This rather short (3000 words) story is set in my future history. It details a military raid by a group of genetically modified humans on the command post of alien occupiers. As the story says, the year is 3845CE and the action takes place on the planet Erta during the Fourth Federation War. This is a new story. I wrote it on a Saturday in September, and have only edited it three times, so it might need another look or some revision. Note that the timeframe for this story is near the technological height of the Empire of Humanity, allowing for things like disintegrator and molecular disruption hand weapons and extreme biological an nanomechanical devices and modification. Don't ask me how any of them work; if I knew, I'd be rich.
16:45:05 237-3845 Universal Terran Chronometer
The hastily converted freighter had left its covert base on the wind-swept steppes of the moon Nokara an hour earlier. With electromagnetic stealth shields functioning flawlessly, it had begun its gradual deceleration, passing through Erta’s magnetosphere and positioning itself for a daylight descent into the northern hemisphere of the parent world.
The occupation fleet of the Grand Federation of Races maintained a presence in orbit, a single Eenikiti cruiser, an aging Khabderan troop carrier, a few Kabaderan frigates and a half squadron of newer Kith’turi light escorts. Those vessels, and a web of automated sensors, gave Commander General Watcher of Dawn’s Glimmer complete control of the approaches to his prize, the same world the Eenikiti leader had served on as junior office in the Second Federation War, sixty years before.
It wasn’t a failure of the freighter’s stealthing that exposed it, but its complete effectiveness. Silhouetted against the bow shock, it was a back hole in space, incongruously slowing as it approached the blue and white globe below. Artificial brains noted the anomaly, correlated readings and passed the alert down to the central systems core in the mountainous stronghold of the occupation command center. The analysis agent flagged the event and flashed it on the screen of a Khabaderan Sub-Lieutenant named Sinkhabastjardon.
He jerked to alertness, swayed in agreement to the analysis, and called it to the attention of the duty officer, “Inbound infiltrator from the moon, probably a blockade runner, presently at seven planetary radii and closing. Systems predict a landing in the highland equatorial forests.”
His commander swayed back acknowledgement. “No need to alert the Commander General. Destroy the vessel and report back.”
Sinkhabastjardon’s eyes selected the appropriate responses, and high above, two Kith’turi escorts shifted orbits, locked onto the moving nothingness and fired expanding clouds of guided projectiles into its predicted path.
Dahl Brunner fidgeted in his cocoon. Everything was still going as planned, but he didn’t relish what would come next. The freighter had no crew, just a standard navigation AI with enough combat programming to look credible. The only cargo aboard were ten insulated ablative spheres, loaded with just enough equipment and countermeasures to get their contents through reentry alive.
His wings itched. The bio-coating, Enhanced Invisibility Bugs™, was reacting with the membranes; nothing to worry about, the techs had insisted. But they were in a bombproof shelter on Nokara, and he was forty thousand kilometers above Erta and falling fast.
The swarm of Kith’turi darts was closing and the freighter made its halfhearted attempt at evasion. “Impact in twenty seconds. Hang on guys,” he sub-vocalized. Though two of his troopers were women, after a thousand years, Standard English still didn’t have good generic pronouns. It didn’t help with complications from GenMods like himself, although his large bat wings were a minor modification next to the alterations of the Mermen, True Belters™, Vacules™ or the ill-fated Tunes.
“Stung by the Kith’turi bees,” muttered Jenkins from somewhere in the hold. Brunner wasn’t convinced the man was entirely stable, but it had been hard enough to find ten qualified Majestic Flyers™ for the mission; there should have been twelve in a full combat team.
The swarm of warheads easily adjusted to the frantic maneuvers of the doomed ship and smacked into its shielding. On Federation sensors, the freighter suddenly flickered into being, shuttered, and broke apart as defensive systems and then structural integrity failed it. Thousands of fragments tumbled down toward the planet at twenty kilometers a second, among them ten irregular, shielded cocoons.
Brunner rode out the initial chaos, his compensators blocking turbulence and deceleration. His cocoon’s systems survived intact, life support, compensators, fuel cells, comms, shielding, all good for the half an hour fall to the atmosphere. He keyed his communicator, short-ranged and encrypted to within a whisper of static. Addressing his team leaders, “Valters, Zheng, sound off and check your team’s status.”
They replied and he checked his own team:
“Just tumbling in the wind. Systems OK.”
“Having some second thoughts, but fine.”
“One fuel cell malfunctioning, but I have power to survive reentry.”
“Good. Looks like everything is on plan. The Kith’turi hit us a few seconds later than projected, so we’re drifting a little north of the target. I’ll link you updated maneuvers for reentry, but remember, we’re flotsam now. Keep chatter to a minimum, check your gear, and try to relax.”
“Flotsam, jetsam, Jenkins in the wind,” came a murmur. Brenner sighed. He reminded himself again, that these people were all he had to work with. He had fought In System during the second war, with Baroness Berg and her landing forces and with Lord Bylen in the mountains, and so had Zheng and Abdullah, but that was back in ’87, almost sixty years ago. The rest had some combat training; Hadley and Valters had experience too, but the unit’s main criteria was that its members had chosen to sacrifice half their body weight for the ability to soar across the skies of the Empire’s worlds. The extreme GenMod fad had already faded in favor of strictly cosmetic changes, especially with one in twenty Majestic Flyers hopelessly insane. Not as bad as the one in four Tunes, but anyone who wanted to live in the skies of Neptune was probably crazy anyway. Jenkins was still certified sane, but his ramblings were getting annoying.
The debris field spread slowly, the cocoons stung out for three kilometers by the time the first wisps of atmosphere sent them tumbling. The wait had gnawed at Brunner. He was four hundred years old, not ancient by the day’s standard but old enough to have had a dozen careers on as many worlds. In his youth, he had served his thirty years as an Imperial Marine trooper, earning his pension fighting at the end of the First Federation War and into the Annexation Campaigns. This was his fourth war. He knew the drill: there was boredom and then there was terror and death. To try to beat death, Zheng and Singh had signed up to have their brains recorded before the mission, but he demurred. Not that he was religious, but the soul was not the brain and the restored Incarnates had their own issues with insanity. But in all his years, this was as hazardous a mission as any he had seen.
The cocoon began to shudder. The compensators struggled to insulate him from the fiery tumble and mostly succeeded. Communication was impossible now. Tiny thrustless adjustments steered his hopelessly frail vessel to a target above the plains of Exeter, into the broad Brandywine Valley that cut into the heart of the Martin Mountains. Brunner checked his harness for the eighth time. All was in order. Twenty thousand meters above the Brandywine, he shed his tattered cocoon and fell.
A late afternoon sun reflected in the meandering Brandywine. Yellow fields and red forests checkered the flat valley floor, rimmed by towering granite mountains capped in snow. He fell alone and invisible, aiming through the thin air for the narrow end of the valley, toward Fahzi’s Palace, glittering terraces of buildings and balconies, once the home of the late Count of Exeter and now the fortress of the occupation.
The others drifted into communicator range. Jenkins muttered a mantra, “Icarus flew too close to the sun, Icarus flew too close to the sun, and now he’s done,” again and again.
Brunner sucked air through the symbiot coating his lungs, the luminous display before his eyes indicated the target and blinking green tags showed his teams. Zheng, Valters and Tambi were missing. He called for them, asked the others to search, but they were gone, off course or killed by reentry. “And then there were seven,” Jenkins muttered, unhelpfully.
“Shut up, Jenkins,” Brunner snapped. They would reach the palace in four minutes. His plan had not survived contact with the atmosphere, much less the enemy. They were supposed to split into three groups, his four heading toward the systems core, Zheng’s three toward the Commander General’s quarters and Valters’ three clearing the escape path out the lower balconies. In and out in five minutes, soaring across the valley before the whole palace and mountain side vaporized behind them; biological missiles of death and destruction. He needed a new plan.
The seven formed up in the thickening air, invisible winged angels of destruction. Each carried a fifty milligram antimatter charge embedded in stasis, secured in a locket around their necks. In the last war, the Federation had tried to control the cities and had failed against Bylen’s troopers raiding from the mountains and forests. This war, the Feds had given up on such niceties, put the ruling Nobilis in camps and threatened the rest of the population with death from above if they did not remain compliant. The main Fed surface presence was at the late Fahzi’s heavily fortified palace. Brunner’s mission was to destroy that target and kill the command staff in advance of a naval attack from Nokara and a coordinated uprising on the surface; with the war tide turning, Baroness Berg doubted the Feds could afford to retake a minor frontier system. She was usually right.
Now, seven flying freaks were the key to the whole plan. Brunner keyed the comm. “Alright, form up behind my signal. There’s no point splitting up until we have to. Everyone goes in, everyone comes out. We’ll have to fight our way out after dropping the charges.”
“They’re on a five minute fuse,” Abdullah remind him. “We’re talking ten kilotons of bang even with just seven charges.”
“Then we’ll have to fight fast and fly faster,” he countered. “The systems core is the target. The Commander General was just a diversion and he’ll die in the blast anyway. If Fahzi’s engineers were any good, the mountain should absorb most of the blast, and we’ll just get a kick in the pants. And the longer until we’re detected, the faster we can escape. The balcony’s coming up. Get ready.”
Afternoon shadows had already overcome the palace’s terraces as they swooped through turbulent air onto an ornate golden balcony. To keep themselves undetected, they carried little equipment. The clinging Invisibility Bugs did distort the valley behind them, but only a careful observer that was expecting invisible flyers to swoop from the sky would notice them, and no such beings, biological or mechanical, were present.
They formed up on the balcony. Projected reconstructions from their encrypted radio carriers kept them from colliding or walking through each other. Even with wings folded, they needed their space. Brunner sized them up. Abdullah and Singh carried poppers, disintegrators with half meter project bells designed to blow through walls and obstacles; the rest had only standard issue 20mm disintegrator pistols, compact, but lethal.
Blueprints projected before him, and with a word, they were off, Singh and Hadley in front, Jenkins and himself second, Anwar and Cardenas behind and Abdullah bringing up the rear. Fortunately Count Fahzi had been extravagant, building wide corridors and high ceilings. Though that held great appeal for the robust Khabaderans and the towering Eenikiti, it helped seven winged commandos navigate as well.
They proceeded down a wide hallway, though a side passage and into the main arterial, leading to the palace’s central gallery. The walls were crowded with ornate statuary, virtual imagery and melodic sounds. Two Khabadera, angular brown two and half meter bipeds, strode in from another passageway, and one stopped to sniff the air.
His(?) head exploded. A twenty millimeter spherical disintegration projection seems so clinical in theory, especially compared to the plasma weapons of Brunner’s youth, but in practice, the two centimeter hole in the head was surrounded by another few centimeters of ravaged tissue and a sudden pressure differential. Brown gore splattered shiny walls.
The second Khabaderan yelled something wordlessly, raised a disrupter rifle and fell in a heap next to the first. Somewhere, an alarm sounded.
“Move!” Brunner yelled. With no time for stealth now, they ran.
A pressure barrier shut across the entrance to the central gallery. Singh blasted away and they ducked through the breach in single file. Dust cascaded and swirled around them. Brunner saw disjoint fragments of his companions outlined in gray highlight.
The Great Gallery was a wide cylinder, fifty meters across and two hundred high, rimmed by a ten meter walkway. At some other time, they might have marveled at the glittering chamber and the shafts of descending light, but now they were under fire from somewhere above and across. Singh fell, a disrupter tearing his body in half.
Anwar yelled, “We should jump it!” and Brunner concurred, launching himself off the balcony, winging for the far side, three levels down to where the pathway to the core power facility lay. Anwar didn’t make it. She screamed and folded over, spiraling down the gallery shaft, victim of another disrupter beam.
“And then there were five,” Jenkins muttered as he landed on the far side. But he had had the presence of mind to pick up Singh’s popper and used it to blast through the shielded door blocking their path.
The corridor on the far side was plainer than the rest of the palace, mostly whitewashed stone and simple columns under a high arched ceiling. Covered in dust and debris, they were all ghostly outlines of winged demons now, running in single file. The four Khabaderan soldiers that ran towards them saw them right away and dove for cover, firing wildly. Without stopping, the five fired back, disintegrator poppers hollowing out chunks of wall, shattering columns and filing the corridor with fragments of stone and metal.
When they reached the Khabaderan soldiers, they were all dead. Hadley pulled a disrupter rifle from one whose upper body was gone.
“That won’t fire without a biosignature,” Cardenas countered.
Hadley smiled, ghostly in his semi-transparent state, and picked up a severed arm, “This should remain warm enough for the duration of the mission,” he said. He was dead calm. Jenkins giggled, but Brunner wondered which of the two was actually saner. No time for that. They ran again, blasted another door and hit the next hallway firing.
Six Khabaderans and an Eenikiti guarded the blast doors in front of the central power core. In better times, the facility powered the palace and its extravagances and supplied energy to the homesteads and estates of an idyllic valley. Now it supported the command and control functions of the occupation.
The defenders fired at the ghostly attackers, forcing them to scatter. Their defensive position glimmered, protect by shielding from the intruder’s disintegrators. Brunner’s heart fell as he estimated their chances, then from somewhere behind him Hadley grunted. Firing into the ceiling, his stolen disrupter brought down tons of rock onto his attackers. Abdullah fired away at the wreckage, blasting a path into the powerhouse. Destruction echoed through the complex, drowning out the alarms but not the roar of blood in their ears.
“Given me your lockets,” Brunner yelled. And the others complied, tearing them from around their necks.
Jenkins gave him two. “Took Singh’s,” he explained, grinning at his cleverness.
Brunner grunted an assent. He tied the cords together then crawled into the wreckage, armed and activated all six and tossed them into the pit above the vacuum distillation core.
They ran. Something moved in the hall, but Hadley’s disruptor brought the ceiling down upon it. Two more figures appeared as silhouettes by the blast doors in the central gallery. They died from multiple disintegrator wounds, any one of which was fatal.
“Run, run, run as fast as we can,” Jenkins mumbled. They were at the Great Gallery again. Returning the way they came was impossible; they couldn’t generate enough lift to climb twelve meters in that narrow of a shaft. Brunner mapped the best path out and linked to the rest, then dove into the void, spreading his wings, flapping once before arriving on the other side, one level down. Looking behind him now, he could see the others almost clearly. Hadley had a big chunk missing out of one wing. Abdullah was bleeding from his leg. Jenkins, seemed unsteady in flight, and Cardenas was still nearly invisible. Someone was firing from above, but they all made it across. A loudspeaker broadcast some voice, Eenikiti he guessed, but the high-pitched Federation A language was too distorted to make it though his translator assistant.
They ran left through an access hall in single file then out into another wide arterial. Abdullah was on point, disintegrating through another blast door. His body exploded as he passed though the opening, and they all dove for cover as Hadley fired a stream of atomic dispersion into the hole and then led the way through with a calm wave of his hand.
More bodies. Brunner paid them no heed because before him was sight of a balcony and the shaded slopes of the Martin Mountains.
“And then there were four, and then there were four,” Jenkins repeated singsong, turning to twice fire his popper at pursuing Khabaderans. Then it was empty and he tossed it aside.
Brunner reached the railing first and dove into the sky, wings flat at his side to pick up speed. Rock face blurred past him, twisted yellow shrubs brushed his feet as he reluctantly stretched his wings. He couldn’t look back, but he heard Jenkin’s mantra and Cardenas cursing retort and a dry chuckle from Hadley.
They had just flown back into sunlight. Hadley reported that a skimmer was in pursuit. When the timer blinked on their eyeball displays, they all folded into shallow dives, though they were just three hundred meters above the valley floor.
The flash lit up inside Brunner’s eyes, and he felt heat on his wings and back. He counted long seconds, three, four, five. Then the blast hit. He tumbled once, maybe twice, then instinctively spread his wings and arms, still far above the trees, steady in flight. Somewhere below a damaged skimmer plowed into a flowery field near a rocky streambed. The roar of an avalanche overwhelmed the blast’s echoes.
And four darkened, battered winged warriors flew into the sunset.
© 2002 by Geir Lanesskog
All pages and images ©1999 - 2006
by Geir Lanesskog, All Rights Reserved