Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Kizzvell, Ed, and Quaz all reacted in the style of men with guns who knew how to use them. They jumped from Mule, pulled their guns up to their eyes, and fired mercilessly at the place the shot came from. Dave hurled his pipe wrench. Dust and debris rained down on them and they continued firing until they heard a shout of pain and a man came tumbling and bouncing down the steep incline of broken rock. He came to a stop, dead, at the foot of Flying Mule. His clothes were disheveled, dusty, and ripped from his fall, but Ed could still make out the markings on his shoulder. Three green stars decorated his shoulder as well as the cave dragon again, identifying him as an official Federation Sniper, 3rd class, from Ranforth's battalion. A low ranking soldier, but supposedly an effective one. The sight of his uniform sent Ed reeling.
"The bastards!" he yelled. "They just won't leave us the hell alone!" And he put another shot into the chest of the dead man. Dave decided to jump in to calm his friend down.
"Ed, it's fine. The guy's dead now. He can't get up and shoot us," he said. Ed rounded on him with eyes so fierce and wild that even Dave was cowed.
"You don't get it Dave. 4th class and lower snipers are scouts. They go ahead of a larger force. I'd wager twenty to thirty Federation troops are hiding somewhere in orbit waiting for him to call them in." His head whipped round wildly as he tried to find where these soldiers might be coming from. Seeing no other option, Dave slapped him heavily in the face.
"ED! CALM DOWN!" he shrieked. "I won't doubt that there are soldiers in-orb, you know more about the Federation military than I do, but losing your shit isn't going to help you defeat them." He paused, allowing Ed to think. In that pause, the two of them became aware of a peculiar keening sound. Turning back to Mule they saw Curwa cradling her grandmother's body, almost imperceptibly rocking back and forth, weeping profusely. Ed stared at her for a little bit, then motioned for Dave to comfort her. He then beckoned Kizzvell and Quaz over to him.
"We can' lettem git away wi' thiys," began Quaz, gesturing towards the sobbing, wailing Curwa and her grandmother. Ed quickly cut him off.
"I know. But there's at least twenty of them in-orb. We only have you, me, Kizzvell, Parsee, and I guess Dave is here too. What are we supposed to do?" he asked. Quaz thought for a minute.
"Weyll, the Yulpata ar' 'stremely defensive. Bet we c'n get their help. An' I got a couple friends in town who'cn help," he said.
"So what is that?" asked Ed. "Fifteen-ish all told?"
"Roundabouts there," said Quaz. "'Course th' odd man could stumble in'ear, wantin' tah give th' Feds a message. Hellhole's a Free People's Planet, after all."
"Not to mention, we have piece of garbage ship," said Kizzvell.
"First of all," said Ed. "She's not a piece of garbage, she just needs a tune-up. And second of all, she wouldn't help us. She doesn't have any guns."
"Bu' we c'n put guns on 'er," said Quaz. "How long d'we have?"
"Two weeks at the earliest," said Ed. "It'll be a while before they check in with him. Radio waves they send out tend to give away his position."
"Then we must work fast," said Kizzvell.
Curwa's grandmother was buried when they got back to the Yulpata camp and Quaz's house. Nobody was allowed to attend who wasn't a Yulpata, but from afar, the group could still tell that it was a somber affair. Curwa had sought Dave for comfort after the burial was finished. He surprised Ed by attempting to comfort somebody and actually succeeding at it. This didn't occupy his mind for long, as his thoughts quickly turned back to the grounded Condor.
After a few weeks they had gotten quite a bit of work done, save Ed who volunteered to stand guard. First, they repaired the engine that had been shot to pieces on Decken. Repairing is perhaps the incorrect word. Quaz had an engine that would fit and they had simply grafted it to the wing in place of the broken one. Then, they started scouring the burn marks off of the hull. Once that was done the little engineering crew moved into the interior of the ship to make it livable while Quaz went to secure two medium-range Schtetler ion cannons and two medium-range Veklthrep Pulse Laser Slingers for the gunnery systems they had installed.
What Quaz came back with were two medium-range Schtetler ion cannons and two medium-range Veklthrep Pulse Laser Slingers as well as a laser pulse to the arm and one or two more murder charges added to his rap sheet were the Federation to catch him.
Curwa shrieked as Quaz stumbled through the Condor's hatch. He was holding his left forearm and muttering obscenities. His left sleeve was tattered, smoldering, and smoking and some of the flesh in the area seemed to be burned away.
