Valdar twisted a dial, looking through the camera feeds around his ship watching New Abhaile. They could only make out the leading edge of the banshee swarm as the dust cloud rising over them blocked out visual and IR cameras. There could be hundreds, or thousands, of banshees heading to the city.
On a tactical plot manned by a team of sailors, the oncoming fleet of compromised ships was well on their way. The six ships skirted just above the upper atmosphere, fighting through the drag.
“Sir,” said Erdahl, a platinum-haired Swede, adjusting the course vectors on the tactical plot, “sir, if the hostile ships maintain this course, they’ll hit New Abhaile.”
“A kamikaze mission, can’t say I’m surprised,” Valdar said. “Conn, set an intercept course, flank speed. Gunnery,” Valdar turned to Utrecht, “deploy the javelins and leave them in geo-synch over the city, transfer launch authority to Hale, and work up a firing solution on those cruisers. Those ships must mass in the millions of tons. One of those hits New Abhaile…”
Valdar opened a channel to the Burning Blade. “Ty’ken, you see all this?”
“Yes, Captain, I will match speed with you and engage,” Ty’ken said.
“No, stay and hold your position. Give me a few minutes to get up to speed, see how the enemy reacts. If any get past me, it’s up to you to knock ’em down,” Valdar said.
“Affirmative, good hunting.” Ty’ken closed the channel.
Valdar pointed to the XO. “Prep fighter and bomber intercept. Tell Gall to launch once we’re at speed.”
“Aye aye, captain,” Ericcson said.
“Get me Hale,” he said to the comms officer, who had to maintain the IR laser connection with the buoy over New Abhaile.
“This is Hale.”
“Son, I’ve got to break off. Cruisers are coming in hot and fast. If I don’t get them early, they’ll hit you hard enough you’ll swear they’re using nukes,” Valdar said. “I left five javelins in orbit for you. Command prompts should be coming to you now.”
“Sir, what do we do if a ship gets past you?” Hale asked.
“There’s not a whole lot you can do,” he said. Other than stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass good-bye, he thought. “We’ll double back soon as we can. How long can you hold out?”
“Depends on how many there are. No sign of drones yet,” Hale said.
“Gott mit uns, Valdar out.” He made a chopping motion across his neck and the comms officer ended the transmission.
Durand’s Eagle shook as the acceleration from her thrusters pressed her against her seat. She cut back the power, enough to keep her velocity constant in the thick upper atmosphere.
“Not too fast, everyone, we overshoot the targets and we’re out of the battle,” she said to her squadron. The 103rd had become a mishmash of human and Dotok pilots in the last few hours. The incoming cruisers had come in hours before anticipated, and half her fighter pilots were flying cargo missions to and from the capital when word came to prep for launch. She had two other Eagles in the void with her, the Ma cousins on a Condor bomber and the eight Dotok pilots from the Burning Blade.
“Gall, this is Bar’en. My fighters have gauss cannons and nothing else. We can barely scratch the paint on those cruisers. Care to explain why we’re even out here?”
“Do you see any drones escorting the capital ships? Trick question. You can’t because we’re too damn far away. You’re here to cover my Eagles and the bombers. Save the sharpshooting for the planning phase or the after-action review,” Durand said. Multicultural operations were normal within the Atlantic Union military, which was drawn from dozens of nations. Decades of interaction had smoothed out most issues between nations; even the Ma cousins managed to get along without incident.
Dotok notions of respect for the chain of command were harder to grasp, or maybe Bar’en was his species’ equivalent of a jerk.
“Clear the firing line from the Breit to the leading cruiser. Let her big guns take care of it,” Durand said and nosed her fighter toward the cruiser on the far left of the approaching wedge.
“Christ, those things are big,” said Ryan, one of her two wingmen. A burning iris of superheated gas enveloped the prows of the approaching ships, each nearly twice the size of the Breitenfeld.
“Nag, how long until you have a torpedo solution?”
“At the rate they’re closing? Four minutes. I barely have to aim, just set the torps in their path and let Newton’s laws do the rest,” she said.
“Eagles, prep your rail guns. Go for an angled shot through the engines,” Durand said. “Far-left cruiser is the priority target. Knock it offline and target the next one on the left. Breit will start on the other end and work toward the center.”
“I’ve got a firing solution. IR guidance backup establish on torpedoes one and—”
A burst of light from the cruisers overwhelmed the transmission with static. Durand’s canopy darkened to protect her from the sudden glare.
A muffled scream came through the IR. “I can’t see! Can’t see!” Ryan shouted.
