The remaining crew of the Ronald Reagan stopped running when they reached the trees. Most went down to their knees while others bent over. Everyone panted.
In a small clearing in front of them, the ship’s transport landed vertically, and abruptly. The door opened, the ramp came down, and Captain Delgado walked out followed by Chief Executive Beth Hogue.
“How safe are we, XO?”
“Not very, sir. The DNI report indicated satellite coverage of all their islands, even the remote ones.”
Delgado nodded. He lifted his voice so the several hundred sailors and Marines in the woods could hear him.
“Alright, listen up! The enemy can see us, likely even under the trees. They have eyes in the sky. They also have a robust global missile defense system. I want everyone to scatter! Do not clump together! No more than two or three at most, understand?”
He heard a few voices saying, “Aye, aye sir!”
“Split up now, before the next missile strikes!”
The men and women scattered, running in all different directions. Robots followed, making some of the groups larger than the proscribed two or three, but nobody minded having the extra protection nearby.
Delgado looked back at the transport, Beazy still at the controls. Hogue followed his eyes.
She said, “What are we going to do about the wounded, sir? And the transport? It’s vulnerable.”
Beazy spoke up from inside. He said, “Begging your pardon, sir, ma’am, but I have an idea. The transport is waterproof.”
Hogue said, “Waterproof?”
Beazy nodded. “Yes, ma’am. It’ll hold air in space, or under water. Now, it makes for a lousy submarine, but I bet those satellites can’t detect it under several meters of water.”
Hogue looked at Delgado and raised her eyebrows, questioningly.
The Captain nodded. He said, “Alright, Beazy. Take our wounded out to sea and find a deep place somewhere. But keep your neural implant on. And don’t go so far we can’t use the relay on the transport. That’ll help our communications here on the island. If you need to come out and let some people walk around on dry land every now and then, that’s fine too. But I’d stay under at least until tomorrow.”
Beazy said, “Aye, sir. I’ll just keep one of the doc bots with me, and we’ll go hide.”
The remaining officers onboard exited, as well as a couple wounded who decided they were well enough to walk and did not wish to be cooped inside a metal tube any longer than necessary.
Beazy shut the door and the transport levitated straight up several meters, then shot toward the water.
Hogue looked through the woods now that her view was unobstructed without the craft there. Crew and Marines were scattered about, and still dispersing.
She said, “The Marines all have food in their packs. I think we’re okay for one night, sir, at least.”
Delgado said, “We should be good for several nights. The trick will be staying alive until rescue.”
“Do you think we’ll be rescued, sir?”
Delgado looked up into the sky and thought about the strange weaponry that took away a large chunk of his ship.
He said, “Not anytime soon, XO. Not anytime soon.”
They witnessed the first missiles coming in half an hour later. Then they heard the noise trailing behind. A supersonic craft roughly the length of a terrestrial vehicle, and 30 centimeters in circumference, slammed into a group of Republicans sitting together in an open space on the edge of the woods.
They were spread out but still close together, sitting in a large clump. They never had a chance. The missile exploded right in the middle of the group and 28 bodies flew back from the impact.
Minutes later, two more landed in the woods, taking out groups of 12 and 17.
People split even further apart, growing paranoid.
A final missile streaked in and blew up a group of three Marines standing near two bots.
After that, no one clustered in more than groups of two. Everyone kept nervously looking up at the sky through the trees.
The Captain decided to reach out to Beazy and see if he had been attacked also.
He touched under his ear, activating his implant.
“What’s your status, Beazy? How you doing?”
He got no response. He looked across the clearing where Hogue stood, watching him from a distance.
He shrugged at her. “I guess he’s out of range. Far away and underwater.”
She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted back, “Maybe he’ll contact us tomorrow if he comes up for air.”
Delgado nodded. He said, “Let’s hope they think the transport sunk if they were watching on satellite.”
“You sure this is a good idea, Jamieson? We’re far away from the others.”
Jamieson snorted, looking over his shoulder at Boggs, who followed at a distance of about three meters, just in case.
“Think about it, Boggs. All those interplanetary smart missiles are seeking out large groups of people. If we get far away from everybody, we’re safer.”
“I dunno,” Boggs said. “I always heard there’s safety in numbers.”
“You saw those explosions. Ask him what he thinks.”
Jamieson waved in the general direction of the Verberger X99 battle bot tromping behind Boggs.
Boggs looked over his shoulder at the gleaming gunmetal grey robot carrying a blaster close to its chest, angled up.
He said, “I don’t think those guys talk much. If at all. I’ve never heard them say anything.”
Jamieson smiled and quoted from memory, “‘The Verberger X99 is your friend and battle buddy!’”
“Yeah. Our friend here is not much for words.”
Jamieson crested a small hill and looked down on a wide open field, planted with rows of crops.
In the distance, a couple hundred meters away, he saw a group of men digging a long trench with shovels. Two other men stood watching.
Jamieson held his fist up, bringing Boggs and the bot both to a halt behind him.
Boggs carefully sidled up next to him on top of the hill, glancing nervously at the sky as he did so, looking out for missiles.
Then he noticed the group down below.
“What are they doing?”
“I dunno. But . . . I hope they’re not digging their own graves.”