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 (3 page)

BOOK: DREADNOUGHT 2165
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Ram Devlin looked up to see his air
support coming in again over the launch bays, strafing the Marines
bearing down on the last of his crew. They flew in circles only 300
meters overhead and rotated on their jets to keep their guns aimed,
circle-strafing and putting rounds on target without pause until
the Marines were all down and
Hardway's
blue exosuits were the only ones
standing on the hull.

*****

Jordo still wasn't sure exactly what
he'd seen. Holdout and Dirty had never flown like that before.
Hell, he'd never seen
anyone
fly like that. Even with all the cheering and Lucy Elan's
colorful curses and all the money changing hands, Jordo could only
wonder how the hell those two jokers pulled flying like that out of
their asses. They were okay. On a good day, you could even call
them pilots, but today, they'd flown like they'd been ten steps
ahead. Jordo couldn't figure out how they'd done it. He was
thinking about it so hard that he barely heard Harry Cozen. "My XO,
Mr. Devlin, did us proud, but it was those two Lancers that won the
day."

"That was Holdout and Dirty," Jordo said.
"If you don't mind I'd like to go congratulate them."

"I recommend you do. And before Lucy Elan
starts asking questions."

Jordo made for the hatch, but a message came
down from the bridge before he got off the observation deck, and
Cozen called for him to wait. The Admiral grinned. "Our moment has
arrived. The alien Dreadnought has been sighted again," he said.
"UN spy-birds have imaged it behind the lines at Altair, just two
systems from Sol."

A new projection of the Squidies' 800-meter
battleship rose from a matchbox computer in the palm of Cozen's
hand. "The microsat got its good side," he said. He meant the port
side, the side with the human skull painted on it. "It's time,
people," Cozen told them. "We're going to Altair. We will engage
the Dreadnought and we will remove that abomination from the starry
sky."

 

Chapter
Three

 

The redsuits and the junkers came
down
Hardway's
hollow spine
like a flood with Holdout and Dirty at its head. In the low gees
the crew didn't so much carry Jordo's pilots as toss them back and
forth over the crowd as they came. It was as if his pilots in their
orange, prison-issue exosuits were, themselves, the trophies of the
battle.

Holdout and Dirty beamed and laughed like
they were having the time of their lives. They waved and mock
saluted Jordo as the crowd first pushed him to the side and then
swept him along with its irrepressible flow.

He wanted to ask them how the hell
they flew like that, but now wasn't the time. This wasn't a moment
he wanted to interrupt. This was the moment
Hardway
finally welcomed the 133rd. They were
finally giving Holdout and Dirty the heroes' welcome the whole
squadron deserved.

There had been 44 Lancers in the 133rd
when they came on board. Now, there were only 14. Nobody had been
anxious to get friendly with the fighter pilots. With casualty
rates like that, they'd become like walking ghosts. They were a
reminder of how cheaply war held all their lives and so
Hardway's
crew had steered clear of
them until now.

As the flood rolled victorious down the
spine with Holdout and Dirty held high as the champions of the
hour, the crew chanted, "Lan-cers! Lan-cers!"

An hour later, Jordo came up the tube into
forward Hab, Lvl 2 A, where the Lancers berthed and he heard more
chanting, but even before he could discern the words, the sound of
it chilled him. There was bloodlust in those voices. Maintenance
crews clogged the passageway around the Lancers' hatch.

Who the hell was fighting in the 133rd's
birth? Jordo pulled redsuits out of his way until he remembered he
was an officer. Jordo barked out commands and made a lot of
officer-style noise, imitating what he'd heard from Devlin and Bolo
and even Admiral Harry Cozen. The redsuits all ignored him. He
still had to fight his way through. When he got to the open hatch,
he saw the Lancers and a bunch of crewmen inside and in the middle
of it all was Holdout and Dirty. They circled each other and Jordo
thought it was just harmless idiocy, another stupid fight between
two pilots out to prove who was baddest. Then he saw the knife and
the genuine confusion on the rest of the Lancers' faces and the
murder in Dirty's eyes.

