|THE BATTLE FOR CALLISTO by Gregory KH Bryant|
Jeffrey searched the walls that separated him from Emily for any possible emergency hatches. There was nothing. Emily, on her side of the wall, did the same. Her efforts were just as futile.
Overhead, through the cracked ceiling of the dome, the battle for Callisto raged on. Fighter ships flew low, scant feet above Callisto Base 1. Countless barrages of laser cannon filled the Callistoan sky with endless, deadly streaks of ruby, scarlet, ultramarine. Plasma cannons of various kinds enveloped ships flying at five thousand miles an hour, cloaking them with viridian mists that caused them to disintegrate, flashing subatomic sparks that rained down upon the frozen purple plains.
Beyond the horizon, where Jupiter hung, stately and slowly rotating, uncountable flashes of light bit into the blackness, all of them indicating where the many battles among the Jovian moons were raging on.
The street shook beneath Jeffrey’s feet. Another fighter had crashed into Callisto, only scant feet from the dome where he stood. Wreckage, sparking and flashing flames that were quickly extinguished in the thin atmosphere, rained down upon the already cracked dome.
The transparent steel of the dome buckled outward, ballooning shockingly toward the sky. Huge cracks shot across the dome.
Emily saw all that through a window in the emergency wall that separated them. She pounded on the glass with both her tiny fists.
“Jeffrey!” she screamed. Tears were running down her face. It was her fault, she knew. Jeffrey wanted to evacuate to the cellars, as everyone else had done. She was the one who dragged Jeffrey away to search for their parents. Emily hated herself at that moment.
Jeffrey looked back at her through the glass. He understood what was going through Emily’s mind. He shook his head and smiled at her, trying in this mute way to tell her that no, she wasn’t to blame. He was, after all, her older brother, and he made up his own mind about things, for himself.
‘It’s okay, Emily,” he managed to get said through the intercom, and the painful lump that had gathered in his throat.
He turned away and looked at the wreckage of the dome. Only seconds away now, from destruction. He searched with his eyes for any possible escape. Nothing.
“Little girl!” came the surprised shout from across the plaza where Emily stood. “You shouldn’t be here! It’s not safe!”
Emily turned toward the direction from which the shout came, and saw three figures in heavy orange suits with helmets that covered their heads entirely. Emergency workers. The squad of three that Colonel Bridgemont had ordered out moments before to recon the cracked dome, and, if possible, to jury-rig a quick repair.
“It’s my brother!” Emily squealed. Emily was a classically trained singer. Her squeals rang throughout the pod.
“He’s on the other side!” she said, pounding on the wall. “He can’t get out!”
The squad of workers hurried forward. Overhead, they could plainly see the damaged dome surging upward into the sky, as the atmospheric pressure inside the dome was several orders of magnitude stronger than the pressure outside.
“Damn, Harvey!” one emergency worker said to another. “It’s gonna blow!”
“Get him out! Get him out! Get him out!” cried a frantic Emily.
The squad leader looked through the windows of the security wall. He didn’t like what he saw.
“Get her outta here,” he ordered. “And you guys, too. Get out. I’ll see what I can do here.”
His squad mates, being well trained, wasted no time with futile objections. One of them picked Emily up in his beefy arms, and carried her off. The second followed.
Emily, for her part, offered no resistance. She understood that Jeffrey’s best chance to live was entirely in the hands of the squad commander. She would do what he said.
And carried in the arms of this stranger, Emily stared over his shoulder, tears still cascading down her face, for any last glimpse she might catch of her brother through the windows of the emergency hatch.
The squad commander wasted no time speaking. He stepped up to the emergency hatch and tapped in an override code with swift fingers. A light above the flashed red and yellow.
The door began to slide to the left, into the wall.
Jeffrey leaned into the door, ready to step through it.
The dome above exploded into the Callistoan sky.
When finally he attended to the task, it was but the matter of a moment for Turhan Mot to bring his ship, the “Grand Marquis” alongside the “Bellerophon”.
Turhan Mot’s crew had been well trained in all the plans that Turhan Mot had laid out for this battle. They were all of them, of those Turhan Mot trusted most, from deck hand to fighter pilot to Mokem Bet himself, Turhan Mot’s second in command, well briefed on every detail of Turhan Mot’s grand plan.
Indeed, as far as he knew it, Turhan Mot’s plans were unfolding almost precisely as he had anticipated. Were it not for the unexpected nuisance of Carter Ward, Turhan Mot would have already joined with the “Reliant” in battle against the “Bellerophon”.
Though he knew that the O8-111A and the “Charon” had both landed in his flight deck, Turhan Mot had not yet been fully apprised of the devastation wrought by Dimara. He did not know it, and wouldn’t know it yet for several crucial minutes, that he had no flight deck, and the only fighter ships left to him were those that were already in battle.
The “Grand Marquis” was already traveling across the Callistoan sky at speeds equal to those of the “Bellerophon”. It was only a matter of modifying the course of the “Grand Marquis” to catch up with the “Bellerophon.”
Which Tu Hit, the ship’s pilot easily accomplished.
He brought the “Grand Marquis” into a course parallel to that of the “Bellerophon”, which still flew low, close to the surface of Callisto. The “Grand Marquis” came at last to maintain a constant position five miles distant and three hundred feet above the “Bellerophon”.
Seeing that, Yamir brought his ship, the “Reliant” into play, closing in on the port side of the “Bellerophon”, also at a distance of five miles. and three hundred feet above, to ensure to them both that they would neither of them hit each other while aiming their guns at the “Bellerophon”.
Once in position, and as they had previously planned it, they both hit the “Bellerophon” with simultaneous barrages from their laser cannons
“We must first wear down their shields,” Turhan Mot had explained to Yamir and Horst Dal as they laid out their schemes at Astra Palace, buried deep in asteroid 53-102-AT.
“And that will take time, for their shields are strong.”
Yamir nodded his easy agreement. His smile was bland. He knew all this already.
The “Bellerophon”, as a transport ship, was subject to interplanetary law, requiring all interplanetary craft be registered, with all pertinent data, at every planet, moon or asteroid it shipped to. That ‘pertinent data’ included such details as length, width, height, tonnage, date of manufacture, and so on.
With an easy search of public records, Yamir knew as much about the “Bellerophon” as did Turhan Mot.
The first barrage would be laser, they had agreed, to heat the surfaces of the “Bellerophon”. And they did. Sudden shafts of light shot out over the brown and purple ice deserts of Callisto, dancing upon the outer surfaces of the “Bellerophon”.
Fighter ships spun in tight circles around the ship, sometimes leaping outward in vast loops of several hundred miles. They fired constant short bursts of laser and plasma cannons. Lilac and viridian mists flitted across the frozen plains.
Then Turhan Mot and Yamir gave to order to fire their pulse cannons. Heavy pulses from barrages hit the “Bellerophon” simultaneously. With the atoms of the external surfaces of the “Bellerophon” already agitated by the laser barrage, the pulses caused the hull to begin to warp—tiny rents, small in number, and all of them microscopic. No naked eye examination of these tiny bends would discover them.
But then came a second barrage from the pulse cannons. The tiny rents grew, ever so slightly.
The “Bellerophon” fired back, of course. Multiple well-aimed rounds from its own pulse cannons, gave the crew on the “Reliant” a very unpleasant thirty seconds, as the pulses it blasted through them triggered huge convulsions in most of them, convincing them all that they were dying.
But, though they were shaken by the pulse, they were not cowed. As they struggled back to their feet, they prepared another barrage from their own pulse cannons.
The battle raged on.
Bridgemont was busy. The transparent domes protecting the colony were being hit constantly with a ceaseless fall of shrapnel. Where but minutes before only one dome was reported damaged, now six domes were cracked.
And, even as the battle raged over Callisto Base 1, Colonel Bridgemont was receiving reports that three large ships piloted by the Scroungers had landed outside the colony. The crews were already at the space port outside the city, working to open the airlocks of the landing bays. Once they had taken control of the airlocks, they’d be able to commandeer the train lines that led to the colony. After that, it was only a matter of minutes before they’d be able to easily overrun Callisto Base 1.
“How many people do we have there?” Bridgemont demanded.
“A skeleton crew of just twelve men and women, sir,” his adjutant informed him. “All who could pilot ships are up there,” he added, pointing to the battle raging over their heads.
“Do we have anyone else we can send?”
“All staff, sir, are at their posts.”
Bridgemont cast his eyes about, searching the crew there with him at the command post. He came to several decisions.
“Captain Waverly, take six volunteers and meet up with our people at our space port. We can give ‘em that much, at least.”
Waverly, a man in his late forties with short pepper-coloured hair and a temper to match looked over the crew staffing the command post.
“You, you, you and you,” he said, pointing to each person, as he spoke. “Come with me. And you two, as well.”
All four people he had selected, four men and two women, saluted, stood up and followed him out the door.
In moments he had led them to the skycabs that took them to the station where the trains from the space port offloaded passengers and cargo. Except for themselves, the station was nearly empty. There was but a crew of three people standing their posts.
Three small cars were set on three tracks. Each car could carry as many as nine people.
“Any of you guys know how to drive one of these things?” Waverly asked.
One of the three crew, the station master, raised his hand.
“Yeah, I can do it,” he said.
“All right, get us out to the space port,” Waverly said.
The station master popped open the sliding door to the car, and climbed into the driver’s seat. Captain Waverly followed with his six crewmen.
The station master guided the car easily down the tracks, into the transparent tube that led to the space port, some miles away. The ground beneath the tracks rolled with the concussions of fighter ships pulse cannons.
High overhead, the field of mines laid by Colonel Westland shimmered like silvery points of light in the sky. Occasionally a Scrounger’s ship blundered into the mine field, and the ship, suddenly without control as the crew within was instantly killed by the pulses of the mines, veered wildly through the sky, until is finally crashed into the frozen deserts of Callisto.
Waverly and his crew could easily see the battle outside the tube, and when they came up on the space port some short minutes later, they saw that no fewer than six Scrounger transport ships had landed outside the space port. Turning into a broad curve, Waverly saw the pirates working on the airlocks. Yes, they would soon make their way into the base.
As the car slowed to a stop within the space port, Waverly came to an instant decision.
“Blow those tracks,” he ordered, pointing to the three sets of tracks that ran parallel to each other, all leading back to Callisto Base 1, several miles away.
“If those bastards do get through us,” Waverly said, “We’re gonna make ‘em walk every step of the way.”
Waverly’s crew set themselves to blowing the tracks, and in a matter of minutes, it was done.
““All right, boys and girls,” he said, that job finished. “Let’s go give ‘em, back up at the airlocks.”
Which was only just in time. They ran across the tarmac to the locks that opened the bay doors, allowing transport ships to enter with their cargo. Just as they came up on the twelve men and women of Callisto Base 1 Security, the airlock blew open, huge swaths of steam billowing throughout the landing bay.
Shouts and loud curses rang out through the vast landing bay, the triumphant cheers of the Scroungers charging through the opened bay.
The Scroungers had done it. They had broken into Callisto Base 1.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK