An automated voice piped up among the chaos of loading the few helicopters they had left. The rest would go on ships. The technological know-how decayed as did the resources to create such vehicles. Most of them were cobbled together from old parts, or re-fashioned from existing parts. A large facility producing new silicon products was an expensive endeavor, and painted a big red target on itself. From the dark outside though the vehicle looked just like they used to make them fresh off the factory floor.
“Wheels up in thirty minutes.” The announcement carried over the hurried shouts and orderly pandemonium of a deployment. At fifteen til, Kaiya and her friends, along with another squad, boarded the helicopter. Eros hopped in after them to unnecessarily secure their suit’s harness. He didn’t say a word. He knew pleading with her to stay might push her away, and he knew she was the best chance this team had of getting in there. Whatever advantage they could get. After he finished his marginally helpful effort he just looked at her, all grown up, strapped into a parachute on a helicopter, a gun laying across her chest, he was proud. He rested a hand on her shoulder and hopped out of the back of the helicopter. The rest of the supplies loaded and they powered up, spraying dust in a plume around the blades. She looked down at Eros until the cool air slapped her. She took her eyes off the ground and focused on the task at hand. At ten til arrival, they synced their screens, and a flurry of data from the helicopter flittered before them. They could see the scene below
“On your lead,” Kaiya said to Arryn.
Ayala stood up first, and was jostled by some rough air, forcing her to fall on Shim. For a brief moment their bad blood was gone. They were different now. Shim helped stabilize her and she quickly regained her composure. Arryn watched the scene unfold while he stood and grabbed hold of a railing overhead, a brief smile flashed across his face. The back of the helicopter opened over their drop point. One after another, they fell off the side. They watched the ground come closer and closer, silently whipping through the air. They spread their cloth wings and flew in a rough formation as far north as they could. Kaiya was calm, centered, and watched her altimeter with patience as the ground came towards her. At exactly one hundred feet, she deployed her parachute. The parachute had a light ballistic unit on it to help it open faster. Instead of waiting for the air to take it, the tiny rocket spread out the parachute immediately and let the wind do the rest. Some last minute tinkering by Eros and Feathers. The parachute jettisoned open and she abruptly slowed down. She tugged hard on the straps and crashed through a thick forest of tropical trees, snagging her chute and suspending her a few feet off the ground. Brig hit hard and rolled right into a tree, knocking him unconscious.
They gathered around Brig, shook him awake and gave him a bit of water. Arryn slapped him gently, and he sparked to life with a smile. The rest of the gang turned on their night vision, and took a knee, listening. When everyone landed safely and stowed away their chutes, they formed a line, and followed their path on their wrist watch. The squad leader released some micro drones into the air and synced them with his screen. Once they started circulating, the squad pushed forward. These were not the same kids as those in the arena back home.
Petr was sweating at his keyboard back at the base. He put his hands on his temple and sat back, taking a sip of water and stared back at his screens. He was watching the operation from the drones and the body cams. On another screen he had the data he had been tracing. It’s stream of logs was flying by him, predictably, and orderly. He noticed something on the screen, one particular log that was shorter than the rest. He dug in, hammering commands. He switched from one screen to another, then from one computer to another and stood up. It was a loop. It was convoluted, semi-random but a loop nonetheless. They were sending fake data.
Petr sprinted out of the office down the hallway, trying to find Hasinth or anybody in charge. He barged into the main ops room and drew the attention of nobody. He pushed his way through the crowded room and found Hasinth.
“Hasinth, it’s fake, the data is fake.” Petr said out of breath
“We’re in the middle of an operation, Petr, get out.”
“They’re being set up, it’s a trap.” He shouted at the top of his lungs. The room went quiet. He had their attention. Petr scrambled to a computer nearby to pull up his data on a screen.
“Look, it repeats, sort of, it’s subtle, I’m eighty percent, no eighty eight percent sure this data is fake. They’re being led into a death trap!”
Hasinth looked at the data, looked at Eros, then looked at Petr, and in a split moment, jammed the button on the comms, “Abort, I repeat, abort mission immediately. Get out of there now.”
The squad commander accompanying the group squaked back, “10-4 we are…” At that, gunfire was heard and the comms went out.
“Prep evac now.” Hasinth said, steady as a rock, “get that chopper over them immediately.”
Eros and Feathers dashed out of the room.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Feathers asked as they rounded the corners of the office. Eros nodded. They took an elevator up to the lift bay where the last helicopter was being prepped for evac. Both of them hopped on board just in time. The squad leader looked at Feathers and Eros and nodded, knowing it would take an act of God to stop them from coming. They took off aggressively.
Kaiya stalked slowly, a few bodies behind the squad leader. Their wrist watches all vibrated as something was detected. Just then, their squad leader responded quietly, “10-4 we are…” and at that moment was shot in the head. He dropped immediately and three others dragged his body behind the nearest tree as they sought cover. The quiet of the night was killed as gunfire brightened where they were led to by the Sikkas. The gaps in the gunfire revealed a new sound. Trackers. They lit up on her wrist screen and she memorized where they were and their trajectory. They were going to try and herd them forward, where the gunfire had come from. She got up carefully, making sure Arryn, and Brig saw her. She flipped up her screen and drew a circle around the incoming Trackers. They agreed and on the count of three they sprinted to the Trackers on the outside of the group trying to flank them.
Kaiya and her squad ran towards the Tracker, who stuttered briefly in running computations to understand and adjust to the new situation. That pause gave them enough time to drown the Tracker in bullets. It was disabled in seconds. They didn’t stop sprinting while they passed the dead Tracker and moved on to the next one. The drones were getting dropped one by one, though she could see that the Trackers were now converging on them as they were commanded to once they were discovered. The next two went down just the same as the first, but by the time the fourth came, there were two more of them closing in behind them. The squad went back to back just like they did in the Y. Shim ran out of bullets first. She didn’t have time to reload, so she grabbed a knife from her belt and lunged at the nearest Tracker. She caught it’s face just as it hit her in the chest. It wasn’t enough power to drive through her, but the crew heard the crack of her ribs.
The Vipers positioned themselves in the trees above the soldiers. They came down one by one, slashing whomever was below them. They then catapulted back up to the tree by some kind of pulley. They took down the first squad, who had all but retreated to their evac point. Kaiya’s squad came back towards the rest of the group pinned down by the Vipers after the Trackers had been taken care of. Kaiya had seen their game, and activated her boots. She was ready for the next Viper that dropped from the trees. One came down a few paces to her right, going after Shim. Kaiya yelled out to Shim to warn her and jettisoned off the tree trunk towards the Viper. The Viper saw her coming, but could do nothing against gravity and just watched as Kaiya swooped by and cut her elastic line connecting her to the top of the trees. It was flawless, worthy of study. The Viper hit the ground with a thud and Shim shot her in the back of the head while winking at Kaiya. They all saw how it was done and though they didn’t have her modded boots, they could effectively do the same. And so they did. The Vipers were on the defensive, having had to abandon their primary strategy. It would be back to a ground game, but as reinforcements of Sikkas arrived, they would still have the upper hand.
Kaiya took quick stock of the area around them. There were only a few drones left up in the air and their coverage was spotty, it was going to have to be won by instinct and a vague sense of where the enemy was, apparently just like they used to do it. Dredge had held back, watching the fight from various pairs of eyes he had access to on the battle ground and in the air nearby. He’d tap into the Tracker’s eyes and be able to see as they did. When he saw Kaiya cut the line of a Viper, he tossed his headset off and decided to press in. He gathered a squad and readied himself to leave the bunker and head into battle to take care of Kaiya himself.
