It was daylight when sounds
of loud explosions accompanied by a shrieking roar tore Luodine out of a deep
sleep. She sat up, struggling for a to integrate the impressions into some
kind of coherence. Aircraft, passing low overhead. Bombs! Vrel and Nyarl
were already tumbling out of nearby bunks, finding shoes and grabbing coats.
The door was thrown open, and Dan entered. "We're under attack!"
he shouted. "Glob forces moving in on the area. We're taking you back
to the strip now."
They tumbled through into the large room where the
table was. One of the two women was waving her hands at Zak and wailing something.
The other was nowhere in sight. A guard stuck his head in from outside . "The
truck's coming now," he called. Dan ushered the Hyadeans across to the
door and outside. Smoke clouds were billowing skywards from somewhere not far
away, where flames could be seen among the trees. A truck was turning off the
approach lane from the road. As several of the guards moved out from the building
to meet it, the sounds of approaching aircraft came again, followed by staccato
chattering of gunfire. The guards threw themselves down into the undergrowth
or beside the wall of the building, a couple under the truck.
"Down!" Dan yelled. Luodine stood
outside the doorway, confused. "Get down!" She came to
her senses, ran a few paces, and hunched herself awkwardly by Nyarl against
the base of a tree. The roars grew to a screaming din overhead. Luodine covered
her head with her arms. A series of jarring concussions came, numbing the ears,
and then a sharper crack, followed by what sounded like a tremendous
blast of hail slicing through the trees, shredding leaves and cutting branches.
Fragments of metal pinged of the truck and embedded themselves in
the wall of the building. Somebody screamed.
"Come! Now! We have to go!" Dan's voice
Luodine straightened up, dazed, her ears still ringing.
Somebody grabbed her elbow and steered her toward the truck. Figures were
already clambering aboard. Vrel was there. Nyarl appeared from behind her.
Someone was reeling drunkenly, gushing blood from a partly severed shoulder.
It was the second cook. Hands pulled Luodine up over the tailboard. The truck
The attack had hit on the far side of the roadway.
Smoke was pouring from the remains of several demolished buildings among the
trees, which nearer the center of the blast area had been stripped practically
bare. A vehicle was hanging upended in the branches; another lay on its side,
surrounded by bodies, some moving. As the truck turned right onto the road
and headed back in the direction of the landing strip, Luodine made out more
figures crawling and staggering amid the smoke. The sound of the attacking
planes faded, and the steadier, deeper drone of higher-flying aircraft became
noticeable behind the engine noise and rattles of the truck, and the voice of
Dan shouting into a hand radio. A series of muffled crumps sounded
somewhere off to the left. "ATG," Zak said tightly. Luodine looked
questioningly at Nyarl as they clutched the sides of the wildly bouncing vehicle.
"Air-to-Ground," he supplied. "Missiles.
"Troops are landing to the south and east,"
Dan announced. "They've already taken the main river crossing. Gonna
sweep the whole area."
"Will Rocco's group have to call off the mission?"
Vrel called from the other side of the truck.
"Too late for that. They left hours ago."
They drove past armed guerrillas hastily forming up,
squads with packs running at the double along the roadside; vehicles being loaded,
others racing in both directions. The background of explosions and gunfire
was now continuous. At one point they had to drive off the road on a bypass
flattened through the undergrowth around a truck and a car that had collided.
Just past them was a blackened area, still smoking, everything flattened,
where Luodine was sure she had seen a mobile missile launcher the day before.
Exactly as she had wanted, she was right there in the middle of everything,
and far sooner then she had ever expected. Yet she and Nyarl could capture
none of it. They had left all their equipment in the flyer.
They arrived back to find the landing area in pandemonium.
One entire side—fortunately, not where Vrel's flyer was parked—was a mass of
blazing vehicles and storage sheds, while across the remainder of the area figures
ran frantically to load what could be salvaged onto departing trucks and carry
over the wounded. Two helicopters were wrecked, but another out on the open
strip and took off as the truck bringing the Hyadeans pulled up. Dan waved
toward the flyer and shouted at Vrel. "Make it ready, whatever you have
Vrel spread his hands. "What about Cade and
the others? We were supposed to wait for them."
"I'm going to try and find out what I can now,"
Dan threw back, already running toward a frond-covered bunker protected by sandbags
and logs, partly dug into the ground nearby. Vrel turned toward the flyer.
Luodine followed after Dan, Nyarl close behind her. Inside the bunker was
a map table and cabinets of electronics, weapons and kit slung along one wall,
and a half dozen or so people, two talking into phones, two more following something
on screens, one marking a map, a girl in a camouflage smock watching the scene
outside through a firing embrasure in the bunker wall. Dan was talking tensely
with a man in a peaked cap who seemed to be in charge. He waved for Luodine
and Nyarl to wait a moment as they entered. One of the operators was calling
into a microphone. "Emergency! Repeat, emergency! Divert! Do you
read me, Yellow Fish? You must divert. The LZ is under attack."
"It's them," Dan told Luodine and Nyarl.
"They're on their way here now. They've got Cade and the woman. But they
can't land in this."
"Where will they go?" Luodine asked, daze
at trying to take it all in.
"I don't know. They'll . . ." Dan's voice
trailed off as the operator became alarmed.
"Hello? . . . Hello, Yellow Fish. . . . Yellow
Fish, come in. . . ." He waited, looked across, and shook his head.
"We have lost contact. They were taking fire."
"Jesus! What's this?" Eyes turned to
the girl watching the outside. A peculiar violet light was coming in through
the embrasure. Dan and the officer in the peaked cap stared uncomprehendingly
for a moment, then moved toward the entrance, practically pushing the two Hyadeans
out ahead of them. They emerged to find the surroundings bathed in a strange
radiance of an eerie, electrical quality.
"What is it?" the officer asked, bewildered.
Dan shook his head. "I don't know. I've never
seen anything likes it."
Then, abruptly, it was gone. Their eyes took several
seconds to readjust to normal illumination. Then Dan touched the officer's
arm and pointed across the open stretch of landing strip. The violet had shifted
to an area beyond the far tree line and was now revealed as a pencil of light
coming down from the sky. Even as they watched it shifted again, as if probing.
Then the column flickered briefly in several pulses that turned it brilliant
orange, and the entire area surrounding the base of the beam erupted into a
fireball expanding above the trees. Moments later, a concussion wave swept
across the landing area, followed by a blast of wind that bent the treetops,
sent a storm of leaves, sand, and pieces of wreckage swishing across the open
ground, and toppled Luodine over a wall of logs fronting the entrance to the
bunker. A rain of torn branches and debris began falling over the area.
The flyer, already moving from its parking spot, lurched
visibly and then steadied. Dan pulled Luodine to her feet. Nyarl was holding
onto the top of the log wall. "What about the others?" Vrel called
from the doorway of the flyer as it neared, at the same time turning.
"They're down somewhere!" Nyarl yelled.
"We have to go! Now!"
"Go where? We have no plans."
"It doesn't matter! Just Go!"
Dan shouted, pushing Luodine toward the flyer. Vrel heaved her in, Nyarl followed
with the door closing, and the flyer began accelerating toward the open ground.
Then it was under the strip of sky, airborne, climbing. It rose to skim the
treetops. Smoke and fires were everywhere, with aircraft dotting the sky in
"That light. What was it?" Luodine gasped
as she buckled into one of the seats.
"Orbital bombardment maser," Nyarl said.
His voice sounded strained. "Ours. Area obliteration weapon. I didn't
know we were using anything like that here."