Chapter 57

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FAITH

Terran Guard troops were swarming in from both sides as Major Walker backed up. The few Cats left cranked their plasma guns around as far as they could and fired. The troops were too close now and they impacted the ground behind the troops, throwing up a blue wall of flame that did little more than provide a backdrop to silhouette the faces straining with hatred for the men who had held them back from their calling during a lifetime of war. Every soldier was a martyr for his own cause, Walker thought. But he knew better this time. This time, it was different.

Forcing himself to ignore the sight of another Cat shuddering to a halt as an electromagnetic pulse surged through its frame, Walker slewed his reticle to another tank and pulled the trigger to designate the target. Disciplined in their focus on cutting down the crippled Cats, they seemed to ignore him as he pulled the trigger a second time and waited. Once again, the computer took longer than it should have because it had to compensate for the staggering limp of his Cat as it struggled to back away from the line. Finally, his cannons let loose their salvo of steel spikes and pushed the tank into a smear of orange stretching across the ground.

He glanced at the Pyramid and tapped a button next to his center display to bring up a map of his position. He overlaid it with the projected impact area of the STI and saw that he was between the Pyramid and the outer edge of the impact zone.

He keyed his headset. “Keep moving it back you guys.” Another group of carriers scurried around the flanks, trying to get around to the rear of his formation. They were brushing the edge of the impact zone and would drift out of it if they moved much further. “Tighten up the line. Draw them in behind me.” All along the line, the Cats angled their track to close their ranks as they continued to march away from him.  He centered his control levers and his Cat swayed as the stabilizers strained to keep it from falling over as he brought the behemoth to a halt.

“You need to keep moving there, Major,” one of them said.

Walker smiled and slewed the reticle onto another tank that was moving in towards a Cat on the left flank of their line. The carriers halted and discharged more troops. He pulled the trigger. Now that he was standing still, the computer found its firing solution in less than a second and fired the guns at almost point blank range, sending the tank tumbling over the ground with a swirl of orange wrapping around it as it disintegrated.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Just keep moving them towards the Pyramid.”

He slewed his reticle again and dispatched another tank. The loading mechanism clunked into action as the banner on his display flashed LOADING. He quickly counted, realizing he couldn’t dispatch the remaining eight tanks on his own.

More importantly, though, he wasn’t in optimal position for the STI. As his guns loaded, he pulled back on the left control lever. The leg rose up and swung back while the sound of metal buckling rose up from the right leg straining to slide forward so the Cat could turn. The change in its direction wasn’t enough. It was going to take many more steps than she probably had left. “Come on baby,” he said, “just a few more.”

The left leg clomped back again and he could hear the metal that had started to buckle in the right leg starting to tear, sounding like a bell cracking apart.

The display flashed READY when the Cat yanked sideways as another steel spear tore into his left gun, knocking it off its mount to leave it hanging by electric control cables and hydraulic fluid lines. The graphic for the left gun flashed red on his display.

He pulled the weapons control grip as far left as it would go and the reticle slewed to the edge of his HUD display, but the tanks were already moving too far to the side for his weapons to reach them.

He flipped the display to show the view through the camera mounted behind his cockpit. The Pyramid was still off to the side behind him, but he was slowly moving towards it.

“Close enough,” he said, and yanked both control levers back, instructing his Cat to back up in a straight line. The left leg took a smaller step this time. White smoke curled up next to his canopy from the right leg grinding itself towards destruction as it slid back.

Dekker’s voice crackled in his headset. “Two Bravo Delta, Enforcer – Major, we’re just a few minutes away from the shot. You need to get out of there.”

The left leg took another step back, shorter still as it compensated for the shrinking distance the right leg could still move.

“Are my boys out of the way?” he asked.

“They’re out of the zone. Can you move any faster?”

The right foot scraped along the ground, black smoke curling up past his cockpit now.

“How many left?” He coughed as the smoke started to seep into his cockpit.

“Four. You’ve got four Cats left,” Dekker said. Walker could hear the tone in Dekker’s voice as he tried to make it sound like a good thing. He had always been that way. If he had run out of ammunition, Dekker was the kind of man who would say he could beat the enemy to death with an empty rifle.

Walker’s throat squeezed in against itself as more smoke filled the cockpit. He coughed again and said, “That’s good.”

“You’re moving the wrong way. You need to get away from the Pyramid.”

“I know.”

“Major, you’re running out of time. Move yourself clear of the zone. That’s an order.”

The frame shuddered and the cockpit swayed as another round ripped through the Cat’s right leg at the knee and sheered the last of it away. The stump of its leg slammed into the ground and impaled the dried clay below the sand and dirt of the desert floor. The frame rocked back and forth as gyros stabilized it enough to keep it from falling the rest of the way over.

The smoke filling his cockpit was so thick he could barely see the display in front of him. Walker smacked the canopy release plunger. Smoke spilled out of the cockipit as the canopy popped open and slid up on hydraulic struts. He coughed and reached behind him to unstrap the Old Scrolls from the bulkhead. He set the case in his lap and wrapped his hands around the edge.

As the smoke cleared, he saw two Terran Guard troop carriers standing just behind the tanks closing in on the Pyramid and the rest of his Cats. A hunched figure disembarked from one, took a few steps towards him with the help of a walking stick and looked straight into his eyes as his antennae fluttered over his head.

He must not come here.

“Negative, Colonel,” Walker said. “Two Bravo Delta is unable to comply at this time.”

“Sam! Get the hell out of there.”

Walker eyed Shoahn’Fal as he stood behind heat waves rippling across the ground between them. He smiled, knowing that the old priest now stood in the STI impact zone with him. Another figure stepped out from the carrier to stand next to the Shoahn’. General Godfrey glared at him as she stood with her hands on her hips.

“Take the shot, Ben.”

He unkeyed the microphone and looked up into the sky. The Shoahn’ sun beat down on his face and he closed his eyes, imagining a time when he was a boy and would lift his face to the sun, close his eyes and pretend he was on a world they had called Earth.

He whispered to himself, “Semper fi.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence