The missile hissed as it hurtled through the air towards the drone, colliding with the shield and exploding just like the first one had. For a split second, the drone did seem confused, its tracking beams moving wildly in all directions. Deirdre and the ground team made their move, firing from behind trees and the occasional block of stone that dotted this part of the forest (some said they were the ruins of a city that had been leveled by the Invaders, but the height of these trees made her wonder if they were much older than that). The bullets from the rifles and submachine guns ricocheted off the drone’s shield like so many thrown pebbles, but you could see from the rippling blue shimmer that the shield was doing something. It wasn’t as if the drone was simply willing to take all that fire to the face. At least that was Vanna’s view of the landscape. She let the missile tube fall, letting the strap catch on her shoulder, and brought up her own SMG. The blue shimmer on the underbelly of the drone was mirrored on the topside facing Vanna now. Still the drone did little more than whip targeting sensors around wildly, unsure of where the priority target was: ground or trees?
Lukas finally brought the Invader anti-tank gun to bare. A fiery red beam suddenly connected Lukas and the drone from below, filling the air with a deafening screech and a crackle of energy. The drone’s shield, a bubble of blue that had rippled against the hail of gunfire, first buckled then solidified into a blue and white half sphere against the red light of the laser. Still the shield held against the ground fire, but as the laser beam dissipated, and the screech of the weapon died, Vanna could hear the clatter of bullets on metal.
She would have investigated more, but the drone had finally figured out what it wanted to do. It unleashed a wave of destruction across the jungle floor with bullets, lightning and lasers. The ground team took cover as quickly as they could, but Vanna wasn’t sure if any of them had actually made it behind their rock or tree in time. She didn’t have much time to investigate the ground either, because she could feel the heat on the front of her jacket rising to unbearable levels. Invader laser weapons did that right before they fired.
She ducked behind her tree just as the beam scorched the air where she would have been. Even after dodging the blast proper, she realized with mild panic that her jacket was smoldering. She tried to beat out the embers, and when that didn’t work she just decided to rip the jacket off, she could hear the weapons fire still raging behind the tree and could see bullets ripping chunks of wood off the tunk on either side of her.
The drone’s weapons would start to overheat soon if it kept this up. Deirdre had said something to that effect, it wasn’t designed to fire at so many spread out targets she didn’t think. But even if it did overheat, what could they do. They’d hit it with everything they had, and nothing had gotten past that shield.
Well, not nothing.
Somebody’s fire had gotten through.
A thought occurred to Vanna.
She couldn’t peek around the trunk here, not while the drone was slowly, but steady, attempting to cut it down with a constant stream of bullets, but she might be able to climb a bit and take a peek from higher up. She tried to ignore the searing air and the constant screeching or lasers and ratatatat of gunfire, and put one hand over the other, moving up the tree. When she deemed herself high enough, she poked her head out for no more than a second. She ducked back just as the drone spotted her and scorched the air with another laser blast.
She had seen it.
It had been her fire. There were marks on the top side of the drone where the bullets had richocetted off. The Invaders had some pretty solid metals, but the drones weren’t made of their toughest stuff it seemed. And why should they be? Vanna realized, When the only protection they really needed was their shield…
Vanna knew what they had to do.
She pulled out her radio, hoping her squad mates could hear her over the din of weapons fire.
“This is Vanna, who’s still here, over?”
There was silence, so she yelled into the radio instead of speaking.
She was about to yell a second time, when the box squawked to life and said.
“Deirdre, still here Van, over.”
“Lukas, still here.”
“This is Freya, I’m here, but Ragnar’s been hit. I…” she stopped, then the box said quieter, “I might be able to save him if I had another set of hands, but…we’re pretty pinned down here, over.”
Vanna sighed. Ragnar was hit, but everybody was still alive. She wasn’t sure it would work if they didn’t have the same degree of firepower.
“Listen, I think I know how we can get past the drone’s shield, over,” Vanna explained, flinching as she was hit by some flying splinters.
“We threw everything we had at it. We can’t punch through, over,” Deirdre responded.
“We did though,” Vanna insisted, “On the top, I saw it. I did get through. I think it only has so much…so much… well… so much shield to go ‘round it, you know?…over.”
Ragnar’s voice, hoarse and weak, spoke up, “What’s your highest ordinance up in the tree, over?”
Vanna looked at here gear. “Umm….two grenades, over.”
“Will that be enough, over?” Deirdre sounded doubtful.
“Well what the hell else are we gonna do?” Vanna shouted, “over.”
Each of the squad members did their own haunting calculations. Any minute now, the drone would overheat its weapons, and pause firing for almost a minute, which would be long enough to counter attack, but if they left cover to run…
They’d never make it more than a few hundred meters before it started gunning them down again.
