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
"Eighteen red bandits."
"12 Bitzers vs. 18 Red Bandits...." Jordo
said it under his breath. The enemy was faster. They turned harder.
On any other day, a numerical advantage of at least 2:1 (or better)
is what the Lancers would need to take the alien aces on with any
hope of success. 36 fighters is what Jordo wanted. He had 12.
"Well, bring 'em on!" Paladin said. He was
ready. "What's our ETA to the Transit point?"
"9 minutes," Jordo told him. He was already
gesturing through the less familiar menus on the OMNI NAV flight
computer to confirm what he suspected.
Dirty actually beat him to it. "The Squidies
are going to make it there before we do by a good thirty seconds.
We gotta engage 'em."
"Lancer 1-1 to
. We've got
company on the way to the transit point and at this rate they will
arrive before we do. Can you move that thing any
"Negative, Lancer, 1-1. In fact, we're going
to have to slow down soon. We're going to have to T 'n B for
"Turn and burn? What? Why?"
"We can't breach space from more than 5Ks
out and it takes a good fifteen seconds to do it. Sometimes more.
If we don't stop, we'll just slam into the fireworks and burn
," Jordo said.
"Just one of those Squidy fighters could put
us out of commission."
Jordo said, "Don't you
worry about the enemy fighters,
. We'll take care of
Squidyman's fighters for you."
to Lancer 1-1. We have orders
to send our warspites with you."
Paladin said, "What? Torpedoes?"
Jordo said. "Fission-tipped warspites won't catch the enemy
fighters and when they det, they'll be just as dangerous to us as
the Squidies. Save your torps."
"They've got IFF recognition," Malta said.
"They won't chase you."
"We don't need them," Jordo insisted. "We
can take the alien fighters without using the torpedoes."
"Sorry, Lancer 1-1... Harry Cozen's
"This is bullshit!" Paladin was out of line,
but he was right.
Jordo said, "Cozen wants to make sure."
"And if he has to blow up a few Lancers to
get that guarantee, then that's just fine with him?" Dirty said,
"That ain't right."
"Quit yer' bitchin'," Jordo said. "We will
escort the torps in and we will dodge the blasts. Do it."
The torpedoes approached the Squidies on a
course that would intercept them three minutes out from the
transit. Without an escort for the warspites, the red bandits would
have had no trouble shooting them down, but the Lancers flew ahead
of the torpedoes and once inside weapons range, the 151s threw
enough shock 'n shell at the Squidies to keep them well-occupied.
The alien aces picked off a few torps, but they were too busy
dodging fire and hunting Lancers to hit any more than that.
As they closed, two Squidies threw particle
beams across Jordo's flightpath, and he rolled up and cut across to
the outside of the formation. This was the first time he'd ever
engaged in air-to-air combat with Dirty's compound speeding his
mind and it almost stunned him how all at once, he saw the angle of
the enemy fighters' approach and the flare of all their maneuvering
jets at the ends of the queer spikes on their hulls. It an
infinitesimal moment, he visualized all their possible maneuvers
with such clarity that it was easy to put his fighter in the places
they couldn't point their guns or deflect their streams to hit him.
All they could do was chase him with laggard fire while he dusted
another alien ace that had got too fixated on the warspites to see
J. 'Jordo' Colt coming for him.
The two formations passed through each
other, slicing and stabbing with particle beams and spitting fire.
The fighters turned hard in fifty different directions, and the
torpedoes chased them, causing chaos. In less than three seconds,
the battle degenerated from a dogfight to a furball to complete and
utter bedlam. The Squidies lost their formations and their wingmen
in the first seconds of the engagement. With Bitzers bearing down
on them at the same time as the torpedoes, it didn't matter that
the red bandits could outmaneuver and out fly the Lancers because
140mm shells and fighters and torpedoes filled the space around
them in all directions and they were overwhelmed.
The Lancers didn't have that problem.
Jordo's speeding mind saw all the enemy fighters in the furball at
once and picked himself a path that targeted not just one Squidy,
but six... then seven... eight... The flightpath through the next
nine kills laid itself out in his mind like a golden thread weaving
through the furball. His 151 swung to fire at one Squidy and
rotated to unload on a second before it blasted for a third and
fourth. As he jinked away from one target and picked up the next
one, the golden thread weaved itself through the dogfight and
showed him the next enemy to attack.
All the Lancers dove and wove through the
thick of the enemy unloading at one alien fighter and the next in
high-gee arabesques executed like they'd planned these runs for
weeks. A pair of bandits fell under hammering fire in front of
Paladin before Jordo took one for himself, and he realized the
Lancers might be winning.
Jordo could see five steps ahead, but he
didn't see the red hull that spun in from nowhere until it was
coming down on the top of his cockpit from above, swelling up and
turning red, then orange, then white as the reactor inside it
fast-melted. To escape, Jordo rotated and blasted a turn so steep
that the inertial negation system couldn't compensate for the gees.
He slid towards the edge of a blackout and felt his limbs tingle
and go numb. All the sounds and voices in his helmet got thin and
far off. It seemed like the fighters zoomed past, spitting fire
across the end of a dark tunnel. The burning alien detonated
fifty-meters to port with a flash, and the plasma and debris that
slammed his canopy shook him back into his body. Through the
blood-tinted gray haze that hung like a gauze over his eyes, a
Squidy fighter tore in front of him big enough to fill his canopy.
The moment froze in his mind when he saw how the warspite torpedo
about to hit it looked like a great spear stuck in the enemy
In the instant before it detonated, his eye
held all the torpedoes at once. They were all as close to their
targets as they would get and they were all about to blow.
