The Centurion Commander stared down at the screen from the cockpit of the lead Guardian shuttle inbound towards Beowulf. Eight hundred and ninety-nine identical shuttles trailed behind him—and none of the humans were in position to intercept his forces. The Imperious Leader had commanded that he take this world, and with the thousands of Centurions at his beck and call, he had little doubt that he could.
But the DRADIS showed something . . . odd ahead of his command. This world had far more satellites in orbit than the emissions from the surface indicated that it should. And while many satellites were in geo-synchronous orbit, and others in low-orbit, there was a constellation of three hundred that were using station-keeping thrusters to interpose themselves between his shuttles and the planet surface.
It worried him.
“Full DRADIS scan on the satellites designated as Group K,” the Commander ordered.
“By your command,” answered the Centurion manning the sensor station. “Satellites are oblong, four meters in length with one meter diameter—reaction thrusters maintaining station, detecting telemetry links between the satellites and planetary surface. No hostile emissions.” The Centurion paused. “Warning, detecting radiological presence aboard each satellite.”
The Commander did not reply, his eye kept bouncing from side-to-side as he considered. Mines. Nuclear mines. It was an old concept, but in space, nuclear weapons had to be detonated at very close ranges to be effective.
“Order the gunners to target the mines,” he commanded. “We will engage as we enter range and continue to the surface once a lane has been cleared.”
“By your command.”
The shuttles continued to close even as the battle behind them doubled in intensity again—the Commander did not know despair, but he came as close as any M-00005 could to experiencing that emotion. The flesh-models had returned—and they were now aiding the humans in attacking the Fleet. It did not bode well for the conquest of this world, but he had his own mission.
“Approaching engagement range,” the second Centurion reported.
“Very well,” the Commander answered, “all gunners may engage as we bear on the . . .,”
The Commander never managed to finish his statement as his shuttle and the one hundred Centurions aboard it was converted into an expanding cloud of debris and dust. He had correctly identified the objects as mines, and the Guardians sensors had noticed that each carried a nuclear device at their core. But these mines were not mere bombs designed to explode and damage objects within their blast radius.
No. These Earth mines were bomb-pumped gamma-ray lasers.
As the shuttles came within their engagement range, officers in a ground base designated targets and sent the commands—and each mine detonated, sending an extremely powerful laser beam towards each of the shuttles.
In thirty seconds, all three hundred orbital mines had detonated—and a third of the Guardians landing force was vaporized. The remaining six hundred odd shuttles plunged into the atmosphere—and they were instantly met by air-breathing fighter craft and surface-to-air missiles. The upper atmosphere became a maelstrom of chaos and havoc, and in the end less than three hundred shuttles and thirty thousand Centurions survived to set foot on Beowulf.
Where the ground forces of Earth awaited them.