THE BATTLE FOR CALLISTO by Gregory KH Bryant
And Emily? What of her? And Jeffrey? What had happened to them, in the midst of all this? Sergeant Dennison, and his crew, Stan and Harvey, he who had carried Emily in his arms, away from the exploding pod?
Sergeant Dennison and Corporal Stan—Stanislaw Katinsky—searched for Harvey and Emily. Stan carried the unconscious Jeffrey over his shoulder, and Dennison, staggering, was still catching his breath, which had been sucked from his lungs during the catastrophic explosion of the damaged pod from which he had barely saved Jeffrey.
“HAR-VEEE!” Stan shouted. “Har-VEEE! Where are ya?”
The pod through which they were searching was in ruins. Trees uprooted and hurled across the pavilions lay in broken piles crowding hard against the emergency wall. Benches, signposts, lights, and other unaccountable broken pieces of wreckage were strewn throughout.
Doorways and windows had been automatically shuttered during the catastrophe. Only but bare and unscaleable walls met their eyes through the ruined streets.
When the ceiling of the neighbouring dome had shattered at last, and the air was sucked through the emergency hatch that Sergeant Dennison had opened to rescue Jeffrey, Harvey, carrying Emily in his arms, was instantly hurled across the pavilion.
He smashed head-first against the emergency wall with the force of tornado-like winds propelling him. His skull was crushed instantly, like a cantaloupe dropped on a hot summer sidewalk, affording him a swift, and therefore merciful, death. His body was barely sufficient to give Emily a cushion against that killing wall. Enough it was to preserve Emily’s life. But she was knocked wholly unconscious, oblivious to Stan’s calls.
She lay next to Harvey’s corpse, her arm broken, and buried deep amid unrecognizable piles of broken benches, signage, the wreckage of skycabs, and support columns.
“Har-VEEE!” shouted Stan. His voice rang out through the ruins of the shuttered pod.
The still unconscious Emily squirmed with the agony of her broken arm. Her motion caused the arm of the dead Harvey to slip.
Both the motion and the bright orange hue of Harvey’s emergency suit caught the eye of Corporal Stan.
“Lemee go take a look,” he said to Sergeant Dennison. He carefully laid Jeffrey’s unconscious body on the sidewalk, under Dennison’s watchful eye.
“Awrite, corporal,” Dennison said, still pulling himself together. The world was still spinning under his feet, and his headache caused the veins in his head to pulsate. He sat down next to Jeffrey.
Stan hurried over to where Emily and the corpse of his friend Harvey lay.
He saw instantly that his friend was dead. There was no question about it. He was dead.
Nor was there time for Stan to grieve the man who had been his best friend through their boyhood years, who come up with him through school, who chose, with him, Callisto Security, Emergency Services as a career, upon their graduation from school, who trained side by side with him, and who, on their leaves, impressed the girls together in their uniforms. It would be Stan would have to be the one to tell Sarah how her husband died. If he survived this battle. If she did.
But that would be later. Not now. Now, Stan had no time to grieve for his friend. Now, he was on the job, and he had to find that girl, that little girl... where was she? She had to be near.
“Little girl?” he called, with a heavy voice. “Can you hear me?”
She couldn’t. Though the agony in her broken arm caused her to squirm, she was yet oblivious to the world, aware, if she were aware at all, only of a universe of pain that had swallowed her whole.
Stan dug through the wreckage. Nor was it long before he found the unconscious Emily, buried near Harvey’s body. For a moment he was oddly glad that she was unconscious, that she wouldn’t see his friend’s headless body in that obscene condition. Let all who had any memory of Harvey remember him as he was when he was alive—vital, strong, and living life with both hands, as he did, not as this monstrous, bloodied headless hulk of a corpse.
Stan removed his glove and placed his hand on Emily’s throat. He felt a pulse. Good. She’s alive.
“Let’s get you out of here,” he said, knowing that Emily could not hear him. That made no difference. He knew also that, even were she unconscious, the sound of his voice would be sufficient to keep her connected to the world around her, would give her a tenuous lifeline that, if she held on to it, would bring her back to the world of the living.
Carefully he pulled the debris from her body, until she was free of it. With equal care, he lifted her slowly from the wreckage. Her arm fell at a shocking angle. In her unconsciousness, she murmured with pain.
“Ah... I see. Gotcher arm broken, huh? Well, we’ll get that fixed,” Stan said, in a voice both sad and reassuring.
Stan cradled Emily in his arms, carefully laying her twisted arm upon her chest.
“Okay, honey, let’s go see your brother, huh? See how he’s doing?”
He painstakingly stepped through the chaotic ruins with Emily in his arms. He stumbled often, but caught his footing each time.
Overhead, mere feet above the dome, fighter ships thundered past, looping high above Callisto, then diving down again, all firing at each other and sending swift shafts of burning lasers dancing in deadly pirouettes throughout the Callistoan skies.
The ground underneath his feet shook each time a ship crashed into the icy surface of Callisto. The stench of scalded metals was thick. It was dizzying.
“Take it easy,” Stan counselled himself. “Breath in... breath out... let’s not knock ourselves out...”
He came back to where he had left Sergeant Dennison and Jeffrey. Jeffrey had struggled back to consciousness. He was sitting upright next to Dennison.
Stan carefully lowered Emily to the sidewalk.
