Sniper – Aftermath (Gulvarian Breach, story eight)

She saved a human child.

But human soldiers… those she’ll kill!

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(c) 2023 Simon Goodson.
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Sniper – Aftermath

Having decimated the Garag forces in the area, and so ensuring the survival of the human family caught in the danger zone, Carak started to ease her way back down the hill.

Soon enough more humans would arrive, humans from their military, and while it would be hard for them to detect her it would be better if she was already gone.

She had barely covered any distance when her communications implant activated.  It was embedded within her hearing cavity, to ensure no hint of sound could escape and break her cover.  She was able to reply with the tiniest movements of her mouth.

She had already signalled that her main mission had been successful, the Garag leader she’d been sent to kill was dead.  Now she was expecting details of where she should go for extraction.  No doubt it would be some distance from the action.

What she got was her superior on the line, something highly unusual during an operation.  The reason soon became clear.

“We have a second mission, priority Segan level.  Your pickup will arrive in two minutes and will take you directly to your new target zone.”

Segan? She’d only had one mission that high a severity in her whole career, and it had been a long career mostly spent dealing with critical missions.

“Acknowledged,” she sent back.  “What is the mission?”

She kept moving as she waited for the response, her new rendezvous point was on the far side of the hill and almost immediate.  She was having to sacrifice stealth for speed to reach it in time.

“An artefact has been uncovered and is transmitting.”

She stumbled and almost fell at those words.  Her usual poise and balance completely disrupted.  She knew her people had chosen to come to this far-flung planet because of powerful artefacts, though she knew little more than that.  She’d heard rumours, though.  Rumours they could be used to give their holders near unimaginable power.

“Do the Garag have it?” she asked, fearing the answer.

“No, though they are closing in on the location in force.  Some humans have it currently.  Your mission will be to retrieve it if possible, but at all costs keep it out of Garag hands.  You’ll get more details on the way.”

“Acknowledged.  I see the transport.  I’ll be airborne imminently.”

“Good.  Time is critical here.  You’ll be told more as you travel.”

* * *

Saying she had seen the transport wasn’t exactly accurate.  She was aware of where it was, its systems interfacing with those implanted in her head so she could locate it.  All she could see was the slightest blurring of the background, and that only because she knew exactly where to look and she was so close.

All of her people’s vehicles used in a campaign were camouflaged in this way, but this wasn’t the transport she’d been expecting.  This was an interceptor, a craft with only two seats which was much faster than a transport.  She climbed into the rear seat and was still securing herself as the craft lifted off.

“Good hunting?” asked the pilot, his voice carrying easily because the craft was almost silent.

“Very good,” she replied.

That was as much as the pilot would dare to ask, and as much as she was able to supply.  Even that was a slight breach of protocol, but it was a pattern pilots and operatives had fallen into millennia before.

Having secured herself she linked into the craft’s data systems.  After multiple levels of authentication to prove who she was the details of the new mission came through.

She scanned them, making sure she understood both the details and the nuances behind them.  Then she checked the interceptor’s position.  It was close to a third of the way around the planet from the target, but it would get there and be landing in less than thirty minutes.  All without leaving any trace the humans or the Garags could detect.

Such advanced technology came with a price.  Even for her people it was expensive to manufacture.  While they had combat equipment far beyond anything other races had available that equipment was always spread thinly.

The thought struck her that the same was true of operatives like her.  This rapid redeployment was a case in point.  Rather than giving this mission to someone else they’d dropped it on her the moment she’d finished the last mission.

She understood why it couldn’t wait.  This was serious, even more so than her last mission.  It seemed the humans had somehow stumbled across an artefact and had been keeping it well shielded, either through knowledge of what it was or just dumb luck on their part.

Carak’s people had sensors powerful enough to know of its existence and at least roughly where it was located, to within a hundred klicks or so.  Then, suddenly, it was released from the shielding and they knew exactly where it was.

Her people immediately started intercepting human communications in the area and pieced together a picture of what had happened.  It seemed some humans had been busily murdering others of their kind.  Sacrificing them ritually.  That behaviour linked to an artefact was really worrying Carak’s superiors, that was clear from the briefing details, though she had no idea why.

A small human military unit had been sent to investigate the area.  From the comms chatter they’d been attacked and nearly been turned into sacrifice victims themselves, but they had won out in the end.  Then they must have moved the artefact, because its shielding had disappeared.  That was the moment Carak’s people pinpointed it.

