IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 66:
The Milton had reached the harbor moles. Daniel began to swing her cautiously, holding the cruiser at a steady five hundred-foot altitude. Even a corvette like the Princess Cecile was too big to fling around like an aircar.
In the middle of a battle, Daniel’s intellect had to fight the adrenalin coursing through his system. Feeding in too much thrust was likely to start the ship rolling, spinning, or diving uncontrollably toward the surface which at the moment was scarcely her own length below.
An automatic impeller began raking the cruiser. Daniel might not have noticed it if a slug hadn’t ricocheted through the field which provided real-time imagery forward: his electronic equivalent of a window to look out the bow. The neon-bright streak of osmium bouncing at high velocity from steel was unmistakable if you’d seen it before, as Daniel certainly had.
Once he knew it was happening, he registered the cling-cling-cling of short bursts, three to five slugs each, that continued to rain on the cruiser. The hull was impervious and it wouldn’t be a matter of real consequence either if a spacer or spacers were killed a a round through an open hatch.
Daniel had accepted the likelihood of a few casualties when he decided to let the crew use their small arms during the attack. They wouldn’t have much effect on the enemy at this range, but it helped the crew’s morale if they were a part of the battle instead of waiting blindly while giants slugged it out.
A slug that hit a thruster’s Stellite nozzle would put it out of action till it was replaced. That too would be a hassle, but there was bound to be damage during a battle. This single impeller was no more real danger to the Milton than a wasp was to the crew of an armored vehicle. But like the wasp it was irritating and insistent, and it might cause Daniel to make a mistake. There was nothing he could do about–
“I have him,” said Adele sharply on the command channel. “Her. Can somebody deal with her? She’s knocked out one of my sensor arrays. Over. Out?”
The general display highlighted a guard tower on the southern edge of the military reservation. It had been unmanned at the start of the attack, but an Alliance soldier had put it into action, probably on his own initiative.
Daniel touched the icon beside the caret, bringing up a greatly magnified view of the tower’s interior. The four-sided roof sheltered an automatic impeller on a central pintle. A grimly determined woman crouched behind the weapon, her hands on the spade grips. It was a pity that the mounting allowed the gun full rotation rather than just the ability to sweep the area beyond the fence line. She was aiming across the reservation, an obviously dangerous practice if anybody less skilled had been doing it.
A fluorescent haze spurted from the impeller’s muzzle: the aluminum driving bands vaporized by the flux that accelerated the projectiles up the barrel. Instants later, Daniel heard another cling-cling-cling, then bwow-w-w! as the last slug of the burst skidded from a hull plate on its own wild course.
He didn’t allow himself to adjust the throttles to tighten the turn the way he wanted to do. The tower was a mile and a half away, but when the ship’s side was toward the reservation again there was a reasonable chance that massed luck if not marksmanship would put an end to the irritation.
A ventral plasma cannon had fired. Dust lifted from a graveled parade ground and swirled about the track of the bolt slanting low across it. The inset guard tower was a white flare. A three-story tenement in the civilian district beyond exploded outward, flinging brands in all directions. Other buildings began to burn.
Daniel hadn’t expected that Sun would have a clear shot with either turret. He’d done a very nice piece of work, stabbing the bolt between a pair of empty barracks to clip the top of the guard tower beyond. One could call it a surgical job, though the civilians who’d been downrange of the target probably wouldn’t have been so positive about the result.
The sidewalls of a large building, probably a garage, blew outward. The roof of extruded plastic fluttered down like a dark red blanket. Secondary explosions lifted the roof in tatters, belching gouts of orange flames. A truck wheel flew up like a flipped coin, then spun back into the pall of black smoke which rippled to cover the remains of the roof.
On the harbor side, fifty yards of perimeter fence blazed white and vanished, including a pair of guard towers. The turf for twice that distance beyond was blackened and the woven-wire fencing sagged. Sun had timed his shot to sweep as much of the fence line as he could. Though nobody had been shooting from the towers he’d destroyed, soldiers spilled from others. Some threw away their guns as they ran.
Armored personnel carriers had been driving off the Wartburg while squads of Brotherhood infantry fanned out to eliminate anything that might have been a threat on the north side of the harbor. The empty vehicles raced to shore over the water itself, each sending up a great roostertail.
There were two ramps up from the water in the warehouse district. The APCs climbed them, then glided purposefully along the esplanade to the infantry which had double-timed to shore along the floating walkway from the transport’s entry hold.
The bolt hit a domed amphitheatre in the military reservation. Such structures served for assemblies during bad weather and as additional barracks space when needed, as well as for entertainment purposes. It was probably empty at the moment, but because it was the largest building on the post it made a spectacular target.
The benches and even the paint on the interior concrete walls flashed into a flame which the slanted ramps channeled upward. The orange bubble shot a thousand feet into the sky and vanished into itself with a loud bang. It was even more stunning than the jet of plasma which had brought it to life.
The spacers and Marines were firing with renewed vigor through the Milton’s hatches. Daniel knew how hard a stocked impeller recoiled. Excitement was keeping the spacers going, but in the morning the shoulders of many would be too bruised for them to make a fist with that hand. Most would be lucky to hit a house at this range, let alone a human target, but the rain of slugs out of the sky would dispirit any Alliance soldier who hadn’t been left numb by the eight-inch plasma bolts.
APCs laden with Brotherhood troops started around the harbor by streets a block in from the water, moving in pairs. They were simply battle taxis, not fighting vehicles, though each mounted an automatic impeller to provide covering fire while its infantry squad cleared buildings with grenades and sub-machine guns.
“Daniel, they’re surrendering!” Adele said on a two-way link. “Commodore Donald Harmston, the Base Commander, is offering to capitulate to avoid further bloodshed. He’s asking for medical help for his aide-de-camp. Ah, the aide’s name is Harmston also. Over.”
“Cease fire!” Daniel ordered on the general intercom channel. Taking no chances, he used the command console to lock out the main guns’ firing circuit. “All personnel, cease fire immediately. I mean it, Millies, cease bloody fire or there’ll be court martials!”
The crew had its blood up, and there were bound to be Alliance troops on the ground who hadn’t gotten the word and would by shooting give the Millies justification. Fortunately, the fighting–the shooting, at least–had gone on long enough that as soon as the spacers stopped, they were going to notice the throbbing pain of their bruised shoulders.
Likely enough there’d been a few broken collarbones as well. Inexperienced shooters often held the stock a half inch from their shoulder, thinking to reduce the shock. Instead the weapon, recoiling without the body’s additional mass to slow it down, hit like a hammer instead of like a heavy medicine ball.
“Signals, inform Colonel Stockheim that the enemy is surrendering,” Daniel said as he adjusted his thrusters to bring them to a hover. “And inform the Hydriote ships in orbit that they’ll be able to begin landing within the hour. Six out.”
He took a deep breath. “Ship, we’re about to land on Bolton, the newest possession of the Republic of Cinnabar. Fellow spacers, the Republic thanks you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Up the Milton!”
“Up the Milton!” shrieked hundreds of voices, till the thrusters licked the harbor’s surface into a deafening thunder of steam.