By dawn, JT found himself separated from his unit, if it ever could have been called that. Most of the group he had gone out with were farm hands no different from himself, the main exception being that they had lived here most of their lives.
They never found the object that he and Lizzy had watched fall into the hills beyond the reservoir. Instead, they discovered what the object contained: vehicles, similar to the runabouts in that they had rubber-rimmed wheels and moved rather fast over the fields. There, the similarities ended.
These machines had a metal framework like the desert buggies JT had seen back on Earth. They each carried five passengers whose bodies resembled large humans, thought how closely, JT could not tell. They were covered in armor, the heavy plating obscuring even their faces and hands. The machines had loud, clanging motors perched beneath the rear bench that emitted an oily smoke that trailed behind them. As the sun rose in the west, JT and his fellow militia troopers could see the smoke was black.
Above the motor sat a large dish, operated by the fifth rider. The dish, like the invaders’ rifle, fired a sort of energy bolt. The rifle shots were lethal enough. JT’s partner, a guy named Sanjay, took a hit from one and died instantly. The blast left his chest a smoking, ruined mess. From a distance, JT saw four more men hit by the dish. This weapon fired a more sustained beam that reduced its victims to ash in seconds. They barely had time to scream.
The first dish blast scattered the two platoons JT had ridden out with, sending them all scrambling for the woods near the Parkers’ farm.
Shortly after dawn, JT found himself running through the cornfield of the neighboring farm, one of the battle wagons, as they had been dubbed, bearing down on him. He crested the hill in a leap and hoped gravity did not bring the wagon down on top of him. When the machine appeared behind him, the soldiers on board began taking pot shots, searing the ground on either side. JT dove behind a large boulder. He had no idea what their weapons could do to it, but he figured it would at least gave him enough time to pull the rail gun off his back and load a charge. The charges were hollow lead cylinders, each weighing fifteen kilos a piece. He’d been running around with sixty kilos on his back since the previous night, and was more than happy to try and get a couple of shots off, if only to lighten his load.
The charge clicked into its cradle and JT scampered toward the edge of the woods at the bottom of the hill. On the other side of the boulder, the invaders sat taking random pot shots, trying to scare him out into the open. JT turned and rose, aiming the rail gun as best he could at the battle wagon’s motor. He stood looking defiant, just like he’d seen countless Marines do in countless holos about the old colonial battles and the Laputan War. The dish, with its murderous energy, glowed, ready to reduce JT and the surrounding trees to ash. He pulled the trigger on the rail gun.
The recoil sent him flying backward against a tree, winding him. His shot went a little high, missing the motor. It hit the dish weapon instead. The explosion, destroying the battle wagon and its occupants, was the last thing he saw before losing consciousness.