The Chinese surrounded us. Seven soldiers. Seven suits of battle armor. Seven people with the ability to level a city block each. Seven extremely angry people with five tweens. Five tweens that kept getting in their way. Five tweens that kept distracting them from what they wanted to, needed to do.
We clustered together and we quite frightened.
We were twelve after all! Sheesh.
Captain Li came over to me. She took off her helmet. She glared at me. She obviously knew how her soldier had died. She obviously blamed us all collectively and probably me in particular.
I thought I was dead.
This woman was going to kill me in revenge for her soldier.
She turned to her soldiers and barked something in Chinese. My booster translated it immediately: search them,
They did. Throughly and quickly as they could. There was not much to search: we'd left our packs and exoskeletons back at the cave. If the batteries ran out now, we'd have been in trouble trying to run. We really didn't think this 'adventure' would last this long. It was supposed to be a fun run and sneak back.
As I said before, as my Dad said before, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.
And we had. In spades. Bucket loads. Asteroid sized. The one that killed the dinosaurs sized. No, the one that wiped out the first complex life on Earth and left craters found billions of years later sized. Chicxulub had NOTHING on this.
And I wondered if this was the end of the adventure. Not with a fun, but empty return. Not with a triumphant march into Shadwell. Not with even a roasting by my parents. No, something far, far worse. Here at this moment, at this time, at this very second, my existence was imperiled. All because of my actions.
She looked at me directly in the eyes when her soldiers found nothing. That hard, unadorned glare was harsher than anything I'd seen from anyone before and it would take a while before I saw it again. But again I would see it. At the time, I didn't know what was going to happen next. No one did. I'm not even sure Captain Li did either in that moment. I fate had teetered on a knife.
I could have cowered, but I was past the moment of terror. I was past the moment of fear. I answered that glare. I gave her the most direct, dirtiest, nastiest glare a twelve year old can give. This woman had come to MY world, had come to MY town and starting fighting. Not with words and nasty phrases, but guns and drones and missiles. This woman had brought WAR to my world. It was a shadow war and she had avoided hurting civilians. But she had brought it all the same. I realized then I was just as angry with Helmet and Jaideep. Not just this woman, but this woman was all that was left and I vented, through my eyes, all of my raw fury.
Then, as my life balanced on that knife edge, as I stared straight into the eyes of this woman, this soldier that dared what she had, a buzz zipped past and she broke our glaring contest.
Her soldiers as one raised their rifles, pointing them towards Shadwell, and the ports on their backs filled with drones and missiles opened up.
A swarm of finger sized drones enveloped us.
She snorted and shook her head.
She took out a side arm. A small emergency pistol from her hip. This was meant in case she had to abandon the suit and run around without the armor. She hefted it for a moment and then turned it butt first to me.
"Aurora of Shadwell on Jefferson, colony of the United States of America, I surrender. I surrender myself and my soldiers."
With that, she handed me the sidearm.
I took it and tried not to let my eyes bug out or my tongue choke me.
I replied, "I accept."
She barked in Chinese for the soldiers to lower their weapons. They didn't look happy, but that might have been just my impression. If you can't tell someone's gender through the armor, there was no way facial expressions could be read after all. The soldiers placed their weapons on the ground and I told her to have them remove their helmets. They did that as well.
I was all but shaking when Tom took the Chinese pistol. It was safer that way: Tom practiced these on a regular basis. I did not. I pulled out my needler and other Merry Pranksters followed suit. We had the Chinese soldiers line up and put their hands on their heads. We didn't want to humiliate them, but we wanted to make sure the Marines that showed up about thirty seconds later would not think the Chinese were a threat. At their arrival, a misunderstanding by the Marines would be more dangerous than anything the Chinese intended.
Then the Marines did show up and dropped from their VTOL craft. They sprinted over and surrounded the Chinese. We stepped back and put away our needlers and Tom lowered the pistol. The Marines had it well in hand. The platoon leader, the lieutenant, came over and nodded her helmeted head.
"We'll take it from here."
I can only imagine how it looked to the Marines. Five twelve year olds pointing needlers (and a pistol) at seven Chinese soldiers in powered armor. I imagine a few brain cells exploded in the minds of those watching what happened. This was waaaaaaaay beyond 'Wait! What?!"
Twelve year old super commandoes, I thought.
No, we were not that. Some commandoes. Terrified, running for home, calling for help. But we made it through just fine. Mostly. There were going to be some serious trauma to deal with later. From our parents eating us alive for doing something so crazily stupid.
But then, well, what could I say...
We were Merry Pranksters.
THE MERRY PRANKSTERS!
And we weren't even teenagers yet.
After all, we were just twelve!
Be afraid. Very afraid.