Authors: A.D. Bloom
Tags: #space, #military scifi, #space war, #warships, #scifi action adventure, #military science fiction scifi space aliens, #space action adventure, #war action adventure, #military scifi action, #military science fiction series
Her first, burning stroke cut its weapon in
half. Her second one cut the alien across the armored midsection.
It sprayed gas and blue snow out the wound and fell to the
Hollis slapped Ram on the shoulder and
pointed in the other direction, to their 3 o'clock, up over the lip
of the crater. "It's another wave!" This one was bigger than the
last. Fifty Squidies in exosuits came
at them in a low firing line. They
weren't armored, but they all had handheld masers that could turn a
man to ash before his suit even burned away.
Ram twisted the dial on the antique Honma
& Voss pistol, rose and swept the beam of focused x-rays across
the enemy, firing the terror weapon at maximum discharge. The beam
cut at least ten Squidies across their tendril legs or bodies. They
fell to the hull and slid while the severed limbs whipped and
sprayed copper blue like headless snakes. Ram fired again, but the
gun had overheated. He almost threw it at them.
"Mr. Devlin!" Hollis pulled him down just
before Henkel and Thiebaud next to him flared up under maser fire.
Flames danced inside their helmets as they fell. Hollis shouted,
"We've got to fall back!"
"We can't pull back until Lucy can! Hold!"
No other command would save them. Ram picked up Henkel's rifle and
pumped out sabot after sabot at the horde of charging Squidies.
They were thick out there – coming from everywhere on boneless
legs, now pressed low to the hull. The aliens reached the lip of
Ram's crater and raised the masers they held at the end of their
knots of absurd, garden hose arms. The stubby, neckless heads
inside those cycloptic helmets in the middle of their bodies looked
down at Ram and Hollis at the bottom of that crater. Ram fired, but
the MA-48 didn't buck. It was out of energy. All Ram could do was
open his mouth and scream his rage and all his hate into the ten,
ugly, alien eyes he saw inside that 'helmet'.
The Squidies above him twitched their wormy,
oral appendages just before their freakish bodies burst apart and
sprayed copper blue mist and snow in all directions.
140mm canon rounds rained down from directly
above like hail and everywhere they fell knots of garden hose limbs
and sack-torsos blew apart in the red-orange explosions. Lightning
and fireballs flashed twelve times a second until every square
meter of the hull in front of Ram and the rest of the boarding
teams was filled with blossoming detonations. It was an inescapable
hell and it fell on the nubby heads of all the Squidies charging
"It's the Lancers!" Hollis' arm shot out as
he shouted and pointed to the blurred streaks overhead. Five F-151
Bitzer exo-atmospheric fighters dove down at the alien
Dreadnought's hull, flying insane rolls around the particle beams
that swept back and forth in all directions at once as the
battleship's guns big and small stabbed and waved and tried to cut
them from the sky.
The pair of fighters that had obliterated
the Squidies in front of Ram's position spiraled around a single,
frustrated particle beam and then another like they were teasing
them. The streams reached out and slashed at the fighters all the
way in, but the Lancers' paths changed direction too quickly. They
had too much angular momentum and the turrets were too slow to keep
up. Everywhere guns reached for the Lancers and everywhere they
Bizarre, almost pre-verbal screams cut the
jamming and filled the local suit comms channel whenever the
Lancers dived low over the Dreadnought's hull. Ram hoped it was
just the sound pilots make when they're hitting inertial gees that
crush them with thirty times their own body weight.
They skimmed right over the tops of the low
gun towers too fast to be caught and hosed the hull down with sabot
and HE shells, strafing the Squidies and raining hate everywhere.
The Ticks on the far side of the formation and the men and women in
exosuits Ram could see defending them were now silhouetted by a
walls of fire from the Lancers' high-explosive shells.
The aliens scattered and squidged fast
across the hull, retreating for the edge, for the other side or the
cover of a gun tower or a hatch – anything to avoid the explosions
that chased them without mercy and blew thin knots of limbs and
boneless bodies apart. Then, almost as quickly as they'd begun, the
firestorms thinned and waned. The red-orange blossoms of hell only
bloomed in clusters, then in bunches. Then, finally Ram realized
only two of the Lancers were still firing. "Out of ammo!" he heard
more than one of them shout on local comms as they streaked
overhead with all the Dreadnought's beams chasing them like
searchlights. In a few more seconds, the rest of the Lancers were
out of ammo and all he heard on their comms was more atavistic
screaming and curses and rage.
Ram knew what was happening. He tried to
tell them to get the hell out of there. He tried, but even as he
gave the order, they dove at the hull. It looked like they were
going to ram senselessly into the Dreadnought, but they pulled up
at the last moment and skimmed only a couple of meters off the
surface – below the height of the gun towers. They shifted left and
right on their maneuvering jets, hunting down any Squidies they saw
with the hulls of their fighters, trying to impale them on the
barrels of their cannon.
Lancer 2-1 sent a line of a dozen Squidies
spinning into the black, broken and twisted wrong, even for those
boneless things. "What the hell are they doing?"
"They're gonna wreck!"
"Ram Devlin to Lancer Squadron: Break
away! You're out of ammo! Break away! Get your pilots the
off the hull!" The only
response on comms was unintelligible.
"What the shite is wrong with them?"
Ram knew. "Lancers, break away! Break away!
RTB! You can't do any more good here!"
In the very second when the Dreadnought spun
the battle from day into night, an F-151 Bitzer running down
Squidies close to the far side of the Ticks' formation clipped the
burned out hull of Tick #5. The fighter spun low overhead, narrowly
missing two more of the armored boarding craft. On its way down, it
ripped over Ram's crater and Lucy's squad and Pardue's
knuckledragger. It crashed a little over 100 meters out from Lucy
Elan and slid into a tower.
The Lancers didn't listen to Ram's orders.
They shot across the hull ramming the Squidies that came anywhere
near their downed pilot. Over comms Lucy Elan reported, "I can see
the wreck. The cockpit detached cleanly from the rest of it. It's
intact about 150 meters away." She said, "Cover us if you can.
We're going to go and get your stupid pilot."
Lucy Elan and five of her Marines ran hard
across the open hull in two small teams. While one team laid down
cover, the other advanced.
The Lancers' strafing and their suicidal
runs only meters over the surface had scattered the Squidies. Only
two unarmored aliens made it to the downed pilot's cockpit. They
took cover behind it and fired over it keep the Marines from
crossing the last meters.
Lucy and her corpsman, Smedley, pressed
their backs to the side of a gun tower. "We go next chance," she
said. He nodded. Lucy peeked, then spun out from cover with the
corpsman right behind her.
The Squidies had laid down fire on the other
Marines and when they saw Lucy in the open, one turned to point the
wide barrel of a maser at her. The inside of it lit up so bright
her helmet dimmed and she felt heat everywhere down one side of her
body, like she was naked and facing the burning sun, but she felt
the burning even inside, inches under her skin. Lucy would have
burned alive if the lid of the pilot's ejected cockpit hadn't
opened up like a coffin and knocked the aliens' weapons off
They stumbled back on their clusters of
vine-like limbs and tried to fire again, but they weren't fast
enough. Lucy fired over the lid. She meant to keep the two Squidies
pinned there while the others came in from the flanks and ended it,
but the insane pilot came out of the open cockpit like an
orange-suited jack-in-the-box. He sprung up and out like a crazed
ape and threw himself at the closest Squidy.
He wrapped his legs around its waving,
garden hose 'arms' and hugged the middle and banged his visor
against its nubby helmet. It clawed at the pilot with its
perversely tiny, all-finger 'hands' at the ends of its 'arms' as
the other Squidy scuttled back and tried to get an angle to burn
the human off.
The crazed pilot's hands were suddenly
everywhere on the Squidy's suit helmet. He actually managed to tear
something free, and pressurized gas jetted out the top of the
Squidies suit. The top-heavy pair fell to the hull and rolled.
Lucy and her corpsman came 'round the left
side of the cockpit and put a pair of holes through the still
standing Squidy while the pilot wrestled with the slow-dying alien,
entangled in its ropey limbs.
