“Fucking Stop!” I shouted, and this time I was heard.
The survivors looked over at me, battle scarred and furious. Their blood was well and truly up now, the beasts of the Regime in the full flush of their fury. I could give them any order and be obeyed, as long as that order was some variation on ‘Kill’.
“Check everyone who is down!” I shouted. “If they are an enemy, make sure that they stay that way. If they are one of ours, see if you can get em up! We aren’t done yet, maybe more incoming. Take advantage of this opportunity!”
It was a staccato series of instructions, more about getting them calm and human again, back into a state where they could understand my words, understand any words. They’d just fought for their lives and won, they wouldn’t be anywhere within a stone’s throw of calm, but if I wanted to live through this I needed them to do my fighting, and thinking soldiers were far better than brutes.
I suited action to words, climbing up onto the mound of machinery that had once been the back two trucks. They’d both been wrecked by Ultra powers, the one in the back by the same string attack that had gutted me, and the one in the front by some kind of explosive gift, probably one of ours.
A nearby Ultra moved to assist me as I let out an involuntary groan. I’d tried to hold my torso perfectly level as I’d climbed, but obviously that hadn’t gone to plan. I set myself against the truck and waved them off.
Bad enough to bore Her with a moment of stillness, but getting assistance while She was riding my senses would be actively dangerous.
I shouted again, as much to buy time to feel a bit better as for any useful reason.
“Check on Smasher!” I directed, as though I hadn’t watched her all but bisect herself. “Check on those Union fucks! See if they left us any useful toys!”
I doubted any Union gear would work, but it sounded smart and it bought me a few more moments. Moments that my ribs would hopefully use to stop being on fire.
I took a step over to what had once been the backdoors of the back truck, looked within.
“Builder?” I called. “Owner?”
No movements. What little I could see of the inside, with the coming night stealing away most of our ambient lighting and the fucking smoke machines actively interfering even more, just looked like debris. I didn’t see any blood or bodies.
“I don’t have time for this!” I insisted, not in a shout, but in an urgent mutter. “I need my Posse. Get your asses out here.”
I heard movement inside, someone shifting position, something that sounded dangerously like a stifled sob.
Shit. If a member of my Posse was crying and She saw it I’d lose points, or at least I would unless I got a lot meaner than I was comfortable getting with them. Had She heard that? It had been slight.
“Whichever of you two that is!” I said, talking in a rush to cover any more incriminating sobs, “I want you out here and coming after us as soon as you get your wounds bound up! We’re pushing on the core of the enemy’s strength, you catch them in a pincer!”
This was nonsense, of course. They were both borderline noncombat, and wouldn’t be pincering anyone, and I had no idea if they were wounded, but the point was it gave me an excuse to turn confidently away from the door and head back to my Ultras.
The natural move here would have been to drop down off of the truck, but the way I was feeling I probably would crumple to the ground and spend a few more minutes healing. Instead I sort of walked along its edge, stepping around the top of the cab and down off the hood onto a mound made out of a piece of the back of the next Truck, then onto the ground.
Looking back, it had been a borderline graceful series of steps. No one else was watching, but I gave myself some imaginary full marks. It would have been easy to flub that and fall off.
The Ultras had regrouped by now, dividing back into their original squads. I gave them a ‘move out’ gesture, and we all started stomping into the repaired zone.
I’d originally been planning on a bit of a speech there, mostly to buy time for my torso to sort out whatever fresh hell it was planning, but I’d axed it in favor of getting us moving. I didn’t know exactly how fast King Arthur’s gift worked, but with enemy soldiers literally increasing in number the longer we waited it didn’t feel like a good idea to do too much talking.
I had to turn us a bit as we started into the enemy’s repaired area. The mob had originally been just kind of mindlessly going forward, but I pointed us towards the building that the wisps I’d seen from the enemy had been headed towards.
