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 (2 page)

BOOK: DREADNOUGHT 2165
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Chapter
Two

5 weeks later, aboard the Staas Privateer
carrier SCS Hardway, Sol System, out past the orbit of
Saturn...

 

J. 'Jordo' Colt stood in the forward
observation deck of
Hardway's
command tower, packed in with bridge officers and looking
down on the primary launch bays where burning tracers and practice
rounds once again stitched the vacuum over the launch bay doors. He
was used to launching out of those bays in a Bitzer 151
exo-atmospheric fighter. Today, there were no flight ops topside.
Today, the launch bay doors were all closed and a mock battle raged
on the ship's hull. This was the 4th engagement between Lucy Elan's
platoon of Staas Company Marines and
Hardway's
crew. Lucy's platoon had won the last
three engagements, once within a minute. It didn't seem like a fair
fight.

Hardway's
crew and the Company Marines fired at each other over the
meter-high ridges surrounding the individual launch bays. The bays
between the combatants were a no-man's land for both sides. There
was almost no cover there except for where the closed bay doors had
been built recessed into the outer hull.

Major Lucy Elan had come to the
observation deck with the front of her jumpsuit unzipped halfway to
her waist like she was in some bar back at Sagan Station. She
swirled Cozen's expensive Scotch around her glass and knocked it
back, refilling her glass without qualm or compunction. You don't
have to say 'sir' and 'ma'am' aboard a Staas Privateer, but Jordo
had never seen anyone so casual around Admiral Harry Cozen. Most
feared him too much and maybe she feared him too, but she never
showed it. Rumor was they went way back...back to the War of the
Americas over twenty years ago. She said, "Harry, you know, since
it's Marines vs. Crew, I'm giving odds – even better than last
week's. Hurry up and take the bet. You're running out of time."
Jordo imagined Lucy Elan was looking forward to more easy money.
She grinned at him and slapped a wad of Amero greenbacks against
the edge of her hand. That wad had gotten fatter and fatter over
the last month as
Hardway's
crew lost again and again. The only ones on the ship who
hadn't lost all their money to the marines were the Lancers. Since
the pilots of the 133rd were convicts, they didn't get a paycheck.
They didn't have any money to bet.

"I'm giving 3 to 1 today..." Lucy
said. Admiral Harry Cozen groaned a little hearing that. "I know, I
know," she said. "I'm too generous, but
Hardway
is
a long shot.
Who wants some?"

Almost directly below the tower, the
XO, Ram Devlin, and a squad of
Hardway
crew came up from the shallow cover of
bay 4's recessed doors and moved up while the other squads did
their best to suppress Lucy's Marines. For the moment, most of the
tracers down there were pointing in the direction of Ram Devlin's
advance.

"Don't underestimate Mr. Devlin," Admiral
Cozen said. The gravel of his scarred voice scraped Jordo's ears,
but he commanded a room when he spoke. It wasn't because he was a
Staas VP and a Privateer Admiral. One look at the glint like broken
glass in that old man's eye and you could see the ruthless
intelligence there. It was part of why he'd risen so high at Staas
Company. That, and his aptitude for conspiracy.

"And don't underestimate my crew," Bolo
added. Lieutenant Commander Asa Bolo had been with this ship for
seven years before the war even began. His round face was turning
flush.

"If you think they're so hot..." Lucy Elan
waved her cash at them, telling them to put their money where their
mouths were.

Don't hit on the XO's girl, Burn had told
Jordo, but Lt. Dana Sellis whispered so close to his ear that her
breath made him shiver. "What's the inside scoop on the air support
teams?"

"I heard that," Lucy said. "And I'll let it
slide because it isn't going to matter what happens in the air. My
killers will overrun Devlin's teams before air superiority is
contested or established. There won't be time for close air
support."

"The pilots assigned to give air support to
both sides are an even match," Jordo told Dana loud enough for all
of the bridge officers to hear. "Holdout and Dirty are flying on
the Crew's side. Paladin and Gush are flying for the Marines. It's
a fair match-up. I had to make it fair." No matter what Lucy said,
Jordo knew air support was the kind of advantage that could win a
fight like this. Both flights of Bitzers would be here any
second.

