Return to War
The Star Commandos
Connor, Karmikel, and their former unit had served on the planet Anath for several months during the War. Now, they and their current comrades are back in response to a call for aid to combat another invasion. This time, the enemies are Britynons, old foes of Connor and Karmikel’s homeworld. They are out to take Anath to settle on her and to rape her resources, and they are prepared to annihilate the governmental and major population center of the premech native people in order to break any hope of resistance from that quarter. Can a near-suicidal raid by the Commandos prevent that assault, which will otherwise come before the help they have summoned from the Federation Navy can arrive?
The War Prince knew the chance he was taking in firing again so quickly—and predictably—from the same port, but if he did not take that fighter out now, he would lose the opportunity. He loosed a strong burst, then switched the laser off and leaped back and to the side.
Scarcely had he taken himself out of line with the weapon than the panel shattered in a blast of metal pieces and sparks that were half fire and half pure angry energy.
Sogan fell flat, allowing the fury to pass over him. Had that laser still been in operation…
Although shaken, he was unhurt, not so much as singed, but he had no time to revel in his narrow escape. The bridge was ablaze.
Not bothering to rise, he rolled to the nearest foam canister, whose position he had noted during his initial inspection of the cabin, seized and discharged it. He gave one sigh of relief as the specially formulated chemical first contained and then smothered the fire. A few seconds longer, and it would have been beyond such quick control.
More fire! Another laser, but this beam came from below! —The Britynon crew! He had forgotten those sealed on board with him.
The Arcturian’s body coiled into a crouch. It was easy enough to figure out what had occurred. The Britynons had managed to free one of the lower lasers from its bayand then had burned their way through each succeeding hatch until they reached the cabin beneath this one. They had probably judged his position by the simple expedient of listening to the havoc he was creating and their own side’s response to it and had decided to try to take him this way instead of alerting him to their intentions by a direct assault on the door. It was not a bad plan. He had not heard them at all in the general confusion. Had it not been for his own quick reaction to the hit on the flagship, he would now be a dead man.
The former admiral let them at it for another long three seconds, although the bridge was now rather seriously aflame. When he judged they had opened up enough of a hole in the deck for his purposes, he crawled toward the blue fountain. The heat forced him to stand. His feet were burning even through his boots, but he should be able to keep most of the rest of his flesh intact for a while longer. He had to do so if he was to continue to act effectively.
The laser light vanished, and he heard noise below. The invaders would be turning their weapon on another site, perhaps the hatch. He had to move fast. He would have but one chance, and surprise must be with him. A blaster against a laser was not an equitable fight.
Sogan squatted down, balancing on his toes to keep himself as much as possible away from the glowing metal, and peered through the narrow hole the beam had drilled.
Two men were below, a sergeant and a yeoman. Only two to manhandle and use that dismounted laser? —Whatever the failings of their government l, he would have been proud to have had that pair serve under him at the height of his power.
His face hardened. They had earned a better fate than he would give them.
It would be a soldier’s end, at least, preferable to the alternative, to years or a lifetime in a Federation penitentiary.
Hating himself, he fired, dropping both men with one broad bolt.
As he fell, the sergeant’s hand closed on the firing button in a convulsion so powerful that it jammed. The laser jerked away from his hold, discharging wildly, spinning and twisting under the whip of its own fierce energy. Within seconds, it had holed the hull in several places, and it would be only seconds more before it whirled upward to cut through the deck and into the bridge again.
The weapon’s erratic movements made it a poor target. The Arcturian fired once and then again. His second bolt struck its controls, fusing them so it lay still at last, as dead as the now-charred corpses of those who had tried to wield it against him.
The cabin was an inferno. Sogan first took care of the lesser blaze on the bridge, then threw open the hatch and poured canister after canister of foam into it, all he had available to him. It was enough, just enough, and once again he succeeded in extinguishing laser-started fire.
Sogan coughed violently. The air was bad, better here than in the cabin beneath but still foul.
Starship controls were fairly standardized, and he was not long in locating those directing air circulation and purification.
His mouth tightened when he saw them. The shrapnel from the exploding laser had spared him, but it had not shown any similar consideration for the instruments on the opposite side of the cabin.
So. He had only succeeded in trading one form of death for another, then, but he had come here expecting to die, had he not?
Varn Tarl Sogan went to the observation panel. Only a few ships remained, amazingly few out of all those that had stood here before his attack had begun, but then, he should hardly be surprised at the power of a well-coordinated Commando assault. He had fought to prevent a disaster like this for six long years.
The Arcturian doubled over in a spasm of coughing as his lungs tried to clear themselves of smoke and fumes. With the controls shattered, he could not close the vents giving that stuff access to the bridge.
He was already weakening badly and judged that he would not be able to finish off more than another couple of his foes.
No, he thought dully. Not even that. As a fighting force, he was finished.