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Morganaby: Maggie Finson
The Forge - continued
"My God," I leaned back in my chair, having unconsciously leaned forward during the last part of her narrative. "That was you! I had you in my hands and helped you get away."
"You had no way of knowing back then, Curtis," my companion gave me an enigmatic smile. "Nor did I. My conversion from mother, daughter, sister, and healer to the so terrible warrior that your NTF fears so came in stages. Sylvan was only the beginning."
"Your defense of that town, and your dignity when you came up to speak with me," I answered slowly, "even though you were obviously grieving, impressed my very much, Lady. I have to admit, that under the same circumstances, I would do no differently."
"Even with the knowledge of how many lives that decision would eventually cost your NTF?"
"That is guilt that Im going to have to deal with on my own," drawing in a ragged breath, I tried to set aside the idea that I had allowed the future architect of so many Human deaths and defeats walk away when I had held her in my power. The idea wouldnt go away, stubbornly bringing up images of dead, wounded, and desperately fighting men and women who all had looked to me for answers that would save them.
Answers I had managed to pull out of seeming thin air at times, but never soon enough for all of them, or to prevent more losses once Id come up with them. There was pain over that, and guilt, but for my own shortcomings, not for having allowed a weary, grieving group of enemy civilians to escape the clutches of the NTF provisional government that was set up on the world they had called Sylvan.
"Go on with your story, please," I urged while rising from the chair amidst a dawning battle with even more personal demons than I had possessed before her revelations. "Ill listen, but right now I really need a drink."
"Curtis," she gave me a sympathetic quirk of lips and tilt of her head. "I have my own demons to fight. One of the most difficult things for me to learn about being Cheryii, was the Warriors Healing Ethic. I know that sounds contradictory, but it actually is not. Not all healing is a gentle thing, old friend. As with a cancer, or other malignant growth in a body, often it comes to pass that the diseased tissue must be removed, whether the patient is willing to have it done or not. Often, that kind of healing seems to be, is in fact, cruel beyond endurance. Or so it would seem.
I assure you that handing out such healings is neither easy or enjoyable. I have done such things on a personal basis with individuals, and now, with a much larger entity. If the disease is not eradicated, it will destroy Humanity and many other races besides the Cheryii. I, and my people, and even a good number of you Humans, simply can not allow that disease to grow any more."
"The old this is going to hurt me more than it does you, ploy?" I responded with feigned lightness while carefully hiding the way my hands shook as I poured a stiff four fingers of pure, unadulterated single malt Scotch into a large glass. "Why should I believe that?"
"Because," she whispered barely loudly enough for her words to carry to me, "You have recognized the disease and hate it more than any Cheryii ever did."
I wanted to protest, to argue that point with everything my intellect could muster. But nothing would come. Tilting the glass in my hand so it met my lips, I downed the smoky whiskey in one long gulp, set the glass down and gave her a level, sober look. God and Humanity forgive me, all I could do was give one short, sharp nod in answer to that observation and sit down in silence.
* * * *
Strapped snugly into an acceleration couch on the last ship to lift from ravaged, lost Sylvan, Morgana fought exhaustion and grief in a losing battle. Just like the one she had been forced to abandon planet-side. The strain of holding herself calmly and directing the last defense of Banloch, then leaving the defenders who protected the evac zone was winning out over simple grief, and even an anger so cold it made the vacuum her conveyance was traveling through appear almost inviting.
Taking one last look at the crowded cabin, filled with passengers - refugees - in hastily mounted acceleration couches like her own to make certain everyone was as settled in as could be expected, she finally allowed her eyes to droop shut. But there was no peace in sleep. Not for her. Instead, images of the dreadful hours between leaving Banloch and strapping into the couch filled her numbed mind.
* * * *
Their surroundings were almost surreal as Morgana chivvied the stunned civilians, and worked up militia into the motley assortment of vehicles that would, hopefully, get them to safety. The south eastern quarter of the city was nothing more than piles of smoking, still smoldering rubble filled with dead, the southwest quarter was almost as devastated, with a painfully cleared ribbon of cleared road leading to the south and the Human strong points established at the cost of blood from both races not that far off.
