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Chapter 1

July 24, 2409 AD

Mission Star 74

Chiata Expanse

783 light-years from the Sol System

Saturday, 6:37 A.M. Eastern Time

Rear Admiral Lower Half Jack “DeathRay” Boland settled into the oversized captain’s chair in full armored suit with his helmet on and visor up. DeathRay displayed across the forehead of the helmet and in his cold hard steel gaze it wasn’t hard to believe that he could literally shoot death rays from his eyes. Clearly he couldn’t, but the mythos around him and his exploits was almost as impressive as those of ancient gods. He had been the most deadly fighter pilot in space for nearly forty years, but the time had come where he needed to maximize the damage he could inflict and he wasn’t going to do that from within a single mecha. So, he went to the general and volunteered for deep expanse raid missions. He had been promoted and told to pick himself a crew. His missions were simple. DeathRay liked simple. If he ever planned on changing his name he intended to make that his middle one.

“Holding position steady at two light-years out, sir. Engineering reports that the quantum membrane teleportation system is fully functional and ready, all structural integrity field generators and Buckley-Freeman shields at optimum, DEGs charged, missile tubes loaded with gluonium specials, the BBD shows fully charged, and the Buckley superweapon can trigger on your command, Admiral.” The tall blonde armored Teena clone first officer robotically announced. “All of the Bringers of Hell have reported to duty and ready, sir. Major Moore is ready and waiting the order.”

“Understood, Commander Seven.” He replied. Jack had started a new tradition in using the last one or two numbers in a clone’s series number as their last name. He couldn’t handle not having names to call his crew and too many of them had the same first names. He had thought about doing what Deanna had done and just give them all nicknames, but he didn’t want to have to give callsigns to nearly four thousand crew. Other than Dee, the entire ship’s complement was clones. The two of them, the two humans, only had room for one emotion and that was hatred for the aliens that had killed the two people they cared most for. Living among emotionless artificial intelligence controlled human clones made life easier for them. They could be robotic themselves and not expected to have to “feel” sad or any of that other stuff that would just get in the way of what had to be done—killing Chiata.

Candis, open me a private channel with Dee. He thought to his AIC.


Dee, you ready? DeathRay thought to her. For the longest time she had been like a little sister to him. Now, he wasn’t out there with her to watch her back and for the last eighteen months she had been putting herself in crazy situations almost as if she had a death wish. But Jack knew that wasn’t the case. Dee had a fire burning within her and the only death she wished was on the enemy. She had so much hatred for the Chiata bastards that she would kill every last one of them by her own hands if she could. Jack was going to accommodate her wish to the best of his abilities. He didn’t care much for the sonsabitches either. As far as he was concerned the only good Chiata was one with its innards ripped out and its fucking head blown off.

Roger that, Admiral. She thought to him in her mindvoice. Jack wasn’t sure but he thought he could sense her rage in her mindvoice. He hoped she wasn’t going over some mental or emotional point of no return, but at the same time, he was right there with her, ready to jump from the precipice into the dark chasm. He had a mental image of her all armored up, tattoos glowing, her eyes red like plasma fire, truly embodying a demon from the underworld. He almost wished he was right there beside her in his mecha, still her wingman. Jack had been so destroyed by the loss of his wife that he was just as enraged as Dee. He understood her bloodlust. Himself, he only had three things in life he wanted to do any more and that was to kill Chiata. Kill Chiata. And kill more fucking Chiata.

Great. Watch your six and make me proud. You know the drill. We stick to the plan. DeathRay thought to his old wingman. It was a long-running joke that was more serious than not. Anyone who’d ever fought with DeathRay knew what his plan always was.

Yes sir! We go in there and we kill those motherfuckers! Dee thought. Jack could feel her anger and it began to boil with in him as well. He could imagine in his mind’s eye the snarl on her face as she formed the thought to him. He had a similar one on his face, along with a slight smile. After all, he’d invented that plan and it always, almost worked. Sometimes.

Good plan. Bring ’em Hell. DeathRay out.

“Alright, Seven, bring the tuning forks online.” Jack shifted his suit into a more comfortable position in the oversized chair. The auto-harness mechanism deployed and locked onto his suit at the hardpoints. “As soon as we materialize in the system I want targeting algorithms running. Pick us out a straggler and that’s who we take. We kill the rest of them. All of them. No Chiata can leave the system. Understood?”

“Aye, sir. The bot ships are in formation and ready on your command.” Seven nodded to him. “Same battle plan as before is loaded into the fleet controllers.”

“Okay, helm, let’s go steal us another one,” Jack ordered. “QMT when ready.”

“Yes, Admiral.” The red-haired Mike clone at the helm replied. Jack kept his popup bridge crew chart in his direct-to-mind view so that he could remember their designations. He was Mr. Ninety-one, an ensign.

The giant megaship began to hum slightly from bow to stern and from the four supercarrier class ships attached to it, two in front and two in back, from port to starboard. The commandeered and reengineered ship looked like a cross between a porcupine, a snail, and an alligator with stubby legs all covered in thousands of mechanized structures. The U.S.S. Nancy Penzington was the third of thirteen Chiata ships humanity had taken and converted. Following the final “Battle of the Ruins” two years before, they had figured out how to not only take Chiata ships for their own, but how to turn the Buckley-Freeman shields into a superweapon when combined with the alien blue beams of death from Hell generators. Jack had since used the superweapon on nine different missions. He was about to make it ten.

“QMT initiated, Admiral,” Ensign Ninety-one announced in his robotic deadpan tone.

“Time to start the plan.” He muttered to himself and clenched his armored fists until the shields flickered and green luminescence flashed across the surface of his suit. The personal shield ionized air molecules, throwing blue flashes across its surface.

There was the sense of being in several places at once, and then the large megaship sprayed a white beam in front of them, creating the large portal through space and time in the realm of quantum membranes that tied the universe together. Jack watched as the smaller bot-controlled supercarriers vanished through in front of him and then he nodded at Seven and the Penzington lurched through the portal, being slung forward from their present location to one almost two light-years away. Jack felt his skin tingle and then the frying bacon sizzled in his ears and instantaneously they were staring at a large red star.

“CDC, I want a full sensor sweep and target analysis now!” Jack ordered.

“Moons of the gas giant eight astronomical units out, Admiral.” Commander Seven pointed at the main screen in the center of the bridge. “Large concentration of artificial structures. Chiata signatures are mainly concentrated there, sir.”

“Anywhere else?”

“Not much out past that, but inward to the star is typical Chiata strip mining. They must not have been in this system as long as others as there does not appear to be any mining in the system’s Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud,” Seven replied.

“Probably no one lived here to fight back at them, then. Alright, weapons officer, I don’t see the BBDs firing. Let’s see if we can take most of them before the second wave of the fleet arrives.” Jack looked at the female clone sitting at the gunner’s console. She was a pretty young ensign. From her number she was a very new generation and probably only a decade or two old. Tamara Fourteen, he noted in his direct to mind display. “Helm, calculate a hyperspace jump to the gas giant and be ready.”

“CO! CDC!”

“Go CDC.” DeathRay listened calmly but ready to start bringing it to the enemy. He was the embodiment of “the calm before the storm”. He just couldn’t wait for the storm part to hurry up and, well, start.

“Targeting analysis is complete sir. Uploading target list now in priority status.”

“Good work, CDC.” Jack turned to Seven. “Alright, Commander Seven, let’s bull-rush into the middle of that cluster about four hundred thousand kilometers off the gas giant’s largest moon and start swinging.”

“Yes sir.” Commander Seven stood from her console and walked behind the helmsman’s station. Her full armor suit clanked against the deckplates ringing against the eerie quietness in the bridge. The clones tended to converse DTM rather than verbally as humans typically preferred. Jack had told his bridge crew to start talking more but it was still too quiet. He had considered having battle music played through the ship’s intercom during battle but was afraid it would be distracting. Commander Seven was doing her best to accommodate his spoken order.

“This grouping here. We will use a standard fractal positioning algorithm,” Seven superfluously announced and highlighted multiple enemy ships in the bridge crew’s DTM battlescape views.

The helmsman tapped at the three-dimensional virtual touchscreen and waved her hands in the air at some icons in her mindview and then the ship swirled through a hyperspace vortex for a second or so. As the megaship reappeared in reality space, DeathRay felt the ship hum again and then the blinding blue beams tore out from the spires and zigged and zagged through space until they hit one of the Chiata megaships on the starboard side. Almost as soon as the beams fired, the ship lurched through another hyperspace vortex, rematerialized in reality space, and the blue beams fired again. It took the Chiata more than seventeen seconds to target them after a hyperspace jaunt, so the jaunt drive was beefed up to withstand continuous short jumps without taxing the power conduits or the vortex projector. DeathRay wasn’t a physicist, a chief warrant, a CHENG, or an STO, but he understood enough to know that the Penzington was a damned marvel of science, alien technology, and human ingenuity. She was one of a kind, just like her namesake had been. As with most captains, his ship had become the love of his life, or had at least taken the place of the lost one.

“That one there, Seven!” Jack pointed and highlighted an alien megaship in the bridge direct-to-mind battlescape view. “Let’s take that one!”

“Understood, Admiral. Good call—the battle analysis suggests that is our best target by a large margin.” The AI clone had calculated millions or maybe billions of calculations in an instant to tell Jack what years of combat flying had taught him. He knew a good target when he saw one. That’s why they called him DeathRay.

“Get us in there. Keep firing the BBDs. And let’s loose the Bringers of Hell.” Jack ordered. “Start moving the bot carriers in position.”

“Alright, Bringers, we’ve got the green ball.” Deanna took a deep breath and dropped her visor in place. The DTM heads up display windows kicked in with multiple pages and icons floating about her head. She brought up the window for targeting and trajectories and pulled open an icon marked QMT attack mode Beta. “We deploy on my mark and go to QMT attack mode Beta. I want us dancing in and out of reality space with firing solutions. If a porcupine even gets close to you snap-back or sling-forward manually. Don’t wait for the autotrigger. Everyone got that? Nothing different from the last nine system invasions.”

“Roger that, Phoenix.”

“Yes, ma’am.”


The responses from the team, while all were in the appropriate pilot jargon and in English, sounded almost as if they were foreign, or worse, alien. The AI minds in the clone bodies simply had no use for emotional displays. Dee figured it was their way of showing humanity that it was a waste of time. The clones had perfect human bodies with the brilliance of the human brain combined with the computational power of quantum supercomputer intelligence. The process for combining the AIC implants with an empty human brain was a secret that Sienna Madira, her grandmother, and the alien slug, Copernicus, had yet to reveal. So, while nobody understood how they were built, there was no doubting that they bordered on superior to humans in many ways. Dee wondered if their lack of emotional reaction was because they didn’t get emotional reaction altogether or didn’t care. Dee did her best to be like that when the time called for it. But at the moment, she preferred anger over a lack thereof.

“Alright, here we go.” Dee flipped channels quickly. “Air Boss, Air Boss, Bringers of Hell are ready to deploy.”

“Roger that, Phoenix. You are cleared to deploy at your discretion. Good hunting.”

“Roger that, Phoenix out.” She flipped back to the Bringers’ tac-net. “Alright, let us Bring some Hell in three, two, deploy, deploy, deploy.”

