Battle Luna – Snippet 14

“I thought for a moment that you’d left us,” Chakarvarti said. “Everything all right?”

“I was checking on my friend,” Pappy said, scowling across the open space at the Ueys. Unfortunately, KC was right. Pappy hadn’t been invited to drop in for tea. If he headed across alone, they would know something was up.

But if he was simply helping an injured soldier who couldn’t navigate on his own…

The upside was that he might be able to paralyze the Dunsland for good. The downside was that he and KC would both end up prisoners. Or worse.

But they were out of other options. With two lines of shieldbearers standing guard, the only way to get the cement bomb close enough was for Pappy to carry it there.

“How is he doing?” Chakarvarti asked. “My offer to treat him still stands. I’ll even send some unarmed men to assist him, if you’d like.”

“I appreciate that.” Pappy braced himself —

“Wait a second,” Morgan spoke up suddenly. “I’ve got an idea. Stay put, and stall him. And I’ll need that last bomb.”

Pappy frowned. Surely she’d worked out the same logic he had. How in the world did she think she could slip it past the shieldbearers?

Maybe by throwing a couple of oxy tanks first to confuse them?

In fact, he realized suddenly, that might work. The bomb’s outer shell didn’t look anything like that of an oxy tank, but the Ueys wouldn’t necessarily know that. If he and Morgan both sent oxys toward the tank, and then one of them threw the remaining bomb —

“You’re obviously still not convinced,” Chakarvarti said. “Very well. While you consider — and while your friend bleeds to death — let me put one other factor into the mix.”

“You going to say please?” Pappy suggested, squatting down and picking up the cement bomb. Of course, now that the Ueys knew about the bombs, lobbing it across to Morgan carried its own set of risks. If the machinegunner was fast enough, he could blow it open and probably cover him, KC, and Morgan. Another juicy tidbit for the future history texts. “Come to think of it, did anyone at United Earth consider saying please in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” Chakarvarti said. “Not my department.”

“I suppose not,” Pappy said, eyeing the ground between him and Morgan. Theoretically, until the detonator was armed, the bomb should be able to handle a bounce. Theoretically. “So why exactly do you think this Mimic thing — if it exists, and I’m personally not convinced it is — why you think it’s in Hadley instead of one of the other domes?”

“We don’t,” Chakarvarti said. “If it isn’t, we’ll pack up and leave you in peace.”

“And head to the next colony?”

“I have my orders, Sergeant, as do you,” the colonel said. “But let’s talk about that. Your orders, I assume, are to protect Hadley Dome?”

“And all of Luna.”

“But mostly Hadley Dome?”

“Mostly,” Pappy agreed.

“All right. So what then are you planning to do when the aliens who created the Mimic come looking for it?”

Pappy frowned, throwing a look at Morgan. But her attention seemed to be alternating between her rangefinder scope and her hand computer. “Who says they’re even around anymore?”

“Who says they aren’t?” Chakarvarti countered. “And if they are — and if they decide they want it back — are you and Luna really prepared to fend them off?”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Morgan duck down in her foxhole and come back up with her coil of monofil. One final look through her scope and she began counting off loops of the cord. “You think you can protect it better?”

“Of course we can,” Chakarvarti scoffed. “We have the militaries of two hundred and four countries to draw on.”

“What about those seven billion hungry citizens,” Pappy asked. Morgan had reached whatever count she was going for and had taken her knife to the proper loop. “You get an alien war going and a lot of them are going to die.”

You get a war going and all of you will die,” Chakarvarti retorted.

Morgan had ducked down out of sight again. “Maybe it won’t come to war,” Pappy said. “Maybe the aliens will ask for it nicely. They might even say please.”

“And if they don’t?” Chakarvarti persisted. He was starting to run out of patience, Pappy noted uneasily. That probably meant the Dunsland was nearly cleared and ready to roll. “What if they just come tearing in and plow up the landscape until they find it? Are you willing to take that risk?”

“Like you said,” Pappy told him. “Not my department.”

“Pappy?” Morgan murmured in his ear. “Now.”

Clenching his teeth, hoping to God Morgan knew what she was doing, Pappy lifted the cement bomb to his chest and gave it a shot-putter shove toward her.

The Uey machinegunner was ready. Unfortunately for him, his training still wasn’t quite acclimated to the lower gravity and lack of air resistance. His shots slashed through the space above the bomb, digging up more lunar dust a few meters past his intended target. Before he could adjust his aim Morgan snatched the cylinder out of its arc and once again dropped down out of sight.

“You refuse to cooperate,” Chakarvarti said. “So be it. The record will show that the United Earth forces did everything in our power to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”

“Hardly,” Pappy said. The Ueys who’d been around the Dunsland’s rear were moving away now, clearly getting ready for it to pull out. But if continuing the conversation could buy Morgan a few more seconds… “You could have continued negotiations instead of bringing soldiers here to shoot us down and destroy our homes. And you still can, because there’s still one factor you haven’t added in.”

“Which would be?”

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the cement bomb shoot out of Morgan’s foxhole, arcing toward the Ueys. So she’d used the catapult after all.

Only the bomb was going too high.

Pappy cursed, following the cylinder with his eyes. If Morgan had intended to overshoot the shieldbearers, she’d certainly succeeded. Even as the first trio leaped upward in response it was abundantly clear that the bomb would sail well over their heads.

The problem was that it would also sail well over the Dunsland and splatter its contents over the distant landscape.

He’d asked Morgan earlier if the catapults could be set for high angles. She’d told him they couldn’t. Maybe she thought she’d figured out a way to do that anyway.

But if that had been her plan, she’d failed. Pappy’s years in the SAS had given him an eye for judging a shell’s trajectory, and this one was heading into the sky at no more than forty-five degrees.

Could Morgan be trying somehow to cut off the tank’s retreat? After all, if the goal was to keep the Mimic in Hadley, then letting Chakarvarti get hold of it wouldn’t gain him anything if he couldn’t escape with it.

But Pappy knew the terrain back there reasonably well, and there was no spot he could think of where a splash or a lump of vacuum cement would do anything but pave over the rocky ground. Did Morgan know something he didn’t?

The three shieldbearers were nearly at the top of their group jump, and as Pappy had already anticipated they would end up far too low to intercept the bomb. On the ground behind them, the second row of shieldbearers now went into action, this group throwing their shields up into the sky toward the soaring missile.

But the shields hadn’t been designed for throwing, and the Ueys certainly hadn’t had any practice with the technique. Two of the shields immediately started tumbling, not so much of a problem without air resistance to slow them down, while the third stayed more or less upright. But the first two didn’t have enough momentum to intercept the bomb, while the third reached the necessary height but ended up a couple of meters to the side. As the shields and the shieldbearers floated back toward the ground the bomb reached its zenith —

And directly above the Dunsland it jerked to an abrupt halt.

Pappy blinked in surprise as the bomb seemed to hover for an instant in empty space. What the hell –?

And then, as it began to fall straight down, he caught just the slightest glint of sunlight reflecting off part of a line behind the cylinder.