imagine humans speak the Masters’ tongue but no one does. You speak like Xiniti who are completely dependent on their implants to understand the most common human tongue and yet you’re human.

“Not only that, but you’re using technology that’s out of date, strangely sophisticated, and capable of matching or even besting our own. Not only that, but all of you appear to be powered, but none of you appear to be the product of the Masters’ designs.

“One of you even appears to have a Citizen’s Mark. We in the Guard have been talking and the only thing we can think is that you’re the product of some backwater world where a Master was able to do whatever they wanted, unsupervised by their clade. Perhaps you put together your tech with the remains of the Masters’ technology and your own designed brilliance.

“We could use you. I can understand how the Xiniti might impress you if they’re the first advanced society that you’ve encountered, but you have to understand that they’re not human. They don’t truly have your needs in mind. The Human Ascendancy is all about uniting humanity into one unstoppable force like it was in the days of the Masters.

“Now, with the Masters gone, we’re forging our own path and we want all of humanity to benefit. If you were to persuade your people to join us, we could find a place for you near the top of the Ascendancy, possibly even in the Guard if you want that. The Xiniti pick capable people and we respect that, but unlike them, in the end, we’re your people.”

She watched me, waiting for a response, a sign that I was interested. I glanced away from her toward the battle. I didn’t know how long I wanted to pretend to care, but if keeping her out of the battle wasn’t helping I needed to do something else.

The last thing I wanted was to lose the battle because I was worth more to the defense than Kamia was to the offense.

They were holding their own. I didn’t know how long they’d be able to do it, but energy lanced out again and again from behind the shields, burning soldiers to death.

Though the Ascendancy had taken down a section of the outer ring on the other side, they weren’t yet able to overwhelm the inner ring. The colonists’ attacks were keeping them back and the sections of the outer ring that were still standing stopped them from spreading out as much as they ought to.

Plus, there was one side effect of keeping Kamia busy that I hadn’t thought through. Cassie could use her gun. Every time she blasted away, she turned groups of Ascendancy soldiers to ash.

Kamia’s eyes widened as Cassie burned a line of ten soldiers to death.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 16

In My Daydreams

I’d never been hit by Cassie’s gun at full blast. In training, we’d sparred a few times with it, but never at full power.

It would be nice to say that I don’t have anything to compare the pain to, but that would be wrong. Fire from a dragon hit my arm a year earlier, cooking it all the way through. That had been intensely painful in the first instants and completely painless after that when my arm became little more than cooked meat.

This felt much like that. The heat hit, surrounding my entire chest, combining with the pain to make it hard to breathe, much less scream. It had one crucial difference from my experience with the dragon though. It didn’t cook me. As the heat hit me, the suit’s air conditioning turned on, flooding the inside of the suit with cold.

Better, even though there were error messages, there weren’t many. The suit hadn’t melted. If it worked as designed, it hadn’t absorbed much of the heat.

The error messages stated that the suit was repairing damage, but didn’t indicate any special danger—which meant all that I’d done to improve the suit’s resistance to heat had worked. I still didn’t know if I’d survive a dragon so old it was practically a god, but surviving an Abominator gun was good enough for the moment.

This time around I couldn’t assume that Lee would be there to pull my butt out of the more than metaphorical fire.

Not waiting for her to fire a second shot, I jumped 30 feet sideways. My helmet’s near 360 degree vision and the Xiniti implant’s passive recording and recall left me with a good sense of Kamia’s expression as I leaped sideways. Her eyes widened and she leaned forward, mouth in a straight line.

I opened up on her with the sonics. They seemed to be working on everyone else’s shield. Why shouldn’t they work on hers?

Her shield flickered. For a moment, it definitely went down, but the shield generator restored it within seconds.

She aimed the gun at me again, firing—except this time I moved again, jumping forward as colonists behind the shield ring fired on her and all of the Ascendancy soldiers behind us.

The Ascendancy soldiers, in turn, were firing at the shield ring, but also sometimes at me.

Hearing and feeling a boom that shook the ground, I spared a moment’s thought to wonder where Jaclyn and Neves were fighting, but I didn’t have time for more than that. Whatever else might be true, I was the only thing between Kamia and taking down the shield for the moment.

Ignoring the possibility that it was already too late, I activated the rockets and hurtled toward her again, aiming for her shield and taking hits from Ascendancy forces as I flew.

She’d changed her shield to be form-fitting rather than round earlier and so this time when I hit, she fell over, her shield making her too slippery to grapple.

I slid across her onto the ground, pulling myself up at about the same time she did. She began to move her gun in my direction and as I jumped to the side of her, she dropped her arm and ran toward the shield ring. She didn’t just run, but she jumped, landing within 20 feet of the wall.

At about the same time, the Ascendant Guard caught up with us and a big Guard member hit me in the lower side with his shoulder in a move that wouldn’t have been out of place on a football field.

I came around with a palm hand strike to his nearest shoulder, knocking him sideways, flipping him over. In that moment, I decided that risking being shot might be better than getting tackled by hundreds of soldiers.

I gave the rockets fuel and shot upward, looking for Kamia and seeing her running toward the shields. Even as I began to turn toward her, one of the Guard jumped up, grabbing my legs.

I wasn’t sure what he thought he’d do, but he wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the moment. The flying Guard members started throwing energy blasts in my direction despite the Guard member hanging on me.

