INTERDICTOR

Ray Anthony
Published by ACE
ISBN 978 0 9526287 8 1
eBook $2.99


For decades, Earth's Attack Cruisers have taken a pounding from an undefeatable enemy. An enemy so alien and so incomprehensible Earth's armies are close to utter devastation; clueless as to how to challenge the impending annihilation of the human race.

For the first time in the twenty-seven year war the enemy has placed a base of operation on a planet and Admiral Ezocaagbo Akobundu-Tan is willing to risk the destruction of her fleet in order to get one man on to that planet, Lume, a highly trained special forces operative. He is also a Stinger, a human adapted for a single purpose - to kill...

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

The noise of the engines in the enormous hanger was deafening. Yet above the roar of the Hoppers, as they streamed in through the space doors, was the low-level, agonising moans of thousands of casualties. The battle cruiser Ostal’s main hanger had, over the last twenty minutes or so, taken on the guise of an enormous, frenetic and utterly chaotic triage area. Hoppers hovered, seeking a footprint of unoccupied hanger floor, landed, unloaded the dead and the dying then took off again. Amid the mass of bloody and charred combat-suited human forms the semi-intelligent battlefield medical units vied with automated stretcher-bearers, floating blood banks, medics and doctors to ‘identify and prioritise’.

     Among the hundreds of medical personnel Lieutenant Commander Katrin Rebora and a combat medic were kneeling, working intently on a badly burnt soldier whose combat fatigues were still smoking.

     “Sedate, tag for icing,” Katrin instructed then, with aching limbs, stood. She looked around at the sea of bodies then quickly moved to another casualty being attended to by another medic. Peaking over the medic’s shoulder, she took an instrument from her pocket and pointed it at the casualty.

     “Tracheotomy. Sterilise. AB positive. One litre,” Katrin said to no one in particular.

     A blood bank drifted over and hovered above her and the medic. They responded like a well-drilled team: putting away the instrument Katrin raised both hands towards the bank which scanned then sprayed them. As soon as this was done the medic reached up got his hands scanned and sprayed then detached a drip from the blood bank. With the casualty’s arms mere blackened stumps he inserted the drip into a vein in the casualty’s leg.

     Dropping to her knees Katrin wearily muttered, “Hundred and fifty watt scalpel.”

     The medic took a laser scalpel from the blood bank’s tray and slapped it into her outstretched hand. Katrin stooped and without ceremony started to operate on the casualty’s neck. The casualty, a just-out-of-school eighteen-year-old, remained conscious throughout but like a hardened veteran didn’t utter a sound.

     A kilometre away in a far corner of the hanger, a petite marine wearing an immaculate dress uniform, incongruous amongst the surrounding carnage, entered the hanger. Appearing to be even more youthful than the casualty, she took in the vista with one dispassionate sweep. Then daintily and fastidiously taking her time to step around the blood, guts and disarray she made her way unerringly over to stand behind Katrin.

     Stretching while rising from the floor, Katrin handed the scalpel back to the medic. “Dress. Tag, Bag. Rehab.”

     As she was about to move to another casualty, the marine tapped her on the shoulder. “Lieutenant Commander Rebora, I’m Colonel Novalta. We have a priority on a bioprep.”

     Katrin turned, made as if to protest then changed her mind. Again she raised both hands to the blood bank. “Excoriate and sterilise.” As the bank scanned her hands the surgical gloves she had been wearing started to evaporate. Then the bank sprayed and dried her hands. Both women made their way purposefully out through the chaos.

     “Bioprep? Colonel, I know you combat types are immune to suffering and are probably unaware that the medical units can’t really hack it, plus there is a shortage of doctors...” Katrin left it at that.

     The Colonel smiled. “It’s Mary... You medical types, despite the patent evidence, are probably unaware that we’ve been on the wrong end of a one-sided beating and need to do something about that - it’s a combat thing.”

     Having been yanked out of medical school, tossed into a uniform, given some inane rank and been told ‘she was now in The Navy’ one of the first, and most painful, lessons she’d learned was ‘orders were orders.’ Bloody military!

***

The isolation unit was a four metre square space crammed with LCDs, automation and hi-tech medical apparatus that was also bathed in red light. In the centre of the unit was a bed. Lying asleep on it was the Platinum Stinger Lume, a tall, lithe, sweet looking man. His wrists were handcuffed to the sides of the bed by electronic manacles. Mary and Katrin entered the room via a door which opened like an iris dilating. The door contracted behind them with a hiss. They stopped a metre from the bed to look down at Lume. As Katrin started to move closer Mary flicked out a hand across Katrin, blocking her path and continued to examine him. Satisfied that he was asleep, Mary lowered her hand.

