It seemed like a whirlwind in their hotel room, but there was something must more solid and brutal among the flying shards of glass, metal, paper and everything else, Both Terence and Jeanette were out of bed and on their feet, and both had instantly gone beyond the sixth wall to pull out heavy-duty guns, but Terence had not had the training instilled by hours of first-person shooter games to fire all the time and at everything, so he was holding off, and Jeanette was following her father’s lead.

They hid at the side of the bed until that was smashed, and ran for another corner when giant claw-marks raked a wall. Even though he knew his ammunition would never run out, Dr. Ransom could not bring himself to fire at nothing.

Then the capybara appeared at the gaping hole where the door had been, carrying his two-handed energy projector. He let loose, and absorbing the energy, a giant troll-like figure appeared in fiery outline. Father and daughter started firing on full automatic at the glowing form, and it opened an outsized mouth, but only static escaped.

“IT IS PROOF AGAINST THOSE WEAPONS,”  a voice roared, as Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone strode into the room, “BUT THERE IS NOUGHT THAT IS PROOF AGAINST THIS!”

He swung his longsword, that seemed to glow with the same power that illuminated the giant, and the thing’s head flew from its body. The energy-outline of the thing faded as the thing collapsed, and Terence and and Jeanette were drenched in hot sticky blood that they couldn’t see.

The crashing sound only abated somewhat, but it was now coming from out in the hall. The mirror-armored tiger pulled out a cloth at his waist, tied it around his eyes, and bared his fangs in a grin. “I’m getting used to this style of combat. It’s most exhilarating.” And he went out into the hallway.

Jeanette’s jewelry came alive. “Look out the window! Down in the courtyard!” Thyrsis squawked.

They had gotten a corner suite, so went over to the side that faced it. Down below about six stories, straddling the swimming pool, was a squat finned ship, with ramps down and something that looked like  an oil refinery made of antennae had been raised out of a hatch at the top. “Nothing that solid is invisible on its own, so that thing must be damping out the light rays, according to Grandmère. She said she could use your help, Jeanette, and that you would know what she meant!”

Over to her side, Jeanette saw a window smash open, and the orangutan come forward, arms raised. Jeanette almost laughed as she figured it out. She dropped her gun and it vanished. “Dada, please shoot the window out!” she shouted, and her father complied. As she raised her arms and broke the sixth wall. Two big spherical bombs, complete with ropy sparkling fuses, hurtled down towards the enemy ship. Grandmère’s bomb was bigger than hers was, but thanks to fifth-grade Galilean physics, reached the monstrosity at the same time.

The ship itself seemed unscathed, but the antenna complex blew to pieces, and abruptly there were five or six shambling hairy beasts headed into the hotel. There was also a triumphant tiger’s roar from down the hall.

Then the crow spoke up again. “Grandmère says grab your things. We’re moving out.”

Jeanette turned to her father. “I think Grandmère is suggesting that we take over the enemy ship.” She picked up her backpack, went into the bathroom, for her hairbrush, saw the devastation, and figured she could pick one up elsewhere.

Terence had his knapsack on and was ready to go. “That’s probably the best plan. If we run, they’ll probably send more ships.”

“Oh.” They walked down the hallway. Jeanette kept walking through the mess towards the elevators, but her father opened the emergency stairs. “Sorry,” she said, as he held the door open for her.

“You didn’t ask for a lower floor just in case of this, Dada?”

“No, it’s just that the tourists always ask for the upper rooms. The nicer ones tend to be lower. Attend enough conferences and you learn things.”

They pushed open the fire doors without an additional alarm going off, and there were the others: Sir Elphinstone was standing before a heap of dead monsters, and the rest were in a corner out of sight of the ship. Grandmère was holding Kelly protectively but inescapably: the young boy’s face was smeared with ashes and blood, and blank, which Jeanette supposed was a rational reaction to all this.

The moment they rounded the corner, the ship started firing energy bursts at them, so they had to run over to the charnel-heap of monsters. “Is there crew aboard, or is this just AI?” Senhor Capoeira said. “It would be nice to take it without damaging it too much,” Terence said. For some reason Kelly looked at her father with alarm, Jeanette noticed. Come to think of it, he did have the ‘am I still asleep?’ look to him.

Silvertyger looked around, found the crows, made a few gestures, and proceeded to walk boldly toward the ship. (“Like he had to tell us what to do,” one of the crows muttered over her bracelets.)

The energy beams opened up again, but the crows dodged them with speed and elegance, while the energy beams simply reflected off the tiger’s gleaming armor--or his sword, with which he parried headshots. The crows made it up the ramp, while all of the beam-weaponry focused on Lord Elphinstone.

“It looks to be all AI from the bridge,” it sounded like Antithyrsis talking. “One section of the control panel working furiously, but it’s impervious to beak and claw, unfortunately.”

“That’s OK. I think they’ve got a plan,” Jeanette said.

There was a whirr, and a tapered cylinder lowered off one of the fins. Silvertyger’s armor would probably not reflect a guided missile, so there was a real danger.

“Aim for the control surfaces,” Terence said to Senhor Capoeira.

“Excellent idea,” the capybara said.

A split second they heard the sound of ignition, Senhor Capybara and her father sent carefully aimed shots flying. (It helped that they had pulled down special rifles for the job.) The pylon was dangerously close to the ground, and was probably not intended to be shot when the ship wasn’t in flight, and with both their shots hitting the projectile’s wings smartly, the rocket hissed right down into the swimming pool.

Two things happened then: a cloud of steam enveloped the ship, and the flooring under the ship crumpled. The ship sank to one side, and half of the energy beams (still firing) vanished into the steam, and the others started blowing out windows of the hotel, or going up into the sky--everywhere but at them.

They ran.

The ramps were trying to close: one did, but the other one had bit into the pavement, and so was straining at a big chunk of pool. At full speed they ran upwards into the ship.

They were on the bridge, where a thousand lights were blinking. The capybara and Dr. Ransom stepped up to the control console, and the crows started hopping about, tapping areas of the panels with their beaks. “These started when the ramps started to close, and the green ones there lit up on the missile deployment. When this red one came on, all the bars on the right froze: it might be security, or even self destruct.”

Jeanette repeated the words at the top of her voice, since there was a lot of whining and honking going on.

“Thank you. I think we can take it from here,” Dr. Ransom said. He and Senhor Capoeira started punching buttons--and their white gloves began to emit a glow of their own. They could hear a crunch as the second ramp finally closed, and, area by area, the lights on the console stopped blinking and started glowing steadily. Then a deep thrumming sound filled the bridge and the ship began to rise.

“All too easy when you acquire the knack,” the capybara said smugly.

“So we’re taking the fight to them?’ Jeanette asked her father.

“I pride myself, daughter, on never having taught you the phrase ‘the best defense is a good offense,’ but there are times when it’s the case.”

Senhor Capoeira said “Though I’m afraid the machine has erased its browser history, as it were. Log books are” and he made a rodent’s whistle through his teeth.

“That’s no problem,” Ransom said. “I’m pretty sure I know just where to go next.”

Jeanette had been watching Kelly intently out of the corner of her eye, as he was being held by Grandmère. She had seen the look of stark terror cross his face, just before it returned to normal.

So, she thought sadly. So.


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