Bullets lifted sprays of dirt and dust along the edge of the irrigation canal as Sayeeda ducked into the shelter of the earthen trench. There were enough gunmen firing and shouting in confusion, and enough of them, certainly those who had still been with the vehicles, were far enough from the stun grenade to have a reasonable chance of hitting her. Fortunately the trench was as effective for her now as it had been for the soldiers of ancient Terra in the distant past as she ducked into its protecton. The woman, Rodrigo’s mother, tried to stand but Sayeeda kicked her down ruthlessly.
“Stay down!” she yelled over the roar of gunfire, the last thing she needed was for the woman to get her head blown off because she was too stupid or paniced to stay in cover. That probably wasn’t fair, she had taken the brunt of the flashbang without protection at a distance of less than a foot, she was probably lucky to be in good enough shape to panic.
The water only half way up her shins in the shallow channel so Junebug took off in a crouching run for a few meters before popping up and putting a round into Miguel’s head. The gang leader hadn’t moved more than a few feet, had dropped his weapon, and was clutching at his eyes when he met his death, but he had been the only gunman whose position she could reliably predict. Everyone was firing now, bullets struck puffs of dust from the dry soil and punched holes in the corrugated iron of the shed, but there were still a few moments of confusion to be exploited. Sayeeda swung her rifle towards the jeep that mounted the recoilless rifle. One of the thugs on the back, smarter than his friends, was trying to swing the big weapon to bear on Neil and Sayeeda’s jeep, but the two meter long metal tube was heavy and even a strong man couldn’t swing it the one hundred and twenty or so degrees it needed to cover to bear on a vehicle which no one had thought of as a threat in the few seconds he had. Junebug fired, not with the rifle but with the underslung grenade launcher. The weapon was rocket driven so there was no recoil, though backblast from the small charge warmed her fingers. The grenade didn’t have time to even drop the few millimeters of a ballistic curve before the secondary detonation went off, firing the spear of molten copper into the unarmored jeep. Though in recent times Sayeeda had done most of her fighting on foot, the instincts of a tanker were ingrained and she had noted the location of the fuel reservoirs before she climbed aboard her own vehicle. The penetrator smashed through the fuel tank like a rifle round hitting a melon, a moment later the blast wave hit and aerosolized the synthetic diesel fuel a heart beat before the explosion set the whole mix off. As fuel air explosions went it was fairly low order, but it flipped the truck like a tiddlywink, tossing the remains of the vehicle three meters into the air in an end over end tumble that ended with the chassis smashing into the corrugated iron shed like a wrecking ball. Bodies flew out in ballistic arcs in three different directions. One of them hit the side of a trench, bounced and then vanished into the sluice with splash. Something hit Sayeeda in the chest, shrapnel or a lucky round, and slammed her into the side of the irrigation ditch with enough force to drive her armored chest plate down onto her thighs, but the ceramic armor spread the impact wide enough that there was no penetration. The impact of the blast raised a vast donut of dust and the overpressure was literally stunning. Taya had gotten behind the gunshield of their own vehicle, a good instinct under the circumstances, though without a driver to provide mobility it wouldn’t have been Sayeeda’s choice. Nonetheless it was Taya, protected from the blast to an extent by the steel gunshield, who reacted first. Her fingers clamped the trigger of the pintle mount and the weapon roared at full automatic, star shaped muzzle flashes standing out like fireworks in the dust choked air. The gun plowed a row in the dirt before the girl managed to correct and hose the fire up onto the second gun jeep. Sparks flew and metal screamed and bodies flew apart as the long burst filled the vehicle with ricocheting death. Junebug slapped her helmet to switch her view to millimetric radar and her view changed from the muted layers of dust to a greyscale representation of the battle. She saw Neil moving and firing at the run, cutting down the knot of survivors who had gathered around Miguel with a pistol in each hand. She ducked back into the trench for a moment to avoid the blast of a grenade hurled by one of the panicking gangsters, then popped back up and sighted on the final jeep. A gunner, a bearded man with a bandolier of grenades slung from shoulder to hip shoved, another thug who had frozen in terror out of the way. He was probably screaming but there was no room in the world for any more noise. He slewed the weapon towards Taya, firing before he even bore. Junebug squeezed her trigger and punched a round into his chest. The grenades on his bandolier gang fired sending a plume of fire bright enough to be seen even through the visual dampening of her visor shooting into the sky. The overpressure thrust the jeep down into the ground on squealing shock absorbers. The vehicle survived the detonation but the gun’s ammunition cooked off in a cavalcade of smaller detonations which shredded the gun mount and the cab. To Junebug’s amazement she saw Rodrigo pop up out of the back of the truck and take a shot at something, although she couldn’t see what it was. Still moving at a run along the axis of the ditch, she fired at the carrots her AI threw up for her, indistinct man shaped blurs through the opaque clouds of dust, the whang! whang! whang! of the disruptor like a lethal metronome as she panned it across the battle space. The surviving gangsters, and by now they were few, seemed to be trying to run, or cower in place, but she didn’t let that slow her down. When you were outnumbered ten to one, the only move was to hit and keep hitting until there was no one left.
