War of Alien Aggression 5 Cozen's War (6 page)

She was in costume. The shiny blue fabric was something from centuries ago and seemed to go on forever. The skirt it covered made her at least a meter wide. It ruffled in places, folding over itself like a Squidy. Ram knew little about historical costumes, but even with its apparent discomforts and impractical inconveniences, this one dripped with undeniable luxury.

"Do you like it? It’s Regency period. And it’s real. That is to say, it’s 325 years old. It's from the Royal Museum. It was one of my few demands." The corset gave her more of a waist than he’d ever seen.

"
It’s quite something," he admitted.
 

"
You know I don’t like wearing a uniform, but I do think it matters what one dies in." Witt turned back to the projections of friendly and enemy ships that hung in the air over the deck of the bridge. The fabric of the hoop skirt bounced only slightly with her motion. It looked like she hovered as she strode through the 10cm warships that hung in formation around her like wingless birds frozen in flight.
 

He said, "
What are the
Squidies
going to make of that dress?"
 

"
In my experience, the concept of historical appropriation is entirely alien to them." She laughed after a moment, but only once. "That wasn't meant as a joke."
 

Arbitrage’s
bridge was only slightly smaller than
Hardway’s
. Manned NAV, OPS and AT consoles ringed the bulkheads, but most of the space was open to leave more room for broad tactical projections. "Let me take you on a tour of the unfolding battle," she said.
 

Through the small, diamond-pane portholes set around the front third of the bridge, one could make out only a tiny portion of the fleet, just the ships immediately surrounding
Arbitrage
near the rear of the emerging battle formation. One glance at the projected tactical display, however, showed both fleets and the unfolding battle in its entirety.
 

Matilda Witt stood between two, ghostly fleets. Each line of warships represented by the floating projections to her left and right stretched 100 million Ks across the mid regions of the Beta Draconis system. Represented at false scale, the alien armada now attempting to hold the humans’ invasion fleet between the orbits of the 6th and 5th planets were a surprisingly macabre sight. There were so many of them that needed to be displayed at once that they’d been projected ranging in size from houseflies to hummingbirds. The shape of the alien hulls made it look like a swarm of flying teeth hung in the air over the starboard side of the bridge. Their particle emitter gun towers bristled like the wiry stub hairs on house flies.

"
They’re an eager lot," she said. "The morphology of our battle lines has been constantly changing. They’ve kept up. Now that they can see us coming at top speed and forming up like this, I should think they know what to expect. They’re already repositioning." Witt nodded to several clusters of alien ships now coming together from the rear and the flanks to meet the invasion fleet a few million Ks from the 5th planet. "It’s bloody obvious what we’re up to," she said.
 

On Witt’s left, over the port side of
Arbitrage’s
bridge, the ships of Earth's invasion fleet all maneuvered at once, each of them falling into position for the thrust into the enemy lines. "The point of the spear, of course, will be the newest capital ships of the UN fleet."

They moved like mountains, like an alpine range flying in formation. At their center flew the largest, broadest, most armored peak among either fleet: UNS Tamerlane. That ship’s armor had been printed 6 meters thick and railgun batteries populated her slopes in forests so dense they cast half of her hull in shadow. Three smaller battleships and a dozen, heavy-hitting cruisers maneuvered with her, forming the flying wedge at the center of the engagement that would break the enemy lines.

"
Svinfylking," she said. "That’s what the vikings called this formation. The center elements take a hell of a beating, but they stand a good chance of splitting the enemy in half. It’s expensive and risky and if we don’t win this battle quickly through firepower, shock, and disruption, then our losses could force us out of the system and back on the defensive."
 

The Privateer carriers steamed behind the wedge of capital ships, positioned so they could bring their guns to bear on the same targets. Ram spotted
Hardway
between
Araby
and
Pont Neuf
. They’d maintained only minimal defensive flights for the carriers. Most of the fighter and junk squadrons now buzzed in angry clouds over the capital ships.

"
The fleet’s destroyers and smaller ships will have to hold the flanks. It’s quite a gamble," he said.
 

"
Agreed. If breakthrough isn’t achieved in a timely fashion, vulnerabilities along the flanks can lead to utter disaster. Luckily for us, we won’t have to worry about that part.
You’re
going to make sure that doesn’t happen, aren’t you, Mr. Devlin." It wasn't a question.
 

*****

Tig had never seen security as tight as it was on
Arbitrage
. The portholes from the C-deck passage into the single, massive launch bay had all been covered over. Nobody could see a thing. At every intersection a pair of guards lurked with MA-48s. Most of them could see each other down the passageways and their eyes were constantly moving as if they expected some kind of Squidy boarding party to attack them here, in the middle of the invasion fleet.
 

Lt. Murchison said he’d sent word ahead and they’d be able to get into
Arbitrage’s
launch bay, but the Staas Guards on the airlocks said different. Not that they opened their mouths. They wouldn’t say a word. The Chief told Tig not to waste his breath reasoning with them.

"
The fuck am I supposed to do?"
 

"
Wait," Parker said.
 

"
Shouldn’t we call someone? Let them know...get this sorted so we can get in there?"
 

"
You really think nobody knows we’re here?" She set her helmet on the deck of the passage against the bulkhead, sat on it, and took a load off. "Learn to take breaks when you get them because management rarely means to give ‘em to you."
 

It took fifteen minutes, but someone finally showed up. Tig wasn’t sure she was a woman until she got closer and he thought he smelled her scent rising out the unbuckled collar of her exosuit. The helmet she carried was white and scorched like her suit. Her hair was only a thin, red fuzz, like a coppery blush over her skull. It looked so fragile. "I’m Quinn," she said. "You want to see it?"

Chief Horcheese shrugged and pretended indifference. Tig and Parker followed suit, but once they were through the locks into the still pressurized bay, that pretension became impossible to maintain. The sight of the stealth incursion ship that would strike the war’s final blow was enough to make them all gasp.

With their naked eyes, it was like looking at a shadow in the air. Tig looked right through it to the redsuits clearing out on the far side of the bay. He’d seen gravitational lensing before, but this was something else. It was as if the whole, 150m ship was only a quarter there, like from its antenna-spiked bow to its impossibly engine-free stern, it was no more corporeal than a ghost. The deck of the bay sparked every few seconds where her six, claw-footed landing gear made physical contact.

"I can barely see it," he said. Parker and Horcheese were speechless.

"
The hull is only partially powered up. That’s why you can still see anything at all." Quinn smiled. "May I present, SCS
Boomslang
," said Quinn. "The deadliest ship mankind ever launched. Cost as much to make her and her payload as the whole invasion fleet."
 

For the first time, he noticed his breath, frozen in front of him. The bay was cold like they’d only shut it minutes ago, but he could see the radiant heaters on and he knew it had been closed. The phantasm in front of him shifted and waved like hot air. "It’s sucking the heat out of the room," he said.

"
That’s right," Quinn said.
 

"
Where’s it going?"
 

"
Same place our reactor, engine, and exhaust heat goes…" They all waited to hear more. "It’s complicated."
 

"
Don’t hold back because we’re redsuits," the Chief told her.
 

"
N-Space."
 

"T
he hell is that?"
 

"
A sub-dimension, a mathematical assumption of Noondie hypermass physics that has only recently been proved manifest." Tig could feel the blank expression spread over his face. She must have seen it and known she’d lost him because she said, "Think of it like the space between floors of a house. First floor...second floor...those are regular space...regular dimensions.
Between
the floors and the ceiling there’s space...where joists and wiring and beams are. There’s space there, but it doesn’t count as a floor of the house. A sub-dimension is like that. For all intents and purposes, it’s an extra dimension inseparable from ours. It can’t exist without regular space to determine the morphology of all things there. Right now, the Boomslang here is partially-in and partially-out of N-space. That’s where the heat and the emissions are going, remember. And the light it absorbs instead of reflecting. If that hull were powered up higher, then you’d see nothing but a black hole. When she’s
all
the way in, you can’t see her at all because there’s literally nothing
here
to see."
 

"
You the Staas Company sales rep?" The Chief couldn’t take her eyes off it. Neither could Parker and Tig.
 

"I designed the hull," Quinn said. She gestured for comms with the ship. "
Boomslang
, this is Quinn. Got personnel with me. You mind sliding that hull back to null-shift so we can come aboard?"
 

Boomslang
slipped into being in front of him and filled the bay so quickly that the sudden sight of its full visual weight was enough to throw Tig off balance and make him lean towards it. Once it came crisp in front of his eyes, it was easy to make out the 88 hatches up and down its mostly featureless, flattened teardrop of a hull. Those hatches looked big enough to launch a Bitzer or a Dingo drone from each one.

The airlock came down from the hull at the end of a five-meter cylinder that extended to the deck. It rotated and opened for them, and the warm, moist air inside froze in a quick puff. The ice crystals floated away like a specter under the ship as they stepped into the lock.

"
There's three main sections of the ship," she said as the cylinder rotated around them again to open on the dim interior of the ship. Spotlights shone down from above every ten yards or so. "This is the main ordnance bay. I don’t want to insult you redsuits by saying it, but these are, as far as we know, the most powerful weapons known to exist, so please don’t touch them."
 

The bombs stood so tall in there, at first he didn’t even see them. Then, once he realized what the towering shapes to either side actually were, it was as if the ordnance bay was less of a bay and more like a cathedral built to hold them. Maybe it was the shape of the 15m-tall casings like elongated, primitive heads or how when you stood right in front of them, the depressions in them meant to help them overcome turbulence in the homeworld moon’s atmo looked like eyes. To Tig, the bombs stood there lined up like expressionless Easter Island Statues, one row up the port side and one row up starboard. 44 on each side, 88 total.

"
What are they doing here?" The voice was grim and tired and when Tig looked behind him, he saw the two figures that came walking slowly out of the dim. They passed through the spotlights shining down between the bombs.
 

"
That’s Fiske and Totoppolus," Quinn said quietly before she shouted to the approaching crewmen. "This is Chief Horcheese and a couple of her redsuits."
 

"
We know who the fuck they are."
 

"Look more like cherries."

"
Why are they here, Quinn?"
 

"
We don’t need them. We trained for this for 14 months without ‘em. Didn’t need ‘em then. Don’t need ‘em now. Bad enough we have to compromise opsec to bring Commander Devlin along just so Cozen can make a hero out of his golden boy. Now, we gotta bring his reds along too?"
 

Quin said, "What
you
gotta do is follow your orders and shut the fuck up," she said. "
We do what the old man says.
"
 

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