The column cleared the shoulder of the mountain, deployed and started firing at the yetis. They couldn’t fire at the ships under siege, though, and they were crawling with the monsters. If the troops were hoping to scare the creatures, it didn’t work. The yetis were hammering at the hulls, had smashed windows, and were climbing in. The wings of the ships were torn apart, and the turbine exhausts filled with boulders.
The wind whipped up.
General Masamune ordered one company down the road with two armored vehicles with six guns apiece mounted on them. He sent another force up the mountainside, spread out, to approach the ships along the ridge. From behind a cloud of small drones flew toward the scene.
Jeanette felt sick. She had encountered the yetis before. They had attacked her and her friends in Radiant City--only they were controlled by the people who were fighting them now. It was way down the timestream, and their ships were far more advanced and flying by suspensor fields and had energy weapons, but there was no doubt who they were. She had seen them attack two cities to destroy people she cared about--killed one of them--and here they were, back in their prehistory, maybe helping them become what they became.
Of course, they were also helping ordinary human beings being attacked by monsters. Should they not do that?
Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone turned to the general and growled, “Do you not have aircraft?”
The General, who was momentarily startled to hear the giant tiger in mirror armor speak, said, “Yes, dammit. But the copters have to be brought through the gateway in pieces and reassembled on the other side. They’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“You should not have sent them in without air support.” He turned his back on the general and walked forward.
They could see an unpleasant new development: Yetis were climbing out of the windows of the ships carrying weapons they had no doubt taken from the soldiers. They started opening fire on the advancing troops, who had not expected this and were exposed along the length of the column.
There was a whickering roar as three helicopters showed up. To Jeanette’s eyes they were cool, more like fighter jets, except that they were still helicopters. They zoomed by, following the curve of the mountainside, and when they came close to the grounded ships, they let loose with energy beams.
“So they have more advanced tech, but haven’t given it to the grunts on the ground,” Senhor Capoeira Capybara muttered. “Running their transports on whale oil--rather bizarre civilization.”
“All the indications of a nation--or an empire--in a desperate hurry. Probably poor, maybe dying,” said Grandmère Hutan. “Still, there are men, and maybe women, dying in those ships.”
“The question is, how do we get over there?” Dr. Ransom asked.
It wasn’t immediate, but he was answered by more noise from behind. The General and the soldiers parted as about ten soldiers descended from the sky wearing jetpacks.
“Took you long enough!” Masmune shouted.
“We had them all broken down after the last flight---sir,” said the helmeted and faceplated soldier.
“Just get them in the fight,” he answered over the by-now-deafening din, inclining his head towards the travelers.
Jeanette, after the starships and the winged horses and dimensional phasing, still brightened at the thought of real live jetpacks. It was hard to say why, but she didn’t have time to examine it.
The soldier in front of her raised his faceplate and grinned at Jeanette. She recognized him as the one from last night. “Brought some friends,” he said. She smiled back, thinking the better of him.
An explosion caused them all to turn. To their dismay, the mountainside above the stranded ships was now covered with a second wave of yetis, with more climbing over the ridge. Hundreds, maybe a thousand. One of the ships was now engulfed in flame.
Ransom walked up to Masamune. “Judging from the fertility of the landscape, General, these creatures are not indigenous. My guess is they’re coming through a gate, and if we don’t shut it, we’ll all be overrun.”
The general had turned pale and was sweating. “Can you do it? I’ve got no more resources.”
“What’s the range on these jetpacks?”
“A good forty kilometers. Than should take you there, if not bring you back.”
“If there is a gate, it should be nearby. These yetis haven’t traveled a hundred miles to get here.” He turned to the companions. “All right, everybody! Let’s go!”
Jeanette slipped into the harness off the soldier’s front. He put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and off they went.
“It’ll be a relief to stop pretending your father is the leader,” said Thyrsis the crow over her bracelets. “No offense.”
“That’s easy for you to say, ‘no offense,’ Mr. Sensitivity,” answered Antithyrsis.
“It’s just that anthropomorphic prejudice gets old real quick,” said Thyrsis.
The soldier gave Jeanette an earpiece that compared unfavorably with a bluetooth phone. She put it in.
“Read me?” The voice came.
“Loud and clear,” she answered.
“You can tell your boyfriend that we’ve already found the gate junction. It’s about five clicks north,” said Thyrsis.
“All they really have to do is follow the track of yeti poo,” said Antithyrsis.
It wasn’t, in fact, difficult to find the circle of gates. There was, in fact, an intermittent line of yetis over the rocky terrain. It ended--or began-- at the circle. One circular gate was glowing, while the others seemed inert. They landed near the edge of the circle, which was twice the side of the one at the Theravader base. They waited until a clump of yetis left sluggishly and then walked into the empty circle.
Jeanette was walking towards the active gate alongside Grandmère, when she noticed the soldier wasn’t with them. She looked around and saw they were all behind the group of travelers, clustered by another gate. Her guy was foremost, and looked at Jeanette with a mixture of incredulity and fear.
“You’re really going to try and close the gate, aren’t you? Go in and risk your lives! Listen, those troops are dead already! Their ordnance is for shit--all the good stuff was on the ships! You don’t owe them anything! Don’t throw your lives away for nothing!”
All she could say was, “All the gates are dangerous.”
“And you’re choosing the absolute worst! We’ll take our chances with one of the dark ones. We’re well equipped and we’ll survive. Can’t say that about you!”
Jeanette looked at the handsome young Asian face, and could’t understand what she saw there.
Evidently he couldn’t either, because he shouted out, “You could go anywhere! Anywhere!” And paused waiting for something she’d be damned if she’d give him.
Then the soldiers all turned and vanished through the dark gate.
“And this surprises you why?” Said Thyrsis.
She turned, faced the rest of her friends who were looking at her, pulled out an energy projector from beyond the sixth wall, and walked towards the glowing gate, trying to lick the bad taste from her mouth.