75: Jack

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Jack had less than complete confidence in any impression he received from his new sense, but he felt close to certain that Nam was losing her ability to do what she was currently doing. It was like watching an old-fashioned incandescent flashlight running low on battery.

“Rogan, I think your partner’s in trouble,” he called.

They crouched in positions separated far enough that he had to raise his voice. Rogan was concentrating mostly on the squad that Nam had run through. Their skirmish line resembled old-fashioned linear tactics. With the barriers projected by their weapons, Jack could see why it worked for them, but it made them look more like a line of officers in riot gear than like any combat unit he had seen in the Army.

“Truth? You can see her?” Rogan called back just before a a fire bolt glanced off the top of the screen that Althem was casting to reinforce the wall. “Where?”

After a moment of surprise at the idea Rogan couldn’t sense her, he remembered the comments about the man’s ‘near-sightedness’. At the same moment that he pointed her direction, he realized she had come to a stop and ceased channeling flux altogether.

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With alarm, he looked back over to the big armored figure and yelled, “She might be down! I’m going out to her!”

“Och, yer aff yer heid, lad!” Rogan’s brogue broke through his usual veneer in full form. “Ye near canna walk!”

“Which of us can cover the other better?” Jack retorted. “I’m going!”

He didn’t leave Rogan any time to argue. He broke for the low wall and vaulted it.

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The truth was, he had been in the location long enough to establish a sort of map in his head. He had the feeling that, while he stayed within that map, the world wouldn’t wobble and threaten to tip the way it did while they traveled. For most of the dash downhill, the theory held. He was even able to jink the oncoming woman firing on him from the weird hang glider. It helped that one of Rogan’s shots forced her to evade, but she turned the maneuver into a short loop instead of the wide circles she’d made before.

As she lined back up on him, he remembered Rogan’s count of twenty one rounds remaining and wondered how many of them the man still had.

His attention was getting pulled too many directions. The ground now threatened to tilt up on him again. Somehow he managed to force it to stay put and continue his run.

A stream of white streaks came flying up out of the trees from Nam’s position. After they battered against the barrier that the flying girl was projecting, they fell way looking for all the world like small birds. They vanished as they dropped, but the force with which they struck had a powerful effect. The glider turned onto its nose and dove into the trees, accompanied by a furious noise of breaking foliage.

At the moment he broke into the woods, Nam became much more visible to his flux-sense. He suspected it meant he had just seen her stealth fail. Since he had no doubt he was doing nothing equivalent to it, that meant that two very strong beacons were now giving their positions away to anyone among the enemy with similar senses.

Something like a beam of light crossed directly in front of him, and he was piling face-first into the brush before he became aware he had dove for cover. Just as he hit the ground, a bolt of energy split the air above his head. Habits drilled into him thirty years prior, in army infantry training, kicked in as he began pulling himself through the brush on forearms and legs, snaking across the ground in a military crawl. It wasn’t until he became convinced that the enemy no longer had a good shot at him that he got to his feet, running hunched over in the direction of his fallen compatriot.

He could feel that diminished flux, the same effect as Nam’s ‘stealthing’, but from another source. Something had detached from the skirmish line and was heading her direction. It might have been the shooter that targeted him, but he couldn’t be sure. He accelerated, crashing through the underbrush and half-stumbling to her position, leveling his Beretta at the oncoming threat as he came to a stop kneeling over the prone woman in the brush.

She looked terrible, scratched up and covered with leaves, her hair coated in sweat and random forest debris. But she wasn’t seriously injured as he had feared… just obviously exhausted.

Behind him, up in the redoubt, he felt a flare of flux that seemed familiar… then identified it somehow as Rogan’s generated ‘Armor’. His other companion was about to sally. The man must have run out of ammo.

Jack knew it already, but this was confirmation. They were running out of time and options.

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