Not wanting to give the guy on my legs time to start ripping my armor off or to make it easy for the flyers to get me, I did what I planned to do anyway, aiming myself toward the shield ring and Kamia. With any luck, I still might have time to distract her.

The guy on my legs didn’t improve the Rocket suit’s mobility, but on the other hand, he also didn’t have time to attack me since he was too busy trying to hang on.

With blasts of red energy passing me in the air, I caught up to Kamia as she neared the shield. My hit caught her in the shoulder, knocking her over, but even as I did it, I could see the blue of the shield fade.

A section of the outer shield went down and the Ascendant Guard, followed by Ascendancy soldiers rushed toward it.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 15

In My Daydreams

The Guard members’ shields popped as my weapons found a frequency that resonated and poured on the power.

Kamia’s didn’t go down. It probably wasn’t exactly the same technology, but I knew it could go down. Earlier, my killbot had gone partway through as had Cassie’s sword. 

As the other Guard members’ shields fell, the colonists’ blasts seemed to hit them in almost the same moment. Several hit the ground, but not all of them. Their armor both absorbed and reflected the beams. 

They dropped behind soldiers with working shields even as those soldiers stepped forward to stand in front of them.

Of course they did. For them, shields went down every day. They were experienced veterans. They had to have a plan for that.

Part of that plan must have included targeting the attacker because they did.

That wasn’t a shock to me, but I hadn’t been thinking about it in exactly those words. And anyway, in that moment I wasn’t thinking about much other than the hiss as beams hit my armor and the heat I felt inside.

I upped the power sent to the sonics and fired, initially attacking the shields and then changing to attacking technology as the shields went down.

I had mixed results. In the crowd of Ascendant Guard soldiers, shields went down wherever I aimed my sonics and the barrels of guns went dark or sections of armor froze, causing the soldiers to fall, their legs or sometimes all of their limbs unmoving.

The mixed part of the results came from my armor. The latest version’s materials used some inspiration from alien tech which meant it was doing better than any previous version at dealing with the lasers, plasma blasts, particle accelerators, or whatever. At the same time, it wasn’t invulnerable.

The repair systems were getting a workout and eventually they’d run out of material to work with. I had more, but it was on the ship.

Aside from that, fighting an entire Ascendant Guard unit wasn’t the point of flying over the wall. The point was to stop Kamia and she wasn’t staying with everyone else.

She’d slipped past as I traded shots with the Guard. Using my helmet’s near 360 degree view, I saw her nearing the shields and knowing that she’d take them down once she got near enough, I leaned sideways and shot myself at her, the rocket pack blazing.

Not wanting to throw her in the direction of the shields, I hit her in the side, the sphere-shaped Abominator shield allowing me to send her sideways like a billiard ball.

Except, this wasn’t a pool table. Everything outside the inside ring had once been forest or part of the clearing. That meant we stood in an apocalyptic landscape created after Jaclyn knocked down almost all the trees and then Hal burned everything but Jaclyn with the ship’s main gun.

It reminded me of nothing more than the ashes in the cave underneath the old Hardwick mansion in Grand Lake.

Just like in the cave, the ground was covered with ashes and sometimes shattered human bones. Unlike the cave, we stood in bright sunlight and in addition to the ashes on the ground, there were entire tree trunks that had burned black and were ready to fall apart at the slightest touch.

Kamia’s sphere rolled across the hellscape, throwing ashes into the air in a line, hitting a fallen tree and making it explode into ash confetti.

At the same time, the constant barrage of Ascendancy soldiers firing on the outer ring stopped wherever she rolled. I had no idea at first if it was because they were well trained or because the Ascendancy’s technology had a, “don’t fire on the Ascendant Guard,” feature.

The implant assured me that it was the latter as the thought passed through my head.

I didn’t have much time to reflect on it at the time, though, because I was following her.

The Ascendancy’s tech didn’t have a feature for keeping me safe, but I flew close behind her, trying to get close enough to knock her away from the shield ring.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds for two reasons. First, because the ground wasn’t in the slightest bit flat, causing the sphere to roll in unpredictable directions or shoot up into the air at any moment.

Second, because Kamia was far from a passive, predictable target. 

Once she’d blasted through the fallen tree, she shrunk her shield into a form-fitting shape. Showing no sign of dizziness from rolling across several hundred feet of ash covered ground, she landed on her feet, pulling a gun that could have been a close relative of Cassie’s, sparkles glowing around its barrel.

Thanks to my helmet’s view of the surrounding landscape, I could note one other detail. The entire force that been following Kamia with the intention of rushing through any section of shield she destroyed? Well, they were still following her—which meant that the entire army thundered after me and now that she’d stopped, they were gaining.

As I neared her, she fired.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 14

In My Daydreams

Answering my unvoiced question, Kamia, her own force field glowing, led a group of Ascendancy soldiers, all of them bigger and more muscular than average. Neves, larger than any of the others, ran next to her.

All the rest of them wore form-fitting, red, reflective armor that showed the symbol of the Ascendant Guard on their chests—a clawed, feathered beast that reminded me of a gryphon.

Not all of them were running either. Four of them were flying, but not far off the ground. Instead of flying far above the group, they flew with them.

My implant supplied me with the information that they threw bolts of plasma, much like Solar Flare back on Earth, but less powerful. On the other hand, superheated plasma was still superheated plasma and there were four of them.

