Manxome foe votsb 3, p.34

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 34

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  What Berg was hearing from the rearguard was the sound of a senior Marine Force Reconnaissance gunnery sergeant and a SEAL old enough to be his father. Single shots, no pause except for an incredibly brief interval to change targets. No hesitation, nothing wild. It was the most professional fire he’d ever heard in his life. Even Top wasn’t that good.

  The attack cleared in moments, leaving the ground a welter of dead dog-demons.

  “Let’s move,” Top said. “They’re going to be moving in on this position.”

  “Yo, Two-Gun,” Miller said over a private channel as Berg, somewhat more cautiously, turned the next corner.

  “Yes, Chief Warrant Officer?”

  “It was nice to hear you behind us. Nice fire technique. Very smooth.”

  “Thank you, Chief Warrant Officer,” Berg said. “Don’t take this wrong, but I was thinking the same thing about you and the gunny.”

  “Well, that’s a right compliment coming from the holder of the Navy Cross.”

  “Chief, you’ve got the Medal.”

  “Okay, point.”

  “Conn, incoming message from the Caurorgorngoth.”

  “Put it on screen,” the CO said. Tactical had been keeping him apprised and it wasn’t looking good.

  The view was the usual surrealist painting that the conversion from sonar gave but this time worse. Among other things, it was cutting in and out. And some of the distortion, Spectre realized, was smoke. It was moving oddly, indicating, he thought, that the ship was under microgravity and probably vacuum. The space suit Kond was wearing made that last pretty obvious.

  “Chaos… down,” Kond said. “All… two… guns… We… our… enemies to our body… Save my people.”

  “I will, Kond,” Spectre replied. “Go with God.”

  “Go…”

  “Signal terminated,” Communications reported.

  “Conn, Tactical.”

  “Caurorgorngoth?”

  “It’s gone, Conn,” the TACO replied. “It rammed one of the damaged destroyers. One of the remainder is showing spectral readings of major environmental loss and emissions are way down. The other looks… pretty solid.”

  “Roger, Tactical,” Spectre said. “Pilot, we in position to engage this task force?”

  “Roger, sir,” the pilot said.

  “Then let’s see if this works any better,” the CO said. “Spectre has control.”

  He glanced at the viewscreen, back to showing their opponents as a speckle in the distance with the center destroyer karated, and hit the engage button.

  The approach was just as fast as ever, too fast for the mind to adjust to, but instead of immediately flashing out of the cauldron of fire, the ship hesitated, retargeted and fired.

  The destroyers, however, were not idle. Their systems had been prepared for the attack and hammered at the incoming ship with their own fire. As she adjusted, the Vorpal Blade rocked under the hammer of plasma and mass driver fire, the hull resounding with the hammer of the enemy guns.

  But one shot was all it took. The central destroyer was holed all the way through. For a brief moment Spectre swore he could see stars on the far side, then they were back in warp and gone.

  “Conn, Tactical…”

  On the viewscreen the central destroyer seemed to expand in white fire.

  “We see it, Tactical,” Spectre replied. “Damage control?”

  “Still getting reports,” the XO said tightly. “I’ve ordered the jettisoning of all the remaining torpedoes. One of the mass driver rounds went right through the number three rammer. Two dead in torpedo room. Two damage control parties killed. Sick bay is filling up. Short answer, we got hammered.”

  “Eng,” the CO said. “Is the engine still running?”

  “It’s all holding together, Conn,” the Eng replied. “Be aware that if we take enough shaking, it could misalign this lash-up and we’ll either be in the Andromeda Galaxy before we know it or dead or sitting out of warp and unable to engage.”

  “That’s a chance we’ll have to take,” Spectre replied. “Pilot, adjust course to match Sierra Eight. Prepare to engage.”

  “Okay, we’ve got to be near something important,” Berg shouted. It was another rush of dog-demons and thorn-throwers. But worse, in an open area up ahead he was pretty sure he’d gotten a glimpse of a rhino-tank.

