Manxome foe votsb 3, p.31

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 31

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “Did we take a hit?” Nicholson asked, looking around.

  “I think it was probably the ship’s main gun,” Berg replied.

  “What could make a ship like this shudder like that?” Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe asked.

  “A really, really, really big gun, Staff Sergeant.”

  “Sir, the Fatutug is… gone,” Favarduro said, wincing.

  “What happened?” Kond asked calmly. The Fatutug had been covering their left side, engaging a Dreen destroyer that was attempting to flank them.

  “There was an energy surge from the Dreen dreadnought,” Favarduro said. “We detected no weapon but it apparently fired at the Fatutug. Fourteen treek after the energy surge, the Fatutug blew up.”

  “Contact the Sharp Sword,” Kond said. “See if their sensors detected anything.”

  » » »

  “All I got was a streak of light, Conn.” The TACO was clearly nervous. The enemy had just attacked with a weapon that nobody could understand. “Slowing it down… still a streak of light. It looked sort of like a chaos gun, but not really.”

  “Mass driver,” Weaver said, looking at the readings. “Got a gravitational spike from the area, indicating a big mass moving at relativistic speeds. Big, big big one and really fast. It looks as if it’s traveling at about .3 c. Tactical, Astro, has Sierra One reduced velocity?”

  “Roger, Astro. It’s accelerating, again, but it definitely reduced velocity there for a minute or two.”

  “Work with me, here, Astro,” Spectre said. “What are we facing?”

  “A mass driver fires, well, a mass,” Weaver replied. “Think the gun on a Bradley, sir. It’s got a depleted uranium penetrator but the important thing is that it heads downrange really fast and it’s really heavy. This thing is relativistic, meaning that it gains an enormous energy punch from that. Being hit by that gun is going to knock any of the Hexosehr ships out of the game. We’d just end up as a smear of plasma. And it’s long range. Accurately, over five light-seconds at a guess.”

  “That makes sense,” Kond said when he received a reply to his message. “We must endeavor to avoid being hit by that weapon. Begin random evasion maneuvers. We continue battle.”

  “Left or right?”

  The corridor they had been following had reached a dead end. The corridors were narrower here, as well, but still wide enough to accommodate the Wyvern armor.

  The team had almost ceased to notice the occasional touches of the Dreen. Anything that was a control was covered by blue fungus. In fact, it was how they identified controls. Occasionally there would be an extrusion on the floor, in a corner, on the ceiling. By and large they simply avoided them.

  There had been occasional compartments along the way. They’d opened a few up but most were empty. Living quarters or supply lockers for the previous owners. But they had all been stripped to the bare metal walls. There was no trace of the former inhabitants except their enigmatic script.

  They hadn’t seen any nurseries since getting deeper in the ship. Nor had they seen any Dreen security.

  “Why aren’t there Dreen, like, everywhere?” Smith asked nervously. “All we’ve seen are a couple of dog-demons and thorn-throwers. Where are the rhino-tanks? Where are the centipedes and, I dunno, technicians?”

  “A ship only has so much support it can provide,” Berg answered.

  “This is a big ship, man!”

  “And it’s centered, probably, on support for that main gun, the fighters, the guns along the sides, all the things that make it a warship,” Berg said. “Even the Dreen have limits to how much they can pack in a particular area. If they had those compartments filled with soldiers, that would mean less stuff for the repair pods, the fighters. Heck, with the fighters being organic and needing nutrients, they probably have less available support than a species that uses machines.”

  “You done?” the staff sergeant asked.

  “Sorry,” Berg said.

  “No, it was a good lecture,” Hinchcliffe replied. “Reminds me why you’re along, besides killing Dreen and breaking things. But the answer to the question is: left then take the next right. Sooner or later we’re going to find something important to bust up.”

  24

  “Yes!” Spectre shouted as the conn erupted in cheers.

  Repeated strikes by the chaos ball had worn holes in the outer skin of the carrier. Together with the secondaries from the strike on the hangar bay, the outer defenses were long breached.