Nearly pristine structures remained in the northern half of the city, eerily empty of even the small life that shared space with the builders. Aside from broken windows, and several craters from impacts and explosions, Morgana could almost believe that nothing had happened at all beyond an accident. Almost.
Yawning, clawing emptiness filled her spirit, so cold she hadnt yet begun to cope with it other than to savagely push it down to places that would hold the pain and loss until she was able, could bear, to really face them. There was no time for that with lives still in the balance. Lives she could help save. Would help save if doing so cost her own.
Maeve stirred against her breast, whimpering for comfort as much as nourishment, and Morgana spared a moment from viewing lost Banloch to kiss and reassure her infant daughter. "Hush little one, you will live to become someone special, or at least have the chance to do that. Now momma has to leave you with others for a time. I will be back for you, dear one, I swear to you."
One of the female family servants who had been in town for shopping hovered nearby and with an audible sob, the heroine of Banloch handed the squirming child over to her. "Take her to Home, and to her Grandmother there, Leylai. Do this, and I will see that you live the rest of your life in Whatever manner you wish. My word on it."
"Not necessary, Lady," the maid answered with tears in her eyes. "Are you not coming with us?"
"There are other things I must do first," Morgana responded with a heaviness to her voice that hadnt been there until the last few minutes. "I will meet you at the evacuation point."
"As you say, Lady," the maid, Laylai nodded with tears in her eyes. "I beg you, dont throw your life away. Too many of the family are already gone, losing you would be more than those of us remaining could bear."
"Call me Morgana," giving the now spent energy weapon still slung over the young womans shoulder a brief glance, she reached out to gently touch her cheek. "You have more than earned the right, Laylai."
"If it would please you, La... Morgana."
"It would. Now get aboard the transport and dont look back," Morgana advised.
"Recall Banloch as it was, not as the ruin it has been reduced to."
"I will," the maid agreed. "Gods smile on you, Lady Morgana, we are given this chance at escape because of you."
"Someone else would have shouldered the burden."
"Not so well as you, my brave Lady.
"Go now," Morgana almost roughly ordered. "Dont waste what I have done here."
After that, though her heart almost broke at turning her back on her sole surviving child, she turned to address the small group of officers gathered to take her commands. "Captain Merevan, you have done well here. I ask one more thing of you, though."
"Give me the order, Lady," the officer respectfully answered, "and I will see that it is carried out."
"See these people safely to the evac zone," she told him, then drew in a long breath and looked at him, and the warriors around him, with pride. "Then make sure they get off planet safely. With all of you... along. It would please me greatly to see you again, Captain."
"As it would me, to see you, Lady," Merevan returned, not contesting the idea that she was not going with the convoy. "Please dont spend longer than necessary to do what you must. If I lost you after all this, the High command would likely hang me by the hopes I have of a family in the future, and then I would have to face your mother."
"Niall and I," she paused for a moment, glaring at her brother who adamantly refused to go without her, and at the similarly recalcitrant squad of youthful warriors under his command. "have a duty, to our family and the others in the outlying estates. We will not leave a living Cheryii to the mercies of the New Terran Federation if it can be helped."
"Gods grant you swift completion of that," Merevan wished. "And an even swifter return to us at the Evac Zone."
"I have no intention of lingering, Captain," giving a mirthless chuckle, she shifted the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, weight of battle armor on her shoulders and managed a grin. "No worry, I will be there. Just make sure you hold at least one access open so we can get in to leave with you."
"With our lives, MLady." he promised.
"Go then," she ordered, softening that with a tight hug. "Stay alive, Captain. I am going to have need of you in the future."
Not mistaking the hug for more than it was, Merevan nodded and gave her a salute. "I greatly look forward to serving with you, Lady. Life should become very interesting under your command."
"Interesting," she returned with a short laugh. "Oh, that it will, Merevan, that it will. The NTF will rue the day I became Cheryii. Well make life very miserable for them, I promise you that."
"That," he returned with some heat, "Is a promise I intend holding you to, MLady."
* * * *
Their journey to the outlying estates was a nightmare. Nothing lived in any of the scattered, devastated holdings, not even an insect. Gazing in horror and grief at the cratered grounds of her own home, and at the identically ruined grounds across the still placid lake, she finally gave in briefly to emotion and allowed the grief to come out for a moment. "Oh, Niall. Theyre gone. All of them. Weve lost our family, brother."
"No!" he returned fiercely while holding the sobbing sister he had been unsure of at one time with bitter tears in his own eyes.. "We have each other, and mother, and most importantly, little Maeve. Never forget that, sister. NEVER FORGET THAT. So long as we live, so does the family. Our poor lost ones spirits will rest easily knowing that. Now be strong. We still have much to do."
"I was strong before," she spat out. "And it cost me one life. What will it cost me this time?"
"Gods know, sister," Niall hugged her tighter. "But do not give this life up, I beg you. Be strong now, we both must be so, no matter how we might wish otherwise. You are already a heroine, with your masterful defense of Banloch. Now be a true one, and gather your wits. We can not give the Humans another Chddraim life. Live, sister, and brandish that in their faces like a banner. A banner they will come to fear."
Returning the hug, she pulled back with a determined expression on her face and something in her eyes that did not bode well for anyone she considered an enemy. "Oh, the NTF will have reason to know the Chddraim name, and fear it, before I am through, brother. You and I will see to that.
Just remember that the NTF is not Humanity." giving him a stern glance, she drew in a breath and continued. "Humanity is not the abomination that their present rulers are. Never forget that there is much good in the race, and that it has had a habit of rising above tyranny and shrugging off the yoke that even the most powerful of conquerors have placed on it."
"We all know this," Niall replied quietly, "though at times like these, especially at times like these, that is difficult to keep in mind."
"Then remember that officer, Shapiro, who allowed his troops to destroy the true monsters the NTF unleashes on its enemies," literally shaking herself to throw off the nearly overwhelming grief and despair, she gave her brother a wan smile. "Most humans are like that, though not all are so courageous or have the resources at their command to do what he did."
"More likely a blowup between rivals, though we did benefit in the end," her brother shrugged. "I have a problem seeing any Human in good light just now."
"I know, I feel much the same," swallowing a retort that she had once been Human, Morgana instead finished with, "I knew this Shapiro from before. He was a good man by any measure, and not a cold blooded killer like those in red armor or those brown uniforms. Do not forget that he allowed us to leave."
"As Refugees," Niall spat out. "Never in our history has the Chddraim Family had the need to go begging for anything, and now we must do that for mere shelter and sustenance."
"As you said earlier, brother, we are alive." glancing towards the battered, but mechanically intact ground effect vehicle they had taken, she hardened her voice. "And I assure you, no, I swear to you, on the dead of our family and all Sylvan, that the ones responsible for this will pay dearly. Do you hear me?
"I hear you," her brother nodded with a grim, calculating expression on his face. "But neither of us will be able to do anything if we dont get moving soon."
"Another moment," she turned to face the ruin and devastation that had been both her homes, stooping to gather a handful of the rich, black loam that had been disturbed by the missile impacts even more than a mile away from the impact centers. Pouring that into an empty rations pouch, she sealed the pouch and tucked it safely into her armor. "To remind me of where I came from, and why I will be doing the things I must in the future. Goodbye, Father, Maeve, my children and my beloved Currain. I will be back, I promise you all."
"Lady! Niall!" Seraval, one of the warriors who had insisted on accompanying them, shouted. "Human troops, moving in our direction and moving fast. We think they have spotted us."
"What kind of vehicle are they using?" Morgana questioned as she and her brother piled into the GEV.
"Armored, GEV carrier," Sereval answered tightly while watching the scan. "Individual troops with jet-packs leading. Theyll be on us soon."
"Lightly armored troopers we can handle," she assured them all, herself included. "Just keep in mind that these Humans are not invincible. They die just as we do. If it comes to a firefight, be patient, choose your shots carefully, and try for the jet-packs themselves first, then the joint between the helmet and neckpiece. There is a seam there, or was, that is vulnerable to a good shot.
"Lios," she addressed the driver. "Can that GEV overtake us in an even race?"
"No MLady," the youth grinned. "Especially not over territory we know and they only have on orbital mapping."
"Then get us out of here," grinning back, she hefted the plasma rifle with vivid memories of another such run from enemy patrols, and used those to form a plan. "Lead them a fine chase, Lios, and just keep us steady enough to pick off the single troopers flying point and escort for the carrier."