“D’ja see Harvey?” Dennison asked. The tone in his voice made it clear that he expected the worst.
Stan only nodded his head.
Sergeant Dennison glanced back toward the emergency wall and the ruined pod, beyond. The wall waffled against the tensions and pressures pulling on it.
“All right, then. Let’s get these kids outta here. And us, too.”
Two sleek fighter ships raced overhead in dogged combat. Shrill beams from their laser cannons screamed, giving glancing blows to the dome above.
“Nothing more we can do here,” Dennison said, rising to his feet.
The ground shook under them. Cracks opened up in the sidewalks. Panels came tumbling from the walls of the buildings nearby.
The four of them left that pod, walking hurriedly to the next which happened to be the very pod Emily and Jeffrey had fled some time before. There before them was the shuttered Education Centre where Jeffrey and Emily had taken their lessons with the children of Callisto. There, teachers and students had evacuated to the cellars below when the sirens were first blaring.
The foundations of the building had taken quite a shaking as the battle raged all about. It leaned heavily, and even as Dennison, Stan and Jeffrey watched, the building seemed to slowly twist upon itself.
Again, another huge explosion as a Scrounger transport ship crashed into the icy plains outside Callisto Base 1. Huge tremors from the crash shook the ground.
And the Education Centre collapsed upon itself, burying all within it into a living, suffocating tomb. Huge billows of dust and pulverized concrete swallowed up Sergeant Dennison, Stan, Jeffrey and Emily.
Dennison shouted into his wrist-mounted radio.
“We got a collapsed building. Education Centre came down. I am repeating. Education Centre has come down. We need assistance. Now.”
Dennison turned to Jeffrey.
“Okay, kid. Stan and me got work to do. Can you keep an eye on your sister?”
“Yes, sir, sure,” Jeffrey answered.
“All right. Good.”
Then, to Stan, he said, “Let’s get digging.”
Each man carried a small shovel that folded in half upon his back. Jeffrey watched as Dennison and Stan both gripped their shovels in one hand, and climbed up on the still smouldering pile of debris.
He squatted next to Emily, then cradled her head in his lap, feeling sick.
If he and Emily had stayed, if they had evacuated to the basements with the teachers and the other students, they would now be buried under tons of concrete and steel.
Jeffrey felt sick for all those trapped, below—assuming that they hadn’t already been crushed to death.
The Education Centre was housed in the same building that housed the civilian apartments on Callisto Base 1. Illara’s apartment was in that sprawling building. So was the apartment that Jeffrey and Emily shared with their parents, Story and Joyce Talbot.
From where he squatted on the ruined sidewalk, Emily’s head cradled in his lap, Jeffrey could not tell if that portion of the Municipal Building had collapsed. He couldn’t see it.
Were their parents still alive?
Turhan Mot’s scheme had all come to ruin. He saw that clearly. With the “Grand Marquis” in ruins, his attack on Callisto was over. Though the many Scroungers who had joined up with him had not yet understood it, and they still fought on, Turhan Mot knew that for himself, there was no hope of success, but only escape, if he could manage it.
For the second time now, his carefully orchestrated plans had been foiled, all due to the idiot interference of a single man, that Carter Ward.
First, it was his bold campaign against Interplanetary Station 3. Ward had ruined that. Now, with his own reputation on the line more than ever before, this pig of a man, Carter Ward, had again thrust himself into Turhan Mot’s meticulously calculated machinations.
And now those machinations were all in chaos. His ship, the “Grand Marquis” was destroyed. His own crew, all of them, as far as he knew, were killed.
Turhan Mot had his mind now upon a single objective, and that was to find sanctuary, if he could, with Horst Dal, and there to begin to rebuild.
So it was that now, even as hundreds of Scroungers were massing at the Space Port of Callisto Base 1to launch their ground assault against the colony, Turhan Mot and Mokem Bet were seeking out any interplanetary transport that would take them away from Callisto—back, perhaps, to Astra Palace, the secret sanctuary of the Scroungers—if Horst Dal would take him.
That was not certain. Turhan Mot already owed Horst Dal a huge sum of money. The spoils from this campaign were meant to go some ways toward paying off that debt. Nor was Horst Dal noted for his patience, or his generosity.
Turhan Mot could only speak to Horst Dal, and see for himself which way the man’s temper leaned.
So he and Mokem Bet were searching among the interplanetary ships now crowding the Space Port of Callisto Base 1. They looked for any ship abandoned by their crews, which they might simply take for themselves or, if they were not successful in that, then finding one with a crew amenable to carrying them away from Callisto.
But their luck was not with them. The captains of each of the transport ships that had joined this expedition against Callisto were, to a man, most scrupulous in leaving a crew of three or four to guard their ships. Most had heard of Turhan Mot, some hadn’t. But in either case, these sentries knew they reported to their own captains and, being the Scroungers that they were, they recognized no other authority. That this was the great and renowned Turhan Mot speaking meant nothing to them.
Nor were any of these sentries willing even to discuss any matters with Turhan Mot, in the absence of their captains. Did they wish to charter the ship, Turhan Mot would have no other recourse but to await the return of the ship’s master himself, and discuss that with him.
The crude Mokem Bet was prepared to quickly murder the next sentry they encountered, and take the ship. Turhan Mot, his own patience worn thin, was happy to go along with Mokem Bet’s suggestion.
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK