It is not to say that the Grand Council exists without foresight. The dome of the Greenhouse was built to withstand attacks, and there is an emergency elevator hidden beneath the grass, and an emergency staircase if that doesn't work.

Unfortunately, the foresight they exist with, or existed with, is the foresight of their fathers and forefathers, and the current, one might say latest, or late, iteration of the Grand Council, seems to have decided that since the war was clearly at a stalemate and would remain at a stalemate, then they didn't need to pay for the maintenance of any of these systems.

Which is probably why the seismic effect of the attack on the dome has the ability to shake the elevator out of order. That's fine, we all decide, and we rush to the stairs, only to discover that a massive chunk of masonry and dirt has fallen to block the stairs. That's fine, says the short human in gold and crimson, we'll take the emergency chute. So we rush to the chute and discover that it is also blocked. In the meantime the pounding on the dome has gotten more intense.

"Aristede," I say over the din as we jog towards an exterior exit, "Please tell me you've researched enough about the Barracuda to be able to bring it here."

"Through the glass?" yells Aristede. "The car isn't that fancy."

"It ought to be," yells Klunk. "The things Barracudan engineers can do  -- "

Suddenly there is a great crack. We look up as a mass of glass pieces and steel breaks under the weight of the bombardment and falls. 

I look back, at the members of the Grand Council who are attempting to dig the emergency chute out from the dirt. They are having no luck, and in the next instant most of them have no more luck, for the chunk of glass and steel smashes down upon them. Most of them. Some of them have broken for the exterior exit just in time. They recieve glass shrapnel to the back, and many of them stumble and fall, but two among them, Forsmythe and the human robed in blue and Gold, are hobbling away alive and upright. Mostly. Forsmythe is leaning on the blue and gold man. 

Laser blasts are beginning to scour the ground where the survivors lay. 

The exterior door is close. We could easily escape together now and leave the Grand Council to its fate. 

"Everyone get to the Barracuda," I say, "I'll handle the survivors."

"I can help you," says Ramon. "You've only got one hand, after all."

"No time for objections," I say. "Get to the car. Get it back here and pick me up."

"I've got six hands." says Sword Lesbian.

"Shut up and go!" I say, and I dash toward Forsmythe and the blue and gold-robed man, who have nearly been grazed by laser fire. I swoop Forsmythe into a fireman's carry and spirit him out of the direct line of fire.

Beside me Sword Lesbian is doing the same with a couple other Grand Councillors. "Sorry," she says, "I couldn't leave you or them."

Beside her is Ramon, who has another Grand Councillor on his shoulders.

Klunk and Aristede are supporting one Grand Councillor between them.

The six teenage twerps who call themselves the Resistance are supporting three Grand Councillors.

"I am very disappointed in all of you," I yell. "Thank you. Now let's get out of here."

As we tramp towards the exit, I begin to wonder where Tikreelkara and their kin have gone. They did not bother to help the Grand Council dig the emergency chute out from the dirt, nor have I seen them carrying anyone to safety. It is as if they have disappeared.

The exterior exit's door is something of a moot point by this point, as it has fallen under the onslaught. It makes getting out of the building with a number of injured people easier. 

"Easier" must have been the watchword for whoever designed the stairs down to ground level, though, because it's an archaic design of metal mesh that was outdated on earth fifty years ago. Under the rumbling of the pounding from the still-attacking fleet of cars, and the sudden weight of at least fifteen people, the whole thing breaks off from the wall and tilts forward.

Well, we're getting down to the ground one way or another. 

Or not. Before the fire escape can tilt too far forward, the Barracuda zooms up and stabilizes the structure.

"I figured out how to do one thing at least," says Aristede. "Not sure how to fit this many people into the car though. Oh wait. Sword Lesbian, if you would be so kind?"

"My pleasure," says Sword Lesbian, and she reaches with her remaining free hand into the open window of the car. She pulls out the tiny VW bug, and before I can say "boo" she's deposited all her wounded charges, plus all the injured that the others were carrying, plus everyone besides me, Ramon, and Aristede.

"We ought to put the car in there too," says Aristede. "We've got to get out of here quietly. Nobody's looking for a VW Bug the size of a bug."