"Jesus, Quaz!" yelled Dave. "Get the man a chair!" Parsee hurriedly brought a chair forward and they carefully set Quaz into it.
"Out of way," said Kizzvell. "I have little medical experience." Kizzvell set to work, disinfecting the area and wrapping bandages around the burned flesh.
"What happened, Dad?" asked Parsee.
"Recall Ed. Them Fed bastards landed n' we need ta' start fortifyin' th' house," he responded. She ran out the door and Quaz shouted after her "An' not those mercenaries like las' tahme! Real soldiers!" and then passed out in his chair.
"Is he going to be okay?" asked Dave.
"Is fine," said Kizzvell "Just little bit of issue reconnecting large brachial airway with secondary lung. Is no big deal." Kizzvell's response felt nonchalant about this seemingly glaring issue, but Dave was not the best person to bring issues to.
"Okay, good," he said.
Dave and Kizzvell sat in awkward silence for a few minutes until Parsee and Ed came charging back through the hatch. Ed had his AS 570 slung over his shoulder and he let it fall to the ground as he came in.
"How is he?" he asked. Kizzvell turned to him.
"Is fine. Is resting now, but will be up again no time," Kizzvell said.
"Alright, good," said Ed. "'Cause thirty-five Federation Heavy Troopers are about a mile away."
As Quaz had expected, the Yulpata had approached Ed and told him they wanted vengeance on the people who had killed their matriarch. Their headman said that they could provide their own weapons, they simply wanted a chance to fight. Quaz was proved correct again when three Koth men from Aper Len showed up at the farm, pledging to shoot anyone who wore a Federation uniform.
Ed quickly set them all up in front of Quaz's life-saving low wall behind sheets of metal he and Dave had stacked there. He told Dave to go finish improvements on the Condor as they needed it in the event of a retreat. Kizzvell, armed only with a pistol, he told to sit among the Yulpata and Koth, acting as an officer. Ed had set himself up in Quaz's attic along with Parsee to act as his spotter and guard. He attached a scope he had stolen on Decken to his AS 570, intending to use it as a sniper rifle.He propped the rifle against the windowsill and went off to find Quaz and give him his own assignment. He found him groping underneath one of his floorboards.
"What're you doin' down there, Quaz?"
"Yoo r'member how ah was a machine gunner in th' war?" came the response.
"Yes" said Ed.
"Well, somethin' abou' Hellian-Holeian regiments," and he reared up from the ground bearing a massive gun that bore a striking resemblance to an M60 machine gun, except this one emitted a hum and blue glow from the chamber. "They letcha keep the weapons," he finished.
Quaz similarly set up his 450nm Obscene Machine (the actual name the manufacturers had given it) on the wall with his fellow Koth and the Yulpata. Then the quiet fell. No sound came save for the occasional pop and curse from Dave as he worked on the Condor. And then they came. The heavy, ominous footfalls of the Federation troopers. Moving closer and closer. Trampling free land that men had lived on, fought for, and died for. The hate that Ed, Quaz and the others held for these invaders simmered in the air like a heat mirage. The men on the line checked their magazines, checked their sights, held their fingers a hair's breadth away from their triggers. Ed sat up in the attic window, aiming the AS 570 down the tunnel entrance to Quaz's property, waiting for the slightest visual indication of Federation troops. Looking down at the four Koth below him, Ed noticed something peculiar. Quaz had unbuttoned his shirt so that his chest was bared, two of the Koth had rolled their right sleeves up, and the fourth had cut one of his pant legs off. All of them bore the brand of the F.P.U; the crossed gunpowder bullets. Even Kizzvell had taken Kizzvell's shirt off, bearing a very large version of the symbol on Kizzvell's lower back. Ed quickly removed his own newly-acquired coat as well as his shirt to expose the F.P.U. symbol on his left shoulder blade.
As he finished folding his coat and shirt up, he noticed Parsee staring at Kizzvell out of the corner of his eye.
"How long?" he asked.
"Hmm..what? Sorry." she said, jumping at his question.
"How long have you known Kizzvell?" he asked, clarifying his question.
"Oh," she said. "'Bout two years. Why?"
"Pass the time I guess," he responded. "This was always the worst part. Hearing them coming and not putting blasts through their skulls."
Parsee fell silent, listening to the crunching of boots on stone, imagining the impending battle.
"Ed," she began, "How often did you guys win?"
