The car shuddered violently beneath Gabriel as he chased after the retreating Vultures, passing a few of the slower members of the pack. They paid him no mind, not taking the time to check if the driver was one of theirs. His eyes strained to find the truck containing Millie but he was working on flashes from headlights in the overwhelming darkness as they rumbled through the city.
As part of Gabriel’s training he had long ago learned to drive. The Novan military had a variety of vehicles and Gabriel had at least passing knowledge of all of them. Once he had even been forced to drive Sara’s car after she had managed to knock herself out attempting to synthesize a new type of pain reliever. But all of those vehicles, and every other vehicle Gabriel had even been in contact with, had run on some sort of battery power. They were smooth, fluid, and silent, with most of the machinery being carefully optimized by internal computers.
The Vulture vehicle he had taken was nothing like that. Its engines were powered by some extremely loud and crude form of combustion that spat out ugly black exhaust from blackened tailpipes. There was no steering assist or navigation systems and Gabriel suffered silently as the extensive jarring upset his injuries. The entire interior of the car had been stripped bare and Gabriel could even see through certain parts of the floor, the broken road passing by at an alarming rate. He knew he was getting further and further away from the Dillo. If he didn’t locate the truck soon, even if he found Millie, neither of them would be getting back.
A flickering taillight caught his attention. Headlights washed over the truck a few lengths away. Gabriel’s eyes narrowed, straining in the faint light until he saw it. A thick yellow stripe across the side of the truck.
Gabriel pressed on the accelerator and the car shot forward, bucking almost out of control as he fought through the pack and closer to the truck. His tire hit a patch of broken road and he lurched to the side. Sparks spat across his open window as he crashed against the side of another car. The driver turned to scream something at him. Gabriel couldn’t hear him over the screech of metal on metal or the rumble of the engines, but he could see the moment of confusion, and then realization, as the driver saw Gabriel wasn’t one of them.
Gabriel brought the pistol up and fired before the driver of the other car could manage to pull away. In the bouncing car his aim was off and the shot meant for the Vulture’s head instead struck him in the chest, shattering his collarbone. The Vulture screamed and jerked to the side in pain, the steering wheel turning with his wild movement. In the span of a second the car was sliding sideways, the tires shrieking as they skidded along the concrete. A truck smashed into it and the car began to roll. More Vehicles joined the collision, some veering off the road and into buildings. Gabriel pulled away from the chaos. None of the other Vultures around him seemed to have realized what happened and none were concerned enough to stop and help the injured.
No honor among thieves, Gabriel mused as he closed in on the red truck. He noticed that a number of Vultures had begun to veer off from the main pack, shooting down alleyways and side roads. They seemed to be grouping off according to the colors that had been applied to their vehicles. It probably marked their territory or alliance, and they had only come together to attack the ELA. With task completed, their organization was coming apart.
This was both good and bad for Gabriel.
It was good because it would reduce the amount of potential threats he would have to eliminate. It was bad because the truck he was chasing was red, while the car he was inside of was a very heinous shade of orange. Gabriel didn’t know what kind of relationship the Vultures had with each other, but he would not assume a good one. He was just going to have to hope they didn’t notice until it was too late.
Falling in line with the red convoy, Gabriel steered the car down a zigzagging path through the city, avoiding burned out cars and broken signs that had long since fallen from rusted out moorings. He counted two cars and three trucks, including the one Millie was in. He would need to strike before they reached their destination. Once the group came to a stop and exited their vehicles there would be too many for him to realistically engage.
Pressing his foot down against the accelerator, Gabriel moved up the line until he was just behind the red truck. One of the cars behind him began to speed up, moving to come up along side him. Gabriel ignored them for a moment and focused on the buildings that lined the sides of the road.
There, on the corner, a large high-rise building.
