By Slider Sarah
Laurie heard a loud rumbling noise coming from her right. She turned in the direction of the sound just in time to see a red vortex open in the sky. Even as she stood and stared at it, a mantra ship she recognised as of Kromagg origin emerged. Laurie followed her insticts; she ran.
In those few moments following what could only amount to an invasion, Laurie became again the fightened fifteen year old she had been at the time of her own world’s invasion, racked by fear for her friends and family, family she had not even seen for over four years.
Finally she took refuge in an obscured doorway of a building, she didn’t care which one it was or even what part of the city it was in. During an invasion, all restrictions were off. As she peered out and into the sky Laurie saw more and more red wormholes opening. All the ones within her vision were in the sky, but she did not doubt that there would be wormholes on the ground for the troops they would invariably send in to quell the indiginous population.
The irony of her thoughts the previou night escaped her at this particular point. She was simply far to caught up in the moment to reflect on anything not in the here and now.
The initial shock began to wear off and Laurie thought more clearly. She was no longer the terrified teenager she had been. Now she had not only training, but knowledge. Knowledge or what was happening and why. On her world it had been a long time before the people knew anything like the amount she did. No, she must not allow herself to be captured. Her information could make a resistance force on this world, the earlier the better.
People were flooding all around the street in front of her. It was total panic, but then, none of these people had ever seen anything like this before. To them this was something out of a science-fiction film, to Laurie it was something out of her nightmares.
She blinked her eyes rapidly and pinched her arm hard. It just could not be true. It couldn’t. They had already destroyed her real home, now they were going to destroy her new home as well. Did they have something against her? Were they tracking her? Unlikely, but possible. But if that were the case, they would have been here long ago, not now.
It was a month and a half since she had been stranded, since the vortex had closed with her still in this world. The amount of time she had spent thinking about that moment was immeasurable. Dilligently she had returned to the spot at least every other day, to leave a mark that her team could find and know that she was still alive. A month and a half and there was no sign that they had been back for her. She couldn’t understand it. Laurie was almost certain that they would do so if they could. That only left one option. they couldn’t. Slides as long as this were rare, but not unheard of, yet that still left the possibility that something untoward had happened and they were never coming back.
The crowd abruptly picked up in pace and the screams and yells got louder. As Laurie slid further down into the enclave where she could not be seen by anyone not specifically looking for her, she heard gunfire. Some human made guns, but mostly that of Kromagg weapons. The ground troops had landed then.
None of them even bothered looking for Laurie, but that was to be expected. That would come later, when they had most of the population under control. Hopefully, by that time, Laurie could have a resistance up, running and armed, but that was still a long way off. Belatedly, Laurie realised that at least she didn’t have to go to work today.
As soon as the ground troops were out of sight, Laurie skitted out of her hidey-hole and went in search of something that was more permernant. If she could find a building that would be left more or less alone for the time being, she could begin to use it as a base. She thought back to the Headquarters back on Earth 117 and the buildings there. Not having been there at the very beginning, Laurie had never seen it with full contents, but if she thought carefully, she seemed to remember someone saying it had been a school. Not her school, but another high school in the area.
* * *
The high school was not Laurie’s first stop. There was something she had to do first.
"Hello?" she called tentatively into the building in which she rented a room. It was a run down little place for those young people who did not have the papers to prove their legitimacy. Technically, it was illegal to rent rooms out to such folk, but this was the seedier side of town and no-one really bothered much about it.
There was no answer from inside. Somehow she never expected there to be. The patrols she had dodged had come from this direction and Laurie had immediately assumed the worst. At least that way it would come as no shock when her fears were confirmed.
Slowly and carefully, Laurie made her way up the four flights of rickety stairs to her room. Everything looked exactly the same as before, so far, but the silence surrounding it was so eerie it nearly hurt. Several of the other rooms had doors left open in haste. The Slider peered into each of them and was greeted with the same kind of mess. Some had obviously managed flight, though how far they had got she may never know. Only one was different; a young man, about the same age as Laurie, had obviously resisted and been shot. Laurie closed her eyes and turned away swiftly, trying not to gag. She had not known him at all, but that was not the issue.
Her door was one of the ones still shut. Obviously the Kromaggots had not the resources to bother looking everywhere. Her standard key fitted neatly into the lock and turned with a reassuring click. At least one thing was still the same.
Laurie immediately knelt on the floor and reached under her bed, the only piece of furniture in the entire room. right at the back in the corner was a cardboard box, containing her meagre possessions. Most of the items were things she had brought with her from her own world or those she had Slid to. Those she had kept more secret than secret. Amoung the outcasts as she was, they could have brought a pretty penny, but Laurie was not about to give them up. They meant too much to her. The necklace, however, had spent most of the time safely around her neck, and all her friends knew it was special to her.
The first thing Laurie removed from the decrepit box was her knife. As she had begun to settle on this world, she had grown less and less used to carrying it. She held it in both hands before shoving it her belt. She needed to be able to get at if necessary. Anything else of value she shoved into her rucksack and slung that over her shoulder before walking out without bothing to lock the door. There was nothing for her here anymore.
There was just one last thing left to do here. Laurie skittered up two more flights of stairs in search of one particular room.
"Chris? Chris, are you there?" The door flew open of its own accord, revealing nothing different to any other room. Her friend was not there.
She was only really close to three people on this world, and none of them knew her secret. They thought her a little strange in some of her opinions, but generally accepted her as merely another illegitimate child. Chris was the only one who lived in her building, but she worked with Clare at the shop. That would be her next stop.
* * *
Stepping over rubble, Laurie made her way inside. Given the destruction, it seemed that this was one of the Kromagg landing spots. Damn Kromaggots. There was no need for this brutality. There were several bodies intermingled with the rubble, examples of how pointless it was to resist. It made her feel sick, just as it had the first time she had seen it.