His visor went opaque to protect his eyes
from the detonations and when it cleared, the first thing he saw
were the drops of water on the inside of the canopy where the frost
had been. On the other side of the wet diamond-pane, red bandits
chased Lancers and torps chased Squidies and then the flashes were
happening all around them, everywhere. His helmet shuttered and
protected his eyes for every blast and there were so many blasts
that passing fighters and tracers ticked across his canopy with a
stutter to their flight.
Some torpedoes found the
enemy, but Jordo swore he saw more than one of
pilots vanish in the flashes.
Detonating in the middle of a dense furball like that, the
torpedoes took victims more or less at random. It turned the battle
into a lottery where death was the only sure winner. Jordo had told
the Lancers they could dodge the blasts, but he knew it would end
up like this. He told himself they knew it too, but it gutted him
to see it happen.
In that game of chance,
Death took more Squidies than Lancers. Jordo had to wonder if it
were the ones who flew into battle with a pack of
nuclear torpedoes and offered up the sacrifice.
After all the detonations
were over, five Lancers and two red bandits remained. "Get
That's what Dirty shouted as she and Paladin gifted Death with the
lives of the last two alien pilots.
Five Lancers and the junks
flew guard while
threw her colliding particle streams at the
transit point. Like Jordo had seen before, the blossoming,
expanding sphere of fire grew until it was a full K wide before the
transit opened and showed him the wrong stars – the view from light
made for the mouth of the passage while Jordo's
head throbbed. The counter in his helmet read 01h 31m 17.05s –
almost an hour since he'd climbed into the cockpit. That's when
things began to go bad for Dirty and Holdout last time. After an
hour, there were no guarantees, Dirty said.
They had to hurry. Already
he could feel something changing. It felt like coming over the peak
of a mountain and heading down the other side, but he didn't want
to go and he couldn't stop and it was infuriating. He knew what
came next. He'd seen it happen to Holdout and Dirty. "Anyone
feelin' kinda messed up?" Gusher said. "Like... I mean...
Dirty said. "Stifle it, Gush, you pussy-ass,
Gusher fired his laterals in opposition and
rolled his Bitzer around Dirty's fighter. If she hadn't blasted her
ass out of his line of travel, then he might have rammed her. No,
Jordo thought. There was no 'might' or 'maybe' about it. Gusher had
really tried to do it. Just seeing him pull a stunt like that made
Jordo want to line Gush up in his crosshairs and give him a
It was starting. There was a very nasty
tail-end to the synthetic hormone Dirty had cooked up and it was
definitely starting. Remember that, Jordo thought. Remember that
and you won't lose control.
The junks followed
open transit on little blasts from their nacelles.
1-1. No hard feelings about those torpedoes, right. Just
For a second, there was
only the warble of alien jamming in the background as the junks
slid across his cockpit canopy. "Yeah,
," he said through his teeth.
crossed the threshold,
"We'll bring the whole damn fleet back with us." Then,
breaching ship into the fire-ringed transit with the rest of the
junks, and they were gone.
Once it closed, he said, "Lancers, stay on
my wing. We're late to a party on the hull of the Dreadnought."
Lucy barked, "All forward squads hold the
line!" She and her Marines fired from the shadowy cover of an alien
gun tower. They'd pushed forward and fallen back and now, a pair of
Squidies in battle suits advanced on them, but Ram and his squad
couldn't help her any more than they were.
-squad that remained had their hands full
keeping the Squidies from maneuvering themselves onto her flank.
They were down in a vape crater barely big enough for one man and
the Squidies had been pressing hard to overrun them. If they did,
Lucy's squad would go down and so would Arroyo's next to her. It
would all start to collapse.
"Last grenades!" Hollis threw the two
mashers over the lip at the unarmored Squidies. After the flash,
pieces of alien exosuits flew over Ram's head.
Lucy repeated her command to 'hold the line'
to the Marines in all the forward positions, but Ram knew they
couldn't hold out. The Squidies probably knew it too.
While the mechanized Squidies kept
Lucy's head down, the 3.5-meter tall, spindle-limbed ones in
unarmored exosuits swarmed out from cover and charged across the
battle-scarred hull, all
together on their garden hose legs like crabs without shells.
Ram saw it happening, but all he and his squad could do was send a
few sabot that way.
"Mr. Devlin!" Hollis shouted. "Our forward
element needs help!"
"I see it!" Ram looked for Pardue and her
knuckledragger. "Pardue! Where are you?"
Pardue was already in motion. Her
4-meter-tall knuckledragger bounded right over Ram's position in
the crater, headed for Lucy Elan with a 3x3 meter square slab of
belt-iron hull plate held high in her forward claws. It looked like
a blocky, headless gorilla with a pilot in its chest. After the
jump, she hit the jets and flew. When Ram saw her shifting the
machine left and right as she came down, he knew she was aiming it.
Jordo heard himself whisper, "Yes... yes..."
After the top of her arc, one of the
Squidies in the armored battle suits saw her coming. It fired and
missed and then tried to get away, but wherever it ran, she
followed it as she came down. Pardue landed in front of it and
brought the piece of hull plate down on top of it. She knocked it
to the ground, broken and venting.
She dropped the hull-plate. Before the
unarmored Squidies around her could fire into her open-frame suit,
she charged them. She swept their spindle thin bodies away five at
a time with the knuckle-dragger's herculean metal fists.
The thirty-inch plasma cutter extended from
the left arm of her knuckledragger like a burning sword. Before the
mechanized Squidy on the other side of the unarmored ones could
discharge its heavy weapon, she pivoted and slashed at it with the
9000 degree, magnetically focused plasma blade.