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“It works exactly like the Marine armor except you don't need your implants and you aren't controlled like a robot,” Sandy told him.
“It is my Marine armor!” Tom Grier said, examining the changes they had made to it, “What is this?”
Sandy pointed out the changes, “More powerful boosters, this armor could almost fly. The weight has been reduced significantly by removing much of the armor.”
Tom didn't think that sounded very good.
“Tom, you were trapped inside, remember? You could not move without the powered systems, it just weighed too much.” she told him, “It will mimic your movements instead of reading your mind, that will probably take some getting used to.”
He frowned, “What about the gun? Can I still use the QBR-44?”
Sandy nodded, “The actuators are still in place, it can carry the big gun. Just remember that the shells will hit what they are aimed at. They won't guide to target on their own, since you no longer have those implants. You'll need to do some practicing, but this cavern isn't really equipped for that.”
Tom put his hand to his face again. The entire left side seemed ruined, a thick patch covered where his left eye should be. That had been taken by the Free Republic when the implants went in, now he missed it although he emotionally blamed it on the rebels.
The implants and the control wave from the Free Republic Marines had given him a false bravery, allowing them to send people into battle who would normally have been too afraid to go. Human beings became automatons, just drones for the brass to use.
Two soldiers approached and saluted Sandy, they conversed on their suit radios and Tom heard nothing before the soldiers marched away. Their footsteps echoed across the cavern.
“Most of the civilians made it to safety, Tom!” She told him after the helmet on her suit retracted, “Some of my men are on their way back here. We're going to need to strike back hard and fast before they think we've been defeated.”
She started walking back toward the train. Tom watched and shook his head. Sandy still looked and sounded like a child to him, even if she was intelligent. He still had no idea how she could be a leader of the resistance here on Sync, but it didn't appear to be faked.
As far as Tom could see, though, this was a losing effort. There was nothing about this situation that should give these rebels hope of victory. They had just barely escaped from their last base as it was pulverized from orbit. Admiral James “Jim” Robinson must have gone completely over the bend, the rumors of his mental state must have been true.
He left the armored suit standing where it was and followed Sandy back to the tent next to the train where she was watching a holographic video. It was much smaller than the one which had filled a room back in the old base, but as he approached he saw what she was studying. It was a holographic representation of where the fleet was, up in high orbit.
“Sandy, you can barely scrape together enough armor for a hit and run attack on the ground, why are you looking at the fleet. We can't reach them.” He told her.
She smiled, “Tom, you only saw one base. That wasn't the entirety of the rebellion on Sync, you shouldn't assume things. There are bases all over, I won't give you any details right now, but I am very serious. The fleet needs to be hit, we need to show them that we won't be treated this way.”
Tom shook his head. “Sandy, you will need ships to reach the fleet. They'd be detected in seconds and destroyed before they even left the atmosphere. Most of your ships were taken out on the ground before they were even manned.”
“Assuming again, Tom,” She told him, “I'm glad that the fleet fell for that ruse so completely. Those ground-based defense ships were all ancient and obsolete. They were sitting there without crews because they were mothballed generations ago. They couldn't have flown anyway.”
Tom was confused. She smiled again, “Our real ships are better hidden.”
“So, you do have the resources to strike back at the fleet then?” Tom asked. She just nodded.
Several soldiers approached again. “We received a coded emergency message from one of our spies.”
Spies? Tom was shocked.
Sandy activated her helmet and indicated that they use radio, after a few minutes the others left and her helmet deactivated again.
“This is bad news.”
Tom pretended not to care, “Oh, I wouldn't know.”
Sandy paced. “It seems that Admiral Robinson has sent some agents into a city where leaders of the rebellion are planning to hold a conference. We let some things slip on purpose, it was to be a very low-level meeting, there have been many of those, and nothing for the fleet to really worry about. In truth, it's a high-level meeting and somehow the Admiral found out.”
“What can be done about it?” Tom asked, “If there is nothing we can do...”