Durand blinked away spots and she was flying into the void.
“Get back on intercept course and reacquire targets!” Durand tried to shout over the confusion reigning on the channel. She looped her fighter around and found the enemy cruisers.
The cruisers had broken into two groups of three. One group maintained its original course, engines burning like the center of a star as they accelerated. The second group bore to the south, away from New Abhaile.
In the wake of the cruisers screaming toward New Abhaile, hundreds of pinpricks of light blossomed against the atmosphere—escape pods full of banshees headed for the surface.
“They dropped their pods,” Glue called out. “Over the middle of nowhere?”
“Capitol ships now, pods later,” Durand said. With the cruisers accelerating, there was no way her fighters could change course and catch up with them once they passed each other. “OK ladies, we’ve got one shot at this. Make it count.”
“Durand, this is Ericcson. Stand by for main guns.”
“Butler, Ryan, line up your shots,” Durand said. She angled her rail gun at a cruiser and aimed for one of the four engine spheres. “Fire on Valdar’s signal.” She flipped the safety switch off her control stick and waited.
“Main guns, fire!” Valdar shouted.
Durand pressed the trigger and her Eagle bucked as her rail cannon sent a hypervelocity slug screeching toward the cruiser. She brought her emergency batteries online to charge up another shot and watched her shot close on the target, like an arrow from a long bow on a far older battlefield. The rail shot glowed like an ember as it neared…and went through the cruiser’s wake, missing.
“Glue, tell me you got a better shot off than I did,” Durand said. She glanced at her battery power: less than forty percent and rising far too slow for her to do any more good.
“Torpedo impact in three…two…one,” Glue said. An explosion against the prow knocked the cruiser off course, exposing its port side to the full force of Takeni’s atmosphere rushing past it. The ship lurched backwards and broke into a thousand fiery pieces.
“Good shooting, Glue! Target the next cruiser.”
Durand saw burning dots shoot through the sky and strike a cruiser. The Breitenfeld’s rail cannons cored the ship, blasting through the four engines and turning the ship into a fireball so bright she had to look away.
By the time she reacquired the remaining cruiser, it had passed beneath her.
“Damn it, I’ve got no shot with my rail cannon. Glue, Butler, Ryan, can you engage?” Durand asked.
“Negative, shot my wad,” Butler said.
“The torpedoes are too slow for a wake shot,” Glue said.
“Ryan? Ryan respond,” Durand waited, but there was no response.
“Breitenfeld, that last one’s on you,” Durand said.
“I don’t care if you’ve got a lousy shot! Fire the main guns now!” Valdar shouted. The third cruiser was ahead of the ship, its heat shield glowing like a hot poker.
The main guns roared, roiling the deck beneath Valdar’s feet. Rail cannon shots left a searing line in the sky, and Valdar followed it all the way as they closed on the cruiser…and missed. It took two minutes for a good crew to reload the rail cannons and recharge the capacitors. The cruiser would overtake them in less than one.
“Helm, bring us about. Try to angle the dorsal cannon for a wake shot on the cruiser,” Valdar said.
“Ugh, sir?” Ensign Geller said.
The cruiser had adjusted course slightly and was headed straight for the Breitenfeld.
“All power to starboard engines!”
The ship swung to the left, throwing the bridge crew against their restraints. Valdar watched as the cruiser closed and thundered over their heads.
“Gunnery! Make ready with the dorsal—”
The Breitenfeld shook as the tortured air from the cruiser’s wake battered the ship.
Valdar braced himself against his command chair and watched as his ship tipped over and headed toward the surface.
“Conn, get us level and increase altitude! Gunnery, prepare to fire,” Valdar said.
“If I fire the dorsal cannons from this angle, it’ll send the ship into a death spiral,” Utrecht said. “You’ll kill us all for a shot we can’t make!”
Valdar’s jaw clenched. He wouldn’t throw away the lives of everyone on his ship on a forlorn hope, not when there was another chance.
“Burning Blade, this is Breitenfeld. Can you engage the cruiser?”
“This is Ty’ken. We’ll do what we must. Gott mit uns.”
Hale walked atop New Abhaile’s perimeter wall, his eyes on the approaching storm. Dotok armed with bulky gauss rifles hunkered against sandbag fighting positions. Hale nodded to the defenders as he passed them by, careful to keep his pace even and controlled.
Un’qu, on the other hand, had nearly sweat through his fatigues and kept tapping his fingertips against his rifle.
“Un’qu, stop fidgeting,” Hale said.
