Authors: Aer-Ki Jyr
Star Force: Hradeiti (SF82) (Star Force Origin Series)
February 20, 3108
Menchet System (lizard core)
Jack-020 stood atop a tall lizard building, looking out across the planet’s cityscape in the dim morning light at the shipyard column he had in his helmet’s enhanced view. What he saw was almost comical, though he wasn’t laughing. The base of the column had been severed with a chunk a few dozen kilometers long missing out of it where it had formerly touched the ground.
Now it hung from the air, perfectly still, but not standing on anything. The weight was being supported from the ring in orbit, some 26,000 miles overhead, and the fact that the column hadn’t broken into pieces or pulled out from its connection at the top surprised Jack. Apparently the lizard construction was more robust than he gave it credit for.
He’d checked the orbital telemetry being fed down to them via the battlemap without having to break comm silence and noted that the numbers for the ring’s gravity drive output had been added to the feed. Right now they were running a lot harder than normal to support the weight of the column and that’d have to be dealt with eventually, but for now they weren’t worried about running out of fuel and Jack was fairly certain the column wasn’t going to fall down on top of their heads in the near future…thankfully.
Which meant it was time to get back to the mission of knocking out more anti-orbital batteries. Whether they proceeded with a full ground invasion to take out the others or sniped at the edges with orbital bombard, the more he and his small team of Archons could take out the wider the beginning window would be for fleet operations, and he knew naval hated being boxed in so tightly. And while Star Force did have a range advantage on the lizards, sitting in orbit and firing down on a single target would take far too long to do the damage needed with the strength of the lizards’ current shield generators, which on this planet were more massive than any they’d encountered before.
Star Force could get away with the slow bombardment using long range Keema on smaller lizard worlds, but if they tried that here they’d literally be at it more than a century, if not indefinitely, because if they took too long to lay out the damage the lizards could rebuild what they were losing.
So that meant the fleet had to get in closer and bring its other weaponry into the game, specifically the Dre’mo’dons, and to use them through atmosphere would mean they’d have to get real close. The key to not losing any of them was in not exposing them to anti-orbital fire, at least not from the big guns. The secondary surface defenses they could handle, but in order to get them down that low they had to run the gauntlet until a sufficiently wide enough safe zone had been established, and they were far from that.
Add in that the lizards had just taken down their only other means of getting to the surface and Jack began to wonder if the other columns around the planet had also been destroyed. He didn’t think the lizards would help Star Force out by taking down the ones they still controlled, but the rest could certainly have become targets. Searching his battlemap telemetry he saw no highlights at those locations like there was here, so he assumed they were still intact. Though why the lizards would leave them up confused him. If this was just a big stalling effort, why not take them down all at once?
Jack kept wondering if the lizards had a plan up their sleeves…like getting a whole score of reinforcements coming into the system. So far that hadn’t happened, and the full remaining Star Force invasion fleet was still here guarding the system, but sooner or later they’d have to make a choice. Stay here and continue to excessively cover the ground troops as they did their thing, or move on to help assault other systems as planned.
This core invasion was going to take decades at the minimum, Jack knew, but they couldn’t get in a rush and leave themselves exposed to counterattack. Then again they couldn’t wait too long either, with Roger and Liam’s assault fleets still chipping away at two other systems. They were wearing their fleets down and killing a lot of cruisers over the course of time, but neither had risked a full on attack yet. Not until Paul got to them with his enhanced fleet.
But to do that he’d have to leave this one, and he wasn’t going to do that until the ring was fully taken and the ground assault firmly underway. All three of the trailblazers here, himself along with Megan and Paul, were trying to draw out any possible lizard counterattack before his moving on, but none had yet came. He didn’t know if that was because there wouldn’t be one or it just hadn’t manifested itself yet, but it was something constantly on his mind…with the lizards’ hesitancy to chop off the bottom of the other columns making him wonder if they didn’t want to do any more damage to the ring than necessary if they had hopes of reclaiming it and the system.
Not that it was a fragile thing. Each column was miles wide and took a hell of a lot of firepower to chop off at the base, with this one taking hours to have been severed as it was, but destroying the ring itself was damn near impossible. There was simply too much mass for the fleet’s weaponry to chew through, and frankly it would be a waste of power to do it. They could crash the ring down into the planet, with considerable effort, and that would be far more economical than using their weapons to slowly nibble away at it, for it did stretch around the
planet, but it would make a hell of a mess of the surface and Star Force wasn’t interested in fighting that way.
Why make a mess when you can just steal the ring from them in the first place?
That was their thinking anyway, and since the troops they’d be facing on the ground would be the ones forcing their way up into the ring via the column lifts it didn’t really matter. They’d have to kill them one place or another, so it might as well be the ring, for they were still ignoring all offers of surrender.
Never can make it easy on us, can you? Always have to make us earn it the hardest way possible.
So be it. A surrender would be much cleaner, but Star Force would take the lizards down whatever way they needed, and picking them apart piece by piece had been the method employed thus far, and there was no need to change it now…though the idea of a Death Star to just blow up the entire planet was enticing. Fortunately even the V’kit’no’sat didn’t have that kind of a weapon, and by Jack’s thinking no one would. The amount of power required to crack a planet in two was mindboggling and not deployable, unless you could drag a small star over and have it go supernova in orbit.
Planets were typically durable, fat balls that could get their surface messed up but otherwise would remain the same, and this rock was no different. But Jack and the others weren’t going to mess this one up much. Just a little redecorating via the fleet, then a good scrubbing with the ground teams to clear one sector of lizard city after another.
Jack glanced at the ring in orbit above, always visible day or night and always the same section, for it was spinning with them and locked into position via the columns. Typically Star Force would spend a very long time cleaning up a conquered planet, and while that was somewhat about erasing the lizard presence entirely it also had a very big logistics value. Why go off and mine raw materials when you have concentrations of valuable ones right here in the lizard infrastructure? These were already refined, processed, and fabricated, meaning recycling these materials would be a hell of a lot easier than mining new ones.
This was the most densely carpeted lizard planet Star Force had ever tried to take, meaning it had a lot of recycling ahead of it, but fortunately they had a little asset in orbit to use for that. While they might not be able to use the ring to build new Star Force ships, with a little tinkering it would become one giant scrap yard, and if they could leave even one column intact it would save millions of dropship flights to get the material up to orbit.
This one could be repaired, Jack thought, so long as it didn’t fall off. They weren’t going to be building any new 26,000 mile bridges up to the facility, so it was either use what was here or fly the bits and pieces up via a flock of the tiny Star Force transports.
Which was another reason why they had to get more of these anti-orbital guns taken down…so the lizards couldn’t chop off more of this column if they felt like it later.
“Work, work, work,” Jack whispered, headed back inside the enemy building and sneaking his way down into the undercity where the rest of his team waited.
Paul and his team got to the surface as a squadron of skeets roared past, killing a few wisps that were sniffing around down amongst the buildings where the anti-air fire couldn’t target them. The grey skeets flashed past so fast they were a blur of metal and mauler cannons, then they were gone and the incoming icons of a dropship pulsed on his HUD, still several kilometers distant.
He responded by throwing down a waypoint in the street just ahead of them, then the four Archons spread out chasing lizards away and looking for any that were armed. The few that were they either shot or rendered unconscious from range while the
-class dropship landed. It was the smallest one Star Force had, only able to carry as many people or cargo as a truck, but there were only four people in Paul’s team and the rest of the Archons on planet were being picked up separately at their various positions that were hundreds of miles apart.
Riona got to the dropship first and waited for the rest of them before getting onboard. When Paul got there last of all the door quickly closed and the pilot’s waited until it was fully shut before lifting off and flying up through the city buildings and back into the cover of the roaming fighter squadrons.
Paul walked a few steps through the small craft and up into the cockpit compartment, finding a pair of pilots. While the dropships could easily be flown individually, it was always better to have two sets of eyes and hands in play…especially in a combat zone.
“Thanks for the lift.”
“Not a problem,” the lead pilot said as she gestured out the forward ‘window,’ though it was actually just a holographic display over top of armor plates protecting them from the exterior. “The
has our back.”
As the dropship rose up above the buildings that beautiful Star Force grey donut sat miles away in the distance, but it was so large to be easily visible and pumping out plenty of firepower against the surrounding cityscape and airborne targets while the handful of dropships sped off to pick up the Archon teams.
“So it does,” Paul said, resting hand on her shoulder in thanks.
She smiled, then glanced at her uniform and the dried blood smear he left on it.
“Sorry,” he said, forgetting that it was even on his armored hands.
She brushed it off and shrugged. “You guys sure are dirty.”
“This is nothing,” Riona commented dryly, and Paul knew what she meant. If they’d been coming back from a ‘slayer’ mission their armor would have been dripping in lizard blood.
The dropship quickly flew them to the huge command ship sitting a couple of kilometers over the tallest buildings with the chopped off shipyard column situated in the backdrop not far off. The shields lowered over one of the hangar bays to let the sparrow inside, then Paul and his team got out on the deck to wait for the others, seeing that one group had beat them there.
One by one all the dropships came in, followed by the skeet squadrons that had been covering them, and Paul was grateful that his head count came up full. None of his invasion team had been lost or injured, by the looks of them.
“You bringing the fleet down now?” Megan asked as she walked over to him, with Jack a few seconds behind her.
“No. I think we could all use a good sleep, then we can get to work on this.”
“You want to give the lizards that much time?”
“Normally no, but I’d rather have the three of us involved than not.”
Riona lightly punched Paul in the shoulder as she walked by, letting him know she was heading off.
“I agree,” Jack said, forming their little triumvirate as the other Archons all dispersed. “Let’s get some rest and pound them when we’re fresh. They’re not going to do much rebuilding before then.”