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Chapter 7

July 24, 2409 AD

Mission Star 74

Chiata Expanse

783 light-years from the Sol System

Saturday, 11:00 A.M. Eastern Time

“CHENG! Where are my goddamned jumps?” Jack shouted at the Jacob clone through the ship’s commandnet. “Thirty-one, we can’t wait any longer!”

“Sorry, sir. It would appear the aliens have figured out just where to hit us to slow us down. The last several hits were precisely targeted and backed us up several minutes.” The clone CHENG replied. “We fix one system and the Chiata blast another. We are holding engineering for now, sir, but I fear we cannot hold it much longer. If engineering is overrun the ship will be lost, Admiral.”

“Understood, CHENG. Fix my goddamn jump drive!”

“Aye sir.”

“Ground Boss! Where are the tanks?”

“They are fighting their way through the blurs on decks twenty through twenty-three, Admiral Boland, but the numbers are just too great.”

“Phoenix to DeathRay!” Dee’s voice popped into the bridge audio pulling Jack further into the reality that they were in a trap and it was being sprung on them. They were aggressive rats after the cheese but somebody had just dumped a shitload of cats on top of them. At some point fighting all those cats wouldn’t be worth holding onto the cheese. And the cheese wasn’t going to be worth it if they got killed before they could eat it.

“Shit, what now,” Jack asked her rhetorically because he suspected Dee’s team was in the same situation he was. He could use her and her squad on the Penzington now. “Go, Dee!”

“DeathRay, I don’t think we can hold this ship any longer. I have an idea though.” Dee responded.

“I’m all ears, Dee.” DeathRay said. “I’d piss on a sparkplug if I thought it’d help.”

“We QMT the ships back to base with boarding parties and all. Then we get reinforcements to mop them up.” Dee paused briefly before she finished. “My engineer tells me that if we just defend the main jump energy systems that the bots can have it going in another minute or two.”

“Good idea, Dee.” Jack turned and looked at the battlescape ball and decided the system was a fucking loss, but if they could get out with another megaship and superweapon it wouldn’t have been a completely wasted mission. He opened an all hands channel reluctantly but with purpose.

“All hands, this is Admiral Boland. I’m calling all teams to the Penzington or the target ship whichever you were designated. Get out of the ball and into a ship now. Once there you will stay on board your designated ship and defend the energy conduit systems being highlighted in your DTMs now. We fight the aliens back so we can repair and jump. We will jump the instant the QMTs are online whether you are with us or not so don’t get left behind. Make it happen, teams! Make it happen! Boland out.”

Candis, he thought to his AIC. Keep a real-time zoomed view of the critical systems of both ships’ jump systems up for the bridge crew. And give me an ETA clock for repair completion to jump. And keep track on all personnel. I know I said it, but I ain’t leaving anyone behind, understood?

Roger that, Jack.

And I want you to monitor both engineering teams constantly and let me know immediately if it looks like they are running into any hiccups.



“Roger that, DeathRay,” Dee replied as she switched channels back to her teams. “You heard the admiral. We get this ship ready to go and get out of here now!”

The supercarriers designed for the taking of a megaship were still supercarriers. While they could be run on auto by various AIs they still had a skeleton crew, a minimal defense team, and just about as many builder bots as could be stuffed in them. Millions of the bots would flood the Chiata megaship after it was rammed. That was the plan that had worked over a dozen times before. But this time there were so many more Chiata than ever before and they were still coming. Dee pulled up the icon for the clone CHENGs for the four supercarriers and opened a channel direct to them.

“Okay CHENGs, you heard the admiral. How long until we can QMT the fuck out of here?”

“Major Moore, we are good to go on three of the four systems presently,” the ranking CHENG began. “The Chiata have concentrated their efforts on our connections between ship two here at the forward port position and the alien megaship. It is possible that we could adjust the calculations and simply encompass a larger sphere and snap back to the FOB now.”

“Then do it! Do it and we’ll get reinforcements there!” Dee was ready to get the hell out of that system. The flood of aliens continued to pour in on them and it didn’t look like it would change anytime soon. She knew for sure that if they continued fighting the never-ending flood of alien blurs, porcupines, and megaship porcusnails they were going to die. She had too much killing to do and too much Hell to bring before she could allow that to happen.

“Yes, Major.” the CHENGs replied in clone unison.

“DeathRay, this is Phoenix! Our systems are ready enough. Permission to QMT to FOB!”

“Go, Dee. If you can jump, get the Hell out of here.”

“Roger that, Admiral. Don’t stay behind too long.”

“Don’t worry about us, Dee. Get your ass home.”

“Affirmative. Good luck, Admiral Boland. Phoenix out,” Dee said hoping he would get his ass home safely. Dee wasn’t sure her psyche could handle another major loss.

