Monday, January 28, 2013

Writing: The Charge of the Danoans, Chapter One, Part 2

The following is Part 2 of Chapter One of my second novel submission to Black Library, entitled The Charge of the Danoans.  

Chapter One, Part 1 is located here.

Simms arrived first, in his naval security uniform and body armor.  His helmet was tucked under his arm, his combat shotgun slung on his back. His belt was fully stocked with shells and grenades.  His face was grim, and far too young for this.     Lieutenant Horsten arrived a moment later, still fiddling with his flight suit and gear.  The news that he had already lost a third of his pilots hadn’t quite hit him yet.  He looked eager to fight.

Pierce got right to the point.  “We’re under attack by unknown forces.  They’ve already taken out four fighters, our vox-communications antenna, and our weapons systems.  They have at least one ship inbound, and it will be here in an hour.”

 “I’ll have a fighter ready for launch in less than fifteen minutes,” said Horsten.

“It’s already too late for that,” replied Pierce.  “It’ll get destroyed the second it takes off.  We attempted to send a message to Danoan, but I don’t know if it got off in time.  Best case, help is days away.”  They all knew what that meant.

“Any idea who the attackers are?” asked Simms after a moment.

“No.” Pierce shook his head.  “But if they wanted to destroy the station, we’d be dead already.  My guess is, whoever they are, they want it intact.”

“Then we deny it to them.”

Pierce nodded. “I know we don’t have much in the way of interior defenses, but we have to make do with what we have.  Simms, I want you to distribute the weapons as best you can--to the pilots, staff, everyone.  And come up with a defense plan in case we get hit with assault troops.”  

“Aye, sir.  I think they’ll either try to come in through the launch bays, the defense laser turret, or the missile turrets.  Those are the only parts of the station that have easy access to the interior.”

“Can we rig the launch bays with explosives?” Pierce asked Horsten.  “Maybe we can use them against the attackers.”

“We could try to set up something with the fighters’ missile warheads.  But without an tech-priest?  We’d be just as likely to blow ourselves up as the enemy.”  

“I don’t see that we have much choice.”

“You know, they might not be after the station,” said Horsten thoughtfully.  “They might be after us.”

That sent a chill down Pierce’s spine.  

Pierce gave them their orders and dismissed them.  He took a deep shuddering breath, then returned to the Operations Center.   “Anything new?”

Rogell was pale, but so far he was keeping it together.  “No.  The contact is still approaching, course and speed unchanged.”  

 “Very well.  Open the station-wide circuit,” he said, picking up a vox-mike.  He needed to get the announcement over with, and decided to just plow into it.  “This is Lieutenant Pierce.  The station is under attack by unknown forces.  We have sent a message to Danoan informing them of the situation.  It is likely that the enemy will attempt to board the station.  Petty Officer Simms and his Naval Security Team will be distributing weapons to all personnel and positioning them accordingly.  I command everyone to follow his orders in this matter.   We will repel any assault, and hold out until reinforcements arrive.  The Emperor protects.”   

He wished he believed it.

Five minutes later the external sensors went offline and Pierce no longer had any eyes to the outside.  Ten minutes after that a pair of Naval Security personnel arrived in the Operations Center and distributed laspistols to the staff.  Pierce was already wearing his sidearm, but took another.  His naval saber was in his quarters, but he didn’t see the use of it here.  Another gun would serve him better when the time came.

Though the external sensors were down, he still had full access to the station’s internal pict recorders.  Through the displays he could see Petty Officer Simms organizing the defense, setting up makeshift barricades along the choke points.  Maintenance personnel were using plasma-welders to seal off doors leading to the missile bays and defense laser.  Horsten was directing other maintenance and ordnance crews in a frantic attempt to extract missile warheads from the Furies’ stockpiles.

Thirty minutes had gone by, each one an interminable agony.  Finally Pierce picked up the vox-receiver and keyed in the launch bay’s code.

Watching the pict-display he saw Horsten walk quickly over to vox by the door and pick up the receiver.  “Horsten,” he said. 

"What’s your status?”

“Not good, sir,” he said, looking up at the nearest pict-recorder, his face bleak.  “We’ve detached several warheads, but we don’t know the proper rites to set them up properly.  If we don’t treat the machine spirits right, these things will blow up in our faces.  If we had an tech-priest, this would be simple...”

“Well, we don’t have one, Lieutenant,” Pierce cut him off in irritation.  “We probably have less than twenty minutes until we’re in the middle of it.  You need to rig those warheads up, and you need to do it now.  Out.” He hung up the receiver.