"Get off it!" she shouted. "We can't get a
He wouldn't let go – just kept tearing at
the Squidy's helmet, trying to get it all the way off. It kept
moving for another ten seconds after the outgassing stopped. When
it was still, the pilot looked up at Lucy. Through the visor of his
flight helmet, she saw J. 'Jordo' Colt's wild eyes flash madness at
her just before he lunged.
A rifle butt to the ribs didn't seem to slow
Jordo down much, but it was enough for her Marines to get control
of his limbs.
He thrashed and screamed. That boy was not
himself today. She said, "Corpsman give him the gas."
Smedley had the canister out of his kit and
in his hand in less than five seconds. Once they got the port cover
off the rebreather system on Lt. Flyboy's suit, the medic fit the
nozzle to the port and rammed it down hard. J 'Jordo' Colt kept
thrashing for a few more seconds until the misty, twilight fog
filled his helmet and his face went slack.
Ram said, "Bring him inside."
They carried him in the Tick's hatch and set
him down on one of the crash couches. After that, Lucy cocked her
head and just stared at Ram for a half-second. "You been jacking up
your pilots, Ram?"
"Have you been jacking up your pilots?
Maybe using some kind of
enhancements on them?"
Ram said, "Why would you ask that?"
"Lt. Flyboy here didn't even recognize
me. When he got done killing a Squidy without no weapons but his
gloved hands, he turned on me
He would have killed anyone, I think. My corpsman
had to pump anesthetic gas through his rebreather plate while we
held him down. He went berserk, Ram. What the hell did you give
"It wasn't me," Ram said.
The Tick lurched to the side hard enough to
throw them all off their feet. Once Ram got his balance back, he
made for the hatch – the one facing the Dreadnought's stern and the
600-meter-long line of engine exhaust vents set on its trailing
edge. Even before he got the hatch open enough to see the plume, he
saw the color of the aliens' plasma exhaust tinting the
Dreadnought's hull. The rose hue poured into the Tick and filled
the compartment. "They've got one of their engines started," he
said. "One of six. It's slow, but it can move now."
"So where is it going?" Lucy said it as if
there was nowhere it could go that made a difference.
The ship turned and the stars began to set
into the aft end of the alien hull. The jet of vectored plasma
torrenting out the single, functioning engine bent at a shallow
angle, and they turned harder. The ringed planet rose over the
dreadnought's bow. Ram said, "It's turning towards the planet."
"Is it making for
"Maybe. Maybe he just wants to burn us off
in the atmo."
Lucy said, "You're the sailor, Ram, correct
me if I'm wrong, but he can't go that close on one engine. He'll
get sucked down the gravity well."
"On just one engine he can probably pass
this ship through the outer atmo and then skip it like a stone on a
pond. He'll shoot back out into space and we'll be nothing but
Lucy sighed. "It's never the straight up
fight I want it to be, is it? Fine. How long?"
"It only has one working engine. Three hours
maybe. Maybe less." She nodded grimly as if she already knew it
wasn't going to be enough. Ram turned and looked over his shoulder
at Tse and his two-man crew working the plasma drill. "Depth
report, Mr. Tse."
"2.15 meters. That's it. I could have cut
you a kilometer-long tunnel through a solid iron block by now.
It's... it's like whatever this stuff is, it gets tougher and
denser the deeper we drill and we don't even know how deep we have
Tse looked over at J. 'Jordo' Colt. He lay
on the deck after getting rolled off the crash couch when the
Dreadnought lurched. "So... How long's it going to be before the
gas you gave him wears off?"
Two hours later, the Dreadnought hadn't
changed course. The planet grew to fill half the sky and the rings
reached out for them like a curving blade. It wouldn't be long now.
Soon, it would try to burn them off in the atmo.
The Squidies didn't throw the same numbers
at them as before. Since they'd got one engine working, it seemed
like they were content to contain the boarders. They hadn't tried
to overrun the Ticks again. They must have been confident the
intruders would burn up soon enough.
Out in the crater closest to Tick #1,
Hollis was the one who saw her first. "
Ram took another look up at the planet above
and its knife-edged rings. He saw the cold flare of the carrier's
engines coming 'round the limb of the planet, making the outer atmo
glow with pale, bluish light. They weren't the only ones who saw
it. Local comms erupted with cheers until they all zoomed in with
their helmets and got a better look.