Vanna peered out from between the leaves of the tree, over the jungle to the South.
A storm was coming up from the plains. It would come in hard tonight, one of the big, heavy storms that kept going for days.
Vanna thought this was excellent news.
Drones couldn’t hunt in the storms.
She turned her eyes North, watching for any specks moving too fast to be birds. She slowly reached out of the leaves, holding the stolen device out into the open air beyond her cover.
She waited and watched for five minutes as the cylinder in her hand slowly turned from yellow to green. When the entire tube finally changed color, Vanna pulled it back into the canopy and buckled it back into its sling. She began her descent, following the cable dangling beneath her, and dropping the last six feet when she came to the ground at last. She landed next to Ragnar, who was carefully coiling the cable attached to the tube. She handed him the sling holding the tube and he stowed it on his back with the rest of the scanning device. Lukas and Deirdre were looking at the collected data on a stolen tablet, comparing it to their own map spread out on the ground between the trees. Freya handed Vanna her rifle, which Vanna had set aside for the climb. It was a long, strange, sleek looking thing, stolen from the invaders just like the scanning device, Deirdre’s personal shield, and the medicine in Freya’s bag. They stole all their best equipment from the invaders.
When they had first arrived, Vanna’s grandmother had told her, nobody could even slow the invaders down. They leveled cities from space, broke nations with putrefying plagues, and enslaved the survivors to build their great elevator. The invaders themselves were hardly ever seen, before or after the invasion. It seemed their engine of war was autonomous, and they arrived only to ensure things were proceeding on schedule. Vanna’s world and its people had been conquered by an enemy that barely need show its face, and that humiliation was a wound that ran deep.
Self driving machines had turned the capital of her grandmother’s country (Vanna couldn’t call it her country, as it had been dead well before her birth) into a factory, a prison, and barracks all in one. Taskmasters of the invaders merely oversaw, while their machines or collaborators directed the work. The invaders themselves, who had a name for themselves that Vanna could not pronounce, on the rare occasions they were seen, all looked different. They looked more or less human, and some said they were, but they came in every hue and shade of color. Normal skin tones from black to tan, but also florescent pinks and greens. Some had skin, others had fur; some even had long pointed ears or tendrils on their face. But however they looked, every single one of them had an alien beauty and attractive grace. Sometimes invader soldiers were in evidence, but these seemed to be different from the task masters. They too seemed more or less human, and were slightlt more uniform then the taskmasters, but all of them, to the man, were hideous in comparison . Those that were not twisted with vestigal growth or scarred with angry looking lesions were short and stunted people with eyes of disgust for Vanna’s people. But even the soldiers were rarely seem after the work began. Why would they be? The invasion was over, mostly automated anyway, and work on the facility, the elevator, and in the mines was almost just as automated. Enforcing order on the slaves was all that was left, and that seemed easy enough in the early days. The invaders grew careless.
Vanna’s grandmother had been one of the twelve slaves in New Stockholm who had started the new revolution. They had attacked a careless pack of soldiers and stolen an invader gunship in the dead of night. With the soldier’s weapons and an invader ship, the Twelve unleashed a fury born of pure hatred upon their half-finished space elevator. The great spire of metal and carbon had fallen, and in the chaos, thousands of slaves had escaped into the jungles and mountains. They’d been fighting there ever since.
Lukas began folding up the map and Deirdre called everyone in to talk.
“There’s a drone headed West,” she said flatly. A silent but still obvious gasp ran through the group. The village they came from was about 40 klicks West of their position.
“Can we get a message through in time?” Ragnar asked, already winding the crank on his radio.
“Don’t bother,” Lukas said as he stuffed the map into his bag, “At current speeds it’ll have to be off before it spots the village, or it’ll get caught in the storm.”
“Exactly. The storm,” Deirdre’s tongue traced the curve of her lip for a moment, something she did when she was thinking hard, “The storm is a bit of an opportunity.”
“How do you figure?” Freya crossed her arms.
“With a storm that big, this close, I’ll bet you the drone isn’t in constant contact with its base,” Deirdra explained.
“Too much interference from a storm like that,” Lukas said nodding.
“So what?” Freya gave her crossed arms a shrug, “It’s got a brain of its own, and enough firepower to kill us and everyone in the village besides. We should radio to pull up stakes and steer clear.”
“Ooooh,” Ragnar got it.
“What?” Freya asked.
“Firepower,” Lukas said smiling.
“That drone has more hardware on it than we could get smuggled out here in a month,” Deirdre licked her lip again, “We’ll never have a better chance to take one.”
There was a silence. Ragnar coughed. Freya just shook her head.
“Has anyone managed to take out a drone before?” Vanna asked. The group turned to look at her. She was new, they weren’t used to having her in their conversations, and Vanna was pretty sure they had forgotten she was there at all.
After a pause Deirdre simply said, “Yes.”
“Just two,” Freya added grimly, “Two in four years.”
“Which is why it’s important we get this one,” Deirdre explained, “We need more firepower to fight these things regularly. We can only get more firepower by taking risks. So that’s what I’ve decided we’re doing.”
Freya scoffed again, but she would follow orders. Vanna had seen enough to know that all of them would do what Deirdre said even if they didn’t like it.
Lukas checked his watch. “It’ll be making its sweep over us in three hours. Check your gear.”
The plan was simple: overwhelming force. The drone had massive firepower to be sure, but it also a shield (just like Deirdre’s) to protect it from counterattack. Enough firepower could get through it though, and Deirdre and Lukas had a theory that when it was doing a thorough scan of the jungle like it was probably doing now, its shield was probably operating as low as it would ever be. So they would wait until was right on top of them, and then hit it with everything they hand. Two shoulder mounted SA missiles, one grenade launcher, three assault rifles, one sub-machine gun, and Vanna’s anti-tank rifle (stolen from the invaders). After that it was all small arms and a few loose grenades, not likely to turn the tide in their favor.
They covered themselves in blankets stolen from an invader settlement that were supposed to hide them from the drone’s sensors, but Ragnar was evasive when asked if they had ever been tested.
They hid, sweating under blankets in the humid air, waiting for the quiet whistle of the drone.
-To be continued-