Carak’s people had detected its exact location then, but so had the Garags.  By chance the brutish race already had a significant force in the area.  One which was closing in on the artefact’s location even as she flew towards it.  And unlike the humans they knew the value of the artefact.  Possibly even how to make use of it.

Her orders were twofold.  Firstly, to try and retrieve the artefact, killing the humans if necessary.  But secondly, and most importantly, ensuring the Garags didn’t take it.  Better that it stayed in human hands for the moment than that the Garags retrieved it.

She was the only one on the mission.  No one else was being sent so she would have no backup.  That didn’t worry her, she’d operated that way many times, but it was something to consider.  It suggested staying hidden in the shadows continued to be the best strategy.

As for the artefact itself… she only knew it would be small, easy to carry, and that it wasn’t the only one.  The briefing mentioned artefacts on the world several times.  Artefacts plural.  Though not how many.

She hoped she could arrive in the area before the Garags, deal with the humans and take the artefact.

Despite just having gone out of her way to save a human family, killing these humans wouldn’t concern her.  These were military and they were in a combat theatre, even if they might not be fully aware that war had broken out on their planet yet.  That made them valid targets.

She just hoped the Garags were far enough away that getting in, grabbing the artefact, and getting out again would be an option.

* * *

As the interceptor came in to land the sun had already set and the light was beginning to fade.  That didn’t worry Carak.  What did was the significant number of life signs converging on the small settlement where the Artefact was located.

“Life signs read as Garag,” said the pilot.

They were the first words he’d said since the greeting when she’d climbed aboard.  She didn’t bother to reply.  She’d already seen that, and that the four humans in the area had started to move from the centre of the settlement.

The speed the Garags had shown in getting to the location reduced the chances of her retrieving the artefact from the humans and disappearing without a trace.  She estimated the chances of remaining undetected, by anyone who lived long enough to report the fact, to be around fifty percent if she tried.  Completely unacceptable odds.

“Where can you put me down?” she asked.

“I can get close to the settlement, but only in this area.”

He outlined a section on the far side of the settlement from the route the humans were taking.

“Damn.  That won’t work.”

If the Garags had been a little further away she might have asked to be put down in the forest ahead of the humans instead, giving her a chance to kill them and retrieve the artefact, but she wasn’t certain the humans were even going to make it to the forest before being attacked.

“Don’t bother landing, do a fast drop.  I don’t have time to waste.”

She saw the pilot tense for a moment, then he acknowledged the order.  She wondered if he’d ever had to do this manoeuvre in a real combat situation before, or only had simulator experience.

She’d only done it once before for real, but she couldn’t waste the time waiting for him to get into position to hover and let her out.  Every second counted now.

The interceptor plunged towards the ground while still hurtling forwards.  Carak prepared to deactivate her straps and opened the cover above her.  The only thing keeping her from the screaming winds outside now was a force field just above her head.

The ground was rushing up towards them faster and faster, a nearly unbroken expanse of trees looking grey and forbidding in the fading twilight.

The interceptor rolled upside down and its engines fired heavily to slow its speed and its plummet toward the ground.  The engines were under such strain that they became audible, if barely so.

The interceptor slowed to around sixty klicks and levelled out ten metres above the ground.  This was as slow as it could risk for this manoeuvre, any slower and it would crash to the ground before it could recover.

Carak deactivated the force field and released her harness in unison.  She dropped from the interceptor while still travelling as fast as it was, swinging her body to get her legs under her.

This was the most difficult part of the manoeuvre, for her and the pilot.  He needed to balance the need to roll the interceptor, fire up its engines, and not kill her in the process.  She had a simpler task… she just had to hit the ground without breaking anything.  Just!

There was a knack to it, which was why she had practised the move so many times in the past.  But doing it for real while heading into enemy occupied territory felt totally different to those practice runs.

She felt a light gust as the interceptor flipped itself back over and climbed away.  That was the first danger out of the way.  Moments later she reached the ground, still travelling at close to fifty klicks.

Without her suit’s advanced technology she’d have broken both her legs and would have smashed her face into the ground fast enough to kill her.  Even with the technology she knew if she hit an unstable patch of ground or got a foot tangled in vegetation that could still happen.

