Manxome foe votsb 3, p.30

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 30

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “What the hell was that?”

  The staff sergeant nearly jumped out of his skin at a series of nearby clangs.

  “I don’t know,” Berg said, trotting over to one of the windows. “Ah, they’ve pulled in their fighters.”

  “Really?” Hinchcliffe said, trotting over to stand next to him. Even with the filthy glass, the large ovoid that now occupied the bay could be clearly discerned.

  “I wonder how hard they are to kill?” Berg asked.

  “Thirty bays,” Hinchcliffe said. “Less counting the ones we’ve already grapped up. Nine Marines. If you cut the cables, the big piles die. I’d guess the big piles are their replenishment system. You thinking what I’m thinking, Two-Gun?”

  » » »

  Berg cut the cable with his monoknife. According to Smith and Priester, the green goo that gushed forth wasn’t any threat. Just before he left he decided to shove a grenade into the bubble on the wall. He set it for twenty seconds, took the lift up and waited. There was a rumble under his feet and looking in the bay he saw there was now green goo gushing everywhere.

  “Heh,” he muttered, heading for the next bay.

  Space Combat Unit replenishment system failure above probable wear. 20% loss of replenishment fluids. Intruder probability 99.99999%. Dispatch repair units Class One through Four. Dispatch Security Units Class One through Three.

  The door to the fighter bay lifted smoothly despite the patina of wear.

  “You sure about this, Staff Sergeant?” Nicholson asked.

  “Better to blow them up here if we can,” Hinchcliffe replied. “Fire.”

  Nicholson trained his 25mm cannon around the corner of the bulkhead and onto the rear of the fighter, then triggered a stream of Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot. The rounds had a tungsten core designed to penetrate light armored vehicle armor.

  About half the rounds bounced off but several tore through the armor, releasing a gush of liquids and steam. Nicholson stopped firing and backed away as soon as he had penetration.

  “It hasn’t exploded, ye—” Hinchcliffe started to say when there was a tremendous roar from the bay.

  The blast flung all the Marines to the floor and blew the outer hatch to the fighter bay open. Air began to gush out in a whirlwind but the inner door slammed shut automatically, cutting it off.

  “That was pretty,” Hinchcliffe said. “Let’s do that again.”

  “Conn, Tactical.”

  “You sound puzzled, TACO,” the CO said.

  “Spectral analysis shows there was just a gush of air and water… There’s another one, coming from Sierra One.”

  “That’s our converted Big-Boy, right?” Spectre said. “Interesting. Did the Hexosehr get in a hit?”

  “Negative, Conn. It just seems to have suffered random failure. Not sure of the cause.”

  “Next shot we’re going to go for the Big-Boy,” the CO said. “Mostly because I want to look at what might have occurred. We might be able to use it.”

  “WE GOT DREEN!”

  Nicholson and Smith, the other cannoneer, had managed to destroy five of the fighters before Dreen security responded. There were six entrances to the bay, four outboard, headed respectively port aft, starboard aft, port forward and starboard forward, and two midline headed fore and aft.

  Dreen security responded through the forward, starboard entrance. Fortunately, the Marines were gathered to port, the side that Berg had entered.

  The first wave were Dreen dog-demons. Quadrupedal, heavily armored on the front quarters, they had heads like a gargoyle with a big, crushing beak. In armor, the beak was the part to look out for. It was reputed to cut through Wyvern armor like a hot knife. Some people joked that they were Dreen Marines, “Devil Dogs” being one of the nicknames the Marines had picked up over the years.

  If so, they were doing a lousy job. Their powerful claws had a hard time getting purchase on the slick floor of the hangar bay and they slid into view rather than charging.

  “Light ’em up,” Hinchcliffe ordered. “But conserve your ammo. We’ve got a long fight ahead of us.”

  Berg targeted one of the sliding dogs and fired, hitting it at the juncture of the neck and shoulder. That spot was unarmored and the 14.5mm slug nearly blasted the beast’s head off. It slid to a stop in a welter of green blood.

