<==  ==>

“That’s suicide,” the Squad 2 sergeant called. “Even if you can land on that roof, they’ll have you surrounded.”

“Then you’ll lose the most junior bird in the platoon. I’m already the closest, captain.”
“…Fine!” Miriam cried. “Squad 1, veer to the side! Squad 2, cover the private! Squads 3 and 4, launch and be sure to spread out! Go go go!”

Herod traveled out of the safe vector and into dangerous territory. For several moments she was effectively defenseless to incoming fire- but her gamble had paid off. Squad 1’s maneuver had opened a hole in Neighbor fire big enough for her to squeeze through.

Now directly over the rooftop, Herod increased speed with her thrusters. The mounted guns turned to face her but it was too late, she was too close to hit.

Now she had to land without using her retrorockets to slow herself- impossible. She’d splatter against the rooftop… unless…

Herod extended her right arm and deployed the wrist-mounted rocket launcher. A projectile no larger than a deck of cards spat forth and collided with the center of the roof, kicking up a cloud of dust and smoke that obscured her view of the landing. She flew into the cloud-

And broke free inside the tower. The rocket had made a hole, just as she wanted. Deploying her retrorockets and wings, Herod slowed herself down to a smooth, controlled descent.

The inside of the tower was packed with Neighbor activity too, but Herod didn’t care about that. She maneuvered towards the staircase that led to the roof, gracefully landing on her feet and rushing through the access shunt.

The onboard computer reacted faster than she did, painting several targets standing close to the roof access. Herod deployed her shoulder-mounted minigun and trained it on the sinuous, twisting figures. The rounds shredded two, three, four of them and scattered the others.

There were far too many for Herod to kill on her own, but she could create enough chaos to let the rest of her platoon land. Already she had torn a wide hole in their defenses, one that her sisters in the air could rush through.

She ducked as a blue round streaked over her head, and returned fire with a rocket that blew the shooter apart. Herod kept low and kept moving, firing rockets and rounds with reckless abandon. She didn’t care about kills, she cared about drawing as much attention as possible- and she was drawing plenty. Dozens or hundreds of defenders had stepped away from their guns to focus on the chaotic whirlwind girl.

When she sensed she was being boxed in, Herod flew over their heads, firing more and more beneath her. Enemy fire perforated the wings and damaged the jetpack, but Herod was unharmed and landed in a roll.

She quickly sprang to her feet, just in time for one of the Neighbors to leap at her with spear drawn. It was slinky by human standards, tall and long-limbed and covered in glistening scales. Its flesh spear swelled with the same explosive blue matter- if it jabbed her with it, she’d melt.

Herod went low, ducking the thrust. She deployed her pneumatic blade, dove in, and slashed in a horizontal arc. The metallic glass sheared through the tough hide, stringy meat, and hard bone of the Neighbor’s waist, slicing it in two in one fluid motion.

Moments later, the cavalry arrived. Squads 3 and 4, having taken advantage of her big stupid distraction, began to descend and add their gunfire to her own. Captain Miriam blasted three Neighbors to mist with a disruptor grenade. One bird- Sergeant Yocheved- took a silver bolt to the head. Not even her AEGIS could save her skull from being reduced to pulp.

Already in disarray and attacked from all sides, the Neighbors broke formation and began to retreat into the same shunt she had come through. As was their protocol, BEACON allowed for those fleeing to do so. Those who stayed to fight died where they stood.

They took a moment to regroup, destroy the artillery, and let the rest of the platoon catch up. “We gotta get to the ground,” one of the sergeants roared as she launched a rocket at a mounted gun. “Fight’s still heavy down there.”

“We’re already here, let’s take out the orbital cannon,” Captain Miriam replied. “Otherwise it’ll be pounding the next waves just like it pounded us.”

“Not the kinda pounding I want,” said Sergeant Asiya. “We got the birds for it? They got Yocheved…”

Herod, Miriam, and a dozen others were what remained of the platoon. “We’re plenty,” Miriam said sharply. “Cannon is on a balcony a few floors down, nobody else’s gonna get an opportunity like this. No time to hesitate, we gotta move, move!”

As though they had rehearsed, the platoon took off together to attack the balcony. The Neighbors crewing the orbitcal cannon would have heard the fighting above and would be ready for them, so she flew ahead of the others. She had done a good job of drawing their fire once, why not twice?

They were indeed waiting for her: Herod was met with a barrage of gunfire the second she burst into view. She detached her already-damaged thrust pack and grabbed onto the ledge, holding tight with her augmented strength. While Herod drew attention to the left side, the rest of the platoon poured in from the right, raining fire and supersonic metal spikes upon them.

When she saw her moment, Herod pulled herself up. A Neighbor thrust at her with its spear, but she dodged, impaled it through the chest, then yanked it over the side.

Pulling herself up, Herod drew her pneumatic blade and started hacking away. She slashed and slashed and slashed at their backs, felling them one after another.

Only when her shoulder was throbbing and her forearm felt ready to shatter did Herod realize there were no enemies left for her to fight. She sat down, panting, acutely aware that she was absolutely soaked in the slippery, greasy translucent blood of the Neighbors.

Miriam approached her. “No time to rest,” she said breathlessly, offering Herod a steel hand. “We’ve planted the charges, now it’s time to get gone before more Romeos show up.”

Herod accepted the help up. “My flight module’s gone,” she said. “And I can’t feel my right arm.”

“I’ll carry you.” Miriam’s face was hidden behind the mask, but she seemed happy. Probably just the exhilaration of hard fighting. The rush of adrenaline could be enormously addictive. “You fight like a hellcat for a hatchling fresh from the Proving Ground.”

The private saw no need to correct the captain as she lifted Herod onto her back and flew from the balcony. The heat of the explosive destroying the orbital cannon was intense enough that the Gawain alerted Herod of potential fire risk.

<==  ==>

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