Manxome foe votsb 3, p.35

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 35

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  And so there was no longer a dog-demon guarding the walkway. Miller ducked back as the rhino fired. No reason to stand around when plasma was going off.

  He stepped back out as it chuffed, took aim, stopped and waited as Two-Gun — what a kid! — stumbled out of the smoke and flames of what should have killed him by all rights and blazed away with his two cut-down Barretts. Of course, the kid couldn’t see. Most of his optics had to have been blasted out and the vision plate on the front of his armor was covered in soot. But it was a game show, really game. Damn that kid was good. Miller couldn’t like him more unless he was a SEAL.

  The chief shook his head inside his armor and fired one round from the 14.5, blowing out the brains of the preparing-to-charge-and-fire-again-I’m-going-to-smear-that-suit-of-armor rhino. Which dropped like a pithed frog just as Two-Gun’s pistols clicked back empty. Really, unless you looked real close the damage from a 14.5 through the back of the head wasn’t going to look all that different than a .50 through the soft palate of the mouth.

  Berg collapsed and the SEAL chief warrant officer ghosted back down the corridor, unnoticed.

  “And that sounded expensive,” Spectre admitted as the ship dropped out of warp. “What do you think, Command Weaver? Over or under a billion?”

  In space, nobody can hear you scream. But you could hear a ship scream, it transmitted through the feet of your boots, through hands gripping stanchions and controls. And the Vorpal Blade was screaming a death knell.

  “Under a billion,” Bill replied.

  “XO? Damage report.”

  “We just lost the tail,” the XO said over the command freq.

  “You mean the towed array sonar?” Spectre replied. “No big deal. Sonar is not a necessary component at the moment.”

  “No, Captain, I mean the tail. The ship just broke apart aft of the main engine room.”

  “Good, Commander Weaver owes me a dollar,” the CO said. They’d just lost the very expensive towed array sonar, yes. But also the propellers, the turbines that drove them, the reducing gear and just about everything that made a submarine capable of being a submarine. “However, we don’t use any of that stuff in space. It was just more target area. Any casualties?”

  “Not on that run,” the XO replied. “But if we take a round through the sickbay it’s going to get ugly.”

  “Agreed. How’s the neutrino generator holding up?”

  “The tribble is still successfully duct taped to the phaser, Conn!”

  “Good,” Spectre said uncertainly. “Prepare for another run.”

  “Now that was something that I hadn’t expected,” Weaver said, chuckling.

  “And that was?”

  “That Commander Belts-And-Suspenders was a Voltaire fan. Somehow I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that image.”

  “The philosopher?”

  “Musician. It’s a long story, sir.”

  “For later then,” the CO said. “Pilot, engage.”

  “Oh, grapp me,” Berg muttered. “Hello?”

  He was roasting. The inside of the suit was like an oven; it had to be over a hundred degrees, maybe two hundred.

  “Hello?” he yelled.

  “You there, Two-Gun?” a voice sounded through the armor. A claw scrabbled at the vision port and then another came into view. He found himself looking at the first sergeant through the two thick panes of aliglass.

  “Top?” Berg yelled. “I think everything is out on this thing.” He pushed at his actuators and managed to get an arm moving but it was like lifting weights.

  “I’ve been checking it out,” the first sergeant yelled. “All your motivators are out but it’s functional in manual mode. Drink some water, though. You’re going to dehydrate fast until it cools down.”

  Berg sucked at the water nipple, then shrugged.

  “I think the bladder burst from the heat,” Berg said, coughing. “That would explain the steam.”

  Even without motivators it was still possible to roll a Wyvern upright. Not easy, mind you, but possible. But when he got to his feet, he started to sway and shimmy.

  “What the hell?” Berg shouted.

  “Look at Two-Gun disco,” a voice boomed from behind him. “Welcome to the manual version of the Wyvern. They suck and I say that as someone with way too much time in them.”

  “What happened?” Berg shouted back, turning stiffly to see the chief standing behind him. Unlike his own and the first sergeant’s, the chief’s armor was pristine, with the exception of a splotch of blood on one claw.