Their GEV lifted smoothly then arced into a mad seeming dance meant to evade any possible fire from the armored troop carrier. Lios was good, even with the constant swerves, dips, and jinks, the vehicle remained steady enough for the others, braced against anything they could find, to single out potential targets and even track them.
"Point troopers are adding speed, Lady," Serevan called from his scanning post. "We wont be able to outrun those gods-be-damned jet-packs."
"No need," she responded while sighting and squeezing off a shot at the lead invader. That ones jet pack blew in a spectacular spray of burning fuel and shattered armor. The debris from her shot acted like shrapnel on the pair behind the leader and those went down in tangles of shredded armor and gouts of flame from ruptured fuel tanks. "Just pick them off one at time, like that."
"Theyre dropping back some, and spreading out," Serevan announced, unnecessarily, as the others could see that well enough for themselves."
"That wont last," Morgana cautioned, "and they wont fall for a triple take out like that again. Pick your targets and keep them dodging our fire instead of us dodging theirs."
"More of them moving up from behind the carrier,"
"How many?" she questioned after firing another rapid series of shots that hit, but failed to incapacitate her targets. "Theyve gotten cautious on us here. Waiting for the reinforcements, probably, and then planning to overwhelm us. They didnt think we were armed the first time."
A rending boom and gout of flame, earth, and rocks, caused their GEV to shudder and slew to the left before Lios regained control and scooted forward at a speed that had the turbines whining in protest.
"Damned Carrier is mounting a heavy gun!" Niall shouted while hanging onto another of his squad who had nearly gone overboard. "Staying out of our range. Thats what the bastards were waiting for."
"Cant do anything about that but curse our bad luck," picking off another trooper who had ventured too close, Morgana targeted another before he could drop back to relative safety. Three others fell to the combined fire from her brother and his squad, before the entire formation dropped back to the safety of the carrier and its heavy weapon.
"Now what?" Niall shouted as another gut wrenching explosion nearly tipped them on their side.
"Lios!" she shouted over the rush of air over the foils and whine of overworked turbines,"Head for the Duvai Badlands!"
"Got it, Lady," the youth nodded while forcing the GEV into a careening arc that ended with a heading towards the series of narrow gorges and deep canyons of the Duvai Badlands. "We should be there in about ten minutes. Any particular spot youd like me to try for?"
"The gorge behind the old mine works," she returned, hoping that her memories of what was there were accurate, and that the things she was expecting were still there. Even if they werent, the treacherous air currents and irregular terrain could only help them against their pursuers.
The time it took to reach their goal was possibly the most harrowing Morgana recalled, even with Mike Morgans memories to draw on. The human troopers rushed them en-masse, to be met with witheringly accurate fire from their quarrys weapons. The attack faltered, then fell apart as the remaining troopers dropped back out of the light firearms used by Morganas crew effective range.
But to insure such accurate, and deadly, fire, Lios had to slow down and hold the GEV in a reasonably steady course. Which in turn brought the heavy gun mounted on the enemy craft back into range.
"Theyve requested atmospheric fighters to intercept us," Sarevan gave the sky a worried glance as he passed that news along. To his, and everyone elses relief there were no ominously growing dots on any horizon.
"Only a limited number of those could be safely brought down during the first phase of their attack," Morgana reassured all of them from hard won experience as a human pilot. "They would have risked running afoul of their own barrages if too many had tried the very narrow windows they likely had to use for entry. A few more could have come in piggybacked on the ring-landers, but not many, and they wont risk their armed shuttles over one GEV full of refugees. Besides, the fighters they do have in atmosphere will have their fill of fighting without looking for one specific target on the ground."
"Thats confirmed," Serevan gleefully put in. "Request was denied. Evidently there is one Gehenna of an air battle going on at the perimeter of the evac zone just now, and the humans are coming out on the short end of it."
"Lets hope it stays that way," Morgana nodded with some satisfaction masking her worry. She didnt tell the others that NTF Mamba fighters were far superior to anything the Cheryii had on planet to fight them, or that reinforcements for the atmospheric killers would soon be pouring in from carriers that would be able to skim the planets atmosphere in arrogant safety before much more time had passed.
They slid behind the still intact, but ancient mining facility with general sighs of relief, and Morgana issued short, but detailed directions and commands. Their GEV shuddered to a halt and settled to the ground behind a covering rock formation and about a hundred yards away from a rusting, prodigiously sized piece of mining equipment.
"Anyone here know how to run that damned thing?" she questioned while staring at the antique tunnel borer.
"If all the control boards and batteries are still functional," Geiv, a delicate looking female nodded thoughtfully, "I can probably get it moving and functional."
At the doubtful looks from the others, she straightened to her full, but diminutive height while calmly retorting. "My family was mining before Sylvan was first settled. I learned that kind of thing just to keep the elders happy. Trust me, if that antique can function, Ill be able to run it."
"Good enough, Geiv," Morgana grinned a little savagely. "Lets get over there and see what you can do."
"Wont be able to target a moving vehicle," the other cautioned, "Even if it still functions and has enough power to fire."
"Then well target something else," Morgana answered while giving the surrounding rock faces a critical examination. "Like tha ridge up there, maybe."
"Thats right," the Lady and Healer suddenly turned warrior agreed grimly. "So it will fall right into the throat of the gorge."
"Lets do it then."
"Im right behind you," their leader grinned, then turned to a non-plussed Niall. "The rest of you stay here and cover us. The infantry will come through first, and we cant let them get too close."
"What are you going to do out there?" he questioned.
"Provide Geiv some covering fire and an extra pair of hands."
"By now," Niall sighed, "I know better than to argue with you. Just keep your pretty head and tail down so neither of them get shot off, will you?"
"Ill do my best,"
"Guess thats about all I can expect," he accepted her comment with a shake of his head. "Better get with it, Geiv is already on the machine."
The delicate, auburn haired female had her upper half buried inside an opened access panel and Morgana heard some extremely unladylike language echoing around inside the space. A few more seconds and Geiv emerged covered with black soot and grease, but wearing a smile. "Batteries are almost gone, but I got the systems rerouted and bypassed everything but the tracking and firing sequences. We ought to get two good shots out of the old bitch before she fries."
"We only need one good one," scanning the entrance to the gorge, Morgana began a mental count. "are you targeted on the ridge?"
"Not yet," the other climbed into the controllers chair and began punching in a series of numbers, then waited for the screen display she needed to come up. "Give me another couple of minutes and I will, though."
"Hope we have that much time," Listening as well as watching, Morgana shouldered her plasma pulse rifle and sighted towards the opening in the sere, ochre stone for the first sign of enemy activity.
"Cant do it any faster, Lady," Geiv answered, lost in the commands she was keying into the console. "This old bitch is pretty slow, but once everything is powered up and the co-ordinates are in, shes still got a lot of punch."
Her sharp hearing picking up a whining sigh that was higher pitched than the wind soughing through the gorge, Morgana keyed her comm. "Niall, theyre coming. Geiv needs a little more time. Blow anything that comes through that gap into very tiny pieces. Those troopers are carrying anti-personnel bomblets and we cant let them get within a hundred yards or theyll launch the damned things."
"Got it sis," he responded, then passed her orders to the others while she surveyed the opening in the rock wall for the first faint sign of movement.
Gods dont let me be aiming at a shadow, she thought as the first faint motion she had seen in minutes began stealthily testing the entrance to their refuge. Switching her targeting to infra-red and ultra-violet, she was rewarded with a clear image of a stealth cloaked trooper in vivid violet shades. taking aim, she whispered into her comm, "Use Ultra-violet targeting, Niall. Theyre cloaked for stealth."
"Acknowledged," the equally quiet response hissed over her comm as she sighted and squeezed off a shot.
A spectacular explosion rewarded her efforts. The shot had hit dead on the troopers jet-pack, and the rapid, violent expulsion of flaming fuel set off the anti-personnel ordnance her target had been carrying.
In rapid succession, four more blooms of violet tinted flame gave the gorge walls a half lurid, half oddly beautiful tint, but another eight figures appeared in the targeting scope.
"Geiv, were running out of time. That damned GEV is going to be on us in another minute or so."
"I cant hurry this, Lady," the girl replied, still pulling up screens and selecting options.