"Only one win that counts, and we didn't get it." he responded, checking down his scope again.
"That war messed you up, didn't it?" she asked.
As the words left her mouth, she saw his grip on the rifle go slightly slack and the scope dipped away from his eye.
"Yes. It did," he said. "But the combat never bothered me. I was always far away from it. The worst part came..." He faltered, drawing a shaky breath. A single tear traced its way down his cheek. "Came when Ranforth...got me." He breathed in again, bringing the gun back to his eye.
"Pardon me fer askin', but what happened?" Parsee asked.
Ed lowered the rifle again and looked over it at her, directly into her eyes.
"Let's just say that war hits closer to home than you would think," he said. Then he raised the gun back up to his eye and stared down the scope.
"Look alive," he said. "They're here."
Parsee turned away from him and stared down the tunnel, watching the faraway soldiers troop through it. Their cacophonous footfalls were made louder by the heavy resin and metal armor they wore. Each one of them carried a large rifle, from the distance Ed couldn't make out the type, but he could see the grenade launchers attached to the bottom of them. Their faces were covered with heavy plates of reflective metal fused with resin to make it lightweight. A small vision slit was cut into the helmets, allowing for vision without the cost of a computer unit to create a HUD so someone could be encased in the armor.
They marched in two ranks of seventeen, one man off to the side, directing their advance. When they was roughly five-hundred feet from the wall, the officer called the soldiers to a halt. He pulled a small device off his belt and raised it to his mouth, lifting his faceplate as he did so.
"Rebellious people of Aper Len," he said, the little device amplifying his voice to a thunderous boom. "Your deaths are not required today. Give us the fugitives we desire, and you will simply be arrested."
His request was quickly answered with an equally, if not more, thunderous, "LIKE HELL!" from the assembled people. The officer faltered, not used to such a willing resistance.
"Have it your way then," he said. He turned to his troops and called an inaudible order. The first rank lifted their weapons, angled them upwards, and let fly a hail of grenades. As the grenades flew, Ed took a shot at the officer. Unfortunately, he let his faceplate fall and the shot rammed into it, knocking the officer to the ground and ricocheting off, but not killing him. Then the grenades hit.
Most of them fell short, exploding roughly one hundred feet away from the wall, sending sprays of dirt and rock over the wall
"GIVE EM HELL, BOYS!!" screamed Quaz, opening fire with the Obscene Machine. As he did so, the entire line fired with him, dropping one of the troopers as a lucky shot made it through his vision slit. The troopers scattered for a moment before their officer marshaled them back to formation and had them activate shields they had equipped. The shields burst out of their wrists, rippling circles of blueish light roughly five feet in diameter. They advanced steadily, laser shots that were fired at them were absorbed by the shields. The quickly returned fire and them some, peppering the house and wall with hundreds of shots.
Up in his crow's nest, Ed slumped, seeing the shields activate.
"We're screwed," he said.
"Why do you say that?" asked Parsee, ducking as a rogue blast from the Federation troops zoomed over her head.
"See those shields?" he asked her. "They'll absorb the shots we give them for years. We gotta fall back."
"There ain't any way we can take 'em down?" she asked.
"I might be able to take one or two down by hitting them just so where they come out of their wrists, but it'd never be enough."
As he finished the statement, two of the Yulpata fell back from the line, shot dead. Ed quickly brought the scope up to his eye, sighting in on the officer, determined to take him out of the fight. He wavered on the man's faceplate and then brought the barrel down, aiming at a much bigger chink in the armor at the man's inner thigh. Once again, this time through the heat of battle, he watched the crosshairs bob up and down with his breath. He waited for the bottom of his exhale before taking the shot. It flew straight and true, hitting the man and dropping him to the ground. He writhed in pain before pointing a finger at the attic window and yelling a furious order.
"Shit," said Ed. He and Parsee barely had time to duck back behind the walls before dozens of blasts ripped into the attic. They heard a cry of pain as one of the Koth was struck and fell back, severely wounded but still alive.
"We're never gonna make it like this." Ed winced as another twenty or so blasts streaked through the window a few inches from his nose. "We need to fall back to the Condor and get out of here," he yelled over the sound of the battle. He whipped around into the window and snapped off a shot, miraculously hitting one of the men in the back rank who didn't have their shields activated. It zipped through his faceplate, dropping him to the ground immediately.
Ed quickly threw himself back behind the wall. He grabbed his coat and shirt and pulled them on. Then, he ripped off one more shot, heard an explosion, presumably one of the grenades, then grabbed Parsee and bolted down the stairs.
