Serial Saturday #2.21: The Battle

Still a little unsteady on her feet, Sarah pulled herself upright and looked along the maintenance walkway. As she had predicted: quiet.

Ema arrived next. Kamara and Mendrika grabbed her and helped her over the railing. She nodded thanks to them and collected herself for a moment before: “Which way?”

“Elevators are that way,” Sarah pointed down the walkway. 

“No other way up?” Ema asked.

Sarah shook her head. 

“Let’s go check it out,” Kamara suggested. “I might be able to make some magic happen.”

“All right,” Ema pointed to the far end of the walkway. “Alan, Mendrika, watch our back. Sarah, you lead.”

Sarah nodded and slipped past Ema and strode down the walkway to the elevator.

“Don’t touch anything,” Kamara called from behind her. “Let me look at it first.”

Sarah stepped aside and let Kamara squeeze by her. He glanced at the elevator and then tapped on a panel above the call button. He grinned and reached into his protective gear and pulled out a small screwdriver. “You contracted with the Ikhompyutha Corporation?”

“I didn’t contract with anyone,” Sarah replied a little tartly. “I just got stuck with what the original settlers decided on.”

“Well, their thriftiness is to our benefit,” Kamara said. “We’ll be in business here in a second.” He prised open the panel and counted out wires. Finding a blue one, he slipped his knife back into his protective gear and then produced a set of wire cutters. He cut the blue wire and then hit the call button for the elevator. “There. Now we should be good to go.”

“This might take a couple of trips,” Sarah warned. “It’s a maintenance elevator.”

“We’ll squeeze in,” Ema reassured her.

There was a soft ding and the doors opened and Ema grimaced. “Kamara, Mendrika, you take Sarah. Alan and I will follow.”

They piled in the elevator and Sarah hit the up button. The doors closed and the elevator rumbled upward to its destination. After a few moments, it came to a halt and the doors rumbled open. They were greeted with the sounds of multiple weapons charging and being pointed at them.

A very familiar voice ordered: “Don’t. Move.”

“Andry?” Sarah called. “Is that you?”

There was a long pause. “Sarah?”

“Can I move?” Sarah asked.

“Slowly,” Andry replied. “And keep your hands where we can see them.” Sarah, tucked into a corner of the elevator, inched forward, hands carefully visible, before finally moving past Kamara into the opening. 

“Did they get you?” Andry asked.

“No,” Sarah replied. “I’ve been running for a while now, but they never came close.”

“You sure we can trust her?” Another voice asked.

“We can scan her. We can scan them all,” Andry said. He motioned for Sarah to step out. They were in the maintenance control room and there were at least twelve people with Andry. Some were civilians, some were in uniform. All looked exhausted. 

Andry smiled as Sarah stepped out into the room. “It’s good to see you.”

“Likewise,” Sarah smiled back at him.

“Just hold still a second, will you?” Andry said. “We’ve got to get you scanned.”

“For what?” Sarah said, still not moving.

A young man stepped out of the crowd holding some kind of a wand. He began to run it across Sarah’s back and neck before stepping around her to scan the front of her. The wand beeped and he glanced over at Andry. “She’s clean.”

“Scan the rest of them,” Andry ordered. “One at a time.” He jerked his head sideways and Sarah stepped over to the corner of the room.

“So what’s been happening?” Sarah asked. “We just picked up on the radio silence from the city a day or so back.”

“They hit us with a pulse weapon. Knocked out power and had the city on lockdown before we knew what was happening,” Andry looked grim. “Everyone’s bottled up in the neighborhoods.”

“Do we know how many there are?”

Andry shook his head. “No.”

“We’ve got a couple of more people waiting to come up,” Sarah said. “I can vouch for them.”

“All right,” Andry said. “Do you have a plan?”

“I have the beginnings of one,” Sarah replied. “Are we in a position to clear the city of enemy forces?”

Andry shook his head. “Doubtful. We need some kind of an edge. They’re too well equipped and we’re all bottled up in buildings and bunkers thanks to them controlling Antananarivo Tower.”

“An edge, huh?” Sarah smiled. “Well, now I really have an idea.”