I didn’t like the idea of my Ultras storming a defended building, of course. There’d be nothing left of the structure, but I liked the idea of us missing the enemy and wandering around for an hour or so a whole lot less.
I wasn’t incredibly worried about it. King Arthur could certainly hide herself away easily enough. Thirty people were nothing like enough to search a ruined city, especially as we didn’t intend on splitting up, but the thing of her gift was that she didn’t get to just be alone.
If she was making fighters, then she needed to be near a bunch of civilians who hadn’t been turned yet, and all the fighters that she hadn’t sent out yet. That was a much more reasonable sized group to expect to find.
As it turned out, they found us.
This time there was no surprise. A surly mob of people slipped out of the building as soon as we drew near. They were hard bitten settler types, brandishing guns and clubs.
There were, thankfully, only about twenty of them, but even so, as I saw them, I felt a coldness in my chest that hadn’t actually been there before.
King Arthur, in my models, was trying to protect people. Like, she had chosen the other half of the collaborate/resist fork from me, but I’d still felt a basic kinship there. But looking at the people she sent out to fight I found within myself a growing hatred.
Maybe it was Smasher’s death. KEM could have all the slogans that it wanted, but we simply weren’t wired to secretly hate people that we hung out with. It was hard to think of them as monsters, not when we worked and fought together.
But I chose to believe it wasn’t that. I chose to believe it was rage at the fact that she was shoveling her citizens, dozens of them, the people who’d believed in her promises, into the furnace of my Ultras, just to buy a few more seconds of life.
Because it was immediately obvious that they didn’t have a chance.
The first crew had started out encircling us, they’d had surprise on their side, or at least we’d been startled. They’d been the enemy’s best trained troops, and she’d had time to buff them as much as her gift was able.
They’d been supported by Guinevere, bolstered by real Ultras among their crew. These guys had none of that, and instead of like sixty of them there were about half that many.
The Ultras waded into them like men into kids, dashing them to the ground and slaughtering them, hardly breaking stride. In the first seconds of the fight I saw a half dozen of the enemy fall, for maybe one on my side. In the next few seconds it got worse.
By the time I limped my way up to the line of battle it had moved forward, pushing the enemy back and trampling upon their wounded. Half of them were already dead, streamers of mist exiting their forms and heading up into the building.
Fuck, this could get really messy. I needed a plan.
Situation was as follows.
Minimal losses since the first battle, I have a little more than 15 Ultras with about that many of the ‘Squires’, as I’m calling the second batch of King Arthur’s people, fighting them. We should win through momentarily.
King Arthur is very likely inside this building right ahead of us (an old shopping center on the edge of an old mall), judging by the streamers. It is one of the buildings I am to preserve intact for Her use.
She may or may not have more gifted soldiers in there. Either ‘Knights’ or ‘Squires’, to use earlier designations. She almost certainly has a lot of unpowered citizens in there waiting for their turn to be powered up.
Lancelot and Guinevere are dead, Merlin has not been seen or heard from since the start of this battle, neither has the Union tank. The enemy seems to have lost all of their Ultras and Union allies as well.
Some of my Ultras have ranged gifts, others have close combat gifts. They are brutal combatants, but I have very little confidence in their restraint. I believe if I send them inside they will kill everyone in there, and likely wreck the place.
We have a few smoke cannisters, and someone is lugging a laser, but I don’t think it has its power source. A few of us also have guns.
Either Builder, Owner, or one of their guards survived and is presumably coming up behind us, but I’m trying not to see them while they might be in a state of weakness.
I myself am basically not combat fit. I still need a lot more time to heal, but I do have Ultra toughness one, and the Squires didn’t seem capable of damaging that. I might be able to engage certain enemies with my death touch without exposing to Her how damaged I am.
She is likely growing impatient. I should wrap this up quick, or at least make sure the action continues, if I want to live.
Notes from QM:
This is a write in plan, Blender doesn’t have any particular suggestion to form the core of it. She needs your help!