Read DREADNOUGHT 2165 Online

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

DREADNOUGHT 2165 (11 page)

BOOK: DREADNOUGHT 2165
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Hardway's
forward bays had been cut with the aliens' particle beams and
he could see inside her like it was a cross-sectioned diagram.
She'd taken warhead detonations there too and the metal itself was
burning. A glow made him think her starboard side was on fire, too.
The tower had a hole in it below the bridge. The armored
engineering module near the engines and the stern had taken
hits.
Hardway
ran on half her
engines. The damage was severe. At least she's alive, he thought,
but when the limb of the planet and the thin outer layers of atmo
glowed pink in spots, he knew whatever battle had beaten and
battered the massive carrier wasn't over yet.

She turned hard and when the seven
alien ships chasing her came over the horizon and got line of sight
on her again,
Hardway
was the
first to fire. Her railgun rounds hit the first heavy cruiser and
it lurched towards the planet, momentarily without power. Ram
zoomed in even closer and saw the engines of the torpedo junks
diving on it. They loosed four warheads apiece so close that even
if the cruiser hadn't been stunned, it couldn't have got all of
them before the nuclear detonations flashed up and down the
400-meter hull. It leaned and fell into the path of the heavy
cruiser behind it.

 

 

Chapter
Eleven

 

Jordo couldn't move. He'd been bound. He
came awake to a splitting pain in his skull like forks were being
pushed through his helmet and into his temples slowly and
deliberately. He wasn't sure where he was. It was inside, so it had
to be one of Ram Devlin's boarding craft. He tried to look around,
but they had him strapped down to a crash couch. All he could see
was the top of a plasma drill derrick and the melted hatch where
the topside turret must have got burned out. He couldn't see the
XO, but he recognized his voice in the conversation on local suit
comms. "We're not going to make it through the hull of this ship in
time to board it or plant charges." Jordo's suit told him Devlin
was only scant meters away.

"We could blast off in the Ticks," Lucy Elan
said, "call it a day."

"If this alien battleship
engages
Hardway
, then it's
all over. You've seen her out there. She's barely hanging on as it
is. No. We can't go. We've got one last shot at this bitch and
we're going to take it. We'll detonate the charges we have along
with the reactors inside the Ticks."

Tse said, "But we haven't cut all the way
through the armor yet."

"The vape craters in the hull from the
nuclear warspites – the ditches we've been using for cover – some
are over a meter deep. We should get a meter's worth of
vaporization from a Tick's reactor and a fusion mining charge.
We're already at... What are we at, Tse?"

"2.38 meters."

"If it's only a meter or two more through
the hull from the point we've drilled to, then there's a good
chance the reactors and the charges together will punch through. If
even a tenth of the force of the detonation gets inside, we'll
blast a firestorm up and down every deck of this ship."

Lucy said, "What about the heat and the
radiation?"

"We'll have to make it to the other side of
the hull where the ship itself can shield us."

Jordo couldn't lay there and listen to
officers concoct another suicidal plan. He said, "Hey! Let me up.
Where are my pilots?"

"Flyboy is awake..."

Ram Devlin looked down at him from
above. He was uglier upside down. He said, "Your pilots finally
followed my orders and returned to
Hardway
to re-arm after Lucy rescued
you."

"You can untie me now," Jordo said. Every
word hurt.

"Lt. Flyboy," Lucy Elan said as she appeared
on the other side of the crash couch and peered down at him through
his helmet. "You look like shite."

"Why'd you tie me up?"

"Because you tried to kill the Marines that
came to get you, that's why. You remember that part?"

He remembered. He remembered all of it. "I
feel fine now. You can untie me." He could tell they weren't
convinced.

Lucy Elan said, "You get your hands on some
of Harry Cozen's stash, Lt. Flyboy?" and the XO's mouth actually
fell open.

"You
knew
about this?"