Dee looked at the blue force icons in her DTM as she bounced around the corridor just outside of main engineering on the Chiata ship blasting away at any Chiata in her path. An alien blur zipped by her, wrapping one of the biomechanical black tendrils around her mecha giving it a spin. Dee whirled around like a top firing her boot jets and rear thrusters doing her best to right herself. She flailed out with her left mechanized hand tearing through the bulkhead to make a handhold. Her grasp halted her spin, allowing her to stand upright and go to her guns. She burst through the bulkhead with her plasma cannons hot on the tail of the blur that had just engaged her.

The blur led her up several decks trading volleys of plasma and directed energy fire. Several times Azazel almost managed to head the alien off but he never was able to get a clean shot. Then he picked up a tail and the two of them were having a difficult time covering each other’s asses.

“Azazel, I’ve had enough of this shit!” She looked at the blue energy lines of their two fighters overlaid on the ship’s internal map and at all the red dots and lines bouncing about them. Clearly two of the lines were intertwined with theirs and were anticipating every move they were making.

“What do you propose, Major?” her wingman asked.

“Keep an eye on the QMT clock, but otherwise, I’m going to out-and-in on this mother!” She thought about her strategy for just a moment as she scrolled through the map. Then she saw the perfect spot for a killing field. “Here, Azazel. Push to this chamber and I’ll be there and trigger happy. You have five seconds. Go!”

Four, three, two . . .

Now, Bree!

Dee’s mecha popped out of reality space and then back in just a few hundred meters in front of Azazel and the alien blurs on their tails. Her plan had worked. When she had popped out of reality her tail had joined in the closest target, which had been her wingman. Azazel was holding his own, but couldn’t last forever like that. He didn’t have to.

“Major, now would be as good a time as any for you to engage,” he said just as his mecha ran past her at over a hundred kilometers per hour screeching, scraping, and pounding the bulkheads and deck plating throwing sparks and plasma fire in all directions.

“Fox Three! Fox Three! Guns guns guns!” Dee locked on to the two blurs just as they burst into the room behind him. “I’ve got ’em!”

Dee kept on her guns until the two red dots in her mind turned black and then vanished. In reality space in front of her they weren’t black dots at all. They were burning and exploding orange and white plasma fires. Davy would have been proud.

Dee checked the QMT clock and they still had some time so she scanned the battlescape DTM for any teams that might need some extra firepower and, for the most part, more Chiata that needed killing.

Several tankheads were holding their own against the Chiata near her and Azazel. They were presently three decks below the command bubble of the megaship doing their best to keep the aliens off the command team up there. But they’d soon be overrun if they didn’t get reinforcements. Dee considered herself just that.

“Guns, guns, guns!” She squeezed the trigger on the HOTAS and then toggled from bot-mode to eagle-mode kicking in the propellantless drive for more speed. “Listen up, everyone! No more out-and-ins until I say. We are too close now to the jump. The CHENGs are about to snap us back to the FOB.”

The countdown clock was being transmitted through the blue force DTM to the entire fleet. It wound down to zero and then there was a brief flash of white and blue light and some sparkles in Dee’s eyes but there was no sound of bacon frying or the prolonged flashes a standard QMT typically generated. Something was wrong with the jump.

“Engineering! What the hell is happening?” she exclaimed.

“The engines are running, but we went nowhere.” The clones all answered again almost in unison.

“Why not!”

“It would appear that this solar system has a damping technology in place somewhere. I do not believe we can leave it.”

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Tell DeathRay and dump all data you have to the Penzington!” Dee slammed her armored fist against the canopy of her mecha with each outburst causing her personal barrier system to flicker greens and blues as she did. She screamed again several times at the top of her lungs. She had been trapped by the Chiata before and didn’t want to be there again.

“Phoenix, in front of you,” Azazel warned her.

Keep it frosty, Marine! Bree scolded her.

Frosty my ass.

Several red and green blurs zipped across the corridor below her and toward the aft end of the large chamber. They were getting position on her and without the out-and-ins they could target her mecha easier.

“Warning! Enemy radar targeting lock imminent! Warning . . .” Her Bitchin’ Betty chimed at her warning that she was being targeted.

“Yeah, no shit,” she muttered.

“They’re going to lock you up, Major!” Azazel sounded frantic for the first time ever.

“All teams, the QMT out of system is nonfunctional! I repeat, we are stuck here in this system! Out-and-ins appear to be working still, so do that and stay alive. More instructions on the way!” She announced and hit the QMT jump system. Her mecha did a quick out-and-in. “At least that shit works.”

Why does that work and not the bigger QMTs?

I’m asking the CHENG and STO AICs, Dee. Her AIC told her.

Keep me posted!

Roger that.

“Dee, this is DeathRay. We cannot hold these ships much longer. I’m sending coordinates for ramming targets. We will scuttle your ship and pull everyone to the Penzington. If you can, give me one more shot with the Buckley weapon and then blow it up. Maybe we can hold out on the Penzington until we can figure out how to get the hell out of here!”

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