At the eastern docks, Straker and the hundred man detachment she had pulled from base, found themselves surrounded by a band of Bright Horizon constituents, at least double in number, and armed with whatever had been near to hand during their revolt. The waylayers’ affiliation was clear from their distinctive scarlet uniforms; from this, Straker surmised a recent, unplanned defection. A untrained detachment of ill-equipped attaches would normally have proven of little consequence to the vanguard of the KSRU, had their armaments not been depleted in the day’s preceding broil. The dire hosts twined amidst shipping containers as the smoke and flame surrounding; white and red; then yet redder still. The ground went thick with fish and ice and the blood of men and women and the air was choked with the screams of the injured and dying. If the matter proceeded without interruption, Vera was certain they would be overwhelmed. Neither Vancing nor the second detachment she had called up from headquarters, would arrive in time. Such thoughts coiled like venomous snakes as Straker retreated from the press of her red-clad foes and found her back to a massive, weather-worn cargo crate, which disclosed the possibility of rearward assault. The wroth contestations to either side of the woman prevented further egress. Thus positioned, her bodyguards fended off a disorderly wave of Bureau partisans.
After the first break in the onslaught, Vera looked some yards to the left, where Sirin, bereft of munitions, vainly struck out with her dead cutter at three wild eyed federants. Savagely, the men bore her down, one lashing out with a battered ice hook, the metallic beak finding little purchase against the woman’s stolid armor. The set-upon woman would have been slain the next instant, but her comrades rallied and overtook the assailants.
To the right of the crate, Raimer drove his sychitin blade into the gut of a howling federant and thereafter fell to his knees with grit teeth, clutching at a horrid gash to his thigh that painted his knee with his own colors.
A hideous cry and the sound of scraping metal broke over the field of carnage, sounding from within an off-white shipping container set far before Vera’s own. A body flew from the house-sized cargo-vessel and skidded to a stop mere paces from the Director’s plated boots.
Corporal Raffin. Dead. The face guard of his helm grotesquely fractured by some inhuman force.
Something large moved within the eggshell-colored shipping container.
“Heavy Frame. They have a Heavy Frame!” Vera shouted into her headset to any who could hear as the aforementioned assembly unit emerged from the shipping container with a sheering of steel. The machine stood nine feet tall and moved on two reticulated legs that shook the earth with every step and its four aluminiferous arms pealed like the pincers of a gigantic crab. The unconcealed device came bounding over the bloodstained field, seized a fleeing KSRU recruit and squeezed the man with force enough to collapse his breastplate. Within seconds, the soldier’s ribcage was utterly crushed and blood spooled from beneath his helm.
The revelation’s immediate effect was demoralization. KSRU troops scattered from the engine of death; all tactical formations abandoned. The federants rallied, sensing victory close at hand.
Sirin’s voice sounded in Straker’s headset. “Director, there’s a keel panel suspended above the Heavy Frame.”
Straker cast her eyes up and spied a multi-ton length of bilge keel side-plating hanging from one of the now-lifeless automated cranes arrayed about the dock yard. The crane tower from which the uninstalled component hung rose directly beside the shipping crate Vera had taken shelter behind.
“So I see. I’ll make for it. Raimer, have your division form a cordon and give me a hand.”
“Sirin, Whalen, Kopf, Grieg, Sarker, distract the target.”
“Understood,” the five entrusted corporals replied in unison and dashed into the fray.
Immediately, the Captain’s men formed a barricade around Vera’s shipping crate, shielding the Director from the bloody vicissitudes of the skirmish.
“I’m the better climber, I can go.” Raimer declared breathlessly as he limped up to the director and surveyed the looming construction crane.
She looked at the wound on her subordinate’s thigh and shook her head. “Not with that wound. Besides, I’m lighter. We need to get on top of the crate to climb the crane, bottom’s too sheer. The ladder auto-retracts to keep vandals off. Lift me up, if your leg is good enough.”
“Its good enough,” he responded briskly. With that, he hefted the slender woman to the top of the shipping crate, for among all the KSRU, none save Syzr exceeded Raimer in strength. Without delay, Vera dashed across the metal surface of the cargo container toward the retracted ladder of the crane. She judged that with a sprinting jump, she could just close the distance. Before she could leap from the edge of the container, a horrible pain gripped her and dropped her to a knee. She looked down and discovered a harpoon protruding from her leg. As she cast her gaze over her shoulder to spy the shooter, the bolt was retracted and carried her back across the full ambit of the container roof and from there to the ground. As she lay winded and wracked with pain, she could now discern the harpoon operator, a reedy federant with the look of an office gopher who had erected the makeshift weapon on the adjacent container from which the rampaging Heavy Frame had been released. The harpoonist gave a cry of adulation, but his satisfaction, as that of his fellows, quickly subsided as a glinting form cleaved through the air.
A cloud-racer. Flying machines that were the exclusive domain of the city’s sky-technicians.
A familiar voice joined the open channel in Vera’s helm. “Sirin, get everyone clear of the Heavy Frame.”
“Copy, Major.” Sirin replied with an unconcealed tinge of delight.
“Ryard!” Vera exclaimed with shock.
“Good to hear your voice, Director.”
Ryard steered the racer directly at the great chain which ran from the crane-tower arm and clipped it with one of the vehicle’s wings, severing the suspension and dropping the keel siding down upon the Heavy Frame as Sirin and her confederates dove for cover. There resounded an uproarious clatter and where once the multi-armed machine had reeled there was nothing but one third of the hind of a container ship, a faint cloud of particulates and a single motionless mechanical limb that had been severed by the dreadful impact.
Before the easterly partisans could absorb the upset, a hail of cutter fire sent them into retreat. The survivors fled toward an abandoned processing plant north of the shipping yard. In the midst of the egress, Vera turned to the direction of the fire and beheld an encroaching band of Sonderon’s aecerites in matching gray and black.