"Just a lucky guess," Lucy said. Devlin
didn't seem to want to take that for an answer. "I've seen
something like it before."

"Where?"

"Back. Way back. Back in the War of
the Americas. Battle of the Amazon Crater.
The magic minute
. There are ten million stories
from that day, but they don't talk about 'magic minute' and the
fight for the BNC uplink facility. The only winner in that battle
was death."

"What the hell is
that
supposed to mean," Jordo said, but he knew.
He did.

She said, "The Staas Contractors who made
the final push through the trenches dosed some kind of experimental
cognitive enhancement as they dropped in. I heard it was some kind
of synthetic hormone. That's just hearsay, but once, I talked to a
guy who was there. He was in it. Called it 'the magic minute'. He
said he could see the whole battle happening at once – said he
could see it all happening in dilated time... every bullet and
bomb. I asked him how they closed the distance to the trenches
after landing with all those HK drones and fast fifties perched on
tripods the whole way in, and he said they just ran between the
bullets. He said it like that's what anyone would have done."

Jordo said, "What happened next?"

"After that... Once they took the lynchpin
position for the Turko-Brazilian defense...they couldn't stop
fighting. Got some kind of Berserker rage going. The guy I met was
one of three survivors from that unit. The rest all killed each
other. Harry Cozen was just a Colonel, but those were his boys and
girls. 'Magic minute' was his compound. I guess he's been working
on it and improving it because this time," Lucy said, "it took over
an hour for the madness to set in."

Ram Devlin towered over him,
grim-faced. "I ordered you to find the compound and destroy it." He
just looked up at the XO and blinked. There was nothing to say.
"And that stunt-flying over the hull... ramming the Squidies... God
almighty, Colt are you trying to get the
rest
of them killed? What the hell did you think
you were doing?"

"My job!"
You
pissing hypocrite, Devlin.
You
self-righteous bitch...
He shook his head left and
right in his helmet and had to laugh.

"You're responsible for those pilots'
lives," the XO said. He wanted to kill that man and it wasn't
Dirty's compound making him feel that way.

He said, "We started with 44 Lancer
nuggets. Now, we're down to five because it's our job to fly into
the meat grinder. Hell,
today
Harry Cozen sent us in with warspite torpedoes on our wings
just to make sure the job got done and the bandits got waxed
so
Tipperary
could get away.
I know it's more important than our lives, and I know victory has
to be paid for in blood, but don't you
dare
pretend to be appalled if we take risks to
get our job done."

"Your job is to follow my orders and keep
your pilots alive."

"We waxed
eighteen
red bandits today and a couple hundred
Squidies on the hull of this ship. Does it really matter to you if
we put ourselves in danger to do it?"

Ram Devlin's face screwed up like he'd
smelled something awful. "Don't treat your pilots like that."

"Like what?"

"Like it doesn't matter if they live
or die," Ram said
.

"We did good with what he gave us," Jordo
said. "We did better than good. This is what you wanted. This is
what you need. Don't pretend it's any other way. Don't pretend this
isn't what you want from us."

The XO said it quietly: "There's only five
of you left."

"Don't you dare put that on me. I did
my best to keep every one of them alive. You ask for more than we
can give every time.
Every
time. And we give it. We
die
giving it. Don't put those deaths on me. You and Cozen put us
here. You think you could have done any goddamn better with the
hand you dealt us? I made decisions. Some wrong maybe, some right –
the best ones I could. I lost nine Lancers today. Nine out of
fourteen. Six weeks ago there were forty-four. You going to tell me
you could have done any better? You think you could have taken less
risks with their lives and got less of them killed?" The XO didn't
answer him and the twinge of pity in his self-righteous eyes was
infuriating. "Look around you on the hull of this alien ship,
Commander Devlin. You think you're doing any better than I am at
making decisions and saving lives?"