Her first foothold was solid, and she was able to shove hard using the power of her suit.  She shot back up into the air, still travelling at close to forty clicks.

She covered another ten metres before her other foot touched down.  She was moving even slower, wind resistance reducing her speed, so even though the ground this time was slightly soft she was able to shove off cleanly.

The next time she hit the ground she was moving slower again, at a speed she could reach in the suit from a standing start.  Then she was among the buildings, sprinting for her target.

With the active camouflage working all an observer would have seen was a few puffs of dirt too far apart to possibly be connected, and they might have heard slight thuds.  But no one was close enough, so she passed unobserved.

She sprinted towards what was by far the tallest building in the settlement.  She leapt, catching hold of a three-metre high gantry on the side.  She scrambled up the metal stairs to the top of the building and threw herself down, taking in the situation.

By now the humans were halfway to the edge of the settlement and the Garags were almost in position to strike.  She wasn’t going to be able to get the artefact from the humans, so now she had to focus on helping the humans rather than killing them.  At all costs she had to keep the artefact from the Garags.  If she could.

* * *

The Garag opened fire.  One of the humans was hit but not killed and all four returned fire.  Clearly they had no idea of the numbers they would soon face.  Most probably not even who the enemy was.

With her enhanced sight Carak could already see at least two dozen Garags, and she knew many more were closing in.  Amongst them were brutes, hulking creatures bred to show little initiative or intelligence.  Easily outwitted, but exceedingly dangerous when that wasn’t possible.

She began firing, ignoring the brutes for the moment.  Their fire would be nowhere near accurate at their current distance from the humans.  Instead, she focused on the normal Garags.  She quickly eliminated the four who were firing from the best vantage points, and two more who had been slinking towards similar places.

Another Garag fell, this one to the human fire.  Carak was impressed.  The darkness was deepening to the point the humans would struggle to see very far at all.

What would the humans do now?  If they tried to push on into the forest they would move beyond the area she could help protect.  She would follow, but moving at ground level amongst the trees it would be much harder to keep the Garags away from the humans.  Especially as her orders were still to avoid being detected by either side.

To her relief three of the humans started moving toward a nearby house while the last laid down fire.  Not an ideal result, but it did keep them within the area she could protect.

Somehow, between her efforts and those of the final human, the three made it into the house without being hit by any further fire.  Probably as much down to the Garags also having trouble seeing in the fading light as anything else.  The three settled within the house then lay down fire themselves as the last human rushed to new cover.

Specialised systems within her suit had been working hard to decrypt the human comm chatter, and now they succeeded.  Carak listened intently, picking out two of their call-signs and matching them to the individuals.

The one outside who was sprinting for new cover was called Scrub.  Another, the one in charge it seemed, was called Sarge.  She hadn’t heard the call signs for the other two so far.

She scanned the area around the house again.  Her heart froze as she saw a Garag lifting a large projectile launcher.  Knowing the Garag the payload would be something explosive and dangerous, capable of inflicting heavy damage on the house.

Even if it didn’t flatten the building it would kick up a lot of smoke and dirt, and likely start fires.  Enough to disrupt her view to the point she couldn’t protect the artefact even with her enhanced sight.

The Garag was partially hidden from her by the trunk of a large tree, a true giant at least a metre across.  Even her weaponry would be unlikely to pierce that cleanly, and even if it did a careful observer would be able to tell that more than just human and Garag weaponry had been used in this fight.  She couldn’t allow that.

She slid to the left, far enough that half her body was hanging suspended over the twenty metre drop to the ground below, her weapon now held in one hand while the other hung onto the edge of the building.

It still wasn’t enough for her to get a certain kill, so she did the next best thing.  Just as the Garag was preparing to unleash its devastating weaponry she fired and struck its upper arm, then shifted her aim slightly and shot its forearm.  With its arm mangled it couldn’t hold onto the dangerous weapon, which fell to the ground without being fired.

The Garag, one arm hanging uselessly at its side, stepped forward and reached down with its good arm to pick the weapon up again.  And by doing so stepped fully into Carak’s view.  Her third shot took the creature through its skull, a certain kill.  The fourth pierced the barrel of the launcher, rendering it useless if any other Garags spotted it.

She returned her attention to the house where the humans were sheltering.  Many more Garag were closing in on it now.  Carak took a moment to settle her mind, slipping into the meditative concentration which served her best in intense combat situations, and she started to fire again.