“How? Aren’t you scared?”
“Of course I am, but you can’t let that show. Your men are a magnifying glass on your emotions. You look scared and they’ll be terrified. You look brave and they’ll take on a lion with their bare hands.”
“What’s a lion?”
“Big cat,” Hale said, but the description seemed to go right over Un’qu’s head. “A monster. They’ll fight monsters with their bare hands so long as you look—not feel—look like you’re brave. Got it?”
Un’qu swallowed hard and nodded.
“Raider Six, this is Crimson.” A call from one of the other strike team leaders came over the IR. “We’ve got bogies coming in from the southwest. I count at least forty, maybe more. Permission to engage with quadrium munitions.”
“Negative on quadrium, not until they enter range of the Canticle,” Hale said. The defenders had four quadrium rounds left, jewels beyond price in a fight against Xaros drones. Forty drones against a city full of defenders armed with gauss rifles and a battery of flack guns mounted around the Canticle, the odds were in his favor.
“Look!” One of the Dotok soldiers pointed to the sky. The drones were high above, emerging and disappearing from amongst the clouds.
“Why aren’t they attacking?” Un’qu asked.
“I don’t know.” Hale watched the drones then looked to where they were heading—right for the mass of approaching banshees.
“Raider Six, this is Bailey. The banshees have stopped,” she said.
“What’re they doing?”
“Just standing there, you want me to start picking them off?”
“Do you see any leadership targets?”
“Negative, they’re all pretty much the same giant walking nightmares we know and love,” she said.
“Then hold your fire. Don’t flag yourself for special attention just yet,” Hale said. Bailey answered him with a smack from her gum.
An eerie calm fell over the city, and a horrible memory came back to Hale.
“I need to get back to the command post,” he said, backing away from the edge of the wall, his eyes glued on the wall of kicked-up dust that was slowly settling.
From the dust, a gargantuan shadow emerged. Four spider legs joined together beneath a giant black mass of fused drones, the burning eye of a cannon at its center. The construct stepped over the front rank of the banshees and braced itself against the ground. The banshees began running, like the starting shot of a footrace had just gone off.
A blast of red energy shot from the cannon and struck the city’s walls, annihilating a segment of the outer perimeter with a thunderclap. Bricks and bodies flung into the air, pelting Hale’s armor with ejecta the size of his fist. His armor withstood the blows, but Un’qu wasn’t so lucky.
The Dotok took a rock to his helmet, which hit hard enough to leave a deep divot against the graphene-reinforced steel, and sent him sprawling. Hale grabbed the carry handle on the back of Un’qu’s armor and dragged him away.
“Elias!” Hale shouted into his IR. “Elias, can you hear me?”
A second blast from the construct bit deeper into the city and struck the mooring beneath a starship that had been converted into a hydroponics farm. The ship lolled to the side and fell into the hot springs, sending a wall of near-boiling water crashing toward Hale. He covered Un’qu’s body with his own. The water knocked him off balance and sent them hydroplaning into the fence along the edge of the wall.
Steam rose off of Hale’s armor as Un’qu moaned in pain.
“What the hell was that?” Bodel asked. “Sounded like the Breitenfeld fired a rail shot in atmo.”
Elias stood in a grav-train tunnel with darkness around him but for the circle of light that poured in through an access tunnel above his head. His fellow soldiers were in the same tunnel that stretched north out of New Abhaile, all waiting for him to make a decision. Elias looked over his transmission log and found nothing of note. He grabbed onto the sandstone rock of the drill shaft leading to sunlight and started climbing.
“Armor, get to your firing positions. Looks like the party started without us,” he said.
“How did we lose comms so fast?” Silva asked. “I thought…that’s new.”
Once Elias got clear of the shaft, he saw an antique antenna array with solar panels scattered around a man-made clearing in the mountain peaks. Windswept snow ghosted around him. He looked between two shards of rock and saw the construct, banshees swarming past its legs.
“That is new,” Elias said. He’d faced a drone construct before on Earth, but that had been made up of only a few drones. This was another animal entirely. “Get a brace and prep for rail cannons. We mass fire on my mark. Check in once you’re anchored.”
“Any particular target?” asked Cruz, another of the Smoking Snakes.
“The middle, aim for the middle,” Elias said. He climbed over the rock walls and found a small mesa amidst the peaks. He raised his right foot and a yard-long spike shot from his heel. He slammed it into the mountain and barely made a dent. The spike began spinning, boring into the mountainside.
“I’ve got maybe three minutes until I’m anchored,” Kallen said.
“Two for me,” Bodel said.
“Same. Get secure and charge up your lances. You go flying off the side of this mountain and it’s a long way down,” Elias said.
“Elias! This is Hale. Do you read?” The Marine had an edge to his voice that Elias almost didn’t recognize—fear.
“This is Elias. I’ve got you.”
“I need you to engage that construct—” his transmission broke into static “—minutes!”
The glowing eye at the center of the construct grew in strength.
“Hale, I don’t think you have any minutes for us to wait,” Elias said.
“Elias, this is Silva. You should see what that thing did to the city. We can’t let it fire again. I’m anchored, taking a shot,” the leader of the Smoking Snakes said.
“Silva, constructs have point defense. Wait for the rest of us!” Elias looked down at his anchor, barely halfway set into the mountainside. Elias raised the twin rail cannon vanes up and out of the scabbard on his back. They bent at a hinge next to his shoulder and electricity arced along its length.
Silva’s rail cannon cracked like thunder, the sonic boom knocking snow and rock around him, telling the enemy exactly where he’d fired from.
Red lasers stabbed out from stalks attached to the construct and scored a glancing blow against the hypervelocity round. The round impacted hard enough to lift the construct off two of its spider legs, then it slammed back into the ground.
The cannon swung toward Silva.
“Silva, move!” Cruz shouted.
“Second shot almost ready!” Silva’s transmission crackled with static electricity.
The cannon fired a beam of light that nearly cleaved the mountain in two. Rage boiled in Elias’ chest. Silva was dead and gone.
“I’m anchored!” Kallen said. Bodel and the two remaining Smoking Snakes signaled their readiness.
“Pinpoint shots, that thing will be looking for us now,” Elias said.
“Elias, I’ve got javelins incoming,” Hale said. “Hold your fire.”
“I don’t think you understand our situation,” Elias sent back.
He looked up and saw four white-hot lines of light screaming toward the construct. The javelins operated on a very simple principle: gravity and kinetic energy against large ground targets. The American military had used the munitions against Chinese fleets during the Analog War, knocking out several aircraft carriers without having to rely on computers. If even one of the javelins connected with the construct, the effects would be devastating.
The cannon swept over the mountain range, stalks attached to its outer shell writhing.
“What’s the call?” Kallen asked.
The cannon froze, then swung toward Kallen. Elias watched the javelins break through the overcast sky and felt his anchor take hold.
“Light it up.”
Explosions rippled along the mountain peaks as five rail cannons fired. The construct’s stalks lashed out with wide swaths of laser energy, but weren’t enough to defeat every rail cannon shell, or the javelins that fell around it.
Dust and pulverized rock cleared around Elias. The construct had two legs blown away and a deep gash across the cannon housing.
“Again.” The hum of his rail cannon rose to a whine and he sent another shot into the heart of the construct.
“Construct is disintegrating,” Bodel said. “That’s my kill.”
“My puckered white ass it’s your kill,” Kallen countered. “I saw my round blow it clean in half.”
Elias considered going back into the tunnel, then he looked down the mountain range to where Silva had perished. Banshees scrambled around the remnants of the construct as it burnt away from an internal conflagration, heedless of its loss.
“Our escape route is compromised,” Elias said. “Blow your anchor and meet me at the base of the mountain. Let’s see how tough these things are.” An explosive bolt severed the spike from his heel and Elias began his descent, sliding down the loose rocks and snow patches.
Elias snapped off shots from the twin gauss cannons mounted on his forearms, easily hitting targets in the great mass of charging banshees. The Iron Hearts and Smoking Snakes charged down the mountainside, demanding attention with their fusillades.
“Elias, what the hell are you doing?” Hale asked.
Elias leapt over an escarpment and fell twenty feet, the impact rattling him within his armored womb.
“Pulling your feet out of the fire, as usual,” Elias said. He blew a banshee to ribbons and slid across a sheet of ice. “We’re your anvil, Hale. Drop the hammer on my mark, or you’ll end up in a knife fight with these ugly bastards.”
“Launch an area target mission on my location on my mark. Just let me get their full attention first,” Elias said.
“Elias, I know you think you’re invincible but the high explosive—”
“Do it. Or I will crush your jarhead like a grape the next time I see you.”
Elias trotted down the slope of the mountain and came to a stop. Kallen slid next to him. Elias looked up the mountain and saw Bodel, tumbling down like a loose barrel. The German came to a rest in a cloud of dirt and gravel, then got to his feet.