The front of the shop was decimated, as if there had been an expolosion nearby, but the rest of it was fairly untouched. Most of the items were on the floor rather than the shelves, and there was glass all over the floor. Nothing compared to some of the places she’d seen.
As she stood and stared at the destruction, she heard movement. Her knife came to hand immediately. In these sort of times, paranoia was good. But the sound seemed to be coming from inside the shop. Laurie wandered around trying to place it, and behind the counter, found Mr. Johnson, her boss.
"Mr. Johnson!" she rushed to his side, but it was fairly obvious there was nothing she could do.
"A… aliens!" he stuttered through the pain.
"I know," Laurie whispered. She knew they weren’t, but there was no point explaining it to a dying man.
He grabbed her arm with a force unexpected of a man so mortally wounded. "Save yourself child! They took Clare! Save yourself, go!"
But Laurie was not prepared to leave him. At least she knew now what had happened to Clare. They would make her a breeder, but at least she was alive. Chris and Rob were still out there, they could still be safe. She brought one hand to her face and rubbed her eyes. This wasn’t like a nightmare: it was one. And one that wasn’t going to end either.
She did not have long to wait. The last request of Mr. Johnson seemed to have taken the rest of his remaining energy and soon his eyes closed and breathing stopped.
Laurie stood up. She would have liked to give him a decent burial, but there was no chance of that happening. She simply folded his arms across his chest and covered him with the big coat he wore. That was better than most got.
There was no time to lose now. She needed supplies. Tins would be best. Tins of pre-cooked food. And a tin opener. There was only so much weight Laurie could carry, so she supplemented her supply with some packets of crisps and a few chocolate bars. Health was the least of her worries right now. She also picked up a couple of bottles of water, just in case, and a few other essentials.
As a last minute thought, Laurie glanced around the convenience store to see if there were any weapons. Obviously he would have no guns, as they were highly illegal in this kind of shop, more so than employing illegitimate children, but she did find the kitchen knives. One she opened and stuck on the other side of her belt, two others she shoved into the backpack. Matches she found behind the counter and in the toy section was a baseball bat. Not well made, but wooden anyway. She swung it a few times to practice. Yes, that would have to do for her main weapon.
The backpack would slow her down and hinder her movement, but it would be worth it. Once she was holed up somewhere, she could leave it there. And hopefully she’d have some people in her resistance before too long. The Kromaggs wouldn’t expect one this early. People were still getting used to the aliens thing, parallel universes would blow their minds completely.
* * *
There it was, the intended base of her new resistance. So far it was just Laurie, but that would not last long. It was still pretty much in tact. That was why she had chosen this one. It had been her first choice anyway, but she had passed another on the way and that had been in pieces. The Kromaggs had obviously taken that school early on.
She had seen few people on her short travels, but they had scarpered before she had the chance to say anything to them. Laurie had understood entirely; she had done the same thing for two weeks before running into others. Two weeks she had lived as a lone scavenger. Dirty, unkempt and always hungry. The resistance had not been as such when she had found others, but human contact had kept her sane. Only later had the five of them stumbled into Jonathan’s group.
Now it was her turn to form the resistance. From scratch. It would be hard, but a damn sight easier than they’d had it on her world.
Laurie took a deep breath and stepped into the school. She found she was not alone. The moment her foot was in the door, she found the barrel of a gun pointing straight at her.
"Drop the bat. And the bag" Laurie did as asked. "Who are you?"
She held her hands in the air in surrender. "My name is Laurie Price."
"Human? Legitimate or illegitimate?"
A woman interrupted the speaker, who was a middle-aged grey-haired man. "Ask her to state the feckin’ obvious, why don’t ya! She’s obviously human, and what does it matter whether she’s legit or not? We’ve just been invaded!
The man conceeded, but did not drop the gun.
"You see those aliens?"
Laurie sighed. Now was as good a time as any to get people on her side, especially when they had a gun. "They’re not aliens."
"What? Of course they’re aliens. They’re not human!" The man was cynical, and Laurie could see he wasn’t the only one. Of the people there, only one seemed open about the suggestion, a man in his thirties, who just seemed curious.
"No, they’re not human," Laurie explained, "they’re from a parallel universe, where they evolved to be the dominant race rather than humans. They’re called Kromaggs."
The gun was lifted closer to her face. "And how do you know that? Are you a spy?"
"No, no!" Laurie lifted her hands even higher. "This is going to sound insane to you, but I’m not from this world either. I come from a world that’s similar, but something, somewhere along the line, made it different. I assure you, that I’m as human as you are, but I’m not from this world!"
The man relaxed a little, but not much. "Then what are you doing here, if it’s not your world?"
She took a deep breath and paused. This was make or break time. "My world, it was invaded by these Kromaggs several years ago."
"Yeah? And how did you survive? You can only have been a snip of a girl back then!"
"Let me finish!" she interrupted, a new surge of confidence running through her. "I don’t know how I got away, but these are only the initial purges! One they’re over, it’s a lot easier to avoid. We formed a resistance on my world, fought them. We stole their technology, and used it. I was Sliding… that’s what they call traversing the dimensions… and I got left behind. I’ve been stuck here for six weeks. They never came back for me." Laurie’s head dropped.
The man began to circle, waving the gun ever closer to her face. "Just say, that we do believe you, that you are telling the truth, what then? You obviously don’t know how to kill them or you wouldn’t be here!"
"No, I don’t, but I know how they work!" the young Slider protested. "I know their weaknesses, and what they are! What I KNOW about them is invaluble in the fight to rid this world of them!"
"Then why not do it on your world?"
The gun was now being waved in Laurie’s face, distracting her. "It took us nearly two years to find out all I know. Two years in, they controlled most of my world! We could fight them, but it was hard! If we start here, now, we have so much more of a chance! Believe me, you need what I know!"
