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
got another one," Hollis said. He
pointed straight up at
still leading the alien battlegroup in a running fight. The
Dreadnought had steamed close enough to the battle for them to see
the hulls in low orbit clearly. The ship falling towards the planet
was one of the big ones, an alien heavy cruiser probably. The dying
ship stabbed at
more time before its guns went dark. It trailed smoke against the
rings, on fire.
blasted to a higher orbit to put the innermost moon between
her and the pack of warships hounding her. It was harder now. She
had to avoid the pack of Squidies chasing her as well as the
Dreadnought since it had limped close. On one engine, the Squidies'
battleship wasn't going to run
down, but the attack carrier had to
maneuver to keep out of effective range of its guns.
Buzzing points of light and flashes around
the carrier told Ram the Dingoes were still intercepting alien
torpedoes, but there weren't many left and she'd already taken
heavy damage. Every module looked to have taken a hit of some kind.
She'd probably lost a lot of crew.
Lucy Elan ran to Ram's position from behind.
She dove into the shallow, vape crater with him and Hollis. She
said, "It's almost time to pull this stunt of yours."
Ram nodded. "Hollis, go make sure the drill
crew are good to go." After he was gone, Ram opened a private comms
channel to Lucy. "We can fit our survivors on three Ticks and
detonate the last one."
Lucy shook her head. "That doesn't
as good a
chance of killing this battleship. We have to detonate all four
remaining Ticks, Ram."
"This plan is rot. Jordo Colt was right
about us, Lucy. About Cozen and me. We ask more than they can give.
We do it over and over like we've got some right to. I half-expect
them to finally mutiny out of self-preservation. I wouldn't blame
them. My people never signed on for this. Not like your people
"You this whiny a bridge officer
before the war?" she said. "Don't underestimate
's crew," she said. "They've proven
tougher than anything you've ever asked them to do."
"If we're going to make it to the other side
of this ship's hull, then this is going to be a running firefight
with limited cover. First, we'll take fire from two sides and then
three as we charge right at them. This isn't what they trained
Lucy Elan said, "Mr. Devlin, you came to
this ship straight out of Staas Aerospace Academy, right?" He
nodded in his helmet. "They run you there?"
"What do you mean?"
"They ran us Marines a lot. God,
running. Before I
learned to keep my mouth shut, I asked my DI why we run for Ks and
Ks when we have a million different ways to get around. That day,
he just sat at the end of the two-mile loop and ordered me around
it for eight hours straight. That was way more than I could run. I
hit the wall around three hours. And I kept going. Spent two days
getting my blood cleaned and my kidneys fixed and destroyed half
the muscle fiber in my legs, but I figured out the answer to my
We run, but it's not our legs
It's not your legs that save you. It's
heart. It's whatever they say is at your center, above your
frickin' belly button that lets you do what you didn't think you
could do. It's hate sometimes. Or love. And you always gotta reach
down deep and pull it out and find a way to give more than you knew
you could because that's the job. That's the job because not only
do they always want more than you have to give, but once they
figure out you can give it once, they'll never stop asking you to
do it. Not until you're dead. Not until so much is shot and blown
off you they can't patch it up and send you out again."
Ram nodded. "Uh-huh." He didn't think
she'd pull this
'don't you wish you were a
crap now – not now.
"We overcome, Ram. That's what we do."
"Too bad we're not Marines like you."
"Hey, you stupid, button-neck,
Privateer POG, when I said 'we overcome', I wasn't talking about
Marines. I was talking about
. I was talking about your crew. Adapt
and overcome and give more than they thought they could... that's
done from day
one in this war. That's
tradition, Ram. Your people made it. And today, when you ask
them for more than they know how to give, they'll live up to that
tradition and they'll find a way. Whiny bitch."
Ram let his breath out and nodded. "That was
a nice speech. Really."
"Hang around Harry Cozen and you'll get the
knack," she said. "One more thing."
"Us Staas Company Marines want our money
back. We lost a lot when you cheated in the last skirmish."
"We didn't cheat."
"What do you call giving
two fighter pilots cognitive
enhancements and not giving them to
Ram knew what she wanted him to say. And he
was trapped. Unless he wanted to concede that all the money they'd
won in the last Marines vs. Crew skirmish was undeserved, he had to
say it was fair play: "I call it winning," he said.
"So," she said, "If you're going to keep the
money, then you might want to think about giving Lt. Flyboy a
break. J. 'Jordo' Colt isn't the worst squadron leader I've
"Well, you're definitely not getting your
money back," Ram said.
"Then how about a new bet – a race to the
edge of the hull."
"Are you giving
odds." Lucy Elan grinned. "After all,
a job for Marines."
She winked at him.
Jordo couldn't see the XO from where
he was, strapped down on the crash couch. He could hear him,
though. Everyone could hear him in their helmets. "All Ticks, all
boarding parties. This is Ram Devlin. We will drill the enemy hull
until the last moment. Then, we will set the Ticks' reactors to
self-destruct, assemble all remaining personnel around Tick #1, and
move under enemy fire to the top of this ship. On the far side of
the hull we will survive the detonations, shielded from the heat
and radiation." Ram paused. That was the easy part to say. The next
part was harder. "I know this isn't the mission you trained for. In
the final phase of this action, we'll be taking fire from three
sides. They may even close in behind us. Lucy Elan told me this is
a job only her Company Marines can do. I told her to put her money
where her mouth is. I bet every penny I had that
's people would
reach the other side of this hull before her Marines. I know you
won't let me down because
I have seen the crew of this
ship rise above, time and time again to give more than you thought
you had to give. I have seen you do what nobody thought you
is who you are
is what you
tradition. You are the
ones that made it and you will not fail it. That is
Five minutes after his big speech, the XO
stood over Jordo again, looking down at him. He said, "Can I trust
you with a rifle?"
Jordo said, "I don't know if I'll hit
anything with it."
"I need to know that if I untie you and give
you a rifle, you're not going to shoot at us."
"Untie me," Jordo said. "I know who the
enemy is. I know who to fight."
The 46 remaining marines formed themselves
into the point of a spear – a wedge. They drove forward in a
formation designed since ancient times to punch a hole through
battle lines by dividing the enemy. The price of it was fighting on
three sides at once.
The Squidies hit the last two
knuckledraggers with a salvo from their stovepipe anti-armor
weapons that caught Pardue's and Hong's suits in the legs and the
hip. They went down face first in front of the Marines and slid
along the hull to a stop. Lucy's squad only paused around them for
a second, but when Jordo ran past with the rest of
crew, he could see the
pilots of both suits had been extracted.
The line of Squidies in mechanized battle
suits held their ground. Jordo watched in utter amazement as the
Marines' combined and directed fire blew the aliens open one by one
until they fell like shattered monuments before the charge.
"Stay close to them! Widen the wedge!"
Devlin shouted to
crew. The XO ran a few steps ahead of Jordo, sweeping his sidearm's
beam like a sword. It was some kind of antique, x-ray laser pistol
terror weapon one of the NCOs said was illegal on earth. Jordo only
saw it fire briefly, but as they drove into the line, the XO's
antique cut the ropey, armored legs off three mechanized Squidies
before it overheated.
Jordo ran and fired the bulky MA-48 rifle
they gave him. The double-barreled, over-under weapon pumped out
sabot and pulsed laser fire. They told him to stick to the laser
until he could handle recoil in low-gees. He couldn't distinguish
his own fire from the fire of all the other MA-48s, so he didn't
know if he hit anything, but he aimed where they aimed, and the
Squidies went down. Where they pointed their rifles together, they
tore the enemy apart.
The Squidies who managed to fire at point
blank range were guaranteed to hit something. Huge streaking rounds
from alien battle suits on either side tore into the crewmen making
brief and gory tunnels through crowd.
Like the Marines in front of
up the wounded and threw them over their shoulders in the low gees
and ran with them.
200 meters from the edge of the hull, the
Squidies closed in. After that, the fire came from all sides. It
rocketed in from behind and the crewmen it hit got thrown forward,
past him, propelled by the big alien shells in their backs. Men and
women on either side of him burst into flame in their suits under
fire of the Squidies' masers. It was a roll of the dice who got hit
and who didn't. It was as random and brutal as the torpedo-filled
furball he'd sent his Lancers into.
"Company Marines! Cover fire to the
rear!" Ahead, the Marines had punched through the Squidies' line.
Now, they could turn and kneel and fire at the aliens cutting
They all charged the last hundred yards and
made the final push together.
The Squidies that remained in their path
fired from over the edge – from the top of the ship. Their nubby
helmets poked up over the metal horizon with their long arms and at
the end of each one was the flashing barrel of a hand maser. Where
they pointed, running figures flared and fell, burning inside their
suits. The ones that got hit point blank just flared up and
disappeared where the beam caught them.
Jordo couldn't tell if it was a Marine or a
crewman that reached the edge of the enemy hull first, but they
poured over the top and blasted left and right down the line of
Squidies there, firing full enfilade down their line – aiming along
the edge of the hull where the aliens had lined up to kill
Behind every towering Squidy that Jordo
aimed at there was another Squidy. He fired his MA-48, and the
freakish thing in front of him fell and crumpled into an small pile
of torso and coiling limbs to reveal another behind it. He fired
the x-ray laser again, and then, after the alien he'd holed fell
like the first, he burned a hole through the one behind it. The
Squidies fell and fell and fell, and guns to his left and right
flashed and fired, all of them screaming hate and rage at the
enemy. Together on comms their voices made a chorus – a chorale in
hateful praise of the one true god of war who had come to take the
enemy and not them.
When he saw how they'd cleared almost the
entire alien line, Jordo cheered, but then massive rounds rocketed
up from the side of the hull they'd just escaped. He looked over
the edge where they'd come from and saw fifteen alien battle suits
coming for them. They strode in a broad firing line.
"Off the hull!" the XO shouted. "Off the
hull! It's going to blow!" Lucy Elan shouted it, too. All around
him, they jumped and launched themselves off the hull and away from
the edge, jumping in the .2 gees.
"Det in 3... 2... 1... Mar-" The XO's voice
drowned in a waterfall of static and high-pitched tone.
The reactors on the four, surviving Ticks
detonated within 10ms of each other and even with his helmet
protecting his eyes, the armored Squidies charging at Jordo burned
bright enough for him to see right through them. In the vacuum
there was no blast wave. The Squidies seemed frozen in the light.
It consumed their armor and then it consumed the naked, alien
things inside it. They writhed like earthworms and bats' wings
under a blowtorch as they burned away.
The last of the Squidies on the top of the
hull were shielded from the detonations' radiance, but the
shockwave that came up through the hull turned them to spam in
their suits. They tumbled and fell, twisting and bending in ways
even Squidies aren't supposed to bend – like their suits were full
of nothing but liquid.