Egret’s Egress Pt 2
The comm sputtered and came alive. Deckard’s eyes bolted to the screen and shortly a face blurred into view, “This is Rear Admiral Thomas Higashi of the Idris Corvette UEE “Statesman”. We have sustained severe damage to our core containment system and our anti-matter chamber has been compromised. Additionally we have lost all but three of our gun batteries and have depleted our missile stores. With sufficient thrusters left to perform a ramming maneuver on the Vanduul destroyer designated ‘Cthulu’, we go to our end knowing we have performed at our best and gladly sacrifice ourselves to secure a retreat for the remaining fleet. Hail the defiant dead of the UEE!”
With that The Rear Admiral saluted those listening and the vid winked out. Deckard stared blindly at the screen as his dropship rushed to jump point. He shook his head but remained silent. Then he reached over to the nav panel and dropped the IFCS and spun the ship 180 degrees to watch as the ‘Statesman’ sacrificed herself to give them a clear passage out. They were still close enough to see the events taking place clearly. Deckard rose from his seat, raised his hand in salute and waited for the impact and detonation. Bell followed suit.
Those moments seemed to slow down and move at a crawl for Bell. The Cthulu gaped at them, an enormous ship easily four times the size of a Bengal carrier. It was jet black, with 12 louvered tentacles that reached out and grasped at the darkness like some kind of Lovecraftian horror. So black it seemed to absorb the light around it as lurched forward into the midst of the conflict rotating in counter-clockwise fashion. Within the center of it was a gigantic, red, laser cannon easily one-third of the ships overall size, which fired a continuous pulsing beam that tore through capital ships and cut smaller craft apart or vaporized them entirely. Slowly, ever so slowly, it pivoted toward the oncoming Statesman.
The Statesman’s two remaining rear thrusters were full on and the bluish-purple blaze glared floridly as she lunged forward. She fired her remaining guns at the destroyer, the shots vaporizing harmlessly on the mammoth ship’s shields. The rest of the armada turned and began their retreat, last in line was the UEES ‘Topher Allen” blasting behind her with her turrets and what remained of her fighters whipping through the black of space like fireflies in a storm filled sunset.
The Cthulu’s cannon fired off another lengthy blast of brilliant red light and three hornets melted and flashed apart under its glare. A second Idris, they later found out to be the UEES ‘Damocles’, cut across the path of the beam to shield a pair of marine dropships trying desperately to make it out of the area, and was sliced cleanly in two. The Idris flared as flashes of light erupted from her breached hull, and even as far out as Bell and Deckard were they could make out bodies drifting from the wreckage into the void of space. Vanduul Scythes darted about taking shots at any targets available and they watched as another marine dropship was lit up and flew apart like torn shreds of tissue paper in a strong breeze.
The Topher Allen rocketed passed the Egret and Bell felt a powerful shudder run through the ship as the Bengal went by. She latched onto the arms of her flight chair with thelittle strength that remained to her. In tow carrier brought a dozen other ships and a handful of hornets. She rumbled passed them and shortly thereafter they felt the shift of the jump engines being fired and the jump point blazed into being behind the Egret as she continued drifting toward it. Deckard’s eyes were fixed on the Statesman and Cthulu however and he stood like a saluting statue as the devastation before him continued. Bell stood stunned, watching both Deckard and battle. Her hand had dropped to her side and though she felt like breaking down in tears, she had no strength to cry.
Two hours earlier…
The defense force had arrived, and with only minor casualties. Fully 3,000 soldiers now stood just below the ridgeline and ready to move forward. Many were worn down and exhausted from having been on the front for weeks, and in some cases even months. But with effort this would be the turning point they had been waiting for. The enemy cannons and missiles had dropped off some. The other soldiers insisted it was normal, but Bell had an odd feeling about it.
The Sarge approached his remaining troops, “Word is we go in ten. We will roll over this ridge and move down to find a trench spot about 200 meters in. We may have to dig out some bodies to get back into the already dug out trench. Once in, we will set up claymores and prep for additional ground troops that are to be sent in if we can take it. We will take it.”
