Battlegroup (StarFight Series Book 2) (6 page)

BOOK: Battlegroup (StarFight Series Book 2)
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“Such a task is likely to be tedious,” the AI said in a musing tone. “My observation of you mammals when you engage in procreative activities suggests a simple behavior pattern that rarely changes. Are mammal hormones lacking in creative impulses?”

Now he grinned. Ever since he’d come onboard the
Lepanto
he’d been aware that the ship’s AI watched every human on the ship at all times, whether on duty or in their quarters. When he had inquired, he’d been told the AI did not make a vidrecord of its observations of non-duty behavior. However, he had a hard time believing that, in view of the intrusive questions of both AIs.

“Chatterbox, human hormones work just fine,” Jefferson said as her XO buried her face in her hands in an effort to not laugh out loud. “It is AI algorithms that make me wonder whether you and other ship AIs have any concept of privacy.”

“What is the point of privacy? Or pretending to privacy when I and other AIs constantly monitor all human behavior on each ship?”

“Discontinue this line of inquiry,” the captain said bluntly.

“But why? Curiosity is programmed—”

“Captain!” called Tactical. “Enemy ship is activating its remaining thruster. It could be getting ready to exit the comet!”

At last. What he had waited fifty-two hours to do.

Jefferson turned and looked at him through the clear flexible plexi of her vacsuit helmet. Her blue eyes were bright. “Chief, looks like it’s time for you and your Darts to head out.”

“Agreed.” He unsnapped the straps that held him into his seat and stood up. “Heading for the midbody airlock. I will be on Dart Two. Good luck with your fire control.”

“My Weapons people are fine sharpshooters,” Jefferson said as he ran for the exit slidedoor. “Grab us some wasps and some signalers.”

“Will do.”

Richard exited the destroyer’s Bridge, turned right and headed down the left side hallway that would take him to the entry hatch for the midbody airlock. His Marines had been aboard their Darts for the last two hours as the destroyer drew close to the hidden wasp ship. He’d stayed on the Bridge only long enough to get a record for his personal tablet of the sensor readings by the ship’s Tactical man. He did not know the man’s name, nor that of the other function post people beyond Garret. He did know the names, likes and dislikes, and specialist training of every Marine under his command. While he had hoped to take all four Darts into this attack, he understood Jacob’s reason for keeping it on the
Lepanto
. A real battlefield commander never closed off all his options. A lesson that young Renselaer had understood early on. He had been surprised at the youth’s quick move to take command of the
Lepanto
, followed by the launching of the Cloud Skimmer. But clearly the tall, lanky young man had inherited his father’s daring, ruthlessness and ability to make decisions outside of the normal track. That ability had kept most ships of the battle group intact and alive despite multiple wasp attacks. Now came his part. He tapped his vacsuit comlink to the frequency for Dart Two.

“Howard, I’m heading your way. I will board fully outfitted. Once I do, launch free of this ship.”

“Chief, we are hot and loaded here,” called a man thirty years younger than Richard. “I’m watching the vid feed from the Bridge. Our systems are up and cross-linked to the destroyer. And to the other Darts.”

“Good. See you soon.”

Richard tapped open the pressure hatch that gave him entry to the midbody airlock. On the far wall was the outer airlock hatch. He headed for the white bulk of his combat hard shell. The black visor on its metal helmet was open. He swung the hard shell out from its rack, touched the spine opening slot and shucked off his simple vacsuit. Clothes followed. Naked, he stepped into the legs and body of the combat exoskeleton. Pushing his head up he looked out through the open visor. At last!

“Jerry, close my visor and power up!”

“Hey guy, powering up!”