Dee slapped the QMT control and slammed the throttle forward so that as soon as she rematerialized outside the ship in “the shit” that she’d be moving and not a sitting duck, but then again, everything was moving relative to everything else in space. Dee preferred her relative motion to be under her control as best she could manage. The light flashed in a ball about her new FM-14X and then she was in space. The new experimental quantum-bouncing mecha spent less time in reality space than it did in membrane space. The fighter was a phantom that the Chiata couldn’t track. Or at least they hadn’t figured out how to track them in the last nine raid missions. If they had, they hadn’t lived to tell about it.

Blue flashes from the Penzington’s BBD ripped through a porcusnail megaship’s tuning fork spires to Dee’s starboard, causing its shields to flicker in a wave of light across the surface of the ship starting from the BBD’s beam impact point. As the shields flickered and failed armored hull material vaporized and expelled orange plasmas into space. The megaships were tough, though, and it took a lot more than a single hit to take them down. Just as soon as the shields flickered, out of that ship poured a countless number of the fighter-class porcupines. For the most part they were all flying toward Dee and her squadron. That would have scared some pilots. It made Dee happy. Very happy.

Okay, Bree, start the dancing algorithm and get me something to shoot at. Dee thought to her AIC. Won’t hurt to kill a few as we push through to the objective. That is, if we happen to find targeting solutions along the way.

QMT trajectory prediction running. Switching to trajectory energy optimization screen for targets, Bree replied. Vectors are up now.

Got it. Dee could see several yellow targeting Xs pop up in her mindview. The DTM view was fully spherical in all directions as if her fighter wasn’t even there and she was floating in space. She could see the Chiata megaships and the thousands of porcupine fighters starting to scatter about and fill the ball around where the Penzington had been seconds before, but then they seemed lost briefly until they reacquired the attacking human ship. The ship bouncing in and out of reality space kept the Chiata spread out and mixed up their formations.

Her fighter flashed out and reappeared several hundred meters ahead of where she’d been and then flashed again fifty meters to her port side. With the random key generated for position vectors that followed a general trajectory like the quantum cloud of an electron’s orbit about an atom’s nucleus, the new FM-14X mecha was damned near impossible to target and track according to the laws of physics known to humanity, and hopefully, aliens as well. Her squadron was the first to fly the birds and they had implemented them with amazing success for almost sixteen months with minimal casualties in flight. The casualties usually happened once they got onboard the Chiata ships and were fighting in close quarters mecha-to-mecha and hand-to-hand. In that situation, the QMTs were harder to accomplish because there was other matter in the way and it was difficult to project randomly into the cramped spaceship interior. Occasionally, one of the mecha jocks would attempt an interior ship jump without proper mapping and unfortunately, horrifically, and devastatingly rematerialize inside a bulkhead. The outcome was never pretty. Any attempt to place two pieces of matter in the exact same spot simultaneously usually ended creating a miniature star fission-fusion-fission explosion throughout the pilot’s body and mecha. There was never anything left in those situations.

That didn’t mean that bouncing inside ships was off the table, though. As long as they could target an open space they could bounce to it, but every now and again, somebody made a mistake. And, it was usually a horrible, horrific, and explosively grotesque mistake.

“Phoenix! CO Penzington.” She heard the admiral’s voice over the command-net. His avatar popped up in the corner of her mindview.

“Go, DeathRay,” she grunted as she pushed through a reality space maneuver to line herself up with the uncertain location of her wingman. The quantum key generated by the algorithm kept them lined up with their jumps, but only loosely. They were like a pair of electrons sharing the same energy level orbit around an atom. While their orbit was known, their precise position was uncertain. And the faster they moved, the higher the position uncertainty grew. They were close but couldn’t share the same location exactly. In fact, the Meghan clone that was the STO of her new home ship had explained it as actually having something to do with the Pauli Exclusion Principle governing bound state fermions but Dee’s eyes glazed over about thirty seconds into that conversation. Listening to the clone STO was even harder than listening to Commander Buckley when he was trying to explain something. At least in those circumstances, her and Rondi could make fun of the CHENG’s various tics and mannerisms, but not to his face of course. With the damned clones it was like hearing an autoreader explain the inner workings of a dishwasher. And there were never any tics to poke fun at.

