Baen books by mercedes lackey



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What the hell? He focused, and could hear the clomp of metal on asphalt. He immediately flattened himself against the alley wall to his left, trying to cut down on his profile to whatever was coming up the street. He edged his way to the corner, peering slowly around the wall. What he saw nearly took his breath away.

He’d seen more than his share of metas before, but the suits marching down the street looked like Art Deco illustrations of some future master race. Which was not so farfetched a concept, considering what was enameled on their upper arms where a regimental patch would have been.

A black crook-armed cross on a white circle on a red field. The Nazi swastika.

Three of them were marching abreast down the street, sweeping anything and anyone in their path with some sort of energy cannon mounted to their arms. Cars, people, buildings—they were destroying everything around them almost effortlessly.

John didn’t waste another moment. He turned in place and sprinted with everything he had back to the group of pub survivors. He crossed the distance in seconds. Panic tinged his voice as he shouted at the crowd. “We’re movin’, now! Everyone up, let’s go! Go, go, go!”

“But you said to wait for help—”

“Help ain’t comin’! We need to get the hell outta here, now!” The survivors were frightened and startled by the fear in his voice, and started to respond, albeit sluggishly. John dragged people to their feet, forcing others to help those who couldn’t move on their own. The sounds of explosions, about a million car alarms and fire alarms going off, and people screaming were starting to get close; those…things couldn’t be too far off. John started off at a trot, leading the way for his band of burned and lacerated survivors. He tried his best to keep off of the streets and heading away from the Nazis, or whatever they were. After a few minutes that seemed to stretch into hours, he turned a corner only to come up short in an open street. People were milling about, coming outdoors to see what was happening. The armored supersoldiers hadn’t made it this far, yet. John looked about wildly, hoping for some refuge.

Then he saw it. Sanctuary. In the form of a subway entrance. That armor was too tall for the entrance; chances were the Nazis would stick to the streets for now. He immediately started shoving people towards it. “Everyone, down into the subway! Get outta the streets! Move!” The explosions were getting closer, with smoke obscuring the sky behind him. The citizens on the street started moving; some ran for the subway entrance, but most of them went back into the buildings that they had first ventured out of. Dammit, stone or brick walls won’t stop these things!

But it was impossible to save everybody. He just had to try and save as many as he could. He was going to have a hard enough time keeping himself alive, much less any of the clueless wandering around him. Even with his advantages, there was precious little he could do against something that had the power of a damned tank. Still…

He could…

No. He couldn’t. Not even now would he…not after…

Screw it. He would do the best he could, get as many people as safe as he could. Then he would get the hell out of Dodge if he had to steal a car to do it.

Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Callsign Victoria Victrix

Vickie had moved to Atlanta in the first place to join Echo, except after what had happened to her, she couldn’t. Her crippling panic attacks kept her from doing more than getting the registration papers from Echo. She’d filled them out, but after being unable even to do the interview, she had been rejected. After all, what good was a metahuman sorceress who couldn’t even stop shaking long enough to crumble a pebble? Never mind she was trained to a fare-thee-well as a warrior Geomancer. Never mind that those in the know were aware she was that rarest of birds, a techno-shaman. Echo needed people they could count on.

It had, indeed, taken her two hours to wind herself up enough to open the car door onto the people-populated outside world. She stared at the asphalt, and goaded herself with the memory of a mostly empty bag of cat food and what Grey would do to revenge himself on her if she got back in the car and went back home. And she was just about to put her weight on her feet when—

A tremendous metallic crash made her freeze. Maybe most people would have leapt in startlement and whacked their heads against the door frame, but the panic attacks made her freeze whenever anything unexpected happened. And then she looked up in the direction of the noise.

The five tractor-trailers had come apart at the seams. That was the sound she’d heard, the trailer walls falling to either side and crashing down onto the pavement. And now she stared at—

At first her mind registered only metas.

Then she saw the swastikas. And the guns. And the five, spheroid, war machines rising up into the air with a hum that made the fillings in her teeth ache. They were larger in all dimensions than the trailers they’d been hidden inside, expanding from an unfolding array that looked for all the world like the insides of a toaster, but inside those rails, space seemed bent. And now, Vickie’s anxiety panic attack was replaced by panic of another sort altogether.

* * *

She didn’t remember getting out of the car. She didn’t remember running, or screaming. But she must have done both, because when she came to herself again, she was cowering behind a dumpster outside an apartment block, dripping with sweat, throat raw.






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