“We have to warn them, but they are already in Valla and we can't communicate with them except in person. I'm going to need to send a team to stop Robinson's people from slaughtering them all,” Sandy said as she paced, “I can co-ordinate with some of the other rebel groups, have hit-and-run attacks in other regions to draw their attention. Anyway, this is really going to be more of a rescue mission.”
“We need to save them.”
Tom shook his head, “You told me the rebels didn't really have leaders. I was told that if someone dies others will take their place without a problem. Now you want to carry out something dangerous to save some of these interchangeable leaders. Something smells bad.”
“Tom. My father and my older sister are going to be there. They are also group commanders and they have no idea that the enemy knows what's going on in Valla,” Sandy said, “We are going to try and stop the fleet people from killing them.”
He was a bit shocked, “So this rebellion is like a family business?”
“My family was very trusted on this world. When things got really bad, we stepped up. My father appointed all of his children to head rebel groups, because he knew we could do it. We are going to intervene and stop this slaughter, and then we are going to attack the fleet directly,” Sandy told him, “My mind is already made up. Go get your suit on.”
City of Valla
The once thriving city and regional hub was now more of a ghost town. People still lived here but they ventured outside as little as possible. When a half-dozen of Robinson's people had showed up, they didn't know a ripple had been created. The people of Valla were aware that these newcomers were not like others from Sync.
None of the newcomers had paid the slightest attention to the mural in the hotel lobby, opposite the main desk and the entry to the ground-floor restaurant. The images of the settling, founding and independence of Sync was almost a holy monument to Sync nationals. They also used rough language that even the most weary rebels didn't use.
They might think they were incognito but they stood out like an white obelisk in a black desert.
When a second group of outsiders took up rooms at a hotel across the main avenue, there was a new ripple of gossip started. Something big was happening in Valla and it might be a good idea to just pack up and leave if one was able.
Maggie Anders closed the circuit and the window turned opaque again as she turned to face the General who was sitting on the bed next to the open trunk. He was assembling some weapons.
“Why is it so quiet down there? It almost looks like the city has been abandoned, but we know from sensor readings it hasn't,” She told him.
The General frowned, “Scared, I suppose. The war has ground commerce to nearly a halt, people are staying home and making their meager resources stretch. Pretty much the same for any war.”
Maggie looked down at the carpet, “Why are we here? You aren't going to fight against the Admirals forces, even if he's insane we're still on the same side, so why come?”
“The truth is, I plan to arrest his people after they carry out their attack. Robinson is stepping on too many toes and he needs to be put back in his place. His place is running the fleet, not running the war and especially not the ground war,” General Gallant told her.
She took a deep breath, “Why did you come here personally? Is it because you want Robinson to know you are the man in charge around here?”
He smiled creepily, “Damn right. Robinson needs to be put in his place, I'm the one to do it. He won't feel like a loser if it is anyone else. If we have to shoot some of his men for resisting arrest, then so be it. If that old fool wants to throw a big enough fit, I'll have him thrown into the brig, without his chair.”
“So, this should all be over by morning,” Maggie said, noting that the rebel meeting was supposed to start in only a few hours. Apparently these rebels had no idea that the Fleet and the Marines had learned of the meeting and infiltrated the city covertly.
The train had stopped nearby where it was still too deep for the fleet sensors to penetrate. After that Tom, wearing his suit, had joined a dozen other soldiers and Sandy in walking. Now that they were getting nearer the surface and Valla was a stones throw away, Tom was nervous.
The suit did not anticipate his movement, Tom had to move and the suit would move with him. It took more effort than it had with the mind linked. He also noted that fear and nerves were present, something that signals from the fleet through the suit would have blocked completely. Tom also had to actually read the HUD readouts because he didn't know them automatically.
More than anything, the idea of going into combat against Marines scared him. He still thought of their system as superior. He still thought the rebels were fighting a losing effort. Tom didn't know if he could ever return to the fleet without his implants or ever return home under the present regime of the Free Republic. So he would fight, for now at least, he would fight for Sync.