  The rhino-tanks were one of the two most dreaded weapons the Dreen had used in their brief war with humans. About the size and general build of a rhinoceros, they were as heavily armored as a main battle tank and fired a plasma blast from between their horns that could take one out.

  Of course, a blast like that inside of a ship was probably the last thing the commander wished. But it just might be that they were close enough to the conn that the “sentient” would make that decision.

  “Did I just see what I think I saw?” Seeley asked. The two Marines were crouched on opposite corners, pouring fire down the corridor the purple markers directed them to. Lyle, per usual, was back a bit covering their leakers.

  “If you think you saw a rhino, I think I saw the same thing.”

  “Two-Gun, Chief. There’s only two ways for an infantryman to take down a rhino.”

  “Go, Chief.”

  “They fire, then they roar,” the chief said. “When they do, they tilt their head back and open their mouth. The inside of their mouth is not armored. The other way, which I disrecommend, is to stick a grenade up their mouth.”

  “Gotcha, Chief,” Berg said, trying not to giggle. “I’m just trying to get down this corridor.”

  “Well, we ain’t going back, I can tell you that,” the warrant replied. “Thick as ticks on a coonhound back here.”

  “Chief,” the first sergeant said. “You’ve been hanging out with Commander Weaver too much. Lyle, you need to move forward and hose that corridor when I order. Berg, I see a compartment hatch on Seeley’s side in your cameras. You see it?”

  “I see it, Top.”

  “Seeley, you’ve got one on Berg’s side.”

  “Got it, Top.”

  “By fire and maneuver, move down that corridor. On command, Lyle will move to Berg’s position and fire past him. Two-Gun, you will move to that hatch, open it and enter, then resume firing. Corporal Seeley, check fire as Two-Gun crosses. Seelman, you will then repeat. Lurch will need to check fire as you cross. When you have established a base of fire, the remainder of the team will move forward and repeat. Lurch, on my command… Move!”

  » » »

  “Top, I’ve got an open area and a rhino-tank,” Berg reported, panting. Crossing the corridor was one of the more hairy things he’d ever done in his life. Fire was pouring in both directions from thorn-thrower and the two Marines in support. Seeley had checked fire just a bit too long and a dog-demon had made it down the port-side of the corridor and nearly gotten him. Especially since he had to pause to get the hatch open.

  Unlike most of the other small compartments of the ship, this one was overrun with fungus. And it wasn’t the green kind. It was the full purple Dreen-spread fungus. If he got that on his suit he was grapped. Fortunately, it was mostly against the back wall.

  “The rhino is not firing,” Berg reported. “But I can see it clearly and I have to assume the reverse. Count of others is high. In excess of thirty thorn-throwers. Purpose of open area is unclear but it’s packed up.”

  “I’ve got all that,” Top replied. “Seeley, cross.”

  “Grapp me, grapp me…” Seeley muttered, darting out of the cover of the corner.

  The Marine made it across the corridor and to the hatch controls. But while he was wiping at the fungus covering it, a dog-demon Berg had been sure was dead opened up its beak, clamped down on the Marine’s armored leg and scrabbled forward with its forelegs.

  The pressure overbalanced the Marine and he fell backwards right in the middle of the corridor. The Dreen let go of the leg and scrabbled up onto him, ripping at his armor.

  “Get it off!” Seeley scr
eamed, trying to roll over using the power of the suit. But strong as the arms were, normally capable of rolling a suit and a full load of ammo, the demon had it pinned.

  Berg could see the fight on the ground out of one of his side-cameras. Keeping his head tracked on the fight down the corridor he drew his right pistol and fired out of the corner of his eye.

  The round cracked through the side of the demon’s head, splattering it all over the bulkhead.

  “Thanks, man,” Seeley said, rolling over and getting to his feet.

  But as he turned back to the controls, a thorn-thrower managed to survive just long enough to put five rounds through the side of his armor.

  “Top, Seelman is down,” Berg related emotionlessly. “Termination signal.”

  “Got that,” the first sergeant responded, just as emotionlessly. Seeley was one of the very few Marine survivors of the first mission of the Vorpal Blade. He wasn’t going to be making another cruise. “Two-Gun, you’ve got to get that rhino to fire.”

  “What?” Berg nearly shouted. “Say again, First Sergeant?”

  “When they fire, they roar,” the first sergeant replied. “You can see them charge up. Hell, you can tell when they’re about to fire. Shoot it. It won’t kill it but it will piss it off. When it gets ready to fire, duck into that compartment. The walls will reduce the blast. Then Lurch and I will finish it off.”

  “First Sergeant, point of order,” Berg replied. “This compartment is filled with Dreen-spread fungus. That series of actions is suicide.”

  “Sergeant Bergstresser,” the first sergeant replied, “it was not a request.”

  “Aye, aye, First Sergeant,” Berg said, firing a long burst into the rhino-tank. “Semper Grapping Fi.”

  26

  “Main support frame cracked forward of missile compartment,” the XO said. “Communications section destroyed. Science section destroyed. Marine berthing destroyed. Torpedo rooms destroyed. Sickbay vented temporarily, then they got a seal in place. Two injured killed by depressurization. Forty-seven casualties, nine WIA, the rest KIA. About the only areas that haven’t taken a straight hit are Conn, Tactical and main Engineering. Oh, and your quarters survived the hits that got the torpedo room.”

  “Boo-yah,” Spectre said. “And three destroyers toast.”

  “That leaves two more with the battlewagon,” the XO pointed out. “And let us not forget the battlewagon. It has begun extremely long-range fire at the Hexosehr fleet.”

  “Let’s hope they have some marginal maneuvering,” the CO said. “I want to go in and hit its consorts. Come in from their flank and keep them between us and the battlewagon. Take them out one by one. Tactical, you got that?”

  “Aye, aye, Conn,” the TACO replied over the intercom.

  “Set it up and get me a course,” Spectre said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s like a good luck thing. As long as my quarters make it, we’re still in the fight.”

  “Aaaah,” Red screamed as the medic slammed him onto the table.

  “Plasma burn,” the corpsman said, panting. He was still in his suit because once out of sickbay the whole ship was vented. “Right leg.”

  “What right leg?” Dr. Chet said, patiently. The machinist’s leg was severed just below the knee and the flesh seared well above it. The knee was most effectively cooked by transmission from the sun hot plasma. The corpsman injected another morphine ampule through the machinist’s suit as the doctor reached for a set of bone-saws that were still bloody from the last amputation. “At this rate we might as well replace his whole body with prosthetics.”

  Nonetheless he hummed as he brought down the laser scalpel. Say what you will about the pleasures of high-end neuroscience, there was nothing like a good amputation to make a surgeon’s day.

  The rhino had been looking directly at Berg, as if assessing the worthiness of him as a foe. So Berg had no choice but to shoot it on its massively armored front.

  All of the rounds sparked off, naturally. The only possible target was one of the slit-narrowed eyes and the slits were actually narrower across than the size of the round. But they apparently had the desired effect. The rhino, without any directly noticeable action, seemed to focus on the suit of armor and lightning crackled between its horns. A ball of green fire started off as a pinpoint but swelled rapidly and Berg ducked back and to the side, hoping to avoid the fungus, hoping to survive, hoping to live to see Brooke again.

  “Lyle, Move!” the first sergeant ordered as Berg ducked back. He was standing right behind the cannoneer and pushed him forward so that the two bounded into the corridor nearly side by side. For a brief moment they were the target of every thorn-thrower in the ranks ahead of them, then the world went white.

  The explosion lifted Berg’s heavy Wyvern armor and tossed it against the far wall like a child tossing a ball. It threw him right into the bulged out mass of Dreen-spread fungus, the dreaded scourge that still turned up on Earth. The only known Class Six Pathogen, it actively attempted to escape custody, generated enzymes and acids that worked at any containment, cut through Wyvern armor slowly but inexorably and was nearly impossible to eradicate. The primary method of eradication was fire, the red hot kind usually with gasoline and kerosene mixed with aluminum and lots of it.

  So, in a way, Berg was in luck. Because when the plasma round hit the doorframe he’d been standing by, the temperature in the compartment raised several thousand degrees and crisped the fungus long before it could become a threat to his armor.

  Of course, his internal temperature soared as well. He was slammed into a wall at thirty miles per hour, the room was roasting, the inside of his armor was literally the temperature of a baking oven, the fungus was fully engulfed and he was wreathed in flames and smoke. The last thing Berg clearly remembered was the bright white flash.

  The first sergeant took the explosion on his armor and rolled. The blast was hard enough that he found himself on his face, back in the intersection of the corridor. But there just weren’t any enemies between himself and the open area that held a rhino-tank. He had only a moment. The tanks seemed to assess the results of their fire and then roar in triumph. He had just that brief moment to get to his feet, charge forward and get one shot. Just one.

  There was just one problem. The corridor was trashed. The blast had smashed both bulkheads, the deck and the overhead. Strands of wire blocked the way and the deck was open to the next section down: it was a maze he could make his way through with luck and time. Charging was out of the question. But he charged. There was a narrow lip on the port side. If he could make it across…

  He could hear the chuff-chuff of the rhino. He’d heard it before, recalled the stench of burning uniforms, burning skin — some of it his own — surrounded by dead Marines, a young sergeant in a battle he didn’t understand and couldn’t seem to win. He was not going to lose this one…

  And he slipped. The ledge was just that narrow. There was no way that the bulbous armor could make it past and he grasped the edge of the smoking hole with the arms of his suit as he slammed into that edge. And knew that he’d lost. Again. That that fucking rhino was going to kill all his Marines again…

  He saw a smoking, stinking, blazing apparition. There was very little that could burn on a Wyvern suit. Normally. But being in near proximity to a plasma blast was not “normally.” Space rated joints and aluminum exterior fittings smoking, the very ammunition chain firing in the exploding back-magazine, but this the Wyvern, nonetheless, strode out of the fire and smoke of the compartment, two massive pistols unwavering.

  There was a roar.

  There were, in fact, other ways to kill a rhino. The chief just hadn’t had any time to practice one of them. Like any tank, it could only be heavily armored in certain directions. Most of it was up front.

  There was, in fact, one small patch on the back of the head that was vulnerable to just about anything. Oh, it had enough armor to protect from secondary effects, but a high velocity rifle round would cut through
it. The problem was getting up and behind a rhino-tank.

  But, leaving Gunny Neely in place and fighting his way through the remnants of the dog-demons facing them, the chief trotted down the corridor. It was a ship and it was surprisingly humanlike. Oh, somebody bigger than humans but they seemed to think alike. SEALs trained a lot in the layout of ships. One of their main missions was to take them down, after all.

  He found the elevator right where he expected, took it up one level, headed back. He’d used the same system as the first sergeant to examine what Two-Gun was looking at as the sergeant received his suicidal orders. And they were good orders. Top knew what had to be done and he ordered it. Miller admired that in a leader. But there was such a thing as a back-up plan. And while Miller wasn’t going to steal First Sergeant Powell’s thunder, wasn’t going to undercut his authority, it wasn’t like Top outranked him.

  So he trotted down a corridor and found what he thought he’d find, a walkway looking down into something that looked one hell of a lot like a quarterdeck. You had to have some place to assemble troops. You tended to put it near the bridge, so the CO or the admiral didn’t have to walk too far. And you set it up so people could watch. Whoever built this thing thought a lot like humans.

  There was a dog-demon guarding it. On the other hand, it was watching the fray below. Like their larger cousins, because biologists had determined that the two were closely related, the dog-demon had this little patch right behind its armored head…

 
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