Home > Last Defense (Lorien Legacies: The Lost Files #14)(7)

Last Defense (Lorien Legacies: The Lost Files #14)(7)
Pittacus Lore

Lujan yells into a walkie-talkie.

“Asset on board. We’re taking off in five seconds whether you’re here or not.”

It’s a command not only for Briggs, but for the pilot, who nods.

There’s a second soldier in the cockpit in addition to the pilot. I assume he’s the one targeting with the gunship’s main weapons. Another soldier is adjusting the mount on a huge machine gun pointing out the side of the chopper opposite where I entered. His eyes are on the sky, focused on the incoming skimmers, firing away.

Briggs practically throws himself into the chopper a few seconds later. He shouts when he lands, then scrambles to his knees. One of his boots is covered in blood, and his left arm dangles limply at his side.

“Get us the hell out of here!” Lujan barks at the pilot. He turns to the man on the gun. “Mark your targets.”

As the chopper shudders and begins to shoot up, I attempt to help Briggs into the seat beside me, asking if he’s okay. But he shakes me off, gritting his teeth as he buckles in. I lean forward, trying to get a glimpse of the incoming ships.

Three skimmers open fire at once. Our chopper veers to one side, throwing us all about as we narrowly evade being hit. Carnage rains down on Ashwood, and we’re caught in the cross fire. I brace myself and resist the urge to vomit. This is the first time I’ve been in a helicopter. At least that I’m aware of.

“Knock those bastards out of the sky!” Lujan shouts.

Machine gun fire fills the air, followed by the acrid, metallic smell of discharged rounds. A bigger weapon fires from somewhere near the front of the craft. I clench my jaw and grip the straps holding me in so hard I think I might be drawing blood.

Shock waves from an explosion somewhere outside rock the helicopter. A skimmer goes down in flames.

“Damn,” Briggs says. “One of those Bureau bastards must have been packing a Stinger.”

We fly forward. One skimmer circles Ashwood, but the other is in fast pursuit of us, darting and flying zigzag loops to avoid the shots still being fired from our helicopter.

“Whatever you found in that base,” Lujan says, shouting over the noise, “they must not want it to get out.”

What did we miss? Or what are we overlooking?

“I haven’t found anything,” I say.

“Yeah, but they probably don’t know that.”

“Could be they’re just pissed-off aliens,” Briggs mutters.

As he speaks, he awkwardly tries to pull up his blood-soaked left pant leg with his right arm.

“Let me help,” I offer.

He takes a few deep breaths, sweat beading on his forehead, before leaning back into his seat. I take that as an okay and manage to get his pant leg pulled out of his boot and up over a hole that’s been shot clean through his calf. He points to a med kit attached to the inner hull and then talks me through cleaning and covering the wound with a compression bandage.

“Caught me midsprint,” he says between instructions and long strings of profanity. “Came down hard on my shoulder. Think I knocked it out of the socket.”

“I can try to put it back in if you want.”

“Are you a doctor?”

“Technically . . . ,” I say, “I’m an astronomer.”

Briggs just stares back at me, wheels turning in his head as he thinks about how to respond. But he doesn’t get a chance to. One of the skimmer shots hits us, and we take a sudden dip, dropping what must be hundreds of feet in the air in the course of seconds. I’m sure we’re going to crash, but the pilot levels us out.

“Dammit,” I hear Lujan shout as he picks the gunner up off the floor and helps him get back to his post.

“We can’t outrun this thing!” the pilot shouts.

As Lujan confers with the other soldiers, I strain to look out the window. That’s when I see it: the Mogadorian warship hovering over Washington DC.

“Impossible,” I murmur, knowing full well it’s not, that it’s real. But seeing the giant ship in person is something I’m not prepared for, even after all the TV coverage. It’s awe inspiring in the worst possible way.

Below us the city seems eerily quiet, at least from what I can tell. No smoke rising from the buildings. No jets flanking the alien monstrosity blocking the twilight sky from our nation’s capital.

“Where’s the rest of the army?” I ask. “The National Guard? Where are our defenses?”

“Emphasis was put on the evacuation of high-value assets,” Briggs says. “Most of our targets were in the city. You’re one of the few we had to secure by air. Otherwise, we’re under orders to stay grounded. The chopper’s going to drop us near our destination. It’ll serve as a distraction if we need cover while we make the rest of the way on foot.”

“I don’t think we’re getting dropped anywhere if we can’t shake this skimmer.”

Briggs looks at me, confused.

“That’s what we’ve been calling those smaller Mog ships,” I say.

He considers this. “Beats UFOs, I guess.”

The chopper shakes again. Lujan’s yelling at the two men in the cockpit. Something about avoiding collateral damage. Briggs starts shaking his head.

“All right,” he says, leaning his hurt shoulder towards me and looking in the opposite direction. “Do it. Fix my arm.”

“You’re sure?” I ask.

“If we land in a hot zone I don’t want to be limping and unable to aim. Just get it over with.”

While I’m aware of how this should work physically, I’ve never actually put someone’s shoulder back into its socket. Briggs closes his eyes as I take my seat belt off, angling my body as best I can to get some leverage.

“I’m going to count to three,” I say, grabbing his arm. “One . . .”

“Hold on,” Lujan shouts back to us. “We’re going to try something, and this is gonna get bumpy.”

The helicopter veers, throwing me into Briggs. There’s a POP when I hit him.

“Shit!” he shouts.

I think I’ve accidentally reset his shoulder.

It takes a few seconds to understand what the pilot’s doing. Pulling back and slowing down has put the skimmer right beside us: in the perfect line of fire for our machine gun. Bullets rip through its hull, shredding the alien ship.

“Wahoo!” the gunner shouts.

The alien ship’s cockpit goes up in flames, smoke trailing out of it.

Briggs lets out a long breath. “That’s one way to lose a tail.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Lujan says. “You got the piece of shit. Looks like—”

He stops as we watch the skimmer veer to the side, heading right for us. Its pilot is making one final attempt to destroy his target. Our chopper shoots forward, but not in time. The skimmer hits the back of our craft, our tail rotor snapping. And then we’re spiraling down towards the grass below, a plummeting wreckage of glass and metal and screams.

CHAPTER FIVE

I’M AWOKEN BY A SLAP TO THE FACE. MY EYES shoot open, but the world is fuzzy and full of smoke, nothing but blurry shapes and disorienting darkness. For a few seconds I’m afraid I’m back inside the Mog containment pod and that everything that’s happened in the last few months—my escape, reuniting with Sam—was nothing more than one long dream in an induced coma.

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