  Berg didn’t think about it more than an automatic “target down,” placing his rangefinder on the next of the beasts and another. Before he knew it, the engagement was clear.

  “Okay, I think they know we’re here,” Hinchcliffe said, lowering his smoking machine gun. “Let’s not be here. We’ve fucked up the replenishment system and blown up five fighters. Good enough for now.”

  23

  “Well, isn’t that interesting,” Spectre said.

  Their sole run on the battlewagon had been a bust, the chaos balls missing by a mile. But they’d gotten some good video. And it was apparent that five of the fighter bays were blasted outwards.

  “What in the world could have caused that?” the XO said. “Some sort of systems failure?”

  “They’re not even all together,” Weaver pointed out. “There are three side by side, then a jump, then two more. I don’t see a systems failure being that… random.”

  “Tactical, has the carrier relaunched, yet?”

  “Negative, Conn.”

  “Okay, that’s the next target,” the CO said. “We’ll puzzle about the battlewagon later.”

  “Oh YES!” Spectre shouted, all nausea forgotten, when the video from the series of strikes was replayed.

  It was evident that one of the chaos balls had hit the carrier right in a hangar bay. The ship was gushing air and water and there were secondary explosions. It wasn’t out of the fight yet, but it was sorely wounded.

  But it had taken ten evolutions, fifty attacks, to get that result.

  “Set up another run, Pilot,” Spectre said. “Commander Weaver, how far away from the unreality node are they?”

  “About seven light-seconds, sir,” Bill replied.

  “After this run we’ll head back there and see if any Marines survived,” Spectre said. “No, I hadn’t forgotten about them.”

  The Marines had exited the hangar bay from the port, forward door. Beyond they found a large corridor with regular blast doors on it. The first two segments were unoccupied, the doors sliding open at a touch. The fourth, though…

  “What the hell?” Berg muttered.

  The corridor was filled with overlapping filaments that were lightish green and pulsing. Berg touched one with a monoknife and it didn’t react so he used the knife as a machete to hack an opening.

  Through the hole it was apparent that the corridor was coated in the stuff. Along the walls were small pods and the floor was slippery with goo.

  “Movement,” Himes said, targeting the subject.

  The movement turned out to be something that looked like an amoeba, but hugely magnified, being nearly two meters in diameter. It was slowly undulating over the pods on the outboard side of the corridor. It might have been eating or cleaning, it wasn’t apparent.

  “Don’t,” Berg said. “Don’t fire.”

  He stepped into the corridor gingerly but got no reaction from the amoeboid. Going over to one of the cocoons he cut it open and a half-formed creature flopped out.

  “What the hell is that?” Smith asked. The creature looked like an octopus. Or maybe an octopus in a surrealist painting.

  “No grapping idea,” Berg said.

  The radical abortion caused a reaction from the amoeboid, but not a hostile response. It turned and flowed across the corridor, palpating the cut edges of the pod with pseudopods and then flowing over the octopoid.

  “I think it’s eating it,” Himes said.

  “Weird,” Smith replied.

  “It’s a nursery,” Berg said. “For whatever those things are and whatever they do. And we’re not getting anywhere. Staff Sergeant?”

  “Keep moving forward until we
find something better to do,” Hinchcliffe replied. “Maybe find the nursery for the dog-demons. I’d rather kill them stillborn.”

  “I didn’t know you were a Democrat, Staff Sergeant,” Berg said with a grin.

  “Don’t ask, don’t tell, Two-Gun.”

  Air loss four percent. Attack in Class Three Repair Unit nursery. Port side, corridor fourteen, section ninety-six. Localize intruders and destroy. Increase production of combat units. Increase production of Repair Units. Cease replenishment of fighters. Divert all nutrients to internal defense and repair.

  “Conn, Tactical. I’ve got beacons from two Marine suits.”

  The Blade had approached the node and changed its relative motion to that which it had had when the mines were dropped. Then it went hunting for Marines.

  “Marines, this is the Blade,” Spectre said. “You still alive and sane?”