Eros and Feathers were close now and closing in fast. Eros synced his screen with Feathers’ and Kaiyas’. Once they were all connected, Feathers loaded up his weapon and dove out of the helicopter, making a b-line for the thicket of trees formerly inhabited by the Vipers. He found one lingering up top, angling down above Brig who was holding his own against a Sikka. Feathers, opened his wings wide and angled himself in such a way that the top of his wing was aimed straight at the Vipers chest. The wing opened a compartment and slid the knife attachment into place. Upon impact, Feathers had miscalculated slightly too high, and he hit the Viper in the neck, her head sheareding off and plunking below in front of Brig who looked at it briefly and immediately vomited.
Kaiya jumped over a Sikka she had taken down earlier and looked up to a Viper descending on her. This one was different. There was a coldness to her, beyond the others. Vin dropped down from the tree and cut her own line, sauntering towards Kaiya with a vendetta. Arryn saw this from a few yards away but was also stuck in a battle himself. Shim was out of view and Ayala was rushing to help Arryn, having just taken down one of her own. Vin walked quickly, but not rushed, and didn’t stop to square off with Kaiya, she took her blade and went straight for her, testing her, seeing what she would do. Vin cut low, pressing forward and caught a bit of Kaiya’s thigh. Her uniform resisted most of the blade, but it took some damage. More information for Vin. Kaiya got her feet under her and stopped retreating. She lined up a move and struck. Vin brushed it away as the blow was dealt by a child.
“Kaiya I’m coming up behind you now, when I say drop, you hit the floor.” Feathers said into his screen.
Kaiya didn’t ask who it was that said that, only that she hoped whoever it was, they’d be able to help her with Vin, because if things continued the way they were going this fight would be over in a few seconds.
Feathers darted through trees, his wings spread wide. He was dangerously low to the ground when he came up behind Kaiya, “Drop!” he shouted, but he could see that the Viper attacking Kaiya spotted him. His velocity was too great to change course without smacking into a tree. Kaiya hit the ground and Vin sliced at Feathers’ wing, hacking through part of it. Despite her attack, Vin was struck by part of the wing and they both tumbled, kicking up dust and dirt everywhere.
“Run Kaiya, get out of here!” Feathers said without taking his eyes off Vin.
She could hear the cries for retreat and evac from her screen and saw the others turning to run back. They could hear the helicopter coming lower and lower.
Dredge stomped his way through the thicket of brush and forest shrubbery, hacking violently as he went. He could see the battle now. He was followed by a dozen Trackers who, at his command, fanned out and began sprinting towards Kaiya.
The crew made their way back through what was left of the Trackers they had destroyed earlier and found the helicopter waiting, ready for evac. Eros sat with a big ass gun pointed at the trees behind them. Kaiya swelled and helped the rest of the soldiers and her friends onto the helicopter.
Feathers rolled up off the dirt, his wing was damaged, but his screen calculated he could still fly, though impaired. He manually stretched out his broken wing into his flying position and leapt up, his wings providing a haggard kind of lift that brought him up and over the trees. Vin reached for him with her knife, slicing his calf as he took off. It was a rough ride, he’d get five feet up and then drop another tw feet every time he had to flap. He wouldn’t be able to last long burning this kind of energy. His wound dripped blood that was taken by the wind and sprinkled over the forest.
Dredge’s Trackers leapt out of the forest and into the clearing where the helicopter waited for the rest of the soldiers. Eros unloaded on him and his accomplices as they approached. The final few soldiers fell into the helicopter, clearing them to take off. The blades whirred up to speed and lifted them off the ground. Eros dropped several Trackers who had since gathered below the helicopter. Dredge stood still and looked up at Eros in the helicopter, they were close enough to see each other's faces. Dredge took his weapon and fired a single bullet up at the helicopter. It pinged the exterior near Eros’ head, which prompted him to return fire. Dredge retreated back into the forest. Feathers approached the helicopter and tackled Eros as he made it back in. Eros smiled at him and patted him on the back. Feathers was deathly pale, but exhilarated from his skirmish. They wouldn’t ever hear the end of how he saved Kaiya from the lead Viper.