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
"I'd hardly call us Bristol-fashioned, Mr.
Devlin, but the preloaded ordnance all checks out."We're ready for
After the trip to Barnard's
space in a second hellfire conflagration and opened the
Barnard-Altair Transit for
During the transit to Altair, Dana
kept her eyes on the waving, foreign constellations visible at the
end of the immeasurable tunnel. The NAV console and projection in
front of her read '
with the exception of
and the breaching ship
at the center, the rest of the NAV
projection was tinted red, expressing the OMNI-NAV's lack of
confidence in any information displayed regarding a region roughly
the size of the entire universe. Without a good starfix to locate
navigational computer always got confused during FTL
rocketed through the veil of exotic
particles skating across the mouth of the terminus and reentered
normal space, the stars fixed themselves to the heavens again. "NAV
console is coming back on line," Dana said. "We're at Altair, close
to the third planet. We're fairly close to where they said we'd
"Captain Elogin has a new navigator
. He's a
specialist in Noodie hypermass equations," Cozen said. "Send
congratulations to the breaching ship. NAV, Lt. Sellis, what do you
"Passive LiDAR calls the system clear so
"Look to the inner system," Cozen said.
"That's where the UN spybird saw it."
Bolo leaned into his console as he
thumbed the comms for all
air group squadrons. "All junks, all fighters, maintain
"I see something." Dana pointed to a shadow
that hung in the NAV display like a specter. "There."
In the glare of the system's massive
's LiDAR had
trouble seeing it at first. For the initial seconds it appeared on
the display, it was only a ghost, a piece of darkness floating over
the bridge like a malevolent shadow. "It's not one of ours. It's
just over 5 million Ks out, hiding in Altair's glare," she said,
"like it was waiting for us to come through the
Cozen gripped the arms of the command chair.
"But is it the right ship?"
"Estimated size," Dana said, "800
compiled all the scarce photons its arrays could observe over those
seconds and as it concatenated them, the alien vessel resolved into
a dark and familiar hull. They couldn't yet see the armored towers
that housed its particle beams, but already, they knew that ship.
One feature identified it beyond doubt. Coming out of the sun it
was hard to make out, but when it turned its port side to
, it showed them
The 500-meter human skull had been drawn
with such willful disregard for actual human anatomy that anyone
who looked at it could tell it was drawn by aliens. It was a
caricature, wider than it was tall. The silvery paint smeared on
the hull had been vaporized in places and painted over again. It
was pockmarked with craters from point-blank detonations, but no
Earth bomb or gun had ever breached that armor.
This alien ship had halted the Sirius
Offensive and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that if humans saw
the Squidies' Dreadnought coming, the only option for survival was
"Active radar and LiDAR coming from
the alien. It's lighting us up," Lt. Bergano said from the console
behind Cozen. "It's looking us over." Twenty seconds after the
active pulses bounced off
, they arrived back at the Dreadnought
and gave the enemy a clear view of
Privateer attack carrier
and the lumbering
with resolution down to the
The Dreadnought turned slowly towards them
again until all they could see of it was the line of its
gun-studded bow. "It's coming for us," Cozen said. "Good."
gammas," Dana said. "Her reactors are sputtering. They're shutting
down. Her engines are dead now. The transport is
Dana had no idea whether or not the
Squidies understood, but Cozen spoke to Ram Devlin over an open
channel in case the aliens had acquired a proficiency in human
... Interrogative: are you
experiencing engine failure?"
"That is correct,
. We are experiencing engine failure. It
will take hours to fix. Leave us. Save yourselves. Goodbye." Dana's
eyes rolled as she heard the transmission. Ram Devlin had turned
into a fine XO, but he was a lousy voice actor.
"Your deaths will be avenged,
. God save your souls." Cozen
seemed more practiced. He opened a channel to
. "Captain Elogin, can we reopen the
transit to Barnard's Star?"
"Not for...seventy-one minutes."
"Acknowledged. Have your NAV
315 true. We'll hide from the Dreadnought on the far side of the
third planet. We're leaving
The Lancers stood between their F-151
Bitzers in bay 12. They huddled together out of view of the
cameras. Dirty unscrewed the dummy MA-48 round that held the
compound she'd printed.
Gusher said, "But you feel okay
, though, right?"
"Yeah, sure," Dirty said. She winked every
now and then without meaning to.
"The AGC is going to scramble us any
second," Paladin said. "Hurry it up. We should already be in our
"Can't you just call it a cockpit for once?"
Beads of sweat glistened on Gusher's forehead.
"It's not my fault it looks like a
"Hold out your hands." From the hollowed
round, Dirty tapped out little piles of glass shard into the
Lancers' palms – thumbnail-wide mountains of it. With every tiny
movement of hand or eye, the light caught the crystals differently.
It sparkled against the dirty orange palms of their exosuit gloves.
Dirty said, "Eat it."
Holdout had tasted it before and she took
her time staring at the pile before she bent her head and ate it
out of her palm. Jordo ate it the same way. It cut his tongue and
the roof of his mouth. It tasted like metal. A second later, it all
seemed to melt. The stinging glass shards were gone. There was
nothing but bitter. "Ugh. That's awful."
The bottom fell out of Jordo's stomach and
his nostrils flared. "Alright," he said. "Hit your Bitzers and keep
quiet on comms."