The building had likely once been very beautiful, but anything of value had long ago been salvaged, including the entryway doors and most of the large glass panes. Those that remained were shattered or cracked beyond use. Gabriel adjusted his grip on the steering wheel as they came closer to the building. The red Vulture car had managed to reach him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the passenger awkwardly aim his rifle out the window. As the muzzle of the weapon flashed Gabriel slammed on the accelerator. He heard the bullets hit the side of his car, only a few inches behind his head, before he crashed into the back of the red truck.
Gabriel wrestled with the wheel as his car threatened to spin out of control as the truck in front of him began to do. Keeping his foot on the gas, Gabriel slammed into the truck again, forcing it off the road and onto the curb. He kept his eyes open as they hurtled towards the building and he did his best to calm his breathing. The situation was out of his control until the vehicles came to a stop. All he could do was be prepared for when it did.
The truck crashed against the remaining supports of the door frame. The thin metal beams held for a moment before giving away against the stress of the impact. Gabriel was dragged behind, the front bumper of his car locked against truck as they skidded through the entryway before coming to an abrupt stop as the truck smashed against the far wall. The front of Gabriel’s car crumpled in against the side of the truck. In the driver seat Gabriel was thrown forward, his chest cracking against the steering wheel. A silent scream escaped his lips as his broken ribs turned to molten fire in his chest and the wound on his stomach tore open.
He fell back against the chair with a painful cough. Blood spilled over his lips and he slumped down in the seat, unable to do anything but breathe. His eyes felt so heavy but he knew if he allowed them to close it would be for the last time. He blinked rapidly to fight off the darkness. The pistol had landed on the dashboard in front of him. Slowly he leaned forward and fell against the steering wheel, sending fresh spears of pain through his chest, but allowing his arm to flop onto the dashboard. Weakly he wrapped his fingers around the grip of the pistol and sat back.
The passengers of the red truck were trapped for moment, with the wall blocking one door and Gabriel’s car the other. It wouldn’t take them long to crawl out of the windows and the others would be coming to investigate. Gabriel needed to move.
Groaning, he pressed his shoulder against the door and popped it open. He immediately fell to the floor, a thick trail of blood following him out of the car. Reaching up he blindly felt around until he found a handhold on the car. With effort he pulled himself to his feet just as a very dazed Vulture managed to push out through the shattered front windshield of the truck, a hand held over his bleeding face.
“What in the hell are you doing?” the Vulture bellowed as he slid down the hood and onto the floor. He rubbed at his face, cleaning away some of the blood and looking at Gabriel. A dumbstruck expression crossed his battered features before Gabriel shot him three times in the chest.
The other passenger in the car leaned out the back window and shakily aimed at Gabriel with a strange looking handgun. It kicked back wildly he took his first shot. Gabriel didn’t move as the shot went wide. He lifted up his own gun and took careful aim before pulling the trigger. His aim was true and the Vulture slumped over, dead, his gun slipping through limp fingers and clattering loudly to the floor.
Gabriel heard the roar of the Vulture’s engines and loud shouts as the others began to enter the building. If he stayed exposed like this, he would be shot long before he had any chance to fight back. Reaching down to his belt, he pulled off the grenades he had pilfered earlier.
Smoke. Both of them.
Gabriel took in a deep breath and glanced around the building, taking in as much as he could as he popped the pin on one of the grenades and tossed it towards the approaching Vultures.
There was a large archway that fed into three smaller hallways to his right. If he could make it there, he would stand better chance than trying to hold his own out in the open. He glanced at the red truck. Millie was still inside, possibly unconscious, possibly dead. If she were unconscious it would be safer for her there, away from the firefight. If she were dead…
Gabriel pushed down that thought and limped towards the hallway, using the smokescreen as cover. He heard a Vulture scream at the others to move forward and he fired a few shots their way to discourage them. It seemed to work, but it also succeeded in drawing return fire. They were shooting blind though, and the shots didn’t land anywhere close to him. Still, he didn’t want to risk them shooting Millie.
