Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 36part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
It had taken a bare thirty minutes for the shield generator to be installed, hard points placed over Conn, Engineering, Sickbay and Tactical, and the overheated nodes rebuilt or replaced by the Hexosehr engineers.
Some had swarmed back to the collier, but others remained, continuing to work even as the ship went back into battle.
The destroyer designated Sierra Fifteen swelled in the viewscreen, its face a mass of plasma bolts, lasers and blazing mass drivers. The improved Blade ignored the fire, pausing for a moment to adjust and then flashing out a chaos ball that ripped through the destroyer like tissue paper.
“Conn, Tactical. Sierra Fifteen no longer accelerating.”
On the main viewscreen the dots could be seen separating, and the battlescreen updated as the remaining two ships of the Dreen taskforce thundered past their damaged brethren.
“Conn, Tactical. Fighters moving out from BatRon One. Appear to be headed for the Hexosehr corvettes.”
“I hope they can deal with them,” Spectre said. “Tactical, get us lined up on Sierra One. It’s time to go for the heavy.”
“Where’d they go?” Miller asked, looking around the corner. The corridor beyond was piled with the bodies of Dreen dog-demons and thorn-throwers. But there were none moving. Well, a couple of dog-demons were trying to drag themselves forward, their bodies ripped by machine-gun and cannon fire. He popped the targets in the head but those were the only enemies in the corridor.
“I don’t know,” First Sergeant Powell replied. “One minute they were rushing us in a mass wave, the next they pulled back.”
From down the corridors there was a roar that shook the ship and a crunch as of a heavily armored tank running into a wall.
“Uh, oh,” Miller said.
“I guess they got out of the way for the heavy.”
A pair of horns appeared at the end of the passage and Miller fired at them, striking sparks from the refractory material.
“What are you doing?” Powell snapped.
“Behind us is a dead grapping end,” Miller replied, continuing to fire into the flank of the massive rhino-tank as it inched around the corner. It was having to slam its bulk into the bulkheads, bending the corners, to get around the turn. “If we let it get down to here, we’re grapped.”
The rhino finally got enough of its bulk into the corridor to turn its head towards the two fighters in the intersection and focused on them for a moment. Sparks began to fly between its horns and the SEAL and the Marine backed up.
“Incoming plasma!” First Sergeant Powell snapped as a ball of green fire flew down the corridor. The explosion blasted fire and smoke back down the passageway, but didn’t harm the Wyverns.
“You know,” Miller said in a thoughtful tone. “If we could figure out a way to get it shoot that hatch, and survive mind you…”
“It’s an elevator,” Powell said.
“Okay, point. Guess we’ll just have to kill it.”
Berg stepped out of the elevator and looked around. As far as he could tell, it was just another of the seemingly endless corridors of the ship. There was a short corridor to a T intersection with the usual color-coded markers. This time, though, one of the purple ones was flashing.
He looked at that and blinked his eyes, then limped down the passage it indicated. There was a hatch about thirty meters down but before he could open it, it slid aside, revealing two thorn-throwers and a dog-demon.
He dropped the machine gun and drew his pistols automatically. One of the thorn-throwers had its back turned but the other fired immediately. Too soon, because the burst of thorns went by Berg with an evil whistling sound.
His .50 caliber round went right into its thorn projector, which, since it was mounted in the thing’s snout, meant right through its brain case.
A second round caught the spinning thorn-thrower in the side; a third went through its head. The fourth through seventh of the magazine were expended on the charging dog-demon, which slid to a stop a few feet from his boots.
“I gotta get a better job,” Berg said, reloading with one of his few remaining magazines. He was so hot and dehydrated, his vision was wobbly and his coordination was off. For that matter, he swore he’d heard voices a minute ago. Or at least a voice whispering in an alien tongue. He managed to seat the mag after dropping it only once and holstered his pistol. He started to pick up the machine gun, then just left it where it had dropped and continued to lurch down the corridor.
Beyond was a room filled with what looked like control positions and computers. At least, that was what his struggling brain was telling him. He thought he saw a mermaid for a second, but then resolved it as a bunch of the alien script on one wall. Sure looked like a mermaid if you sort of turned your head, though. He tilted his head back and forth and snorted. If you were hallucinating, maybe.
The control positions were arranged sort of like an auditorium with the door entering at the base and the positions stretching up to his left. He wondered for a second why that would be and then looked to his right. He had to lean back, carefully, to see what the operators would have seen. It was a big screen that was actually active, showing a series of colored lights scattered across its face. Some of them had alien script next to them and a few had what looked a lot like arrows. Some were purple, others blue. There were two blue ones right in the middle of the screen and one way off to the side. There was another cluster of blue on the left side of the screen. Near the edge on the left there were some orange ones. And one about halfway up the left-hand side. As he watched, it vanished for a moment, appeared again near the two blue dots, then vanished again, reappearing in its original location.
At almost the same time he felt the ship begin rumbling from fire along the port side. Then there was a thump, felt more than heard, and a klaxon began to ring.
One of the orange dots on the far left had a sort of diamond around it. The diamond began to flash and the whine of the main gun started up again.
“Okay, I know where this is going,” Berg said. He really hoped he met the creators of this ship some day because they were so much like humans it was scary. “I am in the ship’s tactical room. Purple is the Dreen. Orange is us and the Hexosehr. And the Blade’s fighting this thing, now. And I think we hit it. I wonder if I can turn it off?”
“You cannot,” a voice whispered over his communicator. “Continue. Follow the flashes.”
Okay, either he was hallucinating again or… No, that one had been clear. And in English.
“Okay,” Berg said, lurching forward. There was another hatch on the far side of the room and the control panel was flashing. “Okay, I can do this. Either it’s a fever dream or… something stranger. But I can do this.”
“We can do this,” Miller argued.
“It’s grapping insane,” Powell replied. “But we’re all gonna die, anyway, so why not?”
“Lurch, you get the left leg,” Miller continued. “Neely, the right. I’ve got the demo.”
“And the duct tape,” Lyle said. “Don’t forget the duct tape.”
“What do I do?” the first sergeant asked.
“Pray like hell this works,” Miller said. “And pick up the demo if I drop it. And keep that grapping beak away from my armor if you can.”
The rhino had managed to make it around the far bend and now was humping into view, grunting under its breath and rolling its beady eyes at the humans in the corridor.
“Wait for it,” Miller said, crouching on his knees a bare couple of meters from the stuck rhino. “Wait for it to get stuck in the turn.”
The rhino lurched to its left, crumpling the steel of the bulkhead and gathering room for the turn. Then it lurched forward, smashing the other side and tried to spin in place, getting jammed between the forward bulkhead and the port.
“Now!” Miller snapped.
Lyle slid forward on his belly wheels, then came up, holding onto the left leg of the beast. Neely slid forward, also, grabbing th
Miller flipped onto his back and pushed off from the bulkhead, sliding under the rhino as the two Wyverns struggled to lift the thing into the air. Its claws raked bare inches from his Wyvern, struggling to gain purchase on its smaller tormentors.
Powell slid forward and straddled the SEAL, grabbing the underside of the thing’s beak and straining to lift it. The rhino’s eyes rolled bare inches from his cameras and it was much closer than he ever wanted to be to a rhino-tank again in his life.
“Emplaced,” Miller said, grabbing the thing’s legs and sliding out from under the monster. “Get back!”
All three of the Marines released almost simultaneously and Lyle and Neely grabbed the SEAL, dragging him back just as the rhino pawed at where he had been.
“Seven, six, five…” Miller counted.
“It’s charging,” the first sergeant pointed out. “Down!”
The rhino, though, could duck its head now, and pointed the charging ball of plasma right at the four Wyvern suits cowering on the floor.
The plasma fired at almost the same moment as the improvised explosive strapped to the beast’s underside. Almost. In fact, it fired precisely four milliseconds afterwards. But that was long enough to lift the multiton rhino nearly a foot, so the plasma blasted past the Marines and the SEAL and, in fact, impacted directly on the door of the lift.
Rhino-tanks were, in fact, very well armored. But four kilos of octocellulose duct-taped to its belly exceeded its rated design limits. The center of the massive organic tank exploded all over the corridor, raining intestines, stomachs and other less identifiable bits in every direction.
Furthermore, the SEAL had slid way back on the tank, figuring that the armor would fall off the farther it went to the rear. Thus the powerful explosive lifted the massive creature up and forward.
Right on the four cowering suits.
“Well, Todd,” First Sergeant Powell said. “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. My first gunny warned me never to work with SEALs. I knew I should have listened to him.”
“Excuse me, First Sergeant,” Lyle said. “But do I hear claws approaching?”
“Cool,” Berg muttered, leaning back and looking up at another massive viewscreen. This one was speckled with stars, somehow giving an impression of three dimensions. The conditions were too complicated for him to figure out but he was pretty sure it was great intel on the Dreen. Some of the markings had to be details of the Dreen empire. Probably other races, as well.
But the control pad on the far side of the compartment was flashing insistently. He didn’t know what was at the end of this quest, but it was getting cooler and cooler.
Either that or he was having a very interesting dream as he was being eaten. He was still trying to decide.
“Holy Grapp!” Spectre shouted, grateful that his commo was off. The last blast from the Dreen dreadnought had shaken the ship from stem to stern. The defenses of the ship were ten times more powerful than those of either the destroyers or the carrier. If it hadn’t been for the Hexosehr patches, the Blade would have been cut in half long before.
Looking over his shoulder, though, he would tell that had been a serious hit. Tactical was…
“Conn, Damage Control,” the XO said wearily. “We’re down. We barely made it back into warp. Tactical is gone, half the interfaces are blown. All external cameras and sensors are destroyed. We can’t see, can’t hear and can barely maneuver.”
“Get me a forward view,” Spectre said. “I don’t care how you do it. And get me in touch with Lurca. It’s time to end this fight.”
The final compartment was surprisingly small compared to the “auditoriums” of the tactical and navigation rooms, but it was cool. The main viewscreen had been tuned to give a view of a world with cool, crisp mountains beside a crashing sea. It wasn’t anywhere on Earth that Berg recognized and the color of the sky wasn’t quite right unless he was much mistaken. Other than that, it looked sort of like someplace in Scotland or Ireland.
