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
" Paladin shouted over the static. His
fighter banked around the Squidy destroyer's now burning hull to
come back on course. "
. We could have had that
destroyer. It was ours."
about. With the alien destroyers blocking
now out of play, the carrier turned
hard to engage the twenty-two remaining warships of the Squidies'
battlegroup. Bolo's last message told them what already knew.
to Banjo. You're on
your own. Good luck."
As they blasted away from the battle,
Jordo spun to look back. The three alien destroyers burned and
tumbled slowly together towards the planet's atmo. Above,
Novalifter engines pointed
right at him and filled his vision with starburst. Through the
rays, like bluish sunshine, the alien battlegroup was closing.
They'd already launched warheads. Hundreds of little, pink stars
hurled themselves at
Jordo rotated back into his line of travel just as the carrier's
autonomous QF-111 Dingoes launched in a pack and tore hard turns to
intercept the aliens' flying bombs.
A few thousand Ks around the limb of
the planet, Jordo caught sight of a burning speck as it passed
between him and one of the planet's darker rings. He added x-ray
and gamma to the multispectral overlays projected in his helmet,
and suddenly, the object below shone like a little sun. It radiated
uncontrolled gammas and sparkled with x-ray bursts over the rings
below. He zoomed in and saw the blurred image of a small craft with
a fusion reactor in slow meltdown. The fighter-shaped lump of
molten metal fell in a degrading orbit. He knew what it was. He
just didn't know
Jordo said, "Is it Hardy or Shotz?"
Paladin said, "I got eyes on Shotz a couple
of Ks out. He doesn't look good." He pitched and tilted and
half-rolled to point his cannon at an object in higher orbit. Then,
Jordo saw it. It was only half a hull and it had been mostly
melted, but it was clearly the wreck of a Bitzer 151.
"Hardy and Shotz," Dirty said. "RIP
"And then, there were twelve."
"G'night, Hardy," Holdout said. "G'night,
"They were on the way to give Devlin's
boarding party air-support," Jordo said.
"And they barely made it out of sight before
they got waxed."
"Yeah, but by who?"
"Who do you
It wasn't the Dreadnought that got
them. The alien battleship was just rising now above the rings of
the planet on the far side and even if it had line of sight to take
a shot at a pair of Bitzers, it couldn't have hit Hardy and Shotz
from a million Ks out. The Lancers searched the black vacuum around
them. They saw nothing but
and the junks and their own fighters
against the planet, the rings, and the misshapen bolus of the
planet's first moon.
to Lancer 1-1. Those wrecks down there from your
and keep your eyes open. The Squidies'
Dreadnought didn't do this. Neither did any alien warship. We're
definitely not alone out here. Watch out for alien aces. Watch out
for the red bandits."
Hollis shouted as the Squidies' fire ripped
past his helmet like a mag-lev train. "Where the hell are the
Lancers? Where the hell is our air support?" Ram didn't know what
to tell him so he told him to kept firing.
Simms took something hit high in the chest.
He burst. That was the only word for it. He got hit, and his
exosuit burst like he was a piece of ripe fruit and the suit was
its skin. Pieces of him spun away trailing clouds of boiling,
freezing blood-mist and ice.
Ram and his squad pressed themselves down
into a shallow blast crater in the Dreadnought's hull near Tick
One. It was less than a meter deep.
The Squidies came over the curve of
the battleship's hull, 'walking' the way only they can,
along on either or both
sets of 1.5 meter, boneless appendages that grow at both ends of
their ribbon-thin main body mass. They came in exosuits and
mechanized suits and they came in firing lines and on the ends of
their 'arms', the ones in armored battle suits carried fat hand
cannons with rotating cylinders and stub-barrels that flared
brilliantly every time they loosed mammoth, blinding rounds. In the
pitch black, seen in the infrared glow of the hull, the mechanized
Squidies looked like red-orange, Siamese squid ghosts with ten arms
apiece, dishing out fire and wrath from all of them.