The woman who had spoken earlier gestured to the man again. "Give ‘er a break, mate! As long as she ain’t one of them, what does it matter if she’s tellin’ the truth or not, any more than her status?"
There was a murmer of consensus amoung the watchers, but that did not phase the man with the gun. "Perhaps, but we still don’t know you aren’t a spy. This could be a whole load of rubbish!"
"If I may," the dark haired man in his thirties intervened. "I’m Dr. Jensen," he announced, more to Laurie than the rest of them. "I have some kind of background in this. Tell me, this ‘Sliding between the parallel worlds, do you know what theory it uses?"
Typical! There always had to be a science guy who wanted to know the detail. "Uh… I don’t know much about it, but it’s the Einstein-Rosen-Pod something Bridge. I think." She hoped.
He nodded carefully. "That is something I studied. I know the priniciples, but I never heard of anyone actually getting it to work."
"Not on this world," she corrected. "There has been on quite a few."
"Really?" he asked, genuinely interested. "How many worlds are there out there? Can I ask you some more questions?"
He was interrupted by the middle-aged man dropping the gun. "Alright, doctor, not now. If she is the real deal, you can talk later. Whatever though, we need to get started." He turned towards Laurie. "What’s you plan then?"
Ah. She hadn’t got to that point. "Well, first things first, this is our main base. We need to fortify it. This is the main thing." She turned slightly. "Dr. Jensen…"
"Oh, please Steven."
Laurie sighed. She couldn’t keep getting distracted by silly things. "Okay, Steven it is then. You have a background in physics, obviously. Do you think you can get an independent power source going? It’s daylight now, but the Kromaggs will have taken out the power stations before nightfall, and we need the computers."
One of the watchers piped up. "Isn’t that wasteful? Whadda we need them for?"
"If we want to beat them, we have to have the technology. I don’t know what sort of level your computers are at…"
There was a shout from the grey-haired man. "See! I knew she was illegit!" but his cry was brushed away by the others.
"… but I do have some skill with them, and I know what we need to do. Steven, can you do that?"
He shrugged. "I can only try. I might need help though."
Nodding, Laurie carried on imperiously. "Sure. Pick who you want and get on with it as soon as possible. Everyone else, we need supplies first and foremost. Make sure you’re very careful, as the big patrols will still be around for a couple of days yet. Priority to food, water and things like blankets and clothing. Just take it all; there’s not gonna be anyone to care anymore. And weapons. Anyone know if there’s a gun shop around here anywhere?"
Another man stepped forward. "There’s one on Knighton Street," he said simply.
"Right, you go there, but take someone else too. All of you, find trolley, or anything that’ll enable you to carry more easily. And anyone humans you find out there, bring them here. We need all the help we can get." Finally she stopped.
"What are you gonna do?" one of them asked.
Laurie seemed a little taken aback. "Me? I’ll stay here, start setting up in here. I’ll need the younger ones to stay here with me. Get everything sorted and catalogue what you bring back. Everyone clear?" There was a general consensus that they were, although there was a defiant tone to some of them. "Right then, let’s get on before the Kromaggs come calling."
* * *
The main hall was starting to take shape now.
Laurie stood on the stage and looked around her. Okay, so it wasn’t much, and it didn’t look anything like the HQ back home, but it was a start. Even though those who had gone out for supplies had bought a fair few people back with them, overall their numbers were still not great, nor their supplies.
But there was still time for that. Too much time.
Just in case, Laurie had split the fledgeling resistance in two, keeping one with her and sending the other group with some of the supplies to the other end of the school. It was still early days yet. No one, not even Laurie, could be completely sure of what the Kromaggs could do.
One of the groups she’d sent out scouting still wasn’t back yet. Glancing out the window she began to worry. Dusk was coming. By the time night fell, they were pretty much staying put for the night. The Kromaggs couldn’t see in the dark any more than humans could. Laurie wasn’t sure how far Steven had got with the generator, but right now, it mattered little. Everything would shut down when it went dark. At least the curtains in this hall were thick. That meant they could still have a low level of activity in here. The other groups wouldn’t have that much luxury.
If they weren’t here by nightfall, they probably weren’t coming back at all, and she fervently hoped that was not the case. One, they couldn’t afford to lose any more people, and second, she didn’t want to be responsible for their deaths. There was enough of that yet to come.
"Come on people, let’s get this wrapped up for the night," she commanded to the few beneath her. Most of the people were in the basement rooms, storing the supplies where they were least likely to get damaged. At the moment, there was a good deal of bottled water there, although Laurie hoped they might be able to get the mains working again at some point.
She gestured to one of the younger ones helping to set up the ‘beds.’ "Go downstairs and tell the people down there to return to their allocated rooms as soon as possible." Seeing his rather scared expression, she added, in a gentler tone, "Can you do that for me?"
The boy nodded silently and scarpered off to carry out his new duty.
Laurie let out a deep sigh that did not go unnoticed by those nearest her. He was still only a child, younger than she had been when the invasion came. They were so vulnerable in times like this, either adapting or dying. Her being here gave more of them a chance than survived the invasion on her world, but that wasn’t enough. He, and the rest of them, still weren’t safe.
She heard the growing sound of a trolley running over tiles. That was probably the missing group now. Laurie, as well as everyone else within hearing distance made a bee-line for the noise to see what they carried.
They had obviously picked up a few other stragglers out there. Good, she though to herself. The more the merrier.
She glanced upwards at the sound of her name. It couldn’t be… but it was! Laurie ran break-neck towards the speaker and threw her arms round him. "Rob! I thought they’d got you!" He looked disheveled and dirty, but it was Rob in one piece. That was all that mattered now.
He pulled away and held her out at arms length. "Look. I need to tell you something. Chris and Clare… they’re gone. Taken. Those things took them." Rob pulled her close again. "Thank God you’re safe. I thought they had you as well."
"I know," she muttered. "I thought you were gone too."
