The wooly mammoth charged out the
back of the carrier jet, and into the open air, trumpeting
hadn't flown in a long time. We had found it in the stables in Nordland
brought it home with us, and there it had stayed, until today.
Apparently it wasn't the only gift
we'd pulled out of Nordland. We'd gotten a set of shiny new weapons
newly-outfitted mammoth, and someone had prepared an executive summery
knew the rudiments of what was going on in them.
turned out that one of Edridge's major
occupations... aside from going on secret missions that were related to
op... was directing the research team that studied how Kringle had made
fly. Actually, I got the impression, from the way he talked to the
people on his
team, that he had only recently been promoted. But one thing you could
favor of guys like Edridge was that they tended to take control of
situations very rapidly. To the extent that I could tell, he seemed to
a competent job.
A long time ago, I recalled Dorhaise
proposing it was a modification of the animal's nervous system to allow
lifting capacity. Apparently, he had been half right. The elephant's
pathways were laced from top to bottom with a material that had been
unknown to science.
We didn't know what it was or how it
was produced, but Nordland had been filled with the stuff, and tools
cutting and shaping it had evidently been left behind. It was
super-dense, and superconducted
at room temperature. But what was really odd was that it could also
a ridiculously strong permanent magnetic charge in a very tiny area.
been physicists reporting back even while we were there, saying that
couldn't match it to any known subatomic model. The fact that I'd seen
penny-sized chunk supporting what was supposedly a 100 Kg cube of iron
more of an impression on me.
Speaking of which...
I shifted position, slightly. The
new gun on my back was heavy. The engineers who had made it had really
the weight to the limit. I literally could not imagine carrying a
into battle. But after ten minutes with it on the range, even I
its utility in this mission.
Locht was at the controls. Uncle Sam
had modified the pilot's gondola considerably to accommodate the full
we dropped through the EMP shield, a red alarm on the control board
Locht looked at it.
"Anti-air has been deployed.
Ground-to-air missiles. I think they know that this elephant isn't
He pulled the mammoth into a fast
dive towards the island. The G-forces pressed me backwards. I watched
tiny streaks of fire passed by the windshield upwards, and realized
that we had
just barely dodged in front of the missiles.
There was a series of pops and two load
explosions that rattled the gondola.
A tiny green blip appeared on the
screen. Balkans, who was copiloting, alerted Locht's attention to it.
at it for a moment, then half turned to speak to me.
"Major Mesner, sir, I've found
the entrance to the base. The bad news is, it's locked tight."
"We knocked this thing into the
bottom floor of Kringle's house at well over terminal velocity a few
ago, Locht. Is there a problem?
Edridge held up a hand.
"Major Mesner, with respect,
yes there is. The armor on the mammoth is a good deal lighter now than
then. We changed the induction method controlling the neuron-mediated
I looked at him, goggle-eyed.
"Partially to increase
efficiency. The extra material was shaved experimentation and our new
Also, the technology regulating the shock mediation was well beyond our
The ground loomed larger in the
"We really need to make a
decision here, sir. I'm showing flak cannons heating up." said Locht,
"Thank you, Locht. Edridge,
you're talking around something, here."
Edridge's eyes flickered downwards
"To be blunt, sir, we took it
apart and couldn't put it back together. We did, however, load bombs
an attempt to compensate."
I pointed at him.
"Next time, skip the bit about
efficiency and start with that sentence," I said. "Locht?"
"Way ahead of you, sir,",
said Locht, flipping a switch. Something grey and rounded fired into
distance and crashed into an otherwise innocuous-looking portion of
island in a
Behind us, the concussive thumps of flak
cannons began to rumble across the sky.
"Okay, this is going to be a
slightly tricky maneuver. Everyone hold on tightly to something."
And the mammoth flew, still trumpeting,
through the flaming breach in the Easter Bunny's base.
The mammoth landed with a colossal
thump, denting the metal of the bay inwards with its sheer weight. The
the Gondola rose on a rear hinge like a jet fighter's windshield, and
Balkans dropped a rope ladder which
we climbed down, in single file. The room was deceptively small.
only things that could land and take off here were helicopters and
I glanced back at the mammoth
bomber. The wooly mammoth was unhurt, but clearly not interested in
again. It laid down, heavily. And as I watched it, I realized I was
making a rookie mistake. There was no reason to expect that the Rabbit
have any aircraft that conventional, was there?
The most conspicuous thing was the
lack of resistance. My men noticed it too.
"They shot at us, so they knew
we were coming in here. Where are they?" said Hawkins.
"Good question." I
"Could it be an intentional
tactic, sir?" suggested Freals. "This room looks like it's of minimal
strategic importance, and we don't know the layout of their base. It
sense for them to arrange an ambush for us when we leave."
I considered this. "It's risky.
Puts them on the defensive. But it's also possible. Proceed with
caution. Graile, can you get us out this door?"
"If that control box on the
wall is linked to a computer, than yes." He said, pulling out his
mini-computer. This one was new. Due to some experiences on our last
he'd changed to a model that had EMP shielding all around its case.
infiltration specialist, dutifully sawed through the locks on the box
mini-saw, and stood back as Graile went to work.
We stacked up on either side of the
door. A half-second later, it slid open.
I expected a volley of fire, but
there was nothing. I poked a mirror experimentally around the corner
that there was no volley of fire because there was no one to fire it.
"Okay. We advance. Watch your
backs, we can't let ourselves get outflanked. We're going to try to
stay on the
peripheral of the base, at least until we can find a map of some kind
the degree of resistance we're going to encounter. Then we'll
"Good. Our watchwords here are
going to be stealth and efficiency." I gestured with my the huge, heavy
gun. It wasn't as easy as it looked.
"So be very, very quiet.
Rabbits are hunting us."
It wasn't too long until we found
out that the Rabbits were indeed setting up a trap. They had set it up
T-shaped hallway, allowing them... as I suspected they might try to...
Strictly speaking, they succeeded at
flanking us. What they failed to do was outflank
us. If you're having trouble
distinguishing the two, ask yourself, "have I been shot yet?". If the
answer is no, then you have outflanked your target. Otherwise, you've
the rabbits did, and walked out into the open in front of a heavily
who is expecting you.
Perhaps the word "heavily
armed" had never been more appropriate, but these guns were everything
shooting range had promised and more. You pointed at a target and it
into chunks before your eyes.
Why? Because the properties of the
material salvaged in Nordland had enabled the engineers to build a
railgun on a
scale never seen before. Their weight was almost entirely from a couple
centimeters of the stuff, distributed throughout their frame. The stuff
dense. Nearly everything else was shielding, because the magnetic field
pull metal from across the room without it.
it so a human could fire it, its
actual bullets were smaller than peas, but they had the same kinetic
unit area that a depleted-uranium tank-buster does. The bullets had so
energy, in fact, the air around them fluoresced with the sheer heat
"muzzle flare" was easily three feet long. And boy, did that ever
cause recoil. The thing was engineered strictly for very limited burst
Even with its enormous mass, the sheer speed of the bullets caused the
strongest counter-momentum of any gun I'd fired.
It all meant that the Rabbits got a
very nasty surprise, when the ambush finally happened. I didn't get a
at the first wave. They survived intact for a very tiny fraction of a
before being reduced to a fine red mist and the a mish-mash of assorted
ground across the floor.
The second wave fared a tiny bit
better. They had been immediately behind the first. They had seen their
comrades fall, but it had happened so fast that they were already
the hallway before it dawned on them that this was certain death. This
triggered the very beginnings of an attempt to get back out of the
therefore they arrived a little slower and lived slightly longer.
