War of Alien Aggression 5 Cozen's War (2 page)

Chapter Two
 

 

The Lancers' flight of Sky Jack 223s matched Jordo's maneuvers and turned like one plane, maneuvering on directed thrust from their four nacelles. Seen from the front, the nose mounted cannon barrels, the rounded hull, and the identical and massive IF119 thruster nacelles at the ends of their four arms made the Sky Jacks looked like grinning, pirate skulls and crossbones jetting fire from their tips.

The attack carrier’s launch bays and gun batteries blurred across his cockpit canopy on his port side.
Hardway
was a kilometer long from bow to stern, but at the speed he was going, the ship was gone in a fraction of a heartbeat, replaced by flashes of UN capital ships and destroyers, fat-hulled haulers and breaching ships...all the vessels it took to get them here and keep them supplied and in the fight. You could fly down the battle lines here for 100 million Ks before reaching their end.

Squidy wasn’t rolling over and giving up his home system. The aliens had deployed every remaining ship to meet the invasion fleet. Now, even though the Earth forces were firmly entrenched, neither side had a clear advantage. The two armadas skirmished and waited for the enemy to make the first mistake.

The redsuits in the bays said it would be over in another two months, but after fighting in this system for that long, they hadn’t gotten any closer to the Squidies' homeworld moon than here, just inside the 6th planet's orbit, where the invasion battlegroup now held station.

Below the Lancers, torpedo junks from
Hardway
and two other Privateer carriers veered away as burning, 600-meter, tusk-shaped alien cruisers broke up and fell like shattered teeth. The alien carrier that had come with them to probe the invasion fleet now drifted with dark engines and silent guns. No more searchlight particle beams waved from its towers and its remaining fighters had abandoned it.

"Those red bandits they launched are angling for the fleet," Jordo said over comms. "Looks like they’re going to try for one of the breaching ships maybe."

"
An even dozen," Paladin said. "Four fights of 3."
 

Through his helmet visor and the frosty canopy, a constellation of 17 pale blue stars ripping across the black suddenly turned together to intercept the bandits. His flight helmet labeled them the 55th, the Hellcats.

"Lancer, 1-1
, you see what I see?" Dirty’s voice caressed the ear like velvet, but he knew in the cockpit she was clenching those little, rock-hard fists of hers just thinking about the 55th getting there first.
 

"
Lancers, on me." When Jordo laid on the thrust and sent most of the fighter’s power to the engines in the rear, the inertial gees pushed him into his flight couch. The kilometer-long carriers and gun-studded capital ships of the invasion battlegroup turned to streaks, but the lines of the other four Sky Jacks in his squadron stayed so crisp and sharp as to sting the eye.
 

"
Lay it out, baby," Dirty said. "That’s right. Just like that." Until the last two months of combat, the Hellcats had the superior planes. They’d been the ones that got the newest inertial negation systems so they could accelerate their F-151s faster, turn harder, and take more inertial gees than the Lancers could. Now that the Lancers had traded their Bitzers for the new Sky Jack F-223s, it was the Hellcats' turn to eat dust.
 

"
Hellcat 1-1, this is Lancer 1-1, we’ll be sure to leave you a few kills so the redsuits don’t make fun of you."
 

The Hellcat squadron leader wouldn’t let him get away with that. "Lancer, 1-1," Pooch said, "You got any money to back up that mouth? ‘Cause I got a fistful of 1000 Ameros and it says man for man, we bag more bandits than you."

It only took a quick glance at the projection in the visor of his flight helmet to see the Lancers would reach the bandits first. "Roger that, Hellcat 1-1. Easy money," he said. "Thanks for playing."

As the Lancers closed range, Jordo zoomed in with his flight helmet and made out the thrusters jutting from the alien fighters like spines and the deep red, windowless hulls that hid the alien aces inside. They were all curled up and folded over themselves in wet cockpits no bigger than garbage cans. He visualized the shells from his fighter’s six cannon burrowing in through the armor to blow them apart.

His mind embraced the vision of what it wanted so strongly that he was lost in a reverie of destruction for the first half-second that Asa Biko spoke on comms.
Hardway's
Air Group Commander said, "Lancer, 1-1, this is
Hardway
AT, break current intercept and come to new vector. Sending it to you now." The arrow projected in his visor pointed away from the approaching bandits and towards the other side of the fleet. "A friendly ship is approaching from the Denebola transit. She’s got a Squidy problem for you to sort. Come to new vectors and acknowledge."

Biko was pulling them off the incoming alien fighters and there was nothing he could do about it. The Lancers were going to owe the Hellcats some money. Out across the black, the burning pinpricks of the Hellcats’ hot exhaust spiraled on their way to engage the enemy like they were doing victory rolls. Hellcat 1-1 opened the line to Lancer 1-1 just long enough for Jordo to hear her laughter.

Pounding the canopy didn’t help, but he did it anyway. "Dammit!" He thumbed comms to
Hardway
, "Acknowledged,
Hardway
. Lancer 1-1 says wilco. Will comply."

Paladin stayed on his 4 o'clock, a half-second back. Holdout and Gush would be sixty degrees off Paladin’s tail just a couple of seconds behind him. Dirty would be flying the wildcard slot, watching their collective backs.

"
There’s our hostile at 317, 026. Looks more like a flying bomb than a ship," Paladin was right. It was about 10 meters, the size of an alien fighter, but stripped of most of the spikes that radiated outward from the hull. "Fast as hell."
 

"
Not trying to evade yet. It’s making for the friendly 60,000Ks out."
 

"Right. Stay tight. Squidy is coming in so hot, we’re only going to get one shot at this. Me and Paladin will box him. Holdup and Gush, you tighten the net. Dirty gets to dust ‘em."
 