~~

In the end, Sarah’s idea sparked a debate that lasted almost an hour before Andry and Ema finally agreed to it. Mendrika, Sarah and Kamara would head for Antananarivo Tower. Andry, Ema, and Alan would start to rally the residents of the city and hopefully spark a break out in one of the neighborhoods- Sarah was hoping that Ankaratra and its heavy concentration of veterans would come in handy once more.

They were almost at the tower.

“I don’t like this,” Kamara hissed. “It’s too quiet.”

“That’s why we’re sneaking along,” Sarah hissed back. “We’re almost there.”

“How are we going to get there?” Mendrika whispered. “We can’t go over the main walkway.”

“Relax,” Sarah said. “There’s another way in.” She pointed down. “We’ll need to go the back way.” She glanced around and pointed at the building that ran along the edge of the city. “This way.”
Throwing caution to the winds, Sarah glanced around and then dashed out across the street, the others followed behind her until she flung herself into the alcove of the building. Kamara raised a scanner and nodded. Mendrika reached forward and hit the door panel and the door hissed open. Weapons at the ready, Sarah moved into the building quickly and with confidence leading them down the hall to a set of stairs. Down one flight, then another and they were out into another tunnel- this one leading across to the lower levels of Antananarivo Tower.

Reaching the door on the far side of the tunnel, Sarah halted and Kamara scanned the door. This time, Mendrika hit the control panel and stepped through first, Kamara behind him and Sarah following. Once inside, they halted.

“Are you sure about this?” Kamara asked.

Sarah nodded. “Andry’s right. We need an advantage and separating the city is the best way to do it.”

“And if the balloons fail?” Mendrika asked.

“They won’t.” I hope, Sarah added to herself. 

“All right,” Kamara replied. “I’ll head to the communications room. You two head to the control tower.
Watch your backs.”

“You too,” Mendrika said. Kamara moved off down the hallway and Mendrika and Sarah headed in the opposite direction.

Sarah’s nerves grew the closer they came to the main control room. They had seen no one yet and it was starting to get creepy. No other evidence of human activity. No sounds of gunfire. No nothing. Finally, they reached the double doors to the main control room. She reached out to the door panel and-
Mendrika’s wrist closed on her hand just shy of the panel. “Is there another way in?”

Sarah nodded and pointed. “There’s a side entrance, that way.”

“Okay,” Mendrika let her hand go. “I’m going to check that entrance. You know what you’re doing?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Of course.”

“Good..”

“I will. You too.”

With a nod, Mendrika moved off down the hallway.  Sarah palmed the control panel and the doors to the control room hissed open. She stepped inside, cautiously. Empty. So far so good. 

She moved across the room, down the stairs into the main area of the control room. She glanced around, trying to remember where it was and-

A blow from the butt of a pulse rifle sent her reeling forward. She turned frantically, firing once, twice, wildly.

“So, you took the bait.”

“Have we met?” Sarah panted. The room was spinning a little bit and there was warm wetness on the back of her head. Somehow, she forced down nausea and stayed upright.

“No, we haven’t,” the man said. “You may call me Mr. Hastings. I believe you’ve met my underling, Angus. Or ex-underling.”

“Oh him,” Sarah said with more nonchalance than she felt. “I did meet him,” her hands closed on a coffee mug that had been left on a desk. “Briefly.” She whipped the coffee mug across the room at Hastings and he cursed as it shattered against his face. Hastings, panting heavily, stepped back and smiled. He wiped the blood from his lip. “You don’t know, do you? This is just the beginning. Even if you defeat us today we’ll be back. There’s nothing you can do.”

Sarah pulled herself across the floor to the console and clawed at it for a moment until with an effort, she stood upright. She closed her eyes for a moment, picturing the console behind her for an instant. Keep him talking.

“You’re too late,” Sarah smiled. “People here, they’ve fought for this life. They’ve worked hard to get away from the old ways and the old countries and the old conflicts.” A little further over. It’s under a glass case. “They won’t go back.”

“You think this is a life worth fighting for?” Hastings sneered. “This? Trapped like rats in your little goldfish bowls in the sky. Living on flying submarines. Plying your little meaningless trades for your shabby little economies. Dead countries. Dead ideologies.” He spat. “We could make this planet a paradise. With breathable air.”

“And strip mine the planet for parts?”

“We would deserve a return on our investment.”