The pair of them paused there for a moment, lost in the melancholy of it all before relaxing slightly. "Hey, they’ve been telling me about this girl who’s really from a parallel world and stuff, like these alien things, and how she’s gonna help us fight them. Trippy, huh?"
At that moment one of the scouts interrupted. "Hey, Laurie, where do you want all this stuff?"
"Uh, take it down to the basement, the one by the kitchen. Just tell Scott to leave it in the trolley and we’ll sort it in the morning." She waved him away with a flick of the hand. "It’s not worth bothering now."
Laurie didn’t even have time to explain to Rob exactly what was going on before Dr. Jensen interrupted as well.
"We think the generator’s ready now. You ready for a test?"
The Slider whirled round on her feet to face him. "No! No way! Look… it’s getting dark. If we show signs of life, they’ll know to hit us here. We wait until daylight. And we keep quiet until then!" Laurie addressed the last part to everyone within hearing range an every single one of those stopped dead. "Everyone needs to go back to the allocated areas and stay there until first light, excepting of course extenuating circumstances. The Kromaggs are just like us in this: they don’t see well in the dark. That means we should get some sleep… but make sure we keep to the watch schedules!"
As everyone else began to dissipate, Rob was still standing staring at her in amazement. "Rob," she said gently, "there’s a lot I haven’t told you about where I come from. I am that girl from the parallel world. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before."
"That’s… that’s okay," he stuttered in return, though Laurie was not sure he meant it.
She took him by the arm and led him towards the hall. "Come on, let’s find you somewhere to bed down for the night. We can talk about things properly in the morning."
* * *
Secured down in the basement of the former high school, Laurie Price, leader of this world’s Resistance slammed her hands against the side of the computer screen.
She wasn’t alone down there. "You’ll get it soon," one of her companions offered.
Laurie turned to glare at him. "That’s not the point, Rob, and you know it. We need it as soon as possible."
"Why don’t you let someone else try for a bit? You’ve been here for six hours straight. You could take a break, relax a bit."
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "You really don’t get it, do you? Come over here a second." She placed him in front of the computer screen. "Do you really think you make something out of this?"
Rob looked back at her, confused. "But it’s all in ‘Magg. I can’t read that."
"Exactly." Point proven she infused her voice with confidence. "I’m the only one here who CAN read it, and even then barely! And we need to know what they’re doing." Laurie waited for him to vacate the chair again and sat back in front of the screen. "Therefore I need to keep going."
He looked for encouragement from the three other people working down there, but every single one of them duck their eyes out of view. None of them really wanted to get involved, especially Julia, who had been on the receiving end of Laurie’s frustration earlier in the day. "You work too hard. Come on, take a short break. Relax a bit."
"I already told you, no!"
"But you need to rest…"
Finally Laurie exploded. "We don’t get to relax now! Not until the Kromaggs are gone from this world! We stay vigilant and work hard and the reward may one day be freedom, but not yet! Until they’re gone or we Slide, there IS no relaxing. Let up and you probably die. That’s just the way it is and you’ll all have to get used to it. I had to."
There was no answer to that from Rob, and the others were practically hiding under the tables. In fact, all were surpised at the leniancy Laurie had showed on the speech. Only the fact that she was so close to Rob had saved him from a far more extreme tongue-lashing. Every single one of them have received one in the past week alone.
"I’m going for food," Laurie said much more quietly. When Rob made a move to offer to join her, she held up a hand to stop him. "Please. I think I’d like to be alone right now."
She slowly plodded her way up the short flight of stairs and round to stores where she could requisition something to eat. Hopefully Gavin was on right now, he never did talk much and Laurie didn’t really feel like conversation right now.
Having acquired a cheese sandwich and a packet of crisps, Laurie retired to the place she considered her hideaway. Halfway up the main block, four floors, in a former department office. There was little there now, anything useful had been looted for their fight already, but it offered her a decent view of city without having to bother with too many stairs. And no one ever came here unless they were looking for her.
Idly, Laurie watched a red Kromagg vortex emerge and then disappear. She sighed loudly. It had been nearly a week now since the Maggots had invaded. Seven weeks since she’d been stranded. Seven long and bizarre weeks.
What were they doing out there? Had something happened to them? Seven weeks was a long time, and she knew they hadn’t come back for her, not yet. Laurie had dutifully visited the place she had been left every day for the first two weeks, and every other day thereafter. She’d left a sign for them, but it was still unmarked. They hadn’t been here. She really didn’t want to think about the reasons why they hadn’t come back for her.
Mentally she shifted the direction of her thoughts from that subject. Laurie had other important things that she could easily get lost in if she tried. Like the building of the new Resistance. It was going well so far. There were over 700 members of the resistance in San Fransico, and several others had been sent out to the nearest towns to see if they could build up more there. Even in San Fran they were finding new members every day. It was a big effort, helped only by her knowledge of the Kromaggs.
She was the key to this working. Laurie knew, but she did not want to understand the implications of that. They couldn’t become too dependant on her, not in the long term. Once everything was in place, she could begin teaching and delegating, but until the computer system was up and linked into the Kromagg one, there was nothing they could do to control their own destiny.
Outside Laurie noticed a mantra ship shooting at something on the ground. She ran her fingers through her hair and dropped back. It was probably her people they were shooting at. People she had sent out looting or attacking. Everyone knew the proceedures, never come straight back to base, but she could never stop worrying that one day someone would forget. The survival instinct was not as ingrained as in the Resistance on her world. Sliding had given them the advantage of an early start, but they didn’t have the survival skills to go with it yet.
Laurie did not want the responsibility for other people’s lives on her conscience. She might have spent the last four years under Kromagg rule, but she hadn’t been the one giving the orders. Now she was, and anyone who died was her responsibility. That was the real reason she wanted to delegate. Now she understood some of the choices Jonathan had to make back home. And why he wanted to hold himself apart from them. It somehow made things less real.
Without noticing, she twisted the band on her wrist. The blue one that was a leftover from one of the previous slides, a memory of happier times. Not happy as such, since it had not been a good Slide for Connor and their world had still been under Kromagg rule, but there had been hope then. These days all her hope lay in freeing this world; Laurie might never see her own again. She knew she was hard on them sometimes, but if it made them that little bit closer to freedom, it was worth it. They would understand soon enough.
She stood up and began the trek back down again. Obviously she would apologise to them all when she got back. When she reached the bottom on the stairs, Laurie had a sudden brainwave, and with a little yelp, pegged it the rest of the way, only pausing to drop her rubbish in the recycling pile. She was going through the wrong backdoor on the system! How could she have forgotton that!
* * *
In the lobby of what was now the Headquarters of the Resistance, another person joined the small collection of freedom fighters waiting for the pre-mission briefing.
"Well, that’s nine of us, just one more to wait for I guess then. Who do you reckon it’ll be this time?" By virtue of extensive previous firearms experience, Pete had so far been on nearly every excursion, excepting the times when he was already out. "I hope it’s a meaty task this time. Those last two were peanuts!"
"Ah, what does it feckin’ matter anyway," interrupted Clara in her usual ‘pissed off’ tone of voice. "As long as we kick some Magg butt then it don’t matter who’s ‘ere and who ain’t."
Pete winked at the outspoken women, who always managed to amuse. "Don’t ever lighten up, Clara. You make things so much more fun around here."
In a strange moment of jovility, Clara defied her years and stuck out her tonge at Pete, just as Laurie and Rob walked through the door.
"Okay, the assingments for today are pretty basic really. Since Becky got the translation programme up and running, we can get some of their plans. And this time we’re going for a two pronged attack." She paused and motioned for Rob to pass the one piece of paper with the map on." Pete, your group are heading for one of their hangers. Damage everything you can see…"
Pete waved his hand wildly in the air. "Won’t that mean we have to go right through them? There’s not much of a chance we’ll get through."
She nodded in acknowledgement. "We have found a good way in, but part of it will be diversion, and that comes from the other team. The diversion will be an attack on their generator. But timing is crucial. The generator is barely guarded, but once the power goes, they will almost certainly converge on it. We need to be in and out of there before then. Once the power is down, your team goes in. Clear?"
There were nods from all around the room. As usual, the rest of the information could be found on the map that was currently only about halfway round the circle. But Pete started waving again. "Who’s number ten? We’re one short still."
Silence greeted Laurie’s announcement, especially from Rob who’s jaw had literally dropped. Eventually he regained his composure enough to talk and spluttered, "But you can’t!" He may have been the only one who spoke, but it was obvious he was echoing the sentiment of every other person in the room.
Laurie turned to face him, her face set hard. "And give me one good reason why not?"
"We… we need you! We can’t risk your life by letting you go out there! If you’re gone, this whole thing collapses and they win!"
"Oh rubbish. Becky reads Magg better than I do now, and between maybe four or five of you, you know almost as much about Kromaggs as I do now. And that’s with you included, Rob. You know far more than anyone on my world did after the same amount of time!"
Still Rob wasn’t giving up, egged on by the others. "Yes, because of you. If it wasn’t for you, who knows where we’d be now."
Laurie sighed, annoyed at the fight they were trying to put up. They were still going to lose though. There was no way she wasn’t going. "Firstly, I am NOT going to put you into positions of danger that I’m not willing to take myself. That’s no way to lead. And secondly, I have more experience than any of you in this kind of fighting. Yes, even you Pete. I spent three years going out on just these kinds of excursions and I’m not gonna let you guys have all the fun!"
"No buts," she shrugged lightly. "I’ve given you information you need, but I’m no better than the rest of you. And why not use my expertise on the battlefield as well as behind it."
This time Rob stayed quiet. There was a slight pause as they all considered her logic, but there was no fighting it. No one could forgo her this. There was not a single person in the room who could not see the passion and fire in her eyes. She’d been waiting for this moment for some time.
Pete stood up and offered out a hand. "I look forward to fighting alongside you then. But are you sure there’s nothing we can do to talk you out of it?"
"Not a chance," Laurie replied, with a big grin on her face.
"Does that mean you’re leading the diversion team then?"
"You too. Not that you’ll need it."
"Same goes for you."
The two team captains turned back to the rest of the Resistance fighters and began to dole out the weapons from the piles on either side of the door.
When everyone was all set up and itching to get started, Laurie called them for one last quick speech. "Now remermber everyone, if you get captured it’s unlikely we’ll be able to get you back, so for God’s sake don’t get caught! They know we’re well organised. We’d be sent off this world before they even found out who were are. And I’m no exception, okay?"
Laurie’s team would be working first, but both would set out now anyway. Once they separated it would all be a matter of timing anyway. She turned to Rob just before leaving the headquarters. "I guess that leaves you in nominal charge until I get back."
"What? Why me?"
She clasped him briefly on the shoulder. "You’ve worked hard enough and you know almost as much as me. You deserve it."
She was already gone out the door before Rob reacted to her touching words. There was no emotion visible on his face, but inside he was glowing.
* * *
Shots rang out as Laurie hid behind a wooden crate and reloaded her gun. Shit. It was jammed. A Kromagg managed a shot on target and the ground on her left hand side exploded with dirt.
There was a slight pause of silence, but Laurie was not fooled. No, they were just trying to tempt her out. Standard Kromagg trick, but all of her team were trained to avoid it. She slammed at the gun a few times before something inside it clicked and finally it was loaded properly. Thank God for that.
She crawled to one side of the box and quickly looked in the direction of fire before hiding back again, an action that was immediately followed by a barrage of fire. That was a little too close for comfort. Without sighting herself, she placed the barrel of the gun on top of the crate and shot blind. That should shut them up a little.
Laurie wasn’t the only one shooting at the Kromaggs. The rest of her team were, as far as she knew, spread around the enclosure. Hopefully, all shooting at the same place, at least until back up arrived, which couldn’t be too long now.
Tim was the closest to the generator itself, as intended. While Laurie and the others would hold the Kromaggs off, he would plant the explosive stolen from an army base. Then they would scarper, hopefully without incident.
Following the trail of her bullets, there was a pause as the Kromagg team regrouped. Laurie took advantage of this in order to change crates. As she rolled swiftly across the dust, she caught a glimpse of her former hideout. Laurie barely had time to register the fact that it no longer had a front before it was blown up. That was too damn close.
It couldn’t be too long now. Laurie glanced at her watch, synchronised with that of every other person out on this expedition. They only needed to hold them off a couple more minutes, then they could run. But the problem was maybe holding out that long. She ducked again, and another beam narrowly missed her head. Shit. Not again already.
Laurie shot a few more times at the Kromaggs, who were becoming ever braver, before switching base again. There she found Clara biding her time as well. "You okay?"
"’Course," Clara spluttered. "Nevah be’er."
Smiling, Laurie thought of her excursions back on her own world. It had been so long since she’d been out on this kind of active fighting, and it was strange how she even seemed to miss it. Made her feel like she really was participating in the battle. "Do you know where Ian and Bruce are? I haven’t seen them for a while."
"Bruce is aaht thataway," Clara gave a small gesture with her right arm. "I ain’t seen Ian since ‘is las’ barrage either. I think Tim’s aaht the genera’or."
"Yeah, I saw Tim." Laurie looked at her watch again. "Ready for one last push then? If Tim ain’t ready now, ‘e never will be." Damn you Clara, she thought to herself. I’m picking up your accent. "Ready?"
Clara nodded and withing a brief moment, the pair of them had separated and began shooting as they ran. As their war cries rang out across the enclosure, two more bodies, Bruce and Ian, also emerged firing.
The Kromaggs had backup now it seemed. There were more beams and bullets that at the start, and Laurie really did have trouble avoiding some of them. One beam caught the edge of her left arm, but the adrenaline was too high for her to care. That would come later
At that moment, Tim came running out and all five humans dropped to the ground. Behind them the generator exploded, surprising the Kromaggs, and probably killing or maiming quite a few since they had already begun to close in.
Laurie was first up from the debris and dust. "Come on, let’s GO!" she yelled, before spluttering from all the crap she was breathing in.
But the Kromaggs were not put off by a simple explosion. Nor were they supposed to be. Distracted was plenty, and they certainly seemed that right now.
Laurie felt another bullet impact with the same arm. She fell, but Tim was there instantly to catch her. "Oh no you don’t," he muttered.
He half dragged her for a few metres until she rejected his help and insisted on running on her own. "I can manage," she whispered. "I always have before."
Tim had no choice but to let her help herself. Laurie was in pain, but she was determined that would not affect her contribution. She turned back round, and using both arms as if there was no injury at all started picking off Kromaggs. Clara and Ian weren’t out yet. Tim and Bruce took on her example and kept the exit route clear.
"Just another minute," Laurie shouted, gritting her teeth. "We can’t wait any longer than that!"
But they didn’t have too. Clara and Ian emerged from the clouds of dust looking none the worse for wear. But that was not to last. Even as she tried her best to rid them of Kromagg fire, Laurie watched in horror as one of the beams caught Ian right in the stomach. He collapsed like a rag doll to the ground. "NO!" Laurie yelled and darted to his aid, quickly followed by Clara, who was nearest.
Inside, Laurie knew she was breaking her own advice, but this could not happen, should not happen. Her first command on a return to action and she was not going toleave anyone behind. Not unless she had to, and right now she had a chance. "Hold them off, we’ll try and get him to safety!" she ordered. There was no argument.
Finally the three made it to a house without being followed by Kromaggs. "D’yah fink e’ll make it?" Clara asked, concerned, but Laurie ignored her. She paced round the window, gun cocked and ready to fire at any time.
About ten minutes later there were noises outside. Laurie pointed the gun and the doorway and Clara made for hers in exactly the same instant. But both dropped them when they saw it was only the rest of their team.
"We made it!" Tim exclaimed. "We really made it!"
Laurie didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm. "Did we really?" The mood died quickly. "That still remains to be seen." She pointed to Ian on the floor, who was now just about sitting, but didn’t seem too good. "We can’t wait here for long like usual. Fifteen minutes, then we go back, okay?"
* * *
"Laurie? Can I have a word?" Having chased after the young woman for nearly five minutes, Gavin finally caught up to the striding Laurie.
She started as if she’d been somewhere else entirely. "Oh, sorry, Gav, I wasn’t really paying attention."
"Yeah, I gathered. Look, I needed to talk to you about diet."
Again, Laurie looked slightly confused. "Diet? Why? We have plenty of food. No one’s going hungry yet."
Gavin shook his head emphatically. "No, it’s not the amount, but what they’re eating." He paused as she cocked her head. "Over the last month we’ve used all the fresh food we can, but that’s coming to and end now and even what is left is starting to rot. It would have been okay if we could use the freezer or even the fridge… I don’t suppose there’s anyway we could get that?"
"No chance, sorry," she replied regretfully. "It takes too much power and it’s too obvious at night. Although I would have loved to get one going. I really miss cheese," Laurie mused. "You never know how much you love it until there is none."
"Er… right, but soon it’s gonna start taking it’s toll on us, especially the kids. There’s quite a lot of them now, and I’m reserving all the tinned and powdered milk for them, but eventually that’ll go too. And they’re not getting their protein or vitamins either!"
Laurie brushed him aside lightly with a flick of her hand. "Oh, it’s to be expected. You should have seen me after a few weeks!"
