Chapter 124: Sniper Work
We left our heroes having just cleared a crowd out from under a crashing
dragon-fighter. Now we have to go catch up with the people we just shooed away,
and really evacuate them.
We open on the pickup point, in freeze-frame. There's a crowded marketplace there, almost all hopeful evacuee, but with a few die-hard pushcart vendors. There are also half a dozen dragon-troopers hanging about the fringes of the crowd, looking on suspiciously. Dafnord sends our newly-picked hit squad in to pick them off. Two important features: (1) they use heavy stun, since if they miss a dragon, they're likely to hit innocent bystanders, and (2) they're going to do all this at the same time, since Dafnord wants Tom to double back in time after dropping off each gunner or pair of them, so that all the dragons will be fired on at once, just as we open the door for the start of the pick-up.
We drop off our hit squad without running into awkward timelocks, but one pair of dragons are loitering in an alley so it's hard to get the gunners to them inconspicuously. Gannar and Robbie offer to take on this pair of dragons; they can fly, so they can be dropped off on the roof and sneak down, using awnings and washing lines for cover.
Soon, everyone is in position and Tom opens the door in a conspicuous place. Gasps and cheers and a few screams; we're used to it. The hit squad goes into action as Dafnord makes his standard announcement: "Children of--" (zot, zot) "--Destine, the time--" (zot, zot, zot) "--of the Exodus is at hand!" (BOOM)
The boom is the explosion on the top of the dragon-temple that we set off early in our pickup period. It adds to the general consternation, of course, and is especially loud, since we're quite near the temple at this pickup point. Nonetheless, we get people moving into the tunnel mouth hanging in the air. Dafnord is soon engrossed with some idiot trying to take his vending cart down the tunnel.
Meanwhile, Markel clairvoyantly spies about twenty dragon-troopers double-timing it down the street toward the temple, and therefore toward us. (These are, in fact, the fellows who rushed past us / are rushing past us at the previous pickup point, where the fighter crashes.) They're about three blocks away. We'll have to do something about them, this time.
Back at the tunnel mouth, Dafnord has succumbed to a misplaced burst of eloquent pleading from the cart vendor. The cart promptly overturns and smashes anyway on the slick, curved tunnel floor. Down in the receiving area on the Tellemataru, Pemnals come rushing in over floor, walls, and ceiling, to pick up the fruit and wreckage.
The hit squad has done its job by now -- its first job. But there's that score of dragons coming our way. Telepathically, Dafnord alerts Robbie and Gannar, and tells them to fly over to the other gunners and tell them to get ready to pick off the dragon squad as it enters.
Robbie and Gannar have a curiously hard time with this. They bump into each other in mid-air a lot. Recovering from this, Robbie bumps into one of his own remote gun platforms. Gannar dodges into a window and terrifies a woman who hadn't gone down to join the crowds yet. It all smells like timelock to Robbie, though we don't know why that should be. Apparently, they aren't Meant to get to the other gunners very fast. They descend to street level, step over prone dragons, and make their way through the crowds.
Meanwhile, loading goes on. Suddenly, a fist-fight starts. Six people fall and go sliding down the tunnel into Receiving, where our dragon-sensitive fays go into panic. Dafnord jumps down into Receiving and starts hauling people out of the pile, looking for the dragon. He finds it at the bottom, locked in combat with Runyana. The fellow is (or was) humanoid, but is getting more reptilian by the moment and brandishes a sort of amplified, electrified set of brass knuckles. Dafnord dodges these and hauls him off Runyana, who fires stun bolts into him until he collapses. Then Dafnord drags him into the side-room which has become a convenient abattoir for extraneous dragons; it continues to do be such.
Katrina locates and de-panics the fays, just as three of the ship's Kraslk stevedores come to check out the report of weapon fire (from the brass knuckles). They raise the ceiling ten more feet, to make things safer and more convenient in the future.
Back on Yazatlan, the dragontroopers have marched into the market place. By now, Gannar and Robbie have found they are free of timelock (or whatever it was) and have joined the other gunners, so everyone is concealed, weapons ready, when the dragons arrive. The bystanders get in the way, but that's why we're using stun. The dragons are armed with spears, so their superior numbers don't help much.
Zot ...Except for the squad leader, who appears to have a blaster built into his staff, and it's not set on stun. We take him down, then take down the guy who tries to grab the staff. In ones and twos, over the next minute or so, the squad of dragons gets whittled down.
A dragon takes a human shield. Mithriel takes out the shield, then the dragon. Another dragon takes a human hostage, holding a sword to her throat. Gannar breaks cover and engages in a staring duel to distract him while Robbie and Mithriel scramble for a clean shot of him. Eventually, Mithriel gets him. The hostage is hurt, but Gannar flies in and rushes her down the tunnel to an autodoc.
One of the dragontroopers is left. He's been hit several times, but when sheerly berserk; forget stunners, nothing will take him down but death. Okay...
Just as we're dragging away stunner dragontroopers to quietly cut their throats out of public view, Markel spots a small fighter coming in. Tom disposes of it with a Stupid Pantope TrickTM -- he interrupts the loading for a fraction of a second, goes into freeze-frame mode, and uses the pantope's portals to gate the fighter from the air over the city into a nose-dive into the nearby sea.
We resume loading, never hearing the distant splash.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.