Watchdogs of Space: Book 10
The Star Commandos Series
The Commandos team up with Navy Chief Admiral Gray Jack Dundee on a mission to eliminate raiders from the aptly named Pirate Stars. Sogan assumes command of Dundee’s battleship to fight one of the most challenging duels of his life against a Pirate Stars opponent. If successful, the unit must depart for what is likely to prove a suicidal assault on the heavily armed renegade base supporting the enemy battlecraft.
Even as they struggle in space, a new threat has developed at home. The fact that Sogan survived his execution has at last been discovered by his former associates. Four of them are on-world, and they question what to do about him, whether to ignore or eliminate him, while the Emperor himself conceives a very different plan for his disgraced former admiral.
The strange triumph had hit him even before Connor’s warning. He whirled to face the sea.
There was a deeper blackness in the dark water by the transport. Something rose out of it, not a body or a head, but a blunt, dark gray snout, the upper part of a spike-filled jaw.
Four tentacles extended from it, two situated on either side of the snout’s center, two rising out of the water and probably fixed to the place where the upper and lower parts of the great mouth joined. They seemed to lie a vast distance away from the central pair. Each of the four was about six feet long and of the thickness of his thigh. They were highly mobile, coiling and twisting in the air around them.
Only for a moment was it visible. It submerged, and the transport began to shake.
The machine steadied again after about ten seconds. The jaw surfaced once more, this time accompanied by its lower counterpart. The body of the driver was held between them, looking small in their ten-foot expanse.
They crunched down on it. The corpse splintered, shredded, and was gone.
Part of one leg fell free. It scarcely struck the water before the nearest tentacle, an outer one, grabbed and restored it to the mouth, then that, too, was gone.
The hunter’s hunger had in no sense abated. Sogan had used those horror-filled moments to move the child and himself back to the wall. They were beyond the reach of the tentacles, but only just. If the monstrous thing could lever itself out of the water at all, it would be able to take them or take any of the others in the Commandos’ care.
It was coming again!
A stream of energy from Islaen Connor’s blaster stung the tentacles as they emerged from the water. They disappeared fast, and he felt the creature draw back from the shore.
Good work, Colonel.
Varn’s eyes turned to the child. He dropped to his knees beside her in alarm. She is not breathing, Islaen!—Her heart still beats. Even as he spoke, he had tilted her head back, checked that her airway was clear, and started forcing breath into her.
Connor looked up at the cliff. They’re here! she exclaimed in relief.She activated her communicator. “There isn’t room for the ambulance to land here. We’ll have to use our flier and take them up in three trips. The little Lemuran has to come alone so Varn can keep working on her.”
The former admiral willed his fear for Islaen to subside. She was in good hands and should be restored by the time he reached the road above once more. The same might not hold true for this tiny girl he was fighting to save. Even if he could deliver her to the medics alive, she might not survive to reach the hospital for regrowth treatment. It all depended upon the severity of her injuries.
Spirit of Space, she was no more than a baby. It wrenched the heart in him to think that she might die when she had scarcely begun to live. She would die if he failed to give her breath...
The minutes passed with interminable slowness. The flier returned for its second load. There were fewer children to go, and it filled faster.
Bethe came over to him. “We’re ready to lift again, Varn. I’m going along. I want to keep on with the renewer work. We’ll be back in another few minutes.”
He nodded and lifted his hand in farewell.
Those minutes would seem long, he thought as he watched the machine rise and disappear from his sight. He was tired, and even his efforts and his concentration on them could not keep the cold knifing him at bay. He had passed beyond discomfort into the realm of pure misery. At least, he was sheltering and warming the child somewhat...
Fear banished the cold and nearly every other feeling. The hunter was back.
The tentacles groped up onto the ledge. Their search was not blind. They, or the thing of which they were a part, seemed to know precisely where its intended victims lay.
They could not reach the humans, not quite, but they were close and struggled to come closer still. The Arcturian pulled his legs higher so that he lay more nearly parallel to his charge.
He was helpless. Only now did he recall that he had failed to ask his comrades for a blaster.
It would probably have been useless in any event. He could not fight and continue with his present work. Deprive the Lemuran of air for even a few moments too long, and everything else would be pointless. A mindless shell did not have life.
A great form rose out of the water. There was a slap like a sharp clap of thunder as it slammed down upon the ledge, not a snout this time or a jaw but the whole massive, terrifying head.
There was movement above, but it was too late now. The flier could not make it down in time, and its lasers could not be aimed finely enough. If fired, they would take out the prey along with the predator.
The descent would take only seconds, part of a minute, but the hunter would be feeding by then.
Varn Tarl Sogan deliberately moved his body away from the child, angling himself toward the sea and maintaining only sufficient contact with her to permit him to continue breathing for her as long as possible. To cover her would be worthless. They would only be taken together, as a unit. By offering himself to the predator in this manner, he would give his comrades time in which to save the child.
He could not see the creature now, but he could feel its hunger and its anticipation, and he could hear the scraping of the tentacles as they advanced rapidly over the rock of the ledge.