"We ought to stay and fight," says Sword Lesbian. "i've been itching to give these people a piece of my mind ever since we left the Space Slug."

"It's my car," says Ramon. "And what can we do against these folks anyway?"

"We fight," I say. "Somehow. Maybe that just means distracting them. Getting them away from the city and over the water. I don't know. It's not as though we have much time for chitchat. Aristede, Ramon, you're in the car with me. Sword Lesbian, I know you want to fight, but you're more useful right now for getting everyone out of here." A plasma bolt streaks past us. 

"When you say everyone -- "

"Everyone is everyone," I say. "You know precisely what I mean. Meet up with us back at the Space Slug."

Another plasma bolt streaks past us. "Understood," says Sword Lesbian. She stuffs herself into the VW bug and soon the car is flying away towards Bubbletown.

"I kind of would have liked to go with her!" says Aristede, as we pile into the Barracuda. The great glass dome of the Greenhouse is falling in more pieces now.

"Looks like you missed your chance," I say. "We might need you here anyway. Ramon, are you ready to risk your precious car? I've got an idea that doesn't involve shooting people."

"How are we going to get rid of these creeps if we don't shoot people?" says Ramon, pulling the car away from the fire escape. "If we don't knock them out of the sky, they'll capture Carla Marli."

"If we do knock them out of the sky," says Aristede, "We're risking my precious car collection."

"We just have to distract them long enough," I say. "Rough them up a bit. Get them away from the dome. How far can we extend the shields?"

"Two meters if we want to use up fuel fast," says Ramon, "and we're already burning a lot by hovering in atmo. If we hit maximum shield capacity we'll fall out of the sky in a few minutes."

"We might be able to extend them farther," says Aristede. "A lot of the rumors about this car on the Car Fixit forums say that the Red Barracuda used to be able to extend its shields to at least twenty meters. Maybe that was in space, though."

"What are the instructions for reaching the battery?"

"Just unscrew the back of the glove box and -- I don't understand what you're getting at."

"Hand me Klunk's toolbox from the backseat, will you? Thank you. Let's see, unscrew the glove box...this is difficult with one hand. Ramon, get us to a hidden location, will you? This could take some time."

Plasma bolts are falling around the car now. "Hidden location is out of the question," says Ramon. "Sorry, Robin, you're going to have to do this in the midst of evasive manuvers." He pulls the car away from the falling dome and flies us out of the line of fire. It follows him more closely than I would expect a line of plasma rounds to follow a fleeing car, but it is possible these pilots are professionals.

The Student Loan Company would not have had any kind of novice pilot flying a Lamborghini, for example. And especially not a Bentley. And definitely not a Porsche. Those are all top-of-the-line Space Cars. You have to know what you're doing to fly those. You also have to know what you're doing to fly a Ferarri, but those are less reliable. They've probably got a novice in the Ferrarri. That will be the weak point of the enemy fleet. Which is good, because the giant manta-ray-shaped troop transport they've got floating in the upper atmosphere doesn't look like it has any weak points. 

I keep dropping the screwdriver as Ramon swerves this way and that. One of the plasma bolts tags us a few times. It's not as bad as it would be if we were in space -- atmosphere plays hell with every aspect of a space fighter -- but it rocks us, and I drop the screw driver again. This is getting frustrating. I look out the window. The Student Loan Company Fleet has concentrated its fire on the Government District, probably because the remainder of the city is in ruins. The Center District is a smoking crater.

"It would be nice if you told me what you were doing," says Ramon. "Maybe give me a chance to set up my actions ahead of time, you know?"

"We're going to fly straight towards the red Ferrari," I say. "No swerving, no flinching. We've got to make ourselves look suicidal."

"Do you recall that this is MY car?"

"And youre MY friend, which is why I'm trusting you to be brave," I say. "I know you, Ramon. You've talked about taking the fight to the Student Loan Company for ten years. Well, now's your chance, even though we don't have a City Buster Gun. What we have is a vehicle whose full capabilities are unknown." I remove the glove box to expose the car's engine. It's running pretty hot. I roll down the window to let the fumes escape, and look for the battery. 

"You're as crazy as Klunk," says Ramon. 

