THE BATTLE FOR CALLISTO by Gregory KH Bryant
Lieutenant Danton was not the leader of the charge. It was only by chance that he happened to be out in front of the ‘mice’, the tiny eight-foot long pursuit ships that he and the squadron behind him were piloting. They had all seen the mass of Scrounger ships arriving in long lines from the inner moons. And even with communications silence imposed upon all the fighter pilots of the “Bellerophon”, Lieutenant Danton and his fellows understood instantly upon seeing them that these ships were not friends.
Lieutenant Danton brought his tiny ship into an elongated, nearly circular path that brought him below the formation of Hardy’s fighters, letting them take care of the incoming ships, and through the vast plasma wall, into the crowded landing bay of Callisto Base 1 Space Port.
Behind him came twenty-nine other pilots in their own tiny pursuit ships, the ‘mice’. So far, not a single casualty among them, though they had already accounted for more than twenty enemy kills. They followed Lieutenant Danton’s path, smoke and ash rising from multiple points in the domed colony, some mile off.
They thrust themselves hard into the landing bay, like a burning knife into a wound among the Scroungers who had left their ships to join in the march on Callisto Base 1. Armed with laser cannon and plasma cannon and built for battle against armoured fighter ships, Lieutenant Danton and his fellows cut down the Scroungers easily. Plasma bursts surrounded whole groups of them, twenty at a time, suffocating them with a luminous miasma, like a stranger’s mucus sticking to the lining of their lungs.
Bursts from their laser cannon, meant to burn through armoured steel, easily sliced through whole crowds. When the survivors had time to turn, to see what this new danger was, it was only in time to die.
Carter Ward, Illara and Mud, pinned down previously by the barrages from the Scroungers who surrounded them, stayed hunkered under the fighter ship that had offered them a tentative shelter in its shade. Mud was bleeding profusely from his wound, a laser blast to the belly that had cut through fabric and flesh, leaving a bloodied pit where once he had a belly.
Ward scuttled close to Mud. He placed his hand on Mud’s belly, pushing his intestines back into place.
“Ya feel that?” Ward asked.
Mud grimaced and nodded. His wound made it impossible for him to speak.
Outside, inches away from the shadow of the fighter ship where they had found shelter, the battle surrounding them reached new crescendos, the noise so loud they could hear nothing. But these new crescendos of battle had nothing to do with them, it seemed. The point of this battle had moved away from them. The attention had gone elsewhere.
Illara took advantage of the gap in the fire to come crawling the two or three feet that separated them. She took a look at Mud and closed her eyes.
Then she opened them, and pulled her utility belt around her waist until a pocket was close to her hand. She opened it and removed several small syringes, each loaded with morphine. Without asking, she cut open the sleeve of Mud’s jump suit with a pocket knife, found a vein, and expertly sent a dose of morphine through Mud’s veins. She removed that syringe, tossed it aside, and without asking, gave Mud a second dose.
Mud’s eyes focused. He looked at Illara and made a smile with his face.
“That good? Hmm?” she asked. “Is it enough, or you want another?”
Mud nodded, his thick brown beard spotted with blood.
“You’re nodding,” Illara asked, glad to keep him engaged.
“Does that mean you’ve had enough? Or do you want more?”
Mud nodded again.
Ward, still holding Mud’s intestines in place, and watching his friend closely, burst out and laughed.
“That’s right, keep ‘em guessing! Ha!”
Then, to Illara, he said, “May as well give it to him. Not like it’ll hurt him. I’d say pump him full of corn liquor for his wounds, except he’s in no shape to drink anything.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Illara said. I can’t see how another shot can hurt this bear of a man.”
Swiftly, she gave Mud a third shot. Mud nodded again, this time as a way to say, ‘Thank you’.
Mud’s pain eased, at least for the moment, Ward’s ears made him conscious of some changes in the environment.
“Ya hear that?” he said to Illara.
Illara cocked her head and listened.
“Quiet,” she said. “Real quiet.”
“What’ll we do?” Illara asked.
“Go take a look around,” Ward said. “See if we can make it back to my ship. Dimara can patch Mud up, real quick, if we can just get there.”
“Okay,” Illara answered.
She crawled out from behind the landing sled where she and the others had been huddled, and cautiously rose to her knees to look around.
The vast landing bay was filled with ships of every kind and description, all stolen by the Scroungers, or cobbled together from many parts. Transport, cargo, science, even military, all had been hijacked and repainted with new colours, all impressed into serving the Scroungers.
They were piled all without order, in any corner that could take them.
Many of the ships had been destroyed. Their smouldering carcasses sent plumes of black smoke charring the transparent dome that was the ceiling of the vast landing bay.
Among these ships, strewn like litter upon an urban sidewalk were countless corpses, the Scroungers, all of them cut down by what was to become popularly known as ‘Danton’s Charge’, much to the chagrin of Lieutenant Danton himself, who only wanted to kill Scroungers that day. The other eight members of ‘Danton’s Charge’, who survived the battled, took the name of their attack in good humour, and enjoyed needling Lieutenant Danton about it, every chance they had.
Thirty had launched from the “Bellerophon”, late in the battle, on this event, the first time the experimental pursuit ships, the XPS-01, nicknamed the ‘mouse’ had ever been deployed in combat.
Though Illara had no idea at the time who had done it, or why, or how, she could only say they had done a very good job. Nothing stirred there, among the ships and the corpses, except for the distant plume of black smoke lazily turning from a ruined ship, toward the transparent steel dome above, and distant Jupiter, the size of an angry fist, lying on the frozen horizon of Callisto.
Illara stuck her head back underneath the fighter ship.
“I don’t see anything moving out here,” she said. “It’s weird. Real weird. How’s Mud?”
“Dunno,” Ward answered. “Can we get him outta here?’
“Nothin’s moving,” Illara said. “The Scroungers. All of them. They’re dead. Just piles of corpses out there.”
Ward shot a grin.
“Well good,” he said. “That makes me happy. Help me get Mud outta here.”
“Alright, Mud,” Ward said, crawling up next to his face. “I’m gonna need ya to hold your own guts in now. Can ya do that?”
Mud turned to Ward and gave his head a single nod.
Ward reached for Mud’s hands and guided them to his belly.
“Right there,” Ward instructed. “Just hold ‘em. Don’t push down too hard. You begin to feel anything, lemme know.”
Mud grinned, then closed his eyes. Keeping them open was exhausting.
Together, Illara and Ward managed to half-drag and half-push Mud out from under the fighter ship.
“What we’re gonna do is make a chair,” Ward said, shooting glances all around. Silence. A dead silence. That was good.
Illara and Ward slid their arms under Mud’s knees and his shoulders, and interlinked them.
“Yuh ready?” Ward asked.
“Yeah,” Illara answered.
“Can ya sit up?” Ward asked Mud. Mud nodded and began to rise.
Ward shook his head and said, “No. You don’t do nuthin’. We do the work. You just lie down. Awrite?”
Mud laid back and said nothing.
“On three,” Ward said.
Illara said “Yeh”.
“One... two... and three!”
They lifted the very heavy Mud in the chair they had made with their arms,
“This way,” Ward said indicating the direction by pointing with his forehead.
“Okay,” Illara answered.
And they carried the barely-conscious Mud across the tarmac, littered with countless corpses and the ruined skeletons of dead space cruisers, to Ward’s ship, the O8-111A. Mud was spilling huge quantities of blood. It mingled with the blood of the already dead.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK