Actual,” the wireless spoke into the pilot’s helmet. “I don’t like this talk of hostile lifeforms—the fourth Raptor is on the way down with full external loads.”
Actual,” Hamish answered. Since the small Battlestar normally carried only two Raptors, the Admiral had asked for volunteers for two more—and aggravated by the actions of the media, Hamish had volunteered. So had Racetrack, who was flying the second of three Raptors loaded with Marines—but not fully loaded. They still had room for eight survivors among them.
“Coming up on the beacon, Prince,” Jester called out from the ECO station. “All Marines stand ready for deployment—arming cannon pod,” he continued and Prince saw the weapons station console come to life. Each of his Raptors carried just the one pod for this flight, but weight considerations with a full troop bay meant his other hardpoints were empty.
“It sure isn’t a vacation world, Prince,” Jester said. “High winds, barely breathable air, cold, lack of surface water . . . penal world maybe, but who in their right mind would colonize this place?”
“Certainly Acheron is a nasty bugger of a planet, Jester, but it does has a certain charm to it—and if those sensor readings are accurate, looks as if there is a sizeable amount of tylium ore in the crust.”
“Didn’t say it wasn’t a valuable world, Prince, but damn if I would want to live here,” he paused, “coming up on the lower edge of the cloud cover . . . now,” he said as the Raptor finally descended into moderately clear air.
“Hello,” Prince whispered as he saw the rough colony laid out below him. And his DRADIS showed the location of the automatic landing beacon ahead. And something else—there was a massive structure in the distance, easily twice the size of the Great Pyramid on Virgon. “Would you look at that,” he whispered. “Whoever these people are, they can build, Jester.”
“Recording,” the ECO reported.
“Excellent,” Prince answered and then he blinked. “What the . . .,” he whispered and he triggered his flood lights as he went to hover mode.
The sudden bright light illuminated the ground below—and a sea of writhing creatures bared their fangs at the Raptor high above them.
“FRACK!” cried the Marine commander—Lieutenant Tamara Mayne. “There are hundreds of those things down there!”
“And they are moving toward the colony structures,” Jester said tightly. “I think we need to get down and grab our passengers and get the frack out of here, Prince.”
“I do believe you might be correct, old boy,” Hamish said quietly.
“Marines, I want a perimeter around the landing pad! Unload the heavy weapons,” snapped Tamara. “If it ain’t human, kill it!”
“Looks like a welcoming committee,” Prince said as he approached the pad and set down. A single human male was standing there—looking very nervous. The hatch was open even before the skids touched the tarmac and the Marines flooded out with weapons at the ready.
Tamara walked up to the waiting man, “Lieutenant Tamara Mayne, Colonial Marine Corps—where are the rest?”
Bishop nodded—her Greek was atrocious, but he managed to translate the gist very quickly. “They are coming now—the xenomorphs are very dangerous, Lieutenant. Their outer carapace resists small arms fire and their blood is highly acidic in nature—what Colony are you from?”
“Libran,” she snapped. “This just gets better and better, Marines—we need to take them down at range.”
“I am not familiar with that Colony—or with your dropship,” Bishop said in a confused voice. “Is this all that you brought?”
“Raptors can hold eight troops plus the crew—I brought myself and fifteen Marines; you did want a place to sit on the ride to orbit, right?” She considered the man—he was unarmed. She unbuckled her pistol, and offered it to him.
He shook his head. “I am not a Marine, Lieutenant Mayne. I am a . . .,” he began.
“Ma’am, folks coming in!” the platoon sergeant barked.
Tamara and Bishop trotted up to the perimeter as four adults—one carrying a child—came hurrying in. Three wore uniforms and armor, but all four were carrying weapons.
Bishop spoke. “They neither speak nor understand your language, but I can translate.”
“Tell them to get the kid aboard a Raptor,” she said, and then she cursed. “Marines! North-east!” she shouted as she raised her heavy rifle and began firing at the on-coming wave of alien creatures.
Her guests needed no translation of that as they turned and three of them began adding their fire—the fourth of the strange looking Marines held a weapon that literally belched a stream of burning gel into the creatures.
Tamara blinked at that, but she didn’t have time as the creatures just kept coming and coming—she was switching magazines and watching in shock the carapaces of the creatures shrugged off some of the rounds. But not all. And she smelled the stench of their acid blood and saw it melting away the edge of the tarmac with incredible speed.
“DANGER CLOSE!” shouted Prince over the wireless and Tamara and the Marines pulled back—a Raptor in the sky swooped down and fired a salvo of rockets into the creatures, momentarily breaking up the wave.
“GET ABOARD!” she yelled pulling on the arm of one of the stranded humans—the Marine turned around and for a second, Tamara thought he was going to shoot her, but he nodded as she pointed to the Raptors and yelled to his people.
“There are two more!” Bishop said, as he pointed at Gorman and Burke—Burke running for his life while Gorman backed up, firing his pistol in the aliens chasing him and throwing grenades.
“SUPPRESSIVE FIRE, NOW, GODS DAMN IT!” Tamara yelled.
The Fleet Marines laid down a withering barrage, and the strangers added their own grenades to the mix—Burke screamed and he went down, holding his leg, but Gorman lifted him with one hand and continued to stagger towards the pad. The Marine she had grabbed ran forward—with one of his companions, and then a second who cursed. Tamara couldn’t understand the words, but she could tell he was cursing.
And behind her she heard a scream as one, then a second, of her Marines was torn apart by the claws and teeth of these creatures. She spun and fired a burst into three fighting over the first Marine—the second was being carried away, and she offered a quick prayer as she draw a bead on his body and put a bullet in the man’s chest. She’d want her men to do the same for her, if it came to it, after all.
The strangers picked up the two injured men and retreated firing behind them as they came.
“Make it fast, Leftenant Mayne,” Prince broadcast, “these things are encircling the pad. Racetrack and Burner are ready to lift—just you and our guests left.”
The fourth Raptor swooped in again—and if the rocket pods were empty, the two cannons pods were not. High explosive tracer shells ripped through the attackers on either side of the retreating Marines and then they were there and Jester was helping them up and into the hatch.
“GO!” screamed Tamara as she grabbed the edge in one hand sat on the deck, still firing at the creatures charging through her bullets.
The Raptor rose up, even as Racetrack and Burner hovered thirty meters up—their cannons adding fury and flame to the sea of creatures below. And then the Raptor shook—hard—and Tamara raised her rifle at the creature that had leaped ten meters from the ground to the wing and snarled at her.
CLICK. The firing pin fell on an empty chamber and time seemed to stand still as a slime-coated pair of inner jaws snapped out towards her face—to meet a shotgun blast that caused her ears to ring.
She screamed as the acid blood of the creatures coated her legs and then her guests hauled her inside and Jester sealed the hatch as Prince punched it for orbit.
Jester opened a survival pack and dug deep, extracting a brown package that he shook and tore open and he said, “This is going to hurt like all the hells,” and then he poured a red powder atop of the acid burning holes through her suit, clothing, flesh, and blood.
Tamara screamed in agony—and then she passed out. But the substance stopped the bubbling acid cold. The evacuees laid her on the deck and one of them held his fingers to her throat; he felt a pulse and he nodded. He babbled something in a language that Jester didn’t understand and held out one hand, but at the moment, the language didn’t matter, so Jester just smiled and he clasped the man’s hand and shook it.