Plus, all of the Guard members had force shields. Even if they weren’t as powerful as Kamia’s, they still wouldn’t make this any easier.

And it wasn’t. The resistance fighters were firing at them the moment the Ascendant Guard appeared. Blasts of energy weapons exploding or bouncing off the Guard’s shields.

Sometimes in stories, I’ve read scenes like this described as strangely beautiful.

It wasn’t.

The blasts of light against the shields weren’t pretty. They meant that people on our side were going to be dying soon.

It also meant that these people were our problem. I didn’t know if we could take them, but no one else could—well, except for Tikki. And she had more to think about than our survival. If using her powers—even the weaker form of them she’d given Tikki—meant that she called attention to herself far worse things could happen than having a challenging fight with Kamia.

It wouldn’t just be Kamia either. Right behind the Ascendant Guard ran all the troops that the Ascendancy forces could spare from battering our shields. The implant estimated the currently viewable number at one hundred, but it felt like thousands.

Some twenty feet behind the Guard, the regular Ascendancy forces didn’t seem to be any hurry to face us. That or the Guard didn’t want them to be close.

Whatever the reason, the plan was obvious—have Kamia take down the shields and then everyone else would rush in. It was obvious enough that we’d even come up with a counter earlier, though a far from perfect one.

I looked over at Jaclyn, “Do you want to do this?”

Her answer was only to tighten her jaw, let her helmet enclose her face and leap upward at an angle that allowed her to land outside the outer ring. I activated the rocket pack and flew upward with her—sort of. Jaclyn took off more quickly than I did, but I passed her near the top of the arc.

She reached the ground before I did, landing in the middle of the Ascendant Guard and beginning to punch and move, knocking them back before they could respond.

As for myself, I slowed before I landed, aiming the sonics at them, setting them to find the frequencies that made the shields become unstable.

More than one shield popped, but I couldn’t stay there and keep it up because hovering in one place would make me a target for every Ascendancy soldier with an energy rifle and all the plasma throwing flyers as well.

And anyway, Kamia had to be the real target if we were to prevent them from taking down the shields.

So that’s why I twisted sideways and aimed myself toward the ground, landing in front of her.

As I landed, my suit took a blast of kinetic force from Neves, throwing me backward. I didn’t know what he did to prepare for battle, but I suspected it involved punching Neves until he’d built up enough of a charge that he had all of his powers available.

It hurt and I almost fell over, seeing him stop flinging bolts of force in my direction and run toward me.

Neves might have been able to kill me then, but he spasmed as arcs of electricity crossed his shoulders and upper chest.

Rachel faded into view, floating above Neves, her hand touching his shoulder. His eyes widened as he realized the source of his pain and possibly recognized her as being similar to the Cosmic Ghosts. He swung at her, his fist traveling through her body at a speed that would have hurt me, Rocket suit or not.

Then he blurred, moving away from Rachel, and aiming himself at me. From what I’d seen of him, he was on par with the Cabal’s reserves except more disciplined as a soldier. He would have hit me and I couldn’t guess how much damage he might have done, but he never got the chance.

Jaclyn rushed in from the right, hitting him in the side with her shoulder, knocking him sideways and out of my reach. From what I’d seen of his abilities, she’d also powered him up, but I didn’t have time to think about that. Kamia had pulled out a gun, but oddly she didn’t fire it.

Her eyes narrowed and for a moment I felt something almost like telepathy. My implant reported, “Communication attempt. Probably hostile.”

I’d turned off its ability to communicate with the outside world and wasn’t sure how it would know, but I didn’t have time to think about it as I aimed my sonics at Kamia and all the other Guard members as they rushed me.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 13

In My Daydreams

It turned out that I wasn’t wrong about that either, but not quite in the way that I would have imagined it. I’d been imagining that the ongoing attack would take them down, but the shields held up to that at first.

Crawls-Through-Desert called a retreat as the outside ring of shields began to flicker and the soldiers ran towards the first ring of shields.

A roar of excitement came as the shields fell and we watched as the reinforcements we’d received all ran toward the inside ring of shields, unable to get through all at once, most of them turning around in front of the shields, aiming their weapons outward as Ascendancy soldiers ran in.

In that moment the shields came back on, but not as flat panes of blue light. Instead, the shield poles generated long, thin lines that whirled around the poles reminding me of strange Christmas trees in the first second, but then of blenders.

The thin blue lines cut through the Ascendancy troops armor and bodies, leaving the ground soaked in blood, covered with slashed bodies and severed limbs.

Then the shields turned back on as if they’d never been off, leaving a few Ascendancy soldiers who’d somehow made it past the lines alone, trapped between the inside and outside rings.

They didn’t last long. The colonists in front of the inside shields fired, hitting them with beams of light that turned half their bodies to ash.

It was a moment best appreciated by people with strong stomachs. My own felt queasy.

That didn’t stop people from cheering, but the cheer could have been louder. On the other hand, if the colony had assembled its most experienced veterans for this fight, they might have an all too realistic sense of how far this was from the end of the battle.

As they cheered, the colonists ran back toward the outer ring, taking their positions again and firing at the withdrawing Ascendancy troops.

“Wow,” Cassie watched the retreat as she talked. “I don’t envy those guys. They’re going to have to stand in that stuff for the rest of the battle. It was kind of awesome though. I didn’t see that coming.”