  A lucky strike by the generator had apparently entered one of those holes and dug deeper into the ship. The result was obvious as the carrier dropped acceleration and streamed masses of air and water. Secondary explosions were also evident. If not destroyed, the capital ship was now too sorely wounded to continue the fight. It began decelerating and turned towards the unreality node.

  “Tactical, Conn,” Spectre said, then raised his voice. “At ease in the conn! We’ve still got a battle to fight.”

  “Go, Conn!”

  “Figure out the course on that thing,” Spectre said. “If it’s not deviating, we’ll drop some presents along the way and see if we can’t take it all the way out. In the meantime, let’s retarget the destroyers. We still don’t know the status of the Marines on the other ship.”

  “Okay, we found something.”

  As the Marines progressed, signs of Dreen presence had been increasing, with more of the greenish Dreen fungus in odd spots in the corridors. Experiments with it had determined that this fungus, at least, did not attack. So as it closed in, they had more or less ignored it.

  The newest compartment, though, was something different. It was large and filled with alien equipment as well as huge masses of fungus.

  “Yeah,” Sergeant Priester said. “But what?”

  “I don’t know,” Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe said. “But it looks important. Which means we need to grapp it up. That’s what Marines do, break things and kill… things.”

  “You’re joking,” Spectre said.

  “No, sir,” Captain Zanella replied. “I am not joking, sir. We believe it to be potentially possible. And there are Marines on that ship that need reinforcement.”

  The Blade had to take a break. Temperatures in the ship were soaring since it had been too long since their last chill. She’d broken off the fight, dropped mines on the path of the retreating carrier then retreated to deep space to consider her options and bleed off some heat.

  The Marine CO had requested a meeting and, thinking that it would be about recovering the Marines in the Dreen battlewagon, the CO had moved it to the wardroom. Spectre already had his answer in hand which was that taking out the battlewagon was the number one priority. Recovering the Marines would be nice, but was not the top priority. Taking it all the way out was.

  What he had not expected was a request to commit suicide.

  “Captain, right now I am in a very tight battle with a very skillful and powerful foe,” Spectre replied. “One that is slowly grapping up my ship and my crew. I do not have time to away boarding parties. Even if I thought it would work. Which I don’t.”

  “Sir, it requires that the time window be opened only slightly,” the Marine argued. “And one small tweak in the assault program. If those two things occur, we have a bare minimum chance of boarding that vessel. Furthermore, we can carry extra ammunition and supplies. The Marines who made it on-board have so far demonstrated an ability to strike from within, sir. I respectfully state that the rest of us could do even more. We are a weapon, sir. I respectfully request that we be used.”

  “I will take your request under advisement, Captain,” the CO said. “Dismissed.”

  “Interesting idea,” Weaver said.

  “If we can’t even hit them with torpedoes,” Spectre replied, “how are we going to hit them with Marines?”

  “I see the hand of First Sergeant Powell in this suggestion,” Weaver replied. “With torps, we have to take the time to fire them. That’s too much time. Upwards of fi
ve seconds, no way to automate it and even if we pre-launch them they’re deadly missiles inside the warp bubble. The enemy can track onto them and take them out easily enough. With the Marines, they’ll be already at the edge of the warp bubble as we transit. While we’re in normal space, firing the ball gun, we just move a little. They’ll be outside the effect from the ship, so they won’t move. We move away from them, not very far, go back into warp and they’re left hanging in space.”

  “And then the defenses of the ship shoot them down,” Spectre said.

  “Maybe, sir,” Bill said. “Maybe not. Their target discriminators might not see them as a threat. The boards also are surprisingly maneuverable in space and very fast. Personally? I think it’s suicide. But that’s not a professional opinion. My professional opinion, sir, actually tracks with the captain’s. They’re a weapon. Use them.”

  Carrier Unit to Gun Unit. Have sustained critical damage. 40% loss of nutrient, 60% loss of air. Leakage at four hundred cubics per turn. Retreating to warp point.

