Hey. Wake up: Gathering of the Tribes pt. 8

1“I’m awake,” Holly said when Shiloh touched her shoulder.  “I heard.”  She pushed herself up and knelt, quickly tying her hair up out of the way.  “Outside.”

“Ivy said–“

“To stay here, I know.  But not inside.  If someone’s coming for us they can trap us in the tent.”

“I miss my trailer,” Shiloh grumbled.  “It had armor. And locks.”

“Sounds lovely.”  Holly pushed the flap open and went out.

Their fire was banked for the night, so the light was dim and didn’t spoil their night vision. The shadows seemed to swirl, everything pretending motion.  It was a cloudy night, and the noisy camps and houses that were irregularly scattered nearby had gone silent, possibly with the hour and possibly in anticipation.

A light suddenly snapped on, blinding both of them.  Shiloh grabbed Holly’s arm and yanked her sideways to the ground.  In the same instant there was an ugly mechanical cough, the distinctive report of a Sino-Indian slickgun.  A wad of incapacitating frictionless gel missed them and, fortunately, the tent.

The tumble gave their attackers time to get close.  Heavy gloved hands seized Shiloh and pulled her away from Holly.  She was wearing a nightgown and couldn’t shift, and reaching for the man’s face her fingers encountered a rigid mask of some kind.  She tried to pry it off, and was bearhugged and wrestled to the ground before she could get any purchase.  The night tumbled around her, dark over dark, disorienting.  A heavy body crashed down on top of her.

She kicked out, knowing her bare feet wouldn’t do much, and twisted so she was on her chest instead of her back.  Her attacker shifted his grip on her as she squirmed, trying to put her in a choke hold.  Shiloh tucked her chin against the grasping, hard-fingered hand, then got her feet under her and rolled forward, hips over head, slipping to the side and away.

Free for a moment, she saw Holly struggling with a second, similarly armored soldier.  She jumped on his back, letting her weight carry him sideways and off-balance, away from Holly, as well as putting him between herself and the man she’d just rolled away from.  

Holly capitalized on the distraction by making a quick stabbing motion at the soldier’s throat.  Shiloh didn’t see Holly’s knife but the chokes and wet gagging sounds and came from behind the mask made it clear that she had used it to deadly effect.  She sprang off as the sideways stumble turned into a fall.

Shiloh knew the other man was charging up behind her thanks to years of habit being on stage with multiple acrobats.  Instead of trying to go left or right she dropped straight down.  His grabbing arms encountered empty space, and he tripped over her instead of slamming into her.  The kick hurt but it was worth it–he fell prone and before he had a chance to move or get up Ivy came out of the dark and buried the spike end of the two-handed Halligan tool she called her “fubar” in his helmet with a sound like a rock hitting a muddy riverbank.

She had to twist the fubar slightly to get it out of the man’s head.  She turned toward the Sino-Indian truck; Shiloh saw it illuminated from within by a flash, followed by the crack of a shotgun.

“I hope that’s Diesel-Heart doing for the last of them,” Holly said.  Ivy nodded.  “How many were there?”

“Six all told.  We surprised them.  Shouldn’t have, with all the gear they’re carrying.”

“They’re used to relying on aerial cameras and web contacts,” Holly said.  “None of those things work here.”

“Why were they here?” Shiloh asked.

“They’re wearing Sam Ward bands, just like Diesel-Heart said,” Ivy said.  She squatted next to the man she’d just killed.  “And it’s still too quiet.” She was right. There were a few people visible as silhouettes in windows and shapes on porches, but nobody came to investigate or offer help.  “We should leave, quick as we can.”  Ivy sat down.  Diesel-Heart strutted over, casually shaking gore off of Baby Batter.  “I might be able to use one of the axles from that Sam Ward rig, to fix Shiloh’s.  If I can find a welder–“

“Why can’t we just use that one?  Take it, tow mine behind if we have to.”

“What?”

Holly smiled.  “Shiloh’s right.  We can take the Sino-Indian rig.  That way we don’t lose time trying to redesign parts to fit the green car.”

Ivy shrugged.  “Easier to make a tow bar than an axle,” she said.