I took a breath, trying to ignore my stomach while thinking of the fastest way to make my suit absorb my helmet. “I should have seen it. Crawls-Through-Desert and Captain Tolker were talking and I knew they could do this. That’s how they made the Ascendancy’s smaller ships inoperable earlier. They just weren’t this obvious about it.”

Jaclyn stared at the bloody battlefield for a moment and then turned back to us. “There’s no reason to hide it now.”

Katuk said, “I concur, but it’s not a technique they’ll be able to use again in quite the same way during this battle. The Ascendancy will work around it now. In fact, I’m sure that we’ll be seeing Kamia soon.”

“Whoa,” Marcus said, “if she can take over the shields and make them do it again, she’ll take out everyone near the shields—” he snapped his fingers, “—like that!”

I thought about it, using the Xiniti implant to supply details about the shields. “It’s not an easy thing to do. I don’t know exactly how her power works, but unless they made that an easily accessible function in the shields, it would be hard. My impression is that the technique’s a fairly complicated hack and hard to reproduce just form seeing it.”

Katuk turned to look at Marcus with his dark, too wide eyes. “Kamia has limits. She exploits her connection to Abominator technology to control related technologies and AIs. Her connection to unrelated technologies and objects of less intelligent computers is less effective. Though she can disrupt the standard functioning of our implants, she can’t control them. She should have a difficult time producing complex actions on the computers used in shield generators.”

“Huh,” Marcus said, looking toward the outer ring of shields. “I wonder what she’s going to do now then?”

“No idea,” I said, checking my implant again, “but she’s brought down shields when she’s gotten close to them. My bet would be something like that.”

As I said that, the hum of energy weapons firing and the hiss as they hit the shields began again, but not everywhere.

One section of the shield was left untouched, but the sections on either side of were getting hammered with fire. A quick look showed that there was another untouched section of shield on the other side of the ring while every other section was under attack.

The first thought that came into my mind was whether they were going to attack only one of the two untouched sections or both?

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 12

In My Daydreams

Nick, Hideaway Surface

Kals walked up to us at about the same time as Katuk joined us.

As we backed up to let them into the group, Kals asked, “What’s your plan?”

“We don’t really have one,” I said. “We’re kind of working on backup plans in case the shields go down. Also, we missed the rest of what she said. Given that everyone’s looking tense, I’m guessing they’re just about to start?”

“Close,” Kals glanced back toward the shelter. “She made a big appeal to Mom and the Council to surrender and save the lives of all the people fighting today. It wasn’t much different than what they’ve said before.”

Cassie laughed. “It’s almost like they’re afraid to fight you.”

Kals gave a half-smile. “I think they are, but mostly because if Mom dies they’ll have a hard time finding a unifying figure like her to reprogram. That’s why Kamia talked about how easy it will be to take the shields down.”

Tikki eyed her, frowning. “She’s not the only potential unifying figure. If she were to die, you would also be an effective choice.”

Kals raised an eyebrow. “Me?” Then she let out a breath. “You’re right. Both my dad and mom would be heroes of the resistance and they’d be dead. It’s inevitable.”

She glanced down to a pouch on her belt. Other resistance members kept suicide pills there.

Jaclyn noticed too. “We’re not going to let that happen.”

Katuk cocked his head to look at Jaclyn’s face. “Suicide is an honorable response when your death protects what your life cannot.”

Jaclyn’s mouth tightened. “I suppose, but I don’t want anyone to have to go that far.”

Kals looked out past the shields. Kamia’s troops still weren’t visible. “I’m not in any hurry to make the ultimate sacrifice for the resistance, but I don’t  want to be used to destroy it.”

Marcus nodded. “I think we all get that. I’m not in a hurry either, but knowing what they can do to us makes me think that we should have packed suicide pills.”

Katuk looked over at him, the silver of his armor gleaming in the daylight, “There’s no need. Your implant can do it if necessary.”

I’d never considered that we might have a way to kill ourselves built in to the implant, but in that moment I knew all I had to do to activate it. Looking at everybody’s faces, we all did—well, except for Rachel.

Next to me she said, “That’s not a good look on any of you.”

“No kidding,” Cassie shook her head. “That’s the last thing I wanted to know. Maybe we should be probing our implants for things it can do to help us win.”

“I think we should be thinking about how to win in general,” Jaclyn looked the group of us over. “Kamia said she had more of the Ascendant Guard with her now. My implant tells me that they’ve got a variety of soldiers, all of them Abominator designed for different types of warfare. I guess if we have any fliers, Katuk, Nick or I will have to handle them.”

Tikki raised a hand slowly. “I can help with that.”

Not showing any surprise, Jaclyn nodded.

“Me too,” Cassie glanced over at the shields. “I’m not assigned to the front this time around. I think they must be assuming we’ll work together.”

Jaclyn nodded, “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Then we talked about ways we could do that for a few minutes. We weren’t done when Kamia’s voice again sounded around us.

“Jadzen, come out. It’s time to do the only thing that will save your people here. Come out and lead the rest of your “Council” through the shields. Remember I can take them down with a thought. I don’t need you to cooperate. If you don’t, I’ll just kill you and everyone else.

“So it’s your choice. Cooperate or watch all your people die.”

Kamia stopped speaking (wherever she was) and waited for a response. She didn’t get one immediately. I’d like to say that silence hung in the air, but that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. How would an absence of sound hang anywhere?

The door opened with a creak and Jadzen stepped out of the shelter, followed by  Iolan and a couple other council members.

