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The Legend That Was Earth
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        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 shouted.

     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 began moving.

     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. Incoming."

     "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 to do."

     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 all directions.

     "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."

 
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