Unlike the blocky, open-frame
knuckledragger mech suits the boarding teams had brought with them
, the Squidies'
mechanized suits were sealed and armored and smooth with graceful
lines. Just like the ones Ram had seen on Moriah, the torsos were
rigid (unlike the things inside) and the absurdly long and thin
'arms' and 'legs' bent everywhere up and down the appendages. It
gave them a freakish gait as they came
on the curving arches of all those
'limbs'. It made them look like savages, like animals.
The ones in regular suits managed to crumple
and coil their bodies into even the shallowest blast craters for
cover. More of them peeked out from behind the bases of the armored
"Report in!" Ram called out, "All Ticks
"This is #6. They're still coming from the
top of the hull. Lost two more. Drilling depth... 28cm. This hull
is some tough shite."
"#4 reporting heavy fire coming from the
right side of the skull. They've got some kind of heavy weapons
now. We lost two turrets. We're down 26cm into the hull; that's it.
I don't know what the hell this hull is made of."
"#2 has lost two turrets. We have heavy
casualties. Drill inoperable."
"This is Arroyo in #3. They took out our
knuckle-dragger with some kind of anti-armor weapon. It looks like
a big pipe. Watch out for it. They hit #5 with it, too. Drill depth
30cm. Squidies in what look like regular exosuits are moving up
behind the mechanized ones and taking covered positions. They're
coming up over the skull's... uh...nose hole...and pushing hard on
this side. They're coming up the bottom, too – from down near the
"Copy that, Arroyo."
Nobody called in from #5. Ram peeked over
the lip of the blast crater and around the side of Tick One. Tick
#5 leaked flames out the cracks in its broken bulkheads. It looked
like a burning shanty.
Lucy Elan spoke in Ram's ear from her
position down in a blast-wale at the forward edge of the defensive
perimeter. The icon in his helmet's display told him she'd opened a
private channel. "We need to advance," she said. She popped up and
burned a hole through a Squidy with her MA-48. The pressurized gas
and blue blood that came out the hole propelled its body slowly
backwards over the hull. "Look, Ram," she said, "if air-support
isn't here now, then it's probably not coming. We can't just
here while the Ticks get chewed
up. If the Ticks fall and the drills fail, we'll never get
"We need more time," Ram said. "At this
rate, they'll need a couple more hours to drill through this
"That's why we have to attack."
"Lucy, there's a hundred armored Squidy
battle suits advancing on us with a legion of Squidy crew behind
them. We're pinned down in vaporization craters and barely holding
a defense. Now, you want to attack?"
Lucy said, "We can't hold out like
this. We have to push our perimeter outwards. That way we can keep
them away from the Ticks. We have to push them
and give the drill teams the time they need
to cut their way in."
A half-meter-thick jet of alien fire like
the stream from a fire hose shot up from somewhere out of sight and
slammed into Tick #4's top turret. In less than a second, it melted
its way in and the turret filled with blinding light and flame. The
plan was falling apart...
"Ram, we can't hold out like this without
air support! We've got to fire and move. Fire and move," she said.
"Marines up front, crewmen on the flanks protecting them from
enfilade fire. Give the order, Ram," she said. "Give the order and
we can do this."
The Dreadnought's spin made Altair rise
almost instantly on the shallow-curved hull. The raking light cast
long shadows over the line of five mechanized Squidies advancing
ahead of Lucy and her squad. She and her Marines popped up from the
blast-wale where they'd taken cover and fired 50mm sabot and
wide-bore bursts of x-ray laser fire from the over/under barrels of
their MA-48s. The salvo caught one of the mechanized alien
battle-suits high in the chest and knocked it backwards in the
low-gees. It fell venting gas, but once the other four saw where
the shots came from, the mechanized Squidies laid down so much fire
with their hand cannons that Lucy's squad had to press themselves
against the bottom of the shallow crater while its forward lip
exploded with alien shells and burning shrapnel.