The Hanau Epe looked like every
Easter Bunny you've ever bitten the head off of, with some minor
which made their anatomy more similar to humans. The major difference
they were armed to the buck teeth. A quick glance told me they were
wide variety of guns, grenades, and knives. The rest of their attire
of extremely short cargo pants designed for their foreshortened legs,
military-style jackets, and berets. They didn't appear to wear boots of
kind. I wasn't surprised... they had such long feet that it wouldn't
All that was perfectly understandable,
until you got the colors. Apparently the Rabbit preferred his soldiers
in extremely bright pastel colors. Evidently, he'd had some real
choosing which ones, so the uniforms just used them all. The only
a rabbit would make for a difficult target would be by inducing
blindness in a
The guns, on the other hand, didn't
have any fashion sense, and coated the walls with another layer of
any compunction at all.
After a few complicated seconds, the
sound of firing settled. There were shadows at both ends of the hall,
were certainly still rabbits there, but they were apparently little
inclined to rush into the slaughter. My gun made a little whirring
sound as the
liquid-cooling coils jacketing the rails came online.
Edridge, "We can't get out, they can't get in. We'll likely get a small
breathing space here, sir, while we still have the advantage of
But I would not recommend sticking around."
I nodded, with a little relief. I
wasn't sure about Edridge, but his assessment of the situation matched
for the moment.
"Know any interesting facts
about rabbits that will help us break this stalemate, Captain?"
Edridge shook his head.
"I'm afraid not, Major. But I
can think of an obvious way that they might try to
break the stalemate,
from a purely tactical point of..."
And then the grenade flew out from around
the corner. For a brief, crystal clear moment, it seemed to hang in the
was shaped like a blue Easter egg, with little pink spots for the
For a moment, I thought we'd bought
it. I prepared to make a last ditch effort to jump on the grenade,
automatically. I was in the right place, I was aimed at the right
angle, and it
was my duty to keep my men safe. But in these close quarters, I didn't
it would change the outcome very much.
Except that Edridge, who was also
facing in the right direction, was pulling the trigger on his rail gun
very moment the thought of jumping crossed my mind. And I realized
as he had been talking, he had been raising it. The gun was lined up
eye now, and the grenade had barely left the hand of the rabbit
And now the gun jerked like an artillery cannon, and Edridge went
backwards, which is what happens if you fire a gun like that so far
center of mass. But I was already en route for the place where the
would have been.
There was an enormous, concussive explosion
at the far end of the hall. I just barely got my face covered in time.
worst of the shrapnel went into my arm and body armor.
I stood up to find myself remarkably intact. Before the echoes had
been saved, in part, by the fact that the grenade had had a small
that it could be safely used indoors. Primarily, though, we had been
whatever misgivings I had about his
personal mannerisms, saving my life was a great way to earn my trust. I
him a hand up, and winced a little as my muscle tensed against the tiny
of metal when he grabbed it. I looked him in the eye.
"Nice shot. My daughter very
nearly became an orphan there."
"I saw." he said, grunting
as he stood, "And if I had missed, that jump probably would have saved
Shall we call it even?"
I smirked, and turned to Thyger. Already
I could hear voices down the hall and the crackle of radios. We'd
dint of an excellent shot taken in the heat of the moment. But the
coming out of engagements alive is not pushing your luck.
"Thyger, we need to get out of
this hall right now. Can you make me an exit?"
"I've got a shaped charge with
that wall's name on it, sir. If I may speak freely, though, there are
that what's on the other side is a better option." he said, fishing in
jacket for one of the hundreds of little packets of wire and plastic
carried with him.
"We're dead if we stay here. If
we get on the other side of that wall, we might be
dead. I'll take my
He nodded, grimly. "Everyone
stand well back." he warned, as he stuck the explosive to the wall.
This blast was more contained
than the blast from the grenade. It still caused a Hell of a concussive
but the wall took the worst of it.
We didn't even wait to see what was
beyond. We ran through the smoking hole. A second later, two more
from the hallway behind us. Two grenades. One second later, and we'd
for certain. There was a tremendous crunching as the hallway, weakened
blowing a hole in the wall, caved in from the damage of the two
least we wouldn't be easy to follow.
But where were we now? I got to my
feet, and looked up at the high walls.
And that was when the question of
whether we were dead for going through the hole really came into play.
top of each other, in little transparent cubes as far as the eye could
were thousands and thousands of peeps.