The armsmaster glared. "Bad enough you lost a gun, but look at this armor! Do you have any idea how much this armor costs?"
Sergey and Edik stalled out in the door, looking from the armor to Axel. Ten-ten nudged them forward.
"Not the faintest, Mac. You'd think by now they'd only let us wear it in parades, wouldn't you?"
The old Cyborg wagged his finger. "And you'd better hope they find my rifle." He pointed at the screen. "See that! Bad enough you forgot to duck, the news cams caught you at it! You bring shame to your Team!"
And sure enough, there he was up on the roof of the warehouse and a flash of something leaving a smoke trail . . . knocked spinning off his feet and rolling off the roof . . . "Was that a little rocket? It didn't explode . . ."
"Pure mass. Designed to penetrate this armor. If you weren't such a clever boy with your shields you'd be mulch. We lost five people." He sighed and named names.
Axel winced. People I know. People I work with. "What was Harris doing out there?"
"Ammo delivery. Well . . . the old guy always hated being retired from Teams."
"Damn." Axel sat and grabbed a rifle. "So, you two know how to do this? Demonstrate."
Ten-ten sat down and watched, grinning while Axel disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the two Cyborgs' rifles in less time than the youngsters each did one.
Ninety-two walked in, an arm in a sling, as they finished. A bottle in his cybernetic hand. He held it out to Axel. "Doc Ermine said to tell you to drink it."
Axel grinned and took it. Just what I need. "Mind you, I'm only drinking this sludge under duress, not because I'm so depleted it tastes delicious."
Sergey nodded, uncertainly. "It tasted good for about three gulps, then . . ."
"Your body said it'd had enough. That's how it works." Axel drained the bottle. "After today, the whole bottle was good."
The room filled up slowly, a lot of injuries. Murphy thumped down beside Axel. "Zilla's going to be out for a couple of weeks, Piggy for months. At least they're alive. And I'm damn glad you shot that AGC, one more would have been one too many. Damn them."
Mouse limped in, got lots of shoulder thumps, nods.
Lost his team leader and another guy. The mentalist they were working with, too.
"Catch and Doobie are out for weeks. Dunno where we'll find mentalists."
Axel blinked and looked around at Murph.
Who nodded. "We grabbed Newb on the way out, since you were looking a bit busy. Bloody moron. Sorry."
Mousie sighed. "I thought Whiz knew better. He had a bad idea and tried to control Fooey."
"Shit . . ." Axel shook his head. "Did either of them have any combat experience?"
"A few shoot outs with lightly armed cops on newly discovered worlds." Murph growled. "I'd worked with Whiz for a year. Then I got my own team and got handed to this jumped up fool who looked like he was half the age and twice as snotty . . ." He glanced at Axel. "I may have been less that enthusiastic."
Axel grinned. "At least you didn't threaten to kill me."
Murph actually reddened. Laughs from the door, as Ape and Tiger walked in. Med tape, here and there.
Ape shook his head. "Murph would never do such a thing."
Tiger grinned. "I wasn't there. But rumor had it that that Junior Mentalist who thought he deserved a battle name was really bossy."
Ape nodded. "Fortunately it turned out that he was only verbally bossy, and actually had a clue or two."
"So we kept him." Murph grinned. "Never did hear who gave you that name."
Axel sighed. "Harris. My first run across with his squad, we were on a first survey. 'So,' he says, 'What jobs have you held up top?' And I'm like, 'Well, lab assistant during summer break.' And they all look at me. 'And how many times have you been Across?' and I'm like. 'One. Now.'
"I won't risk damaging your delicate sensibilities by repeating what he said. But we walked down the path and straight into a Tyrannosaurus which got a bit lively until I sliced its head off. Anyway, by the time Harris decided this was not a World we could sell to anyone but a big game hunter I was Igor the Lab Assistant."
Murphy started laughing. "Oh, damn. I'd forgotten how much he loved those antique movies. He forced me to watch every damned 'Frankenstein' movie ever made when I was an easily traumatized youngster."
Lots of nodding head in the crowd.
Ape shook his head. "Did you ever hear how . . ."
Sergey and Edik just sort of froze, and tried to stay unnoticed . . . Ninety-two and Ten-ten looked like they really were frozen, as stories about the three Cyborgs circled for a couple of hours, then the group just sort of drifted apart, and Axel hauled the four of them off for a late dinner.
"Don't forget this." He looked between Sergey and Edik. "Don't ever forget that we are all human, and we're fighting together to the same purpose. To keep our chunk of civilization alive and well. No matter the faults, and it's got plenty, it beats anarchy, and cross dimensional wars. And you four did a damn good job today." Axel shrugged. "Well. Get a good night's sleep, if you can. You'll start feeling it by tomorrow."
And you'll have nightmares . . .
And I'll second guess myself. Should have done this, ought to have done that . . .
Damn you, Vladimir Vinogradov!
Does It Matter Anymore?
"That's Red. I know it's him."
Vlad looked from the news coverage of the brief invasion, to his sister.
"Why do you think that?" Igor. Good Grief, Igor is not supposed to be real! That's like Baba Yaga or Robin Hood.
"The way he moves." She leaned to peer out at the tiny slice of the front of the neighboring house. "Because he's a hero."
Mother rolled her eyes and delivered more biscuits.
Forty-one chuckled. "If that was him, it'd no good expecting him to be home. He'll be up on top doing after-action reports and whatnot all day. Possibly for days." He took the extra chair and grabbed a biscuit.
Smart man knows to always get here early to pick me up.
Vlad looked back at the TV where the News reporter were bouncing between fury over another World attempting a hostile takeover and glee at catching the almost mystical "Igor" in action.
Not to mention Igor taking on one side of the invasion and knocking out the portal, while it had taken two squads of the best military Cyborgs ever, plus militia units with heavy weaponry to stop the other side. At a cost of five lives and dozens of injuries
Mind you, there looked to be a lot more enemy soldiers on that side. And those man-portable tube weapons, some sort of rocket propelled munitions were nasty . . .
Vlad buttered one last biscuit, and reached for the honey . . . Honey. Wasn't there an article about how we imported all our honey, because there were not enough imported flowering plants to support bees here? I wonder if I can order . . . fruit trees from across, but then I'd have to hand pollinate . . . Damn, Axel's got me spooked.
He savored that last biscuit then pushed back from the table. "And I have another exciting day interviewing Vinogradov House staff." He eyed Forty-one, and nodded at the TV. "You're not getting pulled for crowd control?"
"Not yet. But I think everyone else is." The Cyborg glanced at the screen and grinned. "That whole district is going to be a zoo for a week. Much more relaxing talking to servants while the supercilious Lords and Ladies get huffy about even allowing us onto their premises."
"Maybe we should interview the Ladies while their husbands are away." And hopefully their running off thirty hours ago had nothing to do with the invasion. I ought to have had them followed.