What’s da plan? What’s da plaaan? Well, whaddaya think? It’s stooopid! Abbida thinks so, and honestly, I’m tempted to agree. But, see for yourself!
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Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 14, Part 2
“All right,” Abbida said. “Let’s hear your bad idea. I hope you’re not thinking about rushing the village head-on, are you? They’d just shoot us on sight and be done with it.”
“Naw,” Cole drawled, “nothing that obvious. I’m thinking we sneak in and beat them at their own game: set some things on fire, blow up their aircraft. Cause as much chaos and distraction as possible.”
“In our own home?!” Abbida jumped to her feet. “What if somebody gets hurt?”
“We’ll target the aircraft foremost. Our people won’t be anywhere near them.”
“What if they are?”
Cole clenched his jaw and pushed himself to stand. With his brow furrowed, his body rigid with determination, he seemed willing to confront anybody. For the first time, Abbida wondered how far he’d go. How far she was willing to go in fighting for their freedom. Risking her own life was one thing, but to sacrifice those of others? Of people she knew and cared about? A coldness spread from her very core that made her shiver.
Wrapping her arms around herself she said, “Even if it works and nobody gets hurt–then what? Blowing up one or two aircraft won’t change a thing. They’ll just send for more.”
“If you have a better plan, then out with it! Time’s pressing. If we’re going to save anyone we’ve got to move now, before they cart our neighbors away. Causing a heck of confusion may give us a chance to free enough of them to change the odds.”
In an unconscious habit of protecting his bad leg he leaned on his good side. Shoulders hunched in almost a fighting stance, he was towering over her.
“At the very least,” he said, “we should try and take a hostage of our own.”
And suddenly she knew what he had in mind. “You want the colonel! That’s insane!”
He didn’t even blink. Just stood there, waiting for her decision.
Flustered, she looked around. “How do we even… I mean, chances are, we’d get caught on the way. So, any of my concerns are probably pointless. But on the remote chance we do get in, and we do succeed in kidnapping the man–what are we going to do with him?”
He narrowed his eyes. There was a glint in them she’d never seen there before, and it was sending more chills down her spine. Witnessing this second invasion had changed him, somehow. Had it triggered buried memories? Of his own battle injury, the loss of his wife and child?
Her thoughts raced. She couldn’t let Cole down, and any wrong move might send him over the edge now. Tentatively, she reached out and touched his forearm only with the tips of her fingers. He seemed jumpy, but didn’t draw back. His skin felt cold and damp.
“You do realize we need him alive, don’t you?” she said, keeping any accusation from her voice. “If we’re going to use him in exchange for our neighbors’ freedom.”
The rims of his eyes had turned red, and a muscle twitched at his temple. For a while she thought he might argue with her. Then he nodded, once.
She squeezed his arm. “Good.”
In an attempt to alleviate the situation, she concentrated on more practical details, “First of all, we need to get in. You said there is a fence. How sturdy is it? Can we cut through it?”
She thought of Lian’s knife. It should be able to handle anything, shouldn’t it? Thankfully, some of Cole’s tension seemed to ease out. He patted Abbida’s hand and stepped away. Picking up a fallen twig he crouched and used it to draw some lines into the dirt.
“This is the fence,” he said. “But we can’t just walk up there. Ashok said they have devices that will spot any motion. If you get too close, they will trigger an alarm. Also, we have to move during the day because they can see our body heat when it gets cold at night.”
“They can see our body heat? How does that even work?”
“Beats me. But I’m not gonna try it out.”
“All right. Suppose, it’s true. You want to sneak up, in broad daylight, to probably heavily guarded aircraft, and torch them–with what?”
Cole wiped across the bridge of his nose and turned towards the hunting cabin. “We’ll have to improvise.”
Abbida squinched her eyes shut. This really was a bad plan. The worst ever.
She sighed. “Let’s say, we make it inside and against all odds manage to snatch the colonel. Who says, his people are even going to bargain with us? And even if they will–what’s to keep them from going after us later?”
“We’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
“If it comes.”
He shrugged, and for once she was lost for words. She’d run out of arguments. The whole plan was completely whack. But if she was honest with herself, they were desperate enough to try anything even if it cost their lives. Which was very probable.
Abbida groaned and rubbed her aching calves. “The hardest part will be having to walk again. Can’t we just hang out a bit more? Take a nap?”
Cole rolled his shoulders. He stretched his fingers and said, “Lie down.”
“That was a joke! We don’t have time for sleep.”
“You’re not supposed to sleep, you’re supposed to lie on the ground, so I can massage your legs.”
She hiccuped. Each single bone in her body ached, her sore skin not to mention. Nevertheless, the mere thought of his large, warm hands kneading her muscles made her blush with embarrassment.
He grinned. “Not too long ago you came on to me quite shamelessly. But now you’re scared stiff, aren’t you?”
“Wha–?” Crazy images jumped around her head like a box full of grasshoppers. She cast about for some witty riposte, but none came to mind.
