Their leader is restless, pacing back and forth in the shelter. She stops, head cocked, listening as the perimeter guard sends their coded messages. "All secure." The code is a simple one. Each guard is assigned a number. The first guard beats out the first measure of a nursery rhyme, the second beats out the next measure, and so on until all the guards have reported. Effective, simple, and in a code that the enemy will never break. They, she thinks scornfully, don't have the imagination.
She is a tall, solid, young woman, the leader, shoulder-length brown hair and snapping brown eyes. Those eyes are narrowed in thought.
"So," she says softly, "they think they have the advantage, do they? They think they can stop us?" She grins mirthlessly. "I don't think so." She faces her team. Most are young, untried, unbloodied by battle, but they're all she has. "We'll see how long that lasts," she promises them. "No one snatches one of my team and gets away with it."
The team members are silent, watchful, nervous. Their leader was a good one, battle smart and cunning, but this, after all, was 'first blood' for them. Only the veterans are unafraid. They've been through this before with this commander. She has their trust.
Another member bursts in. "The enemy has cannons," he breathlessly reports.
The leader's eyes close momentarily. Against their smaller weapons, cannons would be almost impossible to beat. She thinks quickly. "We'll take the cannons out first. Courtney, you take your squad and go 'round through the ravine and come up behind them. I want those cannons!"
The named stand up. It is only a moment's work to snatch up weapons and protective gear and they're gone. The leader watches as her most experienced team members leave. The battle would be trickier to win with their absence, but they needed to have those cannons out of commission.
She turns to the others. "Okay, the rest of you know the plan?" Some nod, others only look worried. She hides a sigh. "Colton, you and your squad keep the enemy from getting past the trees. Pete, you've got the ditch. If they come that way, you can catch them in a cross-fire, okay? If you hear us engage the enemy, you come in and be the back line."
"The rest of you are with me. We're the front line." There are a few nervous nods. "Good. Check your weapons then. Brittany? You're in charge of the ammo. You make sure that there's plenty to go around." Brittany nods, her face tense. Hers is an awesome responsibility.
The leader eyes her troops as they prepare for battle. "We'll come through this okay, don't you worry. I haven't lost a battle yet." Some smile, knowing her reputation.
They're a rag-tag bunch and, they think, it will be good to be on the winning side for a change. The past few months have seen many of them lose to the superior force of the enemy. Escape is easy, especially after dark. No one knows the area as we do. There would be no more running away. Today, they would fight. It feels good.
The perimeter guard sends another coded message. The enemy were on their way!
"Okay, team, this is it!" she shouts. "Let's roll it!"
The squads disappear to their assigned places. Only her team is left to hear her promise "If they want a war, I'll give them one they'll never forget!" She stalks out of the shelter, weapon ready. Her face is grim and determined.
There is silence on the streets. Shadows flit from cover to cover as the enemy approaches the stronghold. They peer cautiously, looking for the defenders, but none are found.
"Now!" the strong voice of the leader commands, and the air becomes filled with flying ammunition, the shrieks of those hit, and the shouts of those seeking revenge for fallen comrades.
She shouts orders, bellows encouragement, and seems to be everywhere, now attacking the enemy, now defending a fallen comrade. The cannons are taking deadly toll. The medics race between the fallen, giving aid where they can. The air is thick with the mist from discharged weapons. She presses onward.
Suddenly, there is a lull in the battle. They take advantage of it, helping the wounded to safety, reloading weapons, planning strategy. A sudden wail splits the quiet.
"Mom! Can you turn on the outside tap again? We're out of water!"