Abruptly all the carrots were down. That didn’t mean they were all dead, but the AI marked them as no threat, which meant, at Sayeeda programmed and very conservative threat estimates, probably dead. Gunfire still roared from the jeep as Taya continued to fire into the splintered remains of the enemy jeep. Her weapon didn’t have the hitting power to set of an explosion like Junebugs had, but the fuel tank had been shredded and the vehicle was already burning. Certainly there was no one alive in the wreck now.
“Cease fire, cease fire,” Junebug called over the comm circuit but it was another two seconds before the badly overheated weapon jammed, its barrel glowing cherry red from the continuous fire. A distant and analytical part of her mind made a note to give Taya some instruction on crew served weapons when she had the time. Still, the jam seemed to give the girl a moment to absorb Junebug’s order and she pulled her hand away from the guns grips.
“I’m coming out,” Junebug cautioned before clambering out of the trench, dripping muck from her lower trousers and boots. Her chest and legs began to throb as the adrenaline started to fade and she changed her magazine reflexively. According to the shot counter in her helmet she had only fired 19 of her thirty rounds, but replacing a mag was as automatic as breathing was. Reaching down she brushed at the discoloration just below her left breast where a slug had smeared her armor with molten metal, she was lucky it had only been a pistol round, but the thug had probably been lucky to hit her at all. Briefly he had been lucky at any rate.
Dust eddied in the air for a moment before the desert wind seemed to draw it back like a curtain. Junebug switched her helmet back to optical and surveyed the damage. The shed had been partially demolished, leaning drunkenly even as pale flames, presumably from the ethanol matrix, licked from underneath it. The jeep Taya had shot up burned also sending up a thick pall of black smoke shot through with ugly red flames. The air stank of cordite and burning flesh mixed with the subtle stink of feces voided by dying men. Rodrigo had found his mother and was clinging to her, his eyes wide with shock and horror. He had planned to bring the battle to the gangsters, but he couldn’t have had any idea what that actually meant.
“Man,” Neil said. ‘That was some attack by the spiders. Better go tell Stinger eh?”
Junebug snorted, pulling her canteen from her belt and taking a long drink to dislodge the dust from her throat. She swilled the chilled fluid around her mouth and spat it onto the dirt. Something exploded within the ruins of the shed, though it wasn’t energetic enough to get excited about. Taya stepped from the jeep flexing her fingers to work out cramps. She looked around clearly working hard to appear nonchalant in face of the carnage.
“No kidding,” Junebug agreed, tucking her half expended magazine into a pouch for later refilling.
“We were lucky to survive,” she added, though that was closer to the truth than Neil’s statement. Villagers were appearing from their houses now that the firing had stopped, peering at them in shock and disbelief.
“I can’t believe we killed the people we were working for,” Taya said after a moment. Junebug shook her head.
“Hey Miguel said the job was done, we didn’t have a contract after that,” Junebug explained. Taya stared at her, evidently having trouble recalling the moments before the sudden and bloody firefight had erupted.
“Junebug,” Taya said in amazement, “that is the most spurious technicality I have ever heard.”
Junebug nodded and took another drink of water, half draining the canteen in a single long draught before taking a seat on an empty barrel.
“Maybe, but never let it be said that I broke a contract,” she replied. Neil snickered at that.
“Sorry I couldn’t give you any more warning,” she told them, gesturing to Rodrigo’s mother who was now openly weeping as she clutched her son.
“But speaking of contracts… I think we might make a stop before we report these events to Stinger…”