So, there were still two jobs on the table. Find the Web-Way root and hunt down the remains of the Empires navy. Unfortunately the most likely locations of admiral Buchloren’s hideout were in the opposite direction from the four remaining systems that Harding believed might hide the Web-Way root. I decided that for now the admiral was the bigger problem. So I took official command of most of the Allied Fleet and started towards the suspected hideouts of the rogue admiral.
The first system we arrived in was full of space mines. Hadn’t seen those in awhile. As soon as we arrived back in normal space thousands of the blasted things came barreling at us. Big Blue was one of the best minesweepers in the fleet. Still, the sheer mass of explosives that came barreling towards us was just a little too much for us to handle.
Montana took some damage. A few other ships got clipped, but we took the brunt of it. We had to land and repair the hull. There was one inhabitable planet in the system. It had a relatively small human population. According to our maps it was known as Catriea. The only other note on this place was that something horrible had happened here in the past. Although said note was very vague on what that catastrophe was.
A moments observation illustrated what had happened. Something really big had crashed into this planets moon. Something bigger than an imperial battleship. Hard to tell what it used to be by the wreckage. Perhaps a hollowed out asteroid that had drifted through space for an insanely long time? Whatever it was it didn’t look natural. It had shifted the moons orbit while also severely damaging the moon itself. Rocks blasted from the moons surface occasionally hit the planet. At some point the moon itself would probably crash into the planet. Until then though the planet below was inhabitable. Perhaps at some point in the future the moons fall could be arrested or reversed. But that was far off in the future, for now we just needed a place to land.
After picking out way through the thickest swarm of meteorites that anyone aboard the Montana had ever seen we were able to land on the planet. While repairs were underway I went hunting with Linda. I had a craving for something besides shipboard rations and I figured that if this planet could sustain a small human civilization we could probably find something to eat. Linda had her silenced 6.5 caliber rifle that she had built. Like most of the things she owned. I had my M3 and revolver. A 41 magnum hollow point was suitable to kill most of the game animals in North America. It would probably work against whatever game was available on this particular dirt-ball. If not then Linda could probably handle anything else that came our way.
As we walked over a small rise I noticed some movement. I got my binoculars out and saw what it was. It appeared to be a deer, with magnificent, angular antlers and eight legs. I pointed to some nearby rocks and we took up a firing position. I was going to take out this creature, range was about 80 yards, no wind. I propped my revolver on top of a nice, round boulder. I sighted in on what I assumed to be the animals neck. Thumbed back the hammer and slowly started exerting pressure on the trigger.
Before my revolver went bang the creature exploded. Something resembling an antler came flying up and hit the rocks we were propped up on. Vaporized blood misted all over everything. Full power 41 mag hunting ammo is potent, but not that potent! I started looking around, I whispered, “what the hell was that?”
Linda replied, “don’t know, it was something big though.”
Two Eutopian’s walked up to the ugly red spot where the creature was. “Damn it Drurian, you had the thing cranked up to full power!”
“I’m sorry Carlen, I thought, oh, this is the full power setting? I thought it was the minimum setting. Good thing I never shot one of these on an indoor range.”
“I’ll say, at full power these things will kill an armored vehicle at a thousand paces.”
“And really show the local fauna what for!”
As they giggled at that comment I shouted down to them. “Hey, space cadets! That was our deer.”
As they looked around I started walking towards them. They recognized me and Linda. “Uh, admiral Hammond, sorry, that wasn’t intentional.”
I decided to play a hardass, “this what Eutopos navigation academy is cranking out these days? The kind of jack wagon who can’t even tell which way to turn a knob!?”
Sigh, I suppose since everyone thought the war was over it was time for the peanut gallery to have their chance at glory.
I looked at their gear. Drurian had a standard issue ECF Type 17 railgun rifle. Carlen however had something that I did not recognize in a hip holster. I shouted, “midshipman Carlen, present your weapon for inspection.”
He unholstered what looked like a somewhat overgrown submachine gun. It wasn’t a disintegrator, a railgun or a laser. It was a cartridge firing gun, weird to see an Eutopian carrying one. Fabricated of high grade sheet steel and milled billet components. With G10 composite grips and a laser sight. I tripped what I assumed was the magazine latch and a box full of what looked like rimless 12 gauge rounds slid out. While I was trying to understand this screwball weapon I asked, somewhat incredulously.
“Is this an auto loading shotgun the size of a submachine gun!? Who made this thing?”
Carlen explained, “I did sir. I like auto shotguns so I made one that can almost be carried concealed under a coat.”
I was geeking out over this thing. The grip was a little too big for my hands. But this was one of the neatest guns I had seen in years. I was about to ask Carlen if he could whip one up for me when my radio crackled to life. It was captain Hoover.
“Montana actual to Nelson, come in please.”
“Nelson here, go ahead.”
“Enemy ships have breached local terminus. We are engaging.”
We were going to be stuck down here until the fleet was dealt with. As if on cue a pair of Rhineland class cruisers streaked by on their way to battle. I observed, “alright, while the fleet is doing its thing we should probably just stay here and wait. These rocks should provide a decent fortification against any….”
I was cut off by a plasma blast which detonated a large boulder nearby. A little more than a kilometer away a squad of five armored warriors were stomping their way towards us. Everyone’s jaw dropped. Our Eutopians friends were in their normal bodies, not combat androids. Even if they had been we would have still been outnumbered and outgunned. A plan suddenly lurched into existence in my mind.
“Okay, we can’t stay here. They have weapons that can detonate rocks. We can outrun them though. There is a half ruined city about four clicks from here. That is a much more complex environment. Lots of life signs we will be able to hide there as opposed to standing out like a handful of sore thumbs in a bush out here. There will also be lots of big stone buildings that they can’t use their heavy weapons on without risking getting crushed.”
Drurian observed, “the three of us can run there pretty fast. But you are just a human. One of us will have to carry you.”
Linda stated, “not necessarily.”
She reached into her backpack and pulled out a very tightly folded Angel suit. I had never worn one before, I stated. “That won’t work for me, I have never used 5meoDMT.”
Linda explained, “that’s for use in combat where you have to do data management. All we are doing is running for cover. Just put this on, it will make it much easier for you to keep up with us.”
I assented and I started taking clothes off as we ran. It must have made for a rather comical and confusing image for anyone who might have been watching I had to take off everything to wear this particular garment. Once I got it on I had a moment of hesitation before I activated it. Then I heard an explosion, the imperials were fighting in the upper atmosphere. This was not the time or place to dick around.
The suit started collapsing onto me. For a moment it was like I was being wrapped in iron. Then I started to feel the abilities of the suit. The mobility, the flexibility and the unbelievable strength. Then I slipped on the goggles and I was completely overwhelmed by data. The suit was drinking in information from the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Thermal data, visual, biological. I asked Linda for help with the storm of information that was assailing me. She came back and adjusted the goggles. Thankfully this system had an easy setting that did not require several months of training to operate.
“Okay, I dialed it back to its lowest setting. You should just have thermal and radio data.”
“Roger, this is awesome! I can see everything, I feel like I could bench press a bus!”
“You could, but let’s save that for later. For now let’s just get out of here alright.”
“Right, start running and I will try to catch up.”
Eutopian cyborgs can easily run fifty miles per hour in a sprint. It was something that had pissed me off to no end since shortly after Linda had learned to walk. Now the shoe was on the other foot. I could finally outrun my sister. It was a wild experience running that fast, it didn’t even feel like running. More like bouncing on the ground like a trampoline. My bounding leaps soon stretched out into gliding. I was using my wings without conscious thought. I leapt into the air and started soaring.
God what a rush! The volunteers who used these suits said the experience was addicting and I could see why. Even a Bugatti fighter did not provide a sensation of flight like this! So this was what it felt like to be my sister? Super strong, immune to any weapon but a gunshot to the head. Suddenly I could see why she did all the crazy stuff she had. It wasn’t recklessness, it was confidence. Boundless confidence, I just wanted to stay like this forever.
