Darkness Falls From The Air

From the Story Arc: Battle Stations!

Previous Story in the Arc: Distant Early Warning by John Murdock (Wednesday, April 05, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Reap The Whirlwind by Heavy Brother (Thursday, April 06, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, April 05, 2006)

Grand Master Te worked through his katas on the roof, loosing strikes at invisible foes that were powerful enough to turn brick and mortar to powder. The Zen area had been converted so that Unter and People's Blade could give martial instruction to recruits in the open air, without any valuable equipment that might get broken if the teaching session became "vigorous".

He wondered where People's Blade had gone. Granted, she had become very...strange...just before she vanished. Her connection, and Qin's to the Celestial Dragon had been becoming more evident with every passing day. Still. It was not like his sensei to just...vanish.

Unless, of course, she was...no longer People's Blade, nor Fei Li, nor Shen Xue at all...It was disconcerting to think about, but her prowess had been growing, tremendously so in the months past. Still...

His acutely keen hearing picked up...the sound of rotors. Except this was not the same sound as the Sikorsky helicopters used by the hospital here in King's Row, nor the Black Hawks used by Longbow. He looked up. There was a small fleet of Council hoverbots bearing down on the roof, trailed by all-black helicopters. Each was emblazoned with the Council insignia.

He acted without thought. He had drilled in this too many times to count, and like his strikes, his reaction was instinctive. He dove for the alarm, yanked the cover off with such force that it tore away, and slapped his palm down on the big red button. Klaxons blared from within the base; he'd warned his comrades, hopefully in time.

The sickening whine of the hoverbots' engines soon overwhelmed the alarm; they were almost within firing range. Grandmaster Te closed his eyes, focusing his internal reserves and his chi. He settled into a defensive crouch before opening his eyes, ready to do battle once more.

Laser beams lanced towards him from the hoverbots. But he was not there when they burned through the air. Leaping, tumbling, and turning, he evaded them by fractions of an inch, near enough to feel the superheated air on his skin and smell the burnt ozone.

Then the Mech-Men came rappelling down out of the hovering choppers. And with them...his heart sank...the Nictus-creatures. Voids, Seekers and Hunters. Quantum Galaxies. And....floating down arrogantly...two Dark Novas.

Te set himself, waiting for the first of the invaders to dare strike him. He yelled out in Chinese, "Come if you wish, fiends! None shall pass."

The Council troops did not answer with words, but with a hail of fire. They knew better than to approach him within striking distance of his hands and feet. They had studied their foes far too well for that mistake.

Instead, the air above the roof of the CCCP HQ literally was set ablaze, with Te set in the middle of the conflagration. An Archon, the leader for this portion of the assault, fast-roped from one of the choppers, calling a cease-fire. When the smoke cleared, he stumbled back into a line of the Mech-men. The lone hero was still there, bleeding and charred. But he stood, coughing. And he charged.

Waitron9000 usually manned the comms. It wasn't as if she couldn't do that and deal with the forged paperwork and the reports and even squeeze in a medical exam for those too squeamish--usually the men--to let one of the female physicians handle it. Everything was perfectly normal. Bella and a team of ultra-experienced comrades were Portal hopping in Peregrine Island at Portal Corp. Other teams were scattered from one end of Paragon to the other. There was even a team doing journeyman's work here in KR, the "Murdock family outing", cleaning Vahz out of the sewers. In fact--

"HQ, this is John," said the familiar voice over the airwaves. Waitron noted with satisfaction that the signal was nice and crisp. "Just finished our patrol of the sewers, section A-15 through B-30. Returning to street-level to scrub off and get some chow."

"Roger, Comrade Murdock," she replied briskly. "Suggest you take exit B-17, that's your near--"

Klaxons blared.

The alarm.

Instantly she identified the location. The roof. Master Te was up there, and--

Heat sensors on the rooftop redlined, then went out, and the comm transmitter went down.

And no less than a minute after that, as Waitron activated external and internal cameras and sent all the feeds directly to her own personal channels, Master Te's vital signs dropped like falling stones. Then ceased.

Waitron's hand flashed out and punched the medivac porter with Master Te's code.

Terminal. No retrival/revival possible. The message flashed in red letters across her visor HUD.

She stared at it in disbelief.



Klaxons blared, and the thunk of the door-bars slamming home made Free Radical look up from her Victoria Victrix novel in shock. She had been assigned "desk jockey" duty today, and had been manning the reception area quietly for most of the morning. Boring, to say the least. But this...

She didn't have time to ponder what had gone wrong, what the warning was about. The doors creaked, then buckled, then exploded inwards, followed by a wall of lasers and ignited fuel. Doreen was thrown into the wall behind her by the blast. She was lucky; the desk absorbed most of the shrapnel and concussion. She shook her head, trying her hardest to clear the stars swimming before her eyes. With a supreme act of willpower, she rolled herself up onto her hands and knees. She was covered in cuts, burns, bruises already forming.

A black shape moved in front of her. Her eyes focused on a single gleaming boot crunching glass and debris. Free Radical looked up to the owner of the boot, only to be greeted with the barrel of a Council soldier's miningun.

"The kill-order was issued, soldier," said a crisp, unaccented command from somewhere beyond him. "You will carry it out."

In the comm room, for the second time in as many seconds, Waitron saw a Comrade's vitals drop and go offline. Free Radical, in the reception area...again she slapped the medievac and again....the same ominous red-lettered message.

She toggled her internal overrides and opened the intercom system. "This is not a drill! This is not a drill! All personnel retreat to the safe room! All personnel retreat to the safe room! HQ is under assault! This is not a drill!"