Manxome foe votsb 3, p.29

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 29

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “We must slow them as much as we can,” Kond replied. “It is duty.”

  “And this is duty,” Spectre replied. “We are preparing to engage. I don’t think we can coordinate with you to any extent, but if you can do something about the fighters I’d be much obliged.”

  “We will see what we see,” Kond said. “I wish you well and thank you as do all of my people.”

  “Hey,” Spectre said, “the way I look at it, it’s just a target rich environment.”

  The bay was about forty feet across and twenty high with walls and floors made of scarred metal. At the rear was a lift of some sort that looked strangely disused.

  But sitting on top of the lift was a pile of what looked like glowing green poop. The poop pile had a massive tube running out the back, which entered the ship through a small hole in the inner bulkhead. There was a patch around the hole, also glowing green, that looked something like the top of a mushroom.

  Walking farther into the compartment, Berg saw that at the back the overhead was indented and there was a window. It looked like glass but was probably something stronger than aliglass. The glass was covered with a patina of dirt and he couldn’t see what was beyond. There were alcoves to either side as well. And the rear one had a hatch!

  There didn’t seem to be any way to open it. There were no wheels or knobs.

  On the outboard bulkhead, though, was another patch of glowing blue fungus. It was just occupying a vaguely oval spot on the wall.

  Following a hunch, Berg pulled out a knife and scraped at the fungus. He was careful to avoid getting it on his armor. The Dreen often used enzymes and acids to attack armor.

  The fungus turned out to be puffy and liquid filled. When the knife cut through the outer layer, it squirted liquid that quickly ran down the face of the metal. Once scraped away, the fungus revealed a pad with glowing symbols. They were definitely alien and looked something like cuneiform. Berg used the hilt of the knife to avoid the messy goo covering it and pressed a couple of the symbols. On the second try, the hatch opened, the doorway dilating away as if the metal was flexible.

  The space within was lit with dim red light and was the size of a cargo elevator. Whatever race had once owned this ship, they had apparently done some of their own fighter maintenance in this bay and form apparently followed function.

  Inside there was another patch of fungus covering a similar pad of symbols. Pressing the one that had opened the door didn’t have any effect. Pressing the first one that he’d tried closed the door. Okay, he could open and close it. Now to figure out how to get to the next level. There were three more symbols. The first two apparently did nothing. The third started the lift. At the next level the lift door opened automatically.

  The immediate view was of the alcove that had the window in it and it was clear. Peeking around the hatch, though, he was amazed. The lift opened onto a massive area, about forty feet high and possibly stretching all the way across the ship. It was apparent he’d found the hangar bay.

  There were more piles of green poop as well as stalactite type formations hanging from the ceiling. He had no clue what any of them were for and intended to avoid them for the time being. What he didn’t see was anything moving in the weird purple-green light of the hangar. There appeared to be no Dreen at all.

  But if any of the Marines had made it into the ship, they were probably going to have made it through the open bay doors. His had closed quickly after he entered, so who knew how many had made it in. But they were probably in the fighter bays, still.

  The interior bulkhead, seen from this side, had massive struts attached to it. They looked, at first, like some sort of reinforcing. Then Berg realized that the whole upper bulkhead could be lifted like a clamshell door. He had an immediate vision of aliens pulling fighters out of the bay that required more maintenance than could be done on site. Replacing an engine, maybe. The doors didn’t look as if they’d been used in years. Maybe decades.

  He used a remote camera to peek around the corner of the alcove. He was surprised to find no internal security or even any technicians. He wasn’t sure what a Dreen technician might look like, but he was surprised there weren’t any.

  Nobody in view, though. He walked as quietly as he could down to the next fighter bay and wiped at the dirt on the window. Shining a flashlight in, he couldn’t see any movement.

  On the fourth bay, he saw a suit of human armor. It was wrapped into the mound of poop on the bay.

  Hurrying to the lift, he scraped and punched his way down until he was in the fighter bay. But it was apparent he was too late. From the remains of the stenciling on the suit, it was apparent that Lance Corporal Mario Uribe wouldn’t be playing twenty questions again. The material of the mound had penetrated the suit in multiple places, eating through the joints and doing who knows what on the interior.

  Berg set a grenade for twenty-second delay, boarded the elevator and headed back up. As he passed the window there was a muffled thump and the window splashed green.

  Himes had to duck as the hatch closed but he made it into the bay and slid to a stop just in front of a pile of green poop.

  “Uck,” he muttered, climbing off the board.

  The most interesting thing in the compartment was definitely the pile of poop. It was sitting on some sort of lift and might control it. Getting it to open up the bay and let him out was a top priority.

  He approached it cautiously, though. The Dreen were nasty creatures and this was for sure a Dreen product. There were still occasional outbreaks of the monsters on Earth, each luridly detailed in the news. He wasn’t sure what it could do to his armor, but he also didn’t want to find out the hard way.

  That left the problem of what to poke it with. It was just waiting to be poked, but there wasn’t so much as a scrap of paper in the bay and he didn’t want to do it with his suit-claw. So he finally leaned down and poked it with his gun.

  The pile erupted immediately, swarming up the gun barrel and engulfing the tip while pulling him downwards towards the mass of Dreen fungus.

  He was only half surprised but he let out a scream anyway then bit down on his fire trigger.

  A stream of 14.5mm rounds from his Mojo Gun blasted into the pile, splashing green across the compartment and ripping free the pseudopod that had his gun entrapped. The bit of barrel that still had fungus on it was smoking. He wasn’t sure if that was from the heat of the gun or from the material trying to eat it, so he walked over to the wall and scraped as much of the stuff off on it as he could. It didn’t seem to have damaged the barrel, but he wasn’t planning on poking it again.

  He looked up as a light flashed at the rear of the compartment. Ducking down, he could see there was a dirty window there. Something was flashing a light into the compartment. He started to duck back, trying not to let a Dreen security team find him, but then recognized the vague silhouette of a Wyvern suit.

  “Hey!” he shouted, stepping forward into view. “Get me out of here!”

  Smith had made it into one of the bays as well and was equally fascinated by the pile of poop. Disdaining his gun, the lance corporal drew his monoknife and poked at it. He managed to drop the knife fast enough that the pseudopod did not get his suit-claw. But he also lost his knife.

  “Mothergrapper,” the cannoneer snarled.

  He examined the pile a bit more closely, then grinned. Backing off, he set the cannon for exploding-rounds, single-shot and placed the laser target designator on the point where the thick cable entered the back of the pile.

  One shot was all it took. The cable whipped through the air, spraying green slime liberally into the compartment, then sealed and retracted into the wall.

  Smith waited a few moments, then watched as the glow slowly faded from the pile. In less than a minute, it turned brown and began to settle, like a falling soufflé. In a couple of minutes it was just a brown liquid nastiness on the floor.

  His knife was half eaten away so he left it where it lay and began to e
xplore the rest of the compartment. He’d just found the door when it opened, nearly triggering another shot.

  “Damn, man, what are you doing just hanging around in here?” Himes asked. “We got Dreen to kill!”

  “CO has the controls,” Spectre said. “Standby. Engaging.”

  The sequence happened too fast for the eye to follow. The speckle of Dreen ships swelled enormously, there was a brief flash and then they receded, fire flashing harmlessly off the ship’s warp field.

  “Replay on all screens,” Spectre said. “Did we get anything?”

  “Negative, Conn,” the TACO replied. “We might have gotten a piece of one of the destroyers but we missed Sierra Nine.”

  The Blade was concentrating on the ship that was designated as a carrier, a long ovoid that was essentially featureless except for its mottled green-brown skin and spiked exterior.

  “As a weapon this leaves much to be desired,” the CO said.

  “What we need is twenty-four of them,” Weaver replied. “Fill all the tubes.”

  “Now that might just work,” the CO admitted. “I suppose it’s no worse than the subs back in WWII with their faulty torpedoes. But I want it to get better. And more of them would be good. But we need to deal with what we’ve got. XO, ship still good?”

  “Set at Condition One, sir. No damage.”

  “Got a piece of Sierra Nine that time, sir.” Tactical flashed the replay on the screen in slow motion. It was apparent that the chaos ball had impacted and there was a flash of air and water that blasted into the void. But after a moment, the hemorrhage of material stopped.

  “Well, that’s something,” Spectre said. “Not spectacular, but something. XO, I’m going to go to continuous evolution. Five times, adjust course and speed, then five more times. It’s taking less than a second for each evolution. We’ll do five attacks, assess, then go for it again. Stand by.”

  “Any luck on getting the engine more precise?” Miriam asked as she wandered into the engine room.

  Normally, people did not “wander” into the engine room, but the entire ship had taken up the linguist as some sort of mascot, especially after she cheerfully chipped, scraped and painted all the steam runs. Nobody had been looking forward to that detail.

  “No,” Tchar admitted. “I have scraped the algorithm that controls the neutrino flow to the bottom. There is no way to get the neutrinos to stop being generated faster. There is just this lag I cannot resolve!”

  “That doesn’t sound like fun,” Miriam said. “But I was just wondering while I was working on a pump. Doesn’t the box have null settings? Points on its surface that don’t do anything that we can figure out?”

  “Yes,” Tchar said. “That is how we move to different warps by moving to different points on the box and adjusting the neutrino stream. Your point?”

  “How fast does that ball move?” Miriam asked, pointing at the shining silver ball.

  “Uh…”

  “Okay,” Spectre said. “We got the programs right for the ripple attack?”

  “All set up, sir,” Weaver replied.

  “It’s not going to glitch, right?”

  “Guaranteed bug free or your money back,” the astrogator said.

  “Assuming I can collect.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Course and speed matched?”

  “Course and speed matched, aye, aye!”

  “Engaging,” Spectre said.

  The screen flashed and flashed and flashed and then it stopped. They were back in deep space with only the scattered lights of the Dreen fleet, like lesser stars, speckling the main viewer.

  There was a groan from the communications technician and he bent over and grabbed a vomit bag. Spectre just grabbed his head in both hands.

  “Was that from watching the viewscreen?” the CO asked after a moment. “Weaver, what in the hell just happened?”

  “Unknown, sir,” the astrogator replied, swallowing his gorge. During the overlapping warps he had experienced a massive sense of disorientation and the aftereffect was nauseating. “We’ve never had that sort of reaction from a warp jump, but we’ve never done several of them together like this. It may have been from looking at the screens or it may be an effect of the drive. It may even be the chaos ball interacting with the drive.”

  “Right,” the CO replied. “Making it up as we go along, as usual. Pilot, match course and speed.”

  “Course and speed matched, sir!”

  “This time nobody watch the screen,” Spectre said. “Engaging.”

  Weaver closed his eyes but that, if anything, made the feeling worse.

  “Sir,” the XO gargled. “We’re getting reports of disorientation and nausea from throughout the ship. It’s not just the screen.”

  “So it’s an effect of the drive,” Spectre said. “Tactical, did we get a piece of them?”

  “Negative impact, Conn. Some were under, some were over, some were too far out and they dissipated.”

  “And we can’t get things any more accurate with our current systems,” Spectre said, nodding. He pressed the 1MC and cleared his throat. “This is your captain speaking. The effects you just experienced are a side effect of the way we’re attacking the Dreen. There’s no way that we can damp them out that anyone’s found and we don’t have another attack method that works. So we’re going to have to suck it up until these Dreen bastards are constituent atoms or run home with their yellow tails between their legs. You’re the finest crew I’ve ever dealt with and I know that you’re going to handle this just like every other piece of weird assed shit we’ve dealt with. Prepare to engage.”

  “Conn, Engineering.”

  “Go.”

  They’d managed to get some hits into the Dreen ship, a piece of one of the destroyers and a fighter that had been terminally unlucky. But the flotilla just streamed on. It was frustrating.

  “Tchar and Miss Moon have managed to solve the warp adjustment problem,” the ship’s engineer reported. “We now have only a millisecond delay. I don’t know if that’s going to add to the effect or improve it.”

  “Good to know,” Spectre said. “Is that going to make us more accurate?”

  “Unknown, Conn,” Engineering said. “But it’s going to make us less vulnerable.”

  “It’s also going to make it possible that we’ll fire inside the warp bubble,” Commander Weaver pointed out. “I’ll need to tweak the program that decides that. We don’t want one of those things bouncing around inside with us.”

  “How long?” the CO asked.

  “No more than ten minutes for that,” Bill replied, opening up the program and looking at the interface with the warp drive. He could see Tchar’s notes on the changes there. “But here’s an interesting thought. If we keep our normal open period, we can actually do some adjustment of the angle of the ship. Interface with the tactical computers and aim. But we’re more exposed.”

  “Will that take more time?” the CO asked.

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Can you write that code off to the side while we keep trying the normal way?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Then do it,” Spectre replied. “But get the new systems set up first. We’re punching this thing. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Sooner or later we’re going to hit something vital. I don’t want to let up if we don’t have to. XO, get us into a planetary shadow and we’ll go to chill while Commander Weaver punches his buttons.”

  “Good to see you, Staff Sergeant,” Berg whispered.

  “Two-Gun, why are you using your external speakers?” Hinchcliffe replied, using the same method.

  Hinchcliffe had rounded up Sergeant Priester and Corporal Nicholson from Charlie team. With Uribe dead, that left only Vote and Wagner missing. He’d apparently come in from the other side of the hangar. The two groups had spotted each other and cautiously met near the center of the vast enclosure.

  “The Dreen can pick up electronic transmissions, Staff Sergeant,”
Berg said.

  “Point,” Hinchcliffe replied. “Priestman, over here.”

  The three went into a “leadership huddle” while the others took up security positions.

  “We’re going to go with radio for a second,” Hinchcliffe said over the leadership freq. “Because now that we’re in here, I’ll admit I’m stumped. I know we should be attacking, but we’ve got no clue where anything is on this ship.”

  As he said that there was a rumble of thunder through the ship. It was a combination of deep cracks transmitted through the metal of the ship.

  “I would guess that was firing,” Hinchcliffe said. “And I can guess what they’re firing at. Our ride home.”

  “Any ship, even a Dreen ship, is going to have brain, muscle and lungs,” Berg said. “That’s the way one of my teachers put it one time. The brains on a normal ship is the conn. The muscles are engineering. The lungs are environmental. Kill any one of those, and the ship stops. Well, actually, since it can probably shift brains, the exception is conn.”

  “And if we kill the ship, we kill ourselves,” Priester pointed out. “If we take it down, the Blade and the Hexosehr will blast it to pieces. And that assumes that six Marines even can take it down.”

  “Got a better idea?” Hinchcliffe asked. “Then that’s the plan. We need to figure out where the brains, the lungs and the muscles of this ship are.”

  “I would suggest we wait on engineering,” Berg said.

  “Reason?”

  “Well, Staff Sergeant, I don’t know how to shut down a fusion reactor,” Berg admitted. “And unless you’ve taken a learning annex I don’t know about…”

  “Conn, Tactical. Some of the fighters are being recalled. I’d say they have to refuel.”

  “Now we have some idea of their flight time,” the CO said. “And hopefully of their cycle time. How you doing with those tweaks, Commander Weaver?”

  “Almost done, sir.”

  “Good,” Spectre said with almost feline malice. “There’s no better time to hit a carrier than when she’s cycling her fighters.”

 
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