The Span Of Empire – Snippet 51
“Atmosphere evacuated,” the Jao crewman in the assault bay control room said.
At that moment, yellow lights flashed on in the bay and on the control room workstations. “Brace yourselves,” Sergeant Marasco said. “This is liable to rattle our teeth.”
Lim pushed back against the seat, and made sure that the bottom end of the staff rested on the deck between her feet and was held firmly between her knees in addition to being gripped by her hands.
The lights flashed to red.
“Here we go!” Marasco yelled.
The red light went off after the vibrations of the contact had damped down, and the blue light flashed on. None of the jinau moved because the shock frames hadn’t released, but Tully knew that ship crewmen were now moving to attach tethers to the broken Khûrûshil ship for the purpose of tying it to Ban Chao. With the atmosphere evacuated, he couldn’t hear anything from his external audio pickups, but he could feel vibrations through his feet that told him the armored ram was being opened to allow the assault team to exit. He watched his helmet display, seeing the icons of maintenance craft exiting to attach lines to the very slowly twisting target. They stayed in the shadow of the craft as much as possible, as the other Khûrûshil ships were still firing missiles in the direction of Pool Buntyam and Ban Chao. The bigger ships’ lasers were picking them off, but there was still debris flying around.
The cables got attached in what seemed relatively short order, and winches in Ban Chao began pulling them in. It didn’t take long until the wrecked craft was floating in front of Ban Chao, with most of its movement damped.
The light flashed green, the shock frames released, and Charlie Company moved forward. Tully wanted a better view of the operation than his helmet display would give, so he moved to a wall panel.
“Eanne, give me a split feed of the operation display on panel . . .” he peered at it through his helmet screen, “AB9A.”
The tech said nothing, but in a couple of seconds the screen flickered to life showing four views in its quadrants. Tully watched as a couple of human jinau fired a canister round of sensors at the target. There was a brief sparkle of lights as the sensors, each tipped with something called Space Glue by the humans, stuck and adhered to their various locations, flashed a light and sent a signal back to their control unit to lock in their feedback.
Nothing was visible in the next step, but Tully knew that each of the sensors was sending out sonar pings across a wide frequency range. All of them collected the results, fed the data back to their control unit, and the result was . . . Bingo, a map of the interior of the Khûrûshil ship. Ollnat again, combining off-the-shelf technology from the petroleum seismic industry and the medical scan companies.
“Colonel Tully, do you see the map?” That was Lieutenant Boatright.
“Yes, Lieutenant. I see it. And I see that you have one large open space relatively forward in the hull. Is that your target?”
“Go for it.”
“Will do, sir.”
Caitlin was getting the same feed as Tully by way of Lieutenant Vaughan’s workstation. “I thought they were going to bring it into one of Ban Chao’s shuttle bays, or the assault bay. What’s left of the ship is not all that big.”
Vaughan shook his head. “Not while there’s a risk that there still might be something on that ship that could go boom. None of the ships could take that chance, not even Ban Chao.”
“Oh. Right. Got it.” Caitlin thought about that for a moment. “Now I see why Tully’s had the jinau drilling in zero gravity.”
“Boarding through the assault bay ramp only works when the target ship is big enough for the ram to penetrate,” Caewithe Miller offered from her bodyguard position behind Caitlin. “Otherwise, you swim through space.”
“Hmm,” Caitlin mused. “So Tully’s been thinking about this kind of thing already.”
“That’s why General Kralik made him the colonel,” Miller replied, “or at least one reason. Gabe’s got more out of atmosphere and out of ship experience than any other officer.”
“Any other human officer,” Tamt inserted into the conversation. “There are many Jao officers with more experience.”
“But how many of them are in Terra taif?” Miller asked.
Tamt gave a human shrug, but didn’t say anything.
