78: Nam

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Alarmed, Nam pushed her mind out past the squad leader and discovered that Jack was right. Seven of the soldiers were advancing on their position now. They all appeared to be ordinary soldiers, but they were armed well enough. In fact they were equipped identically to the two that had attacked along with the Ilidi woman before. She had no doubt these soldiers represented the same opposition.

Her senses were failing, if she hadn’t even noticed that the skirmish line had split, much less that they had begun advancing. From this distance, it should have been like it was happening right before her eyes.

She had already called in her specters to conserve energy, so she could no longer see what Rogan was doing. She could hear continuous firing from the soldiers still facing him, but couldn’t probe as far as Rogan’s position anymore. She could only sense those now facing Jack and her, and see that they were repositioning themselves.

“They’re working out an attack plan,” she concluded. “There’s too many for you to take on in this fashion.”

Jack kept his gaze fixed steadily into the underbrush. Probably so he didn’t have to waste mental energy on separating vision from flux sense. He answered, “We don’t have to be a tiger. We just have to be a porcupine.”

She blinked at the cryptic statement. “I’m sorry, what?”

He aimed the pistol a different direction. “What you did increased the range. It cut through foliage without deflecting, too. I have a clear shot at the guy on the end from here. Charge it.”

“You only have two shots remaining,” she pointed out.

His answer ignored that detail. “If you can fine tune it, I’m trying to wound, not kill.”

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He was brooking no argument. She nodded, put her hand close to the weapon and concentrated once again.


The weapon barked again. The bullet again tore through the underbrush, then penetrated the insufficiently powerful screen of the infantry weapon. The soldier fell.

“Again!” he ordered, shifting his aim. His final round spat forth, and the soldier closest to the squad leader fell.

As Jack holstered the empty weapon, she heard the squad leader calling orders in Gireidil. The skirmishers quickly fell back in response, finding new positions several paces back, with trees for cover.

“Why only wound?” she wondered as he reached behind his back and withdrew the weapon he had called his ‘backup’. She didn’t disapprove of avoiding lethal fire, of course, but she was curious about his reasoning. He didn’t seem like a squeamish man.

The answer was surprisingly cold. “A kill takes out one bad guy. A wound takes out more. See?”

As he spoke, she could sense some of the opponents moving to reach their fallen comrades. Wounding one combatant rather than killing him took away that one plus the one that went to his aid.

It occurred to her that he wasn’t being so much a guardsman as a soldier at the moment. Jack might have some experience or training in actual combat.

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“Do guardsmen on Earth receive tactical training?”

He shook his head. “Not in the sense that you mean. I did twenty years in the Army first. Four combat tours in Afghanistan and Syria in the infantry before I transferred to the MPs. We don’t have any clear shots right now unless you know some trick that will take down a tree.”

She sighed and shook her head. “Normally, I could do that, but not as I am now, no.”

“Why do you suppose they aren’t trying to shoot back?” he pondered. The question surprised her, until she remembered how little Jack understood about his new senses.

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