There were some things that Dee missed about being on the U.S.S. Sienna Madira with her human friends she’d practically grown up with, but friends and family were too much of a distraction to her current agenda and why she’d had to beg her father for the transfer. He wouldn’t hear of it, but DeathRay had somehow managed it for her.

“Megaship to your starboard and down seventy thousand kilometers,” RDML Boland ordered her. “That’s our target! DTMing coordinates now.”

“Understood, Admiral!” Dee flashed out-and-in again and then toggled back her attention to the tac-net. “Azazel, you got my six? We’re going full bore at the target coordinates I’m sending out to the squadron now. Punch a hole through the fighter wave and into the belly of the beast. Got that?”

“Understood Phoenix. Watch the porcupines to port—they have detected our general path and are doing their best to generate targeting locks.” Azazel responded. “Too bad we do not have time to let them think they have us.”

“We’ll get plenty of chances, Azazel. Keep it frosty.”

“Affirmative, Major.”

“Alright, Bringers, you’ve got the target coordinates. Last one to the alien engineering section gets demoted to Navy cook. And I really mean it this time!” Dee jostled and pitched upward a bit as interdiction fire pitted against her nose shields. The mecha flickered blue and white but was unharmed. The structural integrity field generators were reading all in the green. She was good to go.

She flashed in and out again, this time appearing closer to the target megaship almost thirty meters from the vector of an alien fighter. Dee barrel rolled over and toggled her mecha to bot-mode. As she rolled upside down and above the alien fighter she aimed her cannon with her right arm as the targeting X turned red in her mindview. The g-loading on her abdominal muscles was crushing, but Dee grunted through the angular acceleration of the turn and squeezed her abs so tight that she felt as if her eyes would bulge out of the sockets. The organogel layer inside her suit surrounding her abdominals and her large leg muscle groups became taut and swelled rapidly, squeezing her stomach and legs to the point that it hurt. Much needed blood was forced into her brain as she took slow long breaths and grunted through the maneuver. She squinted her eyes against the sweat that beaded up only for a microsecond as the suit quickly adjusted the humidity level and sublimated it out of her face.

“Guns, guns, guns.” Dee continued to track the fighter as the bright plasma balls first pounded against the alien’s shields, throwing green luminescent flashes washing over its surface with each hit. She continued to fire until the shields finally failed and then armor plating started vaporizing. “Fox Three!”

A mecha-to-mecha QMT guided missile spiraled out from the launcher on the bot-mode fighter’s shoulder. The propellantless propulsion pushed the missile forward on a violet dancing light until it closed the gap between Dee and the alien fighter craft. The missile burst through the alien hull plating in an orange and white ball that quickly dissipated. Dee toggled back to fighter-mode quickly. The abrupt pitch and then spin of the transformation left her stomach briefly doing somersaults, but she shook it off quickly and juked and jinked around the shrapnel blast wave right up until the point that she flashed out of reality space momentarily and then reappeared even closer to the megaship and another alien fighter. Her targeting X flashed between yellow and red.

Bree, can we close energy solutions on that one?

Perhaps, but it would lead us from our wingman. Her AIC quickly displayed several alternate energy curve traces of red and blue intersections DTM. None of them looked good enough for Dee to pull away from her present course.

Shit, thought so.

“You counting Azazel?” Dee swiveled her head about, watching for targets and lock ups and her wingman. His mecha popped into reality just a few tens of meters out in front of her in the middle of a pitch-over maneuver. Dee followed right up behind and over his nose. She could see the clone’s helmet in her peripheral vision glancing up at her as she passed by. “That’s one.”

