Book 4 in the Star Commandos Series
Sogan is too familiar with the planet Mirelle. During the War, the crews of a fighter squad from his former fleet fell victim to the world’s deadly, seasonally active fungus, and the only vessel to return almost claimed his life. Now, he must lead his unit there to destroy those derelicts before raiders can use them to wreak havoc on the ultrasystem with their weapons and even crueler destruction from the fungus impregnating the ships. They make a long, hard journey through Mirelle’s caves, encountering the dreaded fungus, and then complete their mission in a cataclysmatic attack from both air and sea only hours before the dreaded spores will be released.
Islaen Connor had ordered her companion to keep the flier concealed among the seaward rocks until their comrades were ready to begin their own approach.
She straightened in her seat when she saw the Arcturian’s small boat slip into the entrance.
“Take her in, Jake,” she said softly.
The woman raised the converted pellet gun and held it at ready.
They swept over the base, heading straight for the nearest of the great assault ships. Never in all the course of her war-time service had she been presented with such a target, an Arcturian squadron, completely open to her attack, without guards or screens of any sort.
Almost in a trance, she fixed her sight on the spot on the dorsal side of the nose sheltering the controls she wanted, those ruling the warship’s central pletzar banks. Those should still be at least partially armed…
The Commando-Colonel’s finger closed a hair’s breadth on the sensitive trigger, and the explosive pack ripped home.
Nothing happened in the instant while the tiny craft skimmed past its target, but then the world behind them was torn with light and noise.
She did not fire at the next ship or at the two following after it. Her second shot rammed into the fourth vessel with the same planet-rending result.
Twice more she fired, and then the flier swung away from the Arcturian fleet entirely.
There was nothing left of it at which to shoot. The four target warships, fueled and battle-ready as they had been, had acted as atmobombs, firing and shattering everything docked near them, destroying not only the other assault ships but the fighters as well.
A number of the nearer pirate vessels were burning and several more had fallen, but the damage among the mongrel force was not really great. Much of the energy of the exploding derelicts had gone downward, too much for the rock forming the ledge to bear. All the section holding the Arcturian craft fractured and fell, carrying the flaming starships with it into the water beneath.
The attackers did not wait to watch the result of their work but swooped in after a cluster of the big brigs which were their secondary target.
People were running and shouting in mad disarray below them, but some few had managed to reach their ships and the negligently placed ground lasers.
Jake dodged the bolts they sent up after him almost without conscious thought. There was no quailing or uncertainty in him. He flew the flier as if it were an extension of his body, deftly avoiding the increasingly heavy and more accurate bolts while bringing his commander into the best firing positions for her own shots.
Three more times, she blasted the pirate fleet. In each case, the explosive packet hit true, but the damage done was less devastating than that which she had wrought upon the Arcturian vessels. The stricken ships went up, usually taking with them or toppling one or two of those nearest as well, but the chain reaction of fire and explosion that had destroyed the original battlecraft did not occur again. The Empire’s squadron had been space-ready and obviously still armed, and the guerrilla officer had known exactly where to place her shots. These others were unfueled, as Varn had predicted, and there was a great variety of vessels before her. She was not so intimately acquainted with the instrumentation of all of them.
One more shot remained to her. She held back from spending it. The fuel was the key. Get that, and the surviving ships were planetbound.
Her eyes swept the ledge until she spotted the bunker Sogan had described to her, the one whose size and strength of construction proclaimed it to be the dump. “There,” she told Karmikel, “and then away.”
He nodded and began his run, although it would be a long one and he knew those below would realize his intention well before it was completed.
It was no longer a simple matter to avoid the defenders’ fire. More and more of them were reaching their weapons, and the air around the flier sizzled with the searing bolts whose light was turning Mirelle’s atmosphere into something out of a raklick roar gone sour. Several evinced a white heat never born of a laser.
Jake jerked the machine aside, and blue fire streaked up through the space it had occupied but an instant before. The flier rocked threateningly, and the stench of scorched metal rose up around him. He steadied the machine and brought it back on course, holding at hover as they came over their target.
Islaen’s weapon fired, and the eerie glare of lasers and pletzars vanished as a column of yellow flame spurted high into the sky above them.
The captain hit the accelerator, heedless now of any bolts that might still be lancing the air.
The glowing stream paused one breathless instant before beginning to drop groundward again. Motes of fire danced out in every direction like spray from a fiend’s fountain.
The flier made it free, barely.
“Keep going!” his comrade ordered tightly.
A thunderous explosion drowned out her words as the flames reached the main reservoir of the liquid fuel which powered the older ships.
Fire again billowed far into the air, this time accompanied by clouds of heavy black smoke.
A crack like the shattering of a world sounded above the roar of the flames, and all that part of the ledge gave way.