“We are nearly in range for local communications,” He heard Sandy say over the com. He knew she planned to alert her father immediately that the enemy had found them out. Tom didn't know what would happen afterward but the Admirals people were not going to be happy if the meeting was canceled.
“We are just below the surface now,” She informed them, “Hold here. I think we should be under one of the outer buildings, this must be the Crest building.”
Tom looked up and thought it still looked like caverns. “Is there a way out?”
“Another fifty meters and we can exit to the surface in the Garden,” one of the other soldiers told him.
The city of Valla was surrounded by domed gardens, these acted as greenhouses where a lot of the local vegetables and fruits were grown. Tom knew that some of the gardens had been destroyed, he remembered at least bombing run by Onyx flight early in the fighting. It had just been chatter before, now he was part of it first hand. It certainly seemed a lot more real now.
Once they arrived at the hatch it took several armored soldiers to push it open and then they slipped up and out. Tom followed and rolled out of the opening to see himself surrounded by trees and high grass and he could see the broken dome that surrounded them.
“Okay, we have to cross toward the center of town. We will probably get detected before we arrive at the conference hall. Be on the lookout and be careful, they might have someone in a sniper position somewhere. We might not even know where they all are,” Sandy explained to them, “The reports I have just gotten say that two rooms in the Banner hotel have been occupied by outsiders. My sources indicate that no armor was seen.”
That was good news, but it wouldn't take a half-hour for armored troops to arrive if the enemy wanted them there. Hopefully it would give them time to rescue the rebel leaders, and if the enemy wanted to fight armored rebels they could leave them with bloody noses.
“Follow me,” Sandy told them, suddenly holding a smaller, slimmer rifle than everyone was carrying. Tom hadn't seen where it had come from.
Lieutenant Rocky Blade had assembled the battle rifle and tripod. He was on the roof of the Starrion building near the center of Valla. It was the tallest building in the city and he had a birds-eye view of everything.
“Assets in place?” He asked through the implanted com system.
“This is going to be fun,” Blade told himself. He had already sighted the eight-foot rail gun on the location of the rebel meeting. It was a former library, apparently. With the others in their place it was only a matter of waiting for the rebel leaders to show up, then he would unleash hell.
The rail gun fired a large “bolt” at such high velocity that it would be able to go through the building as if it were made of butter. Shards from the building would radiate out like a grenade, tiny pieces of sharp metal, plastic, marble, concrete and plaster that would tear flesh. If a person were hit by the bolt itself, they'd basically explode. Blade planned to put a hundred holes into that building, nobody would escape the onslaught.
All eyes on the meeting hall.
“Birdie Five to High Point.”
“This is High Point, go ahead,” Lt Blade answered, not liking the interruption.
“We have movement to the southwest, possible enemy activity.”
Blade sighed, “Are they on the way to the meeting? I thought they might be staying somewhere closer.”
“Negative, these are not meeting participants... I see something... we have armored rebel troops inbound!”
Blade grabbed the big gun and swung it around, “Send me the live signal, I want to see where they are, now!”
“We've only got a couple blocks to go!” Sandy told them, “Anyone see anything yet?”
Nobody had. Suddenly Tom Grier got a bad feeling. “I'm so stupid!”
“What is it Tom?” Sandy asked, stopping.
“We're too exposed, the Admiral probably has people on the highest ground.” He told them, silence, “The rooftops, check the high rooftops!”
“We did, our drones didn't see anything anywhere near the meeting hall.” someone answered.
“They won't be that close, check the highest buildings first. Send a drone now!” Tom exhorted them.
Suddenly the wall of the building next to them exploded, a chunk of it hit Tom and knocked him down but one of the other armored soldiers was thrown several feet and a gaping hole had opened in the suit, blood and guts had flown everywhere.
“Move fast, move!” Sandy yelled, “Do not stop! Get up Tom!”
… -- Chapter Eight
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