Episode Sixteen
Illara made two quick orbits around Io, seeking out any other ships that may have attacked the bases there. But there were none. The inhospitable moon was of little interest to the Scroungers, with such tempting targets as Europa and Ganymede so close at hand.
With all communications silence imposed during the attack, Illara was hard pressed to decide what she should do. Return immediately to Callisto? Patrol the moons of Jupiter, seeking out any other enemy action? And then what? Engage?
Whatever she decided to do, she was on her own.
Jovian Security forces had very few ships. Never before had the colonies been attacked, so the need for heavy security had been, until this point, minimal. Each colony had its own branch of security, all under the command of Colonel Bridgemont. When the rare need for security personnel to meet did come up, they took passage on any of the many small civilian craft that plied the skies between Callisto and Io.
All this made Illara’s patrol ship ‘Izzy’ that much more valuable to Jovian Security. Illara’s ship was one of only two dozen small craft controlled by the security forces of the moons of Jupiter.
Europa was the next moon outward from Jupiter, and in a line toward Callisto. Illara pushed ‘Izzy’ hard through space, and came upon the moon in two short hours after leaving Io.
She flew low to the moon, grazing the surface at an altitude of only fifty feet. There, at Clarke Base 3, she saw four ships huddled outside the airlocks that led to the landing bay. Twenty people in space suits had clustered about the airlocks.
The bases on Europa and Ganymede were built on the same lines as the bases on Callisto. A long central street connected small ‘pods’, each covered with a geodesic dome of transparent steel. The launching facilities were at one end of the colony, and several miles removed, connected by a light train that carried both passengers and cargo.
The trick was to overrun the colony without destroying it. Simply blasting the airlocks would send the vacuum of space into the colony, destroying every living thing, and much of the valuable material within it.
So they had to override the computers that drove the airlocks, a matter that took much cunning, and a considerable amount of time. Half a dozen technicians had set themselves up with their equipment to do exactly that, overriding the security codes that kept the airlocks shut during emergency, and elude the backup systems that went automatically in action when the airlocks were tampered with.
So intent were they all on the task that Illara was able to fly the nearly invisible ‘Izzy’ right up upon them.
Ordnance or personnel? Which would do the greater damage at the least cost to her? Crippling their ships, or killing the crews?
Illara opted and set her pulse cannon at a wide spread.
At fifty yards, the figures standing outside their ships came clear as individuals on Illara’s screens. Some milled between ship and airlock, carrying out the commands of their captains.
She fired. Once, twice, three times.
The pulses surged through flesh and metal, stretching the distances between the atoms that composed them. A half-dozen figures expanded suddenly to a ridiculous height of twelve feet and more, and then they collapsed like paper dolls upon the soil of Europa.
Illara managed to damage all the ships substantially. Canopies popped open, sending crewmen out into the deafly environment of Europa. All of the ships would require extensive work before any of them was flyable again.
But Illara had emptied her pulse cannons. She had only her plasma cannon and her laser cannon to fight with.
Nor had the Scroungers on the ground been idle. Instantly they knew they were under attack, they sent out communications to the ships that were laying siege to the other Europan colonies. Their response was nearly instantaneous. Within forty seconds, three ships from the attack on Clarke Bases 2 and 4 were en route to Clarke Base 3.
Illara guessed that pursuit would be quick upon her, so after he one run against the Scroungers, she pulled the nose of her ship away from Europa, and she leaped high into the skies of Jupiter.
The three ships that set off in pursuit of her searched the skies for her ship, knowing that Illara’s ship must be there. They were dogged. They signalled ahead.
‘Kill Team 1 to Kill Team 2. Be alert for any Callistoan ship en route to Callisto. Stealthy. Kill Team 1 is in pursuit.’
‘As if we don’t have enough already to worry about,’ Dash Yortal said. He was a crewman on one of the ships now surrounding Ganymede Base 2. They were also seeking to bypass the security codes that would let them open the airlock to the shuttered landing bay.
‘Shut up,’ grunted his captain, Pal Ordnat. He turned his head and barked out his orders.
‘Scan the sky. Anything shows up, we’ll send some ships out.’
‘Yes, sir,’ his second in command saluted.
Tiny pieces of incandescent shards of spinning burning metal came raining down upon the dome of Callisto Base 1. They bounced off the transparent steel and bounded into the icy plains beyond, raising swift small geysers of steam.
Emily and Jeffrey stood transfixed, unable to take their eyes away from the spectacle.
Heavier pieces tumbled down, twisted metal beams from the greenhouse that was destroyed when Lieutenant, Junior Grade, McAllister’s ship, nearly destroyed by Scrounger fire, crashed into it.
The beams spun wildly, crashing into the remnants of McAllister’s ship, and down upon the geodesic dome above Emily and Jeffrey.
One beam hit, and then another. Huge booms went through the air, hitting Jeffrey and Emily like punches in the chest. Then came the nose section of the destroyed pursuit craft. It hit the dome at a terrifying velocity. An appalling crack opened in the transparent steel.
A low, almost silent ‘hissssssss’ came from the crack.
‘Oh, no,’ Jeffrey said. ‘It’s cracked. The air is leaking out.’
Another siren blared through the colony.
In preparation for exactly this contingency, all the Jovian bases were modular. Should the dome in any one section be compromised in any way. that section was quickly shut off from the rest of the colony with a series of airproof walls.
The siren was to warn those in that compromised section to evacuate as quickly as they could. This was one of the first lessons Emily and Jeffrey had learned on Callisto. They had less than a minute to find their way out, and into a section that was not compromised.
They spun on their heels.
Already the walls were coming down.
Carter Ward’s earlier adventures, along with those of other interplanetary rogues, are chronicled in Warlords of the Asteroid Belt and Deep Space Dogfights.

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