But Gavin was not one to give up that easily. As she turned to go back to her bussiness, he caught her arm. "Laurie, I’m not sure you understand. The way you tell it there weren’t many children left on your world because of the invasion. But here there are lots, including some who are very young. We have to give them a decent chance!"
This time Laurie stopped dead. He was right. And she hadn’t even seen if before! She was so hung up on doing things like she’d done on her world, that she’d entirely forgotton that some things would be completely different as a consequence of her own intervention. On her world she had only know of one baby who had survived the original onslaught. Here it was at least fourteen, with several more likely to appear at any time! And many more under the age of five. Slowly she said, "You are absolutely right. I should have noticed." Laurie turned sharply. "I shall see what I can arrange," she added, almost imperiously.
He gave her a little nod. "That’s all I ask." As Laurie walked away, he suddenly had another thought. Surprising for him, who only thought of one thing at a time usually. "Oh, Laurie, how’s Ian doing now?"
"Much better," Laurie smiled. "He’s recovering from the surgery really well. Will be a while before he’s ready to go out again though, much as he wants to!"
"That’s good then."
"Yeah, Dr. Roeder says it was lucky we’d taken one of the hospitals though. Without that equipment, he’d never have made it."
Gavin nodded but said nothing. Neither he nor Laurie knew where to take the conversation after that. After standing there in silence, nodding at each other for a few moments, the pair made their excuses and went their separate ways.
* * *
At a table on the shadowy side of the small dining area, Laurie Price sat alone as she often did. She picked at her meagre meal, which consisted of half a tin of spaghetti hoops with sausages and a desert of two tinned pineapple rings.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like the meal, although they were annoyingly repetitive these days. Today had just been one of those days. The Kromaggs had made an attempted offense and although they’d been repelled, the Resistance had lost seven members in the defence and everyone was feeling a little jumpy. Seven might be a small number in the grand scheme of the Resistance, but every death was felt badly these days. This time Laurie hadn’t known any of them really, but everyone was still following her orders.
"Mind if I join you?" Rob asked tentatively, interrupting the flow of Laurie thoughts. She simply shrugged, but didn’t object when he took one of the other seats. "Trying to hide, eh?" Rob smiled. "What did you get for lunch?"
"Hoops and sausages. How about you?"
"Macaroni cheese. I see you got the pineapple for desert too." There was only a mild reaction from Laurie. He pulled his chair closer to hers. "Are you okay, Laurie?" You seem kinda… weird."
For the first time since the early morning raids, Laurie actually smiled. "Oh cheers. Nothing like complimenting a woman when she’s feeling down." When she saw the mortified look on her friend’s face, she sobered up again. "I’m okay, really. It’s just one of those days."
Rob reached out and took her hand in his, fork and all. "It’ll be alright, y’know. We’ll all get through this."
Looking straight into his eyes, Laurie did not make a move to retrieve her hand. "Thanks for the thought, but you know I don’t believe you, right?"
He squeezed her hand lightly. "I know," he said quietly.
Abruptly, Laurie withdrew her hand sharply. "Well, it must have worked a little… I actually feel hungry now."
She shook her head, hair flicking across her face. "No, but if I don’t eat it, someone will only yell at me."
"I’ll yell at you."
"See?" With exaggerated movements, Laurie tucked into her food. "Mmmm, tinned food again. Yummy."
Rob took a few bites of his own food and grimaced a little. "Are you sure I’ll get used to it? I still have these longings for fresh steak."
"Oh, they never go away," she replied between mouthfuls. "Though you get used to it. That doesn’t mean you like it though. For years I dreamed of walking into restaurants and being able to order whatever I fancied. I think most people do, even if they won’t admit it." The last part was followed by a muffled cough that sounded strangely like, "Jonathan."
"Then what happened?" Despite his protests about disliking tinned food, Rob was certainly eating it quickly enough.
Laurie swallowed before answering. "Then I went Sliding and ordered whatever I wanted!" She laughed briefly, and then stopped. Sliding.
Rob’s mouth opened in question and then quickly closed again. Laurie knew he had been about to ask her about her time out there in the multiverse, but as many had already found out, Laurie did not like to talk about it. Or even think about it. It was still too painful. Rob kew this, of course, but sometimes the direction of the conversation just led you to that place.
There was silence for a while as the pair finished off the main course. As they started on the pineapple rings, Rob piped up again. "Laurie," he began slowly, "there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it?"
She continued slurping on the juice. "Yeah? What’s that then?"
"Uh… well." He placed his spoon back in the bowl and decided to get it over and done with. "I like you, Laurie, I really do. And not just in a friend way. And I was wondering, I dunno, maybe you’d like to come out on a date sometime?"
Laurie’s own spoon returned to the bowl. This had not been completely unexpected, but that didn’t make it much less surprising. "Oh, Rob, I don’t think now is really the time. There’s just so much going on right now, I don’t think either of us could manage a relationship."
"But Pete and Clara seem to be managing just fine! And there’s plenty of other examples throughout the Resistance!"
This time Laurie purposely pulled her eyes away from his face. she didn’t want to hurt him unduly. "I know there are, but it’s different for us." She risked a quick glance at his expression before she continued. "I’m the leader of this little organisation, and whether you see it or not you’re my second in command." Rob began to protest this accusation, but she cut him off briskly. "No, you ARE. Everyone knows it except for you. And that means that if anything happens to me, you are in command."
"But nothing’s going to happen to you!"
She shushed him and carried on. "You can’t know that, none of us can. We can’t get involved as things stand, because if anything happens to the other, we HAVE to be able to carry on. You’re my friend, and I don’t want anything to happen to you, but I can’t see into the future and we have to plan for all contingencies.
There was a slight pause. "If the Kromaggs hadn’t invaded, would there have been a chance?"
