The tau ceti agenda s 2, p.22

The Tau Ceti Agenda s-2, страница 22

 часть  #2 серии  Separatists

 

The Tau Ceti Agenda s-2
 


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  "Goddamn, what a pickle," the XO grunted. "Sir, I'm getting reports from all over the ship. Whatever the hell Engineering did to give us that last jaunt blew out almost everything but the DEGs."

  "Well, then, keep firing them." This was about as grim as Wallace had seen it get. The Madira was wounded badly and floating adrift in space with no structural integrity field generators and no propulsion. Fire teams and damage diagnostics showed a hole through the aft section of the supercarrier big enough to build a housing community in and the majority of the air wing was four minutes away in deep space. Oh, and there was the little fact that there had just been a small fleet of enemy ships appear in normal space right on top of them. This was definitely a typical Navy day.

  I'm open for ideas. Timmy?

  I'm working on it, sir. The CHENG's team and I are rerouting everything we can to get us some sort of propulsion. With the enemy ships above us and the facility below us, on the other hand, it is unlikely that they would fire the mass driver at us, in fear of hitting them.

  That was the whole point of taking up this position, Timmy.

  Aye, sir.

  Keep at it.

  Aye.

  "CO! The hauler is dumping out Gnats as fast as it can throw them. I've got more than a hundred and counting!" the air boss shouted. "Our guys are gonna be outnumbered by at least one order of magnitude, sir."

  "Warn them and tell them to make do."

  "Aye, sir." The air boss reluctantly relayed the order to the CAG. What DeathRay said in return was rather foul.

  "Captain. We've got nukes," the XO said with a crazy grin on his face.

  "You're damned right we do, Larry. Let's send those battle cruisers a few of them."

  "Roger that, sir."

  "Gunnery Officer Rice!"

  "All hands, all hands, prepare for QMT jump in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, jump!"

  The ship had surged with a strange feel of static electricity, and then there was a crackling sound reverberating down the corridor through the structural members. Then everything seemed as normal as before.

  We just jumped to Sol?

  Apparently so, I'm asking the Lorda troop lifter now.

  Kira raced down the corridor toward the engineering section of the Phlegra, scanning through drawings and schematics of the ship hoping to find an internal Achilles heel. On several occasions, she was nearly spotted. But to her advantage, the ship was only being manned by a very skeleton crew.

  Kira, I'm picking up handshaking pings from U.S. fleet sources!

  What! Here?

  There are hundreds of them. And it's the Sienna Madira!

  Oh my God! They must be attacking the facility. We have to warn them about Luna City!

  Who do I contact? Uncle Timmy? Captain Jefferson?

  No! Boland! Contact Jack Boland. He'll remember me. Penzington, Nancy Penzington was my name then.

  Right, I recall. I'm handshaking with his AIC now for a secure channel.

  Jack! I'm getting a message to you from on board one of the enemy vessels that just teleported in, Candis alerted DeathRay.

  For me? Who is it?

  All I'm getting is code name Bachelor Party!

  Holy shit, put it through!

  "DeathRay, DeathRay, this is Nancy Penzington, code name Bachelor Party, do you copy?"

  "Penzington, is that really you?"

  "Watch your six, DeathRay!" Fish cried out over the tac-net. "Fox three!"

  "Oh shit!" DeathRay dove hard to the deck, pulling up with only meters to spare before he slammed the surface. He toggled to bot mode and put his feet down, running and jumping over a catwalk that led down a dugout crater rim, taking cover there. The Stinger on his tail shot past him, rolling over into bot mode himself and firing cannons backwards toward Jack's Ares-T fighter. Tracers ripped past, blasting up dust all around him. Jack rolled over onto his back, tracking the yellow Xs in his mind over the path of the Stinger until they both turned red. "Guns, guns, guns."

  "Roger that, Boland. It's good to hear you're still alive."

  "What can I do for you, Penzington. I'm a little busy right now!" DeathRay toggled back to fighter mode, going full acceleration back up into the fray and away from the exploding enemy mecha behind him.

  "This takes priority over all orders you have, Boland. This battle cruiser that I'm on is about to QMT jump to Earth space and kamikaze into Luna City. It must be stopped."

  "I need to relay that to the Madira." DeathRay toggled a channel in his DTM.

  "Roger that, Boland. I'm gonna try and shake things up from the inside. Penzington out."

  "CO Madira, DeathRay!"

  "Go, DeathRay!"

  "Sir, I just got a communication from Bachelor Party. She's on board the middle battle cruiser and has warned me that it is about to jump to Earth and crash into Luna City."

  "Understood, DeathRay. Can you help her in any way?"

  "I could trash and thrash on the ship, sir."

  "Go, DeathRay. We are barely holding our own here, and things just got worse. There's not much we can do to help you otherwise."

  "Understood, sir."

  "Goddamnit! Air Boss!"

  "Sir?"

  "Pull the Saviors off of the facility to help the Dawgs support the ground forces. Warboys is getting hammered down there."

  "Aye, sir."

  "Missiles away, Captain!" the XO shouted. The ship shook and sang out from enemy cannon fire and DEGs ablating the hull plating. Without the SIFs operational, the enemy fire continued to chew away at the ship. It was already battered and couldn't take much more. "Detonation in three, two, one."

  "Countermeasures got one of them, sir!"

  "The other one got through," the CO replied and used his DTM to look at the onslaught of enemy fighters pouring from the Seppy hauler. The flash of one of the nukes detonating within the cloud of fighters was a sight for sore eyes. More than thirty of the enemy mecha were vaporized within the fireball, and tens more were spun out of control and damaged.

  "Keep firing missiles on the nearest ship, XO!"

  "Aye, sir."

  "Captain! The first wave of our displaced fighters are now entering the mix," the air boss announced.

  "About fucking time." The Sienna Madira shook and rang, and the sound of the hull plating being vaporized and blown into space continued. But if the fighters got into the mix and the Blair could get in it too, all wasn't lost just yet.

  The ship lurched upward from an explosion on the underbelly armor. Several lower decks blew out, followed by secondary explosions that dominoed upward through the aft section of the ship. The missile hit in just the right location to rip through the supercarrier all the way to the damaged section on the upper decks, leaving a gaping hole more than ten meters in diameter that passed completely through the ship.

  "We're taking fire from the deck," the XO said. "Countermeasures!"

  "What a typical Navy day," the CO said through tight lips.

  "All hands, all hands, brace for impact in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!"

  The mass driver round pounded dead on target into the bow of the Blair, shaking the ship like a slinky. There were screeches and groans of metal structural members bending against the force of the massive energy from the railgun impact, but the SIFs held.

  "Forward SIFs at seventy percent, ma'am!" the XO shouted.

  "Nav! Go now!"

  "Aye, Captain! Engaging jaunt, now!"

  The ship's hyperdrive system spun up, projecting the conduit just abow of the ship, and it slipped safely into a conduit and out of normal space. Seconds later, the ship popped back into normal space, just above the surface of the moon planetoid and too close to it for the mass driver to get line-of-sight with it.

  "STO, find it!"

  "There! I've got the barrel, ma'am! Transferring coordinates to Ensign Blake now."

  "Blake, fire!"

  Ensign Blake targeted the barrel of the mass dri
ver and opened up the DEGs full power on it. The massive photonic energy of the directed energy weapons focused to a brilliant sun hot spot on the barrel, vaporizing materials instantly. The hole at the mouth of the mass driver glowed white-hot from light, scattering off the dust and gas particles being thrown up into space from the energy transfer of the beam to the target.

  "Captain, probably wouldn't hurt to drop a nuke down their throat," the COB added.

  "You heard the COB, XO. Let's nuke the bastards."

  "Roger that, ma'am. Best news I've heard all day." The XO tapped a command into her console. "Two missiles away!"

  "Nav, get us back down to the fight."

  "Yes, ma'am. Preparing to jaunt."

  "Air Boss! Have the Killers up first and out as soon as we hit the ball!"

  "Aye, Captain."

  "Hyperspace in five . . ."

  Chapter 18

  October 31, 2388 AD

  Sol System

  Oort Cloud

  Saturday, 7:35 AM, Earth Eastern Standard Time

  "Let's go, Robots!" Major Roberts pounded through the hangar bay, laying down cover fire across the catapult deck. Several enemy Stingers rushed them in bot mode but apparently were reluctant to go to guns inside their own facility. PFC Kent ran up a wall and flipped over a troop lifter to the left of the major, firing into the back of the vehicle's engine cowl. The cowl blew free as he passed overhead. The PFC hit the ground rolling to cover on the far wall. PFC Gray was right behind him, firing into the open-engine port with a grenade launcher. The grenade detonated inside the skin of the lifter, blowing out the walls of it in all four directions.

  "Watch your right flank, Major!" Gunnery Sergeant McCandless warned him, and she dove across the cat lane in front of a Lorda that was catting out.

  She rolled aross the runway behind a pylon, and a stack of pallets raised up to fire her HVAR at the Stinger that was racing toward the major. Her HVAR rounds spitapped into the armor plating of the vehicle at the knee joint until fluid squirted freely in a shower of sparks. The mecha tumbled like an runner tripping on a shoe lace, face-forward onto the deck. The major bounced into a flip, landed on the mecha's back and fired several rounds into it, and then he bounced again, landing beside the sergeant.

  "Good shooting, Gunny."

  "Yes, sir." Tamara checked her ammo, and Major Roberts took the hint and did the same. "If you don't mind my asking, Major, what the fuck is it that we are doing in here again?"

  "Gunny, we are here to make a general goddamned nuisance of ourselves and to gather intel." Roberts stood and let go with a quick burst of cover fire back toward the catapult control booth, where several drop-tank support troops had filed up to hold the marines at bay. There weren't that many of them, and the major was beginning to suspect that the Seppies hadn't planned for a ground assault by AEMs. And that was a bad mistake on their part.

  "Johnny? Where the hell are you, Lieutenant?" Roberts asked over the tac-net.

  "We are a story up and east of you, about a hundred meters on the far wall of the bay, sir." Roberts could see the blue dot in his DTM but had no visual.

  "You got anything interesting over there?"

  "Yes sir, I do. Suez has stumbled across what looks like blueprints to a mass driver, sir!"

  "Yeah, there's one on the moon of this place, I've been told." Roberts checked his blue force tracker and mapped out where all of his robots were. Suez was deep inside, several stories in beyond the hangar. How the sneaky bastard had managed that, Roberts wasn't quite sure.

  "Uh, no sir. This mass driver is here, sir. Only a few hundred meters in."

  "What? Is it operational?" Roberts expanded his mindview and downloaded the blueprints and the map data that Lance Corporal Suez had uncovered.

  "From what we can tell, it looks like it is, Major. Any orders, sir?"

  "You're goddamned right. Robots! Converge on Suez and let's see if we can't commandeer us a big fucking gun!"

  Tamara rolled out from behind the pallets and launched several grenades into the booth, sending it crashing down onto the support troops beneath it. The cat field generators must have been connected somehow because one of the boxes at the end of the runway blew out like a volcano. Secondary explosions followed along a conduit around the hangar wall. Several SIF generators blew as well. The deck shook so hard from the explosion that Tamara and Roberts were both tossed backward off their feet. Had there been an atmosphere in the hangar, the shock wave from the explosion would have probably killed them both. But they were in the vacuum of space, and the explosion did its job with no blast wave. It was a lucky-as-hell shot, but luck counted, as far as the marines were concerned.

  "Scratch one hangar." The gunnery sergeant grinned a toothy smile that Roberts could see through her faceplate.

  "Scratch it? Hell, I think you broke the piss out of it, Gunny."

  "Look, Danny, this tunnel to our left is really a construction elevator shaft to the control room of the mass driver. It goes down probably a kilometer." Suez scanned the adit to the underground facility for any sign of enemy-troop movement but found no trace of it. The computer system at the entrance room had been left unmanned and operational. It didn't take long for his recon AIC to hack the login and to start pulling data. He looked back down the shaft of the elevator. There was only a safety bar at waist height across the opening and no lift in place. The readout to the right of the shaft was lit at the bottom, which suggested that the eleveator was all the way down. He pushed the top button and it lit up.

