caapter 119: Face to Face
We left our heroes having an unexpected tea in the New Dawn yards, with
Commandant Rilya, which let her push off an unwelcome diplomatic visit
from Faerie. We ask if there's anything else we can do. Well, we could
take some new cadets back to Timmons, to help him build the supply line
to Olam Nephilim.
We do that, then return to the work of the Nephilim Exodus. Back aboard the Tellemataru, tempers are fraying among the nephil council; a case of too many chiefs. But at least we are getting to the last parts -- the hard parts.
Our next area to evacuate is a quasi-Greek zone, the "Cities of the Seven Kings," occupying a peninsula and nearby islands in an inland sea. This is Metalaisās home area. It is also an area under close draconian scrutiny, being heavily urbanized, wealthy, and powerful. The dragons have permanent footholds in all the major cities -- palaces and temples and estates.
This makes it impossible to evacuate these cities without drawing attention. The best that can be done is having large percentages of the population retire to the countryside for "festivals" at which we will turn up. The rest of the folk will have to be extracted by less subtle means.
(Beyond all this, there are the Three Great Cities of the Dragons, and the Seven Lesser Cities, all of which have human populations of slaves. These we have no rescue plans for at all. Yet.)
It is likely to the point of certainty that our plans will have suffered some leakage and the dragons will be suspicious about these festivals. Is there any way we can screen for infiltrators? We ask about and find that several fays on board claim to be able to detect dragons despite any shapeshifting they may do. Only four really seem to be able to, when we use Markel and Katrina as test subjects (both of them probably bearing some dragon blood).
One semi-reliable dragon detector is a tree-like creature. Unfortunately, dragons terrify him and he seems neither overly brave nor overly bright. After considering several other schemes, we disguise him as a potted plant and leave him in a room down the hall from the reception area, where he will be the final check. Other detectors include a pixie and a very thin humanoid fay. We give our detectors infrared target-designators and tell the ship's computer to notify us of who gets designated and by how many.
We then have people standing by ready to pounce with stunners, heavier weapons, and, in the cases of Desmond and Greywolf, nephilite powers.
Then we start loading. The first batch goes well, as does the second. On the third, the pixie tags one of the arrivals. Robbie "accidentally" trips him with a bit of ectoplasm on the floor, causing him and those near him to slide down the tube into Reception. Robbie then "helps" him up and hustles him into a nearby chamber, where Desmond and Greywolf are waiting.
When our suspect arrives, he takes one look at the people waiting for him and whips out a blaster. Fortunately, Greywolf whips out his own blaster, even faster.
ZOT/ZOT The dragon is down and Greywolf is barely grazed. Robbie takes some damage in back-splashed plasma, but he's armored. Greywolf finishes the foe off. We put out fires and have some Pemnals come to tidy up.
Gannar gets the job of disposing of the body. At first, we think to toss it into space out the nearest airlock, but Gannar doesn't like the idea of a supernatural creature's corpse being left in deep space. Big loose end. He takes it to the recycler instead.
We load a fourth group without incident. In the fifth, the skinny detector fay suddenly runs up the gang-tube to Markel and points out someone in the crowd. Markel starts following him down, staying hid in the crowd. Robbie starts a log-jam in the crowd by "questioning" someone ahead of the suspect, thus allowing Markel and now Dafnord to close in on him. Robbie then starts to interview the suspect himself and then hustles him off to our little abattoir, where Greywolf and Desmond await.
This time, it's more complicated; he has two friends with him -- apparently not dragons -- who want to wait for him. We try to urge them on and have the ship's computer track them.
The suspect is greeted by Greywolf with blaster at the ready. The suspect chucks his staff at Robbie with inhuman speed and force, and tries to bolt. "It's a trap!" yells one of his companions, while the other one starts running away down the hall. Dafnord attacks with his sword, Robbie with gun platforms. The dragon staggers but does not go down immediately. Instead, he retrieves his staff, which turns out to conceal a blaster. Robbie tries encasing his head in ectoplasm, but he destroys that with classic draconian fire-breath. Dafnord chops him down with Umbra.