Lucy Elan asked him, "Who would
you
bet on, Lt. Flyboy?"

"Convicts like me and the Lancers don't have
money to bet," Jordo said.

Dana Sellis's hot hand closed around
his and lifted it. She turned it palm-up and put a roll of bills in
it that burned with the heat of her palm. "Okay, zoomie.
Now
, who would you bet
on?"

Lucy said, "Lt. Flyboy is smart enough to
bet on the winners. It's no accident the Marines won the last three
times we tangoed."

"Here we go again," Bolo said. Lucy Elan
never let up.

"My men and women are all from the
corps," she said. "There's a
reason
they win. And it's not because Ram Devlin's a button-collared
bridge officer and it's not because most of those miners down there
have never held a military rifle before. Even if Devlin and his
team had the same degree of infantry experience, my Marines would
still win for the same reason we grind regular mercs under our
boots (no offense, Harry) – because it's not just experience that
wins battles. Those jarheads have a 350-year-old tradition of
ass-whooping excellence, honor, and duty. That's what they fight
for. They'd rather die than let that tradition down."

"
Hardway's
crew made their own tradition," Bolo
said.

Lucy Elan didn't argue with him; she just
held out her hand for his money.

Jordo slapped the cash Dana gave him
in Lucy Elan's palm. "
Hardway
," he said. "I'm betting on
Hardway
."

*****

Ram Devlin tried not to shout on comms.
"Covering fire!" His 5th squad popped up with their training rifles
and laid down rounds across the topside of the primary landing bay
module. The blocky, fifty-year-old practice rifles shook and
rattled as they fired, and the yellow squares painted on to mark
them as practice weapons turned to patches of blurry gold.

"2nd squad, go, Go, GO!" While 5th squad
kept the Marines' heads down with thick fire, 2nd squad advanced up
the starboard side to the bay doors in the middle of the module,
expertly bounding across the low-gee killing ground, trying to make
it to the only cover – the low wall seventy meters ahead, almost on
top of the Marines' position.

In the first skirmish, Ram thought it would
be safer to defend and let the Marines move across that
no-man's-land first. It wasn't any safer. And he'd given up the
initiative – he spent all his energy reacting to what the enemy did
and couldn't turn the battle his way. Now, he knew he had to be
aggressive and keep the pressure on Lucy Elan's Lieutenant so that
Arroyo was the one reacting to what Ram did and not the other way
around.

Besides that, the ex-asteroid-miners
that made up
Hardway
's crew
were arguably the best at operating in low-gee/no-gee environs. Not
leveraging their ability to maneuver seemed like a
waste.

Ram's 5th squad spat so much fire at the
Marines holding ahead of the advancing miners, that it actually
forced them to keep their heads down. The hull in front of the
forward bays where the Marines had taken cover sparked and flashed
with the practice rounds' impacts. It was good, solid, covering
fire and Lucy Elan's Marines couldn't pop up to shoot without
taking hits. 2nd squad was almost to the cover of the middle bay
doors when the advance began to fall apart.

From his position on the bay 6 doors
on the port side Ram saw the Marines downrange begin to rise. Half
of them took hits right away and the practice rounds
Hardway's
crew put on target
exploded in sparking showers off their suits and helmets. It took a
second for them to fall to the hull and play dead – long enough for
Ram to note with unease how the fire that hit them came from two,
sometimes three and four of his shooters at once. Meanwhile, the
other Marines rose and charged.

Ram barked into comms for his shooters
to shift their fire. They were already trying, but half the Marines
were trying to suppress
them
now and the other half had come up running over the top with
their rifles already pointed at 2nd squad.
Hardway's
crew got caught out in the open and so
much fire tore across them, they were almost swept off the hull by
the fusillade.

That's when the Marines advanced in a firing
line, shooting accurately as they came.

"We're pinned!" Hollis shouted over comms.
None of his men could poke their heads up without getting a
practice round in the helmet. Ram's forward squad was in serious
danger of being overrun.

*****

"Lt. Arroyo is already pushing up the
starboard side where your XO, Devlin, over-extended." Lucy Elan
knocked back her scotch like it would all be over soon. Jordo
thought maybe it looked like she was right. From their vantage
point in the tower, even he could see
Hardway
's crew was outnumbered and badly
positioned. Even if they fell back now, they'd probably only be
prolonging the inevitable. They were going to get
overrun.

"Six to one," Bolo said. "Give me six
to one and I'll put
Hardway's
money in the pot." He was holding money from half the crew on
the ship and when he held up the wad, Lucy's eyes
widened.

Dana said she'd put money in on that deal,
too, and Lucy laughed. "Six to one? That's crazy."

"Not if you really think your Marines can
finish off Ram Devlin's squads before air support decides the
battle."

"Okay. Fine," Lucy said.
"
Hardway
pays six to one."
Bolo tossed
Hardway's
pooled
cash on the table and it landed with a thud. The rest of the bridge
officers were in, too. Lucy told them, "It's a pleasure to take
your money."

Jordo saw the blue stars moving against the
black before anyone else – engine plasma from Holdout and Dirty
rolling in fast in Bitzers. Less than two seconds later, they
ripped past the tower in a blurred streak of guns and engines. A
quarter second later, Paladin and Gusher engaged them.

"Air support has arrived," Bolo said.

"They'll have to win superiority first,"
Lucy reminded him. "Lt. Arroyo will have this all wrapped up before
anyone wins the air."

Jordo was sure neither flight would be
able to lay down effective close air support for either team until
the other fighters were out of play. It was too dangerous. But as
the four, F-151 Bitzers engaged each other over the topside of the
bays, fire from their 140mm auto-cannon rained down on the hull. At
first, Jordo thought he'd have to really chew some ass if his
pilots thought they were going to spray randomly like that into a
bunch of guys they were supposed to be supporting. Then, he saw how
the burning, 140mm dummy shells from the Bitzers were only coming
down on the figures in black exosuits – only on Lucy's Marines. The
ultra low-density, high-frangibility dummy rounds disintegrated on
impact in a shower of sparks, but the burning hailstorm knocked
almost an entire squad of Lucy's marines down to the hull. Not a
single round hit a
Hardway
crewman. It was eerie.

Holdout and Dirty flew corkscrews and
rolls that almost made it look like they were trying to evade
Paladin, but somehow, no matter where he went, they always ended up
right behind him. It was like they were toying with him – like
they'd thought it all out three steps ahead of him. They just
dodged Gush's fire like he wasn't there while they hunted down
Paladin. Holdout and Dirty could fly, but Jordo had never seen them
fly like
that
.

Gush came 'round three times trying to blow
them off Paladin's tail and every time, they broke, evaded the
attack and re-engaged him in seconds. By the time Holdout and Dirty
hosed Paladin down with dummy rounds, it was clear they could have
dusted him a hundred times over.

Less than five seconds later, they closed on
Gusher from opposite sides, port and starboard, and hammered both
sides of his Bitzer's cockpit with sparking dummies just to piss
him off.

*****

As the fighters twisted and turned above
them, spitting shells at each other, Ram Devlin risked looking over
the lip of the bay doors where he and Tse were ducked down under
fire. The last of his crewmen didn't look like they'd hold out more
than a minute longer against Arroyo's advance. Rounds streaked past
his helmet from starboard and when he looked down his rifle, he saw
an entire squad of Lucy Elan's marines charging on his position.
Tse and Sturbin stood up and sprayed left and right and Ram Devlin
stood up with them and panic fired in desperation.

The Marines charging them lit up
bright and then appeared as nothing but silhouettes against
explosions of sparks and strobing flashes from all the dummy rounds
coming down from above. He caught a glimpse of the first Bitzer as
it turned on its jets and blasted up and away from the hull after
its strafing run. Then, the second fighter poured rounds from its
six auto-cannon into the last of the Marines that had been charging
Ram's position and sent them flying off the hull.
Hardway
would need to sortie an SAR
junk just to recover them. He caught hold of two Marines before
they were knocked spinning off the ship, but five more got by
him.

BOOK: DREADNOUGHT 2165
9.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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