Linda screamed at me to get down from there. I looked around and realized that I was orbiting around a moss covered ruined building. I had already covered the four kilometers and Linda wasn’t yelling at me with her voice. It was a radio transmission. I had lost her. So I glided back down to the ground and went looking for her. Though it wasn’t too difficult. After all I was wearing a sophisticated sensor package designed to find people.
While I basked in the afterglow of flight, Drurian had found a nice abandoned building for us to hide in. The city may have been a wreck, but there was still plenty of people there who were running in panic at the chaos that was being unleashed above. It looked like there was a heck of a fight going on up there. My radio squawked, it was a general message to anyone remaining on the planet.
“Two imperial cruisers have breached this star system. Admiral Dufour is in command. Any allied personnel should remain in their current location and await pickup once enemy assets are dealt with. Repeat, shelter in place. Thank you.”
I observed, “well, sounds like nothing to worry about. The fleet will deal with this and we will be out of here in a couple of hours at the most.”
An explosion rang out. I looked around, using thermal vision I could see right through the walls of the building. There was an angry mob outside. They looked pretty heavily armed. This didn’t make any sense. The imperial authorities had very strict gun control laws. Shots rang out, I could see that instead of generating heat like normal weapons fire, many of these guns were belching clouds of cold air. They were armed with what looked like muzzleloading muskets and high powered air guns. They must have been exempted from imperial weapons laws.
I asked if anyone here wanted to try ask what got the locals so upset. Carlen shouted to them in the imperial military dialect why were they attacking. It took awhile but someone shouted.
“The only way that the sky people will allow us to go on living is if we deliver them your heads.”
I observed, “and here I was told that this was a peaceful planet. A nice quiet backwater with a tiny population.”
More explosions, they were chucking crude explosives at us. Linda shouted, “we can’t stay here. Sooner or later the walls will collapse and they will come streaming in. Probably the only thing that has stopped them from charging straight in at us is that they probably think we have machine guns.”
Drurian asked, “so what do you think we should do?”
I referenced an internal map, automatically generated during my flight. “Less than a click from here is the central tower. We get there and we will be able to climb up to a spot where we can signal for rescue. That building is built much stronger than anything else in this area. It’s a local strategic asset. It holds their water supply. They will be reluctant to destroy it and we will have many places to hide.”
Carlen asked, “okay, so how do we get there? You are the only one here who can fly. Then again if we flew out of here they would probably turn the sky into lead.”
There was only one way out. Straight through the mob. We all opened up with our guns as fast as we could fire. My father hated handheld railguns and disintegrators. Railguns especially were heavy and kicked worse than any chemically powered gun in existence. But the real reason why he intensely disliked using them was because of what they did to a human body.
I could understand his point now. Pictures and even video did not do justice to the horror of this experience. There were hundreds of people in that angry mob when we opened up on them we went through them like paper. I swept with my disintegrator, Drurian fired his railgun on its lowest setting. Linda blasted away with her rifle. Carlen revealed to us another reason why he had built his unique little shotgun. He was a terrible shot. At this range it didn’t matter too much. His laser sight projected a pattern of where his buckshot would go. It more than made up for his lousy shooting skill.
Once the crowd was pushed back we started running over to the central tower. I tried to keep my head up. The stink of torn up human bodies assaulted my nose. It was all they had left to attack us with. Blood, bone, fat, bits of organs, the remains of what had once been dozens of people sprayed all over the cobblestone streets. Too bad for them. They were the ones who brought air guns to a doomsday device fight.
When we got to the central tower Drurian opened the main entrance to the building by ripping the twelve foot tall solid wood doors off with his bare hands. We needed to get to the top of this thing as fast as we could and call for extraction.
The building was massive, inside and outside. The whole thing was built of cut stone. Must have been built before the empire emerged. They never did this sort of thing for the locals.
Once we were inside it became clear that there were plenty of hostile people inside the central tower. Perhaps they were guards, perhaps they figured that we were going to come here. Perhaps this was the base for operation kick our butts. What mattered was that we were engaged in a continuous bounding overwatch as we worked our way up into the building. I had a habit of carrying downright absurd amounts of ammunition with me ever since the Guangxi incident and I was glad of it that day.
As twisted as it may sound, I kinda enjoyed the experience. Wearing that suit I was pretty insensitive to anything the locals had. Occasionally I felt the impact of a high velocity lead slug from a musket or an air gun. It didn’t even slow me down. I could fly, very quickly and my cyborg friends could run up very steep slopes. Of which there were a great many in this building. The inside of the building itself was beautiful. Everywhere, there were plants and polished stone and water. Water was flowing like a river through parkland. Interesting way of doing water management as opposed to just funneling it though pipes.
Grenades flew as we ran alongside water channels that ran through the building. The blasts knocked me off my feet. I grabbed Linda to keep her from going in and saw Carlen and Drurian get caught in the fast flowing water. We were going to have to find them later and hope that they survived. They may have been able to survive in space. But I had no idea if they were gong to live through whatever that water flowed towards.
I looked around, there were a bunch of kids down a hallway who were lighting fuses on crude grenades. I was so enraged by them knocking my friends into the water that I fired right at them. One of my 10MM rounds caught a bomb thrower right in the neck. He arched backwards in a way that signified instant death. In case he wasn’t dead enough he dropped his lit bomb, amidst other bombs.
Bits of stone flew at me. A disintegration dampener and electronic hearing protection built into the helmet of the suit protected my hearing. Though I had to grit my teeth through the concussion. Linda pulled herself the rest of the way out of the raging river inside the building and I looked up to see the top of the building, just in sight. I told her to start calling for an emergency extraction immediately.
We made it to the top. Just as a huge ship was coming down over the city. It wasn’t one of ours. Looked like an imperial corvette, mortally wounded and breaking up into flaming bits as it fell through the atmosphere. It was going to hit nearby, when it did it was going to make an awful mess. We really had to go.
Linda got on the radio to the fleet. An Auxiliary Fleet cruiser was coming to pick us up. She said it would be here in ten minutes. I looked around, this couldn’t be it. There had to be something else that they could throw at us. A little voice in the back of my head said there was no way that the two of us could just kill all of these people in close quarters combat and get away free and easy. That’s when I heard a sound I had never heard before. The distinctive chop chop chop of powered rotary wings. Not like the gentle, quiet swoosh of an autogyro. These things beat the air into submission, helicopters. Of course the locals had them. They knew they wouldn’t have been able to kill us with lead balls powered by air and black powder. But the unguided rockets and plasma cannons on one of their gunships would shake and bake us quite nicely.
They were out of sight for now. There was no way that they were going to come within range of my disintegrator. Even if I wasn’t down to 2% power. I turned up the sensors on my goggles. They were flying just below my line of sight, alongside the building at about thirty miles per hour. A plan formed in my mind. I admit it wasn’t a good one but I admit I’m not that great at thinking on my feet. I put in my last magazine of 10MM rounds. I had used all my hollow point and full metal jacket practice rounds. All I had left was experimental high velocity tungsten penetrator rounds that I hadn’t even tested on a firing range yet. I wasn’t sure that they would even function reliably in my gun.
I took a deep breath and grabbed my sisters head. Looking deep into her eyes and asked, “Linda, do you trust me?”
“More than anyone.”
I kissed her forehead and told her. “Whatever you do, don’t try to stop me.”
She looked confused, she became even more confused as I pushed her to the ground. Once as she fell backwards I started running to the edge of the building. The helicopters were starting to turn away. Getting into firing position. I was only going to get one shot at this.
I leapt off the edge. The helicopters were about a couple hundred yards away. The heat plumes from their turboshaft engines lit up the air like a warm bath. I glided towards the nearest machine. I remembered the first time I had examined a helicopter. That absurd tail rotor, stealing power from the main engine. So many delicate and complicated parts that simply had to function perfectly together or else the whole thing would augur out of the sky like a winged seed.
There was no way they could see me approaching from behind. I got to within 30 yards. The ragged edge of what I considered possible accurate range in these conditions and drew a bead. I could see the tail rotor, swishing through the air. The entire universe dissolved away into the eternal now as I closed the range. There was nothing, no war, no home, no ships, no fleet, no love, no hate. There was just me, that tail rotor and my gun.
I flicked down the selector to full auto and I swear I could see the bullets arcing towards the rotor. Some missed, but enough struck that the machine started to swerve wildly and smoke. As it fell away I turned my attention to the other helicopter. I hoped that I had enough bullets left to do that again. I shifted my aim, but the surviving pilot was on to me. He began swinging his tail around. I couldn’t get a clear shot. In moments he would be able to bring its weapons to bear. So I dove towards his tail, trying to get it before he could get me. For a moment we were both in the awkward position of turning to gain an advantage. We couldn’t spin forever, and he had much more bullets than I did. Combat tactics, I had to get inside his thought loop. So I reversed course. Turned inside his spin and closed the distance. All the way to his cockpit.
I hit his glass like a bug. I was very pleasantly surprised that I did not instantly die from the impact. It still hurt though. I looked in and saw the pilot, I couldn’t see his gunner. But I could see him, he had long, wild blonde hair and a great bushy beard erupting from the bottom of his helmet. I put my M3 right against the glass as I grabbed onto what I assumed to be a handhold for getting in and out of this monstrosity and motioned for him to land immediately.
For a few moments he just sat there with a look of disbelief on his face. Then he acknowledged what was happening and decided to get me off his flying machine. He pushed his throttle up and pulled up into a climb. Then he did something that I did not see coming. He barrel rolled the helicopter.
I suppose he hadn’t counted on my enhanced strength, the downdraft from his rotors and my sheer determination to not be turned into hamburger. We rolled out and after he picked up some speed in a dive he pulled up into a loop. He was inside my thought loop. I couldn’t hold on forever. So I decided to end this. I took aim right at him. Then I realized that the glass might be tough enough to absorb the bullets. Or worse, bounce them back at me. The attack helicopter I had examined back when this war started had glass like a bank vault. So I aimed right at the main rotor.
I emptied the mag. I must have used up a huge amount of luck in that moment. As I fired some of my empty brass got sucked into the turbine intakes. The delicate mechanical balances that allowed this machine fly were noticeably upset as a variety of extremely unpleasant sounds began to play a symphony of discord. I took a deep breath and realized what I had to do. I had to drop away and fly away from this thing before it crashed. I looked down into the cockpit to see the bearded man desperately fighting his controls. He looked at me with a glare of utter hatred. I had hurt his machine and had probably killed him. I could see what he was really mad about was the fact that there was nothing more he could do about it. As I let go of the handhold I allowed my hand to form into a fist with a raised middle finger as I slid away.
I was free falling. The city spread out below me, not all that far away. I started flapping as hard as I could. Then I realized that I was using my arms, not my wings. I leveled out into flight and looked up to see the helicopter was completely out of control. Then the rotors simply snapped off and the whole thing just fell like a brick.
I landed back on the roof of the tower. I looked down to see that I was still holding my M3. Though my hand gloved with ultra fiber had squeezed the plastic pistol grip to near oblivion. I chuckled at that as Linda walked up to me in a state of shock. She was completely speechless. I couldn’t think of anything to say either. I had just shot down two heavily armored attack helicopters with a submachine gun. The day wasn’t over just yet though. More explosions rang out. Someone was coming up the stairs. Linda had scavenged a few of the locals crude grenades and was about to throw them down the stairs when the distinct report of a short barreled shotgun blast announced their identity. I shouted down, “Carlen, is that you!?”
“Damn right it’s me. I have Drurian here too. He got hit on the head pretty hard and lost his railgun in the water. I’m down to one mag of shells. You didn’t think that getting caught in an aqueduct was going to kill us did you?”
“Just get up here right now, evac is on its way.”
Carlen staggered to the roof. He was a mess of cuts and bruises. Drurian looked like his skull had been almost caved in. Carlen kept his shotgun trained on the stairway rut until the AF light cruiser Hoffman’s Revenge came into view. They lowered a ladder and we got onboard as quick as we could. This planet was a complete mess and I was glad to get off it. As enjoyable as it had been to wear an ultra-fiber suit the landing on Catreia was one of the worst days of my life. We must have killed hundreds of people in that mad escape. It’s one thing to drop ordinance on a city from hundreds of miles away. It’s quite another to take people’s lives at a close enough distance for them to take yours.