  Gun Unit to Carrier Unit. Report to the Masters that Species 27314 will be destroyed or assimilated within ten cycles. Species 27264 ship will be captured and examined and their home world located. All is in hand… Internal alert. Intruders in recycling room four. Locate and terminate. Twenty percent of security units to control center defense stations.

  Carrier Unit to Gun Unit. Do you require additional security units?

  Negative, intruders are few in number. They will be eliminated or assimilated within a turn. Send this message to the Masters. We are loyal.

  We are loyal.

  “That grapping thing is roasting.”

  The largest Dreen structure in the room looked something like a mushroom, one from Alice in Wonderland. Two thermite grenades had been tossed on top of it and had burned their way through and into the floor, setting the pillar of Dreen fungus ablaze.

  Cables had been cut, filling the room with goo, and some of the original equipment had been engaged with machine-gun fire, exploding in showers of sparks. In general, the compartment had been seriously grapped up.

  “Our work here is done,” Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe said. “And let me just add how proud I am—”

  “Dreen!” Nicholson shouted.

  Berg dove for cover behind one of the alien machines, a cylinder about ten-feet tall and whose purpose was totally unknown to him, and started pumping rounds into the doorway. The room only had one hatch and Dreen filled it, scrambling over each other to get through the narrow opening.

  The Marines hammered the attackers, piling up the dead in the doorway, but as many as they killed, more seemed to be trying to fight through. But it was clear, as thorn-throwers were shot multiple times, that there was more than enough firepower to hold the room.

  “Two-Gun, Smith, cease fire,” the staff sergeant said. “Two-Gun, you got any grenades left?”

  “Four, Staff Sergeant.”

  “See if you can get any over those guys and into the corridor.”

  The first grenade Berg threw hit one of the thorn-throwers in the head and landed on the pile of Dreen bodies, detonating more or less harmlessly except for chewing up the pile. The second, through, he managed to slip through the narrow open area at the top of the door. The detonation on the other side sounded less than harmless. Thorn-thrower and dog-demon bodies gushed into the room. The corridor on the far side had to be packed.

  “Christ, how many of them are there?” Nicholson asked. “I’m getting low on rounds!”

  “Just fire steady and accurate,” Hinchcliffe advised. “Just keep firing. But use your rounds carefully. If we can hold them in the doorway we’re going to be here a while. If not, we won’t care anymore.”

  “These are all volunteers, First Sergeant?” Captain Zanella said, looking at the group.

  “Yes, sir,” the first sergeant replied. He did not add that the entire remaining company had volunteered. “Gunnery Sergeant Neely, because it’s his platoon. Chief Warrant Officer Miller, because he outranks me. At that point, I had to start picking and choosing.”

  “I see you’re taking the sole survivor from the last mission and our spare armorer,” the captain said, looking at Seeley and Lyle. “The rest?”

  “Alpha and Bravo team, Second Platoon, sir,” the first sergeant said.

  “I see eight people,” the Marine CO commented, dryly. “And we have nine boards. Whoever is going to use the ninth?”

  “That would be me, sir,” the first sergeant replied firmly.

  “I consider that unwise, First Sergeant,” the CO said, then held his hand up to the protest. “But I have to keep in mind the adage that my first company commander told me: Never get between your first sergeant and beer, women or any mission they’ve set their heart on. Load ’em up, Top.”

  “We’ve got five blown-out doors,” the first sergeant said as the ship prepared to transition. “Go for the one most forward. There’s going to be a lot of fire. Think about whipping around in space while heading for the ship. Get down close to it and they can’t fire at you. Then get in the bay. We’ll figure out how to get farther in from there.”

  “Jeff,” Miller said over the command freq. “This is purely going to suck, you know that.”

  “You can feel free to unvolunteer, Chief,” the first sergeant replied.

  “And let you jarheads call me a wuss?” Miller scoffed. “No joy. See you in hell, snake.”

  From the exterior of the ship, the view as the battlewagon closed was even more disorienting than watching it on the screens. Miller actually started too soon, slamming into the warp bubble before it opened. The Dreen battlewagon was pouring out a mass of fire. There was no way they were going to survive it all. They were kamikazes without even the benefit of big bombs.

  The warp bubble dropping, the ship moving sideways, it all happened too fast for him to comprehend; the human brain was not designed for milliseconds. All he knew was that suddenly he was in free space, looping in and out of more torrents of fire than he had ever seen in his life or ever wanted to see again. He’d once been pinned down by multiple rocket launchers in Mogadishu. This was worse because he didn’t even have a concrete trough to hide behind. Not to mention the fact that by comparison, a 20mm antitank rocket was a popgun. Plasma blasts were going by so close the static discharge was frying his radio and one wash even got close enough to raise the temperature in his suit. Given that heat did not propagate through space, that meant it had actually touched him.

  Unbelievably, he found himself suddenly about to slam into the Dreen battlewagon. A quick mental flip and he was flying alongside, trying to stay between the still firing guns. There was actually smoke wreathing the death-spewing battlewagon. The entire experience was unreal.

  He spotted the damaged hangars, like rows of empty eyeball sockets, and darted down towards them, lining up and finally settling in the evacuated compartment.

  “You’re two,” Powell said from the rear of the compartment.

  In the end, they were six. Staff Sergeant Jim Revells, Lance Corporal Eric Hough and Lance Corporal Francisco Cestero never made it. And Sergeant Norman was effectively useless, given that something had ripped off his machine gun.

  “Lurch, I figured you for a goner,” Powell said as the former armorer finally showed up.

  “I was just checking out those guns, Top,” Lyle replied. “I want to get my hands on their schematics. They’re traversing so fast they have to be on magnetic bearings. I’ve been trying to get them to switch to magnetic bearings for the Wyverns ever since I first saw the specs.”

  “Yeah, well, we’ll worry about that later,” Powell replied. “Let’s figure out how to get out of this bay.”

  “Found a window and a door,” Chief Miller said. “And methinks I just saw the silhouette of a dog-demon through the window.”

  “Lock and load.”

  “Conn, Tactical, we have a problem.”

  “Besides the fact that the crew’s starting to fall out?”
Spectre muttered. The continuous transitions were taking their toll. He’d hoped that the chill-down would help, but being in free-fall had only enhanced the nauseating effects and the disorientation. Crew were beginning to report hallucinations and four crewmen had been tranquilized at this point. He really didn’t want to think about what Miss Moon, who had no resistance to free-fall nausea, was going through.

  “Go, Tactical.”

  “The remaining Dreen task-force has disengaged from the Caurorgorngoth and is moving insystem towards the main Hexosehr refugee fleet.”

  “Maulk,” the CO muttered. The Dreen had taken the bait for less than an hour. And the main Hexosehr fleet was slow. They had more than two days’ transit to their next jump and even the cumbersome dreadnought would catch them short of it. A few of the faster, lighter vessels might escape, but the main bulk of the remaining Hexosehr population, the millions of scientists, technicians, poets and philosophers wrapped in hibernation sleep, would be blasted into constituent atoms. And with them any hope of humanity adapting their technology to Earth’s defense.

  “Roger, Tactical,” Spectre replied. He was trying like hell not to show that the repeated warps were getting to him. Fighter pilot training was, not surprisingly, helping him again. He’d felt much worse after major furballs. Of course, they rarely lasted this long.

  “We continue to harry them,” Spectre said. “We took the carrier out. We have Marines onboard the Dreen battlewagon taking the fight to them internally. We will continue the mission. Pilot, lay in a course to intercept Sierra Five.” The Dreen cruiser was the closest ship, starting to apparently interpose itself between the small but seemingly invulnerable Blade and the capital ship.

  “Course laid in,” the pilot said.

  “Engage.”

  The pilot hit the control for warp and there was a loud bang from somewhere to the rear that rang through the ship, following which they immediately lost artificial gravity.

 
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