She took down three Garag in quick succession.  Then another two.  After a slight delay a sixth followed.

If the Garag had stopped to think about it they would have wondered how so few humans could be inflicting so many casualties.  Fortunately, even the normal Garags weren’t generally known for their strategic thinking when face-to-face with the enemy.

Only a few Garag individuals could completely shut off the feelings of blood and fire and focus on the larger picture.  Rare and dangerous individuals who could turn the tide of a battle in their favour.  Like the officer she’d assassinated on her last mission.

Carak picked up a few more details from the human comms, then the words disappeared into static.  She suspected the Garags had activated a jammer.  A powerful one to interfere with her ability to detect signals at such close range.  She checked her connection back to her own people and was relieved to see it wasn’t affected.  Still, the powerful jammer was still a worrying turn of events.  What other nasty surprises did the Garag have?

Movement at the house where the humans were sheltering caught Carak’s attention.  One of them had slipped out and was moving back into the settlement.  The one in charge.  Sarge.

The human who’d remained outside, Scrub, was alternating movement with his leader, one covering while the other moved and then switching.  It seemed they were heading towards the centre of the settlement.

That made sense.  With their comms jammed and under heavy assault they’d want to call for help.  If there was any equipment within the settlement powerful enough to pierce the jamming then making a move for it was the logical choice, and such equipment would almost certainly be in the central building.  Not the building she lay on top of, that was clearly used for storage, but the nearby building which was significantly larger than any of the others.

Something else caught Carak’s attention.  Her suit had been continuously monitoring the location of the artefact, pinpointing it within the house where the humans had been sheltering.  But now it was moving, and moving toward her.  The human called Sarge had it… and now she was out in the open with more and more Garags closing in!

* * *

Carak considered the situation.  On the plus side, the humans were moving the artefact away from the Garag and towards her own position.  On the downside the artefact was drawing the brutal aliens towards it.  The humans might well succumb before they reached the building.

Not if she had anything to do with it.  She continued to target the Garag closest to the humans, those who held the greatest threat.  She saved the humans from threats they were completely unaware of several times.

The humans continued leapfrogging their way closer to the centre of the settlement, and so to her position.  It was close to fully dark now, but her gun was designed to give no hint of her presence away.  There was no muzzle flash, no burst of light, no radiation in any visible or non-visible part of the spectrum.

To the Garag it would just seem the humans were being particularly accurate, and the humans were completely unaware of the large toll she was taking on their pursuers… or even that there were so many Garag out there.

As the humans moved further into the settlement she started to have more problems targeting the approaching Garag.  They had far more cover, weaving their way through buildings and vehicles.  It wasn’t intentional on their part, but they were making her task much more difficult.

As the humans drew close to the centre of the small settlement the problem became worse.  When they had nearly reached the building they were heading for things came to a head.  Carak was aware of three Garag brutes closing on the two troopers, but she couldn’t get an angle on any of them.

The humans would be crossing to the final building and running straight into the path of the Garags before she had any chance to deal with them.  She couldn’t allow that.  There was too much risk of the artefact being taken if that happened.

She paused for a fraction of a second, watching as the human leader started her run for the building, then aimed carefully and fired.

She’d targeted the human’s chest but tried not to hit anything vital.  The complete opposite of her normal approach.  The human, Sarge, stumbled and half fell, then forced herself upright and changed direction, stumbling towards a nearby drainage ditch.

The three Garag brutes broke cover, racing toward her… and because the human had been slowed down they ran straight into Carak’s field of fire.  She had more than enough time to drop all three before any of them could reach their target.

Carak watched as the human leader dropped into the ditch and so out of sight.  Moments later the other human raced to the same area.  Carak carried on firing, taking down Garags at a distance where she could and close to the ditch where that was the only choice.

She was aware of more Garag rushing the house on the outskirts where the other two humans sheltered, and when time allowed she thinned the numbers there.  Not for the humans’ sake, but to keep the Garags attention split between the two locations.

The human male, Scrub, disappeared into the same ditch as his leader.  Carak expected him to appear again soon after.  She kept on killing Garag as they came into her field of fire.  She’d already killed dozens, maybe even a hundred, yet still they came.

She was just thankful they had rushed in piecemeal instead of waiting for all their forces to arrive before overwhelming the humans.  If they’d done that even her intervention wouldn’t have prevented them easily claiming the artefact.  Another reason to be thankful for their lack of tactical finesse.

