Manxome foe votsb 3, p.33

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 33

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  The jury-rigged projector had been strapped back into the damaged mount with about a million miles of duct tape. But it still had to be aligned.

  “What are you using?” Miriam asked. The mount had been refitted with a manual adjustment that looked to be not its original use.

  “Parts from a tool kit I bought on-line,” Tchar replied. He was looking through what looked like a spotting scope at a dot of light on the face of the ball. “The light is from a laser pointer keychain that came free with it. That should have it. Engineer, engage power and check the readings…”

  “Whoot!” Spectre caroled as one of the Dreen fighters succumbed to a chaos ball. “Take that, you organic menaces!”

  “Conn, Engineering. We think we’re prepared to warp.”

  “Then hit the power and go,” Spectre said as light flared from forward. “Hit the juice and get us out of here. Anywhere’s better than this patch of space!”

  “We’re blasted to hell, sir,” the XO said. “That last hit took out sonar and penetrated into officer’s quarters.”

  “My quarters?” the CO asked.

  “Our quarters survived, sir,” the XO said. “Commander Weaver’s did not, however.”

  “Grapp,” Weaver muttered.

  “About time yours got trashed,” Spectre said. “But we can drive and fight.”

  “With just about every compartment evacuated, sir,” the XO pointed out. “About the only compartments still airworthy are the machine shop, the sickbay and the visitor’s quarters. Marine berth is open as is crew berthing.”

  “That’s what patches are for, XO, after the battle,” Spectre replied as the COB walked into the conn. “Good job, COB.”

  “Yes, sir,” the COB said. “Sitting out on a hull under plasma fire wasn’t all that bad. Reminded me of that time we were cruising off Somalia and got attacked by pirates…”

  “Ship Master, the Sharp Sword is moving again,” Favarduro said.

  “Bless the Gods,” Kond said. “I thought them lost. Message them and ask for assistance. We are sore pressed.”

  “The Caurorgorngoth is trying to interpose itself between the Dreen fleet and the Hexosehr refugee fleet,” the TACO said. “They were out of position, though, so they’re trying to cut the chord while still engaging the Dreen task force. However, the Dreen have redeployed a squadron, designated CruRon One, composed of both its cruisers and two destroyers, which is enveloping the Caurorgorngoth and her sole remaining consort. In addition, a third squadron, DesRon One, is moving ahead of the battlewagon to attack the refugee fleet. It is composed of three destroyers. The Hexosehr have only two corvettes to oppose them. They have redeployed in between the refugee fleet and the Dreen but the correlation of forces is adverse. Most of the fighters have redeployed in close formation around Sierra One. They appear to be in a slow replenishment cycle. Unknown when they will be back in action.”

  “So we can try to aid the Caurorgorngoth or we can try to aid the refugee fleet,” the CO said. “We can target cruisers better, they’re a bigger target, but the refugee fleet is the priority. Move to intercept that destroyer squadron, XO. The Caurorgorngoth is going to have to take care of herself.”

  “Staff Sergeant?” Berg shouted as Hinchcliffe’s armor slumped back.

  Smith was down. Still alive but injured and with his armor breached it was only a matter of time before he died. Nicholson had finally stopped responding. His vitals were low and it was clear he was bleeding out.

  “I guess I get to use up ammo again,” Priester said, standing up from cover and blasting at the door. “Get the grapp out of here you mothergrappers!” the sergeant shouted, charging at the door.

  “Priest, God damnit!” Berg snarled as the sergeant covered his fire. There were fewer of the Dreen. He could feel it, sense it. The press at the door was less. The corridor had to be emptying out.

  A dog-demon caught at the swearing sergeant’s leg, pulling it out from under the armor and slamming Priester to the ground. Berg stood up, in turn, switching to full auto and hammering the pile on the sergeant in a vain attempt to keep the Dreen from breaching the downed Marine’s armor.

  Then his machine gun clocked out. The last round spat downrange and he released the bite-trigger, his hands automatically dropping to his sides.

  It was why he was called Two-Gun; the two massive pistols he carried were made from cut-down .50 caliber sniper rifles and he had the ability to fire with either hand, sometimes simultaneously, and hit what he was shooting at. For most people, two-gun mojo was a poseur technique, fancy to watch but impossible to use in combat.

