Baen books by mercedes lackey



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If the city wasn’t under attack by Nazis, Ramona thought, they’d be mobilizing the National Guard against us right now.

The Mountain took long strides—long meaning he covered nearly fifty feet a step. From her perch on his shoulder, she got the distinct impression that she had been drafted for a Godzilla movie.

Every step the giant took jeopardized something: a house, a car, trees, a swimming pool. He left five-foot-deep indentations in the ground as he passed. The damages incurred by his stroll would cost the city millions of dollars and give insurance companies epileptic fits. People screamed and ran at the sight of him.

“Watch out for the houses,” she called to him. “Oh, crap! Dog at twelve o’clock! Um…damn.” She sighed as she spotted a flattened German shepherd in a bus-sized footprint. “Mountain! Hey, damn it, slow down!”

“Thought it was war,” he said, but he stopped. Atlantans gathered at a respectable distance and clutched each other in fear.

“Not on them.” She pointed at the crowds. “You have to be more careful. Echo prevents civilian deaths, not causes them.”

“Hard,” he said. She understood what he meant. As they had left the park, Atlanta’s urban sprawl took over. There was literally nowhere he could step without crushing something.

The All-Star game had jammed the highways to bursting, so those were out.

“Go back.” He sounded like a despondent foghorn.

“No, no! Let me think.” What she needed was a megaphone to warn people in their path.

“I got it. Mountain…wait, calling you that sounds stupid. We’re co-workers. What’s your real name?”

The giant tilted his head. “Bill,” he said.

“Okay, Bill, remember when you nearly deafened me for life in that cave? Now’s the time to make use of those lungs…or whatever it is you have in there.”

“What do I say?”

“Anything. We just want to clear a path.”

“Hrm.”


Ramona edged away from his mouth and covered her ears. “Ready!” she said. She felt the giant’s chest expand.

“COMING THROUGH!” he announced with the force of a rocket engine. Despite being behind the sound wave, Ramona’s ears rang.

The Mountain looked down upon his fellow citizens as they ran in a panic. He huffed, and Ramona recognized his geologic-sized chuckle.

He took a careful first step in an abandoned front lawn. “STAY IN YOUR HOMES,” he said. It made sense: a house was easier to avoid than a tiny dot of a human.

“Watch out for dogs!” Ramona said.

“I like dogs.” The Mountain hunched over—carefully, so as not to dislodge his passenger—and studied the ground as he chose his steps.

Thus they made steady—and loud—progress through the Atlanta suburbs. When they reached Tucker, on the cusp of I-285, they got a glimpse of the white-hot thermite fires being sprayed by the spheroid war machines. The hellish orange glow of the war machines’ antigravity propulsion systems—a technology Ramona had not believed possible—lit the highway under the vast ceiling of smoke like a vision of hell. The Mountain paused.

“Fight them?” he asked.

Ramona bit her lip. “Keep going. If we can free up the Echo campus, every goddamn meta in the city can give those bastards the fight of their lives.” Assuming there’s anyone left alive at headquarters, she thought, but didn’t mention. She prayed she was right about the rationale for sending him into the city proper.

“Come back,” he said and began his careful walk again, punctuated by bellowed warnings. They moved south, avoiding the Perimeter until they had to cross it. Inside the Perimeter, houses were packed too closely together for the Mountain to traverse safely.

Three war machines peeled away from the highway and approached them. Ramona remembered what they had done to the Echo administration building. “Bill! Bogeys at five o’clock! Do you have eye beams or something?”

The Mountain plucked Ramona off his shoulder and concealed her in his palm. With his other hand, he swatted at the war machine closest. It exploded into flames and debris. The other two veered away and kept a respectable distance.

“Good enough!” She had to shout at the top of her lungs now that she was so far from his ear. “We’re close! Keep going!”

The Mountain gave each of the war machines a dirty look and resumed walking towards a central column of smoke in the distance: Echo headquarters. The Mountain began to take larger steps, using city streets as a pathway. He shouted his warning repeatedly. Ramona put fingers in her ears and grinned like a tank commander homing in on enemy troops. Someone as big as the Mountain didn’t need the element of surprise. Right about now, she figured, those chrome bastards should be wondering what all that noise is.

They came into visual range of the Echo campus. A dozen war machines hovered in the sky above. Blue beams launched into the sky at a handful of flying metas. Fires from the colossal explosion had spread to the security building and the hangars.

“ECHO OPFOUR, THE MOUNTAIN, REPORTING FOR DUTY!” the giant roared, making his first step onto the grounds of the Echo campus into one that crushed a dozen Nazi troopers. Ramona laughed out loud.

She stopped laughing as the Nazis turned their beams from human-sized targets and aimed for the walking mountain that approached them. Each beam tore a chunk the size of her head out of the giant’s stony hide. A few beams struck the hand she crouched in.

The giant sank to his knees. She held on to his thumb, horrified that she had overestimated his resistance to pain. He was a walking target.

“Oh, no, Bill,” she said.

But the giant merely laid his hand flat on the ground furthest from the Nazis and opened it to let her disembark. Now she understood: he wanted two hands for fighting.

She waved a fist at him. “Sic ’em, buddy!”

The giant took advantage of his proximity to the ground to sweep up an armful of Nazi troopers and send them sprawling, then pound them into the dirt like a child torturing ants. More accurately, pound some of them deeper than the water mains.

With the aid of the Mountain, the battle quickly swung in Echo’s favor. The Nazis could not ignore the hundred-foot stone giant stomping on them with gusto, leaving the remaining Echo personnel to take aim for vulnerable knee and arm joints.