Meanwhile, his friend is screaming. Katrina takes him down with a stunner. The friend who ran away is tracked down by Markel and Dafnord. After a lot of screaming and running, he winds up unconscious in Dafnord's arms. He gives him to a passing Kraslk stevedore, to take to an infirmary.
Markel goes back to Reception and picks up the dragon, to take to recycling. All the blood and violence has started a panic, which the sight of bloody bodies being hauled away does nothing to quiet. The panic spreads up the loading tube, where Mithriel does her best to calm people after Runyana stuns the loudest and most hysterical.
Eventually, we get everyone loaded, even the ones who ran away in the panic, and go on to our sixth loading. One of the early arrivals takes one look at the thin detector fay and exclaims "Damn!" then turns about and runs back up the tube. All three fay designators in Reception agree he's a dragon.
At the top of the tube, this dragon encounters Dafnord, with his sword Umbra. He exclaims "Damn!" again, and this time his teeth are very long. He holds up a human as a shield. Robbie flies up, ducks a thrown citizen, and tries to shoot the dragon, hitting Dafnord instead. The dragon then throws its human shield at Robbie, so Robbie shoots that human, too. The dragon sprouts wings and starts to loft, but Mithriel shoots at him with arrows. One arrow hits Robbie, but by now this is almost fair...
The dragon falls and Dafnord beheads him. Since he was obviously a dragon at the time, the crowd is pleased, not panicked, and the loading continues.
On to the seventh loading. Now, all these loadings are happening at the same time. Every loading of the Exodus is, in fact. We have been over the same few hours hundreds of times by now. We reach a point in the seventh loading when the alarums and excursions of the previous loadings are now behind us. And someone has taken notice. Two high-tech aircraft come droning in from the distance, the manta-like fighters we first saw back on Destine, during the mass abduction.
Tom says it's time to change tactics. He's going to disconnect and go get the Munch. Who wants to be on the pantope for this? Dafnord does, and Tom, Kate, and Mirien are already there. The four of them disconnect, then connect to the Munch. This ship is still in its hangar at Jumping Jacks. We plan to put pantope doors over the gun ports and shoot the dragon-fighters out of their own sky. Edvard, the ship's computer, is used to the idea of firing guns in a hangar and having nothing happen. The ground crew around the ship are not... We tell them it's a weapons test. They run.
Using one of the 500 mega-watt plasma cannons, we wing one fighter, then blow away the second. Back to the first. Again, we only nick him. He fires back to where the plasma bolts are coming out of thin air. We freeze frame, change position, and try shooting straight up his tailpipe.
Plasma spills around the mouth of the gun. Fortunately, everyone is out of the hangar by now. After we explain the pantope portal as an "energy-absorbing field," Edvard opines that the field's timing did not compensate for the heating caused by firing the gun in atmosphere. So we let the gun cool down and try again with a different one, while Edvard starts repairing it.
We keep missing. It's hard to get the portal accurately lined up with the gun itself. Eventually, Tom works out a system, involving flipping the portal back and forth, so he alternately looks straight out into Yazatlan and straight down the mouth of the plasma cannon. It's unnerving, but it works. After some stopping and starting with freeze-frame, a few more near misses, and some incredible piloting by our doomed foe, we blow him out of the sky.
Alas, he gets one last lucky shot right down the portal, with a laser, producing scorch marks on the Munch and surrounding tarmac.
About now, we get a comm call from Cantrel, featuring a lot of yelling. Tom explains we're fighting a war, here in the hangar. Cantrel "admires" our ability to import trouble and suggests we export it instead. As to the recoil damage from firing in atmosphere, "Remove the atmosphere!"
"That's an idea," Tom concedes. "We could evacuate the hangar and--"
"I mean take the damn ship into space!"
"Well, okay, if you think it's still spaceworthy."
Cantrel chokes slightly and hangs up. We've got to screen our calls more carefully.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.