  “You got it, son,” First Sergeant Powell shouted. “You got it. Good job.”

  “Great,” Berg said. “How? My machine gun’s off-line.”

  “Here,” the first sergeant replied, holding out Berg’s pistols. Both were locked back. He didn’t even recall firing them.

  “Oh,” Berg said. “Great.”

  “Hang on,” another voice boomed. “Just hold still.”

  “Do I got fungus on me?” Berg yelled, suddenly. “Get it off if I do!”

  “Crisped,” the first sergeant replied.

  “Fried to cracklin’,” the chief added. “Seriously burned up totally. Not an issue.”

  “Okay,” Berg shouted, suddenly realizing he’d heard the last clearly. “Lurch?”

  “I’ve got the commo module replaced,” the former armorer replied. “How’s that?”

  “Great,” Berg said normally. “Motivators?”

  “Harder,” Lurch replied. “Those I don’t have spares for.”

  Berg’s armor rocked forward and his machine gun came into view.

  “You can fire one of these things offhand,” Lurch said, handing him the 14.5. “But they’re kind of heavy without motivators. And your ammo’s—”

  “Blown up,” Chief Miller finished. “Seriously, son, you should see the back of your armor. It’s almost funny. The good news is the blow-out panels work.”

  “Great,” Berg said. “What now, First Sergeant?”

  “You are going to secure this corner,” Top said, chuckling. “Patrol this area and try to avoid contact. Got it?”

  “I’m all for that one, First Sergeant,” Berg admitted. “You guys can feel free to drive the grapp on. I’ll happily assume my guard of this position until your return. How long do I give you?”

  “One hour, then retreat to the holding area,” the first sergeant replied. “Do you understand your orders?”

  “Aye, aye, First Sergeant,” Berg said.

  “Come on,” Top said, looking around at the remaining four. “Let’s go.”

  Berg watched their retreating forms and reached up to scratch his face. He felt like he was peeling from a sunburn. Which probably meant burns which he shouldn’t scratch so he stopped. Except for his eyebrow which was really… there wasn’t any hair, there. The claw of his suit, nonetheless, continued to scratch across the face of his trashed sensor pod as he considered his predicament.

  All his usual sensors were down. He had external audio, two way, and commo, two way. Weapon traverse out, manual movement only, no cameras. Basically, he could lurch around, look through the soot-covered porthole to see where he was going and maybe lift and fire the machine gun. No water, and the heat from the suit was dehydrating him fast. Internal gravity, which he’d hardly noticed before, seemed over Earth normal. So not only was the suit hard as hell to move, he was trying to do it in a heavy gravitational field.

  Maulk.

  The machine gun was heavy as hell and there weren’t but twenty rounds for it so he leaned it against the bulkhead. He scratched his eyebrow again and considered the bottom of his suit. There was water pooled down there. He was pretty sure it was mixed with urine but drinking your own urine was actually recommended by some doctors, so at the very least it wasn’t going to kill him. And he was really thirsty. The problem was, there was no way to get to it inside the suit. What he needed was a straw. A really long straw.

  There was a power feed that led from th
e reactor to the sensor pod up the starboard side of the armor. It was accessible through a box he could just reach…

  “Heh,” he muttered. Wasn’t going to be using that insulator as a straw. The entire compartment was one mass of fused wiring, and opening it increased the already serious ozone level in the suit by an order of magnitude. “Grapp.”

  He picked up the machine gun again, with difficulty, and paused at a skittering sound. Like… claws. On metal. Like…

  He stood stock still as, across the open area, a group of dog-demons headed aft in the direction of the Marines that had just left. When they were past, he backed up, as quietly as he could in an unpowered suit, and fell through the hole in the deck.

  “Grapp,” he muttered again, looking up at the hole. He must have made a noise that could be heard back on Earth, two hundred light-years away.