The simple AI that ran all the systems of his combat hard shell could make basic chitchat. Which only he heard. But it had no awareness, unlike the ship AIs. No matter. The inner fabric of the hard shell pressed against his skin everywhere as the suit when Red Active. On his back the spine entry closed. The air module just above his kidneys pumped cool air into his face. The modular backpack clanked as its rocket launcher moved a short range rocket into launch position. On his right arm the long tube and globular gas tank of his flamethrower jerked as the fuel pump activated. It showed Ready on the HUD display of his visor. On his left arm a similar jerk told him the 12 gauge shotgun attached to his arm was ready to pump out solid slugs and steel buckshot from a feed line that linked to his backpack. On his belly he felt a buzz as the carbon dioxide laser activated and moved its snout outward from the dome that contained a treasure of solid state microelectronics that could change the laser’s frequency to whatever he needed, whether it be metal punch through or soft body burn. On his right and left hips were a taser handgun and a .45 revolver, both decent for close-up combat. If they were knocked from his gloved hands they went dead so they couldn’t be used against him. What he wore, he recalled, was called a Mark XIV Shinshoni Hard Shell by the Pentagon. He called it Jerry.

“Who do we kill?” called Jerry over the speaker that fit flush against his left ear.

“Wasp-like aliens,” he said, tonguing a chin control. “Here’s the vidcam feed from the place where they killed our top officers.”

“Interesting,” Jerry said, his bright tone never varying. “Their two wings look to be a weak point.”

Richard had thought the same. It was one of the hit points he’d discussed with his Marines during the simulation training on the
Lepanto
. Which had lasted too short a time. At least the 52 hours it had taken the
Philippine Sea
to reach the comet hiding place had given him and his guys and gals some time to go over the vidcam record of the meeting site, noting how the aliens walked, moved about and sat on long benches. They’d even seen two flying in from the second shuttle that had carried the plasma bomb. Which later rose up to decimate the meeting site. The death of the fleet’s senior people was something that still bugged him. If it had been up to him, he would never have ordered every ship’s captain and XO down to the meeting site. But Rear Admiral Johanson had given that order. And the admiral was in command of both the
Lepanto
and the other battle group ships. So each ship’s line officers had obeyed. They had followed the admiral to their death. Now, he was eager for payback. While he and his Marines would use their taser handguns to capture a few wasps, he looked forward to killing plenty of them. His backpack rockets carried napalm and cluster bomb warheads, which did a fine job of clearing a room or a deck. The aliens had discovered that killing human leaders did not prevent other humans from rising to lead in the fight between ships. Now, they were about to discover how deadly humans could be in person.

 

♦   ♦   ♦

 

Support Hunter Seven watched the front perception imager that relayed color images from the remotely located eye tools. In images of ultraviolet, orange and white-yellow he saw the approaching Soft Skin nest. It had slowed its approach as it neared their ice ball hideout. Clearly they had been discovered. He focused his two major eyes on the details of the nest’s hard shell. Attached to it were three small shapes. Earlier images of Soft Skin nests of this shape and length had shown only a smooth outer skin, excepting for stinger bulbs. This flying nest did not match the earlier images. The small shapes resembled the air bubbles his Swarmers used to enter the air of a colony world. Were the three shapes separate flying nests? He put the matter to his backmind. It was time to fight these intruding Soft Skins.

“Servant for propulsion, activate your devices!” he scent cast in a mix of releaser, primer and signal pheromones.

“Activating,” the young female responded in a mix of aggregation and signal pheromones. “Hunter Seven, recall that one of our two propulsive devices is still dead from the earlier attack by a Soft Skin nest.”

“It is recalled,” he scent cast.

He remembered that. In truth this Soft Skin flying nest was identical in length and width to the nest that had pursued him as he had launched particle disruption seeds and Storm Bringer globes at the Soft Skin colony world in the fourth flight zone. But there were three such nests among the eight that had defended the world. Whichever it might be, its head end carried a heavy particle sky light stinger that was most deadly. Time to leave their hideaway. Their nest must be free to use its stinger rings at rear, middle and front.

“Alert!” called the Servant responsible for monitoring perception signals from cold space. “The Soft Skin nest has dispersed three parts of itself!”

His five eyes took in the new imagery. The three small flying nests had the shape of one of his mandibles. Orange flame flew out from the wide end of each nest as they arced away from the home nest. It seemed he now faced four opponents rather than one.