The smoke had grown thin by the time he had reached the archway. He paused to catch his breath as he came upon the three hallways. A bullet slammed into the wall beside him and he hastily chose the left hallway, seeing a few doorways only a few meters away and a sharp turn at the end of the hall. Aiming the pistol behind him, he fired two more shots to buy himself enough time to make it to the end of the hallway. Ducking around the corner he came to a stop, leaning against the wall and ejecting the magazine to check the ammo count.
The Vulture’s pistol did not hold nearly as much ammo as the ELA standard issues. He was already down to his final two shots. He could hear the Vultures in the hallway, moving cautiously and kicking in doors while they went. They were loud, yelling obscenities and threats as they worked their way towards his position. Gabriel closed his eyes and listened. He could hear at least four distinct voices, including one woman. The woman was the furthest back and one of the men was standing near her. They were giving orders. The group was spreading out, with the boldest striding ahead, his boots clacking loudly on the marble floor. Gabriel slowly switched the pistol from his right hand to his left.
He waited until the sound of his footfalls was almost deafening before opening his eyes and turning into the hallway. His right hand shot out and caught the Vulture’s rifle, slamming it against the wall. The Vulture pulled the trigger on reflex, but with the barrel of the gun trapped against the wall he did nothing but fire a few rounds into the plaster.
Gabriel punched him across the face with the pistol, knocking him back a step and ripped the gun from his hands. At point blank range he shot the Vulture in the chest before lifting the pistol up and firing the final shot down the hallway. The shot struck the woman in the stomach and gave him enough time to duck back behind the corner. A hailstorm of gunfire followed him, tearing apart the wall and showering Gabriel with splinters and dust.
Dropping to one knee, he flipped around the rifle he had taken from the Vulture. It was a Novan design, a few years out of date but serviceable. Gabriel flicked the weapon from semi to full auto and pulled the final grenade from his belt. He counted to five before popping the pin with his thumb and tossing it down the hallway. He heard a surprised shout, much closer than he expected. Adjusting his grip on his rifle he spun into the hallway. A Vulture had snuck up, his pistol up and ready. He looked down at Gabriel, horror filling his eyes and fired off a shot that went high. Gabriel opened fire with a sustained burst from his rifle and did not miss. Keeping his finger on the trigger, Gabriel sprayed down the hallway, forcing the other Vulture’s back into various doorways. There were eleven left. He had only moments to see where they had positioned themselves before the smoke filled the hallway and completely obscured everyone within. Gabriel threw himself across to the floor as the Vulture’s began to return fire, wildly spraying in his general direction. He kept himself as low as possible, sliding up next to the dead Vulture and using the body for cover. He tossed his empty gun away and pried the dead Vulture’s handgun from his vice-like fingers.
It was the same type of strange handgun he had seen earlier. It had some kind of cylinder loading mechanism and a fully exposed hammer. The name struck him as he cocked back the hammer with his thumb and the cylinder rotated the next round into place.
It was a revolver. An obsolete earth firearm. They had gone out of production long before his birth. It was heavy and clunky and reminded him of most of the things he had seen on Earth. Still, it was a weapon and he didn’t need to know more than that.
The Vulture’s attack slowly tapered off and he heard the dull clunk of magazines being ejected and clattering to the floor.
“Did we get him?”
“I can’t see shit.”
“I think I got him!”
Their voices were scratchy and the words came in odd gasps, a by-product of breathing in the smoke. Now was the time, while they still reloading and unprepared. He could barely see more than a foot or so in front of his face, but that didn’t matter, he knew exactly where he was going.
The hallway had six doors. Two on his left and four on his right. Two Vultures had ducked into the room on the left side closest to him. That was five steps away. Another one was in the nearest room on the right, one more step. The furthest door on the left held three. Ten steps. The remaining five hadn’t entered the hallway and were staying in the archway, three on the left and two on the right. Fifteen steps.