Silence hung in the air, broken only by the sound of their footsteps on the forest floor.

They didn’t walk toward the shields. They stopped close to us and Jadzen cleared her throat. She took a breath and looked over at Kals giving her a smile.

Then she spoke, her voice resonant with the queer tone that motivators had when using their power. She wasn’t commanding anyone to do anything though. She seemed to be using it to be heard.

“Kamia,” she said, staring out past the shields at the forest, “I’ve heard of you and your deeds. Your ability to cause destruction is well known. I say this so that you understand that I’ve made my decision with full knowledge of the consequences.

“I will never let myself be captured and personality bent to the will of people with no respect for human dignity or freedom. I will die first—either by your hand or my own.”

Jadzen opened her mouth to say more, but she’d already given an answer enough for Kamia.

Beams of light hit the shields, creating the sound of a hissing white noise. For the moment, they held. We had to do something before they fell. I doubted it would be long.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 11

In My Daydreams

Admiral Makri Tzin, Human Ascendancy Flagship, Hideaway System

Admiral Tzin knew that he’d won when he saw who’d taken control of the ground forces.

The report told him that Kamia of the Thuroni Defenders, an elite company within the Ascendant Guard, had assumed command as soon as the marines landed. Ordinarily Admiral Tzin wasn’t fond of the ability of the lowest member of the Guard to assume command of any Ascendancy force not commanded by a Guard member, but in this case he knew Kamia’s record.

Any Guard member with her success against Xiniti could use his forces as necessary—so long as she didn’t take over his.

If she did, he had some plans she wouldn’t appreciate.

And in any case, she appeared to be one of the polite ones. The smarter Guard members often were. She’d send him a message saying what she intended to use the troops for and that she didn’t intend to keep using them any longer than was necessary to capture the council. She’d even asked him if he had any use for the human Xiniti trainees.

He didn’t and his return message had told her that she could do anything she wished with them. Reprogramming them for espionage against the Xiniti never worked out no matter how often they’d tried it. Better to kill the human traitors than to give the Xiniti more practice in deprogramming.

They were getting too good at it already.

As for the Xiniti themselves, he looked forward to finding out exactly what Kamia would do to them. He had enough of them up here. He could use some ideas. Laughing at that thought, he decided to check on the progress of the battle. Using his implant, he connected to the ship’s tactical computer and the ship’s sensors.

The tactical computer wasn’t sentient, of course. That was too much of a risk, but it did calculate the probability of success for the overall battle based on current actions, predicted the best way to reach specific objectives, and made predictions of enemy responses to specific actions.

Admiral Tzin opted to get back to the current situation, but with notations as to probable outcomes of his choices.

It did not go well.

Early on in the battle, he’d found that the fleet’s larger ships couldn’t maneuver quickly enough to be effective against the smaller Xiniti ships. Following fleet doctrine, he’d used smaller ships and personal fighters against Xiniti ships.

The standard fleet tactics against Xiniti needed some revision and the people he’d assigned to come up with effective tactics weren’t yet successful.

By a series of actions he’d only just begun to understand, the Xiniti had managed to separate the fleet’s different groups to a point that they couldn’t assist each other effectively.

While they still outnumbered the Xiniti, the tactical program showed that though the smaller craft were keeping the Xiniti busy for now, the Xiniti were destroying his fighters more quickly than his forces were destroying Xiniti ships.

Once they passed a certain point in numbers, the Xiniti would begin to target the battleships and cruisers. That would be the beginning of the end. The war on the ground might go well, but up here, he needed a game changer and he wasn’t finding one.

He tested the probable results of making the Xiniti aware of what was going on on the ground, forcing their ships back in the direction of the planet. The simulations didn’t go as he hoped. Instead of clustering as they tried to help the people on the ground, most simulations showed them beginning to cluster and then destroying his fleet as it began to get into formation for attack.

He tried other options including gathering the largest ships to bombard the planet. Even that didn’t work out as planned since the Xiniti in the simulation (or the ship on the planet) were watching for it.

The damned little ship had taken out a half a squadron before the commanding officer had the sense to withdraw. They still didn’t know where it had gone.

He screamed and would have punched something if he’d been outside of his own head.

Controlling himself, he commanded that Four Hands be found and given access to the tactical computer in case he could see anything the admiral had missed. The man’s people weren’t much use in a fight, but he’d heard Four Hands was a capable commander. It’d be a waste not to use him.

Even as that command went out, the tactical computer made him aware of a change. Ships were coming out of jump in the outer system, an Ascendancy fleet the size of his own.

He grinned as tactical predictions began to shift. If final calculations were anything like what he was beginning to see, the combined fleet would destroy the Xiniti fleet. He hoped the new admiral didn’t outrank him.

Then, before he got the new fleet’s identification, more jump points opened, at least as many as before. As soon as he saw their shapes, he could tell they weren’t from the Ascendancy. Most of these ships he’d only seen in his implant’s catalog. He never thought they’d enter the Human Quarantine.

This new fleet, a combination Alliance and Xiniti fleet, had followed the Ascendancy fleet through jump. If Admiral Tzin guessed right, they’d probably been fighting before the jump.

Dammit, the admiral thought.

Even worse, the tactical computer kicked him out as it recalculated probabilities for the entire battle.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 10

In My Daydreams

“Well, crap,” I muttered. Kamia had Abominator devices or a talent that might allow her to take the shields down from a distance. She also had an Abominator designed shield that both Cassie’s sword and my sonics had a chance to get through.