     Annoyed, Katrin moved to manipulate a console by the foot of the bed then, making a point, remained by the equipment. Keeping her eyes on Lume, Mary reached out, grabbed Katrin by the back of the collar and pulled her away from the bed.

     “What’s your problem, he’s handcuffed. What’s he done?

     Mary gave her a scolding glance then refocused on Lume. “Feet.”

     “What?”

     “His feet aren’t restrained.”

     “So?”

     “That’s a Platinum Stinger, Doctor.”

     Blinking, Lume gradually awakened. His eyes, iris and cornea, were coloured jet black. He slowly and deliberately scanned the entire unit, eyes finally coming to rest on the two women. He raised an eyebrow then smiled. “Infra-red?”

     “You’re being prepped for a leave-behind,” Mary informed him.

     Lume tried to move his arms, couldn’t and looked down at the handcuffs. “Shackles?”

     Mary regarded him impassively “I am Colonel Novalta, your briefing officer and this is Lieutenant Commander Rebora, the medical transition supervisor.”

     With an icy calmness he stared at each woman in turn. “Shackles.”

     Fists clenched, he wrestled for a few moments against the restraints then gave up. All the while Katrin stared lustfully at him.

     “A tactical withdrawal is under way so your deployment has been moved up.” Mary ignored his protest.

     With subdued anger Lume glared at Mary. “Shackles!”

     With obvious excitement Katrin read the console then piped up, “It’s a low oxygen atmosphere. As the germ-lines take there will be hormonal imbalances that may have a significant effect on your behaviour...”

     “Your lungs will adapt within twelve hours at which point your testosterone levels will be normal. Until then, sex drive-wise...” With a blasé shrug, Mary left it at that.

     Lume took a moment to consider the implications of this. “So, the plan was to have me on ice until I was prepped... Just how tactical is this withdrawal?”

     “You’ve been under for twenty-nine hours - the eyes take longest. Prepping and briefing will be concurrent,” Mary continued business-like.

     “That tactical.” Lume seemed highly amused then became more sombre, “Losses?”

     “You don’t want to know,” Mary answered, equally sombrely.

     “So really tactical then. It seems like I only got back this morning from another crop-dusting.”

     “There’re some of us who’d feel privileged to be selected for a leave-behind.”

     Lume disdainfully looked the diminutive Mary over, from her feet to the top of her head. “A leave-behind is a Stinger’s errand.”

     Frostily, Mary stared back. “Re: your over-active glands, do I have your word?”

     Lume stared at Mary for a long moment, then... “You have my word.”

     Mary reached for a device on her belt and the handcuffs snapped open. Katrin took an involuntary step backwards. Lume sat up, sniggering at Katrin, while distractedly massaging his wrists. “Omega Zero Three?”

     Katrin raised an inquisitive and expectant eyebrow as Mary asked, “Yes, how did you know?”

     “Low oxygen, low light. Never been prepped for infra-red before...” He stared at Katrin then grinned wickedly. “...didn’t realise that you could see fear.”

     Katrin defiantly stepped back up to the console.

     “You’re on board the battle cruiser Ostal, over the next four to five hours you will begin to find the atmosphere on board too oxygen rich. The percentage and partial pressure in here will be fine.” Mary indicated a pair of darken goggles by the side of the bed. “R & R until then.”

***

One of Ostal’s many canteens was abuzz with the general chatter of several hundred enlisted personnel; a broad mixture of races and ethnicity. All were dressed in combat greens and most of them were walking wounded. A group of seven scruffy looking male and female soldiers, having finished their meal, collectively rose from their table and tiredly started making their way through the crowd out of the canteen. One of the female soldiers, Sergeant Khan, stopped for a moment and held her hand to her earpiece then caught up with her comrades.

     “They’ve finally allotted us a berth somewhere down on deck 17, grab the kit and decamp there. I’ll go check the suits.”

     One of the soldiers grumbled, “Let’s hope it’s more salubrious than a week of kipping in a corridor.”

     Sergeant Khan grimaced. “Be thankful for small mercies, JJ. I hear that on some ships it’s been standing room only for over a week. Be pretty smartish about storing the kit, we’ll jump soon. The extraction detail must be about done.”

     Another of the soldier snorted, “What’s there to extract, Sarg? We got smeared over the face of that planet.”

     Khan shrugged as the group ambled out. The wide corridor outside the canteen was overflowing with dishevelled and dispirited soldiers trudging along, whilst in their midst some were sleeping on the floor or simply trying to find a space to bed down. As the seven soldiers made their way through the organised confusion, Sergeant Khan collected small disks from each of her comrades, placed them in her breast pocket then separated herself from the group and turned off down an adjacent corridor.

