"Bird seventy-six is hit! I repeat, seventy-sixth is hit!” said the Gryphon’s second pilot.
Tension was thick in the air of the heavy shuttle’s landing compartment. Astroborne are a tough bunch, but they are humans after all. When the mission is over everyone wants to get out as soon as possible.
“Yes, sir. Seventy-sixth carried a ranger team. I’ve got multiple enemy targets on the screen! No, sir, we can’t land to provide assistance... We will be like a sitting duck! They’ll blow us to hell in no time.”
“I request permission,” a cold and calm voice interrupted, “to go down and get the group out.”
For a moment all sounds in the landing compartment faded. Astroborne were not willing to go back into the fire, to say the least. They were not able to help, and that would be a waste of lives. It was impossible.
“Negative!” the pilot snapped, “We cannot descend to dropping altitude and we won’t turn back. And I will not risk any lives or my ship.”
The only ranger on board listened to his feelings for a second. Gut feeling never failed him, so there was no other option. The man stood up and walked to the ramp, holding the handrail.
“Lieutenant, open the hatch, I’ll take a harness and drop from here,” the ranger said with stonewall confidence in his voice.
“I do not…”
“That’s an order,” without a shadow of irritation or tension said the ranger, “Order issued by Kaa.”

For a few seconds pilots checked the callsign.
“Yes, sir ...” said the shocked pilot, and the ramp started to open, “Current altitude is 22 clicks. Good luck.”
“I do not need luck,” Kaa replied calmly, “I have skills.”
“Get back safe, sir,” said the astroborne lieutenant sharply.
“Bon voyage, everyone,” replied Kaa and jumped out into the night sky that burned with dozens of explosions.

“Group two, cover the door!” shouted the ranger lieutenant trying to set up a defense, “Clara, what’s with the pilots?”
“One’s OK!” answered the sergeant, “The other one’s bad! Stabilizing him now!”
For a second the lieutenant hesitated, thinking how to exfil a heavily wounded comrade.
“All right, group three, where’s my cover from the second floor!”
“Almost there!” answered the squad leader, “Vlad! Pick up the pace!”
“Wait… Look out!” answered the rifleman.
The next second the night lit up green from a plasma projectile explosion, and the building shuddered, taking several hits.
“Three-leader is dead,” said Vlad hardly breathing, “Three leader is dead.”
“Damn... Sitrep!”
“Mother of God... I see two shorks and a pack of grown-up raptors. Spider drones are covering them! Oh, sh…”
The building shuddered again. Vlad continued his report, but the lieutenant could not hear a world. The signal was clear, and the channel worked, but his brain no longer registered the sense of those reports. Two shorks meant this was the end. With covering fire and a bunch of raptors, humans did not stand a chance. Not in
“Group three, get back to the Gryphon...” the lieutenant issued an absurd order, “Double-time.”
What will they do here? How will they hold the perimeter? But what else there was to do? The only chance for the group was to get away from the crash site before Seit closed in in numbers. No luck this time. The lieutenant’s helmet showed a new friendly unit mark, and in a moment brake engines of the harness fired, and a friendly landed on the hull of the downed Gryphon.
“Who are you?” asked the lieutenant.
“Reinforcements,” the ranger said coldly.
In any other situation the commander would have laughed, but it was not the time. The remnants of his group rushed to the crash-landed vessel, and raptors followed closely. Large, armored, half-ton carnivores jumped into the spacious hall. The thing that happened next remained beyond the lieutenant’s comprehension, regardless of how many times he watched the combat footage. There was no explanation. Rangers are great shots and hardened fighters. But before any of his men managed to raise a rifle, the newcomer put the raptors down. All of them. One after another. One shot for each beast. The barrel of his gauss marksman rifle seemed to predict their moves, and hypersonic bullets pierced their bodies in mid-air.

“Let’s move,” the newcomer calmly waved his hand.
“State your name and rank,” ordered the lieutenant.
"Kaa," The newcomer said and jumped down.
A dozen of humans regrouped and moved in the direction of friendly positions, when shorks caught up. Two monsters in exoskeletons moved saving power, and six more adult raptors advanced with them.
“We’re done,” a voice of one the soldiers sounded in the headphones.
“Suppressive fire!” commanded the lieutenant, “FIRE!”
Humans laid down concentrated fire on the enemy, quickly turning around and reforming into a rank. Raptors jumped into cover, avoiding rifle fire. The sharks kept moving forward and seemed to not mind the hits. A team of humans without heavy weapons was an easy prey.
"Get rid of the raptors," said Kaa coldly, like a machine, “I’ll take these.”
“You mean, like…”
“Do it.”
Hearing that the lieutenant believed that the man could do it. Or he just wanted to believe in miracles…
“Gun down the raptors, people!” he ordered quickly and froze.
Kaa dashed towards the shorks. Only one shork reacted to the ranger’s crazy charge. One three-meter tall beast was more than enough for a ranger in the astroborne armor. Shork tried to get rid of a mad ranger. But Kaa easily dodged the blow. Then again and again. The next moment the shork froze and dropped his weapons. And Kaa fired several times right between the armor plates on his neck.
“We need to get out of here now!” exclaimed Vlad.
“Belay panic!!!”
“That’s not panic,” said Kaa coldly, making a shot to draw attention of the second shork.
The bullet flying several times the speed of sound barely left a mark on thick armor. The shork ignored the human and started to fall back. And Kaa knew exactly what was coming. A Seit skimmed on his throne above the ruins. The grav-platform was surrounded by three control drones and a bunch of defensive drones.
“God damn...” whispered the confused lieutenant, feeling that his legs froze still and his body stops to obey.
“What are you looking at?” asked Kaa “Get a move on!”
An even cold voice tore down the Seit’s control. The grey alien recalled his slaves, and Kaa signaled the Rangers to fall back. For a while they looked at each other. And then the ranger moved to catch up with the team.
“What was that?” asked the lieutenant.
“Looks like the grey got too far from the main force,” Kaa waved, “Did not want to waste resources.”
“On us?”
“We killed a shork,” Kaa said reasonably.
“Well, yeah… we,” chuckled the lieutenant “I have never seen anyone moving so fast.”
“It happens...”
Then the officers went in silence. The group was moving fast, trying to get out of the enemy-controlled ground. Gradually Kaa fell behind and went up to the rearguard rifleman.
“Are you Vlad?”
“Yes, sir.”
“You were the first one to notice the Seit.”
“Well, not that I noticed him, more like...” Vlad smiled.
“Do you have headaches during hyper-jumps?” the second question sounded completely absurd.
“Uh... yes.”
“I’m not sure I’m following.”
“Do you want to get Poltergeist training?” Kaa’s question made the ranger stop transfixed.
“Poltergeists don’t exist!” the soldier waved, “This is a morale-booster tale. Who would believe that one man can bring down a shork...?”
Having said this Vlad realized the meaning of his own words and turned his eyes on Kaa, who remained calm as usual.
“Exactly,” nodded the Poltergeist, “They don’t exist. But you can take part in the program.”

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