In her place, I’d take down the shields remotely and send in enough people that the battle would be over before Cassie and I found her.

That’s not what she was doing at that moment, though. She was trying to give us every reason to surrender without a fight—which might mean that she didn’t want to waste soldiers’ lives, but it also might mean that we’d scared her.

I hoped that we were that lucky.

Meanwhile, Kamia continued, “You’ve fought well so far, but you can’t survive what’s coming. We have hundreds of fresh troops to help us, but we have more than that. More members of the Ascendant Guard came on board that ship. Four Hands is no longer on the planet, but Neves and I have more than enough help to handle even your strongest fighters. We’ve slain four Xiniti already today.

“Don’t think they’ll be able to save you.”

On the ground below, Katuk stood, staring in the direction of Kamia’s voice, probably scanning the area. One thing she could be confident of is that he’d go after her if she showed up. Bearing in mind her record of killing Xiniti, she might appear so that she could kill him and then disappear.

It might be worth the risk for the damage to our morale.

At the same time, she’d already done that a little bit with regards to me. If Four Hands was off the planet, he wasn’t going to be much help.

As Kamia addressed Jadzen directly, I jumped off the roof of the shelter and walked over to Tikki, Marcus, Cassie, and Jaclyn. They were standing in a circle near Katuk. Tiger lay on the ground behind Jaclyn.

Rachel appeared as I joined the group.

Looking over at Jaclyn as they stopped talking to include us in the circle, I asked, “How are you doing today?”

“Better,” Jaclyn said. “Much better. I heal a little more quickly than all of you, but today, I’m completely healed. I’m more tired than I should be, but it’s better than being burned all over like I was—”

Then she stopped, looking over at Tikki, saying what I’d begun to think, “How much did I age when you accelerated time for us yesterday?”

Tikki blushed. “Not much. Nothing at all, I hope. I accelerated when you were with me, but when we were done, I made you younger again. You should be the same age as when we started.”

“That’s not how it worked with me,” Marcus cocked his head to look at her.

Tikki bit her lip. “No—I… With you I changed the past so you didn’t get hurt, something I can’t normally do, but I can make people older or younger. Jaclyn could heal herself by growing older, but once she was healed I could make her younger without bringing her back to where she was before she healed.”

Marcus raised an eyebrow. “I get it, but I don’t know why it works that way.”

Tikki held up her hands. “Me neither.”

I started talking before anyone else take the conversation further afield. “You’ve been listening to Kamia, right?”

Cassie nodded, touching her sword. “Yeah, that and waiting for the attack.”

“I’m thinking that Kamia can take down shields and that we ought to have a plan in case she takes down one or all of them.”

“All of them?” Cassie shook her head. “If that happens, we’re screwed—well, unless we’ve got the ability to attack all of them on the way in. I could use the gun to burn down a lot of people, but I’m not going to take out all of them—just a lot.”

I turned toward Tikki. “I don’t know if you’ve been holding out on us, but if you can do more than what you’ve mentioned so far, you might want to think about the largest radius you can fire off a blast of aging at. Without your help, we’re probably all going to die—though with Jaclyn feeling good, it might be slower.”

Tikki frowned. “I’ll do what I can. I have a stake in this too.”

To me, that didn’t quite sound like her even if it didn’t sound off enough to Marcus who told me, “You know she’ll do everything she can. She’s been doing more than we ever thought possible lately.”

“I know,” I said, “but knowing exactly what she can do would help. Right now, I’m feeling like she can do anything.”

Tikki looked from Marcus to me, “Not anything, but I might be able to handle half of the ring without straining myself.”

Then she frowned, waiting for my response.

“Half of the ring? That’s more than I expected, but that’s great.” I didn’t know how much power would get the attention of her and Lee’s people, but I wouldn’t have thought she’d be willing to risk that much.

Next to me, Rachel’s eyes narrowed and she watched me. She might want me to explain this later, but we probably wouldn’t have time.

Around us, Kamia’s voice faded away and everyone looked out past the force fields while our soldiers crouched, pointing their weapons through the shields, ready for action.

We’d missed something.

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 9

In My Daydreams

“Reinforcements? From where? Are they landing more ships?”

Rachel shook her head. “It’s just people they already had on the ground—people who landed today mixed with some survivors from the ship you fought before.”

So that meant we had a chance. I wondered if Four Hands was among them and if he would do anything.

I said, “The battle’s just continuing then and they aren’t coming back to the planet?”

Rachel closed her eyes, breathing. “They’re fighting the Xiniti all over the system right now. I don’t think they have any ground troops that they can spare and even if they did, they don’t have any ships near here.”

I nodded. “I guess that’s good news. All we have to do is survive until the Xiniti win, Alliance ships show up, or maybe the Cosmic Ghosts take out the Ascendancy fleet.”

I thought about it some more. “That’s not bad odds. I think we’ve got more people technically—even if the colonists are ex-terrorists and not professional soldiers.”

Rachel took my hand, gave it a squeeze and let go. “Provided more Ascendancy ships don’t show up and blow the Xiniti to Hell while dropping thousands of troops down here. Also, assuming the Ascendancy doesn’t give up and drop a rock on us.”

I looked over at her. “Was squeezing my hand supposed to take the edge off that?”