"Old bitsey here is kind of slow. Need another few seconds."
"Well try buying them for you," sighting and firing again, Morgana swore as her target dove into the sheltering cover of a rocky outcrop. "Theyre setting up a screen for the GEV, keep them pinned down or theyll pick us off one at a time until that damned carrier and its gun gets here."
A series of bolts splattered off the rocks the enemy had sheltered behind, and continued at a pace that would exhaust the power packs of the rifles far too soon if the present rate of fire continued.
"Fire only when a target exposes itself," she ordered, then squeezed off a quick shot as a helmeted head and armored shoulder moved from behind cover. Her shot wasnt quite fast enough. A tiny burst of flame from a weapon the trooper held was followed by a high pitched, almost agonizing whine. "Everybody down! AP incoming!"
A dull thump then a whirring like thousands of flying insects followed as she dropped to the ground. These insects were deadly, tiny flechettes that spread in a circle from the point of impact at knee level to head high, designed to shred light armor and anything inside it. Propelled by a shaped charge that also sent the casing out as equally deadly shrapnel, the tiny needles traveled at a velocity nearing the speed of sound.
Crammed between a pair of fuel tanks she prayed were empty and without fumes inside, Morgana listened to the pinging of the flechettes on the mining bores body and the unmistakable tearing sounds of metal giving way under the onslaught. She barely noticed a sharp tug at her right thigh in the din and shaking of the machine that sheltered her.
As the whirring, pinging of the flechettes waned, she spun out of the cover she had taken, located another human trooper preparing to fire and squeezed off several quick pulses of her own. Her first shot hit the rising trooper in the faceplate, sending him cartwheeling backwards and sending the AP projectile he had been aiming to a spot behind his former position. That went off to the rear of the humans cover with predictable results. Even in their heavier infantry armor, the troopers suffered horrific damage from the flechettes.
Several widely spaced explosions told of penetrated fuel tanks or power packs and she could see at least three more motionless figures lying awkwardly exposed to her teams fire.
Who werent taking chances on any of their enemies playing dead. Three more red/yellow blossoms of flame lit the shadows of the gorge while Morgana searched for any other signs of motion. The remaining Human troopers, whether wounded or not, prudently remained under cover.
A cursing, dust covered figure staggered to its feet from a spot just in front of the mining bore and clambered back up to the control cage. Geiv surveyed the instruments, breathed a sigh of relief, then resumed her work with the screens and keyboard.
"Too high for the Flechettes to really damage," she commented as Morgana gingerly made her own way up the side of the machine to join her. "I was afraid some of the ricochets might have damaged the console or electronics. Old girl seems to be fine, batteries are charging the array, and targeting is ready to go. All we have to do is wait until the mirror array deploys."
There were rents in the others armor, and trickles of blood oozed from them. At Morganas critical look, Geiv shrugged. "Didnt get out of the way quite in time. Took some hits before I scrambled underneath baby here."
Groaning metal from long unused joints announced the mirror array deployment as the shielded backs slowly raised to reveal the still immaculately polished mirror surfaces and the mirrors jerked and ground into position. The emitter and large, round cut diamond that focused the beam rose smoothly into position and the twin pronged emitter, looking like a giant tuning fork, began taking on a reddish glow that quickly went to yellow, then white and a blinding blue.
"Got it!" Geiv announced unnecessarily, then frowned as a red light pulsed on the board. "Damn! The Focus is out of line. Got to reset the diamond!"
"How do you do that?" Morgana questioned as a deep throbbing of heavy fans became loud enough to be heard over the humming of the mining bore.
"Auto reset isnt working," Geiv answered grimly, aware that the armored GEV with its heavy gun was getting close. "Have to shut down and realign it manually."
"No time for that!" Morgana shouted over the rising hum of the machine. "Damned troop carrier is going to be on us in a minute! What happens if it fires as is?"
"The whole thing blows!" with a glance at the surrounding rock walls, Geiv shook her head. "Wont do us any good. Wrong positioning, the blow wont bring the walls down, Ill have to reset it without shutting down!"
"I know," Geiv shrugged and gave Morgana a tired smile. "Get the hell out of here and let me get on with it, Lady.
