Authors: A.D. Bloom
Many thanks to Tom Robidoux for his editorial input.
Thanks to 'Blue Scar' D. for his consulting role.
Thank you to Jimmy Robidoux and the 182nd Airborne.
Cover images and custom models by Whayler.
The author would like to express his appreciation to the New England Air Museum, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), and USS Massachusetts (BB-59), F-15.net, /r/WarshipPorn and her sister subreddit, /r/Warships.
The Squidies came and attacked without warning. Two years later, Humanity's sacrifices and martial brilliance have won major victories against the alien aggressors. Now, the fight is in the Squidies home system. Now, comes the final drive across Beta Draconis to the Squidies' homeworld moon.
Dying alien appendages curled up around their boots as Colletier began to set the breaching charge on the wall of the nest. "Mr. Devlin... How much farther until the prisoners?"
"Twenty-two meters. This should be the last wall we have to breach."
The alien installation where the Squidies took the prisoners had been dug under the surface of an outer planet’s moon. The curving walls of every compartment were covered in a foot of something like hard wax with a kind of metal inside it. The whole structure was an endless series of flattened, ovoid chambers like ants made. Only a boneless Squidy could fit through most of the doors here, but the company marines Ram Devlin brought were well-practiced at making new doors where they needed them.
This was a hand-picked squad. He couldn't ask for any better, but blowing their way 300 meters into an alien installation, rescuing the prisoners from the captured Atocha, and exfiltrating them wasn't a mission he thought he'd be assigned.
"Still glad to stretch your legs and get off the ship's bridge, Ram?" Lucy Elan crouched next to him with her rifle leveled at the smoking hole they'd blown to enter that chamber.
"I go where Harry Cozen sends me."
Hardway XO leads mission to rescue Atocha prisoners
. It’s a good headline," she said, swapping out her MA-48’s boxy clip. "He's trying to make you look like a hero, I think. For after the war."
Detonations rumbled up through the floor. Across the chamber, Choto loosed a trio of railgun rounds through the melted and blasted threshold and down the narrow passage outside. "They tripped the beet mines we left. Still got the cutters and claymores." Another set of detonations rocked the nest. "Claymores," he said. In the alien atmo the mines had an unexpected, high-end ring to their detonation that vibrated its way right through their helmets.
How much longer with that breaching charge?"
"We’ll have your door for you in just a moment, Mr. Devlin," Colletier said as he finished drawing the shape of it by mashing the explosive into a groove he'd dug in the curving, waxy wall.
A piece of a Squidy, that is to say, an almost intact trio of arms began to wind itself around Ram's ankle like some blind mass of animal vines. He burned it with the MA-48's top barrel laser until it smoked and shriveled.
"Thirty seconds to det," Colletier said. "Everyone get clear!"
"Squidies got brains all over them, Mr. Devlin," Mitty said as he crouched down next to Ram. "That’s my theory." Mitty prodded a squirming piece of one with his MA-48’s bottom barrel. The grenades had torn the Squidies in this chamber to shreds. "See…Squidy got brains everywhere on his body. Got a
brain in every one of those ten arms. Makes him hard to kill. Brains in every limb, not just in their heads."
no heads," Colletier insisted.
"They do too got heads." Mitty pointed to a charred, alien corpse. He gestured at the main body mass, at the part halfway between the two, symmetrical bundles of appendages at either end. In the middle there was a raised lump with multiple ocular elements, oral appendages, and a slack-mouthed orifice that had screamed as it burned. "What do you call that, right there?"
I call it a bullseye, Squidy-lover
. The hell
Colletier's breaching charge shook the chamber and filled it with smoke. Only a second later, Ram, Lucy, and the company marines stormed through the molten-edged hole, and on the other side of the smoke there was nothing. The new chamber appeared empty.
"Where are they?"
Where are the prisoners?"
It appeared empty at first, but then, when he looked down, he saw the floor was wet and thick with ragged-edged hunks of red meat and bone, all sliced up with a micro-bore particle stream.
The atmo in that room seemed to dim the beams from Colletier’s exosuit as he panned them over the bloody mince underfoot. "This is where you said they kept the prisoners. Where are the prisoners?"
Gunnery junks from
air group pounded the alien defenders to cover the extraction and flew them out over the detonating nukes. Inside
’s belly, once he got his helmet off, Ram discovered the sulfur stink of the Squidies' nest was still on his exosuit. It burned his nostrils and made the muscles under his face twitch.