Ragnar would die for sure. From the sound of it he was in no condition to run, and Freya couldn’t carry him. After that, it would be Vanna. She had picked a couple of good close trees to maneuver in, but she couldn’t run along the treetops. Climbing down would eat up too much of her time, and she was too high up to simply jump down without at the very least rolling an ankle. she wouldn’t get very far at all before the drone took her down. Then it was just Deirdre, Lukas, and Freya. They’d run and try to find new cover before the drone caught up, they might even get under those sensor blocking blankets Ragnar had brought, but then the drone might just decide to burn the whole acre of forest down. Or worse, what if it when hunting for them and came across evidence of the village to the west of here. Then, depending on how close the storm was, it might run off to tell its masters where they were, or it might start hunting the villagers.
There was nothing else to do. So Deirdre called the new play.
She asked Ragnar if he could still fire a gun and he gave a grunt of confirmation despite Freya’s protests.
When the guns of the drone went silent, the ground team put as much lead into the air between them and the drone as they could. Deirdre, Ragnar, and Freya each found something to prop a rifle on to assist in aiming, and then fired with rifles and sidearms at the same time. After three seconds of sustained fire, Lukas let loose with the laser. As he did, Vanna swung around the tree on a higher limb, throwing the satchel she had dropped the grenades in towards the top of the drone.
The satchel left her hands, and she could see that, just like last time, the drone’s shield had formed that crystalline looking half sphere right underneath it.
The satchel moved through the air, and Vanna’s eyes caught a red target finder, which blinded her and nearly made her fall. Then she felt the heat on her chest.
The drone had faked it. It’s weapons hadn’t overheated, it just wanted all those pesky little humans out of their cover to finish them off.
Vanna couldn’t see, and even as she pulled back, she knew she was going to die. Then there was a sound like thunder, and Vanna felt the pain and burning heat in front of her. Her hands lost hold of the tree and she was in the air. Falling.
Vanna had not expected to wake up, but she did. She thought she might still be blind before she saw the glare of a dim fire on the ceiling of the cave. She tried to turn her head, but the pain stopped her. Suddenly Freya was over her.
“You’re awake,” Freya said beaming, “How do you feel, mighty droneslayer?”
Vanna momentarily forgot how to talk, but she didn’t have to as Freya immediately began filling Vanna in while changing her bandages. Her plan had worked, more or less.
The grenades had gotten through the shields, but they hadn’t destroyed the drone. They had thrown it for a loop, which caused it to crash, and (as a pleasant side effect) had caused it to miss all the shots it had lined up on the squad. The shield had failed it too, so one more blast from Lukas had finished the thing there on the floor of the jungle.
Lukas and Deirdre were out there right now dragging the drone back to the cave. Having covered it with a tarp for the duration of the storm.
Vanna had been grazed by the drone’s weapon as she fell though, so she had some pretty bad burns on her chest.
“The fall saved you to be honest,” Freya explained, “I saw from the ground. If you hadn’t fallen when the grenades went off, you would’ve taken the full blast. You’d have needed a skin transplant if it had been any worse, and we can’t do one of those out here obviously. You’re also very fortunate nothing’s gotten infected, I used the last of our antibiotics two days ago, since you and Ragnar were sharing.”
“So he’s..” Vanna started but found even talking was painful. Breathing was actually pretty painful now that she noticed.
“Try not to speak. I’ve still got painkillers, but I’m gonna need those just to make breathing bearable for you in the next couple days I think. But yeah, Ragnar is ok. While Lukas was finishing the drone, Deirdre came and helped me with a bit of emergency surgery. Then we went looking for you. You must have been born lucky. You landed right in a bed of those huge spongy mushrooms. You definitely broke a few bones still, but (and I imagine I will be saying this many more times in the next couple days to both you and Ragnar) it could have been so much worse.”
Deirdre and Lukas came back a few hours later, towing the wreck of the drone. They didn’t want to store it in the cave, as many of the weapons were still live and any discharge in confined space would be very bad for everyone. Congratulations were tossed around. Lukas also called her the mighty droneslayer and joked that she’d have the best scar to boast about at any encampment, make no mistake.
Deirdre waited until Lukas and Freya left before talking with Vanna.
“I’m sorry, Van.”
Vanna hesitated, and rather than reply just shook her head.
“No. I need to. I should never have ordered the attack. The cost of failure was too high. I knew the shield could be overpowered, but I only really hoped that we’d have enough to overcome it. If you hadn’t spotted how the shield weakened on top…,” Deirdre paused, “Well it’s done. You saved this squad and don’t think I’ll forget it. I’m going to talk to the Twelve as soon as we get to secure communications. Now get some rest. A team of engineers will be out here in a few days to help salvage the drone and I want you ready to answer questions on its behaviour, understood?”
Deirdre was smiling, and Vanna smiled back, enough though it hurt a bit. She tried to bring her hand up to salute, but that she had to give up on. Deirdre spotted the attempt though, and she nodded, leaving Vanna and the still unconscious Ragnar, who had been laid out beside Vanna, in the silence of the cave.