  “Oh, Jesus, sir,” one of the Marines replied tightly. “Thank God you came back. This is Wagner. I think Vote’s dead. I’m hanging in there. I’m coming alongside.”

  “Roger,” Spectre said. “Maintain current course and heading. Send word to the Marine commander that we’ve got at least one of his boys. Wagner, this is the CO. What’s the word on the others? Were they killed in the blast?”

  “Negative, sir,” Wagner replied. “We were assembling on the node when that big Dreen ship came through. The metal one. I think some of them may have managed to board it.”

  “Ho, ho,” Weaver said. “And the mystery of the fighter bays is less mysterious. One of the things Marines are best at is breaking things. It might even have been an accident, knowing them.”

  “It also makes it harder for me to kill that damned thing,” Spectre said. “Knowing there are Marines on board.”

  “Conn, Commo. The Caurorgorngoth is coming into range to engage the enemy flotilla. She is requesting assistance.”

  “Tell her we’ll be there as soon as we pick up our boys,” Spectre replied. “Keep her pants on.”

  “Conn, Tactical. We’re picking up neutrino readings consistent with Cheerick boards. Multiple signatures. I think the Marines dropped their boards off the ship.”

  “We’ll pick ’em up as soon as we pick up our Marines. Somebody is using their head over there. And I’ll give you dollars to donuts who it is.”

  At the fourteenth blast door, Berg didn’t even have to hit the open button. It opened while the team was halfway down the compartment and he flopped to the prone and bit down on his firing clamp even before he could see the enemy.

  “Dreen!” Smith shouted unnecessarily. He’d taken a knee and was hosing the corridor with his cannon.

  The first wave were dog-demons again. The combined fire from four suits, three 14.5s and a cannon, stopped them butt cold. But this time they were backed by thorn-throwers, bipedal creatures that fired a dense carbon “thorn” out of launchers on their heads.

  “Uh!” Himes gasped, falling backwards as a thorn penetrated his armor.

  “Stay on target,” Hinchcliffe snarled. “Security, keep your positions!”

  “Himmie’s down!” Smith yelled.

  “I can see that, Lance Corporal,” Hinchcliffe replied. “And there’s not a damned thing we can do about it right now.”

  There had been a round dozen of the dog-demons and six of the thorn-throwers. All of them were down before the dogs got to within five meters of the Marines.

  “Two-Gun, check on Himes,” the staff sergeant said as soon as the corridor was clear.

  Berg crawled over to the suit and flipped up the readouts. There were monitors for heartbeat, temperature, blood oxygen and brain waves. All but the blood oxygen and temperature were flat and those were dropping.

  “He’s gone,” Berg said.

  “We can’t leave him for the Dreen, Staff Sergeant,” Smith said calmly, all things considered. “They’ll eat him.”

  Earlier, they’d managed to get Uribe’s body freed and spaced it when they blew up one of the fighters. It was the closest they could do to a funeral.

  “Two-Gun, put a thermite grenade inside his armor,” Hinchcliffe said. “Then we need to move out.”

  “Where are we going?” Smith asked. “We don’t know where anything is on this ship!”

  “We’re going forward, Marine,” the staff sergeant barked. “Do you have a problem with that?”

  “Negative, Staff Sergeant,” Smith replied tightly. “I apologize for my outburst. I am gung-ho, Staff Sergeant. Let’s go kill some Dreen.”

  Berg tried not to look at his teammate as he opened the armor. It was apparent that several of the thorns had gotten into the armor and a few had bounced. The lance corporal was riddled with holes, and blood filled the bottom of the Wyvern.

  “Pull his cannon and ammo before you do that,” Hinchcliffe said. “We’ll tote the cannon. Nich, get over here and pull this ammo. You’re going to need it.”

  “I want one of those,” Spectre said.

  The Caurorgorngoth was in the fray at last. The Chaos Destroyer was half the size of the Dreen battlewagon, much less the carrier. But it made up for its relatively small size in firepower.

  The ship was retreating towards a nearby Jovian, not the one that the fleet had assembled at but the Dreen didn’t know that. The idea was to delay the Dreen by convincing them the Hexosehr fleet was gathered at the nearer Jovian refueling instead of on the far side of the system. The Chaos Destroyer had even laid decoys that simulated the emissions of the refugee fleet ships. The longer the Dreen headed the wrong way, the longer the main fleet could continue to refuel.

  As its consorts moved outwards to exchange long-range plasma blasts with the Dreen destroyers, the chaos ball ship fired blast after blast from its main gun.

  The chaos balls moved at nearly light speed. Fired from five light-seconds out, the balls took a bare seven seconds to reach their targets. They could only be detected at the last minute on the way in, but the Dreen reacted by maneuvering. By continuous delta-V actions, the ships could avoid most of the blasts. A few, however, impacted their targets. As the conn crew watched, one of the chaos balls hit a Dreen destroyer, ripping a hole from stem to stern. The ship listed off-course for a moment, then exploded in a bright, actinic flash.

  “Conn, Tactical. Dreen fighters moving out to intercept the Caurorgorngoth.”

  “Can we figure out a place they’re going to be in space where we’re far enough away they won’t notice us dropping torps?” the CO asked.

  “Yes, Conn. Already plotted. We’re not sure it will be in their direct path as before, but it will be close.”

  “Pilot, lay in that course,” Spectre said. “Tactical, figure out a second drop point. We’ll go drop these mines, make a series of runs in against the carrier again, then drop some more. Hopefully we’ll be able to winnow down the fighters.”

  “Okay, straight on or right?” Smith asked.

  They’d finally encountered a cross corridor. They’d previously encountered two more nurseries, one of them of thorn-throwers. One had been newly hatched but it could barely fire and Berg had taken it down before Smith could get in a lick. They’d spent some time destroying all the thorn-throwers and then dropped grenades in to keep them from growing back.

  The aft corner of the corridor was marked with more of the alien script, these in vivid primary hues. The top script was a bright purple, about head-high on an Adar, under it another in yellow and descending nearly to the deck. The script wrapped around the corner and was no more than a couple of symbols. Berg ran his hand down the markings and they brightened, chattering in a high-pitched language.

  He touched the blue symbol and it spat out a short message, the sound of the alien tongue almost like a chime. He noticed that each of the scripts was not only a different set of words, short, no more than two or three, but in a different tone. If he had any skill in music at all, he could have played the script like a piano. The opposite corner appeared to be an exact duplicate.

  Directions? Orders
? He was sure he’d never know but it fascinated him as he ran his finger down the corner.

  “Right,” the staff sergeant replied. “We’re not finding anything vital in this corridor. If there’s a bridge, it’s going to be deep in the ship. Same for environmental.”

  Flick in, fire, flick out. Flick in, fire, flick out. It had become so routine, Spectre let the pilot take over. They were doing ten evolutions, then pausing to adjust course and speed and review their strikes. There was more time taken to review than to attack.

  The nausea accompanying the rapid transitions was getting worse, though. The CO shook his head and swallowed as he watched the replay.

  “Good one that time, son,” Spectre said. The carrier had gotten its remaining fighters off, of course, so it was not nearly as spectacular. But it had been a good solid hit on the rear of the Dreen ship. If only the ball generator they had did more damage!

  “Conn, Tactical. Fighters approaching mine point.”

  “On display,” Spectre replied.

  The view was just empty space but then it blossomed into light.

  “Did they take them out?” Spectre asked. “We laid eight torps. Did we get anything?”

  “Three appear to have prematurely detonated, Conn. We’re waiting on a bandit count… Conn, Bandit count before mines seventy-three. Bandit count after mines, sixty-four. We got eleven.”

  “Not too shabby,” Spectre said. “You got another position for us?”

  “Working on it, Conn.”

  “Right, next run. This time, son, I want you to lead ’em a little.”

  Enemy lesser ships in range. Engage main cannon.

  “What is that?” Smith shouted.

  The ship had filled with a massive whine, like a billion angry bees but at a much higher frequency. It had started low but rapidly climbed up the scale. Suddenly, it shuddered, almost throwing them off their feet, and the whine died away.

 
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