Wrot picked up the conversation. “None, that I know of. Most officers with that kind of experience either died in the conquest phase or left after Oppuk became governor. That should have been a warning to the Naukra . . .” the Jao council of kochans, “. . . of what was to come, but none would see it then, not even Pluthrak. And so,” he circled back to the original topic, “we have Colonel Tully being of use at the moment. He is good, you know, for a youngling. If he survives long enough to learn subtlety, he could be . . . formidable.”
Caitlin started to laugh at the idea of Tully being subtle. Then she had second thoughts, and even third ones, especially considering whose opinion she was hearing. Wrot was not the least-subtle of Jao; for all that he cultivated a rough and brusque manner. His service to Preceptor Ronz of the Bond of Ebezon was evidence of that. “Gabe Tully being subtle,” she said, “could be a scary thought.”
It didn’t surprise her at all to see Caewithe Miller nod in response, with a sober expression on her face.
“Boyes,” came through Sergeant Boyes’ ear bud. “Carter here. Come on over.”
“Roger that,” Boyes replied to the boarding team sergeant. He switched to the team frequency. “Okay, you apes. Our turn. Head for the shack.”
One by one his fire-team jumped for the Khûrûshil ship, himself last; and one by one they made landings of one degree or another on the broken hull. The sergeant was the first to make it to the boarding shack, a plastic tent where the walls were filled with air and made rigid by applying electrical charges. The bases of said walls were bonded to the hull with more Space Glue and electrical charges. A much weaker version of the technology allowed the jinau teams’ feet to stick to the hull.
Boyes stood by the door, naming his troops as they entered. “Nolan, McClanahan, Singh, Gomez, Kemal, and me,” as he stepped into the airlock and moved through into the main chamber.
“That all of you?” came from the figure with the Carter name patch on his suit standing opposite the inner airlock door.
“Yep,” Boyes said as another jinau followed him in and closed the inner airlock door behind them.
The shack was roughly four meters wide and seven meters long, and tall enough that even First Sergeant Luff could have stood unbowed within it. There was plenty of headroom for Boyes and his team.
“Okay, three of you on one side and three on the other,” Carter said. “Laroche, there, is going to lay out a door for you. Stay out of her way and don’t step on it.”
The other jinau began applying long lines of sticky cord to the hull metal, laying it out with care and making sure that one particular side of it always was in contact with the hull. After outlining a rectangle maybe one and a half meters by three meters, she inserted a short rod and stepped back. Carter checked a gauge on his wrist.
“Okay, boys and girls, we have the equivalent of about three thousand meters altitude atmosphere in here now, which is about as good as it’s going to get. Laroche just laid a shaped charge. Stand well back, and when I tell you to, face the walls. That should blow a hole through the hull and open the door for you. If it doesn’t, then we’ll apply the handy dandy door openers.” Here Carter held up a device that was obviously a distant descendant of what used to be called the Jaws of Life. “I’ve seen your plan, but tell it to me again.”
“After the door opens . . .” Boyes began.
“We throw the flash-bangs and step back,” Nolan and Kemal said in unison.
“We take entry lead,” said Singh and Gomez.
“Mac and I follow,” Boyes said.
“We take the rear and guard their six,” Nolan and Kemal finished.
“Weapons?” Carter asked.
“Super-Tazers.” Singh and Gomez held them up.
“Net guns.” Boyes lifted his, echoed by McClanahan.
“Shotguns with rubber slugs,” Nolan said. Kemal just grinned.
“Backups?” Carter asked.
Boyes and the rest of his team all slapped the holsters where they each carried a high-capacity 10 mm pistol, sized for the combat suits. Those were weapons of last resort on this mission, but no one, from Colonel Tully on down, denied that last resorts could be exercised. Boyes also reached up and touched the knife that was sheathed hilt down to the left of his sternum.
“The rest of my team is in the airlock, and as soon as you finish entry they’ll come in and be backup,” Carter concluded.
“Outstanding,” Boyes said. He was pumped on adrenaline. “Let’s do this thing.”
“Right,” Carter said. “Face the walls.”