She’d expected the human male to reappear quickly, either carrying the artefact or making a run to the main building so he could notify his superiors of the attack.  But nothing happened.  Nothing other than more Garag approaching and falling to Carak’s weapon.

The Garag seemed to have lost track of exactly where the two humans had gone to, but they clearly knew the rough area the artefact was in.  That was confirmed by the fact far fewer Garag were attacking the humans holed up at the edge of the settlement now, despite the fact only sporadic fire was being returned.

Carak waited, patient as always.  Options ran through her mind, but none offered any advantage over doing what she already was.  Most would require moving to a new location, and that would allow Garags to congregate in the area near the humans.

Even she wouldn’t be able to defeat too many of them, especially at closer quarters.  And her orders were to avoid detection.  So she waited… and waited some more.

* * *

Finally her patience paid off.  Scrub reappeared, carrying an extra rifle now, and her suit’s sensors showed he had the artefact.

He sprinted for the doors of the main building, Garag fire splattering around him despite Carak’s best efforts to kill those who threatened him.  He made it inside, but before he could get the doors secured a mighty blast struck nearby, warping the doors in their frame.  There was no chance of them closing properly now.

There was a slight lull.  Carak picked off two Garags at longer range, but no more rushed the building.  Her suit tracked the location of the artefact as it rose inside the building, onto the upper level.

The artefact, and so the human, stopped moving.  A few seconds later her suit detected a powerful signal emanating from the building.  It was human tech and with more than enough power to punch through the jamming the Garags had setup.

Carak was unable to crack the encryption on this signal, but it was a certainty that the human was calling for reinforcements.  Not ideal, it would make it harder if not impossible for her to retrieve the artefact, but far better than seeing the Garag overwhelm the position and take the prize.

Half a dozen Garag brutes chose that moment to sprint for the building.  Carak fired and fired again, calmly picking each target, never rushing but always fast.  Centuries of training and experience preventing any mistakes.

She managed to drop five of them, but the sixth smashed into the doors and charged inside even as she was killing the fifth.  That spelt the end for the human.  In the close quarters of the building the Garag brute would be unstoppable.

She didn’t let herself feel frustrated.  The brute still had to get out of the building with the artefact.  When it did she would continue to rain down death… though she knew enough Garag would be arriving that one or two might manage to run her gauntlet and escape with what they sought.

All she could do was what she could do.  No better plan presented itself, and it was still possible she could exhaust the Garag numbers and even reclaim the artefact herself before the human reinforcements arrived.  If not, it certainly wouldn’t be down to any lack of effort on her part.

* * *

Carak’s enhanced hearing heard a yell from the human inside the building and a roar from the brute, followed by the thunder of two human rifles being fired at once.  There was more roaring from the brute… and then silence.  Carak knew the silence signalled the end of the human.

She half expected the brute to come charging out of the building straight away, but nothing happened.  Time ticked on, and still nothing seemed to be happening within the building.

It seemed the brute was showing more restraint than most of its kind.  Or maybe more stupidity.  She could imagine it simply standing there, with no idea what to do now its initial orders were complete.

Another group of Garag brutes made a run for the building, clustered closely together this time.  She managed to drop four of them as they ran, and the fifth at the doors to the building, but once again the sixth proved to be one too many and it escaped into the building.

There was a short pause during which she shot two more brutes and several of the smaller grunts.  Then she was shocked to hear more weapons fire from within the building.  Human rifles.  Somehow the human must not only have survived being attacked by the first brute, but also to have killed it.

This time was different.  There was also the sound of the brute’s weapon firing.  The firing from both human and Garag weaponry went on for several seconds which made no sense.  There was no way the human could possibly stand up to that level of fire, and the walls and furniture in the building would offer no cover.  At short range a brute’s weaponry could even pierce her advanced armour.  It should all have been over in moments… and yet it wasn’t.

Something was hit.  The powerful signal emanating from the building abruptly cut off.  Moments later the firing ceased as well.  There was a pause, then her suit showed the artefact was moving again, on its way downstairs.

This time the human had been killed.  He must have been.  Mustn’t he?  She found herself doubting that logical conclusion.

Another group of Garag brutes and grunts made a run for the doors.  Only four brutes this time but three grunts who were significantly faster.  Carak had to focus on the grunts first, but that meant two brutes made it to the doors.

She calmly swung her rifle and shot as one brute shoved through the doors.  It crashed to the ground, legs twitching, but the other brute made it inside and out of her reach.

She checked the location of the artefact.  It was on the ground floor now, but near the back of the building.  Was there an exit there?  If there was she couldn’t see it from where she was… or cover the area if the human made a run for it.

And, despite all logic, she was still convinced it was the human who held the artefact.  For the moment at least.

She heard the brute roar and guessed it was pushing further into the building.  The artefact still registered as being inside somewhere… and then suddenly the signal from it vanished.

Had the human somehow destroyed the artefact?  No.  That was impossible! From what she’d been told even her race would struggle to manage such a feat, not that they would have any desire to destroy something so powerful.  What had happened?  Where was the artefact?  And where was the human?

She heard the Garag crashing through the building even as she fired on a larger group of grunts making a run for the building.  It seemed they had realised something was taking them down, even if they didn’t know what, and they were massing for their runs now.  She took down seven, but several more made it inside.

There was still no signal from the artefact.  Carak kept targeting Garags as they approached the area but there weren’t many more.  She saw others, further out, but those had stopped where they were and were milling around uncertainly.

Three of the Garag grunts re-appeared from the main building several minutes later.  They were clearly arguing, and her suit’s sensors told her none of them were in possession of the artefact.

For a moment she considered the possibility they had found some way to shield the artefact, but the way they were acting made it clear that wasn’t the case.  They’d thought they had the artefact… then it had slipped through their fingers.  And they weren’t happy about it.

She stiffened as command relayed a message to the implants in her ear.  Significant human force approaching.  ETA thirteen minutes.

The Garag must have received similar information soon after she did.  They stopped milling around, and while some continued to search the area and the building most set to retrieving the majority of the Garag corpses.

They left a few, which suggested they knew they couldn’t hide the fact they’d been there but wanted to hide just how large their force had been.

It would work.  The humans fighting for their lives had only been aware of a small fraction of the force they’d faced, mostly due to her efforts.

Within eight minutes all the surviving Garag were making their way out of the area.  Two minutes later they were gone.  They could move quickly when they wanted to.  By the time human forces came sweeping into the area the Garag would be far too far away to be found.

Or most would be – she suspected they’d leave a small force behind them.  One leaving the area more slowly.  One left there to be encountered by the humans.  A sacrificial group to help hide how interested the Garag had been in the area.

Carak had a decision to make.  If she moved now she could head to the main building and spend two or three minutes searching for the artefact before having to leave.  But that would risk exposing her to the human, Scrub, who she was now convinced had found somewhere to hide which shielded the artefact from her sensors.

Anything capable of hiding the artefact’s signal would most likely also block the human’s life signs, meaning he would be hidden from her… and could be watching without her even knowing.

Her camouflage was incredibly good, but it wasn’t perfect when moving within a building.  There was none of the randomness of the natural world, just sharp edges.  Even a slight blurring or twisting of those features drew the eye like a strobe light.

It wasn’t worth the risk.  Keeping her people’s presence on the planet a secret was more important than trying to take the artefact from human hands.  It seemed she wouldn’t be able to retrieve it.  Not just yet at least.

With that decision made it was time to move.  Her perch was an obvious point for humans to post their own snipers.  It was time to relocate… and consider her options.

* * *

Carak was securely nestled in the branches of a tall tree.  It wasn’t as good a vantage point as her last one atop the tallest building in the settlement, but it gave her good visibility to the doors of the main building where Scrub and the artefact had vanished.

The human reinforcements had arrived seven minutes ago.  As well as sweeping the area and noting the few remaining Garag corpses they were focusing on a small outbuilding built against the main building.  Carak didn’t know why.

The humans huddling closest around the outbuilding suddenly pulled back several steps.  A moment later there was a small explosion, followed by a shower of sparks… and the signal from the artefact leapt back to life.

Carak smiled.  Until that moment she’d had some concerns the Garag had somehow fooled her, that they’d managed to capture the artefact but keep it shielded and had slipped it out under her eyes.  Now she knew the humans still held it.  And that meant that, just possibly, she would have another chance to recover it.

There was more bustling action but nothing of note for several minutes.  She watched as the two humans who’d sheltered in the house on the edge of the settlement appeared, one limping, the other badly hurt.