He shoved Parsee towards the back of the house and yelled, "Go help Dave, I'll be back soon!" Then he charge the front of the house. He dove out the door, rolling on the ground and came up in a crouch in between Kizzvell and Quaz.
"We need to get out of here!" he screamed over the sound of gunfire.
"How?" Kizzvell yelled back. "They gun us down minute we stand!"
"I got an idear!" yelled Quaz. "When I say 'Now!' you run, got it?"
"Yeah," said Ed. "But what about you?"
"Don't worry 'bout me, I gotta plan," Quaz shouted back.
The message was quickly relayed down the line. The Yulpata prepared to sprint for the door as the two Koth helped their fallen man up.
"NOW!" yelled Quaz. He sprung up from the wall, raining laser blasts on the Federation. All the others bolted for the door and could hear Quaz's yells behind them. "COME AN' TAKE EM' YOU BASTARDS!! COME AN' TAKE EM'!!"
His fire provided the cover the rest needed and they charged through the door. Then through the back door where Dave had thrown open the hatch to the Condor. Ed noticed him sitting in the pilot's seat. He fired up the engines as he saw Ed and the others scramble through the back door. They quickly boarded the Condor. Ed threw his gun aside and flopped down into the copilot's seat, Parsee following him to what she could help with.
"Fire her up!" he yelled.
"Yessir!" Dave yelled back, opening up the throttle. He guided the Condor forward, towards the heated battle on the other side of the house.
"Guns work yet?" asked Ed.
"Dunno!" responded Dave. "Test them out!" Ed quickly took control of the weapons systems. The Condor drifted over the battlefield just in time to see Quaz on the wrong side of an ending battle. The Obscene Machine had run out of ammo and he had been forced to switch to his spread rifle. He ripped off shot after short to no avail. He saw the Condor drift over the battlefield and a contented look came to his face. He balled his fists and crossed his arms above his head and jerked them to his waist in the F.P.U. salute, symbolizing breaking away from the chains of the Federation. Then, with an inaudible scream of defiance, he charged the troopers, firing wildly and indiscriminately with the spread rifle. Two, three, five dropped, before a charge slammed into his shoulder, halting his momentum. Time slowed as the occupants of the Condor watch another blast ram into his leg, dropping him to the ground before a third and final shot bored into his chest and threw him off his knees and onto his back, the brand of the F.P.U. pointed skyward, his final act of rebellion.
"NOOOO!" shrieked Parsee. The troopers wasted no time in turning their fire onto the Condor, forcing Dave to pilot the ship out of the hole they had left several weeks ago. Ed tried to snap off a shot from one of the Laser Slingers, but the gun refused to respond. Dave made the ship climb higher and higher, until the deep cold and silence of space enveloped her.
Dave had left the Condor's engine running and had gone off to his quarters to sleep, leaving Parsee, Ed, and Kizzvell to make sure nothing went wrong while the others slept off the battle. Parsee and Ed were both seated at one of the tables in the living space of the Condor while Kizzvell tried to fall asleep on the floor.
"You okay?" Ed asked her. She glared at him, tears still streaking down her face. "Sorry," he said. "Stupid question." He paused, unsure of how to bring up the next thing he wanted to say. "Listen, you told me a few weeks ago that keeping a ship without a name was just cruel."
"So?" she asked, sniffing as she did so.
"I came up with a name," he said.
"Oh yeah? What's that?" she asked.
"I'm going to call her Molon Labe," he said, quietly.
"The hell does that mean?" she asked, obviously annoyed. Ed turned to look her dead in the eyes.
"It's Greek," he said. "For 'Come and take them'." Parsee looked at him for a moment, then broke down weeping, but this time, they were tears of gratitude. Ed put his arm around her for a moment until he saw Kizzvell across the room and decided to defer. Left with nothing to do, he decided to sit at another table and set to planning. A half hour later, he barged into Dave's quarters and shook him awake.
"Dave, I've been thinking, if we're going to kill Ranforth, then, Dave, you know who we're going to need," said Ed. Dave looked at him, uncomprehending, the sleepiness getting in the way of his thought process. "A certain friend you've met before," Ed continued. Dave seemed to not get it again, then his eyes tripled in size and his eyebrows shot up to his hairline.
"Oh no! Not him!" he yelled.
"Oh yes," said Ed. "Him."