  "Why don't they use the thing if it's operational?" PFC Bates asked.

  "Maybe it was their day off? How the hell do I know?" Suez smirked. "You want to wait for the major or check it out?"

  "I vote we wait."

  "Suez, let us the fuck in!" There was a pounding at the air lock door.

  "Did you hear that?" PFC Bates slipped his visor hissing back down into place and nervously turned with his HVAR to the ready.

  "Take it easy, Danny." Suez checked the blue dots in his DTM and then cycled the lock on the exterior door. The overpressure air blew out into the hall chamber and then equalized. The lock opened, and the lieutenant, Sergeant Nicks, and Corporal Pagoolas clanked in. From trained reflex actions, each of them popped their visors to get a breath of real air. AEMs never knew when they'd get a chance to breathe real air, so they immediately did so every chance they got.

  "Lieutenant." Suez nodded his armored head.

  "That's the tunnel?" The lieutenant looked down the shaft and whistled.

  "Yes, sir."

  "Fucker's deep," Corporal Pagoolas added from beside the lieutenant as he leaned over the safety bar, looking down the shaft.

  "The major has ordered us to go down the tube and take the control room to this thing. He and the others will hold this position. Let's find out if we can put this thing to some good use."

  "Uh, Lieutenant," Danny stuttered. "I was wondering . . ."

  "Spit it out, Bates."

  "If this thing is operational, why ain't they using it?"

  "Maybe it's their day off." Lieutenant Noonez shrugged.

  "Why don't we go ask them ourselves, Private?" Sergeant Nicks added.

  The elevator was nothing more than a lifter platform that was the exact shape of and slightly smaller than the shaft itself. The safety rail was about waist high around the periphery of the platform, and on opposite sides of the rail, there were two caution lights and one control box with several buttons and a videophone. The elevator descended the kilometer drop in less than a minute with little acceleration noticeable on the platform. Inertial dampening fields regulated the acceleration of the lift to match that of the facility.

  "Okay, on the perimeters. We don't know what's waiting at the bottom," Noonez warned. "Nicks, take point."

  "Yes, sir. Pagoolas, you and Bates on my left. Tommy, you have my right."

  The four of them lined up and knelt in position with their railgun rifles drawn and ready to fire. They held qui
etly in place as the lift dropped to the bottom. The lights on the control box dinged as each floor passed until it reached the last one, coming to a stop in a room almost identical to the one they had been in up top. It was empty otherwise.

  "Go, Sergeant," Noonez ordered.

  Karen slowly removed the safety bar over the opening and stepped into the room. She scanned her weapon left and right and then motioned that the room was clear. Pagoolas and Suez filed in on her flanks, and then Bates and Noonez pulled in behind them. There was nobody around.

  "Well, that was anticlimactic," Pagoolas said.

  "Just the way I like," Bates replied.

  The room was no more than seven meters across with a double door on the other side. There was a yellow dotted line leading to doors, suggesting a pallet-lifter vehicle track. Lance Corporal Suez eased around the periphery of the room to a control panel like the one he had seen upstairs, and he let his AIC handshake with it.

  The crew has been put on duty at the other driver. I guess that means the one on the moon. This one's abandoned, according to the records.

  Right. Good work.

  "LT, it's been abandoned for now. The crew has been restationed to the other mass driver, according to the records here." Suez continued to listen to his AIC for another brief moment. "My AIC says that they went there today, but we're not sure when exactly or how."

  "Good work, Tommy." The lieutenant thought about what to do for a brief moment. "Okay, then. If there's nobody here, let's make ourselves at home. Nicks, take point again."

  "Yes, sir."

  Sergeant Nicks slid the double doors open and led the team into a larger room. There was a construct of electronics, power plants, and a very large two-beam track running upward through a hole in the ceiling of the room. A large conveyor with several solid black cubes on it led to the center of the two-beam metal track. The cubes were about two meters on a side and were the texture of crushed metal like that from a recycling plant.

  "Those must be the bullets for this thing," Nicks said, pointing an armored hand at the cubes. "They must weight a fuckin' ton."

 
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