Sarah’s hands closed over a square case. Is that it? That has to be it. She turned her head and spat contemptuously on the floor. “Terrans. Is money all you think about?”

“Yes,” Hastings smiled. He raised the gun. “I’m done talking now.”

“So am I,” Sarah replied. Then, she flipped up the case and pushed the button. Immediately, red lights began to flash across the control room and the city began to shake violently beneath them. She dived sideways as Hasting’s gun went off. “What have you done?” He shrieked. He fired again and Sarah kept moving, trying to evade his wrath. The door. Aim for the doors. Almost there. Gotta get there. Gotta-

Then Mendrika was there. He seemed to appear out of nowhere, vaulting over a console and scissoring Hastings legs out from under him. Hastings recovered quickly and rolled to one side, trying to bring the gun around, but Mendrika struck out and it flew away. Hastings got to his feet and just like that, a knife appeared in his hand with a grim smile, Mendrika drew his own knife and they began to circle one another.

Sarah pulled herself back up and limped over to a console and began checking the readouts. So far, so good. Let’s hope Andry can handle the rest of them. Relief flooded through her as she realized that it had worked. All the balloons had deployed the way they should. Now the problem of the enemies forces was cut down to a more manageable size- assuming Andry had them all bottled up in Maromokotro as he planned.  She turned at the sound of shattering glass and Hastings and Mendrika crashed through the door and out onto the walkway.

The two men picked themselves up again and then Mendrika moved. He came at Hastings quickly, forcing the man back. Hastings matched him blow for blow until finally, Mendrika’s knife hit home once, twice, and then the two men grappled together for a moment before Hastings flung Mendrika backward and then pressed his advantage. He forced Mendrika back until he was up against the railing. He slammed Mendrika’s wrist onto the railing and his knife went spinning away into the clouds. Then, one punch. Another. Another. Hastings was merciless. Mendrika ducked and Hastings punched the empty air. Mendrika dragged Hastings arm down and the two men grappled until Hastings locked his leg behind Mendrika’s and with a bellow of rage forced Mendrika upward and flipped him over the railing. Sarah didn’t think it was possible for her to move so fast, but somehow she reached Mendrika and grabbed for his hand, desperately clinging to the railing. 

Hastings raised his knife for a moment and then shook his head and began to walk down the walkway. A crackle of energy ran across the atmospheric shields as a drop-ship roared upwards, stopping at the end of the walkway and extending a ramp. Hastings jumped across to it.

Sarah saw a flash like lightning in one of the clouds and it coalesced into a missile, origins unknown, screaming towards the laughing Hastings as his dropship began to gain elevation and pull away from the control tower. The control tower rocked as the end of the walkway vanished into a fireball. She clung to Mendrika’s hand as the impact threatened to wrench him from her grasp, but soon the motion ceased and with a herculean effort, Mendrika swung his other hand up to grip the railing, and then heaved himself upward. Sarah hooked an arm under his armpit and heaved him over the edge of the railing where they both collapsed, panting.

“Look!” Mendrika pointed, hanging onto the railing. Sarah’s jaw dropped as she saw it- emerging out of the clouds. It was an impossibility. Three masts, a long jutting prow, the old Union Flag flapping in the breeze.

“How?” Sarah could barely force the words out.

“More money than you could imagine,” Mendrika replied with a grin. On the deck of the ship a distant figure raised a hand in greeting and soon the ship banked to port and vanished back into the clouds.

“Wait, was that actually him?” Sarah realized. “That means-”

“Yes,” Mendrika replied. “The stories are true. Abernathy created a replica of the HMS Victory and you know, flies around in it.”

“That’s insane.”

“Rich people are crazy,” Mendrika shrugged. He pulled himself up and extended a hand to Sarah to help her up. “Thanks for you know... “

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Dadatoa, you’re family. Of course, I pulled you back up.” She winced as she pressed her left foot down onto the gangway and tested how much weight she could put on her knee. She hissed in pain and Mendrika flung an arm around her shoulder. “Come on, let’s get you to the med bay.”

“That can wait,” Sarah said. She jerked her head up toward the massive balloon keeping them afloat.

“I’ve got a city to stitch back together. You know, before it all floats away.”

Mendirka burst out laughing and Sarah couldn’t help herself, she began to laugh and together made their way across the walkway to the entrance to Antananarivo Tower.

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