It knew the range of a privateer cannon, and it went evasive once they got close, using its superior inertial negation system to out turn and out accelerate even the Sky Jacks. The Lancers’ range-det shells took away its advantage, blowing up in its path and hurling shock and shell and hyper-velocity shrapnel that forced it to change course again and again until it could only find one, single path to fly that wasn’t filled with flying metal.

"This is from the heart, you Squidy piece of shit." Dirty let fly a salvo of shells that streaked into the alien craft’s port side, sparking bright. Jordo expected the armor piercing rounds to burrow deep and detonate inside, but the impacts only knocked the alien out of its flight path for a moment and then, it was back on collision course with the approaching friendly.

"
Fuck! It’s got some armor!" Jordo and Paladin had time to loose one more burst, but then, the intruder was out of effective range. They were so far away that it now dodged their shells with insulting ease.
 

The Squidy craft closed on the approaching Privateer ship. It never fired. Jordo thought it had to be an armored bomb of some kind. And it had just got through.

The approaching ship's transponder didn't giver her name. "
Vampire, Vampire, approaching Privateer ship, you have an inbound enemy warhead! It got past us." He accelerated as hard as he could and fired and fired, but his shells just couldn’t catch up with the alien. It was too fast.
 

The approaching Privateer was only 217 meters. After a few more seconds of closing on it, every single one of the Lancers knew what ship it was. Even without using their flight helmets to zoom in they could discern the familiar, fat, armored teardrop shape, the patch-welded armor, the (undersized) railgun, and the single, massive launch bay. There was no mistaking it. This was the first ship the Lancers ever flew off. It was
Arbitrage
.

He knew for a fact that ship didn’t have enough defensive batteries to guarantee catching the inbound alien bomb. He expected
Arbitrage
to be hit in less than ten seconds. A screen of blossoming fire went up from her auto-turrets, but he didn’t think it would be enough.

In the last seconds before impact, it looked like a geyser of 140mm shells came out of
Arbitrage's
launch bay and met the Squidy head on. Those shells had all the extra energy they needed to burrow through the alien bomb's reinforced bow armor. Those shells didn’t come from any defensive battery. Their point of origin got
closer
to the alien as it came. It was a Sky Jack 223 and it looked like it was trying to ram the Squidy. It was Burn. Jordo knew she scored good hits because the alien’s damaged power plant cooked off quick like a little fusion bomb and turned it into a glowing cloud of gas and hypervelocity debris.

Burn’s Sky Jack emerged from the far side of that cloud trailing burning plasma off its four, swept back nacelles and glowing hull. "Now, THAT is a bloody kill!" She whooped on comms.

Burn flew solo missions now...deep recon for Harry Cozen. She hadn't been aboard
Hardway
for a week.
 

Jordo had never actually seen the bridge of
Arbitrage
in his time flying off her or even known the name of the man or woman who sat in the command chair. That ship was one big secret. He’s spent weeks training there, but all he and the Lancers ever saw of that ship was the massive launch bay that ran most of her length. That and the lower decks, down below, up against the inner hull where they’d welded belt-iron plates to the bulkheads and called them bunks for a bunch of transfers from Bailey prison destined to become fighter pilots. Only five left now.
 

The only thing he’d ever known about
Arbitrage
for sure was who owned her. She was Harry Cozen’s ship. The day he’d learned that ship’s one, fundamental secret, it explained all others.
 

"
Arbitrage
, this is Lancer 1-2," Paladin said. "Welcome to the party."
 

The ship steamed across Jordo’s canopy without any response, with nothing on the comms channel but intermittent jamming and the faint whisper of alien propaganda in his ear. "
This is Chief Jericho Bilt. I am a war criminal, but I have not been mistreated. The war of alien aggression is a lie."
 

Six hours later, Jordo watched the rest of the Lancers sleep in
Hardway's
makeshift brig. Dirty still clenched her fists, but not as bad after a fight. They all slept better on the prison bunks the redsuits had welded to the bulkheads.

It had been a while since the Lancers gave anyone a reason to put them in there, but the railgunners in the Pit had been asking for it. They were stupid enough to insist on giving the Lancers odds for being outnumbered. It felt good to punish them for that. It paid well, too. Damn good thing, he thought. Officers or not, we’re still convicts and it’s not like we’re salaried.

He heard the metal on metal before the hatch opened. Burn was standing there when it did. She sent the Staas Guards away before she stepped inside smiling like she was there to rescue them. Two steps inside the compartment and she looked confused before her face twisted up. "Smells like a pig farm in here."

"This brig is really
an ordnance storage locker," Jordo said through the bars. "No ventilation. And Paladin likes the bean-filled buns that Cookie served for lunch." Burn punched in her company codes, and they all heard the metal strike the plate when the lock sprung and the cell door opened. "Get up, Lancers!" Jordo barked. "Time to fly."
 

They moved like it hurt. "Get to Doc Ibora for a patch job," she told them. "You just volunteered for the most important mission of the war."

"What is it?"

"Can't tell you."

"
She’s talking that spooky shit again," Gusher said.
 

"My pilots have a right to know."

"I can’t answer any questions at this time," Burn said. "But this mission that’s coming up. I’m going with you on this one." The Lancers barely nodded as they shuffled out the cell past her, probing themselves for fractures and favoring limbs. They stepped out the hatch into the bright lights of Maintenance Bay 2 and left Jordo standing in the doorway of the cell in front of Burn.
 

She said, "They didn’t look like they liked the idea of having me along so much."

"
Can’t say I do either," Jordo said. "You always volunteer for the missions that aren’t supposed to come back. Hell, I just saw you try to get your ass dusted. Isn’t the first time, either."
 

"
I pulled some serious hero shit to save
Arbitrage
today."
 

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