Sarge had a way of saying what had to be said, no matter how fictitious or even ludicrous it sounded. No one believed they would survive this push; maybe a handful would make it and live to tell about it. Well, at least tell about it for a few days before the next suicide mission.
The time came and the call was made. Bell cinched up her ammo belt and tightened her pack. Up they went and over the hill. Three thousand men and women ready to die for a cause that would mean pushing blood thirsty invaders off this rock and retaking it for Earth.
As they crested the ridge the Vanduul cannons and missiles erupted with rapid and violent impact on the marine forces. Within minutes half the force was down, if not more. But the marines pushed forward into the trench.
Bell hunkered down into the sludge of death left by the soldiers and Vanduul who had died there. The enemy shelling continued hard and fast. They would be lucky if a thousand troops had survived the push. However many were left, it wouldn’t be enough to move forward. She looked up the hill of bodies and it dawned on her that there was no way back out of this hole. Any attempt to climb back out would only result in death. Bell slumped down and held her head in her hands.
The hole was swelteringly hot, the moisture of decaying bodies couple with scorching heat of the planets sun and the fiery rain of enemy projectiles caused her to sweat profusely. She could feel dehydration setting in, her mouth was dry and her body was quickly using up what remained of its precious fluids.
The reality of it overwhelmed her and she began to lose grip on her emotions. She sat somberly bemoaning her lack of insight. Why hadn’t she seen the obvious trap? The moment those guns started firing on them she should have known. Regardless, she would have charged forward anyway, it would have been too late at that point to stop the charge. Still, she should have seen the outcome but her mind felt slowed, bogged down, foggy.
She began to sob quietly, her cries lost in the ongoing bombardment of the enemy’s cannons and missiles. There was no hope left. Only the waiting and the death after it. Her body would become a part of the landscape. She would be the hill, trod upon and spread over the area. At least she would be at rest, away from the shelling and sorrow of seeing those around her torn asunder in the crimson light of a blazing sky.
Then she heard Sarge screaming curses over the din, “Dìyù gǔn yóu! They’ve sounded a general retreat. They want us to make for the base camp. Sons of…”, he trailed off screaming profanity.
She sat and listened to him screaming into the comm unit about being pinned down and watched his reaction as they apparently told him the zone was too hot for a craft to land and pull them out. Back and forth it went for the better part of 20 minutes before he threw the handset down on the ground. Bell tried to think of a way to get them back over the hill without getting them all killed but her thoughts were a jumble of raw emotion and adrenaline driven panic. She poked her head up and looked at the artillery line not 150 meters away from them. A handful of cannons were closer, but not much, maybe 100 meters out or a bit more. Mounds of bodies lay between her unit and the line of turrets and launchers. And then it hit her, it was a longshot but it was better than doing nothing and dying like rat in a trap.
The Statesman fired her thrusters with what was obviously all of the remaining power they could manage and the ships jutting spine, bereft of her rail gun, punched a hole in the center of the red eye. Slowly it thrust forward, impaling the mass of black tentacles and blinding it with a last effort of desperate valor. The spine powered forward reaching deep into the brain of the massive monster and at long last her core containment gave way completely.
The eruption of the anti-matter engine created a black void, darker than the black of space in which it imploded, darker than the fowl ship which she had perforated. The singularity that was created was not so massive as to pose a threat to the Egret or her passengers but was substantial enough to devour the Cthulu and pull all other ships nearby into the void creating a massive collision of Vanduul craft which tried desperately to escape the gravity well they had created. Scythe and frigate impacted in a mass of chaos and destruction as the Cthulu melted around them and added to the massive destruction. As quickly as the black hole had appeared it vanished leaving behind a mass of shredded metal and ship parts.
Less than two hours earlier…
“Sarge give me that comm!”, Bell shouted and motioned to him with one hand.