It took him a moment to spot the massive pile of Dreen fungus built up around a central dais. There was a big chair, apparently for the commander, on top of the dais. From his position, all he could see was the pile of fungus and a bunch of tubes running out of it, wrapping around the chair towards…
An occupant. Lurching forward he could see that something was in the seat and as he approached the forward viewscreen and turned he could see that the occupant was small, the size of a human child. An emaciated cat.
Humans had thought the Mreee wiped out. It was the world of the felinoids that Weaver and Miller had shoved the ardune bomb on top of, shutting the Dreen gates to Earth. The six-hundred-megaton bomb should have wiped the low-tech culture from the face of their planet. Even the few surviving captured Mreee, who despite heroic attempts to keep them alive had all eventually died, thought their race had been wiped out. But here was one commanding a Dreen task force.
“Welcome, human,” the Mreee gasped, the voice labored. “Welcome to hell.”
“How can you talk?” Berg asked.
“I must command this battle, but parts of me remain, to a degree, free,” the Mreee gasped. “What good a voice that none can hear? What good eyes that can only look forward? The Dreen care nought for such. But you must hurry. Your friends are about to die and your ship is sore pressed. When it attacks again, I will destroy it and my security is about to destroy the remaining Marines. Unless you act.”
“What do I have to do?” Berg asked.
“Kill me,” the Mreee replied. “But first I must give you orders. On the right side of this room as I sit is a panel with purple symbols like one of your L’s. When I am dead, press each of these three times. That will open up all of the airlocks and doors on the ship. It is a firefighting measure. The ship will be unscathed; it can handle vacuum quite well; its Karchava builders were thorough. But the Dreen and their fungus cannot survive vacuum. You must empty all the air and that will destroy the Dreen. The two destroyers will remain but your ship should be able to survive then and triumph. But you must empty the air. Now, kill me and be about your orders.”
“Can’t I just pull…”
“That would kill me, more painfully,” the Mreee hissed. “Your pistol, Two-Gun. Use it. Free me from this hell. Please. Be aware, security is coming. You must act quickly. There are other survivors. If you meet any of my people…”
“I will tell them of your sacrifice,” Berg said, lifting the pistol. “Go with God.”
“And you, Two-Gun.”
“Okay, this is going to be all manual control,” Spectre said. “The objective is to get close enough to the battlewagon that when the engine goes we’ll take it out.”
The casualties had been moved to the collier as had all nonessential personnel. That included Miss Moon who had, to everyone’s surprise, survived.
“We’ll warp in as close as possible, then go in the rest of the way on manual control of the normal space drive,” Spectre continued. “Most of our armor is oriented upwards, so we’ll try to maintain that relativity. We only have about three minutes until the battlewagon reaches engagement range. Everyone take your positions. And I have to say I’m proud of all of you. No crew in history has fought so hard and so long with such success. I love you all. Now, let’s go kill ourselves.”
“As a battlecry that leaves something to be desired,” Bill said as the crew resumed their positions.
“There’s no need for you to be here, Commander Weaver,” the CO said. “You know as well as I do when the drive detonates it’s just going to be sitting there in space. The Hexosehr have promised to make a new ship from scratch if necessary so the survivors can get back to Earth.”
“Might be sumpin I kin do t’ git us all kilt,” the astrogator said, for once letting his full Southern accent slip free. “Gonna be funner than skinnin’ a lahv coon.”
“Ayup,” Spectre replied. “Pilot?”
“Go, Commo,” the CO replied. “We’ve got commo?”
“Retrans through the Hexosehr collier. Lurca. Voice only.”
“Ship Master Blankemeier, Fleet Master Lurca. Hold your run.”
“You’re about to get taken out, Lurca,” Spectre replied. “We don’t have time to…”
“The Dreen dreadnought has ceased acceleration,” the fleet master replied. “It has opened all its hatches and is blasting air and water into the ether. I do not know the significance of this, but…”
“What the hell?” Spectre said. “What about the destroyers?”
“They continue forward,” Lurca admitted. “If anything, they are accelerating. But they will require an hour to get in range with plasma weapons and the dreadnought is open to space and has ceased fire. We have time—”
“XO!” Spectre snapped. “I want the combat engagement system back up in twenty minutes! Get to it!”
“Grapp, grapp, grapp…” Miller muttered, trying to move the beast on his back.
“If we all lift at once…” Powell suggested.
“Got it,” Miller said. “Ready, one, two…”
There was a blast of sound in the background, like a tornado, and the Wyverns could feel a rumble transmitted through the deck. Thumps resounded along the corridor as hatches flew open.
“What the grapp?” Lyle asked. “My external air pressure sensor is dropping like a rock.”
A dog-demon scrabbled around the corner, coming into Miller’s view. But it was clearly struggling. Its beak opened and closed, gasping for air as it collapsed a foot from him. He watched it continue to gasp its last then slowly boil as the external air turned to vacuum. It wasn’t a fast process, there was a lot of air in the massive ship, so he got to watch it in slow motion.
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