Gabriel rose to his feet. His wounds burned in protest, but he pushed the pain to a closed off corner of his mind as he started to charge down the hallway. Adrenaline surged through his bloodstream and he sped forward a touch faster, the revolver suddenly light in his hand. He reached the first door on the left side and stepped inside. A Vulture appeared through the smoke, his eyes down on his rifle as he loaded in a new magazine. Gabriel lifted up the revolver but the Vulture reacted quickly, dropping his rifle and grabbing onto Gabriel’s wrist. Stronger than Gabriel he was able to twist the weapon away and the side. Gabriel did not struggle to pull away and instead pushed forward, lifting his arms up and pressing the side of the revolver against the man’s face. The Vulture realized a moment too late what was happening as Gabriel pulled the trigger and a blast of super-heated gasses escaped the cylinder gap and burned into his face.
The man recoiled away and grabbed at his face. Now free,, Gabriel punched him in the chest with the revolver and pulled the sidearm from the recoiling man’s waistband before pulling the trigger on the revolver. The gun’s recoil was tremendous and Gabriel let it knock his arm back until he was aiming out the doorway and towards the door on the right side. He pulled the trigger three times in rapid succession, fighting off the recoil. On the third shot he heard scream of pain and he dropped the revolver.
Two targets eliminated.
The rooms remaining occupant roared and strong hands found Gabriel’s neck. Gabriel brought up his left hand and pressed the liberated sidearm against the man’s side. He was holding the gun upside down, but he was able to force his pinky onto the trigger and pull. The first shot only made the Vulture squeeze tighter. Gabriel tilted the gun up slightly and pulled the trigger again. Almost instantly the Vulture went limp as the bullet tore through his chest and ripped through his heart. Gabriel stumbled as the pressure was released and fell back into the smoke. He sucked in a breath of smoke and immediately coughed it back out but continued to move, moving the pistol to his dominant hand.
He counted off nine steps when the barrel of an SMG appeared in his vision. Gabriel dove into the wielder, knocking them to the ground and firing the pistol into their chest twice as he rolled to the side and into the room. He saw a leg beside him and shot the Vulture in the knee. The man screamed and fell to the floor beside Gabriel, dropping his weapon and grabbing at his knee. Gabriel shot him in the side of the head before turning the gun as he heard the other Vulture shout in surprise. He unloaded the entire magazine towards the source of the shout. Gabriel heard the meaty thump of a dead body and knew he was safe, if only for the briefest of moments. Reaching out, he snagged the Vulture’s dropped SMG from the floor and checked the mag before returning to his feet.
Six targets eliminated
The smoke was beginning to disperse now. It wouldn’t spread out past the hallway. He would lose the element of surprise if he simply tried to charge them. He needed to change his plan.
He glanced around the room at the dead occupants. The smoke still hung heavy in his lungs and made it hard to breath.
“We got him!” Gabriel called out, lowering his voice as much as he could. The words hurt to speak, raking against his raw throat, but the desired effect was achieved, it sounded nothing like his usual voice.
He waited a beat, unsure if his gambit had worked until he heard a relieved laugh and what sounded like two people high-fiving. He took that moment to step out of the room and spray the opening of the hallway with automatic fire. Three of the five Vultures were killed instantly and a fourth was clipped in the neck. Blood spurted from the wound and he dropped down to his knees, vainly clutching at his throat. Only the fifth had been smart, or scared, enough to stay partially hidden behind the corner. Gabriel moved forward slowly, keeping the gun up and ready.
“What the fuck are you?” the Vulture yelled as he thrust his gun out and fired blindly down the hall before pulling back. Gabriel ducked down and slid to the side, avoiding the volley. Lifting up the SMG he aimed down the sights and waited. The Vulture reloaded and stuck his arm out again, as he did Gabriel fired a single shot, catching him in the wrist. The Vulture screamed and his gun clattered to the floor. He lunged for it with his other hand, but Gabriel beat him to it, kicking the weapon across the floor and slamming his knee into the man’s face.
“Wait!” he screamed as Gabriel leveled the SMG on his chest. “Wait!”
Gabriel paused, his finger taunt against the trigger.
“You’re ELA. You can’t just kill me. I have information. I can help you. You have to take me prisoner or something,” he cried. “You’re ELA, aren’t you?”