     Spaceships were not designed with a surfeit of dead space, however, any passageway that led to a main magazine needed to be cavernous to facilitate the loading of the multitude of outsized munitions. High up on one of the gantries overlooking the corridor, Lume, wearing the darkened goggles, was perched, arms folded, calmly observing the horde below. He was dressed in a conspicuously different, completely black one-piece suit. Continuing the theme of understated exceptionality the only ornamentation on the suit was the Platinum Stinger’s insignia on its lapels.

     Sergeant Khan continued to make her way down crammed corridors and gangways filled with soldiers and the stench of suffering. Moving deliberately she gingerly stepped around, and over, the troops sprawled everywhere as if wading through a refugee camp. Then, she descended a series of stairs and ladders. The multitude and unmilitary disorder progressively thinned out at each level as she moved further into the bowels of the ship, finally arriving at a long, dark, silent corridor with a door marked Armoury 7 at its dead-end. She halted in front of the heavily armed guard at the door.

     “Sergeant Khan, 23rd Marine drop division out of The Jakarta. I understand that our suits are stored here.”

     The guard waved his hand in the air and a holographic schematic appeared in front of him. He studied it for a few seconds then whistled ruefully. “Only eighteen survivors from a full assault division drop.” He then looked the Sergeant over. “Juicy?”

     “More than juicy, salivating... The Jakarta?” ¬†Khan answered thoroughly bored.

     The guard refocused on the schematic then slowly shook his head. “Cion, Jakarta, Mooneen, Stark and Taurus, plus a bucketful of others so crippled that they had to leave the party... Retina scan.”

     Sergeant Khan stepped up to an interface in the door and the hologram in front of the guard flashed twice. “Level six. Aisle twenty-six. Row twelve.” The guard stepped aside, the massive re-enforced door silently swung inwards and Sergeant Khan strolled in. The door closed with a muffled thump behind her.

     Armoury 7, the size of a respectable warehouse, was dimly lit and stacked from floor to ceiling with mirror-shiny armoured combat suits and infantry hand weapons hanging from racks. Sergeant Khan boarded an open elevator which lifted her several levels then came to a smooth stop. She disembarked and started to navigate her way purposefully along the aisles, checking aisle numbers as she went. Turning down an aisle she came to a batch of hanging suits that were only patchily mirror-shiny, intact but obviously damaged. Taking the disks from her pocket, she selected one and attached it to the front of a suit. The disk started to glow.

     “Achikeobi, Joseph. Lance Corporal. Space Marine. Sierra, bravo, eight, zero, nine, one, five, five. Diagnostics: main power level, one hundred percent; auxiliary power level, one hundred percent; primary bio systems, non-functional - repairing; secondary bio systems, thirty-one percent functional - repairing; communications, all channels functioning. Self-repair, seventy-three point five percent complete. Combat ready in T minus nine hours,” the suit’s external communicator reported.

     Removing the disk she turned her attention to the next suit. As she selected another disk and reached out to attach it Lume stepped out from between the suits about five metres further down the aisle.

     Sergeant Khan nearly jumped out of her skin. Stepping away from the suits, she turned to fully face him. “Yes, Platinum Stinger?”

     Lume folded his arms and took a while to respond. “At ease, Sergeant. A proposition.”

     Khan looked on suspiciously but remained silent.

     “I’m being prepped for a leave-behind,” he indicated the goggles. “So it’ll be some time until I next have the opportunity to have an encounter...”

     “How did you get past the retina scan?!”

     Lume shrugged modestly. Khan dropped the disks and, whipping out her long combat knife from her boot, went into a defensive crouch.

     “Whoa! You haven’t heard the proposition yet.”

     The sergeant shuffled from side to side uncertain whether to defend, attack, or simply turn and run.

     Lume looked at her askance then smiled. “An entire brigade pinned down. Taking so much fire that the ground in and around their position was starting to roast. All of a sudden, the spanking stops. Any idea why?” He gave her a moment to consider. “Someone, a sergeant I think, which could only mean that all the officers were dead, started clamouring to be evacuated but, of course, comms were being swamped. Then, behold, as if by magic, a Hopper comes a-fluttering down.” Looking up to the heavens he let her ponder that as well. “Hmm... Now, let’s see, only a body with UV line-of-sight comms could have given a precise fix to the boys and girls up top. No fire suppression, but the Hopper makes it all the way down and plucks up said sergeant and her oddments. Still no fire suppression and still no incoming fire. They made it all the way back to orbit, apparently. Remarkable.”

     He strolled towards the sergeant. “You know the proposition.”

     Knife poised, Sergeant Khan took a defiant pace towards him, determined. Platinum Stinger or not she was definitely going to fight! Lume continued to swagger nonchalantly towards her. As he drew close she circled, ready to strike. But, Lume sauntered past her then looked back over his shoulder.

     “You owe me your life and all I was after was some female relief.”

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