Laurie reached out her hand and looked directly at him again. "Probably. But we’ll never know. It’s just the wrong time, Rob, I’m sorry." Could she get away with such a blatant lie? True, it wouldn’t be a good idea as things stood right now, but there was also something else, niggling in the back of her head that told her she shouldn’t do it. Whatever that niggle was, it was certainly controlling her love life right now. Laurie hand slipped unnoticed towards her pendant, the one Connor had given to her.
"I… I understand. But we can still be friends, can’t we?"
"Of course we can! What sort of stupid question is that!"
He grinned back at her, still wishing there could be something more between them
* * *
Laurie Price peered out from behind a building and waved the rest of two teams through. Each of the other nine fighters flashed passed and spread out before pausing and waiting for the next signal which came from Pete.
This was a critical mission for the Resistance and only the best had been picked. The growing numbers of the Resistance meant that the food situation was growing ever worse by the day. For nearly a week the Kromaggs had been living off existing supplies, but today was delivery day, hopefully enough to keep the Resistance going for a while.
Following them would be a third team and a van. Without that the whole thing would be pointless since there was no way they could carry enough supplies for the Resistance, whilst being chased by Kromaggs. It just wouldn’t happen. But still this was one of the biggest operations so far, and Laurie was determined it was not going to fail.
Pete held up a hand in caution and everyone took up defensive positions, including Laurie, who positioned herself behind an overturned rubbish bin. Silently she watched the other personnel all in front of her, until the danger, which turned out to be two Kromagg soldiers, had passed.
While they waited, Laurie thought back to one of the things Mike had said to her a long time ago now. "Don’t pounce unless you can afford to take the consequences," in reference to something fairly benign to do with an argument. But as leader of the Resistance, Laurie had taken it to be her personal mantra. Although all too often they couldn’t afford the consequences. Or didn’t want to.
Laurie was so lost in trying to remember the specifics of that particular argument, which she felt pretty certain was between her and Connor, that she almost missed the cue. In a few moments, they were off again. Memories would have to wait.
Ten minutes later, the Resistance members had loosely surrounded the drop off point. Very loosely in fact, as the landing area for the supply mantra ships was rather large. The supplies were being unloaded as they snuck up.
Mantra ships never stopped for very long unless they were staying permernantly. Especially in a world that was having such trouble with the human natives. The Kromaggs might be pretty evil, but stupid they were not.
As the Kromagg on the shop handed one of the off-loaders a clipboard, Laurie smiled. "At least they’re as beauraucratic as we are," she muttered to herself, confident that no one could hear.
A swirling red vortex opened directly above the supply ship and without further ado, it fired it’s rocket and launched itself towards the wormhole. The labourers paused to watch the spectacle, but then returned to loading crates onto the trolleys.
Laurie took a deep breath and counted the labourers. Eight humans, plus two guards. Shouldn’t be too hard to take them out. For a brief second she felt bad that some of the humans might die, but caught a hold of herself in time. They were working for the Kromaggs. Chances were they had not come from this world and may not have had as great a chance, but that excused nothing. Laurie would never willingly work for them, and if it came to the point where it was die or be broken, she would rather die.
From across the courtyard, there was a bird warble and then all Hell broke loose. The eight servants had no chance as the Resistance leapt straight for them, wielding projectile weaponry. And the guards were down in less than ten seconds, only having managed to get two or three shots off, all of which had hit brick walls.
The chaos was all around Laurie and she was a part of it, acting completely on instict instead of actual conscious thought. She twirled round a few times and the cameras were gone. And the back up team who came hurrying out to see the commotion.
"Woooooooooo!" At that moment, the Resistance van came crashing through the gates with considerable force. Everyone cleared the decks as the driver performed an awkward three point turn, but as soon as he had put the handbrake on, the action resumed. The doors at the back were opened, and crates of food, mostly fruit and meat were thrown haphazardly into the back. No one really cared whether they got slightly damamged as long as it was food. "Come on people!" the driver yelled emphatically, leaning out the window. "Let’s fill this baby up to the brim and get the Hell out of here!"
When Laurie looked back on this particular moment in time, she wasn’t entirely sure how it had all happened. Everything had descended into a blur worse than one of Monet’s paintings.
Only the food could go in the van, they needed as much as possible. That left thirteen Resistance fighters to make their own way back to base, including Laurie. Thirteen fighters on foot.
Several of them had made it out at the same time as the van, but Laurie, Pete and a couple of others had stayed behind to watch its back as it were. But by the time the van was well away and apparently safe Laurie and the rest of the crew had other problems. Kromagg problems.
She shot a worried glance across at Pete, who seemd to share her concerns. "What the Hell do we do now!" Laurie screamed across the sound of gunfire. "This wasn’t supposed to happen!"
"I know!" he shouted back, as he dodged a red beam of light coming from the direction of the compound. He looked swiftly at his watch. "We should have had another two minutes yet!"
The four of them were now on the farside of the gate, frantically trying to evade the fire. On Laurie’s left, one of the beams shot out and missed her by the narrowest of narrow margins. For amoment, she breathed a sigh of relief, until she saw it had his one of the others square in the head, spattering her with blood as well as himself. Despite her years in the Resistance, she screamed very loudly, drawing the attention of Pete and Craig.
"Come on!" Pete grabbed her by the arm and literally dragged her way. "We can’t stay here now!"
Shards of glass and pieces of brick rained over their heads as they pegged it as fast as they could across the newly discovered battlefield. Pete was forced to drop Laurie’s arm just to protect his own head.
The three of them didn’t make it very far before they were forced to abruptly change direction. Another Kromagg patrol had joined the hunt and running towards them was not a good idea.
They had rounded two more corners before there was a disturbing rumble. All three looked up at the two-storied building and began to run faster. "It’s coming down!" Craig announced, quite superfluously.
"I can SEE that!"
But Laurie couldn’t quite run fast enough to escape the rubble, and Craig wasn’t much further ahead. In less than thirty seconds, bricks rained over her head and everything went black.
Alternate Earth 117
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