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Eternal Franchise, 28.1 of 31.1

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

As the Almighty McD slid to a stop on the plateau. Mouseketeer bullets peppered the sides of the crawler. Tiphani crouched instinctively below the level of the windows, pulling Yin down with her.

“Don’t worry, pretty Tiphani,” Preacher Dave said, appearing from the forward cabin. “It’s only a single flight. We’ll have them cleared in no time.

But even as consumeristian troops spread out from the Almighty McD, Tiphani wondered. There were a lot less troops than they’d started with, and they were tired. Soon, she saw her instincts were right. The consumeristians fell back to the Almighty McD and used it for cover as the Mouseketeers advanced.

“Cowards! Rush them! Shoot them!” Yin said.

Tiphani shook her head and turned to put her back against the hard plastic wall. There was nothing she could do. Maybe working for Four Hands wouldn’t be so bad, even as an indenture.

Deep booms shook the ground outside, rattling the windows in the Almighty McD.

That was it, Tiphani thought. The mouseketeers had mortars. It was over.

But a cheer came from the forward cabin. Preacher Dave came though the door, picked up Tiphani, hugged her, got a little surreptitious ass-grab, put her down. “We won!” he said.

Tiphani pushed him away and looked out the window. Dust spattered against the panes, driven hard by the gold Winfinity Executive Transport that was dropping to rest outside. The Four Hands fast transport and the Martian Kite lay in ruin. Mouseketeers were scattered everywhere, twisted and burnt, unmoving.

The golden Executive transport dropped a ramp. A young boy walked deliberately down it, flanked on two sides by grey-clad Win-Sec officers.

Tiphani gasped. Bertrand Chambers. Here. Now.

Had he lost his mind?

Very possibly, Tiphani thought.

#

Han Fleming heard the dull crump of explosions on the surface. Pink dust floated down from the ceiling. A larger rock-chip clattered off the Shrill’s diamondoid cage, where it still scrabbled feebly at the side nearest Han.

Han smiled. Who is the bear now, he thought?

#

Highest Chambers lead them down the ancient Martian tunnel. Every time the Win-Sec officers tried to get in front of him, he waved them back. Impatiently. Recklessly.

“Finish it,” he mumbled. “Finish this thing.”

Tiphani tried to query the network, but her optilink remained dead. Bandwidth showed green, but the network itself appeared to be down.

And it had never been down. Not in her lifetime. Tiphani shivered. What did it mean? Had the war spread that far and that fast?

They rounded a corner into a large, dim-lit room. Ahead of them was the Shrill cage and three people. Dian and Jimson and one other guy, holding a wounded arm. Just standing there. Eyes wide in fear. As if . . .

Tiphani felt the cool muzzle of a gun press into her back. She stopped, instinctively raising her hands. Like in the movies, she thought.

She heard Honored Yin gasp and turned to see a Mouseketeer holding a rifle to her back.

As Bertrand Chambers turned, Han Fleming appeared from the shadows. He gave Tiphani one lip-curled grin as he stepped past and pressed his little Winch against Bertrand Chambers’ head.

Highest Chambers sighed. “Kill me and we have real war. Ground war. All gloves off.”

Han’s finger tensed on the trigger, but his snarl of triumph dissolved into a frown of hate.

“Yeah. Thought so,” Highest Chambers said, stepping away from the gun. He walked towards the Shrill.

“Stop!” Han said.

“Or what? You’ll shoot me? Yeah, yeah.” Highest Chambers bent over the Shrill cage and looked down at the thing. It scrabbled at him, showing its underfangs.

“Can we make a deal, Shrill?” Highest Chambers said. “Can we finish this? I’m the head honcho, the big cheese. You’re dealing with the top guy. What do you want? I’ll give it.”

“Nonsequitur nonsequitur (nonsequitur)!” the Shrill said.

“Don’t do it,” the wounded man said. “Give them the secret of FTL, and it’s the end of all of us.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Highest Chambers said. “What do you say, Shrill?”

“Nonsequitur! Mission! (Changed!)”

#

The wolf arrives, to find the bear with its leg in a trap, Han Fleming thought.

I can’t kill him. Not outright. Not so that others could see.

Only one last trick left. And even that, probably gone.

Black2, Han subvocalized.

Nothing.

Black2, respond!

Nothing.

Han pushed down his anger. He would have to negotiate with Chambers. Which meant, somehow, someway, he would end up being number 2.

Black2 reporting, Black2 said. His voice was faint and choppy. Network support failing. Network opposition failing.

Do you still have contact with the Shrill support network?

It is one of the few things I have.

Do this, Han said.

Done, Black2 said.

The Shrill’s diamondoid cage opened, silently and without drama, directly in front of Highest Chambers.

Han allowed himself a thin smile.

#

Highest Chambers was yelling at the Shrill again when the transparent cage walls suddenly unfolded. In a blur of underfangs, the Shrill tumbled out and onto the floor. Highest Chambers stumbled back, eyes comically wide.

The Shrill rushed at Chambers, blindingly fast. One mouseketeer was able to get off a single shot, which went wide and ricocheted off the polymer-coated stone floor.

Honored Yin screamed.

Tiphani stood rooted to the spot, unable to move.

The Shrill rushed at Chambers, then paused. Its underfangs vibrated rapidly, making a high-pitched squealing sound. It turned one way, then the other, as if confused. Then, in an even greater burst of speed, it arrowed towards Han.

Han had time to raise his gun, but he never got to pull the trigger. The Shrill tore through his foot, sending up a fine mist of blood and bone. As Han fell, it climbed up his leg and burrowed into his side, disappearing into Han.

Han gave one high, gurgling scream and twitched violently, once, twice. His hand convulsed towards his gun, then relaxed.

With a crunch, the Shrill re-emerged. It sat motionless, legs vibrating, then shot back towards Highest Chambers.

Yin screamed.

February 26th, 2010 / 1,155 Comments »



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