In a more earnest tone he said, “Listen here, kiddo, just trust in my therapeutic skills. I do this all the time for our hunters after they’ve been chasing the wild over long distances.”
New embarrassment flooded her. This was entirely the wrong time for silly ideas. Cheeks burning, she lay flat on the grass.
“The pants gotta go,” he said.
There it was again, this rotten grin, plastered all over his face! No doubt, he was enjoying her awkwardness. Smirking, he watched her struggle out of her boots and pants. Pshaw! Let him! She’d just never look him in the eye ever again. Grumpy, she turned over to lie on her belly.
Cole knelt next to her and vigorously rubbed his hands to make them warm. “Alright, all jokes aside, I’m going to lay my hands on your right calf now and begin.”
Involuntarily, she tensed even more, but his hands were warm and dry and his grip was methodical and practiced. There was really nothing to it. And honestly, it felt fantastic. His gentle pressing and kneading relaxed her muscles and eased the pain. She almost wished he’d never stop, just keep going with her back, her arms, her neck… She let out a blissful grunt.
Sadly, that seemed to be his signal to stop. Rocking back on his heels he said, “What do you think? Can you make it back to the village now?”
With a heartfelt sigh, she fished for her pants and boots, and got dressed. “Suppose so.”
There’s a shiny, new fantasy for you, she thought. For all those long, cold nights to come, while listening to her sister’s snores.
If she ever got to hear those again.
Focused and outwardly composed, Li Xiao finished his preparations for take-off. His uncle, Zhao Meng Hui, had insisted on occupying the co-pilot’s seat, although he had no own flight experience to speak of. Fiddling with his safety harness, checking it again and again, he kept a sharp eye on Li Xiao, all the while giving out orders to his adjutant over his personal channel.
“… then find out what kind of device it is, captain! If it’s functional… I know that! Find me a tech crack, somebody who knows his way around this kind of technology! I don’t care if it takes dragging that cursed terrorist of the Dikang out of his cell. … Then use force! The safety of the homeland is in peril!”
Li Xiao made a face. ‘The safety of the homeland’ served as a reason for so many things, it was hardly enough to further motivate the adjutant. On the other hand, he couldn’t recall ever seeing his uncle this agitated. So maybe there really was something to it this time?
What he’d discerned so far from the one-sided scraps of conversation, was that Colonel Guo had found something in the rebels’ village. A device? Of unknown technology? What could that be? If it posed a problem even to their own engineers and technicians, it was probably archaic. Or–a surge of adrenaline made him tighten his grip on the control stick–or it contained illegal components.
His pulse rate raced up. Illegal technology could only mean two things: virtual systems or artificial intelligence. But how could Guo have found either one of those with the natives? That didn’t make any sense. By all inclinations they lived under extremely primitive conditions. Electronics were basically a foreign concept to them.
It couldn’t be from the homeland, either. This kind of deviant technology had been outlawed since the earliest days. More than two hundred years ago. Logically, that left one possible explanation–but that was unthinkable!
The colonel must be mistaken.
To distract his mind from jumping to conclusions, Li Xiao checked back with control for clearance to take-off. What was taking so long?
Still, in the back of his mind the thought persisted: what if it was true after all? What if this device really dated back to the time of the big exodus? They’d have had to keep it a secret through countless controls and round-ups. Which was hard to believe. But could he rule it out completely?
No matter how far-fetched, the idea stuck. He needed to get to the bottom of this. If this village really posed a threat as Guo and his uncle seemed to think, the Haodang Long needed to hear this. Before Guo or Zhao Meng Hui exploited the discovery to their own advantage.
Suddenly, he wondered if they were being delayed on purpose. Their clearance for take-off was long overdue! Oddly so, considering his passenger–the station commander himself.
Though, technically, Colonel Guo was subjected to the station commander, his influence on the armed men surpassed that of the desk worker Zhao Meng Hui. An organizational imbalance that might have slipped the patriarch’s attention from the distance.
Not for the first time, Li Xiao cursed the news embargo which made sending messages to the Haodang Long technically not feasible. In a more rebellious corner of his mind the thought stirred: what was that even supposed to mean, ‘not feasible?’ If the Dikang had found a way to communicate with their accomplices back at the homeland, so must he! Maybe he could use their channels…
The notion pointed to a dangerous direction. One that could easily lead into high treason. Was he…
His train of thoughts was interrupted by a sudden outburst from his passenger: “By all the devils! What’s taking so long?!”
Station commander Zhao Meng Hui lifted a fist as if to bang it on the control panel. Without thinking, Li Xiao grabbed his arm and held it. He sucked in his breath, half expecting his uncle to slap him, when a monotonous voice over the main speaker announced, “Red Dragon, you’re clear for take-off. Have a good flight.”
Fuming, Admiral Zhao wrested his arm from Li Xiao’s grip.
After that, Li Xiao had no time for further speculations on power relations, hidden communication channels or angry commanders. Once they’d landed in the rebels’ village he would try and find a way to reach his brother. Until then–he was flying!
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