Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 44

< Chapter 43                                                                                                 Chapter 45 >

As the Tercel draws near, Thor’s men attack David and the crew of the Vanguard.

A barrage of blaster bolts blazed glowing trails in the dawn air, whizzing harmlessly past Captain Wright and me. Running and firing at such long range made accurate shots virtually impossible, especially for men with little training in their use. Within a few seconds, the rate of fire dropped off significantly before stopping all together.

“Remember when I estimated those blaster rifles could fire twenty-five or more shots on a single charge?” I asked Wright. When he nodded, I said, “It appears I overestimated that number by a fair margin.”

“I am, of course, devastated to discover a member of the royal family is capable of a mistake of such magnitude, sir,” Wright said.

“I’d be just a tad more likely to believe that if you weren’t grinning quite so broadly, Captain.”

With a horde of men three times our number charging down upon us, Wright threw back his head and laughed. As the men closest to us passed the explanation down the line, the laughter proved contagious. Nothing Wright or I said was all that funny, but pre-battle tension can amplify anything—worries become terrors and mildly amusing becomes hilarious. The thing about battle tension is that it affects both sides.

Fifty yards away, the men leading the charge saw Wright laugh as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The tension worked on their minds, too. Seeing such relaxed behavior from an opponent surely gave them pause. Their steps faltered and their headlong charge slowed. The men behind the leading edge crashed into the slowing ones before them. Men tangled and fell, tripping up more men as they were trampled by their fellows.

The charge didn’t break, but it sewed confusion among our enemies and, for a minute or so, reduced their number by almost a quarter. The men who reached the wreck of the Vanguard still yelled their battle cry, but some of the lust was gone from it.

Wright signaled his men and the rest of the Vanguard’s crew gave voice to their own battle cry as they surged up from behind the airship’s keel. Again, the leading edge of the charge faltered and our line crashed into them. Swords swung, blood flew, and the hollow hull thumped like a drum from the pounding of all the feet upon it.

Our line held for a few seconds before the fight broke into small pockets of swirling action. Wright and I formed a triangle with one of the airship’s other officers, protecting each other’s backs as we fought off the mass of attackers. Holding the high ground worked to our advantage, as any man we knocked backward was likely to tumble off the hull, taking one or two of his fellows down to the ground with him.

My sword rose and fell, swung and sliced, tore and thrust. Soon the bright silver blade Rob gave me was red with the blood of my enemies. My grip grew slick from sweat and a dull ache developed in my arm as it could never stop moving. With a clash of steel on steel, I deflected a thrust aimed at Wright’s back. I reversed my swing, bringing the edge of the blade across the chest of the attacker. The man screamed and stumbled backward. I caught sight of two ribs exposed by my cut before the man tumbled out of my line of sight.

For a few precious seconds, the fight moved away from our trio. All three of us used those seconds to scan the battlefield. Knots of crewmen battled all around us and, to my biased eye, gave better than they got. But no matter how valiantly our men fought, the math still didn’t work out for us. The crew had to take down three of Thor’s men for every man we lost just to break even. Without easily defensible choke points, like we had inside the wreck, it was only a matter of time before we were overrun. Boosting might buy us a few extra minutes, but the end result would be the same.

As despair rose up from within, Wright caught my shoulder and pointed his sword to the west. “Sir, look over there!”

Plainly visible in the dawn light and steaming our way at top speed came the Tercel!

Can David and the Vanguard’s crew hold on until help arrives? Find out in Chapter 45, coming Friday!