“You all right?” Kallen asked.
“Meant to do that,” Bodel said.
The Smoking Snakes paired up a hundred yards away.
The banshees farther away in the valley charged toward the New Abhaile and its gutted defenses.
“I hate being ignored,” Elias said. He turned his armor’s megaphones to full power and roared. The sound echoed down the valley. Banshees ground to a halt and turned to face the Iron Hearts, distended jaws slathering and yellow eyes burning behind the armor bolted against their skin.
Elias charged, Bodel and Kallen at his side.
A banshee leapt at Elias. He caught it by the skull and crushed it into pulp. He swung the corpse back and hurled it against another banshee.
Bodel slapped an arm against his forearm cannon, fighting the recoil as he let it rip on full auto, his rounds scything through the banshees, throwing a gray mist of blood into the air.
Kallen smashed an enemy to the ground and kicked it in the gut launching it through the air and into more banshees.
A significant mass of banshees had come to answer their challenge. Some would still make it to New Abhaile, but not enough to doom it.
“Hale, fire on my position now!” A banshee slashed at Elias’ chest, and sparks arced from the gash the blow left behind. Elias punched the banshee in the chest, his hand embedding inside the armor. He kicked the corpse away and fired his gauss cannons until his last round was gone.
“I’m empty,” he said.
“Still think this was a good idea?” Kallen said as she reached up and grabbed the banshee on her back trying to claw into her armor and then crushed it against a boulder.
“Shot, over!” Hale shouted, announcing that the gremlin launchers had sent their mortar shells into the air. With high-angle weapons like the mortars designed to shoot over walls, the time of flight on the incoming munitions could be almost a minute. A very long minute.
“Shot, out,” Elias sent back.
A red beam of energy shot through the banshees and struck Bodel in the shoulder. The beam severed his arm and sliced into his chest. Bodel fell to his knees, then collapsed to the ground.
“Kallen, cover him!” Elias scanned the banshees, knocking them aside until he saw the banshee with a Xaros disintegration beam for an arm. The banshee pointed the cannon straight at Elias.
Out of bullets, Elias scooped up a dead banshee and hurled it at the armed enemy like the corpse was a fast ball. The disintegration beam hit the body and diffused inside the banshee, making it glow like a bulb.
Elias ripped the cannon arm from the banshee and kicked the mortally wounded enemy away. The banshee hit by the beam was nothing but a pile of armor plates. Elias, his body buzzing with adrenaline, felt a part of his mind mark that observation as being very, very important.
“Elias! I need help!” Kallen called out.
The Smoking Snakes, now a few dozen yards away, shot down any banshee that got too close to Kallen and where she stood over Bodel’s felled armor. Elias sprinted over and found Bodel’s chest armor open, his armored womb leaking fluid. Elias peeled the inner tank open slowly. Bodel thrashed against the womb, his eyes rolled back in his head as he convulsed.
“He’s spiked in a feedback loop,” Elias said. “If I don’t unplug him, he’ll have a stroke and die.”
“Splash, over!” Hale’s transmission came as a warning. They had five seconds until hundreds of mortar rounds came raining down around them.
Elias grabbed the wires leading into the base of Bodel’s skull.
He tore the wires out of the womb and flipped Bodel’s armor over, sheltering the stricken pilot from the coming storm. Elias then laid himself over Bodel.
“Hit the deck!” Elias got the warning out a split second before the first mortar hit.
The ground shook as blast after blast churned the surface of Takeni into a hellish moonscape. Elias felt the tiny stings of shrapnel bouncing off his armor, the mosquito whine of jagged metal zipping around them.
Elias waited thirty seconds after he felt the final round explode. There was nothing but broken banshee bodies and scorched earth absorbing gray blood that smelled like rotting flesh. Shorn limbs twitched in the dirt, and for the first time in his life, Elias came to hate war.
Kallen and the Smoking Snakes picked themselves up from the dirt, looking over what remained of their foes.
“Bodel?” Elias lifted the armor onto its side and Bodel tumbled out of the womb and rolled into the dirt. He vomited out clear fluid and curled into a ball. Elias reached for his friend, now just a skinny man with a mop of dark hair plastered over his face.
“Don’t…” Bodel said, his voice ragged and weak, “don’t leave me behind.”
“Never, Iron Heart.” Elias scooped Bodel up and cradled him like a newborn.
“No,” Bodel reached back to his armor. “Don’t leave me! Go back! Go back for me!”