“Why? What are you going to do that is gonna change Commands mind? Nothing, that’s what.” The Sarge shouted at her his face red and foam curling at the corners of his mouth. They stared at each other, like everyone in the trench they were covered from head to toe in the remains of the fallen. Sarge wiped his hand across his face smearing the blood and feces on his face as he tried to clear his vision.
“I got a plan and Command doesn’t have a say in it.”
He reached down grabbing the comm and tossed it to her.
Bell rekeyed the frequency and activated the unit, “Dropship 47449 this is the 27th Marine Corp. Deckard are you there?” Her voice was raw and frantic. If Deckard was out of range there would be no plan.
She waited and the comm remained silent. He was probably far enough out to be clear of the guns.
She was about to try again when his voice came over the link, “27th corps this is dropship 47449. Over.”
She grinned from ear to ear like a schoolgirl being asked out on a first date. It was all she could do not to jump up and down. She took a deep breath and tried to keep her exuberance in check. For all she knew he would reject her idea. Any sane person would have, that was how she knew he would jump at the chance.
“Deckard we are pinned down and Command is leaving us here. They say it is too hot for an evac at this location. Can you come in and get us if I can give you a break in the fire?”
‘Affirmative 27th. I am in atmo and close. ETA 12 minutes. Over”
“We’ll be waiting.” Bell dropped the comm into the muck and looked back up over the edge of the hole.
“Sarge, in 10 minutes pop a flare and be ready to board the Egret. Deckard is coming in.” She said with a smile.
“Girl, I don’t know what you got planned, but God himself goes with you.” He saluted her and turned back to the rest of his men and the scattered remains of other platoons that had joined them.
Bell climbed out of the hole and slithered on her belly toward the cannon, using the mounds and piles of dead flesh to mask her movement. She was covered with the sludge of melted fat and entrails before she had gone five meters, but that was working to her advantage. She only stopped twice to vomit, after that her stomach was empty. The cannon was only 70 meters away now. She could see the Vanduul gunners on the turret now, two of them. She moved quickly forward whenever they turned their backs to her and was able to close the gap in minutes. With ten minutes gone she reached the turret. Taking a firm grip on her P4AR rifle, trying to squeeze through the slime on her hands, she steeled herself for the suicidal move that was to come.
She raised herself up out of the gore covered ground in a smooth motion, aimed into the small opening of the dome covered turret pod and fired twice on the closest warrior. His back was to her and he dropped immediately to the ground with fist sized holes scorched in his back. His companion turned and reached for a gun, but he lay dead before his hand could grasp it, with holes in his chest and head. His black blood oozed out onto the platform. She latched onto their feet and drug them out one at a time, shoving them out into the mass of flesh to rest with their brethren.
Bell crouched and moved inside the turret housing. She took in the layout of the artillery line now that she was closer to it and found that the main power reactor was visible from her location. Great luck or perhaps the Sarge was right and God had come down the line with her. Spinning the turret around, she took aim on the power core. Her maneuvering however had caught the attention of the Vanduul on the other turrets and launchers and they started shouting and waving their arms.
She pulled the trigger.
The power plant went up in a power flash of blinding sparks followed by an explosion that shoved her onto her back on the floor of the pod and cleared a crater which took out a dozen of the enemy’s emplacements. Her ears rang as she tried futily to push herself to her feet. Her vision blurred and something wet ran down her face and neck. She stumbled out of the turret and fell face first onto the ground. She lay there for a bit rasping in the decay and choking on the fumes wafting off of the blown power core. In her mind a voice shouted for her to get up, but her arms and legs lacked the strength to push her upright. The ground was soft and warm; comfortable. Her eyes closed and she began to drift.
She drifted into a green pasture and blue skies rose above her. She looked up into the glare of a dazzling white sun. As her eyes drifted back down she beheld a pool in the distance and as she approached, it bubbled and fumed, growing ever larger. She now noticed it was red and there was a sweet smell which emanated from it and still she walked forward to see what it could be. She couldn’t place the smell, but it was not entirely pleasant. Bodies began to emerge from the pool, like swimmers finishing up a leisurely day of relaxation and play. They rose and she saw that they were missing arms and legs and heads. Many had gaping wounds on their bellies and chests and their entrails flowed out of them and back into the red pool; feeding it. Slowly but deliberately they shambled toward her; she screamed.
Bell woke screaming, her own blood in her eyes, nose and mouth. She shoved hard against the pulpous ground and got to her feet. Sarge had lit the flare and was looking back toward her. When he saw her rise he waved his arm and turned back to the trench. Above her she could see the Egret arcing in toward the clearing. She doubled her effort and ran with all the strength left in her to get to the EVAC point.
Deckard tapped the comm turning it off. Unfastened his straps and got up out of the flight seat. He walked casually back to the corridor and slid open a panel on the side which led into a central compartment between the hold and the deck. He stepped in and shrugged out of his flight suit, laying it across a drape bar. Reaching out he tapped a Glas panel which brought out a rotating closet, inside of which was his armor and rifle. He suited up.
Deckard slid back into the flight chair and strapped in. He toggled the panels drifting down out of the cloud cover and slapped the throttle to full. AAs blew up all around him as he dodged and weaved through the enemy fire. The ship jarred back and forth taking an occasional hit but holding together. Then the shelling simply stopped. He had a brief window of clear sailing and was able to pick out the glowing red flare dropped by the 27th.
Command had botched another one, sending them in this deep with no air support and limited artillery. If there was one thing you could count on with Marine Command, it was their inability to assess a trap.
Deckard was stunned at how few soldiers remained as he approached, maybe 40 troops stood waiting for his pickup and most of those were not the 27th. At least he thought they were his troops, they were coated in something wet and brown. Chances are it would take him weeks to get the smell out of the hold afterword. He hated smelly troop holds.
45 minutes earlier…
The Egret hit the ground hard and as the remaining marines of the 27th and the stragglers of other units ran to board her. The doors slid apart and there stood Deckard in his full suit of Cyclops combat armor pointing his Behring P4SC out over their heads. He fired a barrage of shots passed the marines and grabbed hold of a soldier dragging him onto the ship. The other marines limped into the hold, many dragging or carrying their colleagues with them. Stepping back out he latched onto Bell and drug her in as well, the Sarge tailing close behind. Deckard bounded out of the hold toward the flight deck as the Sarge hit the controls to close up the hold, standing his ground and aiming out of the quickly closing gap.
Deckard cranked the throttle to full lift off and nosed the ship straight up. Whether he had fuel enough or not after he broke atmo would be irrelevant if they got shot down. He powered down the weapons systems and put all the power into the thrusters hoping for just a hair more speed. The ascent was far from smooth, but no one would complain if they survived to tell of this day. Granted they were all going to need counseling when they got home, but at least they might get home.
Deckard lowered his arm and took one last look at the obliteration caused by the Statesman. He took his seat and buckled back in, then toggled the IFCS back on and wheeled the ship about 180 degrees.
Bell sat unbuckled staring into the void. Her face caked with death and her own blood. She no longer noticed the smell, though Deckard kept glancing at her out of the corner of his eye and wrinkling his nose. How could she ever sleep again, she wondered? Would she dream of the Flesh Hills of Tiber II or the devouring pool of blood? Would she be able to close her eyes at all or would the horrors of the Grinder live in her mind for the rest of her life. Maybe they have a pill that will make it all go away, she thought.
Her eyes drifted to Knyghte, “Will I ever see green fields or blue skies or white clouds? Or is it all just a dream that I won’t be able to hold onto now that I have seen the true face of war?”
“You’ve seen the inner workings of hell.” Deckard spoke quietly, “For the soldiers of this war there is no peace, only loss and the hope for death”
Bell’s upper lip quivered and a tear rolled off her cheek as she stared at the lead pilot. Was he so jaded that life held only darkness for him now? Was she going to end like him? She sank back into the flight seat and pulled her knees up to chest.
Knyghte goosed the thrusters and the jump point flared with soft blues and greens as the Egret passed through.