The Antarctic night, coupled with the Antarctic wind and Antarctic snow, did a fine enough job of obscuring the two skimmers on the tundra as they approached the Aldyne Defense transport ADV Continuum. The landing lights were still on, visible from the two kilometers or so away Flake and Franklin now found themselves, snowflakes wind-whipping through the beams drawn like blades against the darkness, UN Peacekeepers stationed at the embarcation ramp probably waiting for the return of the Aldyne Defense folks they’d been contracted to protect.

Only one of them was left alive, of course.

“Frank, you see ’em?” came the call across the comms.

“Eyeah. Three bluedomes. Heavy armed. Think they see us?”

“Not likely pal. I think we can get the drop on them, but I don’t know how many more there are aboard the ship. How’s our friend doing?”

Franklin grabbed at Gideon’s elbow and yanked it forward so he could read the medical datapad around his wrist. Gideon yelped as his arm was practically twisted out of its socket. “Stable,” the panda said, dropping the lemur’s arm and letting it limply hang.

“All right. If you can draw them away from the ramp I’ll hit them while they’re cheesing it after you. Once we’ve got the outside guys taken care of we’ll secure the decks, put any defense dicks we find off the ship, then take ‘er back to McMurdo for extraction. On my mark?”

“Eyeah, good,” Franklin said. “You take him then?” He threw his huge thumb over his shoulder to the bloodied lemur strapped into the rear seat.

“Shit, right. No, they’re on foot, you’re on a skimmer. I don’t think he’s going to pose a threat, but he might uh, I just, uh, hmm. He’ll be fine.” Flake turned to Gideon,  the hood of their parka billowing in the wind, smiling. “You’ll be fine, right?” Gideon’s frown was enough to get the jay to look back at Franklin. “He’ll be fine. If you get a clean shot on any of those guys, don’t wait! Take it, okay Frank? I’ll cover you from here.”

“Okay, jay.”

Flake toggled the strut deploy switch on their skimmer, landing anchors thunking into the permafrost. They reached for their marksman rifle and unlatched it from the gun anchor, throwing it over their shoulder and toggling the charge safety to full. The rifle started to whine as the coils charged, pale amber creeping its way along the barrel to indicate capacitance. The scope blinked to life, crucial and fatal mathematics calculating trajectories, windage, distance, elevation. They lifted it into position and closed a single eye, peering down the scope as they did so.

The scope highlighted a target, outlining it in pale red, spitting out numbers and plotting an aim point on the horizon. Flake tracked to follow it.

“Ready!” he called over the comlink, and Franklin revved the skimmer’s engine ever so slightly in response.

“Mark!” Flake said, finger on the trigger. The charge indicator in the scope’s display read 98%. The skimmer kicked up a plume of powder as it roared off down the frost, stirring the attention of the blue helmeted soldiers near the lander’s struts. Flake’s target, the ramp watcher, remained unfazed.

The capacitance readout switched to a nice, round 100% and the bird ventilated him without a second thought. As soon as Flake pulled the trigger he went down like a sack of hammers. They immediately turned towards the other two, now giving a barely passable chase-and-fire at Franklin’s rapidly disappearing snowskimmer. The scope highlighted another target and did the math, and Flake pulled the trigger again, dropping the furthest soldier out.

His partner reached for her wristpad and the ship’s ramp started to retract. An alarm klaxon sounded from the vicinity of the ship. Just before the lights went out, Flake saw her in the scope aiming a rifle down sights in their general direction. “Shit,” they muttered, thumbing the comms toggle on their datapad. “Franklin, I’ve been made.”

“Eyeah,” Franklin growled into the commlink, static punctuating his lone word. “I see.” Gideon’s yowling could be heard in the background.

A few coil rounds zipped past Flake’s crest, sending them scrambling off the skimmer they’d been using as a sniping platform, fumbling to get the marksman rifle back over their shoulder. “Shit shit shit! Frank, you said Keth and Cal were out here?”

“Eyeah eyeah. Last check, they were scouting, on patrol.”

“Do you think you can try distracting this bluedome I’ve got taking potshots at me or do you want me to try and raise them!”

“Eyeah. I got ’em.”

Franklin killed the skimmer’s engine; it drifted gently to the ground with a pomf in the snow-covered tundra. Swinging his huge frame over the side, he grabbed Gideon’s small head with both of his paws, applying the slightest amount of pressure. His captive squirmed.

“Stay put. You try to leave? I will crush into paste, eyeah?” He knew Gideon wouldn’t be able to move anyway given the brace he’d been put in to keep his chest wound from opening back up after the medigel treatment. Gideon nodded anyway, real fear in his eyes.

The bear trudged off in the snow without so much as a glance behind him. Cracking his knuckles and using the gunfire to guide him, he took off into a full-fledged sprint, shoulder in ramming position.

The next few moments were muzzleflashes against a jeweld sky glittering with the light of a thousand thousand stars. Repeated bursts of gunfire crackling across the permafrost, the crunch of packed powder beneath Franklin’s feet, a few rounds from what was probably Flake’s coil pistol grazing the air near Franklin’s head. The UN soldier on the ground barely had time to register what was happening when she felt the weight of nearly 180 kilograms of bear collide with her body armor, sending her flying across the snowdrift.


“Eyeah. It’s done.”

“Go get our friend! I’ll get this thing open!”

Flake threw back their hood and grabbed the unconscious soldier at the wrist, hauling her arm out of the snowbank and brushing her datapad off. The jay fished a piece of flexroll tape out of their jacket pocket and pressed it against the display, exposing the gloveprints used to key in the ship’s access code. Keying in 1-9-4-3-2-7, the landing lights beat back down on the powder and the ship’s boarding ramp once again descended.

Flake reached up to their headset. “I’ll drag your unconscious friend here aboard; get Gideon on this thing and let’s go get the compound emptied before the UN does any checking around.”