Manxome foe votsb 3, p.15

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 15

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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The slope down was slight but tricky. The Wyverns always had a problem with rough ground, especially on the downslope. But Berg’s team quickly reached the bottom and started to sweep across the valley as teams deployed to either side.

  “I’m glad we’re in the middle and don’t have the south side,” Himes muttered. “I’m getting readings off that crater all the way over here.”

  “Nothing that’s going to hurt us,” Berg said. “Less chatter, more looking.”

  “And I think we’ve got something,” Smith replied, pinging for a stop.

  “Is that something?” Berg asked, walking over and taking a look. The “something” was a narrow hole that appeared to have been punched into the red soil. “It could be sampling from the scientists.”

  “What’s up, Two-Gun?” Top asked, bounding over in his Wyvern. “A hole?”

  “It looks like it was pushed in, Top,” Smith said. “Like a big… toothpick?”

  “Sir, I need a science team,” the first sergeant said over the company freq. “Bio or Geo.”

  Master Sergeant Max Guzik bounced over and looked at the hole.

  “It’s not a standard auger hole,” the geology specialist said. “And the edges are tapered, indicating that whatever made it was shoved into the ground under high pressure.”

  “I’ve got another one over here,” Lieutenant Monaghan said. “First Platoon, spread out. See how many of these we’ve got.”

  Eventually sixteen separate holes in an oval pattern nearly a hundred meters across were found. By that time, Sergeant First Class Darren Hanel, the biology specialist, had taken samples from the first hole.

  “I’ll say this,” the sergeant first class said, straightening up. “Whatever it was was hot. Did you notice the sides were partially melted?”

  “Yeah,” Master Sergeant Guzik said. “But it wasn’t nuclear. No radiation readings. But I’m pretty sure the team that was here didn’t make it.”

  “Concur on that,” Hanel said, putting the sample away. “I’ll see what I can get off of it. Probably nothing. Anything that can punch a hole like that and melt the sides of the hole isn’t going to spall off much material.”

  “Pardon me,” Lance Corporal Smith said. “Laser?”

  “You wouldn’t have had that dug-up lip,” the master sergeant replied. “And I don’t see the hole being tapered. No, I think we’re looking at some sort of landing jacks.”

  Berg looked around at the flags marking the perimeter of the anomaly, then at the narrow hole and whistled.

  “Master Sergeant,” he said, carefully, “if they’re landing jacks, then whatever they were supporting was at least a hundred meters long and about forty wide.”

  “And they’re very narrow,” Guzik growled. “Figured that one out, Two-Gun. But thanks for the input. We’re looking at something that displaced over ten thousand tons, minimum, but which lands on sixteen toothpicks. Well, railroad spikes.”

  “Why do I suddenly have the image of a giant spider in my head?” Smith muttered.

  “Why do I have the image of a Dreen warship that just looks sort of like a giant spider?” Himes replied. “Big bulbous body, sixteen spiderlike landing legs. And a whole passel of Dreen rhino-tanks, dog-demons, thorn-throwers…”

  “We get the point, Himes,” Berg said. “Can it.”

  “You brains get this sorted out?” First Sergeant Powell asked, bouncing over. He’d swept around the crater and gotten Third Platoon up to the ruins, searching for survivors.

  “I think we’re looking at landing jacks, First Sergeant,” Guzik said. “Just a guess. I’m not an alien tech specialist. But they’re not probe holes. They taper, nothing appeared to be picked up, they’re partially melted on the side… Sixteen narrow somethings which were intensively hot were shoved into the ground under enormous weight. That says landing jacks to me. I’d suggest getting Lieutenant Fey out here while we continue our sweep. And look for indications that something deployed from the ship. If there was a ship.”

  “All teams,” Lieutenant Monaghan said. “Up to the ruins. Keep an eye out for tracks or traces. The base is in our sector. Bravo, you’ve got point into the secondary base. Move it out.”

  “Let’s go,” Berg said, gesturing to the hills above. “Vector right a bit. There’s a path.”

  The path had been heavily used but if any aliens had used it, it wasn’t evident. The secondary base was reported to be partially built into one of the ruins, mostly underground. It wasn’t visible from the approach path and when Berg’s team neared it he slowed down.

  “Anybody got anything on sensors?” he asked.

  “Negative,” Himes reported. “There should be at least some electrical secondaries from equipment. But I’m getting nada.”

  “Ditto,” Smith said.

  “Ears,” Berg said, cranking up the gain on his external audio systems. He could hear the teams behind him scrabbling up the hill but that was about it. He changed frequencies.

  “Top, we’re trying to do an audio—”

  “All teams, freeze,” the first sergeant said before he even finished.

  With the sounds of the teams gone all there was was a light whistling from the thin atmosphere’s wind on the rocks.

  “Negative on sound or emissions at the site,” Berg said.

  “Teams, continue mission. Two-Gun, check it out.”

  Berg tracked his gun back and forth and then started forward.

  “Slow and careful,” he said over the team freq.

  Cresting the edge of the ridgeline they could see the opening to the base. It had been sealed with heavy sheet plastic with plastic reinforcing. The sheet plastic was torn, the reinforcing had been ripped out of the tunnel and part of the opening was fallen in.

  “I think somebody tore that up,” Himes said.

  “Possibly,” Berg said. “Or a one megaton nuclear blast could have done it.”

  “Point.”

  “Lieutenant Monaghan, containment on the base has been breached,” Berg reported. “It’s still unclear if it was from hostile action or the nuke. Continuing.”

  “Roger,” Lieutenant Monaghan replied. “Watch your ass, Two-Gun.”

  “Whoa,” Himes said. “Got something again. These ain’t human tracks.”

  Berg panned a camera around to see what Himes was looking at and nodded, his machine gun panning up and down.

  “Looks like claw marks,” Berg said, hitting a control. “Sir, sending video. There appear to be claw tracks.”

  “Dreen,” Miller said from in the conn.

  “Oh, yeah,” Weaver replied. “Shit.”

  “Captain Zanella, this is the CO,” Spectre said over the radio. “Those tracks have been identified as Dreen. Proceed with caution. I’m taking the ship up to orbit. I’m not going to get jumped on the ground by a Dreen warship.”

  “Understood, sir.”

  “Sir, permission to deploy before we take off,” Weaver said.

  “Why?” Spectre snapped.

  “Because I think I’ve figured out a way to communicate with Earth, sir,” Weaver said. “I’ll need about twenty minutes to set it up. And I’ll need a commo tech.”

  Specter considered that for a moment, then nodded.

  “We’ll scramble for altitude while you get ready,” the CO said. “When you’re ready, we’ll drop you off.”

  “Agreed, sir,” Bill said, standing up. “Permission to go get ready.”

  “Go. You too, Chief Miller.”

  “What are you thinking?” Miller asked.

  “I’m hoping is more like it,” Bill replied. “I’m hoping that they’ve got some smart people monitoring the dangerous gates.”

  “All teams. The ship is heading for orbit in case we need firepower. Be aware that First Platoon has found definite signs of Dreen presence. They’re probably gone, but remain fully alert.”

  “Two-Gun.”

  “Yes, sir,” Berg replied to the platoon leader.

  “Move into the base and look for evi
dence of Dreen presence or any survivors.”

  “Roger, sir,” Berg said. “Okay, boys, now’s when it gets interesting. I’ve got point. Follow me.”

  “Gladly,” Himes said. “Very dangerous. You go first.”

  The opening was low due to the rubble and Berg had to hunch the suit through, keeping his weapon up and forward at the same time. The walls, once past the outer edge, were smooth and delicately patterned. They shone a faint blue in the glow from his suit lights.

  The passageway went straight down at a slight slope then turned sharply to the left. There was rubble on the floor, some of it shoved to the side but more fallen recently. Most of it was probably from the shocks from the nuke. The floor was too solid for tracks and it wasn’t possible to determine if any of the rubble had been moved. At least not to Berg.

  Turning the corner they could see an open area ahead. As they approached, it was apparent there had been another seal there. But it, too, was ripped down.

  “We got anybody?” Berg asked.

  “Top, Two-Gun,” the first sergeant replied. “I’m setting up a relay system. And monitoring your video.”

  As they entered the center of the base it was apparent that the Dreen had been there ahead of them. A dog-demon — a pony-sized beast that was low-slung with a chopping jaw head — was lying dead at one side of the room. Some folding tables had apparently been set up as a barricade across the door. They were ripped apart and tossed about the interior.

  There were several patches of dried blood but not one body, not one piece of electronics was left. Packs had been ripped apart, the contents strewn about the room. Cots were overturned, sleeping bags ripped open and a blister bag of water had been breached, the water pooling at the rear of the room.

  “This had to really suck,” Himes said. “But somebody had a weapon, apparently.”

  “Looks like a lucky shot from a pistol,” Smith said, examining the body of the dog-demon. “Couple of scratches on the chest armor but whoever it was got a shot into that soft patch under the neck.”

  Berg looked around and shrugged inside his armor.

  “No exits,” he said, swiveling his turret back and forth. “So anybody in this room was doomed.”

  “Got a map,” Himes said, pulling a large sheet of paper out from under a table. “Looks like the map they were making of the ruins.”

  “Got some lab books over here,” Smith said. “Can’t exactly open them in this suit.”

  “Top, we’ve got some intel down here,” Berg said.

  “On my way down,” the first sergeant replied. “Hold your position.”

  “This looks interesting,” Smith said, straightening up with a book held in his suit claws. “Somebody drew all over the cover with red ink. It says ‘Dreen!’ ”

  The first sergeant delicately set the lab book on one of the rerighted tables and hooked open the front. He read it for a moment, then nodded, his machine gun tracking up and down.

  “Supplementary log of HD 36951 Gamma Station forward base, Dr. Christian Moshier, Ph.D. Just in case anybody ever reads it,” he said softly.

  1140: The main base was struck by what we think was a kinetic energy weapon. Several personnel were away from this base when the main base was attacked. Their condition is unknown at this time. Drs. Darren Hokanson and Matthew Sterret were working in the ruins. Dr. Charles Talbot was on the way back to the main base. Doctoral Candidate Deb Cutler was exploring a previously unmapped section. The other five of us are fine at this time.

  1154: Dr. Kaye Roberts has volunteered to go to the surface. She is aware that in the event of an attack, the protocol is to destabilize the gate with a nuclear weapon. She feels that she can observe from a position just outside the tunnel in the event there is a rescue party. The rest of us have elected to remain, rather than try to beat the response. I was given a classified briefing that indicates that even with the gate destabilized there is an “alternate method” of response. I don’t know what that is but rather than risk getting hit by our own nuke we’re going to wait.

  1214: Dr. Roberts has reported an unknown ship overhead. Video of the ship and its actions are on the main archaeology computer. The ship lowered under apparent antigravity power, fired downward using something like a laser and dropped down a probe. The probe might have returned to the ship with a body. Dr. Talbot was on his way to the base when the rock was dropped. It is possible that this unknown alien species captured him.

  1217: The ship has left.

  1321: Another shock indicated that the nuke has gone off and shortly afterwards we experienced enormous overpressure that severely damaged the airlocks. If we had any idea it was going to take that long we would have run for it. We have no reports from Dr. Roberts.

  1333: Dr. Roberts has returned. Her radio was destroyed by EMP but she was not harmed. The inner airlock is repaired and Dr. Roberts has volunteered to lead a team to repair the outer airlock. Dr. Wilson has completed an inventory of supplies. We can hold out for forty days, more or less. The big question is the air processor. If it breaks down, we’re in trouble. But as long as there are no more attacks, we should be fine.

  1423: Dr. Darcy Retherford has taken the watch at the front. Both airlocks are repaired. There was minimal atmosphere loss. Others have ventured up to the surface. The gate is visible as is the large crater around it. The radiation can be detected from the ridgeline. They really nuked the heck out of it.

  1649: Another ship has been detected. It is much larger than the first. Video, again, is on the main archaeology computer. Everyone is inside except Dr. Retherford. We’ve set up an optical fiber system for communication to keep from broadcasting.

  1652: Ship has landed in the valley. Small pods, similar to the one seen earlier, have lifted off from it.

  1655: Dr. Retherford has retreated from the entrance when some of the pods approached. We’ve set up a truly inadequate defense. Dr. Roberts brought a pistol with her, something none of the rest of us knew until just now. We’re piling tables in the entrance.

  1657: A camera Dr. Retherford left in the entrance has shown us the nature of our visitors. It appears that we’re about to be Dreen food. Last words all seem inadequate. Tell our families that we were thinking of them at the end. Dr. Roberts wishes to add to any military personnel who might someday read this her personal request that they ‘Get some.’ ”

  “Well, that truly sucked,” Himes said, his gun tracking back and forth as he shook his head. “I think we’re about thirty-three days late.”

  “I think I’d liked to have met Dr. Roberts,” Berg said. “A pistol-packing female archaeologist. Who’d a thunk it?”

  “They got hit before we even got the word,” the first sergeant said. “But there’s a bunch of holes. I can see the air reprocessor being gone. It’s pretty apparent the Dreen picked up everything technical. But what do you get when you’ve got an air reprocessor, Two-Gun?”

  “Think the Dreen took the air tanks?” Berg asked. “You don’t pump it straight into the room, you pump it into tanks as back-up. There should be a couple of honking big air tanks in this room.”

  “Maybe,” Top mused. “Who can figure out how the Dreen think? Why’d they destroy the base then take half the day to come back and check things out? But look at the food supplies.”

  Berg rotated his sensor bulb and looked at the food supplies. There was a pile of rations against one wall. They’d been knocked around and some of the cases had been busted open, down to some ripped packages of rations. But most of the cases were still stacked.

  “The Dreen didn’t want to eat our food?” Himes asked.

  “Use your eyes,” the first sergeant snapped.

  “Damn, Top,” Berg said, wonderingly. “I didn’t see it. Sorry.”

  “What?” Smith asked.

  Berg walked over to the scattered yellow packets and pointed down. Several of them had been arranged into a cross formation. It was subtle, but very evident now that he’d noticed it.

&nb
sp; “There’s a survivor.”

  “Tchar, I need a blage.”

  The Adari engineer’s quarters were the largest on the ship but barely adequate. Especially given the… stuff that filled the interior.

  The Adar had been a technologically and philosophically advanced race when they encountered humans. By that time, they had managed to end intertribal differences and merge into a unified planetary government. Admittedly, it had taken some major wars to do so, but they’d done it and thereafter given up the long-drawn strife. Artistic, technically competent and religious, encountering humans had been an almost shattering event. Because with all their religion, science and philosophy, they’d never invented marketing.

  The Adar were almost incapable of not buying anything that was advertised aggressively enough. In Tchar’s case he was a sucker for anything that was sold late at night, often on infomercials, for $29.95 plus shipping AND you get for FREE this solid gold-simulacrum…

  And he carried it all with him wherever he went. In the case of the ship, packed literally to the overhead in his room. There was barely room for his bunk. Admittedly, his bunk was massive.

  “Good God,” Weaver moaned. “Have you added stuff?”

  “Why, yes,” the Adar said enthusiastically. Nearly twelve feet tall, with a flat, ducklike head, three eyes and back-curved legs, the alien was dressed in brilliant purple spandex shorts and a safari jacket. “I got a real bargain on a food processor! It slices—”

  “Dices and makes julienne fries,” Weaver said as he entered. “My God, they didn’t bring back that finger-shredding monstrosity, did they? Never mind. I need a particle emitter. Not EM communications spectrum. It has to be able to penetrate through an LGB and then several meters of steel reinforced concrete and be detected by sensors on the other side of all that. It has to be man portable. It has to be capable of being turned on and off rapidly. And I need it in twenty minutes.”

  “Oh, ask me for something hard some time,” Tchar said, whistling happily. “Coming right up! I’ll just take the iridium-192 isotope gamma ray weld joint tester and attach that to my magnetically spun industrial lazy Susan — I got two for one on those. Always a two for one value at Triple A Plus Industrial Warehouse Online!”

 
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