  Not for Two-Gun Berg. Both massive pistols started hammering out .50 caliber BMG rounds nearly as fast as a machine gun, the blazing pistols sounding like one continuous stream of fire as the armored Marine strode towards the door, clearing the monsters off of his fellow squad leader’s back and clearing the compartment.

  Of course, they only had seven rounds apiece. The left-hand pistol dropped to its holster, the claw of the suit coming up with a magazine the size of a book and slamming it into place. There was barely a pause as the reloaded pistol blazed out again, the left hand unthinkingly readying another magazine. And still the Marine sergeant strode on, right up to the hatch of the compartment, firing into the corridor beyond, blasting fist-sized holes all the way through the hated monsters that had been harrying them for so long.

  It took Berg a moment to realize that there were no more targets, in part because there was a stream of fire coming from the left-hand side of the hatch. Streams of tracers and cannon rounds had blasted the remaining Dreen away from the door and back down the corridor to the right.

  Berg didn’t care, though. He automatically reloaded, then leaned out the door, extending both pistols down the corridor and continuing to engage the Dreen until the passageway was clear of anything but mangled alien bodies and runnels of purple blood.

  “And that, boys and girls, is why we call him Two-Gun,” Corporal Lyle said, raising the barrel of his smoking machine gun. “Nice to see you, Berg.”

  “You, too, Lurch. What took you so long: Stop to examine an alien mechanism?”

  “We are not hitting chither,” Spectre snarled, watching the replay.

  The nausea, which seemed to have passed with the extended stop to do repairs, was back in spades. It only made it worse that everyone was now in suits. And various systems, so far none critical, were breaking down. The boat was not really designed to be evacuated on an extended basis. There were a lot of systems on it that were not rated for vacuum.

  And there was the problem that the suits had a strictly limited amount of air. Unlike the Wyverns, they did not have capacious air systems or recyclers. There were hook-up points at all the manned stations, but personnel who had to move around were constantly having to replace bottles.

  And they weren’t hitting the destroyers. The targets were an order of magnitude smaller than the capital ships and it had taken up to a hundred shots to get a real hit on the bigger ships. So far, the Blade had done nothing but miss on the smaller ones.

  “Weaver, you said something about integrating everything and staying open longer to get more accurate,” the CO said.

  “It will also make us more vulnerable,” the astrogator pointed out. “And it will take at least a half an hour to implement.”

  “Get to work,” the CO said. “XO, move to a chill position while Commander Weaver prepares the change. I’ll take the chance of getting hit for a chance to get one. What the hell. We’re already so grapped up, they could put one through us crossways and not take out anything important.”

  “We picked up a pretty important secret from the Hexosehr,” First Sergeant Powell said. “Task Forces like this are controlled by a sentient. The sentients reside on the capital ships, like this one. Take out the sentient, the rest of the Dreen don’t know what to do on a strategic level. The Blade took out the other capital ship. It’s heading for home. If we find the sentient on this one…”

/>   After doing what they could for the wounded Marines, Top had gathered the survivors and his reinforcement platoon in the corridor for a quick op order.

  “The rest of the Dreen do what, Top?” Sergeant Priester asked. His armor was heavily scored and a dog-demon had destroyed the right leg of the suit so he wasn’t going anywhere. But with the spare ammo that the reinforcements had lugged into the ship, he was back to full load and ready to use it. “Leave? Quit fighting?”

  “The Hexosehr say that they go find a sentient to tell them what to do,” Top replied. “Now, there’s that other capital ship, but it’s leaving the system. At the very least it’s going to buy us time. So that’s our mission. Find the sentient.”

  “Top, we’ve been roaming all over this ship for the last couple of hours,” Priester pointed out. “We haven’t seen anything but nurseries and security. We’ve got no clue where—”

  “Maybe we do,” Berg said, suddenly. He walked over to the compartment and pressed the closing switch. “Look at the symbols on the door.” They were impossible-to-decipher orange, glowing cuneiform.

  “I don’t read alien, Berg,” Priester said.

  “Neither do I,” Berg said, striding down the corridor to the end they’d entered from. “But the exact same symbol is here,” he continued, pointing to a symbol about a third of the way from the bottom. “And…” he continued musingly. “That’s interesting…”

  “What you got?” the first sergeant asked, walking over and looking at the two symbols. “They’re exactly the same, aren’t they?”

  “Yes, but look at the top one,” Berg said, pointing to the purple. “I’d thought the symbols matched. And the ones that match the door, do. But the top one… The aft symbol is straight rectangular script. The forward one is angled… I think it’s angled forward. The bottom is pointed that way. Gimme a second.”

  He trotted back down the corridor and almost got lost for a second. But at a cross-corridor he bent down and looked at the orange symbol. Script on the forward corner was pointed forward.

  “They are directions,” Berg said, trotting back. “The side that’s pointed is the direction of the compartment.”

  “This one is pointed down the corridor,” the first sergeant said, pointing to a yellow one.

  “That’s probably the shortest route to whatever yellow means,” Berg said, excitedly. “Look, there’s another orange one. I’d guess that that was an environmental compartment. Orange is environmental.”

  “Six Orange,” the first sergeant said. “Four blue. One purple, one green and one red. A bunch of that light violet or whatever.”

  “Okay, Top, let’s just assume for a second that they think like humans,” Berg said. “And the reason I think they do is that a lot of this stuff has been laid out the way that humans would lay it out. Six orange. I’d say that this is the most forward environmental section, starboard side. All the rest point back except one that points inward. That leads to—”

  “Forward, port environmental section,” Top said. “Environmental Two or whatever. So the script probably just says E-2 or something like that.”

  “Right,” Berg said. “Now, what’s the most important compartment on the ship?”

  “Bridge,” Top said, looking at the script. “Conn. Whatever. All the multiples have two symbols, some of them matching even though they’re different colors. One, two, three, whatever. The singles have three symbols, there’s a match… in a second symbol, here and here. No problem, their version of an E. Top one is a single.”

  “These are directions to the conn,” Berg said. “Maybe the command zone, Conn, CIC, whatever.”

  “This, Two-Gun, is a wild-ass guess,” the first sergeant said, straightening his armor from its crouch.

  “Yes, it is, First Sergeant,” Berg replied. “But it’s a place to start.”

  “Right,” Top replied. “We need to reconfigure. Priestman, you’re with Sergeant Norman. His weapons control system is out so you’re both good to secure a position but that’s about it. You two are to secure this compartment and act as our fall-back position. We’re going to leave the extra ammo loads here, so it’s important. Set up the extra guns for support fire and try to keep Smith alive. Lyle and Seeley, you’re with Two-Gun, designated Alpha Team. Lyle, grab a cannon and cross-load ammo. Norman, you’re Bravo. Chief Miller, if you would be so kind as to take rear-guard with Gunny Neely, I’d be much obliged.”

  “I think I can remember how to be a shooter,” the SEAL said. “What does this bite thingy do again?”

  “As soon as Lyle is kitted out we’re moving.”

  “Fighters at one-one-four alpha nineteen,” Favarduro said. “Automated defenses engaging—” The Caurorgorngoth shuddered and shuddered again. “Dreen heavy plasma fire. Shields at fourteen percent.”

  “We have retreated far enough,” Kond said. “We are being picked apart by sag. Pilot, maximum acceleration towards the enemy. Favarduro, concentrate chaos engine and secondary batteries on the lead cruisers. Go for the heavies.”

  “I’ve got the new algorithm debugged,” Weaver said, walking into the conn. “I’d like to test it at least once.”

  “Agreed,” the CO said grimly.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “The Caurorgorngoth is getting hammered,” the XO replied. “And their consort was taken out by a force of fighters. They were trying to engage from range but they’re now accelerating towards the task force. It looks like a suicide run.”

  “Or they figure that if they get in close enough, there’s no way they can miss,” Weaver said.

  “It’s both,” Spectre said. “They’re sacrificing themselves to take out the cruisers. Maybe the destroyers as well. But they’re not going to survive it. Which leaves the rest up to us. Commander Weaver, even if they succeed in taking down that entire task force, there are going to be seven destroyers left in this system, any one of which can destroy the entire Hexosehr fleet. And a battlewagon with a super-cannon. Your fix had better work.”

  “Oh, it will work, sir,” Bill said. “Whether we can survive it working is another question.”

  “Dreen cruiser at six dreg,” Favarduro said as the Caurorgorngoth rocked under the hammer of the combined task-force’s plasma fire.

  “Fire,” Kond pinged. He had held his fire, coming in the whole run as if the chaos engine was out of commission. And the enemy had fallen for it, closing in on each other to get in on the kill.

  The sonar image was clear. The chaos ball flashed out, less than six treek from time of firing to impact. The center Blin cruiser caught the ball direct on her snout, the powerful ball of pure chaos plunging into her heart. The sound image was muted as she disintegrated in fire.

  “Retarget, second cruiser,” Kond said. “Bring them all to the slaughter.”

  “Shields at two percent,” Favarduro said as the ship adjusted course to bring the gun online. “Damage to aft quarter, fighters are close enough to overcome our shields. There are less than nine left, however. Damage in forward quadrants. Plasma nine, six and one off-line. Their mass drivers have reached range to engage us.”

  “Fine,” Kond said. “If we’re that close, then we cannot miss.”

  “I want a full broadside of twenty-four of these things,” Spectre said. Weaver had found another convenient piece of space detritus and tried out the new targeting system. Unlike the first test, the chaos ball had impacted on first try. It also was slow enough to follow the action. That, frankly, scared the hell out of the CO. Dreen systems were like lightning to engage. They were going to get hit, and this “mini” chaos ball hadn’t done that much damage to the capital ships. He just had to hope that the destroyers were an easier kill.

  “Agreed,” Bill replied. “But what we have is one.”

  “Right,” the CO said. “XO, all the fires put out from the last time?”

  “Vacuum has a habit of doing that, sir,” the XO replied acerbically.

  “I was speaking metaphorically,” the CO sai

  “Then they won’t be out until we spend another six months in the body and fender shop, sir,” the XO replied. “But we’re spaceworthy. Hell, we’re mostly space at this point.”

  “Better than being filled with water,” the CO said. “Pilot, match course and speed on target Sierra Sixteen. And may God defend the right.”

  » » »

  “Okay, we’re getting near something,” Berg said quietly.

  “Why?” Lyle asked.

  “There’s more fungus,” the sergeant replied. “I could wish for a map of this place.”

  But the best thing they had were the symbols on the walls. They seemed to be following a path, inward, forward and in one case up three levels. They were getting near the center of the ship, if Berg’s spatial awareness was working, and a bit forward of center. That didn’t mean it was for sure the bridge. Russian subs had the bridge at the rear. CIC was near the center of a ship. But it was a target for sure. The increasing fungus said that.

  So did the group of dog-demons that keened their battle cry and charged as he turned the corner.

  “Dreen,” Berg shouted, backpedaling into the corridor they had been going down.

  “Alpha, prone,” Top shouted. “Here they come.”

  With the mass of fungus coating the floor, the dog-demons didn’t have as much trouble making the turn. And Berg found himself face to face with them at less than three meters. Which just meant he had to kill them very fast.

  As Berg and Seeley blasted the Great Dane sized monsters with their machine guns, Lyle rolled backwards, then came up on a knee to the side, holding his fire. As one group turned the corner and charged en masse he put an exploding round into the center demon, killing it and knocking down its fellows for his teammates to finish off.

  “And we got ’em at the rear,” Miller said calmly.

  Berg could hear the sound of the fire from behind him and it was comforting. He’d been in enough gun fights to learn to read it, to the point where he could almost distinguish people’s personalities from it. The late Drago had been profligate with fire, either in single shot or auto, blasting away with a glee that could almost be felt. Lurch, clearly, was a sniper at heart. Wait for that right shot and take it. Seeley always banged away slowly, split-second moments of hesitation indicating indecision. Not a lot of it, but it was there. And often followed by somewhat wild fire as he engaged his chosen target because it had closed more than he liked.

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