  He’d been in some seriously grapped situations, but this one was starting to take the cake. He hated the idea, but he needed to hide. Find a compartment the Dreen didn’t seem to be using, or escape and evade back to the recycling compartment and link up with Norman and Priester. His suit, at this point, was more grapped up than theirs. Actually, that sort of cut out E Eing back to the recycling compartment. He could barely lurch along the corridors like a zombie; escape and evade was going to have to emphasize minimum distances.

  He stumbled down the corridor to a T intersection, listened for movement, then looked both ways as carefully as he could. But it necessitated getting in the corridor and moving around in a circle, like an old time helmet diver. Careful was a relative term.

  It also was a terrible place to hide because both corridors terminated in hatches that looked as if they went to lifts. And both the control pads glowed light violet. They’d run across those before and they always meant the door was locked.

  He turned around again, trying to figure out which way to go, and heard the skitter of claws on metal from the way he’d come. He backed down the corridor, figuring he’d put his back to the elevator at the end of the port corridor and make a last stand. As the claws approached he hefted the machine gun, trying to get a sight picture through the soot-covered porthole.

  Just as he figured the approaching Dreen were on the last stretch of corridor before his, he heard a whooshing sound behind him. Turning with difficulty, he found the previously locked elevator was now open, lit by a blue glow.

  He stumbled into it and the door closed automatically…

  “This grapping sucks,” Miller snarled. They’d found two routes that indicated headed to the purple area, both of them locked. Which just meant they were probably on the right track. “There’s got to be a way to blow this door down.”

  “We might need to figure that out fast,” Gunny Neely said from the end of the short corridor. “We’ve got Dreen closing our position.”

  “Chief Warrant, if you’d try to convince this door to open, I’d appreciate it,” the first sergeant said. “I’m going to join Corporal Lyle and the Gunny in securing this corridor.”

  “On it,” Miller replied. “This time I brought demo.”

  27

  “Negative engagement,” the pilot said.

  Spectre looked around the conn and wasn’t surprised that the warp/normal space lash-up they had been using so effectively for so long no longer worked. He could see the sun playing across the rubble where the sonar room used to be. Among other things, there was only half a bulkhead there. For that matter, there was a patch of sun working its way across Commander Weaver’s position. Fortunately, the mass driver round had penetrated behind the astrogation position, missing the commander. Unfortunately, it had punched through two more decks into the crew mess. The mess was overflowing with wounded from the battle; crew were struggling to seal it again before the wounded died of asphyxia.

  “Tactical, Conn,” Spectre said, struggling to keep the fatigue out of his voice. The battle just seemed to go on and on.

  “Tactical.”

  The voice wasn’t the TACO.

  “Who’s this? Chief Brooks? Where’s the TACO?”

  “Sickbay, Conn,” the tactical chief replied. “Took a fragment to the chest. We got his suit patched but… It doesn’t look good.”

  “Understood,” the CO said. “Engagement system is down.”

  “We’re on it, Conn. Appears to be overheating of some of the interface chips. We’re attempting to repair.”

  “Enemy status?”

  “Sierra One, Sierra Seven, Sierra Fifteen and nine Bandits remaining in BatRon One. Six more Bandits, Sierra Six remaining from CruRon One. Estimate Bandits attached to CruRon One unable to return for replenishment. Sierra three, CruRon One, will be unable to engage for a minimum of three hours. Sierra Twelve dead in space. Primary threat, BatRon One, continues on course to intercept Hexosehr fleet. Sierra One has been engaging at long range but negative impact on Hexosehr fleet. Estimate, based on Hexosehr maneuvering delta, impact guaranteed at seven light-seconds. Estimate forty minutes to that range for Sierra One.”

  “Got that,” Spectre said. “Conn out. Eng, Conn.”

  “Go, Conn.”

  “Status?”

  “Primary drive system offline. Working on secondary. Drive is up. Spare neutrino generators ready for replacement.”

  “Roger,” the CO said. “Conn, out.”

  “Be interesting flying home like this,” Weaver said.

  Spectre looked at his suit indicator and realized it was on a private frequency. The rest of the conn crew couldn’t hear it.

  “If we can take out Sierra One, the Hexosehr can patch us up easily enough,” the CO said.

  “Yes, sir,” Bill said dubiously.

  “And you have an issue with that, Commander?”

  “I just don’t think it’s possible,” Weaver admitted. “If we still had the Caurorgorngoth, maybe. As it is…”

  “Conn, Comm.”

  “Go.”

  “Incoming message from Fleet Master Lurca.”

  “Put it on.”

  “Boss Man Spectre,” the fleet master said. “Your ship is truly grapped up.”

  “Thank you for that vote of confidence, Lurca,” Spectre replied. “We need to do some minor repairs on our battle system, but we will be back in the battle soon.”

  “I am dispatching a fleet collier,” Lurca said. “I am transmitting its path. If your engines continue to work, move to intercept it. The collier has engineers onboard that may be of assistance.”

  “We appreciate that, Fleet Master.”

  “The engineers have been working on a shield generator capable of interfacing with your systems,” Lurca continued. “If it works, you will have some shielding against plasma.”

  “I cannot begin to express my gratitude,” Spectre said. “Be aware, though, that our tacticians estimate only forty minutes until the battlewagon is in range of your fleet. If we have not taken it out by that time, this battle will be for nothing.”

  “Our tacticians have the same estimate,” Lurca replied. “Which is why you must use your engine to intercept the collier.”

  “On our way,” Spectre said. “Weaver?”

  “Course transmitted to pilot,” the astrogator said.

  “Pilot, engage.”

  Matching course and speed with the collier was not difficult, even using the secondary engine controls. As soon as they were matched, a veritable army of Hexosehr swarmed across the intervening space, disdaining hatches and entering through the numerous holes in the ship.

  “Senior Engineer Elirgoth,” the lead Hexosehr said as he swarmed into the conn. The ship had shut down engines to permit easier movement by the Hexosehr, the conversion to gravity being an issue on the outside of the ship.

  “Commanding Officer Steven Blankemeier,” the CO said. “Spectre. This is my executive officer, who is in charge of repairs.”

  “We see the most critical need being to install the shield generator,” Elirgoth replied through his translator. “The specifications for your shi
p have changed but we should be able to adjust. We will install it on the hull near your power generation system. That will be the shortest run. My peripheral teams have orders to meet with your damage control crews and assist. We will remain on-board the ship, if that is acceptable, during the battle. We have patching material coming across to seal critical areas. In addition we have hull plates we can install in patches to shield critical zones. Show us where to work and we can work very fast.”

  “Follow me,” the XO said. “I’ll show you where to install the shield generator and talk to you about other critical needs.”

  “See, what did I tell you?” the CO said as soon as they’d left.

  “I still don’t see us taking out the battlewagon,” Weaver said.

  “Oh, I’m going to take it out,” Spectre replied.

  “Yes, sir. How if I might ask?”

  “If it comes down to it we’re going to fly right in that damned mass-driver and blow the engines.”

  » » »

  “What is this stuff?”

  Miller hadn’t been joking about bringing demo. If his suit had been in Berg’s condition, he would have taken out a couple more compartments with all the octocellulose he was carrying in his butt-pack.

  But despite using the strongest conventional explosive in the military inventory, over four times the power of C-4, even with tamping the blast with the dead bodies of Dreen, he still hadn’t managed to scratch the secured door.

  He had, however, managed to coat the entire hallway in a very nice shade of light violet from the blood of the Dreen ersatz sandbags.

  “I don’t know, Chief,” Lyle replied. “But you’re about out of demo.”

  “Jeff, I’m getting nothing, here,” Miller admitted. The door just mocked him. “I hope you’re running out of Dreen, because I don’t need any more bodies.”

  “Alas, no,” the first sergeant replied. “And I do believe I just heard a roar from down the corridor.”

  “In that case, I’ll keep some of my demo,” Miller said, shaking his head. “There’s actually a couple of other ways that rhino-tanks have been taken out. They’re just much lower probability. Like, damned near zero.”

 
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