Chapter 2

As the flaming apache tumbled out of the sky, I noticed a group of Cobrhan burst out of nearby stone huts. Their snake-like lower bodies propelled them forward at an astonishing speed. One of them was wagging her fingers about creating intricate patterns. An instant later, green energy arched in my direction, and I went into a roll to avoid being hit. Two paces behind me Oswald dove to his stomach and began to unload his weapon into the oncoming warriors. After that, all hell broke loose.

“Don’t just stand there, you idiots! Engage and destroy!” Sergeant Jones spat over the radio. His orders were instantly obeyed. I began high-crawling toward them, but the thirty meters seemed like miles. As I crawled, I looked back over my shoulder, trying to make certain that the other two were right behind me. Osmond was, Solomon was not.

As I spun around, on my belly, the second Apache helicopter began to lay waste to the surrounding woods. Brightly colored flashes whizzed past the Apache, and I could see it trying to take evasive action. I looked to my right and saw that my squad had the front attackers hiding behind a wall. The Cobrhan spellcasters were all concentrating on my squad.

I looked at Solomon, he was still standing, sheepishly watching the fight. There were only ten feet between us, but the cacophony of  the fight was going to drown out anything I might yell at him. I looked at theright once more. A  small Cobrhan was looking at Solomon down an arrow’s shaft.

I surged to my feet sprinting at Solomon, and jumped, talking him down with a flying tackle. A second later, the arrow cut throughthe air, was Solomon’s neck had just been. We rolled, spraying grass and dirt behind us. When we stopped, three rotations later, Solomon lay next to me. I reached over and grabbed his chest plate, pulling him face to face with me.

“Wake the hell up, recruit!” I bellowed through my external speakers. He blinked a few times and seemed to get ahold of himself again. Satisfied, I twisted my neck around, trying to get mybearings.

The smell of sweat was thick in the air, even through my helmet’s filter. I could see names appearing in the upper left corner of my HUD, but there was no sound to accompany them. My damn radio is out, I thought; hopefully, Wastworth can fix it when we get out of here.

Bright flashes continued to hunt the Apache overhead. Looking back at the edge of  the town square, I found my squad. They had set up portable one-way energy barriers and were shooting their blasters through it, at our attackers. Osmond had reached the safety of the barriers and was finding his spot on the line. I looked at Solomon and motioned for him to follow me.

The Osprey’s energy shield offered protection, and I knew we would have to leave it to get to our squad. Best as I could guess, we would be vulnerable for twenty meters. We could make it in only a few seconds if we sprinted…

As I was considering this, the Osprey started to lift off from the ground, clearly wanting to be out of the fight. The same word began to repeat itself in my head.

Fuck.

I grabbed for Solomon, as I stood. I pulled him along behind me, sprinting toward the squad barriers. Ten feet from safety, Solomon tripped, and I went sprawling with him. I looked back, and seeing the Osprey and it’s shield, missing, I scrambled as quickly as I could to the barrier. Solomon was right behind me.

The blaster fire was deafening, and the smell of sweat was stronger than ever. Through my faceplate I watched my squad work in their practiced efficiency. While one soldier reloaded, a second picked up their sector, keeping the enemy suppressed. Barriers were replaced just before the previous one depleted its power. Everyone was working in perfect harmony.

As the Osprey and one remaining Apache retreated, I crouched next to Sergeant Jones. “We’ve got to get out of here!” I yelled over the blaster fire. “And my radio went to shit when I tackled Solomon.”

Jones shook his head, exasperated. He punched a button on his arm. “We have more air support incoming. As long as they don’t flank us, we’ll be fine,” he yelled over his externals.

That’s a big “If” sergeant… was all I could think.

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