Jordo put his bug-eyed flight helmet
on and climbed the ladder. As the cockpit lid closed and he settled
in, Harry Cozen spoke in his ear. "Now hear this. The Squidies'
Dreadnought has taken the bait. She's coming for
will fire a single alpha strike at the
aliens' battleship and then,
and our breaching ship,
, will make for the far
side of the third planet. We will pretend to hide while Commander
Devlin springs his trap. That is all."
"Is that it?" Paladin said. "What about us?
We're the damn air-support!"
"This is AGC Bolo to the 133rd Squadron.
Launch bay doors open. All Lancers standby to scramble."
AT," Jordo said. "Lancers are on-deck."
Jordo plugged his helmet into the 151. The modded Dingo AI inside
the machine wanted out of the bay. It wanted to hunt and kill. It
was going to get its wish.
The doors opened, and he got his first
view of the system's ringed third planet. Its banded clouds hung
dark and murky, but the rings themselves shone brilliantly in
swollen Altair's light. As the carrier flew low over them, they
rushed underneath, punctuated with black, starry gaps and rings
between rings until
steamed into the shadow of the gas planet itself. There, all
you could see of the rings were glitters that appeared at random
like bits of tumbling glass shard. The sight of it made Jordo's
mouth taste like metal again.
Below, in the dark banded clouds of the
night side, lightning flashed in the murk and shot upwards in 600km
sprites shaped like clusters of jellyfish. They appeared, and they
were gone. It all happened in less than 80 microseconds. That was
too fast for a human eye and mind to hold, but now, he watched them
grow as slow as smoke puffs from a fire. He almost grew impatient
waiting for the next, laggard branches of slow-crackling zap to
"Let's get on with it!" Paladin's voice
yanked Jordo back into his cockpit. "How long until they scramble
"I am freakin' itchin' to go, go, go!"
Gusher retracted the three legs on his Bitzer and floated the
fighter above the deck, shifting back and forth with miniscule
jitter-thrusts from the maneuvering jets. Holdout and Paladin and a
few others did it too. It wasn't easy.
"Keep the fighters on the deck until we
scramble," Jordo said. "You're making the redsuits nervous." The
maintenance crew that had been loitering for the view were already
making for the airlock just in case one of the over-eager Lancers
hit the thrust and slammed them with a blast of exhaust. Floating
and shifting their fighters back and forth within a half-meter like
that took about ten corrections a second. Jordo looked around and
saw half his squadron doing it as casually as if they were chewing
"Dammit, launch the Lancers!"
Air Group Commander Bolo's voice spoke
in their ears again. "Lancers, standby to launch.
has engaged the
Ram left the data feed from the
's bridge open to all the
crewmen he'd brought and to Lucy's platoon as well. He'd originally
thought that while they were strapped in the six boarding craft,
waiting to launch, it was better for them to be tactically aware.
Ram now questioned that decision as he watched the feed from
in the visor of his helmet and saw the alien battleship up close.
It came for them like a slow falling mountain. Its slopes were
studded with towers across its breadth. Altair drew long shadows
with them, striping the Squidy battleship's dark hull. Those guns
would open up soon. All his men could see the same thing he saw and
he wouldn't blame them for felling terror.
Lucy Elan watched the same feed Ram watched
projected in her helmet and she snickered at it on local comms. Her
eyes looked devilish in her helmet's red light as if it was the
Squidies that should be worried.
The Dreadnought loomed over
only a few hundred meters
away and showed them its port side, the side with the human skull
on it. It showed them what it came for. Ram looked it right between
those crudely painted eye sockets and steeled his voice to hide his
own fear that this battle couldn't be won. "All boarding craft,
standby and brace for enemy fire."
The particle beams stabbed out from
the Dreadnought's guns and the razor-straight matter streams cut
fiery gouges across
hull in fifty places. Already, the atmo vented from her
bulkheads. Hundreds of warmed corpses blew out into the black to
spin towards the hull of the Dreadnought. They all cried out with
computer-generated last words before the Squidies' small-bore
streams sliced them into pieces.
Harry Cozen's secret boarding craft,
the Ticks, had been mounted on
where its lifeboats should have been. Using the remote helm, Ram
hull to port and into the attack. That way, the beams wouldn't rip
through the lowest decks and the lifeboats first.
The remote view from the bridge he saw in
his helmet transfixed him. The alien Dreadnought hypnotized him
with a hundred different beams like pale searchlights. They waved
across the blackness, tearing metal like claws. Passageways and
bulkheads rippled with internal shock waves. In sections containing
pressurized atmosphere, it compressed so fast and so forcefully
that it ignited. Firestorms filled the decks. Bodies blew out into
space trailing zero-gee flame.
The fat-bellied transport shuddered and
wrenched and twisted. Its frame buckled and bent, and the
vibrations that came up into the Tick and up into Ram's suit helmet
sounded like a dying groan. "Now or never," Ram said.
Lucy shouted, "Do it!"
The launch bay wasn't far from the
bottom of the ship where the boarding craft rode and even through
all the shaking, Ram felt it when the explosives blew the doors
off. They tumbled across the open space between the hulking
transport and the Dreadnought like wrinkled pieces of paper. .3
seconds later, 88 fusion-tipped, Mk3 warspite torpedoes blasted out
together and hurled themselves at the 800-meter-wide, tower-studded
hull of the alien battleship.