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just as much in the dark as you are. More Ghosts are on their way. I don’t know when they’ll get here, but I think we’ve got a good reason to hope.”

I looked out at the second ring of blue, glowing shields going up around the shelter as we talked. The plant floated next to Captain Tolker, coordinating the defense. In that moment, it wasn’t hard to be optimistic.

The flashes of light in the distance made it a little harder though. I knew it had to be the Xiniti and they were trying to be louder and more obvious than they had to be in order to give the new troops time to set up. If the Ascendancy killed  these Xiniti, I suspected it would hurt us more than we knew.

Their constant attacks meant that the Ascendancy couldn’t ever put it’s full force against those of us defending the shelter.

“That’s a long silence,” Rachel looked at me and then out toward the shield rings. “Look at it this way. We’ve made it this far. Despite the Cabal, The Thing That Eats, the Nine, and all the others, we’re still alive. If you think about it, we shouldn’t be. All of them are out of our league.”

She wasn’t wrong. I needed to calm down and not keep on seeing all the ways that this could go wrong tonight. Chances are, the next big problem would be something that I didn’t even have on my list.

Plus, if I managed to relax, I might be able to get back to solving problems instead of worrying about them. A fight was at core a series of technical problems. I could handle them the same way I did at home—backing off for a little while, assuming that the Ascendancy gave me the time.

I didn’t want to even think about what it would be like to go through an even longer fight like the last one. We’d been far too close to losing.

To be fair, we were in a better position now. The trees were down all around the outer ring, all of them turned to ash by the ship’s main gun. The Ascendancy’s troops could try to jump over the shields, but they weren’t going to jump 100 feet high.

I wondered how much of what I was feeling came from not sleeping much and running for half the night.

I kept that thought in mind as I watched our people put the Ascendancy dead into a pile next to our dead (no one I knew). Making a pile next to the shelter didn’t feel quite right, but you didn’t want the bodies underfoot either. A pile made sense. They could handle them appropriately later.

Captain Tolker looked up at me on the shelter and then around the camp. “Everyone in the first battle should rest if you can. We’ve got four times as many people as we did before. So you should sleep, eat, whatever… They’ve withdrawn. I’m sure they’ll be back, but you’ll do better if you’re not tired. Take a moment. We’ll wake you when we need you.”

“That means you,” Rachel said, yawning. “And me too.”

Falling asleep turned out to be easier than I’d have expected. Between the nervous energy from the fight and being overwhelmed by all the things that could possibly go wrong, you’d think it would be impossible. It seemed like it would be, but then sleep took over anyway.

When I woke, the sun was rising in a direction I’d arbitrarily decided was east. I was still on the roof in my armor. I didn’t see any troops around us, but I didn’t believe they’d gone. They could easily be hiding in the forest on either side of the shield ring.

Captain Tolker must have agreed with me because he had troops manning weapons next to the rings, waiting for an attack.

Even as I thought about it, they made contact—not as an attack, but by voice. A  calm, female voice said, “I am Kamia of the Ascendant’s Guard. Surrender or we’ll kill you where you stand.”

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 8

In My Daydreams

In the dark, the ship was practically invisible with the black shield that surrounded it. Plus, Hal hadn’t fired from just above the trees. Knowing the range of the main gun, he could have been miles away.

Given that the atmosphere interfered with the beam, he’d probably been within a mile though.

So all I could know was that the beams and explosions didn’t send pieces of the ship crashing down on us from above. It seemed reasonable to assume that he’d made it.

Deciding to assume the best for the ship didn’t help me with my other problem—the Ascendancy soldiers that had come over the top of the shields while the shield went down.

Blasting away with the sonics at frequencies that destroyed tech was not an option. I turned away from the downed shield, hoping that others would be able to handle whatever came from the front. Bearing mind that I saw only ash from that direction at the moment, it seemed likely.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Our snipers had taken out quite a few on the way down. Plus, Jaclyn and Tikki had come back inside while I’d been conversing with the ship.

The dog had even taken one down, grabbing him by the neck, biting down and shaking until the soldier’s limbs stopped moving.

I’d seen Marcus fighting too. While he used guns too, flexible limbs let him pull off armor or grab soldiers and swing them into trees, sometimes while they were still in the air.

While I didn’t see Rachel directly, I saw evidence that she was in the fight. Beyond heads exploding from her bullets, soldiers’ bodies would sometimes spasm as she reached through their armor to touch them with the taser gloves I’d made her.

I’d been planning to watch for any soldiers aiming for the generator poles, but I didn’t have to. As one soldier made a break for the nearest pole, a purple blur appeared, knocking him backward to the ground, unconscious or dead.

In the end, I helped take down the ones that were jumping from tree to tree, trying to avoid getting shot and get closer to the generator poles. I also helped with the few that were still jumping in.

By the time they stopped, no Ascendancy soldiers were left alive within the circle. They weren’t even trying to rush the open spot in the shields.

I activated the rockets and flew to the top of the shelter, using it to look all the way around us.

I couldn’t see anyone.

The ship had burned down anything that Jaclyn hadn’t knocked over. The only things blocking my view were the trees next to and within the shields and the shields themselves. Otherwise, we had at least fifty feet of flat, ash-covered ground on all sides.

I could understand why the Ascendancy might back off in the face of the ship, but knowing that they were giving chase to it, I had no idea why they wouldn’t be pouring troops into here now that it was gone.