Ram Devlin tried to stare a hole through the
spot between Jordo's eyes. "Keep him tied up," Devlin said. "I
haven't decided whether or not to shoot him." Then he walked away
and exited out the Tick's hatch while Jordo struggled against his
restraints.

He looked up at Lucy Elan. "Devlin's
got the balls to send us out to die and then tell me it's
my
fault – that it's because I'm
taking unnecessary risks with my pilots lives? Does he think his
hands are clean? You know they got us from a prison,
right?"

Lucy said, "I won't presume to speak for the
man, but I don't think that's what he was trying to say. Look, Lt.
Flyboy. You're new at this, so I'm just going to lay it out for you
all square and ugly. Your superior officers are going to try and
get you killed. It's part of their job."

"No shit."

"We do it all the time. And this might make
you think you're expendable."

"We are."

"But even if you know you're
expendable, it's your duty to the pilots under your command to
treat
them
like
their
lives are precious. You're the
only thing between your people and the officers that want to kill
them. You get that? If Harry Cozen treats your pilots like their
lives are cheap, then it's your duty to
them
to push back, Lt. Flyboy. Sometimes you
gotta fight Harry Cozen... for their sakes. I'm not going to tell
you what you should have done today or what choices you should have
made. I'm not
that
kind of an
asshole. But I
am
going to
tell you that you gotta protect the lives of your pilots because
men like Cozen won't. If you don't watch out for your people, then
nobody will. I think that's what your XO was trying to say. He's
wound up a little tight. It's not easy working closely with Harry
if you have any real sense of right and wrong."

But
Hardway
revolved around Harry Cozen. "I don't
get it. He's the Captain. Ram Devlin follows him. And you... you
and him... you go way way back... but you talk about him like...
like he's the enemy."

"First of all, technically, he's a
Staas Company VP and Privateer Admiral acting as
Hardway
's Captain, presumably
grooming Devlin for the job. Yeah. We follow him. And it's true
that me and Harry Cozen go way back. So I know that Harry Cozen is
a dangerous sociopath and a truly evil bastard. But. Harry Cozen
has his place. He has his function. I'd even say we can't get by
without a man like him, but unless the people around him are twice
as conscientious, twice as ethical, then his poison spreads. His
way of thinking is seductive, but the ends
never
justify the means no matter what he says
and no matter how desperate we are. If he ran completely unchecked
by those around him – if Harry Cozen always got his way, then
Humanity's survival would be assured, but what we became under his
hand might not be a thing worth saving. So... Important takeaway
here: we need Harry Cozen, but we only need
one
of him, Flyboy. Get it? No need to emulate
him. In fact, do the opposite, Jordo, because unless the people
around Harry Cozen work real hard to make sure it doesn't happen,
then that man will steer us all straight to hell. You and the
Lancers have had a taste; you know I'm right."

*****

Outside Tick #1 Ram Devlin peeked over the
lip of the blast crater and tried to get a glimpse of the enemy
positions. Hollis nagged him to keep his head down. "You trying to
get dusted, Mr. Devlin?" Ram didn't answer him. "They're still out
there," Hollis said. "They're not advancing. They're waiting."

He barely heard Hollis. As Ram looked out in
all directions over this massive cock-up of an assault and counted
the dead on the hull, J. Jordo Colt's words echoed in his ears. He
wasn't sure if the Lancers' rookie squadron leader was right when
he said Ram wasn't doing much better himself. Ram wanted to tell
that pilot to blame the damn war and not him, but those were
Cozen's words.

Lucy Elan made her way around the whole
perimeter. Ram watched her go from position to position, checking
in with her remaining Marines. They'd taken heavy casualties.

In the abstract, his plan to detonate the
Ticks' reactors and drive to the edge of the hull sounded solid.
When he came up with it, it seemed sensible, but now, looking at
all the corpses on the hull, he felt like he had no right to ask
his people to take this chance. Even if the plan worked, it was
practically suicide.

BOOK: DREADNOUGHT 2165
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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