Soon after that the human leader, Sarge, was carried out from the ditch she’d disappeared into.  Still alive but heavily wounded.  Still, Carak was pleased to see she’d succeeded in delivering an injury which hadn’t proven to be fatal.

Then Scrub appeared from the main building, bustling along with several other humans.  The signal from the artefact was still coming from him.  Carak drew a bead on him, but stayed her hand.  Shooting him would gain her nothing for the moment.  She needed to pick her time carefully.  It was a shame the humans would have to die after their heroic efforts, but her mission took priority.

Scrub headed to a flying vehicle which the rest of his squad had already been loaded aboard.  The humans who’d been with him moved away.  Carak weighed up her options and knew the moment was coming.

She sent a mental command to her rifle, telling it to switch from its normal powerful weaponry designed for individuals to a much more powerful burst.  One which could not just take down the flying vehicle but render an area out to the edge of the settlement unsurvivable for any human.

Overkill, perhaps, but it would be written off as mechanical failure or perhaps put down to the now-absent Garags.  The vehicle started to lift.  Carak shifted her focus, pausing on Scrub for a second.  For a brief moment she felt remorse at what was about to happen.  After everything he’d been through he deserved a break.

One she couldn’t give him.  She shifted her aim to the engine of the vehicle and waited for it to reach a height where it crashing back down could be mistaken as the cause of the damage she was about to inflict.

The vehicle lifted far enough.  She tensed, her finger squeezed… and then she eased off again with a slight smile.  It seemed it was Scrub’s lucky day after all.  She’d realised, only just in time, that the signal from the artefact was no longer coming from anywhere near him.

Only now did she realise Scrub hadn’t been carrying the device when he left the building.  He certainly hadn’t passed it to anyone else, she would have noticed that.  One of those who’d left the building with him must have had the artefact and she’d jumped to the conclusion it was still him.

Now the artefact’s signal was racing away from the settlement.  She caught two brief glimpses of a sleek but well armoured vehicle hugging the ground before it disappeared completely into the trees.

Moments later six human interceptors shot across the settlement heading in the same direction.  Just before they disappeared Carak saw them start to climb, the vehicle with the artefact aboard nestled within their protection.  Then they were all gone, hidden from even her sight by the darkness.  And with them went the artefact.

There was nothing more she could do now so she used her implant to report on all that had happened.  Her people could certainly intercept the vehicle carrying the artefact, and easily deal with its escorts, but she was certain the humans would be allowed to go.

They might write off destruction of one of their vehicles as an accident or being down to Garag forces in the area.  Taking down all the vehicles in that flight would make it clear someone with a level of technology far beyond that of the humans and the Garag was in the area.  That was something her people didn’t want known… not for now, at least.

Carak turned her attention to the much slower human vehicle carrying the wounded human squad to safety.  She made out the human called Scrub talking to his injured leader… then lurching to the side and voiding the contents of his stomach out of the open hatch.

It was a strange reaction, one she had seen from humans before, but it did nothing to diminish her respect for Scrub.  He might only be a human, but he’d survived facing two different Garag brutes at point blank range.  More than survived, he must have killed them both.  And then he’d kept a cool enough head to find somewhere to hide from the rest of the Garags when they breached the building.

And he hadn’t headed for that safety first.  He’d risked his life to notify his superiors of the danger, and so given the rest of his squad the chance to survive, before seeking shelter.  He’d put their lives over his own.  That was something she could respect.

Human lives were incredibly fleeting compared to her own.  They could be born and gone again in what felt like an eye-blink to her.  But now she saw them in a different light.  She saw that some of them, probably very few, burned incredibly brightly during their brief lives.  Scrub was one of those.

But he was gone now, and she still had a job to do.  She was safe from detection where she was so she would stay put until the humans left the area or were no longer on such high alert.  It might take long hours, but patience was something she possessed at a level beyond any human’s comprehension.  Even if it took days that was no problem.

She remained where she was, taking note of everything the humans were doing and waiting for the time she could slip away and once more arrange for an extraction.

Extraction… but not rest.  Not for long.  With several artefacts needing to be retrieved and at least one in human hands she had no doubt her skills would soon be needed again.

She glanced in the direction Scrub had disappeared once more and wondered if she would ever see him again.  She hoped not.  She quite liked him.  It would be a real shame to have to kill him.

The end.

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