“Yes, ma’am. I have tallied your kill. Thank you for alerting me.” The emotionless response came from her wingman as he bounced in and out of reality space about her energy curve.

“Watch it, First Lieutenant, that almost sounded like sarcasm and appropriately used,” she said. “Would hate to think some of my more human traits were rubbing off on you.”

“No, ma’am.”

His mecha flickered in and out like a blur and reappeared several hundred meters to port. Several more of the yellow targeting Xs in Dee’s mindview flickered red then yellow then red again and Dee hated that she couldn’t flash over there and kill some of them, but she ignored them and kept to her mission. Suddenly, she caught a glimpse of a possible energy curve intersecting with her wingman from beneath and past his three-nine line. And it was coming fast!

“Azazel! You’ve got a Chiata Gomer doing its best to lock up your underbelly! Take evasive maneuvers into my energy curve!” Dee ordered him nervously. “You’ve gotta move it Marine!”

“I see it, Phoenix.” Her wingman replied as calm as ever. Dee slammed the HOTAS forward, burning full throttle in fighter-mode to help close the gap. The QMT bouncing algorithm flashed her out-and-in almost within two hundred meters of her wingman’s vector.

“Azazel, pull back the HOTAS and feint just before your next out-and-in.” Dee ordered him. “Let’s see if we can’t sell this bastard some ocean front property in Nevada.”

“Roger that, Phoenix. Hitting the brakes in three, two, one.”

Her wingman’s mecha seemed to almost go backwards as he cut the relative velocity between the two of them. Dee closed the gap onto his energy vector almost instantly and so did the Chiata fighter. Just as it appeared the alien would get a sensor lock on Azazel, he feinted over, confusing targeting for a brief second longer and then he flashed out and back in more than three hundred meters above them. The Chiata must have been stunned because it reacted very slowly. Dee, on the other hand, wasn’t stunned at all and knew exactly what was going on and had the red targeting X to prove it.

“Guns, guns, guns! Fox Three!” she growled. Again the cannons burst through the shields, softening up the alien fighter for the missile. The mecha-to-mecha missile finished the job throwing another orange fireball with green flickering plasma and shrapnel in every direction.

“That’s two, Davy,” Dee whispered to herself just as she did her own out-and-in.

“Thank you, Phoenix.” Azazel said.

“You make good bait, wingman! That’s two. The tat shop’s gonna need a new jar of ink before the day’s done. Now let’s cut the goof-off time and do what we came for.”


Another out-and-in. This time she was up close and personal, with the Chiata target megaship. Playtime was over. It was time to go to work. Dee traced several energy lines in her DTM battlescape view and chose the most efficient one to target.

She was too close to the targeted megaship to worry about engaging more enemy fighters unless she wanted to create an upside down bowl on its surface and fight running and bouncing about from the low ground. Any good mech jock worth her weight in shit knew better than to take the low ground with no top cover. Besides, she needed to place her focus on breaching the hull of the megaship. While she wanted to kill a few more of the Chiata, her mission was the same as it had been for sixteen months. Breach the hull and stop the power grid from being set to self-destruct. She was certain that there would be plenty of opportunities to kill aliens once on board the megaship, but as it stood the mission was top priority—stop that self-destruct sequence. Doing that was a feat easier said than done.

They had learned the trick from Nancy Penzington’s last efforts. She had discovered how to disrupt the megaship self-destruct algorithm by taking out the power conduits between engineering and the BBDs. There had been no other combat pilots available during the engagement that was turning south on them, so as captain of her ship, the U.S.S. Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, she took it upon herself to board a mecha fighter and take matters into her own capable hands. As soon as she managed to take the energy conduits out, she had been overwhelmed by Chiata and was killed in action. But Captain Penzington had been on her own and in an older mecha.

