Battle Luna – Snippet 15
Morgan had used her monofil to tether the bomb to something in her foxhole. Now, having reached the end of its leash — and having evaded all Uey attempts to block it — it was dropping straight down toward the Dunsland.
The Ueys instantly spotted the unexpected threat. But it was too late for them to do anything to stop it. Some of the soldiers, who’d been moving away from the tank in anticipation of once again getting on the road, turned back to try to intercept the bomb. But their momentum was starting out in the wrong direction, and they still were unaccustomed to the footing and the rules for low-gee movement. None of them made it more than a couple of steps back before suddenly stopping and again reversing direction. Chakarvarti, no doubt recognizing the threat and the inevitability of its success, had presumably ordered them back rather than have his soldiers immobilized along with his vehicle. The bomb continued its leisurely fall…
It hit the ground right beside the Dunsland’s left rear wheel, right where Pappy’s earlier rockslide had left a mound of broken rock, and exploded into a cloud of white foam. The cloud collapsed to the ground, leaving the Dunsland, the rock, and the lunar surface locked solidly together.
Pappy took a deep breath and looked at Morgan. She gave him a tight smile through her faceplate and lifted her hand in a thumb’s-up. Pappy nodded, smiling and gesturing back, then turned back to the Ueys. “Colonel Chakarvarti?” he called.
“I’m here, Sergeant,” Chakarvarti said. His voice was tight with controlled anger, but Pappy could hear a hint of grudging respect beneath it. “Nicely done.”
“Thank you,” Pappy said. “You and your men were able to stay clear of the burst, I hope?”
“We did,” Chakarvarti said. “And we still have weapons.”
“I thought we’d agreed that we didn’t want to start the bloodshed today,” Pappy reminded him. “I mean, apart from your shooting my man.”
“I have a mission.”
“Which you can no longer complete,” Pappy said. “You can run over us, you can kill everyone in Hadley, but you can’t bring the Mimic back to Tranquility. Not until you get your Dunsland free, and I’m really doubting you can.” He considered. “If the Mimic is even here. Which I don’t concede.”
“There are four other tank units I could call.”
“There are four other units and one other tank,” Morgan put in. “The other three Dunslands weren’t up to the terrain and climate.”
“Your commanders really should have thought things through a little more thoroughly before rushing into this thing,” Pappy added. “So here’s how it’s going to go.”
He jerked a thumb toward the two Ueys still cemented to the ridge. “Your two men will probably run out of oxy before we can get them free. We can give them each a fresh tank, good for four hours. We can also call Hadley and have them send out some hammers and chisels to get them loose. But we’re not going to do any of that until all of you — and I mean all of you, including the ones guarding the other side of Waffle Ridge — are back inside your vehicle.”
“I need to deploy at least a pair of sentries.”
“No, you don’t,” Pappy said. “Consider yourselves on parole, with the Dunsland a mobile POW camp of your own making. Well, with a bit of our help, I suppose.”
“Very well,” Chakarvarti said stiffly. “I assume you’ll want us to block the viewports, too?”
“No need — we can do that ourselves from here,” Pappy said. “And remember: we’ve got a really impressive array of sensors, and we know exactly how many men you have. We don’t move until they’re all inside the tank. Get cute, and your two men here will suffocate.”
“There will be no tricks,” Chakarvarti said darkly. “And once they’re free?”
“That’ll be up to Hadley,” Pappy said. “They may decide to send you to some neutral point where your people can pick you up. Or they may decide we’ll keep all of you as our guests for a bit while the politicians and diplomats talk.”
“I see,” Chakarvarti said. “I will just say one more thing, Sergeant MacLeod. Beware the thought that this is over. It is not. In fact, it has barely begun.”
“I agree,” Pappy said, peering through his scope. The Ueys were walking along the side of the Dunsland now, heading for the rear hatch and their forced seclusion. On the sail, the machinegunners had secured their weapons to the cages and were climbing down. “In that case, let me offer you a final word as well. You say you want the Mimic. But I’m guessing that some of United Earth’s most powerful would be just as happy to see it destroyed. If it can be destroyed in a war with Luna, so much the better, because that way they won’t have to take any of the blame.”
“That would be a terrible mistake,” Chakarvarti said. “The people of United Earth desperately need the Mimic.”
“I’m not arguing,” Pappy said. “Here’s my point. Those aliens you mentioned, the ones who might want to come back and retrieve their magic replicator? If they do, we’re going to be in serious trouble if all we can show them is a pile of scrap. You might make sure your leaders — all of them — know that simply destroying the Mimic isn’t an option.”
“An interesting warning,” Chakarvarti said thoughtfully. “Yes, I’ll be sure to pass it on to my superiors.” He paused. “All of my men are now inside. You may begin your rescue operation.”
“Thank you,” Pappy said. “Once we’ve confirmed that, we’ll get some people out here and get to work.”
“Thank you, Sergeant MacLeod,” Chakarvarti said, with just a hint of dark humor. “It has been a most interesting encounter. I look forward to our next.”
Pappy swallowed hard. “As will I,” he said, trying to sound like he meant it.
He keyed off his transmitter and plugged in the comm cable back to the dome. “Eagle Four to Hadley,” he called. “Uey tank’s been neutralized; repeat, Uey tank’s been neutralized. Get that MASH truck rolling.”
“On its way, Eagle Four,” the controller said, and there was no mistaking the relief in his voice.
“And get some materials techs out here with vac cement solvent,” Pappy continued. “If you can free up a mining crew with a deep-radar, that would also be handy.”
“I’ll put in the request,” the controller promised. “Let us know if you need anything else.”
Pappy keyed off. “I wondered about the hammer and chisel bit,” Morgan commented. “I couldn’t believe you’d actually forgotten we have solvents for that sort of thing.”
“If the Ueys knew there was a solvent, they’d have fallen all over themselves trying to figure out what it was,” Pappy pointed out. “Better to keep them guessing.”
“And we don’t know how many men Chakarvarti has.”
“True. Again, he doesn’t know that.”
Morgan huffed out a sigh. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said. “Bluffs and half-truths can only take you so far.”
“I know,” Pappy said, wincing as images of Birmingham once again flickered across his memory. “But that’s strategy. Not my department. Nice work with the bomb, by the way. I think a field promotion to corporal is in order.”
“I’m honored,” Morgan said dryly. “Here it comes.”
Pappy looked behind him. Rolling up the Freeway was the massive vehicle that Hadley had converted into a MASH truck. “Great,” he said, reaching down and getting a grip under KC’s armpits. “KC? You still with us?”
“Where else would I go?” KC murmured back. “Getting pretty sleepy in here. I’m getting tired of bleeding, too.”
“We’re about to take care of that,” Pappy assured him. “Morgan? Can you hold the fort alone until the reinforcements get here?”
“Sure,” Morgan assured him. “Anyway, I’ve still got a viewport or two on the Uey tank to take care of. After that, I was thinking I’d see about getting one of those rifles away from our neighbors.”
“Yeah, I’d watch that,” Pappy warned, glancing over at the ridge as he pulled KC upright and eased him onto his stomach over the edge of the foxhole. “They may not be completely helpless. And one rifle isn’t going to do any good.”
“You haven’t been listening,” Morgan said darkly. “All we need is one.”
Pappy stared back at her. Thirteen lunar colonies. Fifty thousand people. One rifle.
And the Mimic.
“Damn,” he muttered. “Right. This is going to change things, isn’t it? This is really going to change things.”
“Pappy?” KC said.
“Not your department.”
“Yeah.” Pappy took a deep breath. “Come on. Let’s get you patched up.”