“No,” said Gabriel as he depressed the trigger and eliminated the final Vulture with a single shot to the head.
As the final vestiges of the smoke cleared Gabriel looked around, sweeping his eyes from one side of the building to the other. When he failed to identify any remaining threats he let out a heavy sigh and slumped over against the wall. He gave himself time enough to take in three deep, and extremely painful, breaths before slowly dragging himself over to where the red truck was still crushed against the wall.
With considerable effort he was able to pull the crumbled remains of the back door open, but here he faltered. During the firefight he hadn’t had time to think about anything but his own survival, but now…
Gabriel pulled the door open fully. On the floor was the Vulture from earlier. Gabriel barely registered the body as his eyes fell across Millie. She was stretched out across the seat, one of her arms hanging limply off the seat. Her eyes were closed and he could see blood on the side of her face. Gently, he pulled her from the car and lowered her to the ground. With a hesitant movement, he pressed his finger against her throat, searching for a pulse, but his hand shook too badly for him to complete the task.
Sitting back, he tightened his hand into a fist, and took in a deep, calming breath. When the shaking subsided, he tried again, closing his eyes in concentration as he pressed his fingers against Millie’s throat.
He nearly collapsed when he finally felt it. A faint but steady beat beneath his fingertips.
“Millie,” he breathed before spinning around and bringing his gun up as a loud rumble shook the building. It was a sound that Gabriel recognized instantly.
It was a Kniv.
Gabriel carefully slid Millie beneath the truck and quickly moved away, keeping low to reduce his profile. In another breath he saw the Kniv.
It was a great ugly beast that looked to be welded together from a mixture of other Knivs and car parts. Someone had crudely painted it red. From the awkward way it moved he could tell it wasn’t being operated by a neural connection. Still, with him armed with only a half empty SMG, there was virtually nothing he could do. Maybe with enough time, and if he wasn’t injured, he could formulate a plan to take it down. He saw two trucks appear on either side of the Kniv. One he recognized from earlier. They must have gone to get backup.
The trucks came to a stop and six Vultures exited. One pointed at the building and the Kniv waved its massive machine gun to confirm the order.
Gabriel slumped down to one knee. In a moment the Kniv would open fire and destroy everything inside of the building. He would die, and so would Millie. There was nothing he could do… Nothing except.
Gritting his teeth Gabriel returned to his feet. Cocking his arm back, he tossed the SMG towards the front of the building. It clattered loudly against the marble floor and drew the attention of the Vultures. He lifted up his hands and slowly stumbled towards them. He came to a stop as two Vultures trained their guns on him. He saw the Kniv slowly lower its machine gun.
“I’m alone,” Gabriel called out. “Everyone else is dead.”
The Vulture in charge narrowed his eyes. “You kill them?”
The Vulture nodded once before lifting up his own gun. Gabriel closed his eyes. If they killed him now they would likely leave. Millie would be safe, hidden under the truck, at least for a little bit. She was tough. As long as he could give her a chance to escape, he was sure she could make her way back to the ELA.
Gabriel took in a deep breath. He had always assumed he would die on earth, but he thought it would be inside his Kniv, fighting to the very end, not dressed in an ELA uniform, defending an earthling girl. The corner of his mouth quirked up into a smile and he opened his eyes, ready as the Vulture cocked the hammer back and took careful aim.
An impossibly loud boom shook the ground. Gabriel lost his footing and fell to the floor. Someone let out a horrified shriek and the sound of screeching metal filled the air. The Vulture Kniv stumbled forward as it was sheared in half from behind before exploding in a ball of brilliant flames. The heat from the explosion washed across Gabriel’s face and he lifted up his hand to guard his eyes from the light. When he lowered his hand he saw another Kniv standing behind the wreckage. It was an ELA design, a large metal shield on one arm and a shimmering plasma blade burning brilliantly held in the other.
On the floor Gabriel actually laughed.
The Shield Maiden.