USMC Major Deanna “Phoenix” Moore was bringing it with the new mecha that was more heavily armored and armed and equipped with quantum membrane teleportation uncertainty engines. Not to mention, the Buckley-Freeman shields and THE most bad-ass marine mecha pilot to ever a hump a Navy SEAL, an AI-driven clone, a full ruck, or anything else worth humping was working the hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) flight controls.

Dee jockeyed the HOTAS while her AIC worked the uncertainty flashes in and out of reality space. The Chiata fighters had no idea how to track them or target them. At least they didn’t yet. Dee hoped like Hell it stayed that way. As the Bringers of Hell closed on the bridge region just behind the BBD tuning fork, Dee could see in her DTM battlescape view the four supercarriers of the clone attack force beginning their ramming sequences on the targeted megaship. The bot-driven supercarriers punched into the hull of the alien vehicle firing all weapons, missiles, and directed energy guns. All the while, the Penzington was firing DEGs from the supercarrier legs and the Blue Beams of Death from Hell zigged and zagged about the engagement zone at targets of tactical priority, creating chaos amongst the Chiata. Random hyperspace jumps added to the chaos as well. It was clear to Dee that DeathRay was flying his megaship like it was a mecha fighter and there was none better, at least in the Navy.

One of the BBDs from the Penzington hit home on the target ship’s wingman megaship. The beams blasted through the shield generators and continued into the hull throwing vaporized metal and shrapnel in a wake of destruction behind it. DeathRay had gotten lucky and hit it just at the right place at the right time.

What a lucky hit! Dee thought.

Too bad we can’t do that with every shot, Bree agreed.

That ship must’ve been in trouble at the precise second and position the BBD hit it. Otherwise the shields should’ve held.

Perhaps the Chiata megaships are more vulnerable than we know.

Who knows? But, holy shit!

The ship bulged at the center just behind the blue beam guns and then it looked to Dee as if someone had inflated the ship with orange plasma that could no longer be contained. The ship burst at the seams, throwing orange and white plasmas from every rivet. Secondary explosions continued to run bow to stern of the ship until it finally gave up the ghost—assuming the Chiata had ghosts. The megaship exploded with the force of a gluonium bomb, throwing shrapnel in a spherical wavefront that pinged off the shields and armor of the larger ships and was no fun for the fighters either. The ball was filling up with debris that would become taxing on the shield generators after a long enough period of time.

The uncertainty of the trajectories of the Bringers’ mecha drove the probability of hit by the spreading debris field to almost zero, but the possibility was still there. Dee kept her eyes peeled for anything in her path, but the radar, lidar, and QMT sensors fed into the state vectors for the flight trajectory algorithm and kept her clear of the shrapnel fields as fast as computationally possible—and that was pretty damned fast.

The Bringers of Hell hit the surface of the ship at more than two kilometers per second relative velocity. The mecha of the squadron flared and rolled and pitched and yawed against the almost nonexistent but still there atmosphere of ionized hull plating, smoke, propellant, lubricant, and fluid leaks that always followed a starship of that size to bleed off energy until they all metamorphosed to bot-mode skittering, bouncing, judo rolling, and strafing targets on the surface of the alien ship. The dozen bot-mode mecha bounced around looking like skittering fleas on the back of a much larger animal. But these pests had no intent of cohabitating with the host. They planned to kill it and keep the carcass for their own purposes.

“Bravo Team, take the bridge!” Dee shouted through her abdominal clenching and guttural growls against the heavy g-loading and extreme jerk of the maneuvers. “Alpha team is with me to engineering. We have to stop that self-destruct sequence.”

“Fox!” First Lieutenant Azazel, her wingman, fired a heavy warhead armor buster into a seam near an airlock. The missile exploded just ahead of Dee who went to guns to help push through the bulkhead.

“Guns, guns, guns,” she shouted. The volleyball-sized green plasma cannon rounds finished opening up the rest of the hole the missile had started and the FM-14Xs began bursting through the gaping jagged hole that was still glowing red-hot. “We’re in. Stay with me team.”

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