Three of the Four Winds led the final charge against the Nazis. Southwind, in particular, blasted at them with desperate brutality, screaming as he did. The sight of the towering alienlike beings cutting invisible swaths through the troopers was terrible to behold.

Ramona did find Tesla again. He crouched behind a toppled wall and picked off troopers with his tiny raygun. The beam it emitted heated their armor to a red-hot glow until the metal melted. The men inside the armor were doomed.

He exchanged a wave with her and kept firing.

A figure approached Ramona out of the smoke. She carried two rifles.

“Midori!” Ramona hugged the woman fiercely.

Midori laughed with delight. “You did it, you did it!”

“He’s the one doing it. I just guilt-tripped him into beating up some jerks.”

“The perfect boyfriend,” Midori said, handing her a rifle.

“Oh, the stories I could tell you.” Ramona scanned the sky for a running figure. “What’s this for?”

“Atlanta SWAT stopped by with a tip. Shoot for the knees. They used these rifles for ‘antimateriel’ work.”

Mercurye darted across the sky, stopping above Tesla’s head and leaning in for a quick consultation. For a brief moment, he met Ramona’s gaze before zooming away.

Ramona loaded the rifle that Midori had given her and took aim at a retreating Nazi trooper. Her first bullet caught him right behind the kneecap. He staggered and fell.

A warm feeling of vindictiveness spread from her belly to her grin. The day was improving, after all.


Moscow, Russia: Callsign Red Saviour

Chug had gone berserk. His fists crushed body armor, helmets, and energy rifles in a flurry of rage. The troopers pounded on him and shot him point-blank, yet he only roared and threw them into the flames.

“Push them back to the trucks!” Red Saviour doubted her commands could be heard over the cacophony. She drove a glowing fist into the chest of a trooper as his arm cannon spewed energy at her feet. He collapsed, gasping for air, and she let the concussive force of the blast add to her own airborne propulsion. From her vantage point, she saw Supernaut, Svetoch and Firebird grimly advancing, sweat pouring down their exposed skin. Supernaut stood partly in the flames as if he were a demon in Hell.

The fiery trio paid no heed to their surroundings, so focused were they on maintaining the wall of fire’s onerous crawl. Only Red Saviour saw the squad of a half-dozen troopers charge from the flames at the right flank of her flamethrowers.

She took off towards them, throwing a ball of energy to divert their attention. It burst in their path, staggering two who bore the brunt for their comrades. The other four trained their weapons on her friends and cut loose.

The beams tore into Svetoch and Firebird with lethal precision. Strangely, the troopers’ beams had missed the giant Supernaut. He looked around wildly as two thirds of the flame wall dissipated.

“Vassily,” she shouted, her voice hoarse with sobbing, “we need more fire!”

“You will have it, sestra!” Supernaut bulled forward, adjusting controls on his armor. The squad turned their weapons on him; she swooped down to collide with the frontmost trooper, unleashing her energy to knock him back into the others. She and the Nazis collapsed into a pile of armored—and unarmored—limbs. The heated armor seared her skin through her bloody uniform.

Red Saviour struggled to her feet first, avoiding grasping hands, in time to be blown over by a massive, fiery explosion erupting from Supernaut’s vicinity. The Delex trucks bowled over and their trailers detonated, striking the second wave of Nazis and their war machines. Everyone on Red Square was dashed to the ground; those in the heart of the firestorm, the remaining Nazi troopers, dropped their weapons as they became living bonfires. Natalya heard them screaming through the helmet radio of the nearest trooper.

“Oh, Vassily,” she said. “You crazy bastard.”

Fortunately, only the strongest of the CCCP were close enough to the blast to feel its effect; Supernaut knew how to control fire up to his dying moment. Worker’s Champion and Molotok smoldered, their clothing destroyed. Chug did not appear to have noticed the explosion. He bellowed and smashed the nearest Nazi into pulp.

“Is best not to start fights you can’t finish,” she told her opponent in Russian. He cocked his head, and started to shake. Red Saviour took a step towards him, ready to capitalize on his fear. But his rifle arm lurched straight up in the air as if a puppeteer had tugged his strings.

She felt the hum before she heard it: the two war machines floated above the conflict, rattling teeth with their eerie gravity-defying propulsion system. Something flashed past her, flying up into the sky: the helmet of the trooper People’s Blade had beheaded. The trooper before her followed, clamping his arms to his side as though he were a rocket.

Every Nazi trooper stopped fighting as invisible strings tugged them into the air and to the hull of the war machines, which began to resemble oversized, iron dandelions. They rotated in the air to find space for the troopers, who impacted with flat metallic thuds.

Defeated troopers, dead or unconscious, floated up in the magnetic net cast by the war machines.

“Stop them!” she called desperately. “Don’t let them escape!”

It was too late; the magnetic pull was too powerful. Those with the physical strength to resist it hadn’t had enough warning to brace themselves and take hold of a fallen trooper. The CCCP and the protesters watched the war machines spin in the black smoke, catching their troops. Without ceremony, they gained altitude and vanished into the clouds.
Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Callsign Seraphym

She arrived the day of the invasion. She and her siblings were all Instruments on that day, but Atlanta was hers, hers alone to defend. In the tangled futures, a nexus point.

Once, in the conflict known among humans of Terra as World War I, a bit of apocrypha, legend rooted in fiction, was created, the story of the so-called “Angels of Mons” that rode across the battlefield saving Allied lives.

She and her siblings, however, were very real. And they had been given extraordinary license on this one day, as well as one simple command.






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