77: Nam

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Nam stared up at the man kneeling in firing position and pulled in a steadying breath so she could speak without scolding him.

“Jack, what are you doing out here?”

His eyes flicked over and down at her for just a moment before returning their fixed aim on something out of her sight.

“Quiet. We have company,” he answered. “Stay down.”

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“That was my plan. I’m good for one or two more strikes, once she’s close enough.” She wanted to sound cold and calculating, but she knew it had come out sounding exhausted instead.

“Not likely,” he declared as the presence drew closer. “You’re not ambushing anyone. You’re lit up like a neon sign right now. Stay down.”

“I’m what?… oh.” She hadn’t realized her stealth was gone until that moment. She pulled in another breath and shook her head. “Jack, that woman approaching, she’s different than these other soldiers. They carry ordinary weapons that any keth-ethen can use. Wielding the weapons she does requires a high strength flux channel and considerable training. She’s a strong artist. Your popgun won’t touch her.”

“I don’t think it can touch anyone here,” he admitted with a bitter grin. “And by this time they should be figuring that out too. Any ideas?”

After a few moments thought, she stated, “I’m a lousy shot so I don’t carry a gun, but I know Rogan’s enhancement trick. You aim and fire. I enhance. How many more times can you fire?”

“I have three rounds left.”

Her hopes fell some, but he added, “Five more in my backup. That’s a much shorter range weapon, though.”

“You won’t be taking any long range shots in these woods.”

“That’s true.”

She reached up, almost touching the weapon with her fingertips, and probed it. “I’ve seen this design before. It’s common on Earth, yes?”

He nodded. “An M9? Damn near every cop carries one of these nowadays. DoD flooded the market when they phased them out.”

“Okay. I see it now.” The position of the bullet was fixed in her mind, so she let her hand fall.

“The design makes a difference?”

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“For the technique, I must know the location of the projectile within.”

She realized her mind had wandered from the flux scan she’d been maintaining, and got it back. The squad leader was still creeping forward out in the brush.

“My backup’s a revolver. A .44 Special.”

“I don’t know the numbers you gunners throw around, but I know how a revolver works. I’ll manage. She just stopped.”

Jack nodded, drawing a bead in the direction of the opponent. “I think she’s readying her shot. I’m gonna fire.”

“I’ll tell you when it’s ready.” She concentrated, then said, “Shoot.”

He fired into the underbrush. In her mind’s eye, a blazing tracer crashed through the underbrush, tearing through foliage and branches that should have deflected the bullet every which way did nothing as it found its way to the target. The sound the flux-enhanced projectile made was like a grenade exploding. She sensed the squad leader diving for cover after her kinetic screen shattered with the blast.

That woman had to rethink her attack now. Jack had bought them a bit of time.

After taking a few moments to consider, Nam concluded that continuing this was her only actual option, unless Rogan pulled off some miracle.

“Help me sit up, Jack.”

The guardsman went to a one-handed grip, then slid his other hand behind her back and lifted her into a seated position. Her plan had been to sit, but she found herself too fatigued to hold herself up. She wound up leaning into his shoulder with his arm still supporting her. She dearly hoped Rogan didn’t see her like this; he would tease her for ages about it.

But from here, she could shield both of them if necessary. In her current condition, she didn’t trust herself to shield Jack from any farther away.

“A moment ago, you said you only had one or two more strikes,” he stated. “Does that include what you did just now?”

“Doing this is somewhat less draining than a barehanded attack. I might manage a few additional rounds.”

“I could see you doing it. I just wish I understood how you do it,” he mused. Then he scowled and looked above her head, through the tree they were sheltering behind. “We have more company arriving.”

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