Operazione Millennio (58.3)

City of Rangda — Ocean Road

Caelia.

“Danielle!”

She heard the cries but she also heard overwhelming, encroaching buzzing and whirring.

Her partner shouted the words, but in Danielle’s mind the name merely reverberated. She was frozen in silence, watching as the sky began to teem with mechanical life. Hundreds of planes sliced through the air in a uniquely terrifying scene, a surreal picture. From one second to the next, without fanfare, without transition, as if they had always been there, the planes merely were. It seemed to take everyone a few moments to register it.

Everyone but Caelia; Caelia ran from down the street, crying out her name.

It was strange and sudden. Why was she running? Wasn’t she happy with her friend? Did she not want to spend some time with Major El-Amin, a person greater than little Santos?

Danielle almost wanted to ask why she was here, wasting her time with a loser like her.

But Danielle couldn’t move. Her haze of self-hatred was pierced through by the sudden sight of a plane, coming down sharply from the vast flock that congregated overhead.

It was one plane among what seemed like hundreds, but it trapped her gaze.

One large plane circled the city, looking for a good run, and it swept in a perpendicular path over Ocean Road. From its flanks a dozen ant-like objects, small and distant, little flecks that could have been dust in Danielle’s eyes, dropped out into the air and were borne gently down by bursting white blossoms from their backs. Paratroopers.

Soon more of the large planes were breaking formation and dropping their troops.

Danielle wanted to cry out but her tongue was turned to stone.

Caelia shouted again, and she stopped, two blocks away. She stared skyward.

From somewhere distant, flashing red shots launched into the air by the hundreds.

Anti-air guns detonated fragmentation rounds within the teeming mass of the invading aircraft fleet, and the results were instantaneous. Hundreds of bursts of smoke and metal tinged the blue sky gray and black and sent the once placid formations into convulsions.

Engine-less gliding planes maneuvered their bulk toward the ground in a panic and crashed in places distant; smaller, swifter interceptor craft that had accompanied the fleet started to dance and circle and strafe to avoid the shots. Slow bombers went up in the sky like their own bombs would have on the ground, exploding into gigantic fireballs.

Paratroopers caught mid-fall were turned to red mist by the flak.

One plane flew right over Danielle’s shoulder and nearly swept her into the air.

It crashed behind her, splintering, exploding like a suicide diver.

Metal and blood started to rain down on Ocean Road and it looked like the sky was falling.

Caelia was calling her name; she could see her partner’s lips moving.

But she could not hear her under the sounds of the blasts and the sweeping rush of the enemy aircraft and the panic that screamed within the confines of her own mind.

Danielle fixated on her, on her familiar face and form, on that warm gentle girl whom she loved so much, that tall lovely unique girl with a charming voice and a rare but lovely smile, who she wanted to know everything about, who made her feel like she was worth something, whom she would do anything for. That beautiful girl who was a bit awkward and made her feel so good about being awkward herself. That wonderful girl whom she had long ago resolved to support and protect. She watched her standing across the way with the unfolding carnage between her. And then she watched her suddenly disappear.

From the sky, a massive bomber plane was hit in its engines by flak, disgorging the prop from its nacelle and starting fires, and the machine careened earthward at terrific speed.

Upon Ocean Road it landed, its bulk crushing the path between Caelia and Danielle.

Behind that wreck, she disappeared. Danielle snapped out of her slumber.

“Caelia!”

She turned around and rushed for the alleway where Harmony was parked.

Gendarmes and stray soldiers started to shout aimless orders. There was confusion.

At Danielle’s side a second bomber dropped, crushing flat a Hobgoblin in an alleyway.

She felt a brief surging of heat from the explosion at her side, and Danielle shouted and held herself with her arms and ran headlong toward where the tank should have been; where it must have been or else everything was lost. She ran past the confused soldiers, past cars and tractors being abandoned or driven away from the scene, past the touching down elven soldiers that fell disoriented from the sky and stumbled to their feet.

I can’t lose her. I can’t lose her.

Hurtling around a corner and into an alleyway she found the Kobold intact.

Danielle rushed to open the hatch and climb into her driver’s seat.

She reached behind herself into a compartment that sat under Caelia.

From inside she withdrew a Danava light machine gun with a special mount.

It would partially block her vision when installed, but that did not matter.

She had hardly ever shot the emergency gun. There was little need to practice with it. It should not have been necessary. And yet she did not think twice about seizing it.

Affixing the gun in front of her propped-open front hatch, she put a hand on the sticks and kept a hand on the gun, so she could both drive and shoot. She slammed the clutches, turned the power, and watched the gauges rise with renewed life. Repairs had not been completed before everything went upside-down. But that, too, did not matter.

Harmony roared to life.

Danielle, weeping, sobbing, shaking, felt its power surge into her.

I will not lose her.

Despite the planes saturating the sky, and the enemy dropping on her head.

She knew then that if she gave up on Caelia, regardless of the odds, she would hate herself more than she ever had before. However much she felt undeserving — Caelia needed her.


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