The Span Of Empire – Snippet 18
That gave the jinau a few seconds.
“Fall back!” Tully ordered over the com. As the jinau made an orderly retreat past him, Tully reached out and grabbed one particular trooper.
“You locked and loaded, Corporal Johnson?”
“Wait for my signal, then let them have it.”
Johnson, who was a very large human, said nothing more; he took his position in the center of the passageway, and waited, weapon in hand, as the last of the jinau trickled by him.
The last of the Ekhat heavy ships ceased firing and broke apart. Lieutenant Vaughan pumped a fist silently, then flushed as Dannet looked over at him. He quickly scanned his readouts, and opened his mouth to bring something to the Fleet Commander’s attention when the communications officer beat him to it.
“Vercingetorix reports that they have lost atmosphere on two more of their weapons spines–two of the laser decks.”
Flue shaped a silent whistle. Fifty percent of the battleship’s offensive capability lost in one battle. He started querying the Vercingetorix for more details on their damage.
“Vercingetorix should withdraw to the photosphere transition and take station on the support ships,” Dannet ordered. “Lexington and Arjuna shape course to join Pool Buntyam in supporting Ban Chao. Subordinate squadrons, continue neutralizing the Ekhat debris.”
“Crazy ass Ekhat,” Tully muttered. None of the attackers, Ekhat or slaves, carried anything other than hand weapons–blades for the most part. No guns, no lasers. It had been that way in the Valeron boarding action as well. He didn’t understand it–maybe it’s against their religion, he thought–but he was thankful for it. It let him wait an additional few seconds before giving the order.
The big human was standing three meters in front of the rest of Alpha Company. He leveled his weapon at waist height, and pulled the trigger.
Johnson was carrying a new weapon, one only recently cleared for jinau use, and only for use in space or in dealing with Ekhat. It was a recognizable descendant of the flamethrower, but it was nastier–much nastier.
Twin streams of clear liquids jetted from the nozzle of his weapon, flying over and past the attackers. An instant later, holocaust arrived.
There was a massive flare. Billows of flame rolled back down the passageway, stopping short of Johnson and the other jinau, although Tully thought he could feel some heat transferred through the faceplate of his suit.
The twin tanks in Johnson’s backpack contained the two components of a hypergolic propellant–aerozine 50 and nitrogen tetroxide–easily storable as liquids at room temperature, yet absolutely guaranteed to explode or flash into flame when combined. Tully had seen them demonstrated in the open. Their effect in the confined space of the passageway was almost indescribable.
Of course, the components were incredibly toxic, and in an on-world situation would undoubtedly create some nasty pollution.
On the other hand, Tully considered, the weapon worked whether in atmosphere or the near-vacuum of space, and the Ekhat had no room to complain about cruel and unusual tactics.
One lone Ekhat came out of the dying cloud, droplets of flame dropping from the joints of its suit. It staggered, but still headed toward the jinau with obvious intent.
Johnson leveled his weapon again, and gave a short burst that landed directly on the Ekhat. When the flash of light cleared, there was only a huddled mass lying on the passageway floor with flames licking up from it.
The big human pointed his weapon nozzle up, and looked back with a large evil grin visible through his faceplate. “Ekhat flambé,” he pronounced.
Tully gave the flames time to die down, and to make sure that nothing was stirring down the passageway. “Move out, Captain Kobayashi,” he finally ordered.
The jinau picked their way through the blackened remains of the attackers with comments like “Crispy critters” and “Hey, Johnson, does flame-broiled Ekhat taste like chicken?” But they dropped the humor when they got to where their fire team had been overwhelmed. Several of the Jao troopers took up the task of carrying the bodies. None of them, Tully included, wanted to leave them there.
Descant-at-the-Fourth hurtled down her chosen passageway, followed closely by a couple of immature Ekhat and a throng of the Trīkē servients.
Jao! The other group had reported Jao among the invaders!
The greatest mistake ever made by the Complete Harmony faction, deny it though the harmony masters might, was the uplifting of the Jao. And now that mistake was challenging her harmony in her system.
There was no further report, but she knew where the invaders were, where they had to be. She began a new statement of her aria, singing with force. The youngling Ekhat with her picked up on it immediately, and she felt the harmony begin to strengthen again.
She halted her mob before it exited the passageway, waiting for the harmony to crest . . .
Alpha Company had exited their passageway, carrying their dead, and were halfway across the open space when the XO shouted, “Behind you!”
Tully spun to see a mob of Ekhat and slaves pouring toward them from one of the side passages.
Twelve depleted uranium sabot penetrators slammed into the World Harvester ship in quick succession in an extremely tight grouping. The liquefied metal plasma that erupted in the ship’s engine room vaporized all Ekhat and slaves present, and destroyed all of the control equipment in the room.
The ship’s drive shut down.
So did the artificial gravity.
On the gun deck of the Pool Buntyam, Kaln’s posture slid to one of iron-retribution.
Descant-at-the-Fourth screamed as she felt the harmony crumble. She lunged toward the invaders, but found herself floating in mid-air. No matter how she struggled, she could not put a foot to a surface. Slowly spinning, her rage finally overcame her, and she screamed again and again, atonally, with no thought to harmony.
“Recoilless, take out the Ekhat now!” Tully ordered. “Forget trying to save one for the science guys,” he added as an afterthought. “Just nail them.”
Three Jao and three humans moved up with the heavy recoilless rifles, while the rest of the jinau cleared the back blast lanes. Tully watched as they quickly and methodically eliminated the floating Ekhat. Even one of those monsters couldn’t shrug off the impact of an explosive charge.
Tully saw someone move up beside him from the corner of his eye. His display showed the symbol for First Sergeant Luff. They watched the jinau absorb and overwhelm the remnants of the final charge. Many of the slaves were taken out by the explosions that finished off the Ekhat. But capturing those few that remained in one piece turned out to be a bit of a challenge.
“Looks like we need to schedule some zero-gee drills, Colonel,” Luff said finally.
“Yep,” Tully responded. “See to it after we get back, Top.”
“It’s all over but the reports,” Tully said to the officers. “Major Liang, get us back on board.”
“On it, Colonel.”
“Ban Chao has separated from the World Harvester, Fleet Commander,” reported Lexington’s sensor officer.
Caitlyn sat up straight at the news she had been waiting to hear. “What success did they have?” she asked. And is Gabe alive? was unspoken for the moment.
“Colonel Tully reports nine Ekhat slaves captured and an estimated thirteen Ekhat and an unknown number of slaves killed in the fighting. Six jinau dead, fifteen injured.”
Caitlyn relaxed, and looked up to see a grin on Caewithe Miller’s face that looked to be a match for the one she felt stretching across her own visage.
She looked around as Dannet gestured. “Finish it,” the Fleet Commander said.
The three battleships moved in concert like a lion pride, closing on the wounded Ekhat vessel.