"They need help!" Ram said, "Hollis, Perch,
"Mr. Devlin, I've got LOS on those
Squidies," Vikko said from Tick One's top turret. "Someone just
cover my ten o'clock while I hose 'em."
"I've got your 10," Shojo said. "Hose 'em,
Vikko swung the turret around and spat
ten-meter tongues of fire out over Ram's head. The standard 140mm,
armor piercing sabot ripped big, jagged holes in the alien
battle-suits and sent them skittering across the hull into the base
of a gun tower like gigantic, broken crabs.
Lucy waved. Ram looked over his shoulder and
saw Vikko wave back to her with a big goofy smile on his face.
Shojo made a wheezing noise on comms, and when Ram looked that way,
he saw the man's shattered faceplate venting atmo from a massive
hole. Ram slammed both hands over it until so much boiling blood
came out with the gas that he had to give up trying to keep it
Then, he saw the Squidy that must have shot
Shojo. It was the one he'd been covering on Vikko's ten o'clock. It
wore a regular Squidy exosuit, the kind that looked like hose and
sack with a visor in the center. It was down in a blast crater off
to the side of Tick 6. It crumpled itself down as another one
unfolded itself and rose with something like a fat, 2-meter section
of pipe in its garden hose arms.
Ram's Honma & Voss drilled a hole in the
Squidy's center 'body' mass so big he could see right through it,
but the thing still fired its pipe weapon. A shower of sparks
erupted out the back end and a geyser of green fire shot out the
front. Everything in a line between the weapon and Vikko's turret
turned to a burning, green blur. For a fraction of a second, the
alien stream splashed off the turret's armor like liquid, and then,
it melted its way inside. Tick One's turret filled with fire. Ram
caught terrible flashes of Vikko thrashing against the inside of
the canopy as he burned up in his suit.
Hollis shouted, "Tse! Report!" Tse was
inside with the drill crew. No answer. "Tse!"
"This is Tse." He spoke utterly monotone as
if he'd been stunned. "Turret is gone. Vikko is gone. We're still
The drifting Dreadnought's spin turned it to
face away from Altair, and the battle was cast in darkness. "This
is Ram Devlin to all squads. We've got to push the Squidies further
away from the Ticks. We're going on the offensive."
Hiding wouldn't do
any good. The
Squidies knew the breaching ship would head for the Altair-Barnard
Transit so the aliens would be doing their best to get there first.
With that in mind,
and her escorts gave up stealth and flew for
Off to the port side and
low, through the frost on the cockpit canopy,
's ruptured reactors were easy
to spot. Jordo scraped at the ice crystals with his glove to see
her better. The fat transport was now a radioactive debris field
floating with the alien Dreadnought on a slow path up and out of
the ecliptic. Jordo heard voices on the emergency channel whenever
two of the larger chunks collided. "This is Edvard Gibbs of
e are under attack. Please help us.
"Blessed Father who art in Heaven..."
"Please! Help us!"
A few of the voices even sobbed. They had to
be recordings. Jordo told himself they had to be.
The Dreadnought drifted
's debris. It spun slowly. The engines were out, but its guns
still worked. It took a few shots at
, but it couldn't hit her
at that range.
Jordo zoomed in with his helmet to watch the
skull-painted side of the Dreadnought spin towards them. He thought
he saw flashes on the hull. The XO and Lucy Elan were down there
waiting for the Lancers to save the day.
Gusher spoke fast. "Bandit, Bandit. Hostile
contacts! Bearing 041, mark 079..." Jordo looked up at his 2
o'clock, up 11 degrees. They looked like flying stars, tiny and
distant. They were too far out and faint to see the hulls. Zoomed
in they looked like school of fuzzy, pink comets in echelon. "Looks
like six, enemy 3-plane elements making for the transit point."