80: Jack

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He swore as the woman faded out again.

Don’t shoot?

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Nam must have meant ‘don’t shoot the newcomers’, he decided. As the crack of good, old-fashioned rifle fire added itself to the sounds of battle, he did his best to shield her with his body.

He was definitely hearing whinnies and snorts, so at least the horses were just regular horses, not some new otherworldly thing. But the horses were being parked, or whatever one does with horses. In his flux-sense, all but one newcomer had dismounted and entered the forest on foot. The one exception had an unidentifiable oddness, but remained on horseback as it also advanced into the brush.

The newcomers were shooting at the enemy soldiers, he suspected. He became confident of it just before one emerged from the trees with her rifle leveled at him, so he held his hands out, letting the revolver dangle by the guard from his trigger finger.

She looked younger than his daughter, perhaps fourteen at most. She wore a version of the same clothes as the man Rogan had spoken to, with a heavy knee-length skirt and kid-leather leggings replacing the trousers, but she looked less like that man and more like Rogan and the other ‘Gireid’ he had seen. As slender and light-skinned as Nam, but much taller, she had her dark hair in a long, loose-braided ponytail that emerged from under a wide-brimmed hat turned up on one side, Aussie-style. The same gray Gireidil eyes stared at him across the sights of an odd-looking rifle.

Those eyes looked down, saw Nam and grew round. “Lady Tatoan!”

They locked back on him while the muzzle of her rifle fixed more firmly on him.

“Easy, ma’am!” he warned. “She’s okay! She just fainted!”

The girl seemed to remain unsure of him, but she didn’t fire.

An enemy soldier emerged from the trees, then saw her. The two turned toward each other and fired at almost the same instant.

Almost, but the enemy had a shorter distance to turn and got his shot off first. The girl had a screen, but it didn’t stand up to the Chaldan weapon at close range. The lightning bolt penetrated enough to blow her sideways. She landed near Jack’s feet.

By then, Jack had his backup gripped again and turned on the soldier. The .44 roared its last angry round, the heavy slug penetrating the Chaldan barrier and its wielder’s chest.

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The soldier staggered backward, but the barrier had absorbed too much of the bullet’s energy. He wasn’t going down with one shot, so Jack let go of his backup and dove for the girl’s dropped rifle.

The weapon was also a revolver of some kind, but cocking it didn’t turn the drum as he expected. The chamber with the spent round stayed in place. He tried to turn the drum with his fingers, but it was locked. His mind raced, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with the unfamiliar device as he faced the enemy. The soldier had dropped to his knee and was recovering his weapon.

“Daisy wheel!” he heard the girl gasp. “Turn it with the daisy wheel…!”

A wheel with little extensions the right size to press with his thumb sat behind the drum. It had the shape of a  cartoon daisy.

The soldier’s weapon crackled again while he tried rotating the ‘daisy wheel’. It would have been a direct hit on him, but a barrier had formed at the last minute. Out of the corner of his vision, he could see the girl’s hand drop. She had projected her own barrier to protect him.

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