Battle Luna – Snippet 23

Arris replied, “It’s a fabricator. Raw material goes in, it processes out as product.”

“So, a printer?” He tried for just a hint of scoff.

“No, this is far more sophisticated. Much like a science fiction replicator.”

That was a good rough approximation. Someone with firsthand knowledge had probably leaked. 

He replied, “I see.  Or rather, I don’t. Why invade over that?”

Arris sounded surprised at the question.  “The risks of it.  Any weapon one wants, instantly.”

Crawford replied, “Or food. Medicine. Shelter.  Apparently, though, you and your bosses went immediately to the bad potential.”

Morton whispered, “Andre, they’re charging Lock One now.”

“Case in point,” he said. “You have no desire for a peaceful outcome.”  He slapped the channel closed.

“Let’s do Round Two,” he said.  “They’re actually going to try to blow their way in.” He punched an alarm to Control.

“Explosion possibly imminent. Stand by for decompression protocols, and probably seismic as well.”

Coffman replied, “Understood.”

Was he justified in using lethal force yet? They hadn’t so far, but this could be considered an imminent threat, except of course, the Ueys would argue with the known status of the locks that it wasn’t.

“Go with the dust,” he ordered.  Though eventually, someone was going to become a casualty.

Far back alongside the ridge, six emplaced fougasse detonated, their initiation felt as a rumble through the regolith. In vacuum, the tons of dust they launched prescribed near perfect parabola, arcing up and back down to land in a huge, coordinated pile on and in front of Lock 1, utterly burying several Ueys.

“Run the vid, count them,” he ordered. “And go with shot two.”

Outside and right of the entrance was a boulder that had been moved when the track was cleared. Several others had been stacked around it, then over time, arranged into a loose sculpture. It had been there for a decade and no one questioned it.

Last week a large bladder had been erected among the rocks, and shoveled full of dust. A centrifugal pump spooled up, throwing the dust in its scroll out across the moonscape, followed by the dust above it, as it trickled in, like a massive hourglass. The blower would jam soon enough, or abrasion would cause failure.  Until then, though, they were using electricity but wasting no oxygen.

That blew a huge stream of dust across the way, blocking pretty much any frequency of sensor, and almost certainly clogging equipment.

“Hopefully, that will take them a while to dig out,” he said in satisfaction. Clicking open the general channel, he asked, “Colonel, are you still there?”

“Well done, Mr Crawford.”

“Thank you, sir, though I think we can do better.  Would you like to give us another chance?”

“You can hold the mock derision.  I am impressed.  On another level, not at all. We know how this ends.”

“Not my department, Colonel, as we’ve discussed.”

He cut the channel. Let Arris stew for a while.

The video feed from the observer was fascinating.  The dust had settled instantly in vacuum, and the pile was impressive. It wouldn’t be hard to dig through in this G, but it would take time.

However, Arris knew there were no serious weapons in play, and simply had a hundred troops descend on the pile and dig like dogs, tossing the dust into a wider dispersion. It didn’t take long for them to turn it from a mound to dig through into a pile they could merely wade through.

Though the sunlight had to be sweltering and draining their suit power, and the dust clung to everything from static, made worse by solar ionization. The troops were constantly wiping their visors with gloves, then someone brought towels. It didn’t help. That dust was flour, worse than Arabian Desert sand. It was probably contaminating a lot of their gear, too. Potentially even some weapons, though only a handful of troops were armed for this detail.  Most of their gear was still in the vehicles.

Twenty minutes later, the pile was a broad pan rather than a sloping mound.

“That was an impressive and quick workaround,” he muttered.  “I think we have to consider the outer hatch permanently compromised.”

Rojas said, “They’re not in yet.”

A flash, crack and rumble indicated the Ueys had blown the latches on Lock 1.  Approaching again, they started cranking the manual. That not working, someone brought up a Johnson Bar and started prying. In moments it was big enough for passage.

Andre said, “Well, bring them on.  They’ve lost some O2. They’ve lost lots of time. They probably are fine for food but water in those suits can’t last long.”

Rojas said, “I’m trying to calculate their power use for cooling, based on that suit model and probable power pack.  It looks like they’ll need a recharge every couple of hours.”

“Yep, some of them are already rotating back to the trucks.”

“The question is how many spares they have.”

Godin said, “Well, they’re rolling up a fourth vehicle.”

Crawford looked at the scene.  “Interesting.  I expect they’re tapped out now.”

Godin had data on his screen. “Given the size of the lander, I don’t see how they could have more, unless they ripped out safety equipment or fuel or gas margin to make room.  I don’t think they had any expectation of having to do more than secure the corridors.”

“I agree.  What’s here has to be it.”

Godin said, “But it looks like the outside troops did a complete change of power, and possibly refilled their water. I think they have eighty to eighty-six effectives, assuming four crew and command in each vehicle, minus the six we have.”

Crawford wiggled his fingers as he counted, and said, “If we can detain another twenty or so, I think they’ll stop. Of course, that’s temporary, not permanent.”

Godin said, “We can dust that support truck in about thirty minutes.”

“Good.  We can’t really pick a time, either. Once she’s committed, it’s all or nothing.”

Godin said, “They’re stacking.”

“Yeah, I see.”

They were professional.  They formed up as if they expected an armed reception, then spilled in through the open hatch.

They shuffled around and forward, feet in good contact with the ground, weapons and eyes panning all sides, above and below.

“I guess we can drop that support now,” Rojas said.

“Yes,” Andre agreed.

Several of the troops were right atop the classic pitfall they’d hurriedly excavated under the deck.  The bolts for the plates had been removed, and pull pins inserted in their place. The hole underneath had been filled with a binary cement that would set quickly once the seal was broken. It hadn’t been used on the first round both to save it for the second round, and because there’d only been three soldiers. There were at least twenty now.

“Do it,” he said.

She tapped her controls, the deck plating opened up under several of them, and they went down in a tangle. The others formed a circle facing in and another facing out, protecting their mates and looking for a threat.

The Uey radio chatter was encoded, and the Loonie systems hadn’t cracked it yet. There was lots of traffic, though.

He couldn’t see well from the monitors available, but at a guess, six of them were in the hole.

Some of those above reached down and tried to pull their friends out.  One of them got his hand stuck and started kicking in agitation. He wasn’t going anywhere either.

“I wish we had popcorn,” Godin said.

Crawford grinned. “It is amusing.  We know it’s not lethal, and it’s just going to stick worse for a bit. They’re definitely tied up.”

He isolated still images and counted.

“Looks like seven in the hole and twelve more on top trying to help them, plus four sentries.”

The troops’ approach was still professional. The perimeter guards turned to watching the bay.  One of them walked around, pointing his weapon, and one by one the cameras went dead. Shot.

One sensor remained functional. There was a device mounted behind the lock control that looked in, ostensibly to check the outside of incoming vehicles. It was a thermal imager. That worked, and Andre even had a frequency shifter to put it into something easier to parse.

The Ueys worked feverishly, pulling, trying to cut, prying with tools, lowering cords.  More and more stuff, more limbs of those in the hole, and occasional rescuers got bound in. The volatiles were almost evaporated by this point, so it wasn’t going to get worse. It wasn’t going to get better, either.

Two troops came in unspooling something.

Godin said, “Support conduit. Oxygen line and a power cable. They’re trying to establish a beachhead with outside support. Just like we do in a crater study.”

“Right. I wonder if they brought a solar array or are just working off onboard power?”

Morton said, “If they did, it lengthens their engagement time, but not significantly. I’m estimating they started with twelve hours of duration, assuming they brought full capability.  They’ve used four.”