"I've got an idea of what I'm doing," I say. "Aristede, how does the console work to turn the shields up? Is it a dial back there, or just a button?"

"It's a liquid crystal display," says Aristede. "And a number pad. I have no idea what the maximum shield size is."

"No idea, eh? That gives me an even better idea. Turn the shield up to whatever maxiumum you think the number pad can handle. Ramon, it's your time to shine. Aim for the Ferarri and don't stop."

"But  -- "

"We're all in this together," I say, as I jam my personal blue cloud of electricity onto the surface of the battery.

The whole world outside the car goes a bit green.

I start to feel a bit green. However this cloud of blue electricity is working, it seems to involve my own vitality. 

Ramon turns us towards the Space Car fleet and hit the gas. We rocket forward through a hail of plasma bolts as the Space Car fleet turns its full firepower upon us. We do not stop. We do not even slow. The shield is holding fast. I don't know if I'm holding fast, since most of the shield's power is coming from me, but all we have to do is get close to the one car in the front of their formation that is no veteran.

The way space battles have worked over the past fifty years is different from how air battles used to work on earth. In the air, fighter planes have to keep moving, and their formations are kinetic. Space battles, on the other hand, typically involve distances vast enough to make old-school Dogfighting moot. Most space battles involve spacecraft getting into strict formations that, while they still move, move as one. A moving wall of spacecraft you might say, pouring laser fire downrange and hoping to do more damage to the opposing formation, hoping to either make the opposing formation break and run, so it can be picked off in detail, or surround the enemy formation enough to trap it. It's akin to the ancient ground-based methods of war, wherein opposing ranks of armies would shove against each other until one side or the other broke. Only in space, it happens in three dimensions. Reading after-action diagrams of space battles is like seeing a picture of a bacteria battling a White Blood Cell.

The Student Loan Company is unique among galactic military forces for its Mace Heads, which favor the old-school dogfighting approach at close range. It has made their forces formiddable, but few have been able to field anything like what the SLC has, for a Mace Head's ability to make quick maunuvers requires an expensive, complicated, and fragile engine.

Whoever is flying this Space Car fleet is not a veteran of the Mace Head fleets. They are clearly more used to Space Phalanx fighting. They are presenting us a solid wall of fire.

If my hunch is right, the driver of the red Ferrari is a rookie space pilot. Which means that the ancient weakness of the Phalanx formation also exists here in the latter years of the Twenty First Century. Admittedly, the Phalanx's weakness is best exploited by an enemy phalanx, but I think the Barracuda can make up the difference.

My vision begins to grow dark as we approach the enemy fleet to within flip-the-bird distance. I don't notice anyone running away from us.

But what the enemy fleet must notice, by now, is that as we close within striking distance, their wilder shots are bouncing off empty space at a distance well more than fifty feet from the Barracuda. My plan for the shield worked, at least. Let's hope it convinces one of them to vamoose.

To their credit, most of them don't. The ones in the back of the formation have no intention of moving. This is a bit of a problem, though, because the cars in the front line -- all but the ferarri -- try to break and move back through the lines, in a manner haphazard enough to make me wonder if they actually ARE veterans. You'd think a coordinated fleet would have some practiced manuver for a tactical retreat. It's something most space pilots have to learn in order to avoid the most glaring weakness of the Phalanx. Who are these people who haven't learned?

In any case, they are now entangled with their actual veterans in the back lines, which means that when the Barracuda brings its hundred-foot-wide shield to bear upon them, they can't get away.

Cars fly in every direction as the Barracuda plows through their formation. We riders of the Barracuda are shaken mightily by the impact. I let my arm fall from the battery and burn my skin on a bit of hot metal before I manage to jerk myself away from the engine. "Drive," I say through short breaths. "Get us into the ionosphere so we can get out of here."

"But what about Sword Lesbian?"

"She's got her own problems to deal with right now," says Aristede. "Look down."

I look down. There is a mass of churning water where the city of Carla Marli once stood.

"Jesus flipping Christ," I say, "I just wanted her to get the people out."

We fly into the ionosphere, away from the still-reeling enemy fleet below us. We've got a fair number of problems to deal with now, but at the very least, the Student Loan Company can't claim a complete victory.

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