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Chapter 74

The first of the Lear fell when the timer read twenty-nine minutes. The second fell fifteen seconds later. And the third was down before the second had stopped screaming.

At the onset, the Lear line was taut like a drum, vibrating in and out from the center with each wave, bowing and flexing in more violent motions as the Agrarians gained momentum. It weathered fists and fingernails, bites and kicks, fending away strikes either through electric shocks or by warding the attacker away far enough away that the current of their own people swept them down the hallway towards Nectian territory. Some of the Agrarians waved the stun guns that Praeter had given them in exchange for Airomem, the batteries already worn down to render them useless, a faint crackle of electricity jumping between the prongs at random intervals.

But the first Agrarian with a knife had concealed it well, letting the metal rest under his forearm as he approached, angling it downwards to keep blue light from shining in a telltale signal off its surface. He drifted forward slower than the others, a smile forming across his face as he reached the front lines, his tongue lapping across his lips in anticipation. Pressing backwards, he resisted movement forwards, almost shuffling through space as he arrived at the very center of the Lear line, and waited for the strike to come.

It didn’t take long.

With a hoarse shout, the soldier directly in front of him lashed forward, swinging his stun gun in an arc intended to incapacitate multiple Agrarians, his movement lethargic after tiring from holding the door and the start of the fight. Every few minutes, Airomem and Praeter switched out the soldiers fighting to keep the line fresh, themselves stepping forward to take the second shift, and this soldier was only moments away from a transition and ready to be replaced. The Agrarian waited as the stun gun struck the neighbor to his right, then continued towards him, the arc only slightly interrupted by the strike. And with a shrieking laugh, the Agrarian raised the knife and struck.

The soldier stared open mouthed as the edge of the blade embedded itself into his forearm, the blood rushing outwards and spurting onto his shirt in direct contrast to his blonde hair, the surprise turning to horror when a dozen Agrarian hands gripped his still extended arm and wrenched him into the crowd, churning him backwards through their ranks, each layer leaving their own injury upon him. Another Lear soldier fought to fill the open position left behind but was too late, the Agrarians pressing forward into the gap before he had the chance to clog it, splitting the Lear line into two down the center.

Then the Lear soldiers to the right and left of the gap, a man and a woman whose motions were becoming increasingly frantic after seeing their counterpart dragged away, were sucked into the Agrarian vacuum, shrieking as fingernails ripped away any part of them not covered by clothing.

“Fill in, fill in!” shouted Airomem, selecting three of the Lear from behind and pushing them forward, using the porters’ strength to restore the line to functionality. For a moment, the Lear line held, until the next Agrarian with a knife struck, taking out two soldiers on the right hand side. This gap repaired itself far quicker, with soldiers ready to jump into position, but their grim expressions told that they knew their coming fate.

“We are rolling dice!” hissed Airomem to Praeter and Prometh, who were bent over the timer with me, searching for any way to accelerate its motion and to close the doors. “Should we lose multiple parts of the line at once, we cannot hold. If we are overrun, this battle is lost.”

“Then we will have to hold,” said Praeter, steeling his jaw. “But at this rate, it is going to come close. We cannot hold forever.”

“And I don’t think we can close the doors early,” I said, pointing at the timer. Praeter and Prometh had explained its usage to me, saying that they had several like it in their power room, the red numbers flickering back towards zero to indicate time remaining until an event. And if I had the time, I would have admired it for a thing of beauty – it was set into the metal of the wall, a picture of the approaching planet surrounding it, wisps of gold ink depicting two outstretched hands extending away from the orb. More to myself than anyone else, I read the text aloud.

“May all be welcome, and none cast away – our doors are open to all for the journey ahead!”

“Damn,” remarked Airomem, shaking her head, “if only the creators knew. There is no way to force it, then?”

“None that I can see,” said Prometh as he squinted at the timer. “Unless we try taking it apart. But with the amount of modifications made in repairing this part of the ship after the asteroid, and the systems Necti overrode long ago, I would be hesitant to try.”

“Then what do we do?” she demanded. “Wait while our own men die?”

“We stand, and we fight,” answered Praeter. “To the last man and woman. Horatius and Prometh, think hard. Every minute fought is more lives lost, more of a chance that all the lives will be lost.”

I nodded with Praeter, casting my eyes around the inside of the vessel. The citizens not trained to fight were huddled at the far end, a few of the remaining stun guns interspersed for light among them, their eyes darting back towards the opening with every new scream. Elliott and Hannah wove through them, stifling any signs of panic before it could take root, ensuring the group stayed well out of the way of battle. But other than the people and the chairs, there was little else of utility in the room.

In cupboards around the perimeter, there was water along with small packaged clumps of sticky material, marked “RATIONS” on the side. Neither of them had enough weight to be used as a useful projectile or other properties that could be put to use. The chairs themselves were fastened firmly into the ground, no parts removable, except for straps that could be cut away. And besides the timer, and the picture of the uniformed man at the front, the walls were barren and devoid of potential weapons.

“Airomem, Praeter!” came a desperate shout from the front lines, interrupting my line of thought as I scanned the room. “We need you immediately! Hurry!”

 

*** 

Chapter 75

Don’t forget to vote for  The Bridge!  It takes 2 clicks and really helps!

I’ll be providing the entire story here for free for a limited time.  In return, I ask that you tell a friend about Chapter 1!  The only way others find out about my work is through word of mouth.