"Forgot about that part didn’t you," Lucy said. "When we land, we’ll get the pilots to dump some plasma out of the nacelles and give ourselves a nice bath."
"You couldn’t take that plasma bath before you came aboard?" The junk’s crew chief had his exosuit sealed and his helmet on just to avoid the stench.
Across the relatively small personnel compartment in the gunnery junk, the faces hung slack. Out of focus eyes leaned to one side or another. Nobody had been in more knife fights with the Squidies that Lucy and her company marines. They’d seen it all, but what they’d seen today shook them.
"The hell the Squidies have to cut up all the bodies for?" Colletier still couldn't accept it.
"The dismemberment… they like to negate things," Choto said. "Like when we left that graffiti on Humpback 26 and they cut the whole rock up in pieces."
Mitty snorted. "Don’t care why Squidy McJangles does what he does. He ain’t gonna be doing it for much longer. We’ll finish ‘em off now. We’re finally in their home system and once we get to that homeworld moon of theirs we’re gonna kill off the whole sulfur stinking species."
Choto said, "Lot of nests on that moon. All those Squidies ain’t about to let us sail up and drop warspites on their heads. We been fighting here for two months and so far, we
haven't made it to the aliens' homeworld moon. They got just enough ships to hold us off. What we got
is a stalemate."
"Screw that," Mitty said. "Squidy’s days are numbered."
Ram didn’t say what he was thinking...what he knew Lucy Elan was thinking when she met his eye. They're both right. The Squidies' days are numbered, but finishing them off is going to cost lives. And lots of them.
He followed her up the tube to the junk’s cockpit. Pardue and Ernst smelled them coming. "Warn us on local comms or shout up or something so we can put our helmets on."
"Good god, Mr. Devlin. I wish we’d had time to give you two a bath." Pardue didn’t turn around. She kept her attention focused on the starry black on the other side of the canopy. Her co-pilot Ernst sat next to her and pointed across the Squidies home system to the location of the combined Privateer and UNS fleet. Fat, Beta Draconis bathed the system in a rich IR glow. It looked blood red to a human eye.
, this is
"Let me tell them," Ram said. "
AT, this is Devlin. Black Sail. Say again: Black Sail."
." Behind each transmission from
he heard the sound of alien jamming strong enough they needed comms relays to overpower it. Usually the Squidies’ jamming sounded like 10,000 cicadas warbling on comms, but this time, it was different. It was an alien propaganda broadcast in spoken English and after the communication with Hardway was over, Ernst let the sound of it fill the cockpit. "
....-f alien aggression is a lie.
The flat, monotone of the voice trembled in a way that made Ram think all feeling had been tortured out of it. "Is that even a real voice?" said Lucy.
"When did this start?"
"When you were down there under the surface," Pardue said. "Hold on, it loops."
The voice was back in moments, raspy and bruised. "
My name is Chief Jericho Bilt of the Staas Company Privateers AT65 886 912. I am a war criminal, but I have not been mistreated.
Ram said. "Turn that crap off." Ernst didn’t. He turned it up.
Before this war started, the aliens offered Earth a peace treaty. Harry Cozen attacked them.
" It sounded like Bilt spoke through grit teeth now, like he didn't believe it. "
We… We attacked the Squidies first. The war of alien aggression is a lie.
Ernst turned in his seat to look up at Ram. Pardue did too. Ram said, "The hell you both looking at me for?" but he knew why. He was on Moriah with Harry Cozen for that first engagement of the war.
Those two pilots weren’t the only ones who were going to have questions. Best to get the answers out there. "Something you need to ask me about, Pardue? Go ahead and speak freely." She hesitated. He said, "I was on Moriah with Harry Cozen on the first day of the war. I was there. I can tell you for sure what happened. There was no treaty offered. They attacked us. It's that simple."
"So it's not true what he said? I mean it's not true what the Squidies made that Chief say about Harry Cozen starting the war?" Ernst didn't sound like he wanted to believe it.
"Think about what you're saying. You're talking about Harry Cozen, the man who sits in
chair. He’s a senior Staas Company VP and when the UN brass have a measuring contest, he swings the rank of a 3-star Admiral. Harry Cozen built Staas Company's military contracting wing. He's been behind nearly every major victory in this conflict. Without him, we’d have lost this war by now. Think about what you’re saying real hard, Ernie, and then don't ever fucking say it again.
They attacked us first.
Get it straight.
Squidy came to our system and he attacked us first.