Elias unfolded the treads from within his legs and morphed into his travel configuration. His treads tore over tortured ground and broken bodies back to New Abhaile. Bodel begged to go back to his armor before he lost consciousness.
Hale fired a shot blast into a banshee climbing over the ramparts. The rounds punched the banshee back off the wall and sent it tumbling into the roiling mud below. He didn’t know if the fall would be enough to kill the banshee, but it was one less thing he had to deal with.
“I need Crimson Squad to the intersection of…route Puller and route Mattis ASAP,” Hale said into the IR, praying someone heard him. The entire defense of New Abhaile fell apart when the construct blasted a giant hole in the other wall, then took out an interior wall that cut off most of the city’s frontlines from reinforcements.
Hale saw the white flashes from scattered pockets of Dotok and Marine resistance as their gauss rifles tore into the banshees. The city’s communications had dissolved into frantic cries for help from isolated outposts and civilians holed up in landed ships begging for rescue.
Individual Dotok may have been proficient in the ways for war, but they’d never bothered to prepare to actually defend the city, and everything was falling to pieces around Hale.
“This is Raider Six. Can anyone—” A bright white flash of light burst into being in the sky. Hale leapt onto the cobblestones and tucked himself against a rampart. If a nuke had gone off in the upper atmosphere, the blast wave from the explosion wouldn’t be far behind. He covered his head and waited…but nothing happened.
He got up on his knees and saw burning wreckage tearing through the sky like torches cast through fog.
“Please don’t be the Breitenfeld,” Hale said.
“This is it! This is the end!” a Dotok soldier screamed from behind Hale. He dropped his rifle and tried to wrestle off his helmet.
“Hey!” Hale grabbed him by the armor and shook him hard enough to dislodge teeth. “It’s never over. Pick up a weapon and defend yourself!”
The Dotok got a grip on himself and grabbed a weapon lying against the ramparts. A dark shadow rose up from behind the wall’s edge and plunged claws through the Dotok’s chest. The soldier looked down at the claw tips, then at Hale with confusion writ across his face. The banshee pulled the soldier back and tossed him into the hot springs like a child’s toy.
Hale shot the banshee in the face and didn’t wait to see if it fell away. More climbed up the walls around him, their talons chittering against the stones. He turned and ran back toward the intersection, the sandbag fighting position abandoned by the Dotok defenders.
He caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye and felt a hammer blow against his legs. The world went spinning as he tumbled across the cobblestones. His head slammed against a raised rock, cracking his visor.
Hale looked up and saw his rifle lying at the feet of a banshee. The monster picked it up and broke it in half. The wrecked capacitors sent bolts of electricity up and down its distended forearms, which had no effect on the banshee. More banshees vaulted over the walls, their hungry yellow eyes on Hale.
Hale drew his pistol from its holster and got up to one knee.
“You’ll kill me, but I’m going to make you earn it,” Hale said as he snapped his bayonet out from his gauntlet housing. The banshee with his rifle tossed the parts aside and howled.
Hale went prone as a Gustav heavy cannon unloaded on the banshees. Gauss rounds snapped over Hale and smacked into the aliens. Rounds blew through the first banshees and killed the next rank of foes. More rifles joined the fusillade, tearing through the banshees without remorse or pity.
The Gustav cycled down as the last banshee died.
Hale turned around and saw Orozco braced against the street, the barrel of his cannon glowing white hot. Marines and a handful of Dotok soldiers formed a firing line beside him, each hastily reloading the batteries on their rifles.
Gunney Cortaro was to the right of the line, the barrel of his rifle smoking.
“Heard you needed help,” Cortaro said.
Hale got to his feet and tried to open a channel, but error tones buzzed in his ear. He took off his helmet; his transmitter was cracked and useless.
“Gunney, get on the command net and pull every Marine off their air-defense positions and tell them to sweep toward the east,” Hale said.
“Already done, sir. We’ve got air support coming in from the Breitenfeld now, should be here in minutes,” Cortaro said.
Orozco went to a rampart and aimed his Gustav over the edge. He fired off peals of thunder, shouting, “I love my job!” between bursts. He stepped back from his firing point and looked at one of the Dotok, who was laden with ammo canisters. The soldier unsnapped the empty case on Orozco’s back and reloaded a fresh box of ammunition. Orozco returned to the job he loved so much.
Hale picked up an abandoned Dotok rifle and saw a banshee sprinting along a distant wall. Using an unfamiliar weapon, he missed with the first two shots, but the third round hit home and sent the banshee sprawling to the ground.
“Come on,” he said to the defenders, “let’s finish this.”