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 (6 page)

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Ram didn't fool himself. The Squidies
probably weren't even scared. He bet they were surprised, though.
More importantly, when 43 of those torpedoes launched from
bays successfully dodged
the faster, small-bore particle streams and crossed the 300-meter
gap between the two ships to detonate all across the alien hull,
the Squidies went blind.

The warheads threw so much energy across
such a wide swath of the spectrum that for a precious few seconds,
whatever sensors they had became useless. While their overloaded
arrays recovered, all either ship could see was static and

"This is it; launching missiles." Ram
gestured at the command menus projected in his helmet and launched
the second salvo. 24 chemically propelled warheads blasted out the
far side of the transport ship and ripped around
to dive at the blinded
Dreadnought. Instead of detonating against the hull, they skimmed
low, and flew closely along it, just over the towers.

The missiles flew over the blinded beast
undetected and unchecked. The simple, solid-propellant rocket
engines still functioned in radiation that would have knocked out
the reactors and engines driving any torpedo. When they'd flown
across the skull and reached the aft edge of the battleship's hull
where the alien engines' exhaust ports spat rosy plasma, they
ripped 80-gee button-hook turns, dove into the half-K-wide river of
exhaust, and detonated.

The missiles' fission detonations were
well-nigh harmless to the Dreadnought on their own, but they sent
shock waves up the plasma exhaust stream coming from its engines.
Ram couldn't see the extent of the damage the compressive wave did
to the battleship's propulsion systems, but the river of rosy
plasma trailing out the rear of the Dreadnought was cut like a
ribbon. The alien juggernaut drifted.

"This is Ram Devlin. Launch! Launch! All
Ticks launch! Go! Go! GO!"

Hollis nodded at Ram and slammed the single,
20cm-wide button that launched the Tick. The boarding craft's
engines fired, and the sudden acceleration slammed them all into
the crash couches. When the Tick's highly specialized (and
experimental) inertial negation system kicked in, it was the first
time Ram had ever felt a pulse-pinch tearing at his body. The waves
of artificial gravity it made ten-thousand times a second shook
every cell and made him think he was coming apart inside. He was.
Doc Ibora had showed him what rapid grav flux did to flesh – to
brain tissue in particular.

This was a thousand times more
dangerous than the inertial negation system in the Lancers' F-151
Bitzers. Ibora told Ram thirty seconds in a Tick's rapid-pulse
gravity field would kill a man, but it was the only way to make the
'rapid deceleration landing maneuver' survivable. They should have
just called it 'crashing' because after blasting away from
, the Ticks didn't have time
for deceleration.

The flight only lasted 3.49 seconds before
the six boarding craft slammed into the hull of the Squidies'
Dreadnought hard enough to bend their frames and set all the
bulkheads at off angles. Altair's pale sunlight shone into the main
compartment now through a crack across the bulkhead.

"We're down! Get up and out! Up and out!"
Chief Hollis shouted, "Go, go! Go!"

"We've got 1/5 of a gee of artificial
gravity leaking out on the hull," Lucy said, looking at the feed in
her visor. "It's pretty radioactive out there, but we'll survive

Ram spoke into comms, "This is Devlin. All
Ticks standby to deploy perimeter squads."

"Man those turrets," Hollis said.
"Don't forget to shut the hatches! Let's get those drills
!" Chief Hollis slammed his
fist against the three buttons that opened the drill port in the
middle of the Tick, underneath the suspended drill. The doors
opened a centimeter and jammed. "They're bent maybe," he said.
"From the landing."

"Cut through if the doors won't open," Ram

Tse was already opening the shunt from the
reactor and warming up the massive magnets that would shape the
plasma into a two-meter drill bit. It was hot enough to melt
anything they'd ever used it on.

"Drill teams!" Ram said into comms, "Step to
it and sink those teeth in! I want you gum-deep in Squidy hull in
less than sixty seconds. Perimeter teams deploy and hold the

Lucy Elan powered up the capacitors in her
rifle and nodded at Ram's sidearm. "You taking that thing?"

As a rare collectors' item and an antique,
the gold and ivory Honma & Voss X-ray laser was worth more than
five years of VP salary, but it was too good a weapon to keep in a
case. He nodded. "This is what it was made for."

All of the breaching craft called in. Ram
was pleased to hear reports of working drills and easy hull access.
Somehow Arroyo in Tick 3 had even been cutting for thirty seconds,
but he didn't sound optimistic.

The hatch out to the Dreadnought's
hull opened into Altair's glare. The aliens could see again.
Particle beams shot up from the tops of the armored towers and
waved overhead like thin carnival searchlights as they continued to
cut into the
. Bodies,
whole and not, packed the vacuum. They drifted together with
and the

Ram hoped the Squidies didn't even know they
were on the hull.

The Dreadnought drifted, an 800-meter, flat
planet, slowly spinning. Now, it was day, but in roughly four
minutes, Ram thought, it would be night. Ram jumped and landed on
the battleship's hull and bounded to the port-side rear of the
Tick. From there, he had a view towards the center of the giant
ship and the five other armored boarding craft clinging to the
Dreadnought with his own. They were all bent from the impact, like
armored shanties leaning to one side or the other on the barely
curving, blast-scarred hull.

The Ticks had landed in a rough hexagon as
planned. Hopefully they could support each other with turret and
small arms fire because as soon as the aliens knew they had
boarders on the hull, the Squidies would be coming out in force to
kill them.

Fifty meters out to port, squads from Tick 3
took up positions around their craft, facing outwards. The surface
under them had been flash-burned from the nuclear dets, but between
the shallow, circular wales that dotted the outer hull like smooth
bomb craters, Ram could still make out the shape of the human skull
the aliens had painted on their battleship. Just ahead of Tick 3
was the edge of the left cheekbone. Most of the Ticks were
clustered in the skull's left eye socket. The chin was at least 300
meters away, over the slight curve of the hull.

When they faced
, the towers and guns fired everywhere,
waving and slicing. Ram couldn't see the particle emitters
themselves. The Dreadnought's guns, big and small, had been set
recessed into the tops of the low, rounded, blast-protected towers
that rose up from the hull. "Look at all those hardened guns," Lucy

"They can't hit us," Ram insisted.

"You sure about that?"

"We already bet on it."

The voice in Ram's helmet was casual and
relaxed. "Commander Devlin, this is Arroyo in Tick 3. My topside
gunner has movement down by the uh... chin. He said he sees big,
mechanized Squidies poking out from behind gun towers and
eyeballing the Ticks."

"Copy that, Arroyo," Ram said. "All
Ticks, all squads, this is the XO. Deploy the knuckledraggers and
get 'em on the line. I'm calling in the air support to cover us
while we drill. ETA should be five minutes, tops. All units, hold
the line." Ram gestured and tapped at the command menus projected
in his visor to open a channel to
. "Blackbeard to
, Blackbeard to
. This is Blackbeard requesting seagulls."
The Lancers could dodge the battleship's big guns and provide air
support. That was the plan.

There was no answer from
. There was nothing but noise
on comms. Ram tried a second and third time. He checked his system
and his suit computer. There was nothing wrong on his end.
was out there,
they just weren't answering. The whole plan depended on having
close-air support from the Lancers and long-range artillery support
batteries to
help fight off the hundreds of murderous aliens that would soon
pour out of holes and hatches to
along the hull.

Ram gave the task of calling
to a crewman and two minutes
later, the carrier still hadn't answered. Lucy crouched beside Ram
and opened a private channel. "I don't know what happened to
," she said, "but Ram, you
need to prepare for the possibility that air support isn't coming.
I have a feeling we're on our own out here."




made for the far side of
the third planet,
the carrier
deployed a string of meter-long proxies behind
her to monitor the battle on the Dreadnought's hull and to enable
communications with the boarding parties. Harry Cozen and the
bridge crew used those proxies to watch the battle unfold until,
without warning, the projections in the air above the deck of the
bridge turned grainy. They saw the boarding craft 'land' more or
less on target and then, the image from the microsats faded out.
"Bergano... Ops, what's happened to our imagery?"

"Signal to noise ratio... spectrum's filled
with noise. It's Squidy jamming."

"I can hear it in inside my helmet," Dana
said from Nav. They all could. It sounded like a cicada's warble
mixed with an elephant's roar and it filled every comms frequency.
"Switch to internal comms or local IR suit comms." She had to shout
it over the noise.

Bolo looked away from his console to Cozen
in the command chair. "We should launch the Lancers now," he said,
"Ram can't call fo-"

"Mr. Bolo!" Cozen's arm shot out and his
finger pointed at a swarm of new contacts appearing on Bolo's

"New contacts!" Bolo said.
"Active LiDAR and radar returns...
of them... "

"Where the hell did they come from and why
didn't we see them?"

"They're coming out of the
rings... they're tiny... less than 3cm across. No thermal
signature. It's not ejected material; they're actually maneuvering,
changing course. In seconds, they'll be all around us." They
appeared on the AT controller console's projected display like a
cloud of gnats coming for

"Are they bombs? Miniature warheads?"

"I don't think so," Bolo said. "They're not
closing range under 50Ks... just deploying around us... They're
some kind of miniature electronic warfare proxies or drones.
They're going to jam us as long as we're in orbit."

"We need the planet between us and the
Dreadnought," Cozen said. "Use the gunnery junks. Begin

"More contacts! Coming up from under the
pole. Enemy warships. Three. No, five enemy contacts. Six.
Seven...eight..." As the menacing alien hulls appeared projected
over the bridge on the AT controller's display, Bolo counted off
twenty-five. They were already maneuvering into higher orbits. "I
count nine, no, ten destroyer-sized ships," Bolo said, "and five
medium and five heavy cruisers. Five more are some kind of support
ships, I think."

"Good god, that's an armada," Dana said.

"Not quite, Ms. Sellis, but it certainly is
an uncomfortable number of alien warships to encounter."

"It's more than one carrier and one air
group can hope to successfully engage," Dana said.

Bolo said, "You'd expect to see these ships
around Sirius. Or the new front at Kapteyn's Star, but that's
what... thirty light years away?"

Harry Cozen sat forward. "They're
assembling. For a surprise attack."

"But the Dreadnought wasn't trying to hide.
It was right out in the open where the spy drone would see it,"
Dana said.

Harry Cozen nodded.
"Because we were supposed to see the Dreadnought and
stay away
. Any captain
with half a brain would see an unbeatable ship and keep his
distance – run at the first sight of it. That thing showed
keep us
Altair – to make sure we didn't come here and see this spearhead as
it assembled." Cozen snorted out his nose.

The alien destroyers fanned out as the
formation rose, and when they climbed high enough over the banded
clouds, Altair's rays briefly lit their hulls and asymmetric towers
so that you could see their main guns and the vectoring rings of
their particle cannon outlined in silver.

Dana said, "They'll be in effective range in
four minutes unless we evade them." She didn't expect to hear an
order to run.

Cozen squinted like he was
boring into the alien hulls with his eyes. "With most of our
carriers moving to cover losses at Sirius," he said, "there's
enough firepower massed
to overwhelm the defenses in the next system. The
Squidies could easily break through to Sol with more ships than we
could repel. This alien task force is a rapier pointed at
Humanity's heart and both the Privateer and UN fleets are out of
position to parry."

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