On the display he watched Horsten hang up his own receiver, glaring at the pict-recorder in helpless anger.  Horsten turned and started to walk away, but then jerked his head toward the launch bay doors.  Every other maintenance crewmember did the same.  The pict-recorder that focused on the launch bay doors was showing a blast of sparks as something began to burn through it, arcing around to make a circle.  Smoke billowed away as the ceramite reacted violently to whatever was destroying it.   

Pierce instinctively grabbed for the vox-receiver again, his eyes glued to the pict-screen.  When he saw what was happening, he didn’t bother dialing in the code.  Along with him, the operations staff watched the horror play out in silence.

Lieutenant Horsten was waving frantically to his men, directing them to evacuate, his laspistol in his hand.  Some them dropped what they were doing and ran for the exit.  Others lingered, trying to salvage the warheads they were working on.  A few more drew their pistols, trying to evacuate the others while keeping an eye on the door.

With a final blast of smoke and sparks, the circular chunk of ceramite, more than two meters across, was heaved into the launch bay to crash into the floor.  After a long second, a vague shape burst through the smoke, followed by another and another.  The shapes were roughly man-sized, but distorted and semi-transparent.  Pierce didn’t know what to make of it. Immediately upon entering the launch bay, the shapes began firing.  Streams of pulsing blue fire lanced across the bay, cutting down everyone who was still in the open.  

Some of the crew had escaped the bay by now, and Pierce looked from pict-screen to pict-screen, trying to find Lieutenant Horsten.  He found him splayed out on the deck, dead.  He recognized Horsten’s distinctive flight suit, but his head had been reduced to smoking charcoal. The remaining maintenance crews got off a few panicked shots before they were killed.  The last tech was able to get the door shut behind him.  The massacre had only taken a few seconds, and now more transparent shapes were visible entering the bay.

Pierce had a sudden thought.  “Quick,” he said to one of the techs.  “Override the launch bay doors and command them to open.”

“Why?  We want to keep them out, not give them an easier way in!” objected Ensign Rogell.

“Do it!” Pierce reiterated to the tech.  He looked at Rogell.  “They have a docking tunnel clamped onto the launch bay doors.  If we open them, in addition to depressurizing the bay, it might wreck their docking system.  Do it!” he repeated urgently, looking at the pict-screen and seeing nothing happening.

“Negative, sir,” said the tech apologetically.  “The doors aren’t responding.”

Pierce slammed his fist onto the console.  In the silence that followed they watched the intruders pile into the bay, more than a dozen now, moving about the bay, apparently exploring it.

“They’re leaving the pict-recorders alone,” Rogell noted uselessly.

“That’s because they don’t care,” Pierce snarled.

A static-filled voice came over the speakers, causing Pierce to jump.  “This is Simms, vox check.”

Pierce keyed the vox-mike.  “Pierce here.  They’re coming in through the launch bay.”

“Already on my way,” Simms said through heavy static.  Wireless vox had never worked well in the station.  

“They’re also using some kind of advanced cameoline.  They’re visible, but barely.”


“They look to be using some kind of rapid-fire plasma weaponry.  We can see at least a dozen in the launch bay now.”

“I’ll be there in thirty seconds.”  

Pierce and the operations staff followed their progress on the monitors.  The naval security fire team of four men armed with combat shotguns led a much larger group of station crew through the passageways.  The second fireteam was already in position outside the launch bay entrance, two of them trying to organize the panicked maintenance crew while another two covered the door.

Pierce keyed his mike again.  “They’re beginning to mass on the other side of the door--it looks like they’re getting ready come in.  Move!”

Simms didn’t have time to respond.  One of the shapes fired a shot that turned the heavy steel door to slag.  The sudden blast of heat caused some of the defenders to recoil, but the security team, protected by their body armor, responded by opening fire.  Their shotguns boomed as they fired dozens of rounds through the door.  Blue pulses answered.  The doorway was obscured by thick smoke, illuminated by the pulses of blue light shooting through it.  Pierce saw one of the security men go down, but the rest of the action was swallowed in a chaos of flashes, smoke, and explosions.  One of the displays suddenly went to static as its pict-recorder was hit by a stray shot.

Simms was shouting orders over the vox.  His fire team arrived on the scene only to plow into a crowd of crewmen trying to escape.  The fire team shoved their way past.  Simms finally broke free of the press and took up a firing position, shouting into the vox to get a status report from his other team.  The only answer was bursts of pulse fire.  Pierce watched Simms prime a grenade and hurl it down the passage.  Before it exploded he had another one out, and he threw that one as well, followed by a third.  The pulse fire stopped, but only for a moment.  It was enough for Simms’ team to get into firing positions.  

A small object appeared from the obscuring smoke in the passage, skittering along the floor in the midst of the fire team.  “Grenade!” someone shouted over the vox, and the pict-screen went to static.

From another pict-screen they could see down the passage but it was impossible to see what was going on amidst all the smoke.  

“Fall back!” Simms’ voice came over the vox.  “Fall back to...” His voice was suddenly cut off in a rush of static.

Several curses and unintelligible shouts came over the vox.  There was still gunfire, but now the pict-screen was completely obscured.  Finally there came a flurry of shotgun blasts, a rapid fire burst of more than a dozen booming shots, and then as quickly as it started it stopped.  The vox was reduced to chittering static, and after a moment Pierce reached out and turned down the volume.

For the next few minutes the operations center was deathly quiet as they watched the rout on the remaining pict-screens.  They showed terrible images of desperate crewmen running for their lives, only to be cut down from behind by relentless fire.  A few brave souls attempted to fight back, but the result was always the same.  They were outgunned and outclassed, and they never had a chance.

At the speed they were moving obvious that the attackers would reach the operations center in only a few moments.  In order to survive Pierce knew they needed to hold out for days.  It looked like they were going to last less than thirty minutes.

Fear gripped Pierce’s throat but he forced himself to speak.  “They’ll be here soon,” he said, his voice a dry rasp.  “Check your weapons, and find a firing position.”

The operations crew looked terrified, but did as they were told.  The act of checking their weapons gave them something to do.  They moved around the room slowly and uncertainly, picking their final resting places with fatalistic care.  They settled into their positions, watching the door.  

Pierce had chosen a position near to the center of the room, crouching behind a bank of consoles.  He checked his field of fire, and saw his cup of caffeine sitting on the console, distractingly in the way.  He reached out to move it.  Still lukewarm.  He contemplated just tossing it onto the floor, but instead he twisted around and gently placed it on another console behind him.

He took out both of his pistols and laid them on the console ahead.  Then he took out every power cell he had on him, and laid them on the floor within easy reach.  Picking up his pistols again, he checked to ensure the safeties were off, and rested his forearms on the edge of the console.  He focused on breathing slowly and deeply.  He was ready.

“The Emperor protects,” one of the crewmen said in the silence.  There were a few quiet replies and murmurs as each man prepared himself for their last stand.

It didn’t take long.  They could hear noises outside the door, and every man raised his weapons.  The door flared red hot, the paint blackening and blistering.  Pierce felt its heat on his face and hands.  The door went from orange to white, and then slumped into a molten pool, tiny bits of metal and paints burning into ash.  No one waited to see a target.   Nine laspistols opened fire, sending red pulses into the smoke.  Streaming bursts of blue light answered.

Pierce pulled the trigger of his two pistols in sequence, steadily and repeatedly.  He could see the distorted shapes moving in the smoke, and aimed at the center of mass.  His shots flashed as they connected; he knew he was hitting his targets, but it was hard to tell if they even noticed.  He was unaware of most of the action around him, but his men were putting up a fight, and dying.

After twenty shots from each pistol, the power cells were empty.  He dropped the left pistol and thumbed the release on the right one, and its power cell fell to the floor.  His left hand had already retrieved another one, and he slapped it home.  He brought the laspistol back on target and was firing again in less than three seconds.  

When it came, the end was quick.

A burst hit the console in front of Pierce, causing him to stagger back and into the open.  A follow-up burst stitched diagonally across his body, hitting his kneecap, chest, right forearm. The pistol flew from his grip.  He fell down with a thud, slamming into the console behind him and cracking his head against the metal.   He sat dazed as discrete bursts of firing lasted another few seconds and then went silent.  

A distorted shape moved in front of him and shimmered, then solidified into dark suit of battle armor.  Its right arm consisted of an integral multi-barreled burst cannon, the muzzle smoking.  The battlesuit’s large helmet covered the front of the torso in addition to the head.  The unblinking optics on its faceplate aligned on him, and the suit took a knee in front of him, a startlingly human gesture.

The suit regarded him dispassionately for a moment.  Pierce looked back, feeling nothing.
His final thought was the recognition of his enemy.


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