By the time Jordo realized something was
horribly wrong, Paladin was already moving. Dirty slashed at him,
and as the knife arced, the freshly scraped metal shined crimson.
She'd already drawn blood with that pot-metal blade. She missed
Paladin, but Holdout's jumpsuit had been split open at the belly
and shone dark with deep purple, arterial blood.

"Get back!" Dirty shouted, "Or I'm gonna cut
the bacon off this fat bitch!" Dirty slashed backhand at Holdout
and missed. That was Paladin's opening. Those long limbs entangled
her and enveloped and twisted her like a pretzel. He pointed the
arm with the knife harmlessly to the side and she couldn't move the
rest of her body. It was a little chilling to watch if you knew
what crimes they sent Paladin away for.

The way he held her, she couldn't do
anything with that knife. Jordo thought the fight was over and
done, but when Holdout saw Dirty couldn't move, she lunged. Her
hands shot out for Dirty's face, now contorted with rage and barely
recognizable. Holdout's looked like a mask, too, like an ancient
Samurai's mask...ferocious, terrible and merciless. She raised her
arms as she lunged, and Ram hit her in the ribs with his shoulder.
It lifted her off her feet and knocked the wind out of her. He
heard ribs crack on impact.

Doc Ibora could fix that in fifteen minutes.
He'd fix her belly wound just as fast, but there was something
wrong with Holdout and Dirty, something far worse than a couple of
broken bones and deep lacerations. "Hold them down!" They didn't
stop fighting even when they were pinned flat and spread-eagle on
the deck with five people on top of each of them.

*****

Jordo and Paladin stood on the other side of
the glass watching Doc Ibora inside his operating bay with Holdout
and Dirty. He wore a medical isolation suit and stood over the two
pilots where they were strapped down on the tables. Tubes ran into
arteries in their thighs and arms, pumping deep purple out and deep
purple in. Ibora cleaned their blood. He'd said was the easiest way
to get rid of whatever it was he'd found in the two Lancers'
bloodstreams.

Something about the whole med bay made Jordo
want to run and take his pilots with him. It shone clean and white
and the suction nozzles set in the bulkheads of the operating room
unnerved him. Paladin said, "They're for the sucking the blood out
of the air. In zero-gee, I mean."

"You a medic now?"

Ibora's isolation suit had a fishbowl
helmet. Jordo watched him gesture through menus or data or test
results projected in it until finally, he unlatched and stripped
off his gloves, popped the latches at his neck, and lifted the
helmet off. He tapped a panel in the wall and a shelf extended from
it the size and height of a spartan bunk like the ones they'd first
made for the Lancers aboard
Arbitrage
.

Ibora set the fishbowl down on the shelf,
turned, and then sat heavy and hard for such a thin man. He
unsealed the chest seam of the suit, reached inside and came up
with a carved pipe with a long, wooden stem. He waved them inside.
By the time Jordo and Ram got in there, Ibora had closed the lid of
the pipe and was puffing dense, white smoke for the nozzles in the
wall to suck away.

"So I guess it's not a disease," Paladin
said.

"I was just using the suit to be cautious
until I knew for sure."

Jordo said, "What the hell is going on with
my pilots, Doc?"

He exhaled a stream of smoke and watched it
bend towards the suction. "They had some kind of synthetic hormone
in their system. I couldn't tell you exactly what because I have to
reconstruct it from the metabolites – from what it turned into when
it reacted with their systems."

"Is it a drug?"

Ibora fished out his matchbook computer and
set it on the bench next to him. He gestured through files until
the image of a molecule or a compound Jordo didn't really
understand hung spinning slowly in the air next to Ibora. "It's an
engineered hormone. And it doesn't metabolize well."

"Are they going to be okay?" Paladin
asked.

"They're fine. Now."

"Can they fly?"

"Give them a stim to wake them up and they
can fly in ten minutes, but I wouldn't recommend it."

"Where the hell did they get a synthetic
hormone?"

Ibora said, "It was made here,
on
Hardway
. According to the
logs, it was printed in
my
zero-gee molecular assembler."

"
You
made it?"

"Please, Lt. Colt. I'm a doctor. I may have
ended up at the ass-end of my profession, but I took an oath to do
no harm and I took it seriously. I wouldn't make this compound.
It's dangerous. No. I didn't make it. Someone got in here and made
it. Wiped most of the security logs behind them."

"Dirty..." Jordo nodded his head.

"She's a chemist?" Ibora said it like it was
impossible to believe.

"Sort of... It's how she ended up in Bailey
Prison," Jordo said. "If she had a blueprint for the compound, then
it wouldn't take her long to print it up."

"You need Staas executives' or company
officers' command codes to run any of
Hardway
's printers," Ibora said. "There's a code
in the log still." He chuckled. "Take a look."

Ibora's printer clearly showed one Augustus
Horan had logged on the machine three days earlier. "Who the hell
is Augustus Horan?"

"Our last Captain," Ibora said. "The
one before the war – before Harry Cozen. Someone obviously stole
his codes. They shouldn't even still
work
considering he was taken off
Hardway
in restraints." His lips
pressed together like there was something he didn't want to say. "I
had to make an official report for the logs. I'm sorry about that.
I imagine as XO, Mr. Devlin will be taking some measure of
action."

*****

Ram Devlin was the XO and he handled
discipline. But he didn't call Dirty and Holdout to his cabin. He
called their squadron leader, J. 'Jordo' Colt.

"They flew better than I've ever seen
them fly," Jordo said. "Better than I've ever seen
anyone
fly. I know you saw it, Mr.
Devlin. That's what you wanted isn't it? Are you going to take that
away from them now?"

"Ibora said he doesn't even know how to
count all the ways that compound could mess them up in the
long-term."

Long-term, Jordo thought, that's a laugh for
pilots in a squadron that had taken casualties like theirs.
"Respectfully, Mr. Devlin, my pilots don't worry about long-term
damage and you know good reasons why." Devlin didn't say anything
to that bait. "What about Holdout and Dirty? Are you going to throw
them back in prison?"

"No. I need them. Besides... Dirty's
not a systems cracker and neither is Holdout. That means
someone
gave them
Augustus
Horan's access codes. That's the man I'm going to talk to about
this. But. You're the Lancers' squadron leader so I want you to
find the rest of the compound Dirty made and destroy
it."

"Who gave Dirty and Holdout the access
codes?"

Again, Devlin didn't answer. "Dismissed,"
was all he said. That meant it was probably Harry Cozen. Jordo was
no computer expert, but even he knew that only Ram Devlin and Harry
Cozen had the authority to change permissions on the mainframe and
if Ram Devlin wasn't the one responsible for Dirty getting access
to those codes, then that only left one possibility.

*****

While the rest of the Lancers changed into
their flight suits, Holdout and Dirty came back to the 133rd's
berth looking like hell. Their skin was gray. "What the hell you
lookin' at?" Dirty said as they stepped through the hatch. "We're
fine."

"
You're
fine," Holdout said. "Bitch, I've got a
six-inch slash across my belly." She unzipped her jump suit and
showed the Lancers. Doc Ibora had closed up the wound and sealed it
well. Now there was just a micro-sutured, raised pink line across
her stomach like a welt crossing her old C-section scar.

"Doesn't look like you're in any shape to
take heavy gees," Paladin said.

"Stifle it, Paladin. We're good to fly,"
Dirty said. Her left eye winked and Jordo couldn't figure out who
she thought she was winking at. A second later, he realized it was
involuntary. All the Lancers stood frozen, half-in and half-out of
their exosuits and stared at her. "What are you gawkin' at?" she
said, "You lookin' for a date?"

Jordo grimaced because he felt like
the decision was being made for him. It was being made by
circumstance, by the war, and by all the people depending on them.
But that wasn't the truth. The only
good
thing about this was that it was
their
decision.

"How much of it did you make?" Jordo said.
The taste in his mouth went bitter before the words got out. Dirty
and Holdout both looked at him speechless.

Paladin put his hands on his hips. "What our
squadron leader is trying to ask you ladies is: 'You holdin' out on
us?'"

BOOK: DREADNOUGHT 2165
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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