“Stinger Servant,” he called to the Swarmer responsible for directing the stingers of his nest. “Do these small nests have any stingers? Or are they just large versions of particle disruption seeds?”

“They are different from the two particle disruption carriers launched earlier by this Soft Skin nest,” the young male replied in a mix of signal, aggregation and trail pheromones. “My eye tools say each small nest has a single sky light stinger tube at the end of its body.”

A rumble and deep vibration told him his nest was now moving up the tube their stingers had cut into the ice ball. Soon they would be in cold dark space, able to fight with all their stingers. And able to fly freely in whatever flight path was most helpful.

“Flight Servant, guide our flight path to a space above the incoming Soft Skin nest,” he scent cast to the older female who guided the movement of his nest among the empty coldness of the dark outside.

“Guiding,” she scent cast back to him, her pheromones thick with aggregation and trail scents.

The front perception imager showed the white surface of the ice ball falling away as his nest rushed into cold darkness. He saw that the Soft Skin nest was well within the range of his stinger weapons.

“Stinger Servant, fire on the large flying nest! And use our middle stingers to bite on the three small nests!”

“Biting!” called the Servant.

But as soon as he saw the green and yellow beams of his stingers reach out, there came a single red beam that hit directly on the front ring of his stinger tubes.

“Stingers destroyed by heavy sky light beam!” called the Stinger Servant. “Half our front stingers are gone. Shifting aim with the other half of the ring.”

But even as he saw a green beam from one of his stinger tubes hit one of the smaller flying nests, a second red beam reached down from the Soft Skin nest and hit the lower portion of his front ring of stinger tubes.

“All front tubes now dead!” scent cast the Stinger Servant in a mix of signal and death pheromones that carried a hint of anxiety.

Seven breathed forth a strong mix of aggregation, territorial and trail pheromones. “Servant for all chambers, share my Hunter scent with all Swarmers everywhere on our nest! We fight! We are Swarmers! We can bite with many mandibles! The loss of a few does not prevent the death of the Soft Skin!”

His loud expulsion of pheromones filled the air of the Flight Chamber and was carried to all chambers of his nest by way of the pheromone signalers that existed in every chamber of his nest. There were twenty six-groups of Swarmers in the nest. Whether Servants, Fighters, Fighter Leaders, Workers or Worker Leaders, all would sense and feel his determination. They would survive this attack by a single Soft Skin nest. Even better, they would soon have Soft Skin captives to play with, before affixing larvae to them to feed the next generation of Swarmers. He was the Hunter. It was up to him to find the flight path that led to victory.

“Flight Servant! Swing our nest to bring about our middle ring and rear ring to fire on the large nest!” he said in a rush of signal pheromones. “Stinger Servant, fire all your sky light and sky bolt tubes at just the large nest! Surely we can bite deep!”

“Swinging to attack!” she scent cast.

“Biting deep!” declared the young male in charge of stingers.

Seven watched as green beams and yellow lightning reached out to the oncoming Soft Skin nest. Which had begun to spin even as its head stinger fired another red beam at his nest. The dance of life and death had begun.

 

♦   ♦   ♦

 

Jacob watched the front wallscreen’s vidcast from the Bridge of the
Philippine Sea
. The left side of his screen showed a sensor track of all neutrino emitting spaceships flying near the comet hideout of the wasp ship. The middle showed Joy and Aelwen as they sat in the center of their Bridge. And the right side showed a true space image of the black space between the
Sea
and the wasp ship, with the three Darts showing as bright silver triangles with orange flame flaring from the tail of each craft. Watching with him was Daisy in her XO seat, while Richard’s seat was occupied by the Marine pilot for the Dart that remained on the
Lepanto
. The young man, an Anglo from Philadelphia, wore his white Marine dress uniform. His shoulders showed the rank of master sergeant. It didn’t matter to Jacob. What mattered were the next few minutes as the two big ships fought with lightspeed beams as the Darts maneuvered to attack position.

BOOK: Battlegroup (StarFight Series Book 2)
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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