Adjusting the suit’s sensitivity to audio, I listened for hints of what might be going on.

I heard the sounds of fighting—a lot of it. My first thought was the Xiniti, but the Xiniti we’d seen weren’t a large enough group to do much more than hit the edges of a larger force—maybe even carve chunks out of that force. They weren’t large enough to force the Ascendancy to reassign their entire landing force when what they wanted was to capture Jadzen.

Beyond that, it was way too optimistic to hope we’d intimidated the Ascendancy into giving up.

Rachel appeared next to me on the roof. “Have you figured it out yet?”

I opened my eyes and looked at her. “Why they left?”

She smiled. “And who’s coming.”

Then I heard a gun fire. My implant identified it as a laser rifle commonly sold to mercenaries within the Human Quarantine but wasn’t commonly used among Human Ascendancy troops.

That narrowed it down. I knew who to expect before they appeared—hundreds of colonists, all of them dressed in the same light armor and carrying the same rifles as the people we already had. Crawls-Through-Desert floated along next to them, giving directions.

That wasn’t all. They arrived with more shield generators—many more, setting another circle around the one we had.

In the distance, I could see flashes of bright light and heard screams. My implant identified the lights as Xiniti weapons. They had to be distracting the  Ascendancy soldiers so we had time to set up defenses.

On the roof, I turned to Rachel. “How did you know?”

Her mouth twisted. “I pick up what the other Ghosts know sometimes. It’s not all good. The Ascendancy is getting reinforcements.”

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In My Daydreams

Updating One Day Late

In My Daydreams

Still doing Christmas stuff with family. I’ll be updating a day late.

Jim

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In My Daydreams

Trees & Shields: Part 7

In My Daydreams

Dalat turned to fire at the soldier who’d jumped over him, killing him in a shot while Geman shot the other.

The good news was that Geman had saved one half of the shield generator pair. The other pole, still lying on the grass, didn’t look too bad as it could. It hadn’t been broken in two, but it wasn’t working either.

I didn’t know as much as I wanted about these shields but fixing it didn’t seem impossible. Even better, if they had a spare, they might be able to swap it out.

Not that the Ascendancy’s forces planned on making that easy. When the shield went down, the nearest troops ran for the opening, running and firing.

Unsure of what else I could do, I ran for the opening, aiming the sonics above the heads of the people who’d been firing from behind the shield. It was easier than it might have been. They weren’t in complete retreat, but they were moving to stand behind the shields on either side of the downed shield.

I couldn’t blame them. They wore the same light armor Kals (and almost all the resistance) did. Little more than a jacket, pants, and a helmet, it could take a few shots, but after a couple in the same spot, it would go through.

This time I set both arms’ sonics to anti-tech frequencies and I pumped up the power to just short of damaging levels. I could feel a hint of warmth on my arms—which was unusual in a heavily armored suit even if it was normal for the stealth version of the Rocket suit.

That worried me a little because the last thing I needed was for the sonics to give out before this was over. Sure, the suit could repair them, but I might not have time for that.

In the first few seconds, I took more shots than I had time to count. My armor dutifully noted the damage and began repairs. I’d improved the Rocket suit’s materials a couple different times within the past few months before this trip. It felt good to know that the design could handle some punishment.

Ahead of me, two Ascendancy soldiers’ rifles shot gouts of flame out of their sides and then the rifles went dead—or so I assumed from the way they pulled the trigger without anything happening.

Then they stopped running. I couldn’t tell why, but they came to a stop, dropped to the ground, and pulled at their helmets. At about the same time, more soldiers ran past them only to stop and start pulling at their helmets as well.

As they did, resistance fire picked them off.

I’d discovered a real vulnerability, whatever it was, but not one I’d be able to keep up forever.

That was even more true when I checked my peripheral vision and got an overall picture of the situation. Ascendancy soldiers were still coming over the shield though not as many of them as before. The ones that had already made it over were the main worry right now.

Only quick action by our troops and luck had stopped them from taking out another section of shield.

If they did, I’d have to choose between protecting this section, moving to the other one, or aiming for ones still coming over.

I contacted Hal, “I need help. We need to make the Ascendancy troops back off. I don’t care how you do it except that you don’t hit Jaclyn and Tikki. They’re outside our shields. Also, that you don’t take out our shields or kill any of our people.”

Hal responded, “I can, but not without revealing my position. The Ascendancy troops are probably in possession of weapons capable of doing this ship real damage. Even if they do not possess them, there are small spacecraft on the planet and firing on the troops will reveal my position. I’ll have to attack and then hide again.”

“If you have to, go ahead. You have my permission.”

Hal manufacturers had built in protections against rebellion on the part of sentient machines. My permission had disarmed part of that for one purpose—my orders.

I checked the world around me. It wasn’t any better than it had been before I talked to him.

Through the firing weapons, shouts, and the strange tones of the motivators, I heard a hint of my ship’s engines. He wasn’t far away at all.

Then Hal fired the main gun, turning everything in front of me white and everything in the path of the beam to ashes.

Over my comm, Hal added commentary. “The anti-personnel lasers lack the necessary range to be useful in this situation. The main gun isn’t made for targeting individual humans. It is effective in targeting general areas.”

The beam circled around the forest, burning the entire way.

After a moment, Hal said, “Objective achieved. I must now evade the small craft and weapons targeting me.”

The sound of engines increased as explosions and energy beams appeared above us.

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