"There has to be another way!"
"Not with the time we have," moving towards the huge diamond, Geiv gave the other a rueful, regretful look. "It was an honor serving with you, Lady Morgana. I had hoped to be with you longer. Dont waste what Im going to do. Get your tail back to the GEV and tell Lios to run like all the demons in hell have broken loose and are after him personally. If I miscalculate and this thing does blow, the blast is going to channel through the gorge."
With a sharp nod and tears beginning to run down her cheeks, Morgana gave in. "Your name will be listed in the role call of my family, Geiv. You wont be forgotten."
"Everyone, everything, is forgotten eventually, Lady," the other answered, then softened her hard expression. "But I thank you. Now go and let me get on with it before that Gods-be-damned carrier can get into a firing position for its big gun."
There were no more arguments, nothing left to say. Morgana gave the other a tight hug, leaped off the machine and pelted towards the waiting GEV and her other companions.
"Lios, go!" she shouted while rolling into the idling craft.
"Geiv?" Niall questioned as his sister regained her feet.
"Dead," with tears of mixed rage and anguish on her face, she turned to see a small figure move purposely towards the diamond set in the center of the mirror array. "She just hasnt stopped fighting yet."
Three things happened simultaneously. The Human troop carrier ground to a position where it was able to target either the fleeing GEV or the mining bore and hesitated. Geivs small figure reached forward, grasped the diamond and gently moved it a fraction of an inch as the emitter fired. Her figure was momentarily outlined in pure, white glory as the diamond absorbed the reflected energy from the mirrors and fired a scintillating white beam at the ridgeline they had chosen for a target and moved it along the rock wall in a coruscating line of destructive beauty.
Geiv was gone by the time Lios jammed the throttle to full and their craft lurched up and forward. As they sped around a curve in the gorge, the could all see a massive wall of rock tilting and beginning to fall towards the gorge floor and the enemy GEV.
"Gods love her, she took the bastards with her," Niall whispered with tears in his own eyes.
Morgana nodded, unable to see beyond her own tears, then slumped to the floor of the passenger compartment and gave in to her own exhaustion and wounds. She didnt even feel the hastily applied med-pack that her brother slapped against her injured leg.
* * * *
She recalled a blur of terrain, broken atmospheric fighters from both sides littering the ground, dead and dying they could do nothing about, and managing to pick up a few survivors on their way to the beleaguered evac zone. A contingent of armored vehicles and heavy infantry cleared a safe path for their approach and entry, with heavy fighting on the perimeter they passed in a rush of smoke covered ruin and death.
A healer looked her over, needlessly informed her that she had lost a lot of blood, then reluctantly gave her the stim she demanded.
Alert once again, she took in the shambles that had once been a small port for in-system freighters and private pleasure craft, nearly empty, with the reinforced pads pocked by enemy missiles and littered with wrecked fighters from both sides. An armed shuttle stood pristine among the devastation and Lios guided the faltering GEV in its direction.
A determined looking officer met them at the boarding ramp. "Lady, you and your people get aboard and get the hell out of here."
"What about the rest of you?" she questioned, surveying the terribly thin line of defenders. "Is there room for all us?"
"No, Lady," the officer bleakly replied, then gave her a devilish grin. "But I assure you that we wont be captured. Come back and get us later, would you? Living under the NTF is not my idea of a decent existence at all. Once your shuttle lifts, were all going to run like every devil in the Cheryii and Human pantheons are after us. Well hole up somewhere and keep giving these bastards all the grief they want."
"I should stay..."
"No, Lady, you should not," he emphatically argued. "You have talents and experience our people badly need elsewhere. Fighting a running guerrilla war here is not what you were meant for. Get aboard that shuttle and come back for us when you can boot these Humans off Sylvan for good."
The stim was wearing off, and everything was taking on a fuzzy halo as her ears began to ring. Niall took advantage of that and lifted her bodily to carry his sister up the boarding ramp. It closed before he was able to either thank or wish the officer good luck.
* * * *
The shuttle docked with the warship FROSTFIRE and the pitifully few refugees from lost Sylvan stumbled into the